Vietnam 2009 Travelogue

01 November 2009 – day 16 – Sunday – Dalat City, Vietnam

I'm tired and we have to get up very early tomorrow for our flight to Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City, so I'm going to be brief.

Dalat is really very pretty, and they say it's a popular destination for Vietnamese tourists, and a place that people envy for retirement. I think people like it so much because it's in the mountains and quite a bit cooler. It's a nice, cool 76F – 82F here. Comfortable compared to the other places we've been. Come to think of it, the way the other people have been dressed, they would probably be very cold here. But that's probably not a bad thing. I remember from my travels that the concept of “hell” varies from society to society based on climate. To the people of the hot desert regions like Israel and Egypt, the heat was bad, so hell was a very hot place and it was common to wish somebody to stay cool. But in colder climates like Iceland or Norway the climate is cold and the cold is your enemy. So hell is a cold place for them and it's not common to wish somebody to stay warm.

Today was another busy day. Kathy and I decided to take another optional trip offered by OAT.

After breakfast, we got onto the bus. Our first stop was a family business in Dalat City for growing flowers. We got lots of photos. We were told that one dollar here could buy you about ten roses. They were stacked up. But the farmers would sell them to a middle-man, who would sell them at the flower market for ten times as much.

We had a local guide who let us pick some of the flowers. We took lots of photos.

Next, the bus drove us to a scenic overlook.

We got back on the bus and saw some interesting things. The bus took us down from the mountains and back into the sweltering heat of the plains.

We saw how the local people dried coffee beans in their driveway. We saw a woman fisherman. We also saw lots of really big poinsettia plants. I didn't know they got that big.

Next, we stopped at an old silk factory. This was a big scale operation in one small village. They processed hundreds of pounds of raw silk cocoons, and had huge machines to weave the silk threads into strands. This was similar to a factory we saw in China when we were there in 1995.

Next, we drove to a small village of very poor people.

They led simple lives, raised pigs and coffee.

The people were poor, but they seemed very happy. They had lots of little children running around playing, and they were very cute.

We went into a couple of homes to see their living conditions.

The most interesting thing about this village, I thought, is that this was a matriarchal society. This was only apparent if you watched carefully.

For example, we saw a family where the woman of the family, i.e. the head of the household, was busy digging out a tree stump. She attacked the manual labor with great power and determination.

Meanwhile, her husband sat on the step near the house watching the children, baby hanging in a sling around his neck, and looking completely domesticated.

There was a woman from the village hanging around and she was wearing what looked like a hat like I would wear in the dead of winter, on a frosty December morning. Apparently nobody told her it was about 100 degrees and roasting hot. I told her—using Lee as a translator—that her hat was just like the kind “my people” wear.

These people used to use an electric generator once a week to watch television. We were told that about two weeks ago, the government ran electricity out to the village, so now they had power and didn't have to use their generator.

Another interesting thing about this village is that they had somewhat more modern houses, but many of the elders chose to live in their traditional thatch-roof shacks anyway.

They were comfortable with that and didn't want to change. The more modern houses were made of bricks, but many of them weren't weather-proof by a long shot. The bricks had holes in them for ventilation, but you'd likely get wet in a simple rain.

After the optional tour was lunch, and after lunch, Kathy and I had the bus drop us off near the market. We took lots of photos in the market, such as the people with their odd displays of artistically arranged fruits and vegetables,

fresh seafood,

including eels, frogs or toads (I couldn't tell which),

snails, grubs worms, and so on.

What struck me as odd was how the women there weren't squeamish like American women. These women weren't afraid to dig their hands deep into a bowl of live squirming, slimy eels. Compare that to my niece, Michele, who squeals at the thought of touching a snake, which isn't even slimy. Most Americans are wimps.

They also sold chicken heads, feet, hearts and guts, as food.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to make fun of the cuisine or to say that the food is bad. On the contrary, every single meal—without exception—has been outstanding in Vietnam. I'm just saying that their ideas of food is quite different from Americans.

There were also some beautiful displays of produce: blackberries, strawberries, etc. Dalat City is also known for its flowers, so of course there were plenty of flower vendors too.

After visiting the market, Kathy and I walked back to the hotel, freshened up, and off we went again. I took another photo of that Eiffel tower next to the hotel.

This time, the bus took us to Dalat University, which is a prestigious University. A high ranking official (maybe the dean?) gave us a talk about his University and his students. After the talk, we went outside and met some of the students. The students were learning the English language and they were eager to speak and listen to English speaking people like us. The students are taught how to read and write English, and that's all well and good, but they don't get many opportunities to actually hear the words and speak the works “properly”. I met two young men and talked with them a long time. It was a lot of fun. I helped them with their homework and they were very eager to learn. I got their email addresses and hope to talk to them soon.

Next, the bus took us the Lat village. The city of Dalat was named for the Lat tribe, which still exists in a small remnant of a former primitive tribe. They were assimilated into Vietnamese life, and their old traditions and way of life were nearly lost. But companies like OAT bring visitors like us to see their traditional dancing and costumes. So that helps keep the old ways in memory.

As it got late, it also got dark, and with the darkness, cold. A small puppy walked across the village, and out of all the people in the village, he came up to me. I had to pick him up and snuggle. I held him for a very long time and kept him warm against the impending cold.

After the ceremony and dancing, Lee took all the cameras and took group photos. The problem is, it was dark outside, so the odds of a good picture were pretty small. Kathy's camera has a higher ISO setting, so I figured it had the best chance. The exposure of the photo was okay but it's not perfectly focused.

After the Lat village, we ate dinner and the bus took us back to the hotel.

Interesting observation about Vietnam for the day:

The Vietnamese people are really tough. I mean think about it: They've been invaded by China and kicked them out. They've been invaded by Cambodia and kicked them out. They've been invaded by the United States (kind of) and kicked them out. They're tough tough tough. And their country is really very small.

Overloaded vehicles of the day: