Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cambodia Trip '08 – Day 03: Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Phnom Penh

It was said that close to 20,000 mug shots were taken of the prisoners at Toul Sleng (S-21) prison between 1975 to 1979. The walls at the second block contained only a fraction of them for visitors to view. It was a solemn moment for us to walk through the rooms looking at these photos. One can’t help wonder, on seeing these mug shots, what these prisoners were thinking about. Did they know what lie ahead of them in this hellish prison? Or were they already resigned to the fact that they would not be able to see the outside of the prison walls ever again? Did they think that they could save their family by letting themselves imprisoned or did they plan to implicate their families in order to live another day?

Looking at the pictures of old people and children affected me the most that afternoon. It was hard to fathom what sort of crime these individual had committed to merit such a horrible end. During the Khmer Rouge rule, a large percentage of the Cambodian population perished from starvation and torture. The pictures at Toul Sleng were only a small portions of those people whose voice has been silence forever. Looking at the people living in Cambodia today, I see reflections of them in these photos. They are now the ones that either survived or came after the atrocities.

They would carry on the task of rebuilding their nation. They keep memories of Toul Sleng alive for their future generations and for outsiders who never had to live through the horrible fate they had to so it would never be allowed to happen again.

These photos will remind me of that lesson.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Cambodia Trip '08 – Day 03: Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Phnom Penh

(Entrance to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum)

We were suppose to visit the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum the previous afternoon but thanks to the traffic jam that we got caught in, we had to reschedule it for early on the 3rd day we were in Phnom Penh. After the early breakfast, the group piled into our provided transport and drove out about 10 minutes where our hotel was located. Along the way we saw a lot of people out that morning as it was the Cambodian Independence Day holiday. We were later told that they were going to see the parade along the Mekong river and that traffic would definitely be hard to avoid at that area. Learning our lesson from yesterday, our minivan went the opposite side where the locals were headed to.

We reached the museum at almost the beginning of their hours of operations and paid the entry fee at the entrance. Due to the early hour, we practically had the museum all to ourselves to explore. We did not have the tour guide that we had the previous day for that morning’s trip but we did have our helpful Cambodian hosts who walked us through the buildings and gave us a little bit of background of what had happened here.

The former high school building was converted to a prison and interrogation center by the Khmer Rouge when they came into power in Cambodia in 1975. Known then as the “Security Prison 21” (S-21), the complex was infamous as being the place where prisoners were mercilessly tortured to naming other “traitors” who in turn were also arrested, imprisoned and tortured. A lot of those tortured here were eventually sent to the Choeung Ek Killing Fields to be executed and buried in mass graves. Of the close to 17,000 prisoners that had passed through the prison, we were told that only a handful were still alive to tell their stories of their experiences in that hellish place.

(Description at the museum entrance)

The first sight that were stopped at was the tombs of the last victims of S-21. When teh Vietnamese army liberated the prison from the Khmer Rouge, they found 14 bodies left in the rooms in one of the blocks of the prison. It was documented that upon hearing the advancing Vietnamese troops, the interrogators killed these 14 prisoners rather than let them survive and implicate them. The bodies were found in a pitiful state after enduring months of repeated torture and being killed violently. These bodies were given a burial on the site where they lost their lives and their white painted tombs were a clear reminder of what had happened there.

(L: Tomb of the last victims of S-21, R: Torture room interior)

(Bed and implements used during the interrogation process found with the last victims)

The first school block that we went in had the original beds where the last 14 victims were found. In each room, there were a faded photograph on the wall that detailed what had been found in the room when the Vietnamese army liberated the prison. Without any written description of what had happened in the room, we were only able to guess what might had happened there based on the condition of the rusting iron bed frame and the remaining torture implements in the room. I noticed that the supposedly blood stains that was said to still be visible on the floors in those room were not that apparent. It would be even difficult to step into the room if they were.

(L: Prison rules, R: Water containers where prisoners would be dunked in head first during torture)

The next school block had walls and walls of prisoner mug shots taken when they first arrive at S-21. It was disheartening to see that the prisoners even included old people and young children. It was related to us that in more than a few occasions, whole families would be dragged in to be tortured for information to implicate their elders. We went through each wall to see the pictures of the victims knowing that all of them met their ends within these walls. A lot of the mug shots showed the prisoners with a calm demeanor which I was not sure if it was forced on by their captors for the photo session or if the victims were already resigned to their fates when they were arrested.

(L: Mug shots from S-21 records, R: Iron shackles used on prisoners)

The next school block was kept the way as it was when the prison was liberated. The whole block was enclosed with wire fencing to prevent not only escape but also from prisoners on the top floors committing suicide by jumping over the edge to escape torture. The rooms on the ground floor were partitioned into small cells that we were told prisoners would be shackled to the floor. Each room wall had an entrance knocked through it to connect the classrooms into one big cell block. A few of the cell walls looked that they were recently restored as some of the bricks used looked fairly new. Recent restorations aside, it was hard not to be affected when walking though the prison cells. There were more than a few occasions in the block that I felt a lingering presence and the feeling of being smothered. I would later find out that I was not the only one who felt that way while in the 3rd block as a few other reported feeling similarly distressed.

(Cell block at S-21)

(L: External fencing, R: Cell interior)

(L: Shackles used in the cells, R: Disused chalkboard as reminder that the prison used to be a school)

The last classroom block that we went into had the collection of torture implements that was used in the prison. Several had written descriptions and drawings made by the survivors of S21 that detailed how they were used. Pictures of the torture victims and the bodies that were left behind in the prison were also kept in this block. Most poignantly was the skull remains in the last room that was originally from the infamous map of Cambodia made out of skulls that used to hang in the room. It has since been dismantled but some of the skulls used were still kept there.

(Implements of torture - Water boarding and dunking)

We spent almost 2 hours at the museum being witnesses of the atrocities that had happened within the walls of S-21. It was a sobering visit, as it was to Choeung Ek the pervious afternoon, to remind us that such genocide had happened here. It was a lesson that we learn and take to heart so it would never happen again.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

“Oh My God" at KLPac

KLPac Presents



Following the hugely successful 8 Ways to Lighten the School Bag, KLPac will be bringing to you Oh My God (OMG) - the product of our 2nd community writing project.

Directed by popular playwright Mark Beau de Silva with the assistance of Juria Toramae, Oh My God (OMG) is a dark comedy on Sunday School crushes, looking covered and cute for your man, and other things people do before they go to heaven.

Listen to Mable and Tini gossip on men, women and sex while they munch on keropok, learn how to dress down and still 'turn them on' from Mak Nani, and chat with Joseph the Jesus Man; the caretaker from the church and Mary who has a shower cap story to tell...

Oh My God (OMG) is a story about the women (and some men) and their religions in Malaysia



Cast :

Date & Time:
18 - 20 DECEMBER 2008 @ 8:30 PM
21 DECEMBER 2008 @ 3:00 PM (SUNDAY Matinee shows)

Venue :

RM 25

Box Office :
(KLPac) 4047 9000 / (TAS@BSC) 2094 9400

Venue Website:

Facebook Event link : http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/event.php?eid=50648730859

Monday, December 15, 2008

Cambodia Trip '08 – Day 02: Choeung Ek Killing Fields Memorial, Phnom Penh

After experiencing firsthand the warmth of Cambodian hospitality at Kampong Chnang, we made our way back to Phnom Penh. Thanks to their earlier sunrise, lunch for the locals was at around 10 or 11 am. Having being accustomed to having lunch later in the day, the group was bussed to another meal once we reached the city. We went to a different restaurant this time which was located near St 130, PhsarKandal District. Look for the yellow frontage of the Indochine2 Hotel and you should be able to easily find the restaurant across the street from the hotel. Incidentally, there were at least 2 other halal restaurants in the same road making this a possible base for me the next time I go to Phnom Penh.

After our lunch, we proceeded back to the hotel to pickup our tour guide which was arranged for our afternoon’s outing. She was one of the freelance tour guides in town that could be engaged directly for small group outings like ours. Our destination that afternoon was to the Choeung Ek Killing Fields Memorial site which was located about 15 minutes drive from the city. What we didn’t realize was that, we would hit the start of the traffic jam when a lot of the workers finish their work. What was suppose to be a 15 minutes drive ended up being a 45 minutes instead thanks to the increasing number of cars and motorcycles on the road.

(Entrance to Choeung Ek Killing Fields Memorial)

(Memorial Stupa at the Killing Fields)

After paying for our entrance tickets at the gates, we were shown into the area in front of the memorial stupa at the site. We were given details by the tour guide about the history of the area and what had happened here. In essence, the former orchard and Chinese graveyard was used by the Khmer Rouge as a mass liquidation site for torture victims from of Tuol Sleng prison which was located in Phnom Penh between 1975 to 1979. A total of nearly 8895 bodies were discovered in mass grounds around the stupa bear silent witness to the atrocities that were committed during that horrendous period. Some of the skulls of the victims the unearthed after the fall of the Khmer Rouge were on display in the multi level memorial stupa for visitors to see for themselves.

(Skulls at the Choeung Ek Killing Fields Memorial Stupa)

Just next to the stupa, we walked through the killing fields itself. Our tour guide stopped at some of the spots to explain what it was that we were seeing. She pointed out the tree where the Khmer Rouge hung loudspeakers that played loud music to drown out the screams and death cries of the victim being slaughtered just below it. There was also a tree where small children were killed by bashing their skulls against the tree trunk until they shattered before tossing their bodies to the pit next to the tree. The same pit was also used to dispose of the bodies of the children’s mothers who were force to see their children killed before being summarily raped and executed afterwards by their children’s killers.

(Choeung Ek Killing Fields Memorial Site)

(The tree used as the execution site for young children and human remains at the tree)

(The loadspeaker tree where they blasted music to drown the death cries of the Killing Fields victims)

There were pits dedicated for Khmer Rouge soldiers themselves who were executed for disobeying orders or any number of infractions that made them marked for torture and death. The people who excavated those pit knew this from the uniforms that the bodies in the pit wore and the fact that none of the bodies found in the pit had their heads intact. It was a well publicized fact that Khmer Rouge soldier would be executed by their peers by beheading and having their heads buried elsewhere to spite the Cambodian tradition of having the body intact for proper burials.

(Burial pits - Top Left: Women and children, Top Right: Headless Khmer Rouge soldiers, Bottom: Families)

Not only were evidence of the mass graves and the charnel pits still visible to visitors to see but the grounds were still strewed with pieces of human bones. Piles of the bones were visible near the trees and the pits where they were unearthed. There were also articles of rotting clothing that covered the bones that was left out in the open as a reminder of the atrocities that happened here. While much of the area that we walked through that afternoon had been grown over with grass, the whole site was still technically a grave site that we had to be careful where we stepped lest that we would be stepping on a piece of bone. Our guide informed us that there were still a number of mass graves that remained unexcavated just a few meters from where we were standing and that there were still many Choeung Ek victims who have not been accounted for.

(Bones and clothing remains seen around the Killing Fields)

Walking through the Killing Fields was definitely an eerie experience for me personally. I kept getting flashes of smells and emotions that seemed to permeated the grounds. Most webbed in and out as I tried not to focus on them too much as the pass through me. This was definitely not a site that I wanted to be at after sun down. There were more than a few places in and around the grounds that drew my attention more so than other. I was not the only one affected by the site as even our tour guide was choked up in emotion as she related to us the horrors of what had happened here. Even after nearly 30 odd years since the fall of the Khmer Rouge, their frightening legacy still loomed darkly over the Cambodian nation. After spending nearly 2 hours at the Choeung Ek Killing Fields Memorial site, we left with a better understanding of the atrocities that we had only read or seen in movies before.

(Infomation and historical material at the pavilion near the memorial stupa)

We were suppose to go next to the infamous Tuol Sleng prison where most victims in Choeung Ek spent their last moments. It was already late but our tour guide had already made special arrangement for us to visit the prison museum after their closing time if we could get there before 5pm. Unfortunately for us, our van ran into the worse traffic jam in Cambodia that I have been in. Unbeknownst to us, the next day was a public holiday for the Cambodian independence day and there was a Water Festival following that which meant that the locals had an extended holiday ahead of them. We were told that Phnom Penh residents would normally take this opportuinity to go out of the city to visit their relatives in the other provinces. Due to the Water Festival, a lot of the people from the provinces streamed into Phnom Penh to celebrate it there.

The combination of both traffic flow caught us unawares and left us stranded in the road back from Choeung Ek. The journey that would normally take 15 minutes ended up being nearly 3 hours with most of it stuck motionless in a two lane road that had at least 6 lanes of road vehicles. It was quite lucky that we were in a relatively comfortable van with air conditioning as I would dread being stuck the traffic jam that we were in without either of them. Since it was already dark when we got thorough the traffic sprawl, we decide to postpone our Tuol Sleng prison visit to the following day and have our dinner at the hotel instead. After the full day of activities and the frustrating traffic jam, we were all more than ready to call it a day.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

"A Christmas Carol" at KLPac

KLPac Presents



More than a century later, Charles Dickens' “A Christmas Carol” remains one of the most popular and best-loved tales. Performed on stage all around the world during Christmastime, it has become an all-time holiday favorite!

KLPac is delighted to carry on this tradition by presenting its very own production of A Christmas Carol based on John Mortimer's adaptation which premiered to critical acclaim at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

Darius Taraporvala will be taking on the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, an old and bitter (but extremely wealthy) man who absolutely hated the humbug of Christmas. It follows the miserly Scrooge as he is taken on a journey through the past, present and future by three ghosts on Christmas Eve.

As Scrooge enters the lives of Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit and the Fezziwigs, he comes to know the meaning of kindness, charity and goodwill, and remembers the true spirit of Christmas.

Besides the traditional Christmas carols, there will also be original music by Nick Choo.

KLPac invites everyone to experience the magic, warmth and spirit of the festive season with this classic - the perfect holiday treat for families & loved ones.



Cast :

Date & Time:
12 - 28 DECEMBER 2008 @ 8:30 PM (excluding MONDAY and CHRISTMAS EVE)
14, 21 & 28 DECEMBER 2008 @ 3:00 PM (SUNDAY Matinee shows)
25 DECEMBER 2008 @ 3:00PM (CHRISTMAS DAY Matinee show)

Venue :

RM 60/ RM 40


FAMILY PACKAGE @ RM100 only for family of four

Box Office :
(KLPac) 4047 9000 / (TAS@BSC) 2094 9400

Venue Website:

Facebook Event link :

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Cambodia Trip '08 – Day 02: Visit to Kampong Chnang, Phnom Penh

After spending a few hours at the Chreng Chomres school, our journey continued for another 2 ½ hrs in land towards the Muslim Champa community at Kampong Chnang. The scenery along the route was mostly vistas of rice fields in various stages of maturity which reminded me of the trip that I took by train from Jakarta to Bandung earlier this year. The major difference between these two sights was that it was very much geographically flatter in Cambodia than in Indonesia which made the sea of green rice fields stretch all the way to the horizon. We also past through many houses built on stilts driven into the water canals that ran along side the road. Most have the doors open all the way through which gave me the opportuinity to glimpse through how the insides of their houses was like as our chartered van passed by.

(Views on the way to Kampong Chnang)

One common feature of these houses was a covered verandah in front of the house where hammocks were string up for us. Given the fairly high temperatures that afternoon, I assumed that these hammocks would be used as an outdoor sleeping area during the hot days as the household rested after morning chores in the fields. Having seen more than a few people dozing off in these hammocks, I’m fairly sure that my assumptions were not all that wrong.

Another roadside feature that made me stop to wonder was what seemed to be piles of rice stalks that punctuated our view of the rice fields. Standing at least 2 meters tall, I wondered what these piles of dried rice stalks were for. At first I thought that they just plied them by the side of the road after they harvested their rice but I soon observed that cows were actually eating them. It was only then it dawned to me that this was how the people on the area feed their cows. With the lack of grazing ground in the rice fields, cow owners were putting these piles of rice stalks for their cows to eat. Since the cows seem to be allowed to roam freely in the area, it seems that cow owners had to put their feed in more than one place. Having only had the experience of cows grazing on open grasslands, the sight of the rice stalk piles was definitely one of the more memorable sights of the trip especially when it took me a while to figure them out.

(Took me a while to figure out what these pile were for and why they were there along the road)

We stopped at a roadside rest/car wash area along the way and encountered a convoy of UN trucks being washed before they went on their way to Phnom Penh. We were told by our local guides that these trucks were from the UN contingent operating along the Cambodian borders. This drove home the point to me that not long ago, the country was not entirely stable. They still have UN presence in the country to help them with border issues as well as land mine clearing activities in some of interior areas. It was sobering to think that for all that has happened since then, the recovery of Cambodia was still a slow process.

(UN Trucks at the rest/car wash area)

After about an hour after our trip break, we finally arrived at Kampong Chnang which was surrounded by a sea of green rice fields. With the sunny skies above us, the sight was definitely something to behold albeit it being a really hot and sweaty place to be. As we drove on the only road leading to the village, our journey came to an abrupt end when we reached what seemed to be a water canal running across the dirt road. We would later be told that road had been washed away when the waters from the rice fields on both sides overflowed after the rains that came down previously. Since the water was nearly at above knee height at the deepest part of the road, we had to leave the van by the road side and find a way to continue on to the village.

(The wash out road leading to the village)

(Thanks to the villagers, we manage to get across and continue to the village)

A quick call by our local guide brought out a group of villagers with bicycles and motorcycles who met us at the washed out road. While some of us opted the very flimsy piece of fencing to cross the road, some of use took the more interesting way of getting ferried across the washed out road by motorcycle. As we took turns getting across the water obstacle, the area filled with our laughter as it was a fairly hilarious situation for us. It was definitely an experience that I would not have expected on this trip but actually thankful that it happened since it added just a little more spice to the experience. Some of the group decided to commandeer some of the children’s bicycles to ride into the village. The sight of them racing like kids to get to the village first was definitely quite memorable. Given that I can’t ride a bike even to save my life, I choose to walk the way while enjoying the views.

(Scenes from the surrounding rice fields of the village)

After a somewhat sweaty walk, I finally arrived at the village mosque where the villagers were already gathered to welcome us. We were promptly offered fresh young coconut juice to drink which definitely hit the spot on that hot afternoon. We were introduced to the village elders and thanks to our local guide who acted as translator, we learned a bit about how they lived in the area. We were also given the chance to hear how some of the Quran verses was read in the old Champa way which really sounded different than the way that it was meant to be read. We also got a sampling of a local version of the qasidah which was accompanied by the beating of hand drums by the elders.

(Our hosts performing the qasidah for their visitors)

After the presentations by the villagers, the group distributed the clothes that they bought with them from Kuala Lumpur to the villagers. Most were for the children and women of the village as a token of our visit. The group also distributed some alms to the village children much to their excitement. Standing there watching them, it occurred to me that it doesn’t really take much to cheer someone up when they have very little to begin with and how fortunate we were relative to them. There is always the wish that there was something more that we could do for them but I believe that the best gift that we could give to them is to help enable them to better their livelihoods for their own future. It made me think of other ways of helping them other than just to be the bearers of gifts and money.

(Distributing alms to the children)

Our warm reception extended to an invitation to a simple lunch prepared by the villagers. We were ushered to a high stilted one room school building near the mosque for a meal of white rice and roasted chicken. The roasted chicken was accompanied by a thin sauce made out of local black pepper and lime juice that we were suppose to dip the chicken meat in. We only found that out later when we noticed that none of the locals were taking spoonfuls of the sauce and putting it on their rice like we did. In our defense, we all thought that the sauce was some kind of spicy soup that was suppose to go with the plain white rice. Our hosts were too polite to correct our culinary faux pas especially seeing how enthusiastic we were tucking into the food and instead sent us more of the sauce. I’m sure that they were wondering why we were putting the dipping sauce in our rice which incidentally was so good for me that I didn’t even take any chicken after the first serving.

(Simple but highly satisfying meal)

Our bellies full and refreshed with the dessert of the flesh of the young coconut, it was time for us to thank our host for their generous hospitality and make our way back to Phnom Penh. As before, we were ferried over the washed out road to where our charted van was parked by the villagers who saw us off. As we left the village traveling towards Phnom Penh, I thought back on the experience and marked it up as something that I might not have been able to experience in a normal tour of the country. The opportunity to experience the hospitality of the villagers at Kampong Chnang would definitely be one of the highlights of this trip for me.