Museums began as a wonder room, or a cabinet of curiosity, where wealthy private collectors showed off their prized exotic collections, their travels, or their history. That room or cabinet has now evolved to an institution that conserves artifacts of importance. My personal favourite museums are the historical variety. When I travel to a foreign country, I always visit to the local museum as it allows you to travel back into the country's past; the becoming and falling, and most importantly the rising from the ashes. This is particularly true to countries whose recent pasts includes genocide, as portrayed by Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia.
The common saying of "A picture paints a thousand words" is an understatement for Tuol Sleng. If I am to put a picture of a bed, it would not be one that gives you comfort at night, but the one that makes you lose the ability tell the day from night. If I am to put a picture of a school, it would not be one that teaches you knowledge of this world, but one that teaches you fear. And that is what Tuol Sleng was, a school that transformed into a torture prison during Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime.
And you wonder why do the Cambodians put this ugly thing to stain this beautiful country? Isn't it enough that it had stained the older generation, of what's left of them? Why keep torturing them with the site of where their loved ones were tortured by their own people, incited under the name of equality? Does the still blood-stained floor of the classroom serve any purpose at all?
I may be just a traveller to Cambodia, but just the brief travel into this collection of horrific memories taught me one thing: hope.
Tuol Sleng can look like a symbol of evil, but it is a symbol of hope and redemption. This country is trying to heal herself from the fact that brothers were trying to kill brothers in this very land 40 years ago. Tuol Sleng taught the Cambodians that when hate happens, division happens. To rise up from the ashes, they have to learn to accept, love and forgive. Then only a brighter future can follow.