khmer history

Asia’s Biggest Misconception

Is that when we see this map, we just see borders and countries names. But the biggest misconception that the West has perceived is that not everyone from a certain country are the same ethnic identity or speak the same languages. Just because people live in Thailand, Vietnam or China, does not automatically mean that they are and speak Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese.

Rather it’s diverse and complicated as this map here below:

This map is basically the distance of Portland to Los Angeles (Guizhou, China to Cambodia), of over 960 miles apart! And that is going through different various languages, ethnic groups, dialects and even accents, and crosses through 5 countries.

Simply driving an hour away from one village to another village, will be people who speak a totally different dialect from the village you were just at. That’s like going from San Francisco to San Jose.

S21, Killing Fields ផ្លូវជើងឯក & The Khmer Rouge.

Choeung Ek Genocidal Center , Phnom Penh, Cambodia.- ផ្លូវជើងឯក - Just the name sends a chill down my spine.

A humid Wednesday I took a trip to the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center (Killing Fields) in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. This is without a doubt the most haunting place I have ever visited and one part of Cambodian history which should never be forgotten.

The Khmer Rouge regime ran from 1975 to 1979 and refers to the ruling of a man named Pol Pot, immediately after the end of the Cambodian civil war from 1970-1975 in which more than a million people were killed and buried by the regime.

Walking through these fields, you are given a headset and a tape player to listen to a guided tour. The tape makes water rush to the forefront of your eye, its incredibly sad to hear the stories of what went on here.  These holes in the ground were used as mass graves to pile up the deceased, whilst the tape rings in your ears the chilling sound of the eerie music mixed with the echo’s of loud engine noise used to drown out the screams of the murdered victims. In the 28degree heat, it made every hair on the back of my neck stand on cold,icy end.

Now the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, S21 prison was initially built as a high school. The literal translation of Tuol Sleng is ‘Hill of the Poisonous Trees’ and it was here that as many as 20,000 prisoners were held and tortured. In 1975, they were killed here too, but by late 1976 it became more efficient to transfer them 15 km to the Choeung Ek killing fields.

Wires wrapped all surfaces and walls detaining the prisoners within. To walk the staircases and hallways of this school/prison is genuinely one of the eeriest things I have ever seen, walls covered in nail marks and stains. 

A frame once used by the school to hold gym equipment removed to be used as a frame to hang prisoners from by rope.

The Khmer Rouge’s legacy colors every aspect of life in Cambodia today. Before coming to power, Cambodia was far more developed than Thailand, Laos or Vietnam.  Today, Cambodia lags far behind the rest.

The immense suffering the Khmer people have endured makes me hold the upmost respect for them. They embrace what happened and look toward the future in happy, high spirits to make Cambodia the brighter place of today. 

Learning all about a places culture, past and its stories makes you thankful of your place in the world.

Visit this place, its chilling atmosphere leaves its presence.

A Khmer Rouge dressed child held at a refugee camp in Thailand, 1998. He and his family had fled fighting between the Cambodian Royal Army, under the direction of Hun Sen, and what was left of the Khmer Rouge under the leadership of Ta Mok near Anlong Veng along the Thai-Cambodia border in March of 1998.  One year later the Khmer Rouge would officially disband.


Nothing to forgive, Sydney. Nothing.

Roland Joffé’s The Killing Fields (1984) is set against a backdrop of one of the most horrific chapters in human history: the Khmer Rouge’s (Cambodia’s communist party) genocidal practices under Pol Pot before an intervention by neighbors Vietnam. The film stars Sam Waterston as New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg and a nonprofessional Cambodian-American actor named Haing S. Ngor playing Schanberg’s journalist friend and interpreter Dith Pran. 

As the Khmer Rouge moves into Phnom Penh, panic ensues as Western embassies begin evacuation procedures. Amidst the chaos, Schanberg holds out, hoping to acquire authorization to get Pran and his family out of the country. He fails and Pran finds himself under the iron fist of the Khmer Rouge. Ngor - who was an actual survivor of Pol Pot’s Killing Fields - embodies the tortuous anguish he once felt, remaking in an interview: “For me, movie not different. I have enough experience in Communist times. I put emotion into the movie. We have a lot of scenes like in Khmer Rouge time. Everything the same.” It was reported that Ngor wanted Joffé to include far more violence in the final cut of the film.

For the film’s genuousness, it would be granted seven Academy Awards including Best Adapted Screenplay (Bruce Robinson), Actor (Waterston), Director (Joffé), and Best Picture. From those seven, The Killing Fields won three times: Best Film Editing (Jim Clark), Cinematography (Chris Menges), and Best Supporting Actor for Ngor. Ngor would become only the second (and most recent) nonprofessional actor to ever win an Oscar - the other was handless World War II veteran Harold Russell for 1946’s The Best Years of Our Lives (a film about three WWII veterans and their difficult adjustments coming home). Ngor is only the second fully Asian actor to win an acting Oscar, the first being Miyoshi Umeki in 1957’s Sayonara in a role assuming many stereotypes of Asian women.