Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hand prints at the Pepsi factory

Hand prints at the Pepsi factory

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

I got to Siem Reap and finally to the Angkor Wat complex. We got there at dawn to see the sunrise but unfortunately its wazzed down big style. It was still amazing though. I won't write much about it as everyone is aware of the vast amount there is to see in Siem Reap so just check out the pics
Siem Reap - Images by Darragh Mason Field

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cambodia Part 3 - The People of Dump City

There's a project in Phnom Penh that helps feed the many families with young children in the city dump. Basically when all else fails for you this is where you and your family can end up. Amongst the rats picking through the detris and shit of the city to find anything of possible recyclable value.

About ten of us got together and donated money to the project who then took us to buy the food at the market and finally to the dump to distribute the food.

Its hard to describe the landscape of the dump but if you've ever read "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy, you'll have an idea. Its full of toxic waste and what looks like solid ground isn't. There are lethal quicksand pits of filth pocketed throughout the dump. The air is heavy with the stench of rotting material and the acrid smoke of burning rubbish.

Fires at the dump

It was a pretty special thing to be part of and I'm really glad I did it. If you ever make it to Phnom Penh I really recommend you go and help. These people have nothing and this is the only project that takes direct action in helping. They can be contacted at the Boogie and Bacall bar near the riverside.

One thing that really struck me was how lovely the kids were despite having absolutly nothing. Then you compare that to kids back home who bitch and moan if they get an Xbox360 instead of a PS3.

The gallery is here But here are my favourite pics, including the infamous motocab drivers cap and its new home.

A Blue home

The gold cap

Boy with staw in his hair

Boy from Stung Meanchey

Searching through the citys filth

Waiting for food II

Cambodia - Part 2 "S21, the Khmer Killing machine"

After the Killing fields I went to S21. I really didn't know what to expect and I wasn't prepared for what I saw there.

"The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is a museum in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. The site is a former high school which was used as the notorious Security Prison 21 (S-21) by the Khmer Rouge regime from its rise to power in 1975 to its fall in 1979." Wikipedia.

Its hard to describe this place as it is essentially just three old dilapidated buildings. Its the feeling you get there that really reveals its past to you. When you enter the rooms some of the previous government officials were held, tortured and murdered in there is an atmosphere of complete despair, dread and horror. The rooms still have the taint of what happened in them.

S21 and The killing fields - Images by Darragh Mason Field

The rooms are just the same as when they held prisoners. A striped down bed with a leg shackle. On the wall is a single photo, a picture taken by the Ho Van Tay, a Vietnamese combat photographer of the human remains found there.

Some of the images beyond horrific. One poor man had literally had his entire face cut off. All done to extract confessions to non existent crimes against the state.

"Most prisoners at S-21 were held there for two to three months. However, several high-ranking Khmer Rouge cadres were held longer. Within two or three days after they were brought to S-21, all prisoners were taken for interrogation[1]. The torture system at Tuol Sleng was designed to make prisoners confess to whatever crimes they were charged with by their captors. Prisoners were routinely beaten and tortured with electric shocks, searing hot metal instruments and hanging, as well as through the use of various other devices. Some prisoners were cut with knives or suffocated with plastic bags. Other methods for generating confessions included pulling out fingernails while pouring alcohol on the wounds, holding prisoners’ heads under water, and the use of the waterboarding technique."

The second buildings ground floor is made up of galleries of the mug shots taken of prisoners as they arrived. The age span was from about seven years of age to the elderly. As people were tortured they we're encouraged to name their families as conspirators which many did under extreme duress. Even confessing to the most outlandish stories.

"Typical confessions ran into thousands of words in which the prisoner would interweave true events in their lives with imaginary accounts of their espionage activities for the CIA, the KGB, or Vietnam. The confession of Hu Nim ended with the words "I am not a human being, I'm an animal". A young Englishman named John Dawson Dewhirst who was arrested in August 1978 claimed to have joined the CIA at age 12 upon his father receiving a substantial bribe from a work colleague, also an agent. Physical torture was combined with sleep deprivation and deliberate neglect of the prisoners. The torture implements are on display in the museum. The vast majority of prisoners were innocent of the charges against them and their confessions produced by torture."

The photos themselves show a spectrum of reactions to the individuals arrival at S21. Some are terrified, some in shock and some totally stunned.

The prisoners where held in make shift cells crudely built into old class rooms. The front of this building was covered in a grid of barbed wire to prevent prisoners from committing suicide.

"In 1979 Ho Van Tay, a Vietnamese combat photographer, was the first media person to document Tuol Sleng to the world. Van Tay and his colleagues followed the stench of rotting corpses to the gates of Tuol Sleng. The photos of Van Tay documenting what he saw when he entered the site are exhibited in Tuol Sleng today.

The Khmer Rouge required that the prison staff made a detailed dossier for each prisoner. Included in the documentation was a photograph. Since the original negatives and photographs were separated from the dossiers in the 1979-1980 period, most of the photographs remain anonymous today."

Monday, April 13, 2009

Cambodia, I love thee - part one

Hi Guys its me Darragh, I know its been a while since we spoke and I hope you can forgive me. Cambodia, where do I start. I was feeling quite sorry for myself after Frank split, its always harder on the people that are left behind so I decided I'd had enough of Vietnam and got myself a bus ticket to Phnom Penh. Once on the bus a gentleman sat down beside me and gave me a massive smile and a friendly wave.

"You're not from Vietnam then?"
"No" said the smiler "I'm from Cambodia"

And that was the rub of it friends. The Cambodians are amazing people, great criac and always laughing. As an aside, the Cambodian ladies also always wear pajamas everywhere.

I rocked into Phnom Penh on the day of Ireland's grand slam match versus Wales. Having missed every match bar the French one I was determined to get to this and got the heads up on the Lonely planet forum as to where to watch the epic clash and Ireland's inevitable glorious victory. Anyway I had booked a Tuk Tuk to take me shooting, then to the killing Fields and then to 'S21' the genocide museum.

Well Ireland won and I got home at 6 am. I met a guy from Limerick (Alright Aidan!) I'd met previously in Chiang Mai and he gave me the heads up on the Happy guest house by the lakeside. A place that will forever be dear to my heart and became a fantastic home from home for two weeks. Well Ireland won... just. The place went mental and the subsequent celebrations made Paddy's day in Vietnam look like a Parent - teachers meeting

I got lost making my way home and jumped on a moto cab for two dollars to get me back to my hotel. The bloke hadn't a clue and after about twenty minutes I got back. I gave him a five and he didn't have the right change. After being fed this crap constantly for the time I was in Vietnam I wasn't having it and demanded my money. However it seems he genuinely didn't have it so I asked for his baseball cap in lieu of funds.

The next morning I woke up feeling rough and frankly a little bad for demanding that dudes cap. I knew I had a Karmic debt to repay. It would come in time. My Tuk Tuk turned up to take me to the various grim sites. I being barely able to stand informed him of a change of plan and got myself to the Happy guest house. Ah sweet sweet Happy's, that lush loving den of inequity nestled by the lake. I won't go into the details as my Mum will be reading but vast amounts of Beer Lao were consumed.

The following day I made my way to the shooting range accompanied by the lovely Juliet. I shot an N60 twas bad to the bone. Peep for yourselves my dear drooges.

After that we went to the Killing fields which was totally incongruous with what I had just done. Had I gone to the killing Fields or indeed S21 first I doubt I could of gone to a shooting range. I won't go into the details of it as its well known buts it beggars believe the amount of human suffering and degradation that took place in those few acres. Soldiers used pickaxes and hammers to kill people to save on bullets. My gallery is here

A glass of human teeth

Skull behind glass #2

Red Skull with missing teeth

Skulls behind glass 1

Skull behind glass #4

Anyway I've a lot more photos to upload before I can continue as without the photographs there is little or no context for S21 or the Children I visited who live in the city dump. I should have more up in a few days.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Observations on Vietnam

Seeing as I've been in Cambodia for three weeks or so. I think its about time I published my thoughts on Vietnam.

1) Do not fuck with Vietnam.

They will kick your ass, end of story. They have a successful track record of kicking anyones ass that came to start trouble. For example the French, The Chinese and Americans. Nha Trang at 3am is not fun.

2) Check you change.
They will short change you, oh yes they will! But in fairness mainly in the touristy spots.

3) They drive like total mentalists.
Its utterly terrifying. The rules mean nothing to no one. My bus driver joked on the way to the Chu Chi tunnels that he'd never ever had a crash. He hit two people off mopeds on the way back. Plus after he hit them he opened the door and bollocked them out of it.

4) They enjoy giving you a couple of slaps

This is in principle a playful thing. If they find you attractive they give you a punch in the arm or a slap across the head or indeed a poke in the ribs. Its real playground stuff and once you get into it its quite funny.

5) "You so Handsome"

The local ladies generally say this to most white dudes. Obviously I have no issue with this and find it a wonderfully charming aspect of Vietnamese culture. They are really blunt and will just say personal things to you in the most random way. For example I had just shaved and came back down to the guest house foyer to use the net and was promptly told by the girl at reception that I look much better now and how she didn't like my stubble. She then stuck her finger in the dimple in my chin and called her friends over to have a look. Same thing while trying to change after a massage. I asked the lady to leave while I changed and she just said no and stood there watching.

6) You can't do anything with out a tour.

Forget it, you'll need a tour to get anywhere.

7) One of the family.

When they like you, they really look after you. The place we stayed at in Nha Trang was great and after we had checked out they let us hang around in there own living area and use their shower. I even chatted to their daughter living in Germany for about twenty minutes over the interweb. While Vietnam can be a bit of a drag I have to really rate this aspect of my trip.