Phung, our guide, is tireless and excellent. Yesterday we took a tram down a mountain to tour some pagodas then took a boat in the nearby lake to an island where we rode an elephant into the jungle. (My father has declared himself done with elephant rides.) Then we went back across the lake and rode a kitschy little roller coaster down a canyon to view a waterfall. Yes, it was really a roller coaster. That was probably the wackiest thing we did all day, followed by a trip to the Frank Lloyd Wright-ish Bao Dai Summer Palace and a tour of a trippy hotel built by a communist leader's batty daughter. This hotel, which is popular with Japanese tourists, looks like a cross between a Gaudi building and a deranged hobbit's house. It's not how I pictured Vietnam, but very little is. Somewhere in the middle of all this, we had lunch at a restaurant that serves porcupine and anteater -- "jungle meat" is popular in Da Lat -- but despite the half-hatched eggs, I'm not really an extreme eater and we stuck with the wild boar. It was delicious.
I also bought some yummy dried tangerine at the Da Lat town market and tried to imagine shopping daily in a place like this. Couldn't. The meat section was the most striking area, with giant bowls of eyeballs and palates, turgid beef tongues splayed out on warm ceramic counters, blood-smeared tile floors, men hacking at chunks of pork with dirty cleavers, flies. I don't actually mind the charnel house gore and viscera -- I'm not squeamish in that particular regard. It's the lack of ice, of refrigeration. I'm extremely squeamish in THAT regard.
But let's change the subject to something more pleasant: fashion. The average height of a woman here is 4'11 (per wikipedia and my own unerring eye) and she has the silhouette of a slightly precocious 12-year-old American girl. The uniform: Skinny jeans. A form-fitting top, maybe satin, maybe a stylish t-shirt with a funky design. Hair: long, with straight layers. Shoes: mules. Without exception, tiny, tiny, delicate mules, sometimes with heels, sometimes with sequins, but always mules. I'm not sure I've seen a pair of non-mules except on lumbering Western tourists and waitresses. The look is finished off with a surgical mask across the mouth to ward off pollution and disease. Very chic!
If I stayed here more than two weeks, I would need a whole new wardrobe, though finding my size would be a mighty challenge. The other night I stumbled across a terrific and smart blog by an American couple who spend a lot of time in Saigon. I highly recommend her funny account of trying to buy a pair of jeans in Vietnam.
We are leaving Da Lat today and going to Buon Ma Thuot about which I know nothing except that it is on the way to Pleiku where my father was stationed during the war. Phung tells us this is our "big" day as opposed to yesterday, which was our "easy" day. I hope we survive. I must go fortify myself now with many cups of coffee and a bowl of rice soup. If there are typos I apologize, I realize now I am very very late and have to leave right this second.