Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Cambodia Part I - Landmine Museum in Siem Reap

I have written about Yunnan, Vietnam and Italy. Looking back, I think I did it a bit too hastely, didn't give more in-depth information. Hence I decided from this Cambodia entry, I will go the slow way, one at a time, to give more information about the places I had visited. I am never an expert, but just want to share with you what I see, what I feel, what my impression is.

Cambodia is another war-torn country. It suffered even more than Vietnam. All the wars lasted well into the 1990s. It is also one of the most densely populated places in the world of LANDMINES! Many people, in particular children, are still easy victims of landmines.

The Landmine Museum in Siem Reap was started by Aki Ra. He was formerly a Khmer Rouge soldier who LAID landmines. In 1994, he joined the UN Transitional Authority of Cambodia to REMOVE landmines! This Landmine Museum is a direct consequence of his de-mining activities. You can find more information about the museum from its official website: http://www.cambodialandminemuseum.org/history.html.

Visiting this museum proved to be a big culture shock to me. The 1st shock was the way leading to the museum. When we told our driver we wanted to go to the landmine museum, he was not actually very sure where it is. As he found out the way, the road was a winding, small alley. Road surface was as if it had just been bombed last night. Big holes everywhere. Our driver carefully negotiated the holes, yet it was still an acid test to the poor car's anti-shake system (or the anti-shock system?).

The 2nd shock was the museum itself. What do you imagine a museum would look like? A building or a proper house built with bricks or stones? This museum? Neither. The museum is nothing more than a few shacks. The de-commissioned landmines are piling around the yard.

The exhibition shack itself is like a UN security council. Landmines from USA, UK, France, China & Russia were aplenty. To your/my surprise, Singapore also has a hand in the landmine business, but probably they got into it too late, no Made in Singapore landmines was on display.

The Exhibition Shack of Landmine Museum

The 3rd shock was the presence of war orphans, landmine victims. Most of them are kids or teenagers, some of them had lost a limb or two. A few smaller shacks beside the main exhibition shack are where they call home. Those shacks are no bigger than a few squared meters, barely enough to have small bed. They help out in the running of the museum. Their appalling living conditions made me feel very sick.

A teenager acting as a guide at Landmine Museum

Wars, whatever the cause maybe, are cruel. They shatter hopes, cut lives short, break hearts, destroy civilisations. Nobody should ever take a war lightly.

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