A Sinus Infection and The Killing Fields – Phnom Penh, Cambodia

-This took place APRIL/MAY 2018-

Sickness overtook him in the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. He experienced body aches and a persistent headache, possibly a sinus infection.

He had no appetite and little energy to move, but felt he needed to eat anything just to have calories.  He didn’t know the area as he had tuktuk’d straight to his hotel from the van drop off. The heat and sickness quickly tired him so he ate one takeout meal a day from one restaurant days in a row.


Another day, on a hunt for fruit, he bumped into a woman with a bushel of mini bananas. With the use of hand gestures and showing money, he conveyed he wanted to purchase some from this women he thought was a vendor.  He handed her  currency and with a shocked face she handed him all of the mini bananas and walked away. He continued a quarter block and found an open air market, selling fruit.




Knowing Cambodia was a hub of accessible medications he went to the pharmacy for acetaminophen. He entered the corner store and approached the glass counter stuffed with medications and asked for it with “no caffeine.” The kind woman turns around and grabs something off the shelf and points to a container of “Codeine [hear: caffeine”]. After a head shake, she comes back with acetaminophen, with codeine in it. Probably better than acetaminophen alone, he purchased 10 pills for $1.

His illness began to pass after four days and he felt grateful. He knew the entire time he was sick that his discomfort was nothing in comparison the histories of the relics he was about to see.





From 1975-1979 the Cambodian Genocide took the lives of 1.5-3 million people, actual totals are unclear. In Phnom Penh, within walking distance of his hotel, is Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, AKA S21 (Security Prison 21). This converted school to interment camp was filled with barbed wire and tiny wooden stalls in which prisoners were chained and abused. A guillotine sat in the yard. For more information, read the Wikipedia article.

Walking along the upper levels, he looked out to the high rises and features of this 21st century. The streets he walked from his air conditioned hotel were the same streets prisoners were taken along to be tortured.  The city has many layers in just the last half century.

The Killing Fields was an area people from the city were transported to be killed and thrown in mass graves. This savage behavior felt particularly crushing when the Californian faced a display of items used to commit murders. Initially some items used seemed strange and ineffective like a spade or other farming equipment. Then the horrible understanding hit him: they were killing with anything. It was not mass genocide in the way he’d been previously exposed to like gas chambers, but rather brutal and ineffective methods. Nearby in a glass box was a small pile of clothes and shoes that had been turned up from the soil over the years.


The worst tree he’d ever seen existed in The Killing Fields: the killing tree. The wide barreled trunk served as the backboard for smashing children’ skulls as they were slammed into the tree by swinging the bodies by holding the feet. Fragments of skull were stuck in the bark when the tree was found.




One featured tourist attraction was visiting a shooting range. Upon first thought firing a rocket launcher sounded awesome and a radical opportunity. But the reality is this perpetuates violence and reenforces the use of the same weapons used to slaughter and savagely destroy lives just 40 some years ago. No shots were fired.


Over his sickness and emotionally whelmed, he was ready to begin the last leg of his journey. He wished to head to the coast of Cambodia, but his start date in Maine was just four weeks away and he still had to get to the North Island of New Zealand before heading back to California.


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