An unexpected homestay – Dalat part 1

Here is the story of how I decided to go to a temple and ended up at a karaoke party in the middle of a coffee plantation and hitting a fish…

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Once upon a time my brother told me about this temple in the area around Dalat, the Buu Son Temple. He stayed there for a couple of days on the temple complex together with his girlfriend and explored the nearby coffee plantations and villages. To me this sounded like a perfect place for some peace and quiet and maybe even some meditation. So when I found myself alone for a couple of days I decided to visit.

Taking the bus turned out to be quite difficult so I ended up renting a scooter and I went off by myself. Google maps showed a 1:30 hour ride so what could go wrong? If it turned out to be nothing nice I would be back in no time.  The road took me trough villages, a small coffee plantation and the elephant waterfalls. All were nice places and I took a few short stops to enjoy the views. Up until the falls the roads were pretty good and even the sun started to shine. I was feeling really good about this trip waving and saying hello to all the village kids that came to watch this strange person ride by. I had to stop at just about every corner to check if I was still going in the right direction but I didn’t care, I felt free and happy.

Well that feeling lasted about 10 minutes. Right until Google maps told me to go left and the roads suddenly became a lot les like a road and more like… well more like a mountain. I kept checking my phone because on this scooter that was clearly designed for the smooth city roads and not for this collection of sand hills and holes. I found this ‘road’ barely drivable. Google told me I this was indeed the road (and the only road) and since the locals didn’t seem to mind I also kept going. Stares became stranger as the environment became more rural and after 6 hours of bumps, sand and dust I finally arrived at the entrance of the temple.

The temple complex of Buu Son temple is truly beautiful. High on the mountain you have an amazing view on the valley below and the temple itself, however small is kept very well. A small old lady was sitting in front of a kitchen building peeling peanuts and she smiled and waved me over. Obviously nobody in this part of Vietnam spoke any English but she offered me some food and iced Vietnamese tea which I happily accepted. I tried to explain that my brother had visited this temple the year before but recognition appeared on her face and I was immediately corrected and told he visited not one but two years ago. They remembered because apparently no other western people have visited here in the meantime. There were lots of laughs as we tried to communicate about the basic stuff like Where are you from? How old are you?  Do you have a husband? No. No husband? No. Single? Yes. Happy or Sad? Happy. Oh No sad? No. Oh. Clearly a happy single is not a concept that goes over well here in rural Vietnam.

But once they understood my question about sleeping at the temple complex it meant confusion and concerned faces. Sleeping here? They looked at me as if I was crazy and I started to get the feeling sleeping there was not going to be possible. The why not I will never know because the houses where there and seemed to be empty. I never thought I would ever get people in a Buddhist temple to look stressed but that was exactly what was happening.  At this point I started to worry since there was no way I would be able to drive back to Dalat before dark so I called my help line, my Vietnamese future sister in law to the rescue.
Once more and more people became involved I was never so thankful for a Vietnamese friend. She explained that it was not possible to sleep there but that I had to wait for the lady. The lady had to do something first but then she would take me to the town to a place I could sleep. The credit on my phone ran out and the line went dead…

“Had to do something first” turned out to be a 2 hour praying and meditation session before Buddha… I didn’t mind. I happily roamed the complex and enjoyed the view while I listened to the constant humming of prayer from the temple. Once the old lady came back she told me to take my scooter down the hill and before I could say anything she started running behind it. Well, since I’m not the one to let old grannies run I told her to get on the back and she could show me where to go. She reluctantly did but once she was on she loved it! She acted like she never been on the back of a bike before. She started laughing and screaming and yelled at anyone in town Daughter! Daughter! pointing at me. After a lot of laughs, the worst directions ever and several wrong turns (her hands pointed all over the place and she kept hitting my helmet) we arrived.

We arrived at something I can best describe as a wooden shack. It was located in the middle of a coffee plantation and it consisted of wooden boards and some plastic bags. The bags created a tent like structure at the back that functioned as a bathroom.

I was happy to find out I was not going to be adopted as her daughter but she actually brought me to her daughters house instead of a guesthouse or hotel. I was immediately seated on one of these little children’s chairs in a part of the house where also the motorbikes were parked, a little altar was burning insane amounts of incense and the laundry was drying. I was given tea and some bread and pointed to a stretcher in between two motorbikes and was told I could sleep there. OK, it was hard to breath with all the fumes and looking around to all the holes in the walls and imagining the creatures that could come through them at night it was clearly not my ideal location but it meant not having to risk my life and driving on a dark road so it would do for the night.

Communication was difficult and more and more people from the village came by to see this giant white, blond  stranger for themselves. The husband conversation repeated itself a couple of times and every time a discussion about happy single erupted as if they were convinced this could not possible be true. They tried to speak English words to explain what they mean as did the guy trying to explain his profession by pointing at himself and yelling “Bullit!” “Bullit!”. A profession called bullit? Is he a hunter? Is he a Bucher? Does he make Bullits? What does he do? After 10 minutes of charades and a constant repeat of the word “bullit”  I started wondering Is he suicidal? Is he here to kill me? What does he mean with Bullit?!?!

In the end he showed me his ID and I found out he was a Police officer and he was trying to say the word “Police”. You see Vietnamese have trouble pronouncing the letter P and the letter S so they change them to B’s and T’s. For them it sounds the same but you sure get interesting conversations this way. After this I thought it was best to explain the fact I was a project manager at a claims handling company back home with the word “Computer”. Everyone nodded and so the word “Computer” was accepted as my profession.

Time for dinner and we changed location to the other side of the house to a small heightened area that was about 2 by 3 meters and at first sight seemed like a playroom for the 5 year old twins but also was the living room, the bedroom and the closet for clothes in one. The ladies went to make dinner and I got to watch the kids. Great. The twins took about 2 minutes to get used to me and while chatting to me in Vietnamese they showed me their toys. A green dinosaur seemed most popular even though it was missing a leg and a tail. To them it was still the best dinosaur in the world. The dinosaur was quickly replaced by myself as I turned out to be a great climbing tree. I gave them my travel buddy to play with and it quickly made their way into their hearts.

Dinner consisted of Pho which was filled with extra meat for me which made me feel a little conflicted. First of all this family obviously did not have a lot and for them to eat less because they give it to me just feels plain wrong. But second of all, this meat was also not made of the parts of an animal I normally eat and consisted mostly of fat and other intestinal parts. Just looking at it made my stomach close up. Everyone is looking at you expectantly as you eat your soup and the grandma kept pointing at the meat. And as you do in these situations… You don’t complain you just eat and smile. Bon Appetit!

After a shower in the tent for which I got a kettle with hot water from the kitchen to mix with the big barrel of rain water and a little package of soap I was instructed to go to bed. It was 6 o’clock. The grandma came into the tent during my shower a couple of times to check if everything was ok (or maybe to see if I was clean enough) which was both a nice gesture and a little inappropriate since she kept pointing at certain bodyparts. But in the end I was found clean enough to sleep in a bed in the heightened playroom instead of the stretcher in the garage. I shared the small bed (which was basically only a wooden board) with the twins and grandma. Nice and cosy and the twins loved it. So here I was at 6 in the evening, lying on a wooden board with two little Vietnamese girls sprawled on top of me in a shack on a coffee plantation. Not the way expected my day to end but loving the adventure. Good Night!


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