On Tuesday one of the girls here, Politas, was kind enough to let us tag along on a day trip she had organised. She even added extra stops with things we wanted to see. With her two friends we made only 5, so were able to spread out in the tray of the car all day.
First stop was a cemetery for POWs who had been captured by the Japanese in WWII and forced to work on what was nicknamed ‘The Death Railway’. The cemetery contains the bodies of thousands of soldiers who were worked to death. Most were Australian and British, but also some other allied countries. Many of the headstones contained names, dates of death and messages from the families of the deceased, but sadly some said simply ‘an allied soldier’. The maintenance of this site is handled by the Commonwealth so it’s in decent condition, but bleak and harrowing nonetheless.
After this we went onward to Kyaik Ka Mi Ye Le Pagoda. This pagoda is different in that it is on the sea and parts of it can only be reached during low tide. We were able to scramble across the rocks to a section out in the water and see the stunning views from there. Amusingly, the souvenir t-shirts here had ‘remembrance’ written across them.
Then it was time for the beach. As it’s been almost 4 full weeks since we were on the beaches of Thailand we were craving some sun and sand. How different this was!! Set-Se Beach stretched on forever, disappearing into nothing either way were looked. Aside from a small section in front of the road in there was nobody to be found. Whilst not the sandiest beach I’ve ever seen, the seclusion makes up for that. And if you walk too far and are too tired to walk back? Don’t worry, a taxi will soon be along. We laughed so hard when in a deserted patch of the beach a motorbike suddenly appeared offering to drive us back. The bikes even ferry people to the waters edge and back.
There were also horses you could hire, rubber tubes you could float in and a banana boat ride – though this was pulled by a jet ski, not a speed boat so doesn’t go very fast. The man that runs this used to work in Thailand and was quick to show us the English he learned there, all the while running at us with stained red teeth. Here too there were t-shirts proclaiming remembrance of the beach.
We started back home, stopping briefly at the end of the Death Railway. There is a grey tablet marking the site that had been weathered beyond comprehension on one side. A train sitting in the tracks is the only way you could find it from the street. Beside the end of the tracks are what remains of 3 statues. From the remnants it looks as though 1 is a standing soldier, 1 an emaciated man working and the last an emaciated man sitting down to die. At some stage in history these statues have been smashed up and bits of limb and torso still lie about the deserted site. I don’t know who erected the statues or who destroyed them. It all felt quite heavy.
Finally for the day we stopped at the largest reclining Buddha in the region. It must be about three 747s long. It’s been under construction for 10 years and though it is unfinished, they’ve started a duplicate opposite. Between them are natural waterslides. In the rainy season you can slide down to the pool below. It’s very much dry season right now though so no slides for us.
Reflecting back on our time so far there seemed to be a common theme around WWII. Whenever we ask a question about what seems to be bullet damage or anything related to the war we are met with blank looks. Perhaps it’s simply a reluctance to discuss such matters with people who, for a time, were on the opposing side. Or perhaps it’s that they simply haven’t been taught about this. After considering this I posed the question to my class: “Tourists that come here will be interested in your culture, but will also want to see WWII sites. What do you know about this?” Nobody was able to discuss.
Of course each culture is different and how a country deals with it’s war history education is it’s own business. Having been brought up with ‘Lest We Forget’, I personally find the idea that a whole generation of any country isn’t educated on the atrocities of war very troubling.