Monday, December 24, 2012

Cambodia : Phnom Penh Museums - Day 2 Tuol Sleng Torture Museum

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Cambodia - Phnom Penh Museums 8-9th December 2012
DAY 2 - 9th December 2012
This is a blog that I will find hard, very hard to write.
How does one write about peoples' death, not a peaceful death, but a tortured death.
How does one write about the suffering of thousands, tortured physically and mentally, until all hope for life is lost.

How does one write about the barbaric people who carried this out, without a mere thought that their victims are human beings, people with feelings, with family. The oppressors carrying out this seems to have psyched themselves until they are devoid of feelings, devoid of conscience to the point that they have lost all their humanity.

Graves of last 14 victims found when the prison was liberated.
Difficult as it is, this is something I have to blog on, as a testament (like what this museum is doing) to a brutal period of a country - so that the same mistakes will not be repeated not only by the Cambodians but also by the rest of the world.

Entry to the Tuol Sleng Museum is like entering into a dark, sordid past of an era that should best be forgotten but has to be remembered.
This is about the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a memorial that grisly documents a period that the country would rather forget BUT must remember so that future generations will learn from a drastic period of its past.

Tuol Sleng was formely the Chao Ponhea Yat High School, a school consisting of around five blocks, each three-stories high. On plan, these five blocks are arranged in an E-pattern.
In August 1975, five months after the Khmer Rouge won the civil war, they converted the school into a prison and torture center called Security Prison 21 (or S-21).
The name Toul Sleng itself aptly means "Hill of Poisonous Trees".

Having finished my business for the day, I hailed a motor-dop and went over a bit late - around 3:00pm. Visitors enter through a side gate on the left of the compound. Tickets are purchased at a office/guard room at this entrance.
The moment one enters the compound, a small cemetery where the last 14 victims are buried can be seen.

Signage adjacent to the last fourteen victims graves.

Block A of the prison.
But I would still encourage you to steel your hearts to read on, and to open your souls to the suffering of these people.
The faces of the visitors above reflects the solemn and dark mood of the place.

Opposite Block A is a signage titled "The Security Of Regulation" that spells out the regulations that prisoners were subjected to.
Well, this did set the mood for my visit, and with that I steeled my heart and proceeded to Block A.

Block A

I am trying to put photos and write in words to convey the dark mood of the place as best as I can, but I feel it will never be the same as being at the place itself.
So if you can, spare some time and go to Phnom Penh to see & feel this place for yourself.

The rooms of Block A were classrooms converted into torture rooms. They were dark and stank. 

In the rooms were metal beds without mattresses and with shackles to restrain the victims.

On the walls of these rooms are black & white photos showing the prisoners being tortured.

Tools of Torture?

Having finished viewing the ground floor rooms and with hair on ends, I proceeded up the dank staircase to the first floor.
It seems that this museum has been kept un-refurbished, with minimum maintenance and cleaning so as to preserve the gloominess of the place.

The first floor had larger former class room turned into torture cells, but with more bed per cell instead of one as found on the ground floor.
The ground floor were reserved for torture of captured high officials who "deserved" special treatment.

Nevertheless, hopelessness permeates here too...

... and all the same, the victims are tortured gruesomely, very often till death.

Shaken, I went out to the corridor, looked down at the 14-graves to re-compose myself.
The view of the graves, oddly gave me some comfort.
Death seems like a welcomed escape from the gruesome, painful torture.

Having finished viewing Block A, I went down to the ground floor.
At the juncture between Block A and B is a tall wooden trestle with three large earthenware pots below.
What are they for?

These are the Gallows.
But they are not used for hanging prisoners to death, instead they are used to torture prisoners, and the large pots below serve their purpose. 

Read the above which is self explanatory.

This painting shows how it was carried out.

Next to the Gallows were lower trestles with metal bars.
Similarly like the Gallows, these peace-time school exercise equipment have been turned into torture apparatus.

Prisoners are tied akimbo here and whipped, etc.

Block B

Block B contains photos of the victims, photos of the war, confessions of prisoners, & memorabilia, etc. that documented what happened here.

Photo of a huge pile of clothes collected from the victims.

Clothes of victims.

Painting of leashed new prisoners being led into the compound to face their fate here.

More photos of prisoners - even the old and foreigners were not spared.

Photo of a despaired prisoner in front of corpses of other victims stacked up behind him.
What terrifying thoughts must be going through his mind.

Photo of ex-high officials wife being readied for her "mug-shot".
The contraption behind her is not a torture apparatus; it is used to steady her head for proper photography; in a way it's a torture.

The photo that was taken.
The look of despair is apparent on her face, probably she knows what is in store for her and her child - the tormentors do not even spare infants, often slaughtering them in front of their mothers.

More photos of victims.

Photos of prisoners next to the photos of their corpses. This is terrible.

Shackles for the prisoners.

Even young teenagers were not spared.

Photos of some murdered victims.

More photos of murdered victims.

Photos of skulls and bones found at the Killing Fields.

Skulls at the Killing Fields.

Photos & maps documenting the forced evacuation of the populace from the cities to the rural areas.

Photos & write-ups of Pol Pot & Nuon Chea, the leaders of the Genocide.

Photos & write-ups of Khiew Samphan, Ieng Sary & Duch, 

Photo of Australian victim David Lloyd Scott and his "confession".

My feelings were again all bottled up, I went out to the corridor a second time to re-compose myself before I went down.
This time I looked down at the Gallows, the sun rays lighting it up, breathing a certain closure for the victims.

Down below at the next to the Ground Floor of Block B is a signboard that gives a brief of the Tuol Sleng Museum.

Next to it is a signboard with faded photos of the leaders of the Atrocity, one each showing them during the time of their rule; and next to those, photos of them lately.

Block C

A large timber gate with barbed wires controls entry/exit of Block C.

Block C is the detention center, where the prisoners are locked up pending or in between their interrogation/torture.
A signage states that the braids of barbed wires prevents the desperate victims from seeking release by committing suicide.

Corridors of all three floors a enclosed by these braids of barbed wires.

Classrooms at the Ground Floor have been converted into individual holding cells. These cells were constructed of bricks and cement-sand blocks.
Small doorways have been hacked at the walls between the classrooms for access between the classrooms without using the outside corridor.

Each cell is rather small measuring about 4 feet by 7 feet;  prisoners are cramped in.
The windows are barred and the shutters closed so that the prisoner is not afforded a view of the outside world and is thus truly isolated.

Each cell has a number drawn onto the wall.
This is cell 22, a plastic plaque has presently been added stating the name of the prisoner held here; who must have been one of the"VIP" prisoner.

In Cell 23, there is a message penned onto the wall - "WE ARE LEAVING".
Was this a message from the prisoner that he/she is leaving the world,

Cells constructed of cement-sand blocks at the far end of Block C.

At the first floor, the individual holding cells are made of wood.
Again, doorways have been hacked at the wall between the classrooms for common internal access.

Although made of timber, these cells are strongly constructed with solid wooden doors. There is no escaping.

Out at the first floor corridor, I peered through the barbed wires; trying to imagine how desolated a prisoner would feel here - what sort of trauma lies ahead for them.

Block D

Block D is a "library" with photos and documents.

Tools of torture, simple but highly effective.

And more paintings. This one is of a mother forced to surrender her baby.

Painting of a baby being shot at the Killing Fields.

A tortured prisoner.

Water Torture.

The Water Coffin.

A painting illustrating how the water coffin was used.

Side view of the Water Coffin, showing the pipe-works.

The Water Dunking Bucket, the victim's hands are tied to the manacles at the bottom.

A painting depicting how the water dunking torture was carried out.

Teenage soldiers.
While kids in other part of the world were playing games, these children were totting real guns and killing each other.

Skeletal remains at the Killing Fields.

To end the tour, a map of Cambodia made up of skulls.

At the end, there is a shrine room.
Here, like many others, I offered a silent prayer to the victims.

In the compound, between the blocks, there is also a memorial shrine.
In the setting sun, I prayed there too.

With that, I left the gruesome place behind me.
But the braids of razor-sharp barb wires on the perimeter fence will always be a constant reminder to the world of what is inside.

You may also like :

Sites : National Museum of Cambodia

Cambodia : Phnom Penh Day 1 - 28th July 2012

Photo Gallery - Cambodia Phnom Penh

YummY! - Nom Pang (Cambodian Baguette)

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