Thursday, 25 October 2007

The Heart of Darkness - Pol Pot's Car For Sale

One of the things I love most about Cambodia is that on each visit I see new growth. I don't mean the X.X% GDP growth that will choke us all in good time anyway if we don't rewire the economy, I mean the kind of growth that means the kids look a little cleaner, and a little less grubby. I guess it's the kind of growth that is really a reversal of growth in some ways, as a diminishing number of children are seen running around wearing shabby rags as clothing.

On my first visit, my driver called Elephant, took me around the killing fields and the notorious Tuol Sleng prison which was a school before it became a dark horror story of a torture concentration camp, a place where the Khmer kids were more barbourous than any of the adults could ever be, where they thought up the most ingenious ways to cause pain and suffering to the prisoners of the Khmer Rouge regime, which really only came to power because there was a hell of a shit fight going on in that part of the world through Vietnam and another war on something terrorful for safety. I'll never forget when I asked Elephant if he had lost any family members, how dispassionate he was retelling the story where his brother was killed by the Khmer Rouge after he stole a car to run away from the commune. He was caught, bound and immobilised before being run over in the same car he had taken. Stories like that are two a penny a Cambodia and few people want to think about the bad old days.

Anyway I could go on about how 300 kilometres or more north of the capital Phnom Penh lies the temple Angkor Wat, which in my mind is profoundly mysterious to the history of civilisation with it's Indian architecture dedicated to the God Vishnu, and how much fun I had hiring a motorcycle trials bike and generally just whizzing around on my own, playing with M16 guns and grenades on a range, and partying hard in the Heart of Darkness, but maybe that stuff isn't really interesting but it was a part of my life that I look back on fondly. Or maybe it was the butterflies that flew over the burial pits in the killing fields, on a beautiful day as I reflected on the whole thing that gave me a lot to think about.

One of the oddities of that period was the discovery by a friend of mine that Pol Pot's stretch Limo (Don't all agrarian economy Marxist tyrants run around in stretch Limos?) was being used to ship melons to the market in the capital. I felt at the time it was wrong to profit from that vehicle but like those kids who not only look cleaner on each visit but also have no recollection of that insane time, I think time has moved on. I'm particularly pleased that a portion of the profits now that it is on sale will go towards a charity. You know who you are if you are reading this but the bigger the chunk that goes towards the growth of Cambodia the better the Karma. What goes around comes around.