Monkeys in Phnom Penh hunt in packs.  One scratches your legs while another raids your shopping bags for bananas, mango’s, crisps, sweets.  They are very quick at undoing the packets.  They copy the children.  They have even taken to sniffing glue.  That might explain why they are so out of control. 

When the Chief of Police was recently criticised for killing the leader of a pack of bandit monkeys, he was unrepentant.  ‘We treat them like people; he retorted, ‘you identify the leader and then you shoot him’.

It is not that long ago that the country was in the grip of the Khmer Rouge.  Then indiscriminate killing was commonplace.  A third of the population died in the genocide of the Pol Pot regime.  In the Killing Fields outside the capital, millions of people were executed, often on the instigation of children and for minor offences, like staring or answering back and just because the kids didn’t like the way they looked.  Pol Pot was so paranoid, he killed destroyed the countries intelligentsia.  Lawyers, teachers, doctors, clerks, even those wearing glasses, were taken, forced to kneel and executed by a bullet or a blow in the back of the head.  The unfortunate ones were taken to Tuol Sleng, once a school, and tortured to reveal names of their friends and colleagues before being executed.  Of the twenty thousand taken there, only seven survived. 

The UN are only now bringing those responsible to justice, though in truth the people have no heart in this.  They just want to put it all behind them and forget.  Besides, there is danger in this exercise.  Bribery and corruption are rife in Phnom Penh.  Like the monkeys; it’s the way of life.  

Thirty years on, there are relatively few survivors and they, like the country’s president, used to belong to the Khmer Rouge.  (The  Khmer Rouge was still operating as a guerrilla force well into the 1990s).  Cambodia is no country for old men.  40% of the population are under 15, 70% are under 30.   They want to get on with rebuilding the country, but it takes time for both attitudes and even the fabric of the country to change.     

When the people moved back into Phnom Penh, they kept their old house and street numbers wherever they lived.  So the streets are not numbered in sequence and house numbers can appear quite indiscriminate.  Like the road traffic regulations, anything goes, and somehow the motos and tuk-tuks all keep moving.

It was shocking to learn that Dr Haing S.Ngor,  who won an academy award for Best Supporting Actor for his moving portrayal of Dith Pran in The Killing Fields, had been murdered in Los Angeles.  

Advertisements