Phnom Penh - The Killing Tree

And here I am.

Bracelets symbolizing prayers for those who were murdered by the Khmer Rouge.

Sitting in a minivan driving through the jungles of central Cambodia. It's amazing how quickly your lifestyle can change. This is it. We are in it. We went from 8 to 5, urban apartment, red wine every night to backpacking through Southeast Asia.

We are lucky, man. And to be honest, I really dislike the term lucky. Blessed would be more accurate. And willful. Determined. Creators. Manifestors. Receivers. Any of the above. Lucky implies that it was a sense of coincidence that got us here. And I don't believe in coincidence.

Right now we are headed to Sihanoukville, Cambodia. After Siem Reap we took an overnight bus to Phnom Penh, arrived at 6 am, visited the killing fields and S-21 Genocide Museum, then immediately got directly back onto a van by 2 pm (same day) to head to the coast to make it to Koh Rong Island for a few days.

Phnom Penh & Khmer Rouge

Phnom Penh. It leaves you speechless. We started our morning by visiting the killing fields and S-21. S-21 is now a museum on the Genocide that happened, but it was once a high school. A high school the Khmer Rouge turned into a torture camp for Cambodians in 1975-1979. It was really heavy stuff. You walk into the cells they were tortured in and see the tools that were used to brutalize these people. Images of women getting cockroaches and centipedes shoved into their vaginas. Headshots of young men and children - all of whom were beaten, given shock treatment, chained to the ground, water boarded, and murdered. The actual water torture tank is still in the facility. You stand in front of a tree they slammed thousands of babies against to murder them. S-21 is a morbid facility. You can feel the pain of the people walking through here. It's a perspective you watch in movies, but movies cannot give you the feeling of walking through S-21. This genocide and these brutal killings occurred only nine years before I was born.

Our entire trip in Cambodia, I looked at every single Khmer person so deeply. I would think, "how were you affected by this?" Was it your mother, brother, grandparents, or all of them who were taken away? ONE in four Cambodians were tortured and murdered. There is an entire generation of people missing here because they were all murdered. You walk through the streets and my parents' generation doesn't exist. You walk through the streets and Cambodians are missing body parts. Children have bodies completely burned from bombs still in the jungle. The people who are still alive, I look at and can't believe that they actually lived through that experience. How do you get past that? How do you pick up those pieces? How have you managed to recreate your ENTIRE country? Cambodia now has a population of fifteen million people. FIFTEEN MILLION. In 1975 there were eight million. By 1979, there were less than five. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge murdered over three million people - three million that are accounted for. Many of the killing fields and bodies are still undiscovered - they are trapped in the jungles of Cambodia, guarded by the bombs laid by the U.S in the 1970's.

Before going to Cambodia I was completely unknowledgeable on Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge Genocide that took place. Before going to Cambodia I had no connection to that sort of hell. Before Cambodia the closest connection I made to this sort of experience was an autobiography I had just read about Zach's aunt, Charlotte Werth, Thank You God, for Leading Me Home: My Journey from Königsberg to America Before, During, and After World War II. Traveling has triggered a really fierce desire to become more knowledgeable on the history of humanity. On the history of people, of countries, of families.

Before going to Phnom Penh I was told it would probably make me cry. I didn't cry in Phnom Penh. I didn't cry at the torture facility. I didn't cry at the killing fields. I didn't cry standing in front of the killing tree, where thousands of babies were swung against. Where bones, clothing, and other remains lie visible. But every time someone mentions Cambodia... Every time I tell someone my story of Cambodia... Every time I revisit our pictures of Cambodia. I'm overcome with emotion.

I'm sad to leave Cambodia, but we may come back in when we hit Vietnam on the other side of the country.

-AS @ traveling snow

#Cambodia

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