On Friday evening we arrived in the city of Da Lat. Da Lat was founded by the French and it couldn’t be much more different from Long Xuyen. We arrived around 10:30 p.m. and stepped out into the cool night mountain air. Tyler and arrived at our hotel and I realized that there wasn’t even any need for air conditioning in our room, but we did need to utilize the thick blankets provided for us. There are so many things to note about this town, and I don’t know if I can adequately sum up my thoughts about this place. Tyler and I rented a motorbike at our hotel and on Saturday morning, after a hearty breakfast of French toast and pancakes, I drove around with Tyler directing me. We were freezing in the air. We stopped and I bought a scarf and Tyler bought a hat which made things a little better. But I didn’t even bring shoes and this posed a problem when driving the motorbike around. Saturday evening was the beginning of the Da Lat Flower Festival as well, and in the evening we met up with more VIA people (VIA is the NGO that Tyler and Sharla work for) and walked around the streets before retiring to the room of a teacher at Da Lat University.

Sunday was by far the most interesting day. Tyler and I had an appointment to drink coffee and play Chinese chess after breakfast, and when we were at the cafe the rain began to pour down, so we stayed and drank coffee and tea and I was feeling very jittery. We were with two of Tyler’s friends here, and one of them invited us over to his house for lunch. He had a tiny room and we sat on the floor and ate and ate. Then Tyler wanted to go to a place called “The Chicken Village.” When I first heard this, I figured it must be a place that specialized in raising chickens, but I discovered that its name actually comes from a giant, cement statue of a chicken that rises above the houses there. When we were there Tyler chatted with his friends and I drank tea and did a little chatting myself. One woman said I spoke Vietnamese with a “very southern accent,” which I was kinda proud of.

We took a very roundabout route home. The scenery was simply amazing. We drove past small farms with the red dirt of the mountains all churned up for cultivation. We drove up a winding mountain road and the view kept taking my breath away, or maybe it was the cold air. An employee at the hotel was riding behind me and he kept saying “qua dep!” or “so beautiful!” We arrived back at the hotel to a huge dinner prepared for us by the hotel staff, including some of the best-tasting grilled cheese in my life. It was nearly beyond wonderful because I had recently been craving it down in Long Xuyen.

However, last night my image of a general peaceful society in Vietnam was shattered. We were out around 10 p.m. with a friend of Tyler’s, a man named Dung, eating a late-night snack of grilled goat on the second floor of a restaurant. All of a sudden we heard shouting from the street below. Most of the people on the second floor rushed to the balcony, including us three. At first it looked like teenagers fighting in the streets. Then I heard the word “blood” spoken around me. I saw a boy up the street with blood soaking one leg of his pants. He was standing, but eventually collapsed on the street. Other young men tried to wave down a taxi, but it wouldn’t stop. They wedged the unconscious boy between two people on a motorbike and roared off. Then Dung pointed out another boy right below us. He was sitting on the back of a motorbike and leaning on the driver. Blood was pouring out of his lower back. Eventually he couldn’t sit upright anymore and began to fall onto the street. He was caught by someone, but then we decided we had seen enough and went back inside. I felt like a spectator removed from the action and blood and reality of the whole mess. I couldn’t believe what I’d seen. Dung said he saw one of the boys brandishing a knife. We went to the hotel soon afterwards. We had to avoid the puddles of blood in the road as we got our motorbikes. Tyler and I drove in silence; we had never before seen anything like that.

And now today, with all these wonderful, and now violent images of Da Lat in my head and a scarf around my neck, I’m heading back to Ho Chi Minh City in a few hours to stay there and wait for my parents to arrive on Wednesday.

On Saturday an anniversary past me by. I thought about it. I then realized I should think more about it. Saturday, December 3rd marked one year in Vietnam. I’ve been here a year and 3 days now. I can’t believe that time has gone so fast. I started thinking about what I’ve done here, and it doesn’t amount to much. I like teaching okay, but I’m not sure if I’m a good teacher; if I’m effective. I was never trained in all this stuff and I’m still nervous at times. Language-wise I feel like I’ve barely done anything. I haven’t devoted nearly enough time to studying this language and I wish I would make time for it, no matter what my schedule. I do think that I’ve learned a lot about Vietnam though. I don’t think I could go through and compare and contrast American culture or whatever, but I know how to eat, how to act in some situations, how to drive, etc. Nothing really big, but it seems to be building up inside. Innate knowledge or something. But that sounds egotistical. But I really do feel like I’ve learned a little something about this culture in a year.

I’ve also learned that the old idiom, “Out of sight, out of mind” really applies. I feel like so many of my friends have nearly forgotten about me, and therefore only make sporadic contact with me. All of this contact is random, except for the few letters that trickle over to Long Xuyen and show true friendship. I’m sorta worried about going home now. The way I see it now—however prone to change things may be in my life—I’ll be home in about two years. I’m scared. There will be new things, new cultural references, my friends and family will have new friends, people will be married (luckily only a few of my college friends so far). There will simply be a whole new atmosphere—I’m sure there is one now—which makes me wary of the future, though it does march consistently closer to me.

But now, things here. Tyler and I have marathon teaching weeks this week, but we’ve already booked the bus tickets for Friday morning; Tyler, Sharla and me are making a break for Ho Chi Minh City in the morning and then heading to Da Lat in the mountains in the afternoon/evening. I think we’ll all be staying there until Monday, when Tyler and Sharla will go to Nha Trang for a conference with their NGO and I’ll go back to Ho Chi Minh City to meet my parents on Tuesday. I’m looking forward to it, and I hope I get through the long teaching hours and stacks of grading that remain between me and relaxation.