Agent Orange Reporting for Duty

Trip Start Jan 31, 1996
Trip End Ongoing

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Thursday, March 18, 2004

Ellen and I were sitting in a riverside restaurant one evening in Vientiane, Laos when a misshapen beggar crawled up to us. I'd just given him some money when the waiter came by and chased him away. Well not exactly chased. When I got a better look at the poor fellow things weren't at all right. His lower torso, from the hips down looked as though it had somehow been placed on his body backwards. When the waiter came after him he crawled on his belly, feet pointing towards the sky. Reaching the divider that separated our open-air restaurant from the one next door, with powerful arms he hauled himself up and through a tiny opening with the agility of a monkey. He dropped down to the floor of the restaurant next door and immediately began the same routine - fast before this restaurant's waiter could chase him to the restaurant beyond. The scene reminded me of the movie "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". In Snatchers, there was a creepy sequence where a dog came by with a human head.

I went to bed that night wondering if what I'd seen was real. Maybe I was having an Burmese, hallucinogenic betel nut flashback. As the days went on we saw more of these people on the streets. We saw our friend from the restaurant again; palming his way past us as his body lay contorted on a 4-wheel dolly. How on earth this could be. We pondered this, right up until we left Laos and returned to the "civilization" of Thailand, not thinking much of it after that.

Back in Toronto, two months after our travels in Laos we went to a movie called "The Corporation". It was a bit of an over-the-top documentary made by some Canadians from British Columbia about bad rich people. I was about to nod off when suddenly I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand. Up on the screen was our twisted beggar friend from Laos. The segment of the documentary was describing the effects of the Vietnam War defoliant "agent orange" on the human fetus. Then I saw the guy on the screen hobble in an upright position. It wasn't our friend from Laos after all. People who are put together backwards just look alike. I was shocked. Seeing the movie is one thing. Seeing the movie, then matching the characters up with the real McCoy is quite another.
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