Two decades later she had still been unable to return to her country, but she made sure her half-Cambodian daughter knew about her heritage and I learned too.
Young children who were killed against this tree so they "wouldn't grow up and take revenge for their parents' death".
Alex told me that her mother couldn't read the book because the real life stories featured many of her friends. The real Killing Fields have been...
somewhere I have wanted to visit ever since.
Years later and it's visa run time in Vietnam - a long weekend in Phnom Penh is an 8 hour journey away. An overheated, uncomfortable bus ride across the border, an overpriced cyclo ride later and I'm at a hotel. Phnom Penh is everything I thought S.E.Asia would be. Forget about the capitalist western-style cities I've visited, this is a capital with character, french influences ever-present but with a unique traditional flavour, and it seems I can walk every street in just one day. Tourist touts are on every street corner - where do I want to go, what do I want to see, 'best best cheap price'. [OK, same as Thailand then].
My private cyclo driver picks me up early the next morning; we weave through the city and out into the countryside. It's a well trodden path - more cyclos carrying western tourists than other traffic on this main road. All following the signs for The Killing Fields. The entrance is a rather normal looking gate to what was formerly an orchard, my guidebook tells me to buy the audio guide, my guidebook was right. This isn't a place for talking, but for reflection and silence. Learning more about what happened here it strikes me that the area is extremely small. Too small for murder on such a scale.
Even now I remember thinking of the book more as a horror story than an account of real life events.
'It happened, therefore it can happen again'. [Primo Levi]
My guidebook tells me to buy the audio guide,
my guidebook was right
When the camp was liberated the tree trunk was stained with blood, brain matter, bone and flesh belonging to the children who lost their lives. One of many mass graves lies just a few feet away, bodies of mothers and their babies were found by the liberators.
There are many places in the world where tourism doesn't fit. Auschwitz and the other Nazi death camps, The Cambodian Killing Fields (I visited just one, and a relatively small one), yet - in the words of Rudyard Kipling - should be seen 'lest we forget'.
Another city, another time, another continent, the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, and the powerfully simple words 'It happened, therefore it can happen again'. [Primo Levi]
More information on "Killing fields can be find is some of these sites: