HANOI, Vietnam (CAP) - The sputtering drone of a single-engine Cessna interrupts the stillness of a rice paddy just outside of Hanoi, Vietnam. Working peasants look up briefly to watch it slip along the horizon, stalling out and then dipping towards the ground before roaring to life and climbing back up from sure annihilation.
"Drunk Hai Quan steal crop duster again," says one elderly Vietnamese man as he shakes his head.
"That no drunk Hai Quan, that President Bush," says another. They all wearily watch as the plane wanders out of sight.
It took three decades and a mandate-shattering election, but President George W. Bush is finally fulfilling his commitment to the Texas Air National Guard with a series of solo flights over the uneasy Vietnamese countryside.
"The law at the time was that if you didn't fulfill your National Guard obligation, you had to go to Vietnam," said Press Sectary Tony Snow. "President Bush was going to be in Vietnam anyways for the Pacific Rim conference, so it was really a no-brainer."
Bush's assigned tasks during his brief tour in Vietnam will include washing and then fly-drying planes (to benefit the Hanoi Boys & Girls Club), taking children for rides at a series of local fairs, and bringing fish and rice to a group of men repairing a canal twenty clicks north of the city.
"President Bush, he's good man," says one of the workers. He points around to some of the men laboring on the canal. "President Bush calls him Brownie, him Squinty, him Amber Tattoo. He calls me Rice A Ronnie." Rice A Ronnie admits that the men do look forward to their daily visits from the American president.
"You hear stalling plane noise, you think, Lunch! Well, first you think hide under something, but stomach start grumbling too."
Between the Pacific Rim meetings and his National Guard duties, it is a hectic schedule for President Bush during his swing through Asia. Ever the disciplined multi-tasker, he even manages to squeeze in policy research during a rare sight-seeing trip to the Saigon Embassy Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. The site of the Americans' last stand in the Vietnam War, the museum now houses a wealth of American '70s nostalgia and features three Run Yankee, Run! shows a day that dramatize the harried helicopter evacuation of the US embassy in 1975.
"Hey, Rimjob, we got any buildings this big in the Baghdad Green Zone?" Bush asks an aide. His entourage waits for the usual "Heh, heh, heh" to follow the question, but it never comes. Bush has wandered away, his mind already ferrying fish north to the communist canal workers.
- Rich Gray