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Published: March 28th 2010
So here we are in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. This area was developed by the French in the late 1800's -- as a getaway of sorts because of the oppressive heat of Saigon (HCMC). The French government used to move their whole operation up here in the summer months - built a golf course, villas and put a dam in the river to create 'the Grand Lake' in the center of the town. The French left after the Treaty of Geneva in the 1950's, but the area continued to draw government-types. Amazingly the area hosted military officials from opposing sides during World War II and the American/Vietnam War - who would play golf and chill out together before going back out to battle against one another. This area of the Highlands was least affected by the American/Vietnam War - mainly because there wasn't much incentive to bomb it.
Sadly our trip is a little ill-timed as the city has drained the Grand Lake (now called the Xuan Huong Lake). They do this removal of river silt about every 10 years -- so there is an enormous, gaping hole in the center of the city. I imagine that the view
would be quite pleasant from our balcony if the lake were full. As it stands -- the view looks like the town around Niagra Falls. Actually it's quite fun -- lots to look at -- just a little out of place. There isn't much in the way of industry here - so tourism is the main draw and the city does its best to play up the honeymoon-feel of this retreat.
We visited the Dalat Cathedral - referred to locally as the "chicken cathedral" because of the rooster (symbol of the French) wind dial on top of the cross at the cathedral's peak. They were preparing for their Palm Sunday service. We also stopped by the Dalat flower garden (and all of us discovered the macro settings on our cameras!) ... so many pretty orchids. Next, we went to the Valley of Love - a Storybook Forest setting -- with statues for posing and picture-taking. The Lang Bien twin peak mountain overlooks the scene. The best part of that outing was... well there were 2 things ... 1. seeing a bunch of Vietnamese teenagers just messing around and being goofy, 2. all of us taking turns posing as 'lovers'
-- we drew quite a crowd. We went to another Catholic church - St. Vincent de Paul. Here the nuns of the convent take in orphans and children from ethnic minorities who need shelter. They are taught to embroider as a means to make a living. In a small room, there were probably 60 kids (aged 12-16) who were working in silence listening to a book on tape while embroidering. They work 8 hours a day -- 6 days a week. This was sobering. From there we went to a Buddhist pagoda took off our shoes to enter - and learned that among other things - we don't know that much about Buddhism. We giggled as the monk walking us in made off to a side room to pull a cell phone from his robe to take a call.
We toured around -- the group got to buy a bunch of musical instruments for the school dedication on Monday and heard the bellowing of the garbage trucks - playing It's a Small World while walking through town. Fred went running and had some older men in the town applauding for him. Will, Jake, David and Fred played 'pickle' in
playing a game of rubberband (much like penny hockey in USA)
a local park - with many an onlooker - but none would join in. Doug spent some time in bed - as he's not feeling so hot. And then we made off for dinner in the city -- and the town was hopping. Food being cooked, music being played, things being sold -- it was like an electric carnival. The pictures won't do it justice - but we'll try anyway.
So we'll be in touch. The school dedication on Monday is coming fast!!
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