i am in the middle of my week-long forced isolation due to radioactive therapy i received for my thyroid problem, and i am suffering more than i had imagined, not physically but emotionally. i am holding myself prisoner in my room in our house, which means that my loved ones are so near yet so far. i can hear the children laugh (or cry or scream or fight, as they’re wont to do within a prescribed schedule in a day) but i can’t go near them to enjoy their laughter or to embrace them or kiss their tears away. i am literally counting the days when i can go outside for my freedom and then i got ashamed of myself because i suddenly remembered two places where the counting would have been much longer, or where the freedom never ever came: tuol sleng and buchenwald.
as you know traveling does not only bring you to happy places. sure, most of the tourism sites are awesome (in terms of natural or man-made beauty and scale), there are also those that are serene and sacred (mostly religious sites, like temples and the vatican), but there are those that simply bear down on you with a heaviness you cannot explain, and make a tug in your heart.
tuol sleng genocide museum used to be a high school building (hell, even today, it still looks like one from the outside) in phnom penh, cambodia that was used as the “s-21” prison by polpot’s regime. it became the processing center for around 20,000 prisoners (ranging from professionals to pol pot’s own officials who were suspected of treachery) and served as an interrogation complex, torture central, and extermination camp rolled into one. now, the place serves to tell the terror of its history, with bloodstains on beds, floors and walls, thousands of skulls displayed in cases, torture devices, and hand-written calendars still eerily preserved. you walk through the complex and you feel like there’s a heavy cloud bearing on you. not surprisingly, it is said that the residents of the neighborhood where the prison is located (remember, this served as a school, so some houses are mere yards away from the compound) still hear screams of pain and cries of agony deep in the night.
however, the feeling is worse in buchenwald. this is a concentration camp (one of the first and one of the largest) near the town of weimar in germany where, as to accounts, almost a quarter of a million people (both jewish and non-jewish alike) were incarcerated and exterminated, with a total death toll of about fifty thousand. and boy, can you still feel the lingering sense of death and despair in that place! that was the first time when i truly believed in the negative energy that can be emitted by a place due to the things that have happened there. even as you enter the compound, there was this heaviness that you could certainly feel but could not explain — like someone hit you in the gut with a hammer. what’s weird was my friends felt it too, though we only talked about it when we were away from there, so i guess we didn’t contrive or imagine or hallucinate it. i guess the season (fall) and the weather (overcast, cold and gloomy) didn’t help much either. but it might as well have been the height of summer, with the sun at its highest, and yet you would still have felt like you were entering into the true heart of darkness.