by Le Minh
(VNS) We came to Ba Chuc Commune on the afternoon of New Year's Day 2013 at the suggestion of a friend who knew we would pass through An Giang Province on our trip to Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta.
|Grim reminder: An overview of Ba Chuc tomb. — Photos phuot.com.vn
"You must go. It's a place where you can see close-up how Vietnamese people suffered from Khmer Rouge's crimes," she said. "However be careful, because it's very scary and upsetting."
Searching for information on the commune, we discovered that Ba Chuc Commune was once massacred by the Khmer Rouge, when more than 3,000 local peasants including children, woman and elderly people were killed in 13 days and nights from Marchl 18 to March 30, 1978.
To remember the victims of the massacre, the local authority built a tomb to keep the remains of 1,100 victims.
The information about the massacre really shocked us and we decided to choose the tomb as a destination during our four-day trip to the Delta.
The road to Ba Chuc Commune was very beautiful and peaceful as it runs along Vinh Te Canal, the biggest canal in Viet Nam's feudal age.
After travelling 40km from Chau Doc Town, we reached the commune and saw a huge mountain. The people called it That Son and the tomb was very near to it.
They call it the tomb but in fact it is a hexagonal glass case containing the victim's skulls and bones.
Each side of the glass case features one golden lotus petal made from iron. The symbol reminded me of the potential for beauty to rise out of ugliness, pain and destruction.
|Macabre: A foreign tourist looks at a glass case containing 1,100 skulls and bones.
Between the glass and the lotus petals is a space that is wide enough for visitors to see the remains inside.
It was very strange because we were not horrified as we had imaged we would be.
Instead, every sinew of our bodies were moved and upset by the sight of the skulls.
On each side, the organisers had placed different kinds of skulls and bones such as the skulls of children, woman, man or elderly people.
"It's painful to look at," my friend said, "I could not stop thinking about the tiny children who died here."
An elderly local man came to us and told some stories about the tomb and the massacre.
"We still remember the time when we were attacked. The Khmer Rouge soldiers killed every one they saw in many crude ways. They raped women and killed children.
Many people were cut and torn. The village was a sea of blood," he said.
He told us that he was one of the few people who survived after hiding in the mountains.
The tomb keeper also informed us that every year, the number of people visiting the tomb increases. They are tourists and local people who come to share their love and to understand more the woes Vietnamese people suffered.
"The busiest time falls in March 16 every year as people consider it the common death anniversary of the Ba Chuc victims," he said.
Going outside the tomb area, we moved to a room which displayed pictures of the massacre. Here, there are many images taken after the terrifying events of 1978.
In the pictures, we saw severed bodies and heaps of dead people lying in the fields and roads.
There are no words that can describe the crime of the Khmer Rouge forces to Ba Chuc Commune.
We also visited the two pagodas next to the tomb. The pagodas are fairly unremarkable in terms of architecture but it was an unforgettable experience inside.
During the massacre, many people came to hide in the pagodas but were all killed. Their blood stained the walls of the pagodas.
"In previous years, we kept these blood splashes, but by now the wall was very dirty so we painted it," the man told me.
We left Ba Chuc tomb as the sun set.
Continuing the trip, we didn't say anything for a while and just observed the landscape of the commune. — VNS