My little green friend


He saw me before I saw him. He had a Kalishnakov on his lap and a finger that was most definitely on the trigger. This camouflaged soldier was glaring only at me with a glare that was unmistakable: the “I would kill you if I had a chance” glare.

He seethed rage.

I was not doing anything wrong, I was just another tourist wandering around the day market in a small town in Laos.

That soldier’s job was to protect the likes of me from active Hmong insurgents. In case you have forgotten your recent history, the Hmong were the allies of the US Army during the Vietnam war and they (and we) were on the losing side.

This soldier from the Lao Peoples Democratic Republic apparently didn’t see the irony in protecting fat Americans tourists from our old allies. Without pausing to take his picture or to ask what his opinion of Ella Fitzgerald was; I scrammed.

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It was a good thing that I looked like a tourist, and not an armed insurgent.

A tired soldier with an automatic weapon could be excused if he were to mistake a backpacker for the enemy. Especially if said backpacker had chosen to outfit himself in olive drab Army surplus gear instead of the typical flashy backpacks and silly pants that we wear. I have always cautioned backpackers from using Army surplus when traveling around foreign countries.

Soldiers there might not see Army surplus as a thrifty and practical alternative to high-priced travel gear, they might see you as the enemy.

For domestic traveling and camping however, outfitting yourself from an Army surplus store would not be such a bad idea. The worst thing that could happen is that, while taking a leak in the bushes, you might be mistaken for a prized buck, shot and then have your head mounted as a trophy on some Sportsman’s wall.