Tag Archives: war

Solemn Sights in Washington, DC

During my trip to the US, I stayed with family in New Jersey. As I’ve visited New York City with my wife countless times, we decided to visit DC via the Amtrak train.

I was last in DC when I was in the sixth grade. As an adult, I “get” the historical significance and the city’s ties to conflicts such as the War of 1812, Civil War, and events like the MLK “I Have a Dream” speech much more than when I was younger. One thing that stuck with me during my first visit, though, is the solemn significance of two sites: the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery. While we can argue all day and night about politics (and Americans often do just that), it’s important to reflect on the sacrifices made by others.

As a measure of personal interest, I googled some names on the wall shown in the photo above. The first name I searched belongs to Sgt. Melvin R. Wink, shown at the bottom right. I was saddened to learn his story through various resources including the Virtual Vietnam Veterans Wall of Faces, a wonderful resource that personifies the wall. In addition, more information about Sgt. Wink is found through the website of his unit, A Troop 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment of the 25th US Army Infantry Division. More photos and resources can be found at TogetherWeServed.com.

What struck me about Sgt. Wink’s story is the backstory to this hero. He was a young 22-year old, had a wife in Pennsylvania, and was nearly complete with his tour of duty during a reconnaissance mission into Cambodia. There, his unit was ambushed and he was killed.

I’m really grateful for projects like the Wall of Faces. With 58,195 names, it’s important to put this into context.

More photos of both the wall, Arlington National Cemetery, the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Memorial and the famous Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier are below.




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In Korea: the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) (Korea Post 1)

It’s been way too long since I’ve posted here, so I’ll return to posting not with Taiwan, but with photos from a place that is a bit  more fast moving and hectic – South Korea.

Today’s post is about the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and Military Demarcation Line (MDL). This region is a must-see for anyone wanting to visit and understand Korea, though you must go through a usually expensive (but reasonably priced) tour. With the right passport, you can book a trip through the USO or other organization that enters through Camp Bonifas, the joint US Army and Republic of Korea base situated near the border. The ticket is filled with a waiver notifying you that “The visit to the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom will entail entry into a hostile area and possibility of injury or death as a direct result of enemy action,” and you pay about 90 US dollars for the ability to visit.

I’m not going to give a specific account of what happens as you can find plenty of these that are very well written all over the web. Here are some photos though – to my surprise, I was able to use my telephoto lens and was generally pretty free to shoot photos of the interesting stuff, though there were some restrictions on when and what direction the camera was pointing. Unfortunately – or fortunately if you ask my mother and wife – not much happened on the Northern side of the border that day, but here is an interesting account including some interesting sword rattling on both sides. While it was a quiet day, it was also a beautiful day in terms of weather and visibility, which made the second part of the tour great.

Above: the lone visible North Korean guard standing his post at the Panmun Gak, the main, iconic building on the North Korean side of the Joint Security Area (JSA). According to our tour guide (a US Army military policeman), there was a second guard inside the tinted glass taking photos of our tour group. Notice the boarded window to the right.



Above: various shots of Republic of Korea (South Korea) soldiers standing guard. The soldier at bottom left guards the door to North Korea. On the bottom right, the soldier is standing half-exposed to keep cover in the (hopefully unlikely) scenario of shots being fired across the border. All are standing at a modified Tae Kwon Do stance. The soldier on top is actually the geographic border of the two sides while inside the treaty room. You can see this better in the next photo.

Above: the soldier shown above straddles the border at the main UN conference table.

Above: Republic of Korea soldiers stand guard at the JSA.

Above: a guardpost on the border.

Above: the “propaganda village” as seen from the South. Apparently, this village is fake. It was built in order to show people how prosperous the North is and why people should defect north. It is called propaganda village as it acts as a Potemkin Village that used to spout out propaganda on giant speakers. The flag pole is famous as its the largest in the world at 160 meters tall and was built after a bit of sabre rattling between the two sides in the art of flagpole construction.

Above: some detail of the propaganda village. A 100% zoom will show some (pixelated) glimpses of life like people airing dirty laundry – but I can confirm that it was eerily quiet.

Above: Dorasan Station, the last Korean rail station before heading north. It was briefly reused for freight reasons and there were plans for commuter trains to move north, but these plans were reversed. This station is in an area that is the furthest north civilians can go without having to cross the MDL, or Military Demarcation Line, which limits civilian movement due to military concerns.



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Cambodia’s Dark Past, Part 2: Cambodia Landmine Museum

This is the second of two posts relating to the darker side of Cambodia’s history. Yesterday, I discussed Security Prison 21, a high school converted into a concentration camp and prison which operated from 1975-1979 until its liberation by the Vietnamese Army. It is now a museum in Phnom Penh.

Following the scourge of genocide and civil war in Cambodia was something left behind that maims and kills people to this day: unexploded ordinance and minefields that litter the eastern and western borders.

In the east, bombs dropped by American B-52s during the bombing campaigns against the Viet Cong guerrillas who sought refuge on the borders still exist in the countryside. Recent statistics reveal that 2,756,941 tons of bombs – more than the whole two million of World War II – were dropped on Cambodia between 1965 and 1973, even though it was not officially declared that America was involved in any way with Cambodia until 1970.

In the west where the Khmer Rogue held villages until 1998 and where Thailand heavily guarded and feared for its eastern border, minefields were created as the Vietnamese and Soviet-backed People’s Republic of Kampuchea fought against the Khmer Rogue.

This war of attrition sucked many innocent lives into the ongoing conflict. One was Aki Ra, who was later given his Japanese name by journalists and lived a hellish life after his parents were killed and he was taken into the Khmer Rogue as a child soldier. As a soldier, he learned to set landmines and fight, and was eventually forced to switch sides after being captured by the Vietnamese. After his time fighting, he decided to start demining – and until 2007 when the Cambodian government stopped him for liability reasons, he removed mines himself with only a stick and a knife.

Eventually, he created a museum when tourists learned of a “crazy Cambodian guy” who had a house full of deactivated landmines. Today, this museum is officially supported and he has been trained by the UN to clear landmines with an all-Khmer team. The museum also serves as housing for several children who have been affected by landmines and by poverty and disease.

You can learn more about Aki Ra through his CNN Heroes profile here.

You can also learn about the Cambodia Landmine Museum at its website. You can donate money directly or purchase “cleanUp soap,” a landmine-shaped soap which proceeds go toward demining in Cambodia.


Above left: 500-lb. bombs line up the entrance to the museum. Top and above right: all of the deactivated munitions at this museum were removed and disarmed by Aki Ra himself. No new mines go into the museum anymore.


Above: notice the mortar shells – another issue in Cambodia is “UXO” or unexploded ordinance.


Above: these red signs do exist in Cambodia – this “fake minefield” is set up to see if people are able to identify even the most rudimentary and easiest to see mines. Consider the fact that de-mining teams have to cut through the jungle with a machete.

Above: this is “cleanUp” soap for sale – available in the store. Profits from the soap – which is sold online – support de-mining in Cambodia.

In addition to the landmine museum, visitors will often see groups of musicians playing at temples. This music gives a really interesting atmosphere to the temples and small donations are solicited. The groups that play these are said to be landmine survivors – you can see this with the amputated limbs and prosthetic limbs sitting around. It is important to keep in mind that not all amputees in Cambodia are landmine survivors in a country where diseases “wiped out” in the West like malaria and polio have wreaked havoc on the population. Regardless, I thought it was worth buying a $10 CD of their recordings after I asked to take their picture.


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Cambodia’s Dark Past, Part 1: S-21 Prison, Phnom Penh

This is the first of two posts relating to the darker side of Cambodia’s history. Tomorrow, I will be making a post about the landmine epidemic and an organization that plays a big part in educating people and cleaning up Cambodia one mine at a time.

In August, 1975, after the Khmer Rouge pushed into Phnom Penh victoriously, a high school in the heart of the city was converted into a concentration camp and security prison. Chao Ponhea Yat High School became known as Security Prison 21, or S-21, and housed an estimated 17,000 – 20,000 inmates during its existence.During the Cambodian Genocide, intellectuals, monks, teachers, soldiers and members of the Lon Nol regime, doctors, and engineers were systematically killed with Pol Pot’s Khmer Rogue regime attempting to create an agrarian utopia. The purges would not stop there, and an estimated 1.7 to 2.5 million people lost their lives. This all took place in a country with a population of about 7.3 million in 1975 and an area a little larger than the US state of Oklahoma.S-21 served as a security prison tasked with interrogating “enemies of the revolution” – basically any and everyone with some form of speciality even if their politics were neutral. Like the Nazis before them, the Khmer Rogue provided very detailed records of the prisoners, including photographs which are still on display at the museum today. In addition to these photographs, torture devices are still in existence, as are hooks bolted into the ground to hold people down. When the prison was liberated in 1979 by the Vietnamese Army, only eleven survivors were found and the guards had already left.

While visiting Cambodia, it is important to remember the scars that these wars – which only really ended in 1998 – have inflicted upon the country. This was something that is very apparent – visiting the country gives you an awkward sense as this developing country has seen so many struggles. Years of war has taken its toll on the people and the economy – even today, the average income based on GDP PPP per-capita is $2,100 per year in US dollars. Keep in mind that for many of the poor of Cambodia, this is a huge number, as these statistics don’t take income inequality into mind when they are calculated.

Good news exists though, in the burgeoning tourist industry centered around Angkor Wat. One man my wife Yuling and I got to know was our tuk-tuk driver, Thean.  Tourism supports him at about $20 – $30 per day plus extra tips and expenses. He worked very hard and being tri-lingual (he is working on his fourth language, Russian), I would hope that he has a very bright future ahead. His dream is to become a tour guide, but cannot fulfill this yet as the fact that he grew up in a town controlled by the Khmer Rogue until 1997 in Western Cambodia halted his pursuit at a high school diploma. I’m about his age and will complain less when I have some barrier to my next life step.

In addition to tourism, more businesses are bringing factories into the country, though any visitor to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap will be skeptical about this happening quickly as the infrastructure in Cambodia is still “developing” at best. When you have a country with dirt roads for “national highways,” it is difficult to build industry. However, cheap labor is always an attractive option as globalization spreads the marketplace around the world, so it will be interesting to see how things continue.

You can read more about S-21 and the Cambodian Genocide throughout the Internet. One useful article is the Wikipedia entry for S-21, which includes more photographs and personal accounts. Another useful link is this article about Cambodian artist Vann Nath, one of the eleven survivors. His eerie work is hanging throughout the museum, and graphically portrays what happened in each of the rooms.

One of the eerie effects of this prison is the fact that its architecture immediately reminds you of schools in Asia. Nearly all schools here have classrooms which go to the outside – effective before air conditioning was always available. The parts of S-21 that still look like Chao Ponhea Yat High School are immediately noticeable to teachers especially.


Above left: a memorial at the front of the entrance sits to the few people who are buried at the complex. Their 14 bodies were found when the prison was liberated. Most of the killing was done in the rural areas of Cambodia. On the right is another memorial in a rear courtyard.


Above right: a sign which reminds visitors not to smile. There was a certain religious element about this place – it seemed more sacred than even the Buddhist sites I visited.

This Khmer-French-language chalkboard kind of creeped me out. I’m not sure if it was left all these years or placed here for the sake of the museum – either way, it’s very effective at getting the point across.


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