December Tales from Siem Reap Part II: Wat Kesararam

Materials in the genocide memorial - Wat Kesararam, Siem Reap

Materials in the genocide memorial – Wat Kesararam, Siem Reap

There is a doe-eyed, moon-faced woman on the corner outside my house who has a sugarcane juice stand. I stop by her humble establishment often, but rarely for sugarcane juice. No, I do it for a chilled aluminum can of sweet soybean milk, and of course for delightful conversation with her too.

After visiting Kesararam, my palate for chilled aluminum cans of soybean milk subsided substantially. The diminished palate was not ameliorated by the fact that my vanity was mildly bruised earlier this week when I waived hello to the woman and her immediate response was a smile accompanied by the statement: “Your face is fat now.” Thus, I am temporarily protesting her soybeans in order to pathetically nurse a grudge against this comment, but my beverage boycott is partially related to the Kesararam visit too.

On the morning after the half-marathon at Angkor, I set off on my third day in Siem Reap in search of a genocide memorial at Wat Kesararam, which I heard about from temple hunter and Cambodia aficionado Andy Brouwer. I sat in the tuk tuk equipping myself for the journey ahead, but that journey lasted about two minutes. I didn’t know the temple site was only a couple of streets away from my hotel – a great example of how much preparation I had done.

I have found that getting to the site of where a memorial is reported to be is one thing, but locating the actual memorial structure is another (that is unless you’re at a place like Choeung Ek where you have to exert effort not to notice the bone-filled glass tower springing from the ground). A wat site is typically enclosed by an exterior wall. Inside the space is the complex, which includes the main pagoda and other smaller structures. The stupas are typically located on the outer edge, closer to the exterior wall. This was the case at Kesararam. Upon entering the wat and looking around, I decided I was not going to just wing it and wander around the stupa graves. There were too many nooks and crannies and it was hot, so I was just going to go up to the first monk I saw and straight up ask him where this memorial was. (I am learning to be much more direct and forward in this country.) I spotted the familiar saffron robe, belonging to a man lounging at a table in front of a little building. After greeting him with the ritual respect, I asked him if he knew where the memorial was. He was friendly and pointed in the direction towards the right side of the main pagoda, explaining it was in the area under the large mango tree. Away I walked.

I would hate to be lost in such a place at night. I would faint from anxiety, not to mention I would just be plain spooked out by the dark.

Under the mango tree was cramped with stupas, but I thought I would be able to find the memorial easily. I had an image of it in my head from some photographs on the blog post about Kesararam that Andy wrote. It was supposed to look like a little house on stilts, made of wood most likely rotting, so it would certainly stand out from its more sturdy and vibrantly-hued concrete neighbors.

And it did.

I spotted the memorial at Kesararam from its backside. After zig zagging through the stupas surrounding it, I got to the front. And yes, it pretty much looked like what I pictured in my head.

Front side of memorial - Wat Kesararam, Siem Reap

Front side of memorial – Wat Kesararam, Siem Reap

The remains contained in the memorial - Wat Kesararam, Siem Reap

The remains contained in the memorial – Wat Kesararam, Siem Reap

It reminded me of a doghouse, like the kind that Snoopy has, except slightly larger, on stilts, and incapable of transforming into a World War I flying ace jetplane. Bones laid inside, mixed with some textile scraps, presumably clothing found with the remains. From afar the items were indistinguishable, a disheveled pile of rubbish. A woven basket staked with a yellow drinking straw sat atop the bones, filled with more bones. What looked like a little devata statue was at the foot on the dirt ground, as well as another statue head and a small ceramic bowl. Right next to the memorial stood a tree, with three jackfruit hanging.

Statues on the ground in front of the memorial - Wat Kesararam, Siem Reap

Statues on the ground in front of the memorial – Wat Kesararam, Siem Reap

Jackfruit tree next to memorial - Wat Kesararam, Siem Reap

Jackfruit tree next to memorial – Wat Kesararam, Siem Reap

A couple of incense sticks were lodged in a corner near the front of the pile of remains, but, what caught my attention was the can next to the incense. I picked it up. It was heavy. I looked inside. I saw white, congealed goo with black spots. (Why did I pick that up? I don’t know.) The can read “Sagiko,” a brand of sweet soybean milk. That was enough for me. I took some more photographs to document the structure and its surrounding and walked away. This was not something I wanted to loiter around. I did not think this was something anyone would want to be near.

I walked back to where the friendly monk was sitting. He was now accompanied by a second monk, and another man, a tattooed guy who was wearing not much besides for a very teeny tiny towel around his waist, but he did not seem to mind at all. We all small talked for a bit. I asked some questions about the memorial, but there weren’t very many answers. As I was guessing, few locals visited the memorial. They said perhaps a few older women came around, but apart from that, a mass pilgrimage did not regularly taken place. They did however mention that some new bones were found in the Siem Reap area, put into pots, and recently transported to another site. That sounded like something I heard from Andy, and is something I will have to look into. At that moment though, I was only doing some scoping.

Monk and fellow friend-comrade on site for conversation - Wat Kesararam, Siem Reap

Monk and fellow friend-comrade on site for conversation – Wat Kesararam, Siem Reap

After we finished our discussion on the steamed snails the teeny tiny toweled guy was snacking on, we bid each other farewell. I jumped into the tuk tuk, and Yutny took off, to the second memorial site I wanted to get to at Wat Tmei.

Wat Kesaram got me thinking about two things:

  1. How genocide memorials at temple sites may appear to be in significant stark physical contrast to other stupa counterparts at the same temple – it would be interesting to hear the opinion on this contrast from the average Cambodian visitors to a temple in a day.
  2. How much drinking a chilled aluminum can of sweet soybean milk is the farthest thing on my mind – it would be interesting to try some of the other drinks that the sugarcane lady sells (after I end my boycott).
The area surrounding the memorial - Wat Kesararam, Siem Reap

The area surrounding the memorial – Wat Kesararam, Siem Reap

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