Monday, April 27, 2009

The sobering facts

Today I went on a boat tour of Bangkok that started off in a typhoon which sounds to me a little more dramatic than I thought it was. There certainly was a loud electrical storm and some pouring rain and then it tapered off to mere steam. First one boat took us up the river one way and then up a split in the river and then let us off at a ramp where we stood around for five minutes and got on another one, a "rice barge" which didn't resemble what that sounds like to me. There was a guide telling us everything we were seeing but on the first boat I couldn't understand anything he said due to the loud motor and poor amplification and bad speakers. I didn't mind, I just wanted to take pictures. Since I was alone there was no one to be annoyed. At least not in my immediate vicinity. I probably did annoy some people but I didn't have anything else that I wanted other than to collect images from the opportunity to do so. Coming back in the van we sat in traffic for an hour and a half before being invited to walk the rest of the way. I would have walked a lot sooner but I thought I should stay put. It turned out OK.
In the morning Wan (my guide) took me to a tailor so I could get somethings made and altered I wanted attended to by a competent tailor. Of course he sold me a suite and some shirts as well and I guess that's what credit cards are for since I haven't had an occassion for wearing a suit really in years, other than meeting some people in Washington DC who I thought were going to seal the deal on the television series, but even the suit then didn't make any difference. Anyway, this is a suit of a different color, altogether. Grey, wool, three buttons, cuffs and pleats on the pants. Probably I'll have an opportunity to wear it in the next ten or so years if my life follows the pattern it has for the last ten.

So I've been thinking about the last day in Phnom Penh. I went back to the Genocide Museum because it spoke to me. I took a lot of pictures that no one I know will want to see for the most part but I think is incredibly important. Suddenly an Imam is calling the faithful to prayer outside. Weird how the cross cultural currents of this trip are interweaving themselves. The Cambodians are a mixture of Hindu and Buddhist and their language is based on Sanskrit. Hows that for throwing a loop around my naive California ignorance?
Anyway, this museum, which preserves the location of the torture prison of Pol Pot (I guess it was his Abu Grabe) is stark in it's matter of fact reality.
I've been readingthis article on Cambodia since I left that I found in the April issue of THarpers called Cambodias Wandering Dead. It has a great deal of objective facts and details that are very illuminating. The article is timed to coincide with the begining of the attempt to hold some kind of atrocity trials on the half dozxen living elderly people still culpable of the foul deeds. Pol Pot managed to die never apprehended in the '90's. The article also describes in detail what the Genocide Museum is like. I guess everyone has a different attitude about these things since the author saw fit to describe the place as an "entertainment for tourists". To me, that's to suggest that there is some kind of pornographic titilation about the exposure of this kind of abuse and trauma to a nation. Personally I don't see it that way. I think it is the best thing they could do, given their limited resourses and lack of power on the world stage. It is in my mind akin to sexual abuse being brought into the open in the Catholic Church, or for that matter sexual abuse of any kind. Public exposure is the best kind of immunization against repeat. I saw there was a museum of terror in Budapest and something similar I think in Prague. This is not entertainment and it is far from titilating. It brought me to tears. Tears of sorrow that so many people were treated so inappropriately and so needlessly and to absolutly no achievment at all. I could say the same thing about some of the personal relationships in my own life but thats a diatribe for another day. Besides no one wants to listen. Which is exactly why I took so many pictures. Because the place resonated for me, despite my own scars being of a far different and less (comparatively speaking) dreadful nature. The difference is I wasn't killed, I just have wanted to kill myself instead. Consequences are what they are.
The two images here are from one of the few survivors of this episode who was an artist and illustrated what he saw and experienced.
One of the images is of several variations on the theme of waterboarding. A subject only described in the press and never illustrated that I have seen. This was George Bush and Dich Cheneys contribution to American history. When do we get our "war trials" ? Enough said.

1 comment:

  1. can't wait to see your photos peter... sounds like you're having the trip of a lifetime. xo-d