Smaller by far than the airport in Bangor, Maine, which seemed to have been wallpapered over in green camouflage the last time I was there, so many young soldiers were leaving to wage war in foreign lands at the time, smaller even than that little airport, is the charmingly ad hoc airport in Luang Prabang, so Lilliputian scientists have proven that it could fit inside one of the toilets of the earth-shatteringly gargantuan airport in Shanghai. Indeed I almost tripped over it and knocked it down when I had to leave the country and end my honeymoon to return to classrooms full of screaming schoolchildren here in Korea just last week. That’s how small it was.
But other things about this airport are even smaller. Take the security. In Bangor—Bangor, red brick logging town whose forests surged down the Penobscot River a century ago, once beloved of Thoreau, reduced today to the typical American Anytown, with abundant supplies of tar, concrete, gas stations, car dealerships, chain restaurants, and shopping malls—I, the most harmless-looking traveler you could ever ask for, was once given a random cavity search (actually it was a search of my bags), in order to appease the American demand for at least the appearance of security. It happened in that minuscule airport.
In Luang Prabang things are different. I went through security, which consisted of one walk-through metal detector and one of those scanners that checks your bags, and absolutely no line at all, then went through customs (a desk behind a glass partition manned by three bored soldiers, two of them attractive young women who were laughing over some story and doing their best to completely ignore the people leaving their country), and discovered I needed to fill out some kind of card that you can only get on the wrong side of security. So I went back, got the card, and faced the arduous two minute task of going through Lao security once more, only this time the friendly young man who was in charge of everything, my best friend, since we had been polite to one another just a moment before, and apparently the only person there at the time, just waved me through without checking any of my things.
I was away from security for all of a minute, and I wasn’t really out of sight of anyone, but like most people I usually entertain myself through the immense boredom of airports by wondering how I might sneak a bomb onto an airplane, and I might have easily just walked outside, picked one up from an accomplice, walked back in, and, after an hour or two, killed one or two hundred people. The fact that I wasn’t really thoroughly checked at all, especially since my own country is so obsessively terrified by terrorism, even though there are (in my opinion) a thousand problems that are each a thousand times more important (thousand being my favorite number), was still strange to me, and worthy of mention here.