Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Killing Fields of Cambodia

The Killing Fields

I hop in a taxi, agreeing to the driver's delight to I hire him out for the day for more than double the local rate. I note that I have become a lot looser with money lately.
Puttering down the road, we soon arrive an ancient Chinese cemetery which the murderous genocidal Pol P regime chose as one of their “killing fields.”
What is a killing field? Literally, what it sounds like. The Khmer Rouge rounded up just about anybody they thought might be a “subversive,” brought them to the killing field, (the choice of the cemetery made it easier to hide the evidence) and executed them.
Pol Pot believed in equality. As he believed intellectuals, be they doctors, engineers, lawyers to be superior because of their education, they were executed. A good way in his mind to level the playing field.
Anybody with possible anti- Pol Pot thoughts-- executed. Family members of the suspect, goodbye. Part of his army, and don’t want to kill your countryman? Off with your head as a warning to others. Singers, movie stars, former police, politicians- sianora.
Skulls of Khmer Rouge
The regime eliminated the banking system and all forms of money, destroyed the arts, cratered the education system, and enslaved the population. Grow rice or die. About the only thing that Cambodia produced during the Khmer Rouge was rice, which was promptly shipped off to good old Chairman Mao and their main ally- Red China, in exchange for the only thing the regime wanted-- guns.
Funny that despite giving up the country’s natural resources for guns, they would be so unwilling to use them. Nope, bullets were too precious. Allow me to explain.
You see, once they got you in cuffs you were as good as Jew at Auschwitz. You and your family were detained at a local jail, where you were beaten and tortured while you awaited your turn at freedom, the one way out of this mess, your execution.

On “your day” you were shackled along with a bunch of other prisoners to a long metal bar, blindfolded, and promised you would be taken to your “brand new house.” (Note: there is no evidence anyone believed this) You were then quickly escorted to the killing field, in this case the Chinese cemetery, where, in a humane effort to preserve bullets, you were beaten to death with hammers, axes, and hoes while happy music blared from loud speakers to drown out your cries.
Have a baby, watch their heads get smashed against a tree and thrown into a mass grave. Don’t worry, you’d be joining them in the afterlife shortly.
I walked to the pagoda, a structure housing 17 stories of skulls and bones unearthed from the field I was in. You could reach out and touch a skull if you really wanted to, though you are asked not to. Walk around the pagoda, clear glass, skulls piled to the sky, all taken from right underneath your feet.

Pagoda of skulls
And I mean that literally, walk anywhere in the locale reach down, and you’ll be able to pick-up bone and clothing from the victims, unearthed by rains. Want to see a mass grave? A bunch of them are right around you. 450 people in this hole, 378 in the next, and so on.

Listening to my guide describe the events, looking up at the large glass structure holding the skulls, literally picking bones off the ground, I felt tears rolling down my face, dropping to the ground as I'm sure so many before me. When I arrived at the tree which they used to smash in the skulls of children, I just about lost it.

For four years, this brutal homicidal regime operated, killing over 2 million people. This is just one the many killing fields in the country. For four years, they were able to keep this a genocide a secret from the outside world. Know anything, want to speak out, it’s your turn to have your skull axed.
I leave the fields weeping. 

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tiger Temple Kittens Play

Tiger at rest
Tiger Temple

Situated near the border of Mynamar, the Tiger Temple is three hours outside Bangkok, at the doorstep to one of the few remaining wild places in Asia. It began in 1994 when the abbot of the local Buddhist Monastery began rehabilitating injured animals that found his monastery from the forest. A peacock, a sambar, a boar. Then a poacher shot a tigress, and found her cub. Selling the cub on the black market, a collector ordered the cub stuffed. The local taxidermist began the procedure, injecting the cub with formaldehyde, but did not complete the procedure. Having heard of the monk’s efforts in healing wild creatures, the cub found its way to them. Sadly, the cub who was very sick following the injection, died.
The local villagers, not wanting any other cub to fall to such a fate, brought the monks two cubs who lost their mother (again to poachers)several weeks later … then two more. Never having taken care of big cats, it was learning on the job for the monks. Soon the tigers began reproducing, and today the temple houses 46 stunningly beautiful cats, cows, horses, water buffalo, sambars, and a leopard.
Paying my 500 baht admission fee and signing the waiver stating that neither I nor my ancestors would hold the Temple responsible if I ended up as cat food (a good way to cut expenses?) I began a long walk up a dry path, looking side to side for tigers. I figured at any moment I might get pounced, and I wanted to be prepared in case it was “death by tiger.”
Here kitty kitty kitty
Buddhist monks and tiggers
And then, entering a clearing, I saw them. Lying on the ground (tigers cannot fly) being taken care of by the monks, I was awed by their size and beauty. The visitors formed a single file line following the monks as they led the tigers one by one into a small canyon. Once secured to the ground by a metal chain, we got to go to each tiger, stroking its beautifully crafted striped coat while our pictures were taken. These cats up-close are ginormous. The biggest weighed 450 pounds, and was simply awe inspiring.
With 1:30 rapidly approaching, I raced back up the hill to go play with the 6 week old cubs. On the way, I came across a couple 5 month old cubs who I played with under the watchful eyes of the temples volunteers. It’s A LOT of fun, though when you get bit it smarts a lot more than Tabby.
Tiger cub, so cute! 5 months old

pillow anyone?
I then proceeded to play with the 6 week old kittens, wrestling them, picking them up, feeding them milk. It was fricking awesome. One of the best experiences I have had. Fourth time I have gotten to be around tigers, and definitely the best! I think the pictures speak for themselves.

Below are two videos of playing with tigers ---

wrestling with tigers!

getting Bit in this one!