Sunday, February 17, 2008

Da Lat

Our days are so full I am finding it difficult to get away and find a computer. Plus, for some reason, I am unable to view the blog, which means I am not able to read any comments. But I CAN create posts, so here I am at 8:10 pm Da Lat time, taking a moment to catch up.

Several days ago, in Nha Trang, we almost decided not to come to Da Lat, my husband's home town, because we heard it was overrun with western tourists and it is a several hour drive. In the end, though, we discovered that if we used the new road, it is only three hours from Nha Trang, so we went ahead and hired a driver to bring us up.

Thank God.

It is one of the most spectacular places I have ever been. The drive through the mountains was utterly stunning. The new road is still cut from the side of the mountain, so it twists and turns along, creeping upward in some of the most beautiful countryside I have ever seen in my life. You can see for miles, into sweet valley communities at the bases of ancient, rounded, lush green mountains. We drove into the clouds and could only see the white line of the road. We drove along craggy granite and sandy red orange limestone. Everywhere you looked the view was more spectacular then the last one.

Finally we began to drive through high mountain fields bursting with artichokes, coffee, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbages and all kinds of flowers and vegetables. The mountain people (called Hmong in RI... they have a different name here in Viet Nam) have lovely villages high in the mountains. Some have started farming in a more modern way, but many still practice slash and burn agriculture. Their houses, high in the mountains, are built of the local pine and are painted bright, happy colors.

Da Lat itself is a beautiful city. It is true that the tourism has affected it tremendously, with whole neighborhoods torn down to create street after street of small hotels. But get just a block or two away from the main town center and suddenly you are in a quaint, colonial style village. Before the French arrived, Da Lat didn't exist... so here the French influence is still very strong.

Yesterday (it seems longer ago than that) we went to see my husband's childhood home. It has seen better days. My father in law built it some 40 or 50 years ago, and since they left Viet Nam, it has changed hands several times, always through party officials. It has finally ended up a somewhat dilapidated rental unit for college kids. The corrugated steel roof is rusting through and all the paint is being eaten away by mildew. But still, my husband grew up in this home and it was very moving to stand in the very alley he walked up every day to get to his school.

As we stood there, an old man next door walked over to us and smiled.

"Bonjour" he said. I was suprised because we have heard absolutely no French since being here. We excitely replied and told him that Nguyen grew up next door. He lit up when he recognized him, shouted for his daughter and invited us in.

What a lovely visit we had. The old man's daughter was my eldest sister in law's best friend as a child. She asked after everyone and invited us to dinner, but since there were 8 of us, we said it would be too much of an imposition, but promised to come back next time we are in Viet Nam.

Ok. So here are the all important details.

We have completely violated every single food rule our travel doctor gave us.

Raw veggies: couldn't live without 'em.
Ice Cream: Yup, we finally caved and bought the kids packaged cones.
Ice: Only once, with fresh squeezed orange juice. We drank the juice really fast while knocking on wood.
Street vendors: Oh my, yes. Thank goodness for the street vendors. The Pho for dinner tonight was some of the best I have ever had. We sat on plastic stools around tables on the sidewalk and had a great meal for a buck a bowl.
Unpeeled fruit: Strawberries and a whole bunch of fruits we don't know the names of. In most cases we wash them in bottled water. The green mango from the market was peeled by our vendor, with a knife of unknown cleanliness. We dipped the mango in a chili infused salt and assumed it would kill any bad beasties.

Are we tempting fate? Perhaps, but so far only Emmett has had any distress and it might have been a virus he brought from home. It was a 24 hour deal.

We are growing to love this country. And whenever we practice our Vietnamese, we are universally met with great enthusiasm. In fact, we have had such joy at engaging with the Vietnamese people. It has been one of the best parts of this trip.

That's all for now. We are about to open a bottle of Da Lat wine for a nightcap.

All Love,


Ming said...

Rachel, I know that you won't read this until you are home or almost-home, but I wonder what the boys are thinking. Comparing. Finding different than they expected. Please don't post or tell me what they have said with out their explicit permission for each quote.

And the finding of the old neighbors. It is like a "personal survival narrative" motivational story.

I keep praying for you guys and for some reason, keep thinking about Vietnamese food. Wonder why.


Lauralew said...

What a great story, Rachel, especially the episode of meeting the neighbors. I've never thought of touring Vietnam but your enthusiasm is making me wonder about it.