It’s as if I never left.
The lake is still stinking with bloated fish. The mad night market is still bustling with Chinese tourists haggling for strawberries and Vietnamese teenagers squealing on tandem bikes. The traffic is still ridiculous on a Saturday, Sunday, and every other day and night of the week.
My mad old fruit lady still gives me extra longans with my oranges, and the cooks who make my favourite beef pho still ask if I want mine without chives. The old nun at my lunchtime vegetarian café still cackles when I say “nóng!” (delicious!) and tries to give me more potatoes.
Dalat isn’t home, but it’s nice to be back.
I lived only four months in this funny little city last year, and I’ve been away five. I’m hardly an expat and much less a resident.
I don’t belong here, but it’s somewhere to be. To pause for breath, as it were.
It’s the Vietnamese equivalent of Tirau. A passing-through place. Domestic tourists come to escape their overheated home cities, Koreans come for the golf, teenagers come for field trips, backpackers come to eat pizza and ride motorbikes. The Chinese come, I suppose, to tick it off the list [read: eat and stomp and demand discounts].
And between Sunday night and Monday morning, they all get on a bus or motorbike and roll back to their other lives, with bags of Dalat avocados at their feet and Angry Birds hats on their heads and innumerable lakeside self-portraits on their mobile phones.
I’ve upgraded from last year’s concrete shack to a nice-but-squashy studio room. It’s almost double the price of my former abode and barely larger, but it has a TV! A washing machine! A gas cooker (which I’ll never use, because – why?) and a teeny balcony, upon which I drag my desk each day and bang out my paid work.
There is also a dog. The neighbour’s dog, but I see and hear more of it than the neighbor seems to. The dog – an ugly, dumb mutt of unnecessary breeding – barks. At everything. It barks at the rooster (who crows at everything), it barks at the gate, it barks at the motorbikes roaring up the street and it barks at other dogs barking. It barks at 1am, 3am and 5am. And in between.
During the day, I sit on my balcony and write, and throw chokos and longan seeds at said dog. Whether it’s barking or not.
But, well. You can’t have it all.
And this – me, being here, in Dalat – this isn’t permanent. I’m just passing through. For now.