“You want Tuk-tuk?” It is a question familiar to anyone who has visited Cambodia. This is the battle-cry of the entrepreneurial motorized tricycle driver, stationed outside of every hotel in Phnom Penh. A Tuk-tuk is a brightly painted miniature caravan, pulled by a motorcycle; walk a block or two here and you will be offered four or five chances to take a ride in one. You shake your head, no. “You want Tuk-tuk?” The driver asks again. He has a smiling, friendly, underemployed face. “You want to visit the killing fields?”
No Tuk-tuk is needed today; the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is just across the street from the hotel. It is a former school complex, four three-story buildings that once housed a primary school and a high school in the center of the city, before being converted by the Khmer Rouge into the torture center known as S-21. For this space to have been repurposed once again as a place for learning, even about such a grim history, is already a powerful metaphor. The Khmer Rouge cadres massacred intellectuals, students and professors, treating knowledge as dangerous and subversive. They exterminated as much as a quarter of the population.