Posted by: Googie | February 23, 2010

The Tuol Sleng genocide museum

Blogging wise, today was a very productive day. I went the Lazy Gecko cafe close to my guesthouse, and sat there for close to 4 hours. They offer free wi-fi to their customers (as long as your bill exceeds $3), and the wi-fi leacher that I am, how could I resist such an opportunity?!! This was the third time in 2 days that I was going there, and the staff had become quite friendly with me. One of them even asked me if he could login to skype from my netbook, to which I happily obliged. Highly recommended place, because for a change, their menu is written in perfect English.

There was a couchsurfer called Rudie who had posted the name of the place where he was put up in Phnom Penh, so I thought I’d go say hi to him. I rented a motorbike taxi and set off with just the name of his guesthouse and no map of the city. I thought that I’d just ask people along the way, thus meeting many locals as well. What I had not accounted for was nobody understanding me; and that is precisely what happened. Whoever I asked for the next 20 minutes either gave me a blank expression or a broad smile, but no real help.

I found an English speaking college student who taught me how to say “where OK guesthouse?” in Khmer. It sounded something like “nateeney patheysamne OK?”. I tried my newly learnt Khmer sentence, but with this one, the blank expressions turned blanker, and the broad smiles turned broader so I thought I would just stick to English.


The Independence monument

Finally, after a frustrating 20 minutes of riding around aimlessly I got a tuk-tuk driver who not only spoke decent English, but also knew the exact location of the guesthouse… phew! Meet Rudie soon afterwards, and chatted with him for a bit, before heading off to the Tuol Sleng genocide museum also known as S-21.

Tuol Sleng was once a school that was later converted into a notorious prison. I had read extensively about the Khmer Rouge atrocities under Pol Pot’s command in Cambodia, and it was great to actually see a part of what I had only imagined till date. For those who may be more interested, I’d recommend wikipedia as a good starting point.


Barbed wire used to prevent prisoners from attempting suicide by jumping out


One of the hundreds of narrow cells


That sign probably meant no laughing


School –> Prison –> Museum

I was keenly interested in waterboarding, a torture technique employed by the prison guards in Tuol Sleng. Although it seems harmless enough, it happens to be one of the most cruel torture techniques; and can cause permanent brain damage or death in a matter of seconds. The board that was used to inflict this torture is still preserved in Tuol Sleng.


An artist’s illustration of waterboarding


The waterboard

Next I went to an internet centre where a totally unexpected thing happened. The guy sitting next to me in the internet place was talking to somebody online, and he was telling them what an awesome time he had had shooting an AK-47 in Phnom Penh. I was like, “What?!!! You can shoot an AK-47 here?” I googled for it immediately, and sure enough, it was possible! Once the guy was done talking, I asked him all the details; and decided that I would do it before leaving Phnom Penh. After all, where else on earth would a common civilian like me get to shoot an AK-47?

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