Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Picking Flowers and Onions- Road Trip Part 1

"Why think about that when all the golden land's ahead of you and all kinds of unforeseen events wait lurking to surprise you make you glad you're alive to see?" -Jack Kerouac, On the Road.

Any road going to or exiting Da Lat involves a journey through the mountainous countryside.  We started off the morning with a quick breakfast of noodles mixed with seafood and pork, and with full bellies we journeyed out on highway 20.  I sat in the cool comfortable back of a Ford SUV carefree in not having to drive.  Instead my only duties were to observe and participate in the intermittent conversation.  It was a Monday morning.  We were surrounded by life, constant life, small family farms, lush forest and jungle trees, people here and there working and relaxing, and always the effervescent sun.  We got off the highway on to some back road in a minority area of Lam Dong.

There were four of us.  Myself, Tony, and Tony's former professor from San Francisco State University, and a driver all rode in a Ford.  Tony works with me.  He from California and is Viet Kieu.  It was his professor's trip, and we both referred to him as Te or teacher, and that's what he was for much of the trip.  He videotaped, he interviewed, and he taught us about this foreign land.  Our driver, who was very cartoonish, had to stop to ask directions every time we turned on to a new road.  When I say cartoonish, I mean smoking constantly, raising his shirt to scratch his stomach at every stop, and seemingly angering every waitress and waiter we encounter by his loud yet brusque manner.  Our goal, beyond travel, was to film the everyday lives of the people that populate this country.  Our first stop was a small farm in the shadow of the mountains that cradle Da Lat.  They were harvesting chives on a 40 by 40 plot.  The young woman we met was a migrant worker from the north.  She couldn't have been more than a young twenty.  Her pay was about 2/3 of what I make in a month as a volunteer at the university, a decent salary.  She was talkative and in good spirits.  The reality of the situation is Vietnam is a country of 80 million and while their economy is booming this good fortune does not extend to everyone.  Vietnam has every man's dream problem, a surplus of young women, but not enough employment and money for the lot of them.  Many leave crowded homes to find enough work to support their simple lives.  I wondered how it was possible for her to do this on her pay, but I figure that was only because most Americans have no concept of the simple life.  I am as guilty as anyone of this claim.  She seemed happy.

Our second stop was at small coffee shop in a secluded mountain town.  Cafe Sua Da for everyone, iced coffee with milk.  Next to the coffee shop was a women selling dress shirts by the side of the road.  Thirty thousand VND a piece, under two dollars.  We picked through and my friend Tony found the one shirt that did not belong.  It was some sort of flowered patterned button down from the 70's or whenever those things were in style.  It'd probably been in that pile forever.  I'm not even sure it's man's shirt.  He insisted I buy it.  I said absolutely not.  I bought it and wore it until we reached Saigon.

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