Friday marked the 40th anniversary of the Khmer Rouge seizing control of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital and largest city. Over the next nearly four years, an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians would be brutally tortured and executed – one-fourth of the population.
I was expecting some large-scale remembrance ceremonies on Friday. Maybe I just missed them, but as I walked around the city, I saw little activity marking the anniversary. Instead, people were just returning from the provinces following the three-day Khmer New Year celebration that ended on Thursday.
In the evening I met a university student who chatted with me in a park. The anniversary and what it represented never came up. He instead told me about how he moved to Phnom Penh from a province in order to attend university and work at a hotel and how he so badly wanted to be able to afford a bigger motobike.
One thing that struck me was that he knew – as most young Cambodians I speak to seem to – that there are many policies holding him and others back from achieving their full potential and a life they deserve. He talked about how he simply wanted to obtain a job that would allow him to be able to buy both gas for his moto and food to eat, not have to choose between one or the other on any given day.
It’s an interesting time to be in Cambodia, and I’m excited to see how this new generation will shape the country’s future.