|Dalat was a nice
surprise. Way up in the central highlands, it's the honeymoon capital
of Vietnam, so it's got nice parks, bountiful verdant gardens and fresh
clean air. It's just a darn pleasant town, with its own little version
of the Eiffel Tower and a lake, pleasant weather and even a golf course
(the only one we've seen so far in southeast Asia), but it's got a few
interesting eccentricities as well. "People do crazy things around
here," we were told. So it seems.
November 15 -- The city seemed to be surrounded by high hills
and pine forests, so we figured a tour of the countryside was in order.
There were six of us in the little mini-van as we set out in the morning:
Andrew and Mary from Melbourne, Australia; two Americans, Tom and Eli (we
hadn't really met them yet, but they were on our bus on the long and challenging
journey from Hoi An and again later on the bus into Dalat); me and Carol;
plus our driver and our guide.
Our guide was convinced that love made people do crazy things, but in
addition, this was a region full of more crazy things. To prove his
point he took us to the village of the Giant Chicken. Later we visited
the pagoda of the Crazy Monk, and the jumbled assortment of rooms in the
Crazy House. It was all quite charming.
Our guide was a young single guy. "A yin, searching for his yang,"
as he explained it. He gave us a pretty thorough assessment of recent changes
in Vietnam, and the growing role of Buddhism in it all as he toured us
through a large, relaxing mountainside pagoda. Dalat had escaped
much of the devastation we'd seen in other parts of the country.
It felt a lot more relaxed and easy-going.
The Chicken Village was something else altogether! An ethnic minority
known as the K'Ho, relocated by the government from the mountains, had
settled in one of the most fertile valleys, with the best vegetable gardens
we'd ever seen. Corn, tomatoes, carrots, coffee and yes, chickens all flourished
here. In the hills, the K'Do had practiced a slash-and-burn agriculture.
Now they had better land, and additional support for their schools and
education. As usual, the kids were excited by visitors.
It was difficult to get a straight answer as to why this K'Ho ethnic
minority village had a giant chicken in the first place. Certainly
it made it easier to find, but the official story had it that the chicken
was there to remind people to get up early and go to work. Heck,
any ol' chicken can do that!