Dirty toilets & genocide

25 Feb

I've always been a big fan of guest books. You can perhaps tell more about society by the comments left in such books than in an entire sociology text-book. Many are dull, many are clichés, but if you're lucky sometimes you may just find a gem of a comment that can bring a tear to the eye in profundity, or even better, utter pedantry.

The two guest books I have seen in Cambodia didn't fail to disappoint.

First, from the “impressions” book of the Choeung Ek – the country's most famous 'killing field'.

Not usually a place for laughter I couldn't help but smile at the first (English-language comment) in the book.

“The rest room is so dirty”

There are actually two comments made by the same person. The first is made in their native language. Perhaps they talk about the sheer awfulness, the emotional anguish and how the visit will change them into a better person. But for some reason – perhaps reflective of a very unpleasant visit – they have switched to English to make their complaint (or is it a warning to other tourists – why else the change of language?).

The second comment made directly below makes a reference to the comment above. A Vietnamese called Mi ends his entry:

“P.S. The person above me is indeed a fool.”


Randy from the USA also caught my eye.

“Worse, in some ways, to Dachau and Auschwitz, which I visited some time ago.”

He doesn't elaborate on how it is worse “in some ways”, but perhaps he shares the sentiment of “RS” from Japan making the comparison with the Holocaust.

“This case is very different to that of Germany in the sense of killing their own citizens.”

Brushing aside the historical inaccuracy, the moral implications are worrying to say the least. You often see the same moral reasoning in press articles when a murder victim was an “innocent man”. The murder of a “guilty man” is surely no less morally reprehensible.

Jensen from the USA uses the opportunity to complain about the imbalance in the site's stories (you get an audio guide including a number of short stories of survivors' tales of the horrors of the regime).

“I want more stories about the Cambodians that fought back against Pol Pot. 'Poor me Poor me' stories are important but the brave & heroic Cambodians is what would give me hope.”

My favourite comment is by Morzal Saber from the Netherlands.

“It made me more human.”

Well put Mr Saber.


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