I arrived back in Cairns two days ago, and am settling in.
By the way, I was greeted by heavy rain on my arrival, in contrast to the dry weather I experienced during my 3.5 weeks in Cambodia. Otherwise, it was similar: tropical and hot here and there, quite easy to accept for me.
Although my stay in Cambodia was very positive overall, I must mention one disturbing thing without which my account would be inaccurate. It’s about the Khmer Rouge. It’s about my visit to the Killing Fields and the Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh. It’s about the first time I heard about the atrocities committed by Pol Pot’s regime – when I was on an exchange student program in Cuba, in January 1979. Cubans, and my fellow Soviet students who were there at the time, were horrified to learn that 3 million people, i.e. one third of Cambodia’s population, were killed by the bloodthirsty regime of Pol Pot. (Later the figure was revised to about 2 million). When I came back to the Soviet Union in April 1979, I realised that the pain was shared by the Soviet people at large, as well as by the whole planet.
I must be honest with you: I was somewhat reluctant to visit the Killing Fields and the Genocide Museum during my visit to Cambodia, because I knew it would cause a lot of pain. However, it had to be done. And when you visit the places, it’s difficult to describe the actual pain you go through. It is that traumatic. I couldn’t help crying. However, the pain experienced by me and other visitors, no doubt, pales in comparison to what the victims of the regime had to endure… Forced labour, forced marriages, forced displacement, beatings, torture, brutal killings… Destruction of the society, economy, culture. If you had white skin, wore eye-glasses, spoke a foreign language, you would be killed. Nearly 90% of academics, teachers, artists, Buddhist monks were exterminated. It was supposed to be an egalitarian agrarian society growing rice. It did not work of course. Same as communism did not work in the USSR, or nazism in Germany. Totalitarian ideologies have a short shelf life.
A little bit of history:
The Khmer Rouge was the name given to Cambodian/Khmer communists (rouge means red in French). Their leader was Pol Pot.
After nearly four years of rule, the Khmer Rouge regime was removed from power in 1979 as a result of an invasion by Vietnam. Today, 7 January, is a national holiday in Cambodia commemorating the overthrow of Pol Pot’s regime, when Phnom Penh fell to the advancing Vietnamese troops. By the way, the current Prime Minister of Cambodia, Hun Sen (he’s been in power for over 30 years now), who was formerly with the Khmer Rouge, defected to Vietnam in 1977, and participated in this invasion/liberation. The history of Cambodia since 7 January 1979 has been controversial and complicated but the nation has been doing everything possible to prevent the horrors of Pol Pot’s regime from happening again.
It is a forward-looking, rapidly developing society and economy, with thriving cultural life. And present—day Khmers are friendly and nice people, often with a smile on their faces. They don’t blame the history, they are learning from its lessons.
Tuol Sleng was a high school that was transformed into an interrogation and torture centre called “S-21” during Pol Pot’s regime; today the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum contains many of the former torture and prison cells, and photographic and picture displays relating to those years.
I met there a survivor of the S-21 prison, Bou Meng, from whom I bought his autographed memoir, and who willingly agreed to pose for me. According to some sources, he is one of less than 10 survivors of the nearly 20,000 people tortured and killed there. He is an inspirational person.
Here are some photos of my visit to the Killing Fields and the Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh on 15 December 2017.
Am writing this from the Brisbane airport, waiting for my final flight – to Cairns.
Goodbye, Cambodia. You and your people are amazing, and I hope to come back in the not so distant future.
And now, home sweet home. Hello, Australia.
I am still in the amazing country called Cambodia, but I have only one day left to get to know it better. Never mind, I hope to stay in touch.
Am publishing one more photo album.
It’s about my tour (when I was still in Siem Reap) to Preah Vihear and Koh Ker on 27 December. Preah Vihear (11th-12th centuries AD) is a Hindu temple built during the six-century existence of the Khmer empire. In 1962, after a long dispute between Thailand and Cambodia over ownership, the International Court of Justice in The Hague awarded it to Cambodia. There are Cambodian military guards there. Some call it the mother of all the temples! Koh Ker is an archaeological site, which includes an impressive pyramid. It is also located to the north of Siem Reap. Koh Ker was an important city of the Khmer Empire and even its capital in 928-944 AD. These are incredible places that I visited with my young Khmer friends, who were also my tour guide and driver.
I hope the New Year has started well for you all!
Yesterday I left the lovely city of Siem Reap, where, together with other people, I celebrated Christmas. In Cambodia, thanks to tourists, especially in such a popular tourist centre as Siem Reap, it is widely celebrated. After about a 6-hour pleasant bus ride with my Khmer gay friend, I arrived in Phnom Penh, where I am now. We had a good time yesterday evening, and, in particular, went to a gay bar, where we watched a colourful show. The atmosphere was cheerful and welcoming. Khmer gays know how to have fun and entertain visitors! Soon my friend and I will go to have breakfast.
Here are some photos of Christmas in Siem Reap. And I will be celebrating the the New Year in Phnom Penh.
My trip in the friendly and hospitable Cambodia goes on. Yesterday I celebtated Christmas in Siem Reap: had lunch, walked through the city teeming with energy, attended a Khmer evening dance show and walked through the night city full of joy and lights.
Two days ago I went to the incredible Angkor Wat and some adjacent temples with my guide and friend Makara and driver and friend Sopheap. I met Makara a year ago, during my previous visit to Siem Reap, and met his mate Sopheap just a few days ago. We had a great time! I have just posted some pictures. Merry Christmas everybody!
Am still enjoying Cambodia. I am based in Sihanoukville now, and yesterday had a trip to the south-east, to the charming towns of Kampot and Kep.
The bad thing is that I caught a cold, but am managing it thanks to Panadol, hot tea and coffee, warm climate, and strong determination to do the program.
Here are some photos (18-19 December).
It so happened that last Friday I celebrated my birthday in a gay club of Phnom Penh. I was presented with a cake ordered in advance by my new Khmer friend. I, as is appropriate, blew out the candles, and all the visitors of the club had a piece of this cake.
What a pleasant surprise! Very memorable.
I liked my first day in Phnom Penh. I visited the Royal Palace (by the way, it is not far from my hotel) and its territory, which includes various monuments, buildings and gardens. The Silver Pagoda is also there, with the golden Buddha and the emerald Buddha (unfortunately, no pictures are allowed, same as in the Throne Hall). I went to the largest market of the city – Russian market. Then I went to a gay club and met some nice guys there.
This morning I will have a bike tour to the islands of the Mekong River. Then I am going to visit the National Museum (it is also near my hotel, almost adjacent to the Palace).
Here are three photos I took in the territory of the Royal Palace.
I am writing to you from the capital of Cambodia, where I arrived almost at midnight. This morning, it was a really good rest for me after a difficult itinerary with two stopovers. I have had breakfast, and soon am going to the city centre for sightseeing. I am staying in a small hotel, not far from the Royal Palace, etc. I came to Cambodia for three and a half weeks for a holiday. I really liked my last year’s trip. It was short, but memorable in all respects. However, I visited only the city of Siem Reap. It’s the main tourist attraction of Cambodia thanks to the amazing temples of Angkor Wat. But I want to get to know other parts of the country as well. And here I am in Phnom Penh.
I found some photos of the famous Khmer gay dance group. Here they are.
Here are some pictures related to yesterday’s big event.
And here’s the link to the video which shows the final stage in the parliament (only four (!) members voted against the law on same-sex marriage):
After several hours of debate, the House of Representatives has just passed a law on same-sex marriage.
This means that BOTH chambers of Parliament approved the bill.
So, same-sex marriage is now legal in Australia.
Australia is the 26th country to allow same-sex marriage.
Couples can file applications already this Saturday, December 9.
And weddings can be held from January 9, 2018.
Well done! Hooray!
Last night Cairns held an event dedicated to the World AIDS Day. We heard speeches, a list of AIDS victims was read out, a small concert was held, roses were laid and candles lit in memory of the victims.
The attendees had an opportunity to talk to each other. The place which was chosen is beautiful – centre of the city, by the sea.
Here are some pictures
Congratulations to all of us on the advent of the new season – the beginning of winter in the northern hemisphere, and the beginning of summer in the southern hemisphere, including Australia. This is a special month, leading to the New Year. I hope lots of good and exciting things will happen for us in December.
Yesterday saw the start of the HIV / AIDS Awareness Week. Here, in Cairns, we have volunteers on duty every day, distributing information and items (flyers, pens, bracelets, notepads, pins, ribbons, even shoe laces and bags with logos and emblems). People receive information, pick some objects, and make small donations if they wish. Yesterday I had a shift, together with some other volunteers, at the Sunday market stall near the Botanic Gardens. Here are some photos (first: Ian, Nae and I, second: Ben and Ian, third: Ian and Nae).