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May 8, 2006 – A journey to Phnom Penh, Cambodia in Asia

Black and White: Color

Phnom Penh can have a mindful effect on you. I feel that it’s a privilege to be able to travel around Cambodia nowadays. Just a little over 30 years ago, Cambodia was in a tragic state of terror by the Khmer Rouge. From 1975 to 1979, at least 3 million Cambodians were tortured and killed by the Communist Khmer Rouge regime in an effort to cleanse the population of non-ethnic Khmers, educated people, capitalists, foreigners, and anyone that differed in any way from the regime. And yes, they even tortured children and babies. You get quite a wakeup call when visiting the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Choeung Ek Killing Fields. I’m still in a quandary over the meaning of all this bloodshed.

a high school room that became one of the many torture chambers, Tuol Sleng Museum

one of the many mass graves at one of the many killing fields in the country

Wandered around the capital a bit to calm down my nerves afterwards. Phnom Penh is quite a busy place, but not like the cities in Viet Nam or Thailand. The city is also situated next to the Tonle Sap River and a river junction (the Mekong meets there too). Lots of wats, shops, markets, and restaurants.

monks walking by the National Palace

tasty Khmer dishes from the food stands at Psar Thmei

In the afternoon, made a visit to a grassroots humanitarian organization, the New Cambodian Children's Life Association (NCCLA) orphanage to help out. After witnessing this morning's monstrocities, the visit made me feel a whole lot better. Brought some much-needed necessities from the market to the orphanage, such as rice, toothbrushes, and other goods. While there, got to spend some good fun times with the kids playing Cambodian games in addition to learning from each other.

Many of these kids became orphans after their parents were killed by undetonated landmines, AIDS, or other diseases. Some were taken from the slave/sex trade and others were altogether abandoned. I found it amazing to hear about many of their life stories of struggles and difficulties at such a young age. I found it even more amazing that each of them carried a positive, happy, attitude. It is such a contrast to some of the kids I've interacted with in America (used to be a camp counselor in high school). It's funny how the way things are in life. Makes you really wonder about the bigger picture and which piece each individual gets to hold.

Later on in the evening, the kids gave a beautiful music, dance, and singing performance at the NCCLA restaurant. The kids were adorable and extremely talented (brought tears to my eyes). Each of them have been taught traditional Cambodian dances, songs, and/or musical instruments from around the country. I'm so grateful to see this - not only of the preservation of their not-too-long-ago-once-destroyed culture, but also, the preservation of their childhood in Cambodia.

I highly recommend any traveler going to Phnom Penh to help out at the orphanage (or at any orphanage anywhere around the world), or even just dine at the tasty restaurant (great amok fish) and watch one of the wondrous performances.

NCCLA orphanage kids performing a Cambodian minority dance

traditional Cambodian dance

singing and dancing in the stick dance

a Cambodian Islamic dance

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