Peace Corps
Thai 27
Hugh Leong's recollections

The Peace Corps director during my last year was Andy Andrews, a really nice guy. My last night in Bangkok Andy took me out and we got plastered. On the way back home he said, “Hugh, I have a serious question to ask you. I hope you will answer honestly.” “Of course, Andy”, I said. Andy asked, “We seem to have a serious drug problem in the Peace Corps here in Thailand. From your experience, and I think you just might know, what percentage of Thai volunteers do you think have used pot?”

I thought for a minute and then responded, “Andy, to be perfectly honest, I don’t know one volunteer…”, a smile began to form on Andy’s lips, “… who hasn’t tried pot.” The smile quickly faded.

I don’t know what Andy did with that piece of info but to my knowledge it was a perfectly honest answer. (Hugh Leong)

AT The Ambassador’s House in Bangkok

Our Peace Corps group had just gotten off of the 707 in Bangkok a few hours earlier. The year is 1969. I couldn’t believe the heat. Even those sweltering New York summers I had grown up with hadn’t prepared me for this. And it was Durian season and the fruit’s aroma pervaded every nook and cranny in the city. Durian is that huge spiky fruit that smells terrible but whose taste is addictive to many. Was Thailand going to smell like Durian for two years? I was ready to get right back on that 707.

But I had trained to be a Peace Corps volunteer and a good one was what I wanted to be. So after waking the next morning I went downstairs to a noodle shop and ordered the first thing I saw. And I ate all the chilies they gave me. That was the first of many world traveler mistakes I would make in my career.

A few hours later our group had an appointment at the US ambassador, Leonard Unger’s house to be welcomed to Thailand. Imagine, little me meeting an ambassador. I was really pumped and proud. As I lined up at the embassy’s door to get on my first reception line (“How do you do Mr. Ambassador.” I silently practiced.), I felt the first stabbing pains from down below. Through the years I would come to know these warning signs well. The closer I got to meeting the ambassador the worse the stomach cramping became. I finally got up to the honorable couple and as Mrs. Unger reached out to shake my hand and introduce me into diplomatic high-society, all I could say was, “Mrs. Unger, can you tell me where the bathroom is?” She pointed to a side room and off I sprinted without another word.

I spent a lot of time in that side room during the reception. And I never got to shake the ambassador’s hand since I fell asleep on the floor while he was giving his welcoming speech. (Hugh Leong)

We had a military briefing about the Vietnam War the first or second day we were in Bangkok. Do you remember the name of the colonel who gave the talk? Well, it was supposed to be General Wagstaff , but he was not available so a Colonel Lance gave the talk.

I remember thinking that those were two of the most appropriate military names I had ever heard. And the briefing was a hoot too but I fell asleep halfway through it because of jet lag. (Hugh Leong)


Or how about the time we had to take the oath in Hawaii to be sworn in as PCVs? I remember that the one swearing us in was the governor of Hawaii and most of us were so drunk we could hardly stand to be sworn in (and some of us had our fingers crossed behind out backs). (Hugh Leong)