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Posts tagged ‘South East Asia’

The Red Khmer

When I was in grammar school, in a land I did not know, a horror overcame an entire country called Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge was the political party that won a revolution and their leader Pol Pot began a harsh rule to cleanse an entire nation. In four years he would be responsible for the deaths of two to three million of his own people. More than a quarter of his countries population.

Anyone who was educated or appeared educated were especially vulnerable. Schools and places of worship were closed and many in these institutions were executed. Teachers, monks, artists, doctors, business men and those with “soft hands” or who wore glasses, giving the appearance of being educated, were especially vulnerable. Children were executed with the parents because Pol Pot did not want the children to grow up with revenge against the government in their heart.

Complete cities were evacuated to camps to work in the field since city dwellers were also a root of evil. Families were separated.

Peasants from the country were Pol Pot’s heroes. However, even the peasants were treated harshly. People did not have enough food. The only religion the people needed was the new government.

As I walked up the steps at S21, a high school that was turned into an interrogation center and prison, my mind flashed to when I was a principal walking up the steps of our high school. As I walked the stairs, I thought about the principal and the teachers who worked here. ‘Did they live long enough to see what the new government would do to their students…their colleagues? Could they do anything at all before dying? How can anyone do this to children?’ As I walked from classroom to classroom little was left to the imagination as photographs of the executed were hung about. Pot instructed, “Better to kill an innocent then let an enemy survive.”

People were interrogated and tortured for hours everyday. They pulled out their finger nails from their hands, used electric shock, beat, hung them upside down and dunked them into water and cut them open with tools that should be used only for farm work.

Officials hauled truckloads of their countrymen to be executed in killing field locations all over this country. At times the victims would have to dig their own grave pits before they were knelt down beside the pit and executed.

In addition to S21, I visited one of the killing fields. After going to Rwanda just a few months ago I was going to bypass this place. I was not sure if my heart could bear witness to another genocide of a people. However, I believe that it is important that we visit, talk and write about these things so that the unthinkable never happens again.

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Final Thoughts to Consider–

After Khmer Rouge was driven out by the Vietnamese in 1979, rescuing the people from this hell, the ousted government was still recognize by the UN and many western governments for years. Many governments, including the United States, continued to financially support the Khmer Rouge which had fled into hiding. As I am here in Cambodia, I wonder how our western governments pick winners and losers in these third world countries. I also encourage you to consider:

1) Why our governments are more interested in helping people who are experiencing genocide and crimes against humanity when those people live on a land with great natural resource?

2) When our government choses a side, how do we know they have chosen correctly?

Dragons, Mantas and Sting Rays! Oh My!

The journey to Flores Island is a rough one, when sailing is impossible due to the tempestuous seas in January and February. During this time, you must either fly, by first backtracking to Bali, or take the bus and ferry route. I chose the adventure. Thirty-one and a half hours later, I arrived on Flores Island, the gateway to the Komodo Dragons.

Once on Flores it is easy to schedule a trip or you can even go out to the docks and barter a price with a boat caption. Most trips include tracks for the dragon on both Rinca and Komodo Island and break up the trips by stopping to snorkel several reefs along the way. This time of year most people opt to sleep on the deck of the boat at night as it is cooler than the cabins.

I loved sleeping on the deck. After the caption turned off the boat generator, it looked like the stars would go on forever. Away from the modern world they peer out to play and dance in the black night. So many stars that constellations were difficult to recognize since there were so many additional specs shining in places that I have not observed before in the sky. This is the way the night was meant to be seen….In all it’s glory.

On Rinca and Komodo I stayed within a few feet of my guide during the entire hike. We were all aware that two park rangers were bit by a Komodo Dragon last week. The had just returned to the park from the hospital in Bali. I was not planning to make an early trip back to Bali and was overly cautious.

“Excuse me? That dragon is coming up pretty fast behind us. Can I walk in front of you.” I said to a ranger, knowing that dragons can run up to the speed of a horse. “Yes, don’t worry.” “Are you not afraid of them?” I asked. “Yes, I am. I think that is the reason I have never been hurt. I respect the dragon.” It sounded good to me but I wonder if those other two rangers had felt the same way before their near fatal experience.

The dragons had big claws and saliva which dripped down from their mouth. I assume that saliva contains the same bacteria that slowly kills the victim. Once dead, the dragons, which follow there prey, sometimes for days, chomp into there prize with there heavy duty teeth. I notice that the dragons walk with a purpose….Never backtracking. I wonder what is on their mind and I hope it isn’t me.

“Evon… Come look at this deer.” I walk over toward my friend and startled the deer in the process. The deer turned and just then out pops a dragon at his feet. The deer hops his front feet in the air and pushes off with its hind legs over the reach of the dragon. I think to myself, “See that dragon was hunting.” As is was the same dragon that had been walking behind us just twenty minutes earlier.

There were so many small islands and secluded beaches on the way. The rainforest was a brilliant green with all types of foliage and brown vines hanging from banyan trees. I loved sitting on the boat as it chugged onward. The water was so clear that we could see fish swimming in the shallower waters.

“Look, there’s a turtle.” Sure enough, a turtle swimming towards the side of our boat. Also the way to Komodo we saw a large pod of dolphins jumping out of the water in a parade like fashion, one behind another, a short distance from the boat. Later, when I was sitting on the bow of the boat, two dolphins jumped up twice just a couple meters away from me. We all clapped like school children at the sight of them.

My favorite part of the trip was the snorkeling. The advice I was given was correct…..I would now agree that this is some of the best snorkeling in the world. In addition to the fish I saw in the Gills, there was even more bountiful and diverse aquatic life here. The coral was more pronounced with bolder shapes and colors. Maroon, green, blue, purple, yellow…Some enormous and sturdy brain coral covered the sea floor and other coral fanned out providing a perfect place for little fish to dart in and out.

At one point I was swimming along and directly beneath me a sting ray raced from under his coral hiding place out to sea. It only took a few split seconds for him to disappear again.

When we reached manta point is was clear how it was named. Huge manta rays moving on the bottom of the sea floor with just a soft fan of its wings. “Are you ready to snorkel?” “Is it safe?” I reply. “Sure….Just watch out for the jelly fish. If you get caught in the current that is okay. We will come around and get you.” The three travelers on our boat decided to go even though the guide was going to watch us from the boat.

The mantas were so large and graceful. I loved watching them. “Come over here.” My guide yells out from the boat. “There are too big ones here.” I decided to swim out to where the boat had just been circling. After about ten meters, I can feel the current pushing back towards me. It is amazing how fast the current changes here.

I arrive directly above a huge manta ray and I have to continue to take long powerful strokes to stay above the manta who is motionless on the sea floor. It feels like I am in one of those new Hydropools I have seen on television and think they actually might work if they can duplicate this experience.

“It’s so graceful!” I yell back to my guide. I look down again in the water. Another slick black manta ray joins the large manta I had been watching. Then with a graceful partial flap of their wings they leave me behind.

I swim back to my friends looking for jelly fish as I swim. I adjust my stoke and turn slightly to let each float by me. We continue to observe the mantas until we spot five jelly fish in a lump and decided it was time to get in the boat. Swimming with the mantas was definitely the highlight my trip.

Yes, even in January and February, the trip is worth the effort to get here and should not be missed when in this part to the world. However….I will add that I am flying back to Bali.

-Please note the under water manta ray photos were captured by Eric Van De Put, Holland. Who had been diving on manta point the following day. Thanks Eric!

-Also note that the blue fish by the manta rays are just larger than my pinky finger.

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