It’s been about three and a half years since I visited Cambodia. At the time I was working for an NGO and the purpose of the trip was to gather stories and footage of the work our partners were doing in local communities. I think I travelled the extremity of the country in about ten days. I loved it. The people were so friendly.
There was one village where I decided to go for a walk down a dusty road taking discrete photos of the homes as I went. I was struck by the friendliness of people who were sitting on their porches under some shade who would beckon to me. With smiling faces, they were offering me some food and drink as I walked by. It was pretty obvious that I was a stranger… a middle-aged white guy walking down the village road probably doesn’t happen that often.
That is one of the things that I loved about Cambodia. The people were mostly very friendly, especially in the villages. It is a shock to the system when you realise that the village was in a region, which was one of the last strongholds of the Khmer Rouge. Cambodia is a country that is overcoming it’s violent past, recovering from its generational trauma.
My final day in Cambodia was in Phnom Penh. I had the morning to myself and decided to go to Tuol Sleng, the infamous prison where it is estimated that over 12,000 people died under the Khmer Rouge. Going through the various rooms that are preserved to depict the terror and abandonment of the inmates, I could only wonder at the extremity of human callousness. It was such a sharp contrast to the smiling faces I met over the past ten days. I remember just sitting in silence in the courtyard, turning over the scenes of inhumanity that were portrayed and which my imagination concluded. I never managed to visit the Killing Fields that day. The juxtaposition of my experience of delightful Cambodian people against the backdrop of Tuol Sleng was all I could handle in one day.
This morning, I watched a video called Save Ralph. You can watch it below.
It made quite an impact on me. The shock comes from the humanity that is infused in the character of Ralph, a rabbit who is used for testing cosmetic products. There was something chilling about the offbeat humour. It just sat in my mind and in my gut for quite a while after watching it.
The shock is brought from the juxtaposition of torturing animals to produce an item that people value.
What does this say about us? Many things I’m sure.
I wondered though, how would I have reacted if the same video had been produced about saving an aborted foetus called Gabriel?