The Killing fields at Choeung Ek are worth a visit. Having been there, I can say that I was both disappointed and satisfied with the version of the ‘monument’ I saw. On the one hand, all that was there were some fields, holes, and a tower filled with the skulls and bones of the victims. Seemingly too simple and not fitting for the scale of the tragedy that happened there. I was expecting something a little more ‘official.’
On the other hand, while reflecting about my visit, I became more appreciative of the simplicity of it all. A couple of simple signs set under trees in the middle of surrounding rice paddies. At the centre of the site, a layered tower of bones. Very little attempt was made to explain why things happened (at least at the site proper), instead, just a few facts were displayed. It’s hard to understand why these things happened, but it’s easy to understand that they were horrible. That’s why the simplicity of it all was important to me.
Today, I learned that the site will be privatized. I’m both hopeful and saddened by the news. I’m hopeful that the site will become better, yet afraid it will become an attraction. There are a number of reasons why this could be bad:
- Usually, a private company’s only goal is to maximize profit. As such, any profits generated will end up in private pockets.
- The public loses control over how the site will be presented. If tourist dollars shrink, will the private company cut back on maintenance in order to meet the bottom line?
- Because the site will now be for-profit, I can guarantee that a conflict of interest will occur between the goals of profiting and maintaining the site. Remember, in Cambodia bribery can get you anything.
Cambodians also recognize that this could be very bad:
Justice has not yet been found for the victims, but at the same time their spirits have been traded of for money.
Time will tell whether or not this is a good thing for the people of Cambodia. For now, I’m curious what the typical “smaller government” supporter thinks about this.