National Geographic : 1952 Sep
328 French Officers Meet the Airlift, a Social Occasion in Lai Chau A few French guards and Thai battalions hold Lai Chau's frontier outpost near the China border. Sur rounded by Communist territory, the town keeps touch with the world by radio and airlift. In good weather the plane flies in once a day, and everyone who can spare the time goes out to meet it. The rainy season may mean three weeks without supplies (page 318). Families with broods of children crowded the benches. A wailing chorus with xylophone and-flute orchestra provided the music offstage. Two male comics dressed like Charlie Chaplin kept the crowd in stitches; other parts, male and female, were played by young Siamese girls. "Applause" Is Tangible Instead of applauding, patrons threw ciga rettes and paper cones of candy to the stage. Acting stopped while players collected their reward. Another evening we attended a soiree given by the Prime Minister. Guests took part in a dance which combined Western and tra ditional steps imported from Thailand. Partners circled each other with graceful ges- tures and slow steps, now near, now apart, but never touching. Later, young girls performed old Laotian dances, resembling those of Cambodia and Thailand (page 325). Sitting under a frangi pani tree, I watched the graceful performance and listened to the haunting music. Fragrant blossoms dropped around me. Stars blinked; a full moon cast its spell. How easy, I thought, to become susu. But now, when I remember Indochina, I think rather of the young lieutenant in Ben Tre, who already has spent six of his 22 years fighting. Raising his glass, he said: "To our American visitors. I hope they will return someday. And when they do, I hope they will find this country happy, prosperous, and at peace."