Trail of Crumbs

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At the entrance to the temple.

We rounded a corner in our tuk tuk, the road here better kept than most of the others we’d been on. It was paved, not, dirt, to accommodate for the heavier flow of traffic – cars and tour buses and tuk tuks and scooters. The air smelled of diesel, the sky overcast, the air humid, sticky, and still. There was no breeze. There was never a breeze.

The road curved, following the edge of a massive lake the color of olives. And there, across the water, it came into view.

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I think it was Nicci who found out about the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center, and suggested that we go there. I would like to take credit, though. I think that it’s on par with discovering fire, or inventing the wheel, or figuring out that Junior Mints should be stored in the fridge. These are important developments in humanity’s history. I really want to be the one who made the whole petting-an-elephant thing possible for me and Nicci.

But getting credit is not the important part (she said to herself, unconvincingly). Nor was it petting the elephant (she said this even less convincingly. Seriously, who the fuck was she kidding?) No. The important part was that we got to support an international organization that is trying to make Southeast Asia a safer place for both animals and humans. (Yes.)

But also? I got to pet an elephant. (YES.)

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I’m afraid of many things. I blame my mother.

Lucky girl.

 

She was utterly convinced, from the time I was born, that the entire world was out to get me (it didn’t help that I was named after a relative who had died tragically young). She concluded that the best way to keep me alive would be to instill in me an irrational fear of EVERYTHING. I consequently grew up sheltered and loved and utterly terrified.

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On our second day in Phnom Penh, down one necklace, and sufficiently emotionally drained after the one-two punch of the Killing Fields and Choeung Ek, we went to the Royal Palace.

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The Central Market in Phnom Penh, after a storm.

 

Rand always tells me he envies my palate, which cracks me up because it’s such an unlikely compliment. But it comes up time and again, whenever I identify a spice in a dish that he’s unable to, or I catch a whiff of a bakery blocks before he does. Others who’ve noticed it have commented as well, and I usually smile and tap the side of my ever-so-prominent nose and say, “It’s not just for show.”

Goodness, it really isn’t. Sometimes it feels like a superpower. I am the amazing girl WHO CAN SMELL EVERYTHING (note: superpower has very limited application. The X-Men aren’t calling, unless they need help determining whether or not the milk has gone bad).

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Barred windows at Tuol Sleng.

 

Note: I know the last few weeks haven’t been fun or light reading. Cambodian history isn’t fun or light. I appreciate you guys sticking with me while I’ve waded through it. This will be my last post focusing on the horrors of the Khmer Rouge. There is more to the country than this dark chapter. I just wanted to make sure I treated the topic with the gravity and attention it deserved. Tomorrow, I swear, I will post something that will make you smile.

After we went to Choeung Ek, we headed back to town, straight to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. We paid $2 for admission, and another $6 for a guide. His name was Samnang, and he was my age – born in 1980, just after the Vietnamese Army arrived and liberated the country from the Khmer Rouge. His parents had survived the KR labor camps.

“I don’t know how,” he said.

When he was a child, he explained that Phnom Penh had been a ghost town. It was only in recent years that people had started returning to the city. The Khmer Rouge had emptied it out within a week of taking power.

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Note: Today’s post goes into detail about the brutality of the Khmer Rouge, and specifically what happened at the Killing Fields. There are also images of human remains (mostly bones and skulls) towards the end. I just wanted to let you know beforehand. Also, I’ve listed this under tourist attractions, because I guess it is, but that just feels … wrong.

It is an astoundingly beautiful and terrifying place.

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Ravello sits just behind Amalfi, further inland and up the mountainside. You can get there by walking, I suppose, if you don’t value time or your life all that much. The more practical options are to crowd into a bus with a bunch of local kids who don’t understand capacity limits, and tourists who don’t understand Italian (so that when you are screaming, “Per favore, fammi uscire!” they stare at you with blank looks until you yell, “I NEED TO GET OFF THE BUS.”); or you can get swindled by some cab driver.

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