My Day to Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng (S-21) Prison

I sat on the damp cushion on the couch. Reaching inside my camera bag, I re-counted the twenty-five dollars I had in USD currency: one 5, one 10, and ten 1’s.

Ten minutes later, I walked out of the outdoor hotel lobby, through metal gates, and boarded the minivan that was labeled “Killing Field and S21 Tour.” It was air-conditioned to 18 degrees Celsius.

The van arrived in front of S-21 Prison, which used to be a high school. Overhead water sprinklers were on. The 30 degrees Celsius water particles landed on my cheeks and the tip of my nose.

“Yes, I would like an audio tour.”

I handed in 3 one dollar bills and took the audio device from the staff. I put on the headphones and walked into the yard of the high school.

Towards my left was a row of classrooms. Inside the classrooms, the walls were of light yellow, some paint were peeling, some paint had stains of dark red and brown. On the wall, there was a 4 by 2 feet picture that showed a body. I walked closer to it and discovered that the face was blurred out. As I moved from every room, I saw that every room had a picture, on the wall- the body of the victim who had died in that exact room. And in every picture, the face of the victim was redacted.

“If you feel that you need to take a break, there are white benches outside,” the female voice from the audio guide said.

In the courtyard, there weren’t any vacant white benches. Most of the visitors wore dark sunglasses, not revealing their pupils. As I took a pause from my audio tour, I heard sighs around me and nothing else.

No voices, only brisk movements from visitors.

Towards the exit of the S-21 Prison, there were survivors of the genocide. One of them was selling a book he had written. Some visitors had asked to take a picture of him. Some were getting the book signed. I did neither. I looked into his eyes. He had the gaze of a three-year-old child.

We boarded the van to drive to the next and last stop, Killing Fields.

We all opted for the audio tour guide, placed on our headphones and walked through the fields.

I walked up five steps, took off my shoes, stepped onto the white floor and ascended a few more steps to the entrance of the glass memorial tower. From the outside, I saw skulls, one on top of another.


Inside the glass tower, there were sections of skulls and bones. They were grouped by gender, age and the type of weapon used to end the victim’s life. Red circular stickers on the skulls indicated were male victims. Blue circular stickers were female victims. No guns were used to kill them because bullets were too expensive. So instead, weapons such as iron bars, pickaxes, machetes were used. The path inside the glass memorial hall moved in a circular way. After the fourth turn of a corner, I was back at the entrance which was also the exit.

I stepped onto the white floor and looked for my navy colored flip-flops. There was a Caucasian male who handed some bank notes to a Cambodian man to purchase a yellow flower. He took off his shoes and approached the door I had just exited.

I looked around the open field. Everyone had on a headphone and held the audio device operator in their hands. Some were taking pictures. Some were using their eyes. Some stood still to gaze at a specific spot, some moved around.

Later that day, I entered a beauty salon for a pedicure. Several minutes later, the owner arrived. She had a French accent to her English.

“So how do you like Phnom Penh so far?”

“I really like it. It’s really modern, a big city.”

“And what did you do today?”

“In the morning I went to the S21 museum and the killing field,”

The pedicurist began to file the surface of my toes to remove the existing gel polish.

“So you didn’t exactly have a fun day.”

I shook my head, “No.”

She moved on to my second toe and I could feel the abrasion between the nail filer and the skin surrounding my toes.

“Young people in Cambodia ask me how could they do that,” she continued the conversation.

“I guess it’s fear. Kind of like what happened during the Holocaust, the Nanking Massacre in China.”

“Yes but what they don’t understand is this is Cambodia people doing it to their own people.”

Tuol Sleng








Killing Fields


Must I Attend Networking Events…?

As an introvert, I dislike going to networking events. Going to them is like eating parsnip, getting them stuck in my front teeth, then suffering from diarrhea and constipation. Yes, it is that bad.

At my third job, I was working in the sales department of a media company. My plan was to leave after one year to then work in the producing department. The plan was working out great, I just had to swap out one year with ninety-nine years. A friend of mine lit a fire up my behind and suggested that I should be doing everything possible to leave if that is what I wanted.

I decided that eating parsnip should be enjoyable and getting them stuck in my front teeth and suffering from you know what should also be enjoyable. So, I signed myself up for a networking event that was hosted by my company’s employee resource group for women, HERE. The event was a speed networking one where managerial level female employees would speak one-on-one with other female employees who were of much senior positions. I didn’t quite qualify to attend because I wasn’t yet at a managerial level. So I slipped the organizers a five-hundred-dollar bill and they agreed to let me be a volunteer to help guests check in. They neither confirmed nor denied if I could hang around after check in was complete. I was fine with this ambiguity because my buddy Denzel Washington said, “If you hang around the barber shop long enough, sooner or later you will get a haircut.”

I was sitting at a table, with four other women who were networking with among themselves. The elevator pitches and self-introductions were complete so they started talking about random topics and I joined them. Continue reading…

My Tiffany and Co. Necklace

During college, I had a liking towards necklaces made by Tiffany and Co..

One year, I was taking one of the hardest courses at Carnegie Mellon University – Decision Analysis and Decision Support System (DADSS). It was taught by Paul Fischbeck, an intelligent, somewhat handsome, 6’3” (estimate), slim, professor who received his Ph.D from Stanford University and went to the military. The class taught me how to use mathematical equations and/or formulas to quantify factors, analyze outcomes of all possible decisions, and recommend the most optimal option. The goal was to analyze the consequences of decisions in an economic fashion, often in complex scenarios. Zzz.

After graduating with this major, people usually worked in consulting, legal, government or just about anything social science related. I never thought that it would one day help me do what I do now, drug dealing. Kidding!

What was I saying again? Oh yes, Decision Analysis and Decision Support System (DADSS) class and Tiffany and Co..

For Christmas, these people who may or may not have the same blood type as me, who may or may not also have the same DNA as me, offered to buy me one (1) necklace from Tiffany and Co.. Only one. How cheap of them!

My DADSS class happened to assign this homework which was to present a decision that I must make, sort out the options, list three factors to quantify the options, quantify them, and recommend one option that was most mathematically optimal. So, I chose to analyze which Tiffany and Co., necklace I should ask for.

The factors I finalized on were:

  • Retail price, they ranged from 150 USD to 225 USD
  • The presence or vacancy of the Tiffany & Co. logo on the necklace
  • Aesthetics

After quantifying these factors, I applied blah blah blah (you probably don’t care), and concluded that I was to go with option B.

When I saw that the result was option B, I wasn’t happy. I didn’t want it. But, how was this possible when the math told me that the most optimal option was B? I added in the conclusion of my paper that although this option was the most rational one, I did not want it.

When I got my homework assignment back, my Teacher’s Assistant wrote a comment to my conclusion. I vaguely remember what it was and haven’t been able to locate that paper.

To Succeed, Should You Step Over Others or Help Them?

In 2013, at the end of my second job, I wrote that I didn’t believe you need to step over others to succeed. I supported that argument with a personal example, thinking that it must have persuaded millions to stop believing the statement, “nice guys finish last.”

The other millions of people around me though have challenged this philosophy. They believed that you cannot climb the success ladder without hurting others, intentionally. Sometimes, I struggled to hold on to this belief because the nicest people have objected it and explained that I was wrong. I also witnessed a colleague of mine changing her belief on being nice to people to that being nice gets you no where. I have tried to talk them out of having this outlook but I usually end up failing. So, I did what I did best, nothing.

Since writing that post, four years had passed and somehow I came across a book that agreed with my argument! What up haters! In Adam Grant’s book, Give and Take, (published in 2014, and where was I in 2014, not reading his book?!), he argued that to sustain long-term success, we should help people, not take advantage of them.  Findings in his book were such a pleasure to read that I’d like to supplement what I wrote in 2013, that on the path to success, helping others is the key, not taking.

In Grant’s book, he classified people at the workplace into three categories: Givers, Takers and Matchers.

Givers help people without the expectation that the help will be returned.
Takers take, and take more than they give back.
Matchers take equally and give back equally.

Continue reading…

I Love Public Speaking…I Hate Public Speaking

At a Toastmaster event, I learned that one of the top fears for most Americans is public speaking. It ranked above fearing diseases and death. If you have different statistics, please go after Toastmaster, not me.

At one of my jobs, I was to read aloud, numbers and words, in front of 70 people, at a conference room, overlooking the middle of Time Square, with floor length windows, in a room that was always set to 15.5 degrees Celsius regardless of the natural temperature. My other responsibility was to convert temperatures from Fahrenheit to Celsius to throw off Americans. I hated it. Not the conversion, the public speaking part. It was my least favorite activity and I had to do it every Monday morning.

Every Monday morning, I would sit in a meeting, with 70 other people, which was my entire department, waiting to be cued to give the verbal report. I rarely knew when I would be cued because that’s how we rolled at work – at a dangerous and unpredictable rhythm. I would stare at the paper that contained my reading material which I had laid lay out on the icy conference table. I highlighted, circled and underlined the words and the numbers, just in case I forget where to find them. My entire “speech” usually lasted a minute.

I would read the information as quickly as possible, Continue reading…

Lessons I Learned from My Second Job

Interview will be at 8:30a SHARP, (he will be there closer to 9a, but please get there early, even closer to 8:15a, if possible) and have copies of your resume with you, Human Resources wrote.

I sat in the common area at the hotel. The seat was brown leather; the staircase was oak wood; there was a chandelier hanging on top of the ceiling. He placed his luggage next to him and pulled out a copy of my resume after he sat down.

“It’s going to be very hard,” he said.

“I like challenges.”

“You’ll have to verify your sources.”

I nodded.

“Mr. Levin, your car is ready for you,” a hotel staff announced.

Mr. Levin and I shook hands; I made sure it was a firm one. He walked down the oak wood staircase and proceeded to the hotel entrance. I looked at the time: the interview lasted four minutes.

A month later, I signed the paper work to work as a News Assistant at TMZ, Continue reading…