So, I’ve left Dalat, and I’m sad. Sad, because, despite three weeks of monsoon rain on my tin roof and frequent battles with worms in my bathroom, I enjoyed the place. Nowhere else will quite compare.
I did not, however, learn the language. I tried – but my tongue and brain refused to be Vietnamese, and my earnest attempts to communicate elicited either puzzled frowns or hoots of laughter.
But it rarely mattered. I could count to six (seven, eight and nine I dismissed entirely). I could complain about the weather (mua! rain!) which always made people happy. I had the words for what I wanted to eat (banh mi op la? Bun bon hue? Rau? Sup!), so what else did I need? It was through food that I made friends.
I had my breakfast lady, who fried the egg for my banh mi op la (bread roll with egg, pate, coriander and sliced carrots) just the way I like it, and didn’t douse the thing in chilli sauce.
Then my coffee lady, who made my ca phe den da (black coffee with ice) while her tiny daughter slept in a beach chair in the middle of her café.
My fruit lady, with the frozen jaw, who made a game of overcharging me for a single piece of dragon fruit and then giving me ‘free’ (and bruised) lychees. She also took to pinching my nose, which she thought was hilarious and I did not.
There were others: the girl about my age in the fish-stinking section of the market, toasting baguettes and squeezing sugar cane juice into plastic cups. The grumpy fruit vendor who would roar at when me whenever I tried to buy her custard apples and even hit me once, but seemed to like me after I gave her an Oreo. The plain-faced Buddhist nuns in my most-frequented vegetarian restaurant, all cropped hair and clinking beads, piling my plate with greasy tofu and always, always smiling.
And my dear, dear landlady, who would steal away with my sodden laundry and dry it for me, and bring me freshly-pressed passionfruit juice and dishes of soup or bun thit nong, and didn’t bat an eyelid the day she seized a plunger and set to work on my foully-blocked toilet.
Oh, they’ll all have forgotten me by now, and I wouldn’t expect anything else. Tourists are plentiful, foreigners are fickle; and, after all, my communications with these folk went no further than my appetite.
I could go on waxing lyrical, but I won’t. True to my foreigner-ness, I’ve bid farewell to Dalat’s cool highland air and sour red wine and lakeful of rotting fish. Time to nomad it out of here.