Krakow, Phnom Penh, and Remembrance: A difficult post

I returned on Sunday from a two week, unexpected, free, and non-Three Stone Steps related trip to Poland. I’ve never had much desire to go to that Central/Eastern Europe nation, but my partner’s provenance is, as he likes to say, 100 percent pure Polish, and, well, free airline tickets are hard to resist.

Poland, especially the area around Krakow–a lovely, if overly touristy city–was, during World War II, the epicenter of the Nazi atrocities. And, certain Krakovians are oh so cleverly taking advantage of this fact, opening “Jewish style” restaurants, offering tours to Schindler’s factory, the Jewish ghetto, and, above all, to Auschwitz. It was all very disturbing, this overt marketing of a lost Jewish community in a Disneyland kind of way, and this marketing of a genocide. But, maybe some people need to be reminded, or worse yet, even learn what happened. Ok, and also disturbing is that no one running the tours, or really awful restaurants were actually Jewish. There was this mythologized version of it all; as if there was some really colorful people and past that is now gone. It’s all well, it’s too bad, but we’ll play loads of uplifting Klezmer music anyway!

So, what does this have to do with Three Stone Steps‘ silk scarves, bags, and other fine fashion accessories? Well, they are from Cambodia, a nation with a much more recent genocide. I’ve been to Cambodia, specifically Phnom Penh, often. My first time there, I visited the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide, a chilling experience since it’s left pretty much it was when abandoned by the Khmer Rouge in 1979. It’s very respectful, and the staff actually consists of actual Cambodians. I’ve met Cambodians over 35. Lovely people, as soon as they have some time alone with you, they talk and talk about life under the Khmer Rouge, still trying to make sense of the horrors.

So, it was with some dismay that today I read a New York Times article titled, “Pain of Khmer Rouge Era Lost on Cambodian Youth.” It’s all really chilling. As horrific as it is to remember the atrocities, it’s even more horrific to forget.

I’m sure marketing gurus would tell me not to publish this post. Who wants to hear about genocide when purchasing a messenger bag? But, Cambodians still live in Cambodia. I work with one producer who has told me about life under the Khmer Rouge. All the people she hires are her age or older, and are mostly polio and landmine victims. Cambodia may the land of the amazing Angkor Wat, and incredibly beautiful silk products, but scratch the surface, and you’ll find people still trying to make sense of the not too distant past.

Now that this post is finished, I promise that my next one will be more uplifting.

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Filed under Cambodia, messenger bags, silk

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