Dalat is a town at 1450m, developed by the French in the 19th century as a hill station, to get them out of the sultry weather of Saigon. The town is charming and is surrounded by so many interesting things like I never saw before. Trying in the morning to call the agency from which I had a brochure, I could not get through and one of the guys from the hotel ask me to mount his motorbike and to go to Kim’s cafe. There, the tours already left but this turn to be for the best because for several $ more I got a customized tour on motorbike and I was able in this way to go wherever I pleased. This was an important issue because none of the tours were stopping in all the locations I wanted to visit.
I had a great time riding the motorbike through pine tree forests with Huang who was my guide and motorbike driver, a graduate in tourism from University of Hanoi. The sites we saw were stupendous, Valley of Gold, a beautiful lake and forest that is the reservoir for the city, an embroidery historic/traditional village built by a doctor and artist, who I happen to meet and congratulate because I like enormously his place. He put his own money to built something that in any other country would be done with absolutely huge government funds. He created a museum/collection/embroidery shop in an ambiance that recreates the old Vietnam , so serene and exquisite that is hard to explain non-graphically. it is the closest to the old literati places I ever got to see. It has a shop and I decided to buy an embroidery that is astoundingly beautiful and the effort these girl are putting into it is immense. Waiting for the packaging, that is quite big, I started chatting with Huang, and the first topic was obviously his thoughts about USA and the American war. He laughed because he said that everybody ask this question and he explain that for them that war is just history. He explained extensively and after a while I realized that for him that war is what is for me the first or even the second world war, a sad event but not of any concern. As I may drink a beer with a German and chat about soccer with no second thoughts about the past is for him the relation with the Americans. As a matter of fact, every time when I was asked where I am from and I responded, USA, the answer was “USA, Great country”. He said that even people who are now older and they were part of the war feel in the same way. He found funny that Vietnamese who left and marry Americans are baseless terrified to return in Vietnam being afraid that they may face retaliation, but it’s no resentment, in his view, and as usual as in many other parts of the world, the youth would like to go to America or Canada if possible. Unfortunately, this is not possible because the government ask for a bail of $35000 for granting them a visa, beside a hefty tax of $500 for the visa itself and these money are out of question for most Vietnamese. A good salary in Vietnam is around $600-700/month with architects, doctors, lawyers making over $1000/month.We talked a lot about the current politics and the Communist Party that like in China transformed the country in a super capitalist state where the social net is ZERO. If you lose your job you have to stay home with family and hope for a new job. No social security, pension, free education, free health, etc. University costs around $1000/9 months, an astronomical sum in Vietnam considering that the Cambridge chick, Sarah, told me that tuition used to cost in the UK &1000/year and now they raised it to &3000 and everybody is up in arms. However, corruption in Vietnam is rampart and if you need anything from the government you have to pay a lot to get, the example he gave me was about permits to build a house. If you don’t “oil” the officials you will never build anything and just stay with the land. Sound familiar, isn’t it? So for the Commies in general, they have just contempt but as a matter of fact they don’t care about them as long as they they can make money. Exactly, like in China! After we got the embroidery we biked to a Koho village where the head of the village, dressed in traditional dress, gave me an entire spiel about all the minorities in a combination of English and French and I was able to tape the entire “deposition” on tape. The guy was very cool. We roamed a little the village towards the church and such to find stuff to shoot and bought a nice traditional manually made embroidery, but with a device whose name I don’t know in English. From there we went to see a pagoda, and I expected nothing just the regular, another one. Same, same. The shock was immense the the only thing I can say is that pagoda is absolutely spectacular , and this word is a major understatement. Snakes and dragons were covering the entire interior, exterior and roof with a huge dragon made out of 10000 beer bottles but if he did not point out I could not have figure it out. Inside was a mass, that happens once a month and he said that we were very lucky to see it because he never saw it before. Most of the attendees were old women with interesting faces, singing Buddhist hymns. I shot tons of video with music and I barely was able to leave from there. I saw many temples in many parts of the world but nothing like this.
We continued our bike exploration by seeing a beautiful cascade, the place being full of them and from there we went to another monastery built by a very driven Buddhist monk who was also the abbot. We were supposed to go tomorrow morning at 3:00am for Zen meditation but the monks could not receive us because they have a mass and they were busy to prepare food for the people. From there we shot directly to the last stop, the most famous in Dalat, “The Crazy House”. This place is hard to explain. It was built by the daughter of the second president of Vietnam, Thun Chu, who studied in Moscow 14 years architecture where he got a PhD, and returned to Vietnam and settled in Dalat. Now, she is 67 and she started in 1998 this house that is used also as a hotel, and is build like a huge tree with no straight walls. She is heavily influenced by Gaudi in the architecture but she does not have the his elegance, all the walls being curved and “pouring” the place looking like a combination of fairy tale, grottoes and tree. The house is remarkable and, besides this one, she did several other very controversial things. She lives inside the house and the entire project will be finished in 2010. This is quite a place. From there we went to the agency and after that, quickly to eat because neither of us ate that day, neither breakfast nor lunch. I invited Huang to a restaurant and he picked a Vietnamese restaurant, where we had a hot pot of fish soup and Vietnamese medicine wine, something that is not served to foreigners or you can find in non Vietnamese restaurants. Extremely interesting. The soup was delicious and we kept chatting for an hour keep adding medicine wine, that is made out of roots besides many others.