Wednesday, January 06, 2010


I arrived in Phnom Penh late Tuesday night, just in time to go to sleep. I was awakened early the next morning by the sound of birds. But not just birds--perhaps the most beautiful chorus of bird calls I've ever heard, different birds, different sounds, all together. It was the best alarm clock ever, even if I'd have preferred to sleep later.

Throughout the day, around town, I heard the birds.

I'm sure Olivier Messaien, the composer who collected and reveled in bird calls, would have considered this the most sublime music.

Late in the afternoon I visited the notorious killing fields and the genocide museum, housed in the former detention barracks. As I meditated on the horrors I wondered about the birds, back then. In 1975, when Phnom Penh was forcibly evacuated in a matter of hours, did the city birds take notice?

And the birds at the killing fields: did they have any awareness of what was happening in their midst? Did they hear the screams and cries, or just go about their bird lives, singing their bird songs in blissful ignorance?

I know that birds grieve for their own. Do they grieve for us?

A bird at the killing fields


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