i went back to my hotel and hid in my room with a cold can of coke, waiting for the national museum to open at 2PM so i can walk up there and visit. i had a change of heart: some of the people at the hotel was able to convince me to see the killing fields instead (and since there was already a swedish couple going, we'd be traveling by car). i really wanted to do killing fields and visit a shooting range, so after we saw the killing fields (not as stirring as the S-21 genocide museum, but the tower of human skulls was impressive in a gruesome way) we made a detour to a shooting range (just a little bit further on the bumpy dirt road). lonely planet informs me that shooting ranges are strictly underground, and there was something definitely illicit about it, especially when we came into a guarded compound with half a dozen snickering cambodian men each carrying weapons, with more weapons mounted on the wall. "can i take photos?" i asked immediately, because when you're dealing with guns, it pays to get permission first. "later, after you shot," a cambodian soldier told me. they had a menu on the table, but instead of ordering food, you were ordering your weapons of choice. for US$25 you could throw a grenade, for a little more (US$200) they can take you into the mountains to shoot a RPG. having never fired a real gun before (kind of ironic, living in america and all, with our 2nd admendment right), i figured i'd go something small, a little handgun. but i was persuaded into trying out the AK-47 with 30 rounds of ammo after they assured me it doesn't kick back. the swedish couple wanted nothing to do with firearms, and sat patiently while i was given a camouflage jacket with earmuffs and lead into an elongated warehouse, the shooting range. i sat down behind a wooden desk with a makeshift tripod intended for positioning the gun. the man opened the desk and finished around for a clip of ammunition (bullets were rolling around inside the drawer). the AK-47 does kick back, but not as violently as i thought. each pull of the trigger was loud, followed by the ejection of the spent shell, and the smell of sulfur (i think that's what it was). i was nervous, the gun grew increasingly hot with each successive firing, and everything was slick with sweat. my "instructor" stood next to me, giving me tips. basically after the first shot i was ready to go home, but i had 29 more to go. each shot made me wince, and i wasn't even sure if i was getting the target. the guy put the gun on semi-automatic, and i was able to squeeze off a long round of shots. before i knew it, it was over (sweet relief!), and i came out of the shooting range covered in sweat, with gun oil splattered all over my glasses. it wasn't fun at all, more educational than anything, and the experience left a very violent aftertaste in my mouth, like, "so this is what soldiers do." i paid the guy US$30 for the pleasure of using his AK-47. everyone sat around and chit-chatted some more (nervous chit chat at best, when you're having a conversation with somebody carrying a sidearm), but i was ready to leave, and the swedes were ready to go as soon as we got there. i learned a lot of japanese tourists visit the shooting range, and the guys had some funny stories but wouldn't tell us. someone brought out the target: out of 30 shots i was able to hit the target just twice, and i think both times it was because my instructor sort of pushed the gun in the right direction. there goes my career as a sniper. finally we left, and i came back to the hotel with several empty shell casings that i stole when my "captain" wasn't looking.

oh cambodia!

killing fields skulls

shooting an AK-47

i arrived in cambodia last night. as soon as we left the vietnam-cambodia border crossing after a long wait, i was in love with the country. it's the first time where i've been somewhere and it felt FOREIGN. there are more dusty dirt rounds here than actual paved streets, and everything here is written in khmer, even the street signs, so i have no idea where i am. the people here are beautiful, dark like indians but with asian features. i wonder if they're born pale and then gradually become dark as they go about their daily business, one continuous tan under the equatorial sun? i wonder if cambodians are the darkest asians? on the bus waiting for the ferry boat to take us into phnom penh (the capital), i bought some barbecued frogs from a girl balancing a tray of them on her head. it was actually pretty tasty (like chicken, but looks like a lollipop, where the body is the candy and the legs are the stick). the bus dropped us off at some guest house, and basically forced everyone to get rooms there. i left on principle, even though it was getting dark and i had no idea where to go. they even parked the bus in such a way that the entrance was virtually blocked. i managed to squeeze out the side with my backpack, with them yelling behind me, "you'll get lost! and then robbed!" about 20m down the dirt road, i came across another guest house. the price for the same accomodation is US$2 more (US$10) but i feel so much better staying here than there. the place doesn't have toilet paper or complimentary hotel soap, but i have my own so it's not a problem. the best cable i've had anywhere, 60+ channels of thai and indian and taiwan and vietnamese and cambodia and british and american and who knows what else, a real slice of southeast asia right in my little 13" screen. the room is a little buggy though. for some reason mosquitoes magically appear (this morning i discovered because the window wasn't completely closed) and i think a flea also bit me (small and dark, i should know) and tiny ants are crawling on the floor and i saw a fly and a centipede crawled across the floor as well. where is my complimentary pest managing gecko i wonder?

i didn't leave the hotel room, just stayed in and ordered some beef noodle ramen, and went back to the air conditioned comfort of my room and took a shower and watched TV until 1am in the morning, just like old times.

this morning i went to S-21, the genocide museum. it was early, so there was nobody there, so i got to wander the place all by myself. i don't believe in ghosts, but the place definitely had a creepy vibe. i kept my composure until the final building, featuring paints of torture and the actual devices used. i got a little choked up and had to look elsewhere to prevent myself from losing it. afterwards i went next door to a cafe for some kiwi-lime-soymilk shake and then i found this really excellent korean-runned internet cafe, 40 cents a hour of sweet web access.

time's almost up, going to a bank to cash a traveler's check, then back to the hotel to take a nap (everything's closed here for a few hours around noon anyway) before going to some history museum.

typical cambodian dirt road

S-21 interrogation room