The thunderheads tower below us, piled like whipped cream above layers of low clouds over the deep blue ocean. Above them peeks the faint, waning three-quarter moon; now somewhat lost in the sky as it sets this morning.
We flew out of Taipei a while ago and are now 36,000 feet over the South China Sea. Soon we’ll be passing almost directly over Da Nang, Vietnam and Laos, then at last over the fertile green expanses of Thailand, perhaps skimming across a few hundred miles over the top edge of Cambodia.
I can follow our flight in real time across the 8” screen on the back of the headrest in front of me; the little plane icon moving across the satellite map, leaving a yellow marking trail behind it. I can see the nose of the icon pointing directly at Da Nang, and I’m glad I’m in a passenger plane in 2009 instead of a US Army jet 40 years ago, when we would be on a very different visit.
It’s like a surreal dream now that in my lifetime the lush countryside I see stretched out along the water’s edge on the approaching horizon was once a land nearly bombed back into the Stone Age, possibly by some of the very farang on the plane with me today, snoring contentedly beside their Asian wives.
All may be forgiven several miles below us today, but it’s certainly not forgotten; certainly not by those who witnessed it as one of the tens of thousands of innocent victims who were themselves guilty of nothing more than the same nationalistic love of country we ourselves wave the flag for in the USA today.
A Vietnamese friend’s face goes sober when he thinks of his homeland in those days. He spoke once in a somber tone of visiting an old friend in the hospital – a civilian friend he’d shared a meal with only days before – now missing a foot because of a land mine; his life changed forever in an instant. My friend still tears up when he speaks of that day, and many others. All of life may be suffering, as many Buddhists believe, but that doesn’t make it any less disturbing - on a variety of levels.
We skim over Vietnam in a matter of minutes, crossing the Eastern Laotian border on a direct path to take us high over Pakse, near the Western border before we enter Thai air space.
A wide river, muddy with reddish-brown earth snakes its way South below before disappearing beneath a layer of heavy low cloud cover, and we begin to bump and jostle around as we enter another far higher one, nearly obscuring the lower layer.
Making a turn slightly North I can see on the screen we’re now going to fly North of Pakse – and Cambodian airspace – on our way to Bangkok. It’s now 10:00am, leaving us with an hour until we’ll hopefully be setting down safely onto runway 19 at Suvarnabhumi International, making the slow roll to the gate and on to the next new adventure.