Changi War Museum

wpid-img_20140504_133242.jpgThis Sat morning I went back in time to a (fun) World War II GCSE History class, curtacy of The Original Singapore Walks. Their 3 hour tour stops at The Changi Museum, the beach of the Sook Ching Massacres & outskirts of Changi Prison.

For an enjoyable way to brush up your 1930/40’s, Noel Barber’s novel Tanamera is a great read for anyone that knows or loves that era of Singapore. The rest you can piece together from the backpacking trail of The Death Railway or Hiroshima.

It’s not only useful to learn about Pearl Harbor from a South East Asia (not American) point of view. They also share nice myth busting like whether Singapore really did have her guns pointing the ‘wrong’ way. Most intriguingly though, is where your Kaya toast is baked and your 5* hotel laundry washed every morning….

 

JSA, Panmunjom, (Almost) North Korea

Photos from the Joint Security Area (JSA) from the Southern side of  the infamous North/South Korean border.

Technically you can ‘cross over’ to the North by hovering down the middle of the JSA conference room Military Demarcation Line (like you can by jump through air  east to west on the equator.) Venture any further than that however and you’re guarantees to be snipered within seconds. (No joke, there have been several tragic incidents including the famous 1970’s Axe Murder.)

Panmunjom is the furthest point civilians can venture from the Republic of Korea, and only on a pre -arranged tour booked at least 3 days before. The 9am – 5pm tours are all padded out with visits to Camp Bonifas, The War Memorial & The Freedom Bridge at Imjingag Park. I booked via Seoul City Tour.

The JSA itself (minus all security faffing) is literally only 10 mins.  Yes it’s a little over-scripted, photos are limited, & everyone’s facebook pics look the same.  However at the same time it’s  unique, surreal, and particularly interesting if you get a bit of ad lib chit chat from the USA solders.  (He fully admitted the North can hear everything that’s said, with their bugs 800 meters away.) The whole North/South guard patrol face off  is almost comedic – if it’ wasn’t one of the most armed places on earth!

Probably the most fascinating 10 secs of the day are the  glimpses of Kijongdong; The Propaganda Village 1km away on the Northern side.  Again it verges on the ridiculous with their ‘our flagpole is bigger than your flagpole’ contest (the North rebuild theres to double the height.) Shame it’s a sham and no-one lives there to see it.  Chillingly creepy!

 

 

 

Warsaw & Krakow, Poland

Warsaw
A 6h train ride East and we arrive into a drizzly 11pm Warsaw, with warnings of mafia taxis and residents that resemble the cast of Lock Stock. It’s not quite as daunting in the daylight. We stay in the chic-est of apartments along the Marszalkowska, for the best £25 between two I’ve ever paid.  We saunter around Saxon Gardens to catch the changing of the guards, and to the Hansel and Gretel-esq old town Castle Square. The tall green, terracotta and blue miss-mashed houses look like they’ve been dropped and squeezed into place from a great height, similar to Prague or Amsterdam. It’s everything you expect; pigeons in a cafe filled square, souvenir stalls selling faberge eggs with the distinctive ‘Heidi’ folk pattern, and super plump horse and carts trotting around cobbled streets. Cliche-ville but definitely lovely for 24h. It’s possibly my favorite of the two.

Krakow
Only a 3h train away and sporting the exact same market square as I’ve just described. Except add the old Cloth Market that sells a few more souvenirs; three-way chess boards, polish dolls, red and white football scarfs left over from the summer’s Euros. Here however our apartment on the Westernplatte was slighty more war torn chic. Think Adrian Brody’s hideout in the Pianist. Exposed brick, wooden floors, your granny’s furnature and soviet like stairwells. As it was pouring down with rain we had a lovely excuse to buy local Polish beers and watch the Olympic closing ceremony on our 1940’s TV. It was so twee we secretly liked it.

The sobering rain was only fitting however for absolutely obligatory day trip to Auschvitz-Birkenau. The most infamous of concentration camps,  it’s about 1.5 hours from Krakow in Oswiecim. This means one of  the most harrowing hours you’ll ever spend on a tour bus watching an as disturbing as you’d expect documentary to get everyone into the mood. Tours last about 6h for 100 Zloty, and include all the audio guides which you really need to get the most out of it.

Where we stayed: Warsaw Residence Hostel / Finger Guestrooms Krakow.

Liked: 1) Falafel kebabs 2) The most extravagant apple crumble & afternoon tea from Warsaw old town square 3) Polish Zloty – getting so much for your Euro and listening to Mark’s daily attempts to pronounce it.

Cambodia

I liked it the first time a year ago, even more so the second. This should be pretty easy:

Liked:

1) Cutest kids in the world. Just beautiful.
2) Kep fresh crabs
3) Sihanoukville sunsets and being inspired to run again
4) $2 bottles of whisky
5) (Liked is not right word) but greater appreciation for history of The Killing Fields and all that happened there.

Disliked:

1) Rats in ceilings, and some of the skankiest guesthouses in a while
2) The booze cruise brigade of Sihanoukville
3) The Cambodian obsession with light and dark, love the skin you are in!
4) Fake orphanages
5) Kep Beach, we just don’t get it

Where I stayed: Nomads Phnom Pehn, Utopia Sihanoukville, Monkey Republic Sihanoukville, Blissful Kampot, Star Guesthouse Kratie.

The Killing Fields & S21, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

S21Buckle up. This one is going to be bleak. There’s no easy way to write about genocide is there.

However it’s Phnom Penh and its Cambodia, so despite some pretty horrific facts I’ve learnt today, its important stuff. Now obvs I’m ad-libbing/probably taking accidental liberties with historical facts, but for everything else there’s Wikipedia.

To understand the Killing Fields you have to understand this bit (or read the book/watch the film.)

It all revolves around class A megalomaniac; Pol Pot (Asia’s Hitler) and his penchant for extreme Maoist communism. He rose to power to become ‘Brother Number 1’ (head honcho) around the same time as Cambodia was really feeling the devastation of the Vietnam War next door. His vision was to create an ‘Old Cambodia’ to take the country back to simpler (read archaic)times. Rather creepily he decreed it ‘Year Zero’ and aimed to destroy all that was civilized and begin society again. This is known as the Khmer Rouge. And is quite utterly deranged.

Incredibly this involved evacuating the entire Capital city of Phnom Penh. (We watched a badly made documentary at a local bar the night we got here, which had amazing archive footage from the ghost city.) He basically created turmoil by saying the Americans were planning to bomb PP, and forced residents out to the countryside promising no need to lock their doors, their houses were safe. This turned out to be quite the bluff. His real plans were to irradiate the middle/upper classes and force a whole nation into the back-breaking work of rice production. Ironically, his concerns were for export only, hence massive famine was rife at the time. To execute this he resorted to the oldest trick in the book; the creation of a fierce class war which saw the recruitment of vulnerable rural Cambodians – all mere teenagers/children at the time, to turn on their own people.  The numbers are denied/unclear, but it is thought around 2 million Cambodians were massacred, in a 4 year period. A quarter of the population at the time.

That was one in every 4 people you know. And it really would be. Intellectuals, any university graduate, teacher, foreigner, artists. Hell, anyone with glasses or soft hands, or who so much as held their own independent thought. The plan was to dissolve all religion, all recreation, and all emphasis on family – in replace of pure communal living. Whole communities were rounded up, arrested for reasons they were never told, and forced under torture to admit they were CIA/KGB spies?!

Just a warning – Stop reading now if you are squeamish.

005The Killing Fields are 15km out of the city. Today they are a beautiful and peaceful orchard and museum. And also the mass graves of 9000 butchered men, women and children.  In rainy season bones fragments, teeth, and rags of clothing are still being discovered in the ground on which you walk. There are the 17 tiers of human skulls and bones housed in a memorial statue, and (there is absolutely no way to sugar-coat this next sentence) there is a huge tree, used to bludgeon babies to death on. Bullets were too expensive; therefore people were almost always hacked to death. Speakers also hung off the branches playing creepy Khmer music night after night to hide the screams of the exterminations. Take all this and add in quite a poignant audio guide (the whole place is designed for silence, rather than screeching tour group guides,) and turns out you create a moving place of remembrance, which you have to admit is something, for a place that is technically just a haunting piece of land.

This is kind of the warm up.

If you are going to see the Killing Fields, they go hand in hand with S21 (security Prison 21) an old school transformed into torture chambers. The overspill of those killed led to the creation of The Killing Fields.

Block C of the courtyard has been converted into a top floor of photography exhibitions and museum, above the cells that still remain below.  I’ll spare the accounts of prisoner’s testimonies that we read, there are only 7 by the way, that’s how many survived, but needless to say all of the group of the 5 of us could really do with a few episodes of Glee that afternoon.

We cast a vote for the most hard hitting fact of the day; that Pol Pot and his generals all led pretty decent lives and it took 30 years to be brought to justice (or death in Pol Pot’s case.) Or that the United Nation allowed the Khmer Rouge a seat as representatives of Cambodia until the 1980’s (to quote Lonely Planet:  ‘Meaning that the murderers represented their victims.’) Or that all of this was only in 1975 – 79. Very much almost, in our own lifetimes.

Previous Older Entries

An.an.tas.in : The Anantasin is the name of a shipwreck just of the coast of the Sensi Parasise, Mae Haad Bay, Koh Tao, Thailand. It’s one of my many favorite places.

Lit.tle: Just because it’s cute.

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