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Southlake Style

Travel Back in Time by Visiting Indochina

Dec 07, 2017 05:05PM ● By Dia


While walking the long narrow hallways of the Hanoi Hilton prison located downtown, I see the structure that looks like a schoolhouse from the outside. But, the lessons taught from within were horrific. It was originally built by the French to intern the Vietnamese political prisoners. The 1920s started the terrible years in this country’s history until the Vietnamese finally gained independence in 1954. These photos show the maltreatment of prisoners from shackles and torture to the guillotine.  In Vietnam, it was called “The American War” with 500 US soldiers imprisoned there until 1973.  Senator John McCain was among the field pilots who were checked into the Hanoi Hilton. His stay lasted five years. 



Across the pond from Angkor War at 5:56 a.m., I see the 12th century temple city. It’s a place of worship and, like a fortress, keeps locals safe from invasion – from China in the north and Thailand in the west. This one-mile, picturesque square Temple only took 30 years to build (completed in 1150 A.D.), and is still in very good shape today. It’s a man-made wonder. Travelers from all over the world are awake and on-sight to experience dawn rising behind the main tower this morning.  It has a peaceful reverence.  While Thailand originally started out as a Hindu country, slowly over the years their beliefs have shifted toward Buddhism. It’s another instance when I felt small was at Angkor Wat. Together, man and beast built this magnificent temple. An estimated 300,000 humans and 60,000 elephants moved sandstone in place for the artisans to carve their stories of battles and gods. Angkor Wat has been preserved and has always been open for families to live in and pray. Cambodians are consistently happy people, and when you speak to them about the meanings of Angkor Wat, they are so proud! Cambodians young and old will make their pilgrimage to this sight during their lives. I’m honored I have as well.



Days are happy here in Cambodia. We have seen a many Happy Buddhists. They call the bathrooms the Happy Room. The locals say, “You go inside one with an upside-down smile – for bad belly ache or worse – and after a little while, you come out with happy smile.”  Cambodians are primarily Buddhist, so their karma or outlook on life, is very positive. Adult Cambodians have seen their fair share of war and desperation like the 1978 Killing Fields, so they choose to bring their children up to always have a happy outlook. Cambodians also raise their children to be polite and considerate of elders. Showing respect is very important to the Cambodians. They do not use names to address one another. They will address their fellow man according to their perceived age. They use a reference like brother, sister or cousin when people are close to their age. If they are older than you, the proper address is father – even if they are not old enough to be your father. If they are even older, the proper address in grandfather. Cambodians will not look you directly in the eyes, which is another way to show respect. Basically, they want to avoid conflict and stay as happy as possible in this life. They believe living their life with dignity and prayer is key to setting up the quality of the next life. Does this sound familiar?


Killing Fields

Do you remember 1975- 1979? Gloria and I were in our early 20s.  I am about to graduate university and she is just getting started. The USA was getting our soldiers back from Vietnam, and we are just moving past the drama of Nixon’s Watergate. We will soon find our way from education to careers and finally to our personal rendezvous in New York City. You may have been starting out on your own as well at the same time. Additionally, the war had spilled over from Vietnam to Cambodia, who was free of the U.S. conflict but starting their own.   

We know of the Killing Fields tragedies because of the 1984 movie of the same name.  The movie is based on a true story of a New York Times reporter, played by Sam Waterston, and his Cambodian staff writer friend, played by Haing S. Ngor. They both get exposed in the U.S. exodus of Phnom Penh, but the Cambodian man gets arrested by the Khmer Rouge and their communist leader Pol Pot.

Both China’s Chairman Mao and Russia’s Stalin influenced Pol Pot.  From 1975 to 1979, all Cambodian middle class, educators, doctors, business professionals and their families were rounded up for a certain but short future. Only farmers were to be spared. According to Pol Pot, to fully integrate stern communism, everyone would work the fields and get the same level of food, shelter and status in life.  To break the challenges an educated society would seek, the previous leaders and all people with soft hands who held a white-collar job had to be executed. Only those who participated in manual labor were spared.

The tour we just experienced of the Killing Fields and the S-1 Detention Center leaves me numb of feeling and baffled in understanding. The detention center was converted from school to a prison for processing and torturing the masses. Thousands of people in and around Phnom Penh were sent there to confess that they and their families were spies for the government or had a profession. Until they signed a confession, they were tortured by varied methods.  Within three months, 100 percent had complied.  The following step was a midnight truck ride to the Killing Fields. Approximately 20,000 people were processed at this facility, and we visited their mass graves. Over four years, 3.1 million are said to have been killed. Today, 40 percent the Cambodian population is under 15 years of age because not many grandparents survived.

 The sights and horrific explanations from signage and tour guides makes one understand the “what” and perhaps the “why” of the series of events, but not the reasoning behind how these people could do these hateful acts to other human beings.  There were 389 in total found scattered about Cambodia because of the Killing Fields. We can acknowledge that it happened as a historic fact. But, how can the Cambodian's recover, heel and move forward?

 Pol Pot was defeated in 1979 by Vietnamese forces. He made the deal himself to go into exile.   

We personally met one of the seven survivors of S-1. He told us of his tortures, showed us his scars and his 3x6-foot cell.  He told us he survived because he was the only person who could repair the processing typewriter. He has forgiven his captors.   

The Khmer Rouge was void of spiritual belief and practice. Both back then and now, locals follow Buda to move on. Without Buddhism, Cambodians would have kept on killing each other and accepting hate.

He told us Buddhism allows him to forgive!

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