Sunday, February 10, 2008

Faux pas

Ti Kimsun and the author at the site of burial pits at Wat Chumnik
Did I break an unwritten rule when I had this photo taken alongside a very friendly and helpful monk by the name of Ti Kimsun at Wat Chumnik in Koh Sotin district near Kompong Cham? I was always told that wearing a hat in the grounds of a pagoda or in a vihara was a faux pas and it wasn't until I saw this photo later in the day that I realised I did just that! I honestly forgot I had my krama on my head and he didn't seem to mind, but maybe he realised I was just a stupid barang (cuz I sure looked like one) with a memory like a sieve. I visited the wat as it was well-known in the area as a prison and mass burial site during the Khmer Rouge regime and met Ti Kimsun, one of just seven monks at the wat, when I asked for information. He told me that three buildings in the pagoda's grounds had been used as the jailing house by the Khmer Rouge, the main one being the bright-yellow stupa near the wat's entrance (pictured below). He then walked me over to a quiet spot in the corner of the complex and pointed to where small burial pits were later found and exhumed, and where mango trees in that spot were used for hanging prisoners, and a well, now covered over, was also used as a burial chamber. The pagoda grounds were very still and quiet, with just a few bird calls ringing out but little else, even Ti Kimsun spoke in hushed tones. He also showed me the foundations of what used to be the primary school at the wat but that too had been destroyed during the KR period, and said that it was quite a few years after the KR regime had ended, before people came back to live in the area. Born locally, he was always told that the spirits of those killed remained in the area surrounding the pagoda and that's why people were initially reluctant to return.
This stupa at Wat Chumnik in Koh Sotin was used as a prison in the Khmer Rouge regime

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