Day 3–February 28 by Emily and Kay

Tuol Sleng and Cheung Ka

We started the day with their first taste of fried bread sticks named “Chaquay,” which was adopted from Chinese immigrants in Cambodia. We also chose our between noodles with or without meat, and rice with chicken or pork. After the nice breakfast, the group head to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, which was a former high school and then transformed into a prison interrogation center by the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979. An estimated 20,000 prisoners there were tortured and killed there during the four years. We met Chum Mey at the site, where he, remarkably, survived because he was the only one at that time who could fix his jailers’ typewriters. He felt an ethical responsibility to share his stories with the young generation. He mentioned that he was happy to see so many teenagers from different countries and wished us to bring the information to the outside world. Many of us also bought his autobiography Survivor, the first book written by a Tuol Sleng survivor. Lunch was a BBQ buffet at Craft Peace café, one of the 38 outlets of HCFM (Hagar Catering & Facilities Management). This is a social enterprise that financially supports Banteay Prieb, a vocational training center and residential facility for women and children with physical disabilities who are recruited from shelters.

After lunch we visited one of the hundreds of Killing Fields in Cambodia, where collectively more than a million Cambodians were killed and buried by the Khmer Rouge. We saw a commemorative stupa filled with the skulls of the victims while wandering among this now tranquil setting and listened to an informative narration. We debriefed the day’s experiences on a boat cruising the Phnom Penh riverfront. We all agreed that the Khmer Rouge regime brought catastrophic damage to Cambodia; however, those tragic events should not represent the whole country today (although some think they have become propaganda for tourism). In my opinion, as long as the king and the prime minister learn the lessons–that ruling a country for self-interest like Pol Pot would ruin the society and make it fall behind for decades–and keep away from being a dictator, Cambodia will soon get its economic boom. Dinner that evening was at Friends –a job training center for homeless youth. We enjoyed the dishes served by the former street children wearing the t-shirts printed “Teacher” and “Student”.

note from Carrie: Tomorrow, Monday, March 2, we head to Koh P’dao, where we will stay until Friday. We may not be able to write but will try to post pictures here and also on our Instagram page.

Tuol Sleng and Cheung Ka

We started the day with their first taste of fried bread sticks named “Chaquay,” which was adopted from Chinese immigrants in Cambodia. We also chose our between noodles with or without meat, and rice with chicken or pork. After the nice breakfast, the group head to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, which was a former high school and then transformed into a prison interrogation center by the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979. An estimated 20,000 prisoners there were tortured and killed there during the four years. We met Chum Mey at the site, where he, remarkably, survived because he was the only one at that time who could fix his jailers’ typewriters. He felt an ethical responsibility to share his stories with the young generation. He mentioned that he was happy to see so many teenagers from different countries and wished us to bring the information to the outside world. Many of us also bought his autobiography Survivor, the first book written by a Tuol Sleng survivor. Lunch was a BBQ buffet at Craft Peace café, one of the 38 outlets of HCFM (Hagar Catering & Facilities Management). This is a social enterprise that financially supports Banteay Prieb, a vocational training center and residential facility for women and children with physical disabilities who are recruited from shelters.

After lunch we visited one of the hundreds of Killing Fields in Cambodia, where collectively more than a million Cambodians were killed and buried by the Khmer Rouge. We saw a commemorative stupa filled with the skulls of the victims while wandering among this now tranquil setting and listened to an informative narration. We debriefed the day’s experiences on a boat cruising the Phnom Penh riverfront. We all agreed that the Khmer Rouge regime brought catastrophic damage to Cambodia; however, those tragic events should not represent the whole country today (although some think they have become propaganda for tourism). In my opinion, as long as the king and the prime minister learn the lessons–that ruling a country for self-interest like Pol Pot would ruin the society and make it fall behind for decades–and keep away from being a dictator, Cambodia will soon get its economic boom. Dinner that evening was at Friends –a job training center for homeless youth. We enjoyed the dishes served by the former street children wearing the t-shirts printed “Teacher” and “Student”.

note from Carrie: Tomorrow, Monday, March 2, we head to Koh P’dao, where we will stay until Friday. We may not be able to write but will try to post pictures here and also on our Instagram page.

Days 1 and 2 in Cambodia–February 27 and 28

Greetings! We have been so crazy busy and had no time to compose a post. But we are having a blast. I write now to give you an update on the awesome experiences we’ve had so far…

Day 1 (2/27)–After a 30-hour trek from JFK to Phnom Penh, arriving at 10:30 AM on Thursday (2/26), we went immediately to our hotel. Turns out our arrival coincided with a visit from neighboring Laos’ Prime Minister and his wife, so we had a bit of traffic and consequently had a 15 minute check-in at our hotel before heading off to our first Cambodian meal at a local restaurant near the Independence Monument. After a brief tour of Independence Monument and the nearby statue memorial to Cambodia’s late King Norodom Sihanouk, we had a brief orientation to our itinerary at a lovely pagoda, then headed to the Olympic Stadium, which will take part in Cambodia’s hosting of the Southeast Asian Games in 2023. We were fortunate to be there near sunset, when many locals—and some visitors including members of our own group not too exhausted—participated in the daily aerobics activities that take place there. Then, again a very brief visit to our hotel for a quick freshen-up, and another fantastic Cambodian meal before returning exhausted our beds, most sound asleep by 9 pm.

Day 2 (2/28)  began with a brief language lesson, Cambodian breakfast at a vegetarian restaurant, and much needed coffee/latte/espresso at Jomo Bakery Café. The café sits right underneath the fabulous Social Enterprise Cambodia, where students spent three hours engaging in a fast-paced social enterprise “bootcamp,” normally conducted by the wonderful staff over 48 hours, part of their incubation programming for Cambodia’s emerging social entrepreneurs. Teams of students conceptualized their own social enterprises and even did a “pitch” to a panel of judges: their teacher chaperones. Those on the winning team received a coveted SEC t-shirt. After lunch, we split into two groups to alternately visit Cambodian Living Arts, and another social business. CLA is a social enterprise focusing on restoration of Cambodia’s traditional arts by providing training and livelihood for dancers, vocalists, actors, musicians and more. Ninety percent of Cambodia’s artists were lost to the tragedies of the 1970s, and this important organization has had phenomenal success since its birth 15 years ago. Dancers, actors and musicians demonstrated their crafts, and even taught us a few basic ones such as gestures and musical instruments. Half of our students also learned about (and participated in!) the excellent work of Coco Khmer, a “triple bottom line” business making coconut oil and coconut oil products in the Boeung Kak region of Phom Penh, an area devastated by the draining of (one of?) the world’s largest urban lakes for a controversial development project. The other half visited Khmer Creations and Cambodia Knits, jewelry and knitting enterprises helping marginalized and vulnerable Cambodians by providing work and skills training. After a half hour of “downtime” at our hotel, off we went again for dinner and then a truly awe-inspiring Cambodian Living Arts performance, “The Story of Mak Therng.” Truly amazing. Finally, exhausted, everyone fell into bed by 9 pm. Though our pace has been breakneck, we expect it to slow down a bit tomorrow for a sobering visit to Cambodia’s Killing Fields and S21 museums. In fact, I am exhausted right now so off I go to sleep. Please follow us on Instagram at rosscambodia2015 (link embedded at the top of this page). Hugs to all, and we LOVE comments.

 

Below: at Social Enterprise Cambodia, Brian, Zoe and Liza each try to make a compelling case for a bad idea: