Sunday, 3 February 2008

Đà Lạt

A cousin I haven’t seen or talked to for seventeen years called me and asked whether I was ready for an escapade to Đà Lạt, where his mother lives. I only had vague plans for the weekend to meet some friends or possibly go out. Nothing definite though, so I accepted. A bus ticket was bought for a seven hour ride, I later learned.
The ride allowed me to watch the changing scenery. It’s beautiful especially when one reaches the mountain area. What aroused me the most was to watch the people. Seeing all these houses one after the other, catching a glimpse, a second, of their life, imagining what was happening just before, and what was going to happen right after they are out of sight. This live film was an overwhelming experience for me. I love all these people.
Nicolas was telling me before I started this journey, that it would be great if I travelled by road instead taking the plane of the boat. "Walk", he said. 
To feel the earth under my steps, get grounded, find this other side of myself on the land of my ancestors. Discarding a certain habit for comfort I‘m used to in my Parisian life. Actually, it’s more about leaving behind the familiarity than the comfort. Familiarity has security in the equation. If that’s so, then I guess the task is done. 
I really do feel different, expanded, shall I say. I can be nothing, I can be everything, it doesn’t matter. I may be a musician when I’m doing music, but I enjoy many other things in my life, even if they are not the core of who I am, and still, I am. I am when I walk on the streets, I am when I feel the heat, I am when I am cooking or eating, I am whatever language I may be speaking… 
Every minute counts and I’m so alive.

Đà Lạt provided me my first good night sleep in three months, but also the opportunity to drive a motorbike for the very first time in my life. I was slightly reluctant, but my cousin encouraged me to try. He stopped where the road was less crowded and said:
"Now it’s your turn. You drive"
He showed me the basic function. Very simple. Two minutes later, we were on the road again, up to the mountain. We went to the Couvent des Oiseaux, a former school and convent run by nuns, which my mother attended from elementary school until high school graduation. Those were happy, carefree times. She told me many fond memories.
The school is now badly tended. It’s still used, but for the ethnic minorities. The left wing still is inhabited by nuns. I could recognize all the places my mother described: the trees, the hills, the courtyard, the dormitory, even if didn’t know the place… The memory of the young girls playing and studying there. I have some footages of the place, and a few pictures. I wonder whether my mother will not cry when she sees what it has become.
Will I be ready to face the craziness of Saigon traffic? That will come. On my next time in Vietnam, I’ll make sure to rent a bike.

On the way to Đà Lạt

The mountain of Đà Lạt

Our ride back was quick. The driver was reckless and it’s a miracle that he didn’t leave any corpse behind on the road! It was so exciting to witness this race between bikes, motorbikes, cars, lorries and buses. Now everyone has to wear a helmet. Government statement. To prevent any more accident. That means non too sophisticated hairdos, since any trendy hairstyle is bound to be flattened by the helmet! A disgrace for hair care market, I was told.
The city of Saigon is preparing for the lunar new year. The year of the Rat is about to start! Some of the main streets are adorned with wonderful, lively light decoration. Getting stuck in the traffic jam becomes a fest for the eyes. The sight of these thousands of helmets is quite impressive. Tonight, everything will be ready for the public. Expect the streets to be overcrowded.

In my aunt's garden in Đà Lạt

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