Day 2: Tuol Sleng Prison

The second day of our trip started with a brisk three mile jog around Monument Park in Phnom Penh.  We would need the energy and optimism for our first outing of the day: Tuol Sleng Prison.

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Left: the inside of Tuol Sleng Prison. Right: Chum May, a survivor of the prison.

This secondary school was turned into a prison by the Maoist Khmer Rouge and used as a torture center.  Nearly 20,000 prisoners went through the facility, enduring torture and execution.  Only a few prisoners survived, including Chum Mey, whom we met and talked with at the end of  our tour.  His optimism was remarkable given what he went through, and he was happy to meet with my students.

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The group with Srey Pov (front row, third from right) at Tuol Sleng Prison.

At the conclusion of our visit, we lit incense and listened to renowned singer Srey Pov perform a traditional smot, a song that Cambodians believe helps the dead move to the afterlife.  Since so many were killed at the prison, they never had anyone sing a smot for them, and hence their sprits were unable to transition into the afterlife.  I’m not a religious person, but her beautiful and haunting singing made me feel like the spirits were truly moving out of this haunted place.  Srey is part of the Cambodia Living Arts, a non-profit dedicated to restoring traditional Cambodia music, performance and fine art.

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Lighting incense as we listen to a traditional smot song for the dead.

 

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