Communists, Border Guards, and Spies...oh, my!
When I was in Laos, I noticed a few interesting things. The most striking thing I found was that almost every Communist I spoke with was a Capitalist at heart. Their families owned shops, they wanted cars and the finer things in life, as well as the freedom to travel. The United States was always number one on the list of places to see. Many spoke privately about family who had made it to the States. Their families told them about the freedoms and lifestyle. I imagine that if the Lao were allowed to choose their own government, I suspect that they would model it on the United States or another Western nation.
The border guards were something else. I recall, on more than a few occasions, bicycling home after a night in the bars. It was always a trip to see these guys walking around with AK-47’s on their shoulders. They were there to ensure that no Lao made a break for the Mekong River to cross to Thailand. So much for a workers’ paradise.
While I was a fairly low-ranking soldier, I think my being a corn-fed white boy who could speak Lao caught the attention of the Lao officials. Usually, if I was going to a bar or nightspot, I would take a tuk-tuk to get there and back. A tuk-tuk is a three-wheeled taxi that uses a motorcycle engine for power. I had been in Vientiane for about a month when I came face to face with the joys of being in a Communist nation. I had come out of an ex-pats' bar and was looking for a tuk-tuk. A driver waved me over and I jumped in. Now this guy had a bit more heft on his bones than that average Lao, which indicated to me that he ate well. As we were heading to the house, I made some conversation with him, as I usually did with the drivers. Out of the blue, he asked me if I wanted a 15-year old girl! I politely declined. He made another attempt to entice me, but when I declined, he pretty much cut off the conversation. A rude Lao is very rare. A few nights later, I was coming out of a restaurant, looking for a tuk-tuk, and guess who was there. Same guy. Trying to be the “nice American,” I decided to use his tuk-tuk again to offset any hurt feelings, in case I had misunderstood him. Again, the same conversation ensued with the same results. After that, it seemed every time I went somewhere, he was always among the drivers who just happened to be at the place I was visiting. Maybe I was just a bit cautious, but I found it hard to believe that, in a city of 400,000, chance alone placed him at the spots I also happened to be at to drink and have fun. An assigned handler? You be the judge…