The Pearl of Asia

-Phnom Penh-

I was initially struck by how Cambodia’s capital city- once called “The Pearl of Asia” after it was colonized by France- has a spacious and village-like feel despite being the most populous city in the country (home to 1.5 million people). I soon learned this spacious feel is, in part, due to its recent history of abandonment. In reaction to- and in the wake of- the USA’s occupation of Southeast Asia during the Vietnam war, Pol Pot led his “Khmer Rouge” into power and into Phnom Penh. In 1975 the entire population of Phnom Penh was forced to evacuate by the new regime after they completely cut off the city’s resources. What followed were internment camps, prison and torture facilities and mass killings by the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot proceeded to lead a ruthless genocide against his own people and few of those who survived would ever return to Phnom Penh. It would be a long road to recovery.

These days it is hard to imagine that the nation’s capital city had been ghost town only 40 years ago. Now, coffee shops are popping up like weeds, showing signs of a modernizing upper-middle class, but poverty still exists in prevalence. While partnering with a couple non-profits and walking among the poverty, I grew to greatly admire the opportunistic spirit of Cambodians. They are a living testament to the human spirit’s ability to endure extreme hardship and somehow learn to live once again. But the recovering country is also a living testament to the enduring scars of darkness. It is the first place where (and the first time in documented history when) Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has become culturally embodied and successfully passed onto a new generation. The incomprehensible atrocities and horrors from 40 years ago have crept into the psyche of a new generation and continue to haunt their dreams. The gravity of such horrific actions will certainly have lasting consequences.

 

IMG_5456
IMG_5472
A young man crushing sugar cane to sell juice
IMG_5446
Making and selling sandwiches along the road
IMG_5437
Young mothers walking along the river road
IMG_5397
Drinking juice at the park playground
IMG_5401
Utilizing the park exercise equipment
IMG_5395
Kids on the park exercise equipment
IMG_5428
A muslim on his motorcycle
IMG_5388
Pulling a handcart
IMG_5362
A spritely clad young girl
IMG_5356
Playing a sandal sliding game which reminded me of Bocce Ball
IMG_5346
Playing in the food cart
IMG_5347
Jump ship!
IMG_5331
A family at the riverside
IMG_5344
IMG_5335
_
IMG_5342
Kids with suspicions
IMG_5337
_
IMG_5333
On the banks of the Mekong River and Tonle Sap
IMG_5324
Roadside vendor
IMG_5311
Riding on the backs of motorcycles is a common taxi method…even for monks
IMG_5309
Roadside cart with snacks
IMG_5300
Tuk Tuk, the most common taxi method
IMG_5292
More snack carts
IMG_5286
_
IMG_5289
_
IMG_5268
A boy points to the pigeons in the sky
IMG_5270
Ready to take on all the pigeons
IMG_5264
_
IMG_5253
Chasing pigeons  
IMG_5421
Cartwheels
IMG_5251
_
IMG_5250
_
IMG_5256
Monks on tour
IMG_5130
_
IMG_5234
Selling birds for people to set free at the temples
IMG_5239
Fresh Lotus flowers
IMG_5243
Unfolding the Lotus flower
IMG_5180

Fully unfolded Lotus flowers for sale
IMG_5238
A man and his set up shop in front of a small temple
IMG_5215
A peanut seller takes a water break
IMG_5441
In one end, out the other
IMG_5214
Giant ice cubes to combat the heat
IMG_5463
_
IMG_5231
_
IMG_5140
Monument for King Sihanouk
IMG_5210
_
IMG_5224
_
IMG_5192
_
IMG_5188
Selling cold drinks
IMG_5181
_
IMG_5169
_
IMG_5172
_
IMG_5147
_  

Fun side story: after noticing how Cambodians’ opportunistic spirit showed itself with motorcycles and cars, I made a game to see how many people I could spot on a motorcycle. The record stands at 7 people on one motorcycle.

IMG_5117
Masks were ubiquitous
IMG_5134
I kept bumping into this group
IMG_5524
_
IMG_5511
_
IMG_5502
_
IMG_5505
_
IMG_5125
The independence monument
IMG_5281
_

Here are portraits of some of the local people I was able to work with:

IMG_5104 IMG_5098 IMG_5094 IMG_5092 IMG_5089
The following photos are from The Killing Fields and S21 where much of the torturing and killing took place:

IMG_6985 2
The pits were dug for the bodies to be piled
IMG_6983 2
Despite being 35 to 40 years ago, bones and clothing still appear out of the ground after heavy rains
IMG_6989 2
The tree were babies were mercilessly beaten to death against
IMG_6984 2
Bones recently unearthed by erosion
IMG_6975 2
The Killing Fields memorial
IMG_6996 2
The collected skulls of the victims
IMG_6971 2
A twisted tree branch at the memorial
IMG_6995 2
_
IMG_6927 2
14,000 prisoners came to this prison (S21) and only seven people survived. 
IMG_6936 2
Of the 7 survivors, only 3 are still alive. I had the privilege of meeting 1 of the 3 at the memorial.
IMG_6934 2
Barb-wired ledges to keep people from jumping off the building to end their pain
IMG_6935 2
Signs of life begin to take over this place of death
IMG_6925 2
IMG_6932 2
IMG_6918 2
Most prisoners did not have beds but slept on the floor; sometimes fitting hundreds in a room

Children celebrating Cambodian (Khmer) New Year in the marketplace:

IMG_6946 2
IMG_6963 2
IMG_6958 2
IMG_6957 2
IMG_6951 2


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *