We arrived in Vientiane August 1968. I was 5 years old.
For 6 weeks, we stayed at the Lanxang Hotel, while our house on Rue Tha Deua was being prepared for us to live in. During that time, my Dad started his job at the British Embassy, where he was the commercial attaché.
My brother and I attended the International School, led by John and Valerie McLean (who currently live near us in Manchester). I missed my grandmother terribly and I struggled in the heat, but I had a lovely, eclectic group of friends from Germany, Korea, the U.S., UK, Thailand, and of course, Laos. I remember my Lao friend Boun, with his crazy hyperactivity, exuberance, and affectionate madness. There was also a beautiful Thai girl to protect me when Boun was going full swing.
The war was never far away. Mum and Dad trained us and drilled us on hitting the deck if the car came under fire enroute to Luang Prabang. Sometimes, the Royal Lao Army troops guarded our school gates. Etched permanently in my mind are visions of children my own age, begging in the market place, with limbs lost to stray ordnance.
My turn came when I mistimed my run across the road and was flattened by a U.S. army jeep. I must be one of the few people alive bearing the tire print of an American Army vehicle at precisely the same time that Henry Kissinger was assuring the American people that their troops were not in Laos. I feel terribly sorry for the American boy in my class whose father was shot down over Pathet Lao territory.
To this day I cannot understand the lies that were told.
I was too young to understand what my Dad did for a living; but it was terribly exciting when foreign diplomats were summoned to meet the king, or attend a Royal ceremony. Dad was required to dress formally and wear his medals and carry a sword. I was beside myself when this picture was taken.
We left Vientiane during the floods of 1971, by canoe across the Mekong, down the high street in Nong Khai, straight out the other side and half way to Udon Thani before the waters receded and we could get in a car.
It was hard settling back in the UK that winter. My mum became ill in Doha on the way home and was at the hospital, my brother was away at school, and Dad was trekking in the Himalayas. I was being teased at school because nobody had heard of Laos and they thought I had invented an imaginary country. Even the teachers! But at least I was back with my lovely grandmother.
I never forgot my time in Laos, though. It is as much a part of me as an English Breakfast or tea at 4 o’clock. I fell in love with Laos again in 1997 the last time I visited, and I look forward to taking my daughter to see where I grew up.
Thank you for your great work in telling the story of the Lao diaspora, and helping me to reconnect with a childhood that few of my British friends can comprehend.
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