Cambodia: The Gate
Last Sunday I flew to Phnom Penh. One of those fifty-five minutes flights that now make even the most exotic place accessible. Changes are everywhere since my first trip to Cambodia in 1993. The scale of the city stays much the same: mainly three, four story shop houses, wet markets, old colonial era villas with a fresh coat of paint and new windows. The bone-aching poverty remains. The leathery sun beaten faces under over sized bamboo hats. Swarms of motorcycles cut across multi-lanes of traffic in a ballet of near death experience. The streets filled with people. I try to imagine that day in April when the Khmer Rouge emptied the city, leaving it to the dogs, cats and rats.
I met with a Cambodian author (H.E. Francis Sam Sotha) whose personal memoir charts his four years inside the killing field. Heaven Lake Press will publish those memoirs in the autumn. During my stay I visited the church where the author spent time. Sam and his wife Sony showed me around the grounds. The chapel, the quarters where students lived, and the inner grounds. The church which survived the khmer rouge unfortunately will not survive the development of the city. The old church is scheduled to be pulled down. Here is a photograph of the church in Phnom Penh.
One of the best books written about that time is Bizot’s The Gate.
Few books ever capture the feverish nightmare of the killing fields as The Gate. The pacing, the rich narrative drive, the drama unfolding in ordinary lives makes it a classic. If you want to lens to view one of the great horror stories of Southeast Asia, you should buy this book, curl up, turn off the telephone and computer and let yourself be transported to a world that you will thank god you never had to experience first hand.