Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Entry #120: A Personal History

My mother describes my father as a bandit. Born into a wealthy family of French and Cambodian descent, he was trained as a scientist and later a translator for the United States Embassy as the U.S. Army made its way surreptitiously onto Cambodian soil.

Working along the Thailand border, my father pilfered food and drinks from marked U.S. crates and channeled them through the jungles of Cambodia. An expert geologist, he understood the ground well and traversed mines and other explosives by paying off the Red Army. It was dangerous— and eventually a young soldier, following the commands of his superior, took my father to a prison camp.

I was sixteen and reading about various death camps that were set up by Pol Pot in Cambodia on my home computer when I ran across a page about my father’s old high school, now known as S-21. In its glory days, it was filled with French and Cambodian students.

The high school is now known as "Tuol Sleng" or the Hills of the Poisonous Tree. Located in the capital of Cambodia, "Security Office 21 (S-21)" was established for the interrogation and extermination of those opposed to "Angkar," or The Organization. In total, there were over 100 centers at least the size of S-21 in which more than 500,000 Cambodians were tortured and executed.

"The Tuol Sleng school buildings were enclosed with a double fence of corrugated
iron topped with dense, electrified, barbed wire. The classrooms were converted into prison cells and the windows were fitted with bars and barbed wire. The classrooms on the ground floor were divided into small cells, 0.8m x 2m each, designed for single prisoners, who were shackled with chains fixed to the walls or floors. The rooms on the upper floors were used as communal cells. Here prisoners had one or both legs shackled to iron bars." (From Cambodia's Holocaust)

Upon arrival at S-21, prisoners were told about the rules of the camp in the form of a poster entitled "Security Regulations:"

The Security Regulations
1. You must answer accordingly to my question – don’t turn them away.
2. Don’t try to hide the facts by making pretexts this and that. You are strictly prohibited to contest me.
3. Don’t be a fool for you are a chap who dare to thwart the revolution.
4. You must immediately answer my questions without wasting time to reflect.
5. Don’t tell me either about you immoralities of the essence of the revolution.
6. While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all.
7. Do nothing, sit still and wait for my orders. If there is no order, keep quiet. 8. When I ask you do something, you must do it right way without protesting.
9. Don’t make pretexts about Kampucheas Krom in order to hide your jaw of traitor.
10. If you don’t follow all the above rules, you shall get many many lashes of electric wire.
11. If you disobey any point of my regulations you shall get either ten lashes or five shocks of electric discharge.

Meticulous records and photos were kept.

(It is a weird feeling to look at the photographs that bear the faces of my people. I want to know more and I can't help but feel ashamed of my life in America.)

What am I made of? There is evidence that whatever trauma a person is exposed to gets transfered to their offspring while en utero. Upon birth and throughout childhood, parents' behavior (mostly withdrawn silence or haphazard fits of anger) affects the emotional stability of their children.

These experiences are often suppressed and many kids can grow up fairly normal. However, for reasons yet to be understood, most experience major depression in their 30s. Another catalyst for major depression can be a traumatic event (a sort of tipping point).


Anonymous said...

I'll never forget that place. When i visited Cambodia that was the first place I visited. On the wall someone had written, "How much longer can we bare man's inhumanity towards man." I have a picture of the quote somewhere.

Anonymous said...

cambodia is beautiful like a lotus in a mud...