GCD: Global Understanding
Between February 4th and 12th (2018), I travelled to Cambodia as part of a service trip that the school offers along with other students from my grade and the grade above. It was my first time going to a country outside of my home countries (Japan and China), and I was eager to see how the streets and people’s living style looked like, as well as to meet the local people and learn about them.
The difference in the environment of Cambodia and Japan was very recognizable. In the urban areas, there were marketplaces and food stands, and we mainly travelled by tuk tuk, a two-wheeled carriage pulled by a motorcycle. There were many motorcycles on the road, and not too many cars. In Yokohama, where I live, there are more public facilities, including shopping malls and department stores. Many people who live in cities of Japan use trains to transport, since they are convenient — they come on time most of the times and the stations are relatively close to each other, so the place where one wants to go will most likely be close to a train station.
Tuk Tuk in Cambodia (South China Morning Post)
On our way to Pursat, a rural province of Cambodia, I saw the city landscape gradually changing outside. There were more cows on the road, almost no buildings except for houses and small markets, and more unpaved roads. One of our main activities at Pursat was to take part in constructing a school (filling the floor with rocks and sand) with the local students.
While we partook in the construction, we communicated with the local students. We leaned each other’s language, and took photos together. Then, I realized that many local students had smart-phones. I was extremely surprised, because I did not expect the children and their family, who were needing help from external NPO organization, would own such technologies. I came to realize that it was the bias I had through the limited knowledge that made me think what poverty could look like, and this experience totally changed my view on poverty. I also saw that many local students had motorcycles to travel from home to school. This was also unexpected — not much about how children younger than me were riding motorcycles, but how their families can afford such goods. I thought that goods like motorcycles would be expensive (around $5000) and that many people wouldn’t be able to afford them. I learned from a local family later on that a motorcycle can be as cheap as $50 (which is still a lot for many families in Cambodia, and that is why many of them need wells, so that they can get clean water for drinking and cooking, but also can grow vegetables and fruits to sell them).
I learned about Khmer Rouge during club meetings, and when I first knew about it, I was horrified that such mass killings happened not even too long ago. My parents were already born when the vicious four-year regime happened, and I wondered about the frightening possibilities if they were born in Cambodia. When I visited Cambodia and met various people, and listened to their life stories — HOPE members in Cambodia, and families waiting for wells — I had to accept the fact that many people in Cambodia living now were directly affected by the Khmer Rouge, and that a lot of people have lost their families.
It has only been less than 40 years since the regime has ended, and the consequences that it left were grave.
I visited the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center and Killing Fields on the trip. It was very difficult to imagine that hundreds of people were killed on the land that I was standing on, and also since it looked so peaceful — there were lots of green, fowls were ambling, and the sky was blue… But the skulls of hundreds of people and remains of clothes and bones showed that the genocide did happen, and it felt like they were telling me to not look away from what happened. They made me mournful, but also glad that the country wasn’t trying to lock away what had happened.
Through this experience, I understood more the huge influence of a government on the country, but still wonder why such mass killing was possible in the first place. I read on an online source that “Khmer Rouge’s polices were guided by its belief that the citizens of Cambodia had been tainted by exposure to outside ideas, especially by the capitalist West” (Holocaust Museum Houston). It is unfathomable how such a belief could be the reason for a person to kill another. It is unfathomable that many people actually chose to believe in this belief! But unfortunately, the Khmer Rouge happened, with people driven by this belief. The consequences are serious — many have fallen into the poverty cycle and the country has lost outstanding number of human resources.
It was also the influence of politics and economics that I learned on this trip. But what I gained the most out of it was the significance and the power of “belief”.
Photo of Tuk Tuk from: https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/society/article/2097978/what-will-become-cambodias-endangered-tuk-tuk-drivers