Below: Hot air. Every morning, balloon vendors walk down the main street of the Dalat with a fresh batch of pink goodness.
So I essentially wander through my time here in a kind of numb daze, basically at the whims of my family. This is nice and quite pleasant in its own way, especially the time I get to spend with my grandmother. At ninety years old and increasingly frail, her remaining time on this earth is undeniably finite, so it means quite a bit to me to be here with her. On the other hand, I don’t have the wide-eyed, trial by error experiences that a complete stranger might have in Viet Nam; I don’t often find it necessary to navigate unfamiliar streets on my own, or to negotiate purchases or plan excursions on my own — there’s always some exceedingly helpful and kind member of my family to intercede on my behalf.
Detour in Dalat
A good example of the double-edged benefits of this familial buffer is the trip I just took with my family to Dalat: four days spent in the former royal mountain retreat where the air, unlike in Saigon, is crisp, cool and clean. On the plus side, the trip was inclusive of all meals and three nights of quite acceptable lodging in a four-star Novotel for about US$120. On the minus side, the entirety of the trip ran about two days longer than it really needed to; the tour, marketed to Vietnamese natives and conducted in Vietnamese, included more visits to flower gardens and tourist traps than any one person needs to see in a lifetime. (You can see some of the photographic evidence at Flickr, though I’m having trying to upgrade to a Pro account at the moment, do to my remote location and PayPal’s headache-inducing intransigence.)
Below: Small town blues. Not far from the city center, Dalat is essentially a mountain village, albeit relatively congested. The weather is cooler and generally more pleasant than in Saigon, but scooters still rule here.
I was bored silly, and in some ways it dampened my enthusiasm for being here altogether. I’m being quite reactionary, I know, but there’s a huge part of this country and this culture which, I have to admit now, will always be foreign to me, and to which I will never be able to relate in any way but awkwardly, uncomfortably and remotely. It’s fair to say that I’ve always known this but that I’ve been reluctant to accept it; this time out it’s started to become a more acceptable reality.
That said, when we returned to Saigon, with its maddening, polluted character, I was quickly reminded of my earlier enthusiasm. It rained here this afternoon; around 4:00p the dimmer on the sky went down to the halfway mark and a torrid, immutable precipitation pounded on every tin roof in the city for an hour. It was loud and unkind to anyone lacking for cover, but also in its own, familiar way, really great.