A headline, ìWitness recalls massacres at Khmer Rouge Tribunal (KRT)î catches my attention as I flip through Phnom Penh Post while having a morning cup of coffee on the first day of my arrival in the city. The hotel cafÈ where I am is a quaint property remodeled on South East Asian tropical idylls. The sun filtering through the stylish French windows is blind to the Khmer Rouge past. A pile of maps and tourist pamphlets lie stacked at the reception desk of the hotel. It dawns on me that 40 years have passed since Pol Potís troops entered the city.
His death in 1998 brought an end to the brutal phase and even though Cambodia is building a new future, its past still hovers over the present. The oppression and death toll has scarred the psyche of a people trying to build a new normalcy.
The despair and sadness of a land beaten and purged hangs around me. The headlines follow me. They bare their melancholic tone in strange ways.
In a downtown pub, ìHeart of Darknessî, travelers meet to swap stories as the cityís young women escorts listen in and smile. This smile does not reach the walls of the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide (situated at the site of a former political interrogation centre S-21) or the tree-chapels of Killing Fields. This smile is locked to the innocence lost in the darkness of the past.