Laos On The Mekong River

…there were a few quiet Lao women complete with terrified, staring toddlers, as well as a group of older leathery roughnecks whose black-and-white checkered bandanas and habit of eating clumps of sticky rice with their bare hands marked them out as the old communist guard—communists!—those long forgotten bugbears of the free world, existential threats to the golden arches, knockers-down of innumerable dominoes, who now found themselves free to walk about in the sun without any fear of silent American Arclights bursting the forests open with concussions of white sound and flame.

One of them, whom I will never forget, looked like the Asian version of George W. Bush, and you could see as he squatted there on the far end of the open-air cabin, in his small, dark sparrow’s eyes, tucked into a tough tanned hide, that he had run from the bombs and smoking missiles dropping from the sky in waterfalls, and fired rattling, coughing kalishnikovs at some of the relatives or friends of friends of the sunburned tourists riding this very boat. Squatting there, with one knee lowered to the wooden floor, he exuded calmness and strength, at the same time seeming perfectly ready to leap off into the Mother of Waters at the first sign of danger, darting back through the brush like a sparrow, resuming the conflict…

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