4. Dispatch from the Killing Fields

Because of my war, some of America may actually be able to find the Kingdom of Cambodia on a map. Some might even recall that some really bad stuff happened here but it was far away - and there were many other channels to watch. America had left, done with wars in these parts - and the memory and bitterness kept news of the aftermath off the front page and out of our conscience. To bad ignoring it did not make it really go away.

All over Cambodia, the Killing Fields are still fresh. Human bones still wash out of the mud, and those that put them there are still around. After all the years of butchery and crimes - that reduced this nation to a starving corpse - only 4 Khmer Rouge leaders have been charged, and none have reached trial. The Buddha tells us that to forgive brings merit - but I think Cambodians, the ones that survived, maybe are just too tired of killing to take revenge.

We arrive abeam Phnom Penh after dark and drop anchor in the middle of the river - which here is at least a mile wide. Crossing from the Viet part of the river into the Cambodian part, changed nearly everything. Big boat traffic almost ceased, electric lights ashore became rare, and the population density more than halved. Even the style of local boats changed from the standing double oars and painted eyes of Vietnam, into a Cambodian form with swept-up bow and stern. They row standing up, one from the front and one at the rear, like a gondola in Venice

At dawn we move to the city dock (an ex-US Navy barge fitted to rise and fall with the river level). Across the road stands the Royal Palace where the present king is housed. His house glistens gold with architecture both Buddhist and Hindu - all set off in neatly trimmed gardens. We tour it and the National Museum. Most of the historic artwork of this culture now graces the mantles and bookcases of well accessorized McMansions, or smart SoHo lofts. We have seen stupas with hundreds of carved stone figures - all now headless. Much of what little remains is in this museum, and we luck into a great guide - good knowledge and passable English.

She is an orphaned student, about 45 years old. Pol Pot's lads killed all her family and ended her schooling. Hell … they ended her whole school system! Later we walk through a downtown grade school that was used to jail and question thousands of suspects. The instruments of torture are left in place. All but 13 prisoners were sent to a field outside of town where their sculls are now stacked high in witness to a tale that would be otherwise be beyond belief. The last 13 were killed at the school, still chained to a classroom floor, as the Vietnamese army arrived to stop the insanity.

Jean steps over the strips of clothes and bones that poke up after the rain. Hundreds more such fields are scattered around the country … but life goes on. The capital of Phnom Penh, emptied then, is now re-populated and bustling. Their king has returned. Laughing children peddle by in school uniforms while I drip sweat on a keyboard in a well stocked canned goods store / internet cafĂ©. The trees and grass now grow green atop the Killing Fields.

I can't help but wonder, as we watch delicate little Cambodian girls dance their ancient art form - how could one culture produce such beauty and such horror?

I hope my telling this tale puts our petty problems in perspective - and improves my Cambodian dreams.

- Rod un-Rouge