This photo haunts me. It is a photo of a little boy probably less than 5 years old with fat cheeks and innocent eyes. He is a child therefore he isn't guilty of any crimes, so why did he end up in S-21 prison where over 15,000 Cambodians were tortured, starved, and killed during the reign of madness headed by Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge regime (only 7 people survived). I am haunted by this little boys eyes and the expression on his face. He has no idea what is in store for him because he is a child and innocent of all crimes.
The S-21 prison is now called the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum but before Pol Pot led Cambodia into a spiral of death it (S-21) was a high school. I like to ponder the fact that we humans can turn a high school into a prison then into a museum.
Please look at the photo of the woman and child. Did you notice the date? She was brought to S-21 prison in May 1978. I cried when I realized that this woman and her child were being photographed and imprisoned while I played with my friends and ate ice cream on the other side of the world.
In 1978, I was a child whose major concern in life was how many gifts Santa Claus would bring me on Christmas Day. The fact that I was going to school, reading Sesame Street books to my brother, and pestering various relatives for 25 cents so I could go to the store and buy some candy or potato chips, while thousands of innocent people were being murdered leaves me breathless. This woman may have been guilty of some crime according to the Khmer Rouge but the baby in her arms is guilty of being born in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I went to Phnom Penh, Cambodia to see the ugliest side of humanity. I went to Phnom Penh to learn some unknown lesson. However, once I walked into classrooms which served as former torture chambers and realized that the red stains on the floors were someone's blood, I was beyond horrified. I was left speechless and terrified about the evilness that can lay in man. Pol Pot was a mad man and Cambodia has no natural resources for many Western powers to covet but couldn't we have mounted an effort to depose him? Why didn't someone try to stop Pol Pot and his regime from ultimately cannabilizing their own people?
I left S-21 shaken to my core and rode in a tuk-tuk to the Killing Fields. I had a lingering feeling in my stomach that I shouldn't go to the Killing Fields because I had seen enough death to last me a lifetime but I went anyway. The Killing Fields is a big field outside of Phnom Penh where most of the prisoners at S-21 ended up. It is now several plots of land which are a testament to a regime's madness. I don't have anything to say about the Killing Fields because nothing more needs to be said. I did find it odd that my tuk-tuk driver tried to convince me to go to a near-by shooting range after visiting the Killing Fields. I wonder who decided that visitors may want to shot a few rounds after seeing human skulls in a memorial.
The country that is left after Pol Pot's reign of blood is a nation "starting from scratch" in my own words. The Cambodians are survivors trying to catch-up in a world which fast-forwarded ahead of them decades ago. I believe in the innate greatness of the human spirit even in our darkest days, so I'm hoping that Cambodia can win its battle to catch-up in today's technological world. However, there is a sadness in my heart that our governments allowed this genocide to occur and the powers-to-be continue to remain silent as people die all over the world for various reasons.
I've also come to the conclusion that war makes men and women uncivilized. I believe no matter how righteous, moral, or high-minded your cause is, once you take up arms to fight against another human being, you will eventually lose your humanity. War makes animals out of us all. I wish President Bush could realize that by using guns to rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein and attempt to find weapons of mass destruction, we (U.S.A.) can do nothing but lower ourselves to the depth of animals.
This is an excerpt from one of my stories which may be in my travel book.
One day I was wondering around Luang Prabang's streets in a heavily preserved district funded by UNESCO and various NGO's when I stumbled across another wat. This wat was empty of tourist and fresh rain hung from its temples. It was a place ripe for few photos.
I walked around very quietly as I usually do in spiritual places, when I was discovered by young monk. He asked me the usual array of questions that roll of the tongues of curious young boy monks. "Where are you from?" "I'm from America," I answered. The sound of America slipping from my lips brought a smile to his face. "Come with me," he said.
I followed the monk to the large temple which dominated the wat. It was closed. I didn't mind the temple being closed because I only wanted to take a few photos."I'll open it," he said. I was stunned. The monk was going to open the temple for me. My mind was racing with questions like, was this allowed? Would he get into trouble? Would I go to hell for tempting a monk into opening up a temple for my exclusive viewing?
The monk unlocked the padlock, threw open the doors, and turned on a light in the temple. I stood in the doorway hesitant to go in fearing that my actions could anger the Buddhist Gods. However, this young man was a bold monk. He motioned for me to come inside with him. Then the monk opened a window which brought more light into the dark temple filled with golden Buddhas.
The monk got down to business by giving me a quick tour of the temple in broken English. "Sorry, my English is not so good," he commented. "I study English for two years." the monk added. "Your English is fine," I replied. And it was the truth. His English was as good as some of my former Japanese co-workers who had degrees in English teaching. The monk had now produced a English-Lao electronic translator. We would use it at different points in our conversation to understand each other.
Our conversations would end with short breaks and I would walk around the temple on my tiptoes. I was utterly mortified yet thrilled to be inside of a previously locked temple. I felt like a princess. How many times in my life would a monk open up a temple just for my viewing pleasure?
"Do you want to take picture?" he asked. Of course, I wanted to take photos but I felt like it would be sacrilegious to do it in front of a monk. However, the monk had his own plans and began preparing his bright orange role for the photo. And I prepared my camera. The monk confidently posed for several photos in front of the replica of the Buddha. I felt like I had to be breaking a few Buddhist laws but a monk was guiding my path, so I did as he commanded.
After we finished the photo shoot inside the temple, he monk came up with another idea. "Another photo, then I show you my room," he said. I nearly had a heart attack. What kind of monk would invite a foreign woman to his room? And what kind of foreign woman would actually go to his room? I guess that foreign woman is me! Although I was puzzled by the invitation, I knew I couldn't pass it up.
The monk came out of a building with a small, young boy-monk who was about 10 years old. He took my camera away from me and gave it to the young boy monk who would take our photo together in front of the temple. Then I took a photo of the 10 year-old monk in training and "my" monk.
By the time the monk lead me into his room, I knew that his name was Somnath, his age was 23, he was from a border town near China called Oudomsay, his family were farmers who decided to send him down to the city for education at the monastery, he visited his family once a year, and he really wanted to learn good English.
Monk Somnath lead me into his house which had 4 rooms. He seemed to occupy two of these rooms. I followed him to his study area which was composed of a rug on the floor, his school books including an English-Laos language dictionary, a few small photo album books, a bottle of water and a few glasses for guests. I sat on the floor. He served me a glass of water. Then he opened up a book. It was his English homework. Somnath had written an English composition on the annual Luang Prabang boat racing festival which occurs around August and September. I read his composition and pointed out several mistakes. Overall, the composition was good. It was apparent that Somnath really wanted to excel in his English studies.
"Do you want to be a monk for long time?" I inquired. "I want to go to Thailand and study English, " he answered."Can I see your photos?" I asked. Somnath passed me the photos with little regard for monk etiquette regarding contact with women. Fortunately, I was still a little terrified of pissing off the Buddhist Gods, so I was very careful not to touch him.
I opened the album to find photos of Somnath in Thailand, posing in front of the Grand Palace in Bangkok. "I want to go back to Thailand but it is very hard. I need visa," he added. "Can you help me?" A smile came upon my face because the monk was a smooth operator with game. "I don't know how I can help you," I said innocently.
"Do you have husband?" he asked. "I have boyfriend, " I replied, "and I have to meet him soon." "Oh," he replied. "Maybe you help me with book," he added. "What kind of book?" I answered. "Thai-English conversation," he replied.
I told Somnath that I would see what I could do about a book. Then I quietly excused myself from the monk's presence. "I have to go now. I'll e-mail you the photos," I said. Somnath gave he his address at the wat and e-mail. I got up and made my way to his door as he trailed behind. Then I bowed and thanked him for his kindness.
Please note this is indeed a true story. Laos is a great place to go and speak with monks.
I've discovered that geckos and spiders who mind their own business can be great roommates in the rooms I have rented for a night or three in guesthouses throughout Southeast Asia. However, I can't sleep in a bed with ants crawling in between the sheets. And I shall never again sleep in a room with the aroma of piss.
Pakbeng is a Laotian border town. There is no reason to go there unless you are on your way to Luang Prabang, the northern Thai border, or smoking massive amounts of opium which is popular in the area. I wasn't smoking massive amounts of opium but I was on something when I ran off on my own to find a bed to rent for the night in Pakbeng. I was accosted by people who wanted to help me but I'm somewhat paranoid about people who want to help me.I blew them off. This was a mistake. I ended up renting a room out of fatigue and desperation which had the sour aroma of piss in the air. The room also seemed to have a piss stain on the wall. Who pisses on the wall?
I had given the woman my money and accepted the keys so it was now home sweet home. I was smart enough to get a room with a fan for the night and a nice bathroom. I actually entertained thoughts of sleeping in the bathroom instead of the pissy smelling room.
The longer I stayed in the room, the more depressed I felt so I left in search of food. I had a lovely meal of Indian food in the middle of nowhere Laos. Then I made my way back to the room of urine. I took a much needed shower and got into bed. I fell asleep with the fan cooling down the hot room and dissipating the smells of urine.
I woke up a few hours later to be assaulted by pissy smells and hot air. The fan was off. Everything was black. I turned the power switches on and off. "Damn it," I said, "they really only have electricity for 4 hours a day."
I spent the rest of the night with my sleep sack cover pulled to my nose in hopes of not breathing in the smells of urine. I cursed the night and prayed for dawn to come immediately. I wanted out of Pakbeng as soon as possible. I eventually fell asleep and daylight come to Pakbeng. I was very happy to be boarding the slow-boat to Houie Xay, Laos.
Earlier this month, I traveled to Laos for the nuptials of Diva Thip-sexy to her boyfriend for several years, Lambert-san. Ms. Thip decided to honor her heritage and her elders by having a traditional Laotian wedding in her family's hometown of Savannakhet in southern Laos.
Ms. World and several adventurous former and current JETs; fellow Divas Adrianna, the newly minted Ecuadorean Spice Zazza, JEN-TE, Spicy Boy Andy, The Hoss, Will, the Notorious Random C.H.I.N., Steve & Sandy, and Yuji-sama showed up to join the festivities.
I felt truly priviledged and blessed to be present on Thip & Lambert's special day which was rich in Laotian traditions, family, and love. I didn't understand the religious ceremony because of language barriers but I know I was in the presence of true love which is a gift.
Once the religious ceremony was over, the wedding reception began. Let's just say that LAOTIANS know how to partay! They love their smooth tasting Beer Lao (so does the HOSS, Spicy Boy & the Notorious Random C.H.I.N.) and delicious food. Basically, I was drunk by noon! Then I had to appease the Buddhist gods by dancing with old Laotian men who were PIMP daddies (that is a compliment).
The official wedding reception ended by 4pm and I got some much needed rest. However, I had to be ready at 7pm for the after-party at the mansion. At the mansion, I downed more premium liquor and finally got my Laotian dance groove going. I also consumed a green pepper which turned my mouth into a blazing hellhole. However, I didn't eat the crickets or drink the homemade baby lamb alcohol (check out the photos on FLICKR).
I had an amazing time at Thip & Lambert's wedding. However, I left Savannakhet the next day because my liver couldn't take any more premium liquor! I drank more at this wedding than I had in the last year! If you want to see the partying, please check out my new FLICKR account.
DIVA THIP-SEXY! - THANKS for inviting me to celebrate your big day! My fellow JETs- THANK YOU FOR THE FUN! DIVA Adrianna- THANKS for being superorganized!
I finally came to my senses and signed up for a FLICKR account. Please enjoy some of my photos of Hong Kong, Macau, and Vientiane, Laos. Please note I take tons of photos, so there is so much more to come!
I'm now living it up in the lovely land of LAOS! I'm being WOWED big time in this luscious green land of mountains, monks and the Mekong River. Please note more stories to come in the following days.
Here are a few photos from my Hong Kong adventure. The city views were taking from the Peak. I also included a photo of one of my favorite temples, Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple.