Tag-Archive for » Kristin Karst «

Killing Fields A Chilling Experience

S-21-10PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — It’s hard to imagine this place was a prison, until you experience its contents. Once, it was a school. Then came the Khmer Rouge. Classrooms became cells and torture chambers. Fencing installed for the safety of students was replaced by electrified barbed wire to keep “prisoners” from escaping. In its lifetime, this collection of five buildings has had three names. Tuol Svay Pray High School…then S-21 (Security Prison 21)…and today the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (the first two words mean “Hill [of] Strychnine.”

We’d been prepared for this venture, as much as you can be prepared for seeing tiny skulls, shocking and graphic photographs and confined spaces that strain the bounds of humanity. One of the owners of AmaWaterways, Kristin Karst, is a perpetually happy person who goes everywhere with her customers. She tells us she’s taking a pass on this shore excursion from the new AmaDara.

Chum Mey copy“I have been there before,” she says. “Once is enough.”

She is right.

What happened here in the late ‘70s is indefensible. All prisoners were photographed — many photographs of the victims are part of the museum today — and interrogated while being tortured. They were forced to name family members and close associates, who then became part of the cycle of torture and ultimate death.

We are told there were nine survivors. Some reports say the number may have been as many as 12. Of thousands…between 17,000 and 20,000. Whatever the number, they survived because they had skills useful to the Khmer Rouge. Three are still alive. Two are here, Chum Mey (right) and Bou Meng, selling books that tell their stories and to warn future generations. They remain the public faces of this sad part of human history.

S-21 was one of 150 Cambodian prisons where these evil deeds were committed. Neighbourhood buildings were places soldiers raped prisoners. Those who didn’t die in the prison were taken to The Killing Fields, which today is an historical site about 30 minutes from S-21. 

It’s just as moving as the prison, but less gut-wrenching, perhaps because of the initial shock. There are more skulls — “They find more all the time,” says our guide, “but they S-21-6have enough.” There are mass graves. The monsoons each year continue to unearth more evidence of what happened, more fragments of clothing, more human remains.

There are 127 such burial sites in Cambodia.

How can something so sad be so compelling? How can people like us suggest to people like you that going there is a good idea because, as “shore excursions” go, these are obviously not pleasant experiences? But they serve a purpose. They are “Cambodia.” They aren’t Disneyland.

As the survivors say, preserving this part of history may prevent its recurrence. It’s also a testament to the Cambodian people, who live in peace and with forgiveness for what happened. And charging entrance fees to the museums is one small way to contribute to the economy of this impoverished land of now 15 million people.

It is worth the trip.

But once is enough.

In the news…

• Carnival Corporation committed to 2020 sustainability goals
• Vancouver launches underwater listening device to protect whales
• Tropical Storm Erika no threat (yet) to ports of Dominica

Today at portsandbows.com: Major changes to the Queen Mary 2

Norwegian Dawn
7 nights
January 3, 2016
New Orleans (return): Cozumel, Roatan, Belize, Costa Maya
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71

Memories Of Child Of Vietnam War

VIETNAM — He is from Hanoi. A child of the Vietnam War, in which his father fought for the North Vietnamese Army. Yes, the Viet Cong, although that degrading terminology was used only by the enemy. His father was shot by an American soldier. He’d like to meet that American soldier.

To say thanks.

“When my father was injured, they sent him home to Hanoi,” says Trieu Son. “Because he came home, I was born.”

Today, Son is a cruise director. Since 2011, he has worked for AmaWaterways, professionally and politely accompanying river cruisers up and down the Mekong River on Sonthe AmaDara, to and from Siem Reap, Cambodia and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. If his ability to do his job and his engaging personality are the criteria, it’s a job Son will have as long as he wants it.

The owners of the cruise line, principally Rudi Schreiner and Kristin Karst, met him for the first time last month. What followed was an ongoing and entertaining dialogue between “Son” and his “Dad” and “Mom.” By the end of the cruise, all parents who qualified were ready to adopt him as their Son.

During his tenure as a cruise director, he met an American soldier. The man, who’d been a pilot during the war and whose name was Jim, wanted to meet a North Vietnamese soldier. Although Son didn’t initially think of his father.

“Then my Dad phoned, just to talk to his son,” he recalls. “He fought four and a half years. In North Vietnam, it would bring shame on a family not to enlist.”

The two old soldiers met in a tea room at a Hanoi hotel. Accompanied by his wife Connie and daughter Amanda, Jim paced the floor in the minutes leading up to meeting Son’s father, Quoc Tuan. When they met, it was emotional. There were tears.

“I’m so sorry,” he said to his North Vietnamese equal, “for every shot I fired. I was only 17. All I was supposed to do was press the button.”

Quoc Tuan was sympathetic.

“It was war time,” he told Jim. “No one wanted to be there. It must have been hard…you guys all had to come to a strange country.”

They parted as friends. So did their children. Amanda returns to Vietnam every couple of years.

“Two fathers fought,” says Son. “Now their two kids have fun together.”

The youngest of three children, all born after the Vietnam War, Son now has an unlikely occupation. His older brother urged him to learn English and, when he was young, Son listened to English on an overseas BBC station “for years” without learning a word of English. One morning he heard a broadcaster say “trigger” and he was so intrigued by the word that he was motivated to learn more.

That wasn’t easy.

“Most of us suffered from malnutrition,” Son recalls, with a smile. “We had no meat…no toys…and for the first eight years no electricity. We studied by oil lamp.”

By age 16, he was able to study English at school. Now in his 30s, he speaks it fluently, learning it so well that he can be funny in a way that only works with knowledge of the nuances.

“Language is about understanding,” he says.

His most amazing characteristic to strangers — whether they are passengers or his new “Dad” and “Mom” — is an uncanny ability to know and remember every passenger’s name by heart within minutes of meeting them. He says it is a gift.

One that was the result of an American shooting a North Vietnamese soldier.

In the news…

• Survey shows Cuba early bookings fewer than 3% of Americans
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• fathom ship to focus on Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba

Today at portsandbows.com: Cruise views and news you can use

Emerald Princess
4 nights
November 21, 2015
Fort Lauderdale (return): Nassau, Princess Cays
Inside: $299
Cost per day: $74

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