The Things I Will Not Miss (aka Home Sweet Home)

I love traveling. I enjoy every flight, every bus or train ride, however uncomfortable, because I can’t wait to see the next place. No place is ever the way you imagined it. Every town has its unique flavor, all nationalities their characteristics and each corner of the world its distinct rhythm. However, when you’re on the road for months at the time, some things do get tiring. Sometimes you do miss the ease of your home, where everything works the way you’re used to (not necessarily better) and where you know exactly what to expect.

Now that we are on our way home, I would like to share a list of the things I like the least about traveling, as a deterrent for the next time I start dreaming about going away on a long trip.


Squat toilets

Any country in the third world has them. Basically it’s hole in the floor, and you have to point your butt in the correct position to be able to aim right into the sewer. Not only is in an uncomfortable way to go to the loo, it’s almost impossible not to get pee on your shoes and pants.


Chinese public bathrooms

The Chinese have by far the most disgusting public toilets in the world. Nowhere in Africa, South America or other Asian countries are they quite as bad as here.

a) In one place, the ladies’ room consisted of a cement floor with three holes next to each other. To go to the bathroom, you had drop your pants, squat down and pee, while looking at two other women’s naked behinds while they were doing their own business.

b) Another Chinese toilet had a gutter running the length of the men’s and women’s bathrooms, where everyone’s “private” space was divided only by a low wall. You had to aim for the gutter, while looking at everyone else’s poop and pee flow past beneath you.



Shower over the toilet

Budget hotel rooms usually have some quirks, wherever you are in the world. Often, the bathroom is the strangest place. In the Middle East, Africa and Asia, many bathrooms are so small that the shower head is placed directly over the toilet, so that you can save time by taking a shower while pooping. Clever!



Menus in Strange Scripts

For an omnivore it shouldn’t matter – just point and hope for the best (no pig’s snout, no chicken feet, no live turtle). For a vegetarian, however, it’s a bit more complicated, especially in places where no one speaks English. The first thing you have to learn is how to say “I don’t eat meat,” and look quizzically at the waiter while pointing at the menu. And if you’re lucky, the waiter understands that “meat” includes chicken, ham and hot dogs, not just beef.



Currency Calculations

If you only travel to one or two countries, currencies are fun. But when you reach your eleventh country in five months, you start getting confused. How much does something really cost? In Nepal, a dollar gets you 96 rupees. In India, 60. In Sri Lanka, 130. Everything seems to cost millions in Indonesia, where 100,000 is $10 USD. In Singapore USD 1 equals SGD 1.3, in Thailand 31 Baht.

In Cambodia, it’s easy because the prices are in USD, except for the small change in Riel: If USD 1 is worth 4,000 Riel, how many Riel should you get in change if something costs $3.65?




It is fun to bargain, especially when you feel you are getting a great deal. But sometimes you just want to buy something without having to guess the price. When arriving in a new country, it’s almost impossible to figure out the cost of a taxi ride to your hotel. You always end up paying a lot more than you should, especially during the first few days.


Greasy Food

No matter how well you try to eat and how many times you ask the waiter to use oil sparingly, almost all the food you are served is swimming in grease. Even in the places that label themselves “healthy”.



Constant Planning

Again, if you’re travelling to a couple of countries, planning is fun. But reading up on another town, again, trying to figure out where to go, which area to stay in, how much a taxi should cost and where you can get decent vegetarian food ‒ it gets tiring after a while. And often, you find the coolest areas of town just before you’re about to leave.



But who am I kidding? In the end, I know none of these things will stop me from travelling in the future. When you have the travel bug, nothing will stop you from wanting to look around the next corner. Even if you have to pee in a stinking hole.

The Fight for Free Speech in Turkey

A man tinkers on a piano. Around him, hundreds of people have gathered in the night, looking for a pause from the constant threat of another police attack. The unsung words float in the air; “Imagine there are no countries… Nothing to kill or die for. And no religion, too.” No song could be more suitable for the situation. The protesters have been standing their ground for over a week. “Save the Gezi Park”.”Out with Erdogan,” the Turkish Prime Minister, who wants to turn the secular country into a Muslim dictatorship. They have had enough.


It all started as a peaceful sit-in to save one of Istanbul’s few remaining green areas, where the government had decided to build a shopping mall. But instead of initiating a dialogue, they sent riot police to assault the environmentalists with tear gas and  batons.

Suddenly, the rest of Turkey took notice. Teenagers, octogenarians, mothers, fathers, students, entrepreneurs, rich, poor, leftwing, rightwing – pretty much everyone rushed to Taksim Square to support them. The government’s behavior was just not acceptable. Tens of thousands joined the ranks in Istanbul. When the police ambushed the tent-city with water cannons and rubber bullets, things got ugly. This time, the demonstrators fought back. They burned down police cars, bulldozers, excavators and caterpillars. They demolished construction trailers and fences, and used them to build  barricades around the park.  The park became impenetrable. And the police had to retreat.


Meanwhile, the Prime Minster Erdogan remained defiant. Blocking Twitter and Facebook and closing down any news channels who sided with the protesters, he claimed that the trouble makers were just a handful of “çapulcu“, looters. While asking everyone to stay calm, he reiterated that he was going to proceed with his plans. Overconfident, Erdogan traveled to North Africa, thinking the demonstrations would die off if left alone.

But the fire was already burning. Hundreds of thousands joined the fight in over 40 Turkish cities. It was no longer only about Gezi Park ‒ it was about freedom of the press, free speech, and perhaps most of all against Erdogan’s move towards sharia law. The Prime Minister had to go.


On June 11, the day Eduardo and I arrived in Istanbul, the riot police moved back into Taksim Square. Throwing tear gas bombs and catapulting water, they scattered the masses by pushing them along side streets, away from the center. But as soon as they could, the protestors ran back. It was like watching a tug-of-war, but with our eyes burning from tear gas. A war zone, complete with dust-masks and helmets being sold on the streets.

Again, the people won. Erdogan made a vague promise to have a referendum regarding the future of the park, but no one believed him. So, he told the demonstrators that if they didn’t return home, he could not guarantee their safety. No one moved.

Finally, a few days later, the government went in for the kill. Thousands were arrested, another few thousands critically injured, leaving four people dead and hundreds disappeared. The barricades were demolished, tents removed and the Gezi Park shut down. It was over.


But it wasn’t the end. Having reached no real conclusion, the protests continue, albeit in a more scattered and quieter fashion. Individual people stand in silent protest in various places across the country to fight for the right to protest. The government, in their ignorance, continues to raid houses of former protesters and arresting them for terrorism.

As outsiders, you can’t help but admire the protesters, especially after witnessing the brutal tear-gas attacks. Night after night, these heroes stood peacefully side by side on the stairs leading up to the park, ready to defend themselves in case of an attack. Only steps away, surrounding them, hundreds of police waited for a go-ahead, fingers on the trigger, tear-gas cans in their pockets and the water-cannon vans ignited.

Gezi Park may  not matter to many foreigners, after all it’s just a park in a faraway country. But the violation of freedom of speech should concern all citizens of the world. During the protests, several foreign and local media personnel became targets of police violence, including physical assaults and attacks with plastic bullets. A courageous presenter for BBC Turkey was recently accused of treason because she dared to cover the protests. Most Turkish channels completely avoided mentioning the confrontations for fear of getting fired, attacked or arrested.

And the propaganda worked. We met a taxi driver, a shop keeper and a hotel manager all expressed their hopes for the bothersome crisis to end sooner rather than later. What we don’t know, however, is if they had been brainwashed by the censored media. Or if they are radical Muslims yearning for an Islamic state with limited freedom for women and absolutely no free press.

The next presidential elections in Turkey will take place in 2014, with Erdogan as the main candidate. The future of Turkey is at stake. Will freedom win?

Only time will tell.


Why Nomads Can’t Drive

Mongolians and horses go together like fish and water. Seriously. For more than five thousand years, Mongolian nomads have been riding from one end of their country to another, across steppes and deserts chasing camels, goats and ostriches. Emperors have come and gone, but the lifestyle has stayed the same. The majority still travels home to their ger at the end of the day, ties up the horse and dines on dried yak meat and fresh yogurt. As if it were 2013 BC ‒ not CE.


It’s not difficult to understand their unwillingness to change. The country is magnificent. Only a few miles outside of Ulaanbaatar, the nature turns pre-historic. Eagles perch on the side of the dirt road. Hundreds of horses chase each other across the plains, free to roam as they want. Cows, goats and sheep follow the scent of the freshest grass, wherever the wind may take them. There are no fences. No one regulates their procreation. Calves and lambs hang out with their parents, siblings and cousins, feeding on their mother’s teats when they are hungry. At night, the herders bring the cattle back to the homestead to make sure none is sick or hurt, and to harvest enough milk to keep the family fed for the next day or two.


Wild Tahki Horses

In a country as large as Alaska, or five times the size of Germany, the nearly three million inhabitants have the luxury of freedom. With fewer than four people per square mile, no one needs to claim their lands. There is enough for everyone ‒ and more.


The problems start when the new generation of nomads decide to migrate to the city in search for better opportunities. As narrow roads replace endless grasslands, horses are traded for cars. Add pedestrians to the equation, and the chaos is complete. Traffic laws exist, of course, but as in the old joke about getting your license in a cornflakes package, it seems that with some extra cash, the driving test can be bypassed. And it shows.

Crossing the street is not only tricky, but downright dangerous. When the light turns green, you have about twenty seconds to cross. First you must wait for the cars from the left to pass, then the ones from the right. Then you look left-right-left-right, and if enough time remains you start walking. Watch out for the bus running the red light and coming at you at full speed. And for the cars overtaking another on the wrong side of the road. It’s a gamble. More often than not, you’ll just have to wait for the next green light.


Genghis Khan’s descendants are far more successful at driving up their finances. Nicknamed the Asian Wolf, Mongolia is the world’s fastest growing economy. In addition to agriculture and a thriving cashmere production, the country also has the largest copper reserves and second largest coal reserves on the planet. Together with other minerals, mining has become a free card to prosperity for this old-fashioned nation. As long as they manage their resources well and continue to protect their distinctive ecosystem, Mongolia could soon be as modern as South Korea.


But the traditions are what makes Mongolia so charming. Two thirds of the population live in tents in the middle of nowhere. They ride horses for work, fun and in competitions. The more muscular men don tiny briefs and cropped jackets, to compete against each other in wrestling. Influenced for centuries by the Tibetans, Russians, Chinese and Turkic, Mongolians have developed an entirely unique culture which should be preserved and celebrated. There is enormous potential for a tourism boom here.

Now, if only they could learn how to drive.



The Last Frontier of the Tibetan Cowboys

The arctic wind twirls, lifting the snowflakes up high in the air, before lazing them back toward the ground. Only minutes ago, the sun was pounding mercilessly. Then, as if turning a switch, the sky darkened to a somber gray. In the distance, a bell clangs amid the creaking prayer wheels. The scent of incense trails the breeze, further and further away over the hills In the valley below, the villagers continue their clockwise circumambulation of the monastery, undeterred by the weather. The march must go on, prayers must be mumbled, wheels turned, releasing their hopes of a free Tibet into the universe.


In Tagong, in the Kham region of Tibet, little has changed during the sixty years of Chinese occupation. The shops may display signs in Mandarin characters and a few Chinese may have moved in, but overall the small town is virtually untouched. They still speak only Tibetan, dress in their typical long-sleeved jackets, ride horses, support the monks and eat yak meat only once the animal has passed away of natural causes.  Luckily for them, Tagong is too distant and insignificant for the Chinese to destroy it. Yet.


In the other areas of Tibet, like Amdo and the so called Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), entire neighborhoods have been systematically demolished, Chinese workers have moved in and armies of soldiers stationed; anything to dilute the essence of Tibetan culture. The ancient village of Takster, where the Dalai Lama was born is being completely razed and replaced with ugly modern block houses. Similarly, the Tibetan capital of Lhasa is getting a facelift, which means it will soon look like a typical Chinese town full of shopping malls and Mao Tse-tung memorabilia. As a deliberate slap in the face, the Jokhang Temple, Tibet’s most sacred site, will now house a parking garage. How appropriate.


Still, the common Chinese does not understand why hundreds of Tibetans have self-immolated since 2009 in protest against the occupation. Fabricated history sources claim that Tibet was always part of China. The propaganda affirms how the Tibetan serfs and slaves were peacefully liberated by the Chinese. In fact, so happy are the Tibetans, that they have the highest Happiness Index of all regions in China. And anyone who tries to tell the truth has obviously been brainwashed by the evil Dalai Lama Clique.


Propaganda Painting in Kanding Temple, Kham

Unfortunately, it’s all lies. Despite decades of Chinese tyranny, the Tibetan spirit refuses to die. Every single Tibetan we met on our travels in Amdo, Kham and TAR expressed their yearning for sovereignty. They will never become “one of them.” They will neither befriend, date or marry the enemy. If at all possible, they desist learning Mandarin. Any Chinese flag is countered by hundreds of prayer flags. Photos of the Dalai Lama may be illegal, but almost everyone carries their personal copy. And when given the chance, they whisper their secret hopes to strangers: one day Tibet will be free again, and the Dalai Lama will return from exile as their rightful leader.


But their oppressor does not listen, and does not play fair. While Western politicians may support a Free Tibet in private, they all clam up when face to face with Xi Jinping, the president of the People’s Republic of China. Therefore it is the travelers, with no financial interest in keeping their mouth shut, who become the only bridge of hope of these elegant, kind and generous people. It’s our responsibility to spread the word and defy the  propaganda trolls who lure all over comments sections on online foreign news sites.


“I’m from Tibet. In the region of Tibet.”

The words echo all over the country, from small children to old men. The fire in their eyes emphasize what is left unsaid. Whatever the Chinese say or do, even if their occupation lasts for another hundred years, Tibet will never ever belong to China.



China: A Country of Contradictions

From the moment you land in one of China’s international airports, you’re struck by the immensity, modernity and futuristic vibe of everything – like a giant Texas on speed. On the way to your hotel, you’re amazed by the excellent roads and the number of skyscrapers being constructed. The sparkling new subways are decades ahead of New York City’s, and the electronic mopeds that buzz by remind you of the Bladerunner movie. China seems to be on a roll, and a fast one at that.

But then you notice something strange – the airline terminals are deserted, the luxury malls have no customers and very few of the thousands of new high-rises are inhabited. You wonder if the Chinese are planning for the (remote) future – or if it’s all a sham. Just like the pretty girl who mimed to the National Anthem during the Beijing Olympics in 2008, while the ugly little duckling with the beautiful voice had to hide behind a screen; the Chinese are masters in make believe.


“Look how big and powerful we are!” they seem to say. As if tourists would look in awe at the cities crammed with buildings and no parks, where the smog is so dense the sky is never blue anymore. Or are they trying to convince their brainwashed citizens that their communist/capitalist concept is superior to the Western equivalent, and that China will soon take over the world? It must be the latter, because every foreigner we met had come to the same conclusion: it’s all for show. Just like a movie set, where you open the magnificently ornate door on stage only to discover the disappointing reality behind.


The citizens are methodically lulled into ignorance. There is no access to Facebook, Twitter or independent blogs. Foreign online media pages time out so often they are almost impossible to read. Any anti-Chinese web sites are blocked. According to their warped history sources, not a single student was hurt in the 1989 Tienanmen Square massacre. East Turkestan and Inner Mongolia gladly gave up their independence in 1947 and 1949 respectively, and of course Lhasa was very peacefully freed by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in 1950. Only those who were there can testify that several hundred people died in the Beijing student attacks, and hundreds of thousands of Tibetans, Turkestanis and Inner Mongolians perished during the invasions. But the common Chinese know nothing about this. Propaganda rules. Domestic sites allow no comments, and the internet is awash with Chinese trolls trumpeting out their government’s lies while hiding behind English names.


The lack of information doesn’t stop there. Nutritional education doesn’t seem to exist. The Chinese are slowly poisoning themselves with toxic toys and chemically produced “foods” like fake walnuts, mock apples and artificial eggs. Their daily noodle soups are laden with synthetic ingredients and topped off with tasty MSG. Most grocery stores don’t sell fresh fruits and vegetables. Instead, they are full of vacuum packaged meatballs, sauteed beef, chicken feet, boiled eggs – you name it. If it’s in plastic – bring it on!


It’s really a shame, because pre-communism, China was such a vibrantly rich culture. The Great Wall, thousands of Terracotta Warriors and Chinese Opera are just some of the few amazing examples that remain. While Mao Tse-Tung did his best to erase the past by destroying thousands of medieval houses, Buddhist temples and invaluable artifacts, the current government is somewhat smarter. In a quest to restore the image of the country’s grandeur, they are restoring ancient quarters by tearing down entire blocks and replacing them with brand-new replicas reminiscent of Fisher-Price castles.


Unfortunately, the people are not changing as fast as the streetscapes. TV-shows, newspapers and billboards all provide advice on how to act when traveling at home or abroad: don’t yell, don’t spit, don’t cough in someone’s face and don’t cut in lines. But the Chinese don’t seem to understand – or perhaps care. They are so used to public bathrooms without doors, often just communal rooms with holes in the cement floor, that if given the chance to use a toilet with a door or one without, they will pull their pants down and poop right in front of you.


Just like an old lady smoothing her wrinkles with too much make-up, the obvious cannot be concealed. China is a police-state that controls their citizens by fear. Security checks in subways, train-stations and malls ensure the Chinese never forget that Big Brother is watching them. Cameras follow their every move, and their ID cards are checked and recorded everywhere they go. Anyone who protests or speaks the truth is arrested.

Still, China is an emerging super-power that cannot be ignored. Their economy is growing at an alarming speed due to the mass-production of chemically doubtful products, coal and mineral mines and depletion of their occupied territories. In addition, their investments and the unlawful exploitation of developing countries in Africa, Asia and South America are not only plentiful, but very lucrative. Only days ago, 168 Chinese citizens were arrested in Ghana for illegal goal mining.


Yet the world bows and obeys China. No one wants to argue with the red giant, because they know that one day soon this plastic economy may rule the world. No matter how much they oppress their people, censor the internet and limit free speech, and how they abuse the citizens of the occupied territories, no one dares to say a word to the face of the Chinese. In the interest of making another dollar, eyes are closed and objections swept under the carpet.

However, not everything about China is bad. The cities are remarkably clean, in par with Singapore. Their trains are fast, efficient and always leave and arrive on time. They have excelled at providing information in the subway – even though everything is in Chinese, it’s impossible to get lost. The preserved natural areas are gorgeous.

And of course the pandas are very, very cute.


The Offensiveness of Women’s Knees

I’m standing in line to enter a Buddhist temple. The queue is advancing slowly, but finally it is my turn. I hand the ticket to the guard, but he doesn’t even glance at the ticket. He looks down and points at my bare knees.

“Too short!”

OK, I understand. It’s disrespectful to wear shorts in a sacred place. I turn to Eduardo:

“We have to zip on our pant legs!”

But the guard shakes his head.

“Not him, only you.”

Because even though our knees look exactly the same, mine are offensive and his are not.

Traveling the world, you come to face to face the absurdity of religious interpretation. Any holy scripture – be it the Koran, the Bible, the Torah, the Upanishads or Buddha’s sayings – can be read in so many different ways, it’s ultimately the individual’s personal preference that determines what goes, not anything that the prophets may or may not have said. That’s why some Buddhist monks will shake a woman’s hand, others won’t. Some Hindu temples allow shorts, others turn you away. Most Muslim mosques allow non-believers enter some specific sections, others none at all.

So why does it still upset me, after all these years, when my knees are singled out as obscene and a man’s knees are as pure as can be? Because after visiting more than sixty countries in six continents, my knees have only been discriminated against in three out of hundreds of temples, mosques and churches.

Let me emphasize: I have no problems with covering up in respect to someone’s religion. I do it gladly. You allow me to visit your most sacred shrine, and I will honor your rules. But when the rules are bent for men, and enforced for women, I refuse to enter.

My fight against this absurdity began when visiting the Great Mosque in Damascus, Syria. I was told to wear a cape even though I was already covering bot knees and shoulders – but my ankles and wrists were showing. Eduardo, however, was allowed to enter in shorts and t-shirt. Nice knees, by the way!

Since then, it’s happened in ONE Buddhist temple (Singapore) and ONE Hindu temple (Cambodia). Men can show their knees, women can’t. It makes me wonder what these people are thinking? Would God (or the Universe) have given women knees and shoulders – or hair, for that matter – if they are so repulsive? God messed up?

So I still get angry every time it happens. I tell the guards they are wrong. Perhaps I should just accept their rudeness and cover up, silently. But I can’t. I have to make some noise. Because if you never speak up about inequalities, things will never change.

And perhaps the gorgeous knees of millions of women may thank me one day.

Khmer Rouge – When The Devil Was In Charge

On April 17, 1975, the people of Phnom Penh celebrated in the streets as the Khmer Rouge soldiers marched into town. Finally, the rebels had ousted the corrupt, pro-American government and liberated Cambodia from the Viet Cong. At long last, there would be peace.

 Little did they know that it was the start of a four year nightmare and suffering beyond their wildest fears. Only hours after Pol Pot and his comrades declared victory, teenage boys dressed in black and armed with rifles appeared everywhere. Anyone who didn’t fly a white flag outside their house was shot, and the ones who survived were chased out of town. It wasn’t safe to stay, they said. Another American bomb raid was due. They would be able to return in a few days. But it would take years until anyone could go back to Phnom Penh. All urban centers in Cambodia were turned into ghost towns, as the people of the Democratic Republic of Kampuchea were forced into slave labor in remote villages.

Had they known, people would surely have reacted differently. But after being caught in the crossfire between Vietnam and the United States for the last ten years, a peaceful revolution seemed to answer everyone’s prayers. The Vietnamese had used their army to control their weaker neighbor. And Nixon’s army had peppered the border areas of neutral Cambodia with over 500,000 tonnes of bombs to catch any possible Vietnamese who might have slipped across the borders, four times as many bombs as they dropped on Japan during the second world war. Almost 10% of the Cambodian population had lost their lives in a war that was not their own.


US Bombing of Cambodian areas 1965-1973

 Khmer Rouge saw this moment as their chance to rise to power. With the aid of King Sihanouk, who had been exiled to China by the previous government, they presented themselves as the right choice for a free Kampuchea. They promised independence from Vietnam and thus an end to the bombings by the Americans.


But things didn’t turn out quite as planned. In an attempt to copy China’s agrarian revolution, millions of city-dwellers were relocated to forced-labor camps in the countryside. They were made to live in primitive huts and work the fields from dawn to dusk under the scorching sun without sufficient food or medicine. Schools were closed, hospitals and factories shut down. Banking, finance and currency were all abolished, and religions prohibited. Private properties were confiscated and all intellectuals, professionals, doctors, teachers and entrepreneurs were executed. Children were separated from their parents, and made to work as slaves in special children’s camps.

When the harvests didn’t increase according to plan, the food portions decreased to a few grains of rice in a watery soup and soon enough people started dying of starvation, exhaustion and diseases like malaria, dysentery and typhoid. Anyone who tried to supplement their diet with insects, rotten leaves or even rats was tortured or executed. Those who protested were shot.

It soon became evident that the revolution was a failure. Their idea of a completely self-sufficient Cambodia did not work. The Khmer Rouge responded by blaming it on others. Suddenly anyone could be accused for treason. Former friends of Pol Pot were no exception, nor were fellow revolutionaries. Anyone who was suspected of anti-Kampuchean activities was brought into prison and tortured until he confessed that he was working for the CIA or KGB, or – remarkably – both. Every “traitor” was forced to name up to fifty other co-conspirators. And so the list of innocent “criminals” grew by leaps and bounds until almost no one was safe. And everyone finally admitted to some crime, only to make the torture stop.


An abandoned school in the deserted capital Phnom Penh, proved an ideal site for a prison for these “traitors”; the Tuol Sleng prison camp, also called S-21. Here, in a blocked off area of several square kilometers, the Khmer Rouge tortured and executed their “enemies” in secret. Former class-rooms were divided into tiny cells, so small that a grown man could not stretch out his body on the floor. The prisoners were chained to the floor, and forbidden to speak or make any noises. A plastic can was brought in as needed to be used as a toilet. Other classrooms were filled with prisoners, laying side by side, chained to the floor. Food was provided once a day at the most, and consisted of a couple of spoonfuls of rice and water. Bathing occurred once or twice a month, by the guards hosing water through the classroom windows.Every night, teenage guards who had been taught torture methods on animals, took someone away to be tortured or executed. Screams were heard across the playground, when the prisoners were hung upside down and whipped until they passed out. Other methods included pulling of nails, cutting off fingers and near-drowning. Babies were taken from their mothers and shot or bludgeoned to death.

All 20,000 prisoners were photographed on admission to S-21.Their photographs still hang in the Tuol Sleng museum as silent reminders of the children, men and women that were tortured to death in this camp. The fear in their eyes is haunting. They all knew that imprisonment equaled death. No one was ever released. To this day, Cambodians are still identifying relatives or friends from the photos, and will finally know for sure what happened to them after they disappeared.


In 1979, when the Vietnamese army liberated Phnom Penh, only twelve of the tens of thousands of prisoners had survived. Some tortured bodies still lay rotting in their cells, but most had been buried a few miles away, at Choeung Ek the “enemy “dumping ground known as the Killing Fields.


In their four years of power, the Khmer Rouge murdered around two million people, or a quarter of the country’s population; mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and children. Not one family remained intact. Still, the leaders of this organization who had committed war-crimes as heinous as those of Hitler or Stalin, remained on free foot for the next 28 years, supported economically and politically by the United States, China, Thailand, Britain, and the United Nations. Hiding in the Cambodian forest and continuing to terrorize the villages and towns of Cambodia, the UN named Khmer Rouge the “government of Cambodia in exile,”and allowed them to rule over the victims of their genocide for another fourteen years, until Vietnam withdrew from Cambodia.

Because of the support they received from their prosperous allies and international relief organizations, the Khmer Rouge flourished in hiding for decades until December 1998, when the organization was finally dissolved due to internal struggles. But before the Cambodians and International Leaders finally got their act together in terms of bringing these mass-murderers to trial, Pol Pot passed away, still as a free man, in April 1998. By 1999, the majority of the members had either surrendered or been captured.


How is it possible that a world that promised “never again” after WW II could turn a blind eye and even help these murderers get away with it? It all has to do with politics. The United States’ partnership with the Khmer Rouge grew out of their defeat against the Vietnamese. In this blind hatred, they formed an anti-Vietnamese and anti-Soviet partnership with China, and therefore supported the Khmer Rouge to help destabilize the pro-Vietnamese government in Cambodia.


But really, there is no excuse for the world’s response and behavior in regards to Cambodia. Two million people died under horrific circumstances. The survivors lived in terror among landmines and Khmer Rouge attacks for another fifteen years. Not until 2010 was any of the leaders charged. The trials against the only two surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge are still ongoing in 2013. To this date, only one of the Khmer Rouge leaders has been sentenced. No one else has paid for their crimes.



The world has not learned anything from history. Why is it so difficult to put politics aside when we are dealing with murderers? Communism may be bad, but surely genocide is worse? When will the “free world” start acting morally?


Never again.




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