Thursday, February 14, 2008

O Reang Ov uncovered

On the left Piya, despite her painful leg was more than helpful, with Yeay Pen on the right
O Reang Ov, on the edge of the Kompong Cham provincial border with Prey Veng province, was a busy truck-stop, dusty, hot and humid when I arrived around midday - what else did I expect? After a pork and rice lunch at a foodstall near the scruffy market, I headed for the main wat in town, not unsurprisingly called Wat O Reang Ov. I was searching for a genocide memorial called Prey Thoudong and everyone kept telling me to go to the wat, so I followed their advice. Asking around, no-one knew anything and I was about to give up the hunt when I stopped near the pagoda's crematorium, just outside the front gate, and an old woman called to me from the balcony of her small wooden house nearby. She asked what was I doing and as soon as I mentioned Prey Thoudong, she invited me to join her and a fellow nun, for tea and a banana. Piya and her friend, Yeay Pen had lived in the area for many years and related to me the full story of the pagoda, which had been a detention area during the Khmer Rouge regime and two school buildings had been used for interrogation and execution. Five wells in the vicinity had been utilised as burial chambers as well as a number of pits, right next to her house. We climbed down the stairs of her home and she pointed to the ground where I could see shards of bone and a few teeth scattered haphazardly. After the Khmer Rouge era ended, the bones of some of the victims had been collected, some were burnt, others were retained in a stupa in the grounds of the pagoda and that was named Prey Thoudong. Despite finding it hard to walk, she was determined to take me to the only well that was still standing and we walked slowly for about 100 metres into the bush behind the crematorium to visit the well and a disused pagoda building. She then guided me to the stupa just inside the wat's main gate but had to return to her home as she was clearly in great discomfort. The stupa was in a sorry state and the painted sign on the front, requesting people to take care of this memorial, had clearly been ignored. Inside the stupa, a few dirty bones and a lot of debris was all that remained of the memorial to the victims of the Khmer Rouge genocide and reflected the general apathy for these public memorials that I find on my travels. I returned to show my appreciation to Piya and Yeay Pen for their help and information with a small donation before making my way back to the city.

The disused well, that doubled as a burial chmaber
The sign on the front of the stupa asked people to take care of the memorial
Inside the stupa debris was mixed with the victim's remains
The neglected stupa known as Prey Thoudong, in the grounds of Wat O Reang Ov

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