Alan escapes with his life! Our first days in Phnom Penh + Alan's update
Jan 15, 2007
|Well, quite a contrast from the last entry as we're now in Phnom Penh
- a chaotic, lively and full-on city. Yesterday, whilst I was idling over a coffee in an internet cafe, Alan managed to get in-between an armed robber and an armed security guard and a couple of flying bullets. Luckily, he managed to dive into a nearby shop (despite the owner attempting to slam the doors shut as he ran towards it (he probably thought Alan was involved!) Anyway, I was fortunately oblivious of all this until Alan returned, sweating and somewhat shaken but very relieved (as, indeed was I on hearing about it!)
Today we visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum,
a harrowing but educational experience. The former secondary school had been commandeered by Pol Pot and his henchmen (1975-78) and was the base for inhumanity and torture on a vast scale (of the 20,000 men, women and children taken there, only 7 survived). The terrible thing is that such practices continue into the 21ast century and it's just the methods and instruments that are more sophisticated. Somewhat poignantly, the leaflet accompanying the visit was appealing for funds to maintain the records and documentation regarding the victims
and the perpetrators
as the buildings are crumbling and records are becoming increasingly damaged by pests, rain etc. For such an important record/history, I find it remarkable theré''s been no funding since 1989.
It's a wonderful morning here sitting overlooking the Bassac river which runs along one side of Phnom Penh. What an interesting city.
The light early in the morning is splendid and from this café the view is like the west end of Torquay..overlooking palm trees, national flags on every flag pole, and a wonderful grassy boulevard with a river border. Its early, so the traffic is light and the sun not too hot. Further down the road is the National Gallery (visiting today) and the Royal Palace with a wonderful building called the Silver Pagoda which we saw yesterday. The morning boats, mainly small passenger boats are getting ready to take the tour tourists out and some will go as far as the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.
This river front scene is beautiful for a capital city and having spent one night 5km from this point we have found a wonderful penthouse river view suite in a small hotel which is sandwiched between two of the best hotels in town. We are paying 20% of the price of these hotels which are a an exhorbitant 100 dollars, although we do have 85 steps to climb. To put this into perspective the average civil service/teachers wage is 50 dollars a month!!
So what a scene and in the evenings the fronts cafes are a buzz with nationalities from all over the globe there are three types of westerners:..independent travellers, tour groups on their way to Angkor Wat and NGO (Non governmental Organisations) staff who together account for a very large component of this economy...the fifth poorest in the world.
This is one scene, but the other realities would make some want to leave immediately. Leaving the hotel every metre on this street are young men on tuk tuks (small m/cycles with passenger carriages, motor cyclists touting for your business desperate for tourists to hire them and their machines for 7-10 dollars a day to whisk them round the sites. Bomb victims in make shift wheelchairs and mother and children carrying young babies begging for an existence greet you at every corner. Children as young as five and carrying their even younger siblings touting goods and carrying very heavy baskets full of counterfeited books, sunglasses and videos.
Walking away from the wonderful colonial riverfront street, the back streets are in a state of disrepair with some enterprises slowly improving the standard of buildings..then you get to the embassy/NGO area with lovely buildings, walled fences and large fleets of cars. From then on you are into what I could describe as slums, again slowly showing the benefits of new imported goods. In these districts you have welding shops, tailors, mechnics fixing everything as all manufactured goods have some use and everything is recycled. This is where you see real individual endeavour and hard graft.
There is no social security here, so the poor are reliant on outside aid as the government provides very little. Its quite understandable, that social systems are so dysfunctional, given the fact that only 30 years ago the National Bank, here in Phnom Penh was blown up, and for three and a half years there was no monetary system. Year zero was declared (history starts from 1975) BY Pol Pot and most of the revolutionary stalwards who had just succeeded in taking the country were executed by him andsome cadres in a bloody coup, and within 3 years over 20% of the population of 11 million were murdered or left the country.
In this city on one day in 1975, the coup leaders to consolidate their power and carry out their agricultural revolution, divided the city in north,east,south and west quarters. Where you were at that moment in time determined which part of the country you were sent to...your work may have been in the north, your children in the south at school and your family home in the west..and that is where people were sent. The city was emptied and the inhabitants dispersed to work in the country..