Travel Memories from Vietnam

First, I apologise profusely for not having sent an email earlier. I have
been perfecting The Art of Self-Reflection in the Central Highlands of
Vietnam, where the soil is a rich red colour and the air cool. Upon more
than several occasions, I have confused the hilly city of Dalat, the 'Jewel
of the Central Highlands,' for a Swiss provincial town in the 1960s. Pines
and coniferous trees pop up between buildings that have been inspired by
myriad styles. Ageing French villas, the colour of Deep Vermillion and
Yellow Ochre, provide a perfect contrast to the ghastly brightly-coloured
modern concrete abodes and wooden shacks that intersperse them to make up
the modern urban area.

Fabriz, a pleasant man from Marseille, obligingly photographed me outside
The Great Caodai Temple. This magnificent place seemed to consume me with
its sanctity. Around noon, we were instructed to climb the steps to the
balcony that would provide us with a panorama of the worship that was about
to ensue. Hundreds of priests, almost all adorned in white, filed into the
arena and took up their positions, all facing the 'Divine Eye,' a spiritual
medium painted on a blue globe in the centre of the front portico. I had
once pathetically attempted to read 'The Idiot' and had begun to identify
with the hero. It was, at least in part, for this reason that I decided to
try to climb over a Caodist man sitting at one end of the veranda. He was a
human barrier to a 360 degree perspective of the service. I wanted to absorb
it from all angles. I raised my right leg to traverse him without a moment's
contemplation, he lifted his left branch-like arm almost simultaneously, the
two limbs made contact, and I lowered mine as quickly as I could. Although I
did not exist prior to 1981, I believe I inspired a sequel to that novel
that day.

I felt as hollow as one of the North Vietnamese Army's Cu Chi tunnels after
I had visited them. Fabriz, on the other hand, emerged from his 150 metre
'crawl' grinning like a boy among the grapes of The Loire Valley. I had
exited the formerly treacherous network at the first opportunity, after 30
metres, my rangy, sweating, panting frame bursting into the eerie gloom of
the forest. The idea, of course, had been to reconstruct, in terms of
atmosphere at least, this fiercely-contested battle zone. M16 bullets
cracked the thick air in the distance and trigger-happy tourists blasted
AK-47s. Our sizeable tour group was asked, 'You want to fire machine gun?'
There was one taker. Shortly afterwards, the bus jolted away from Cu Chi and
I tried to replace any negative feelings with the lingering emotions aroused
by The Great Temple.

Fabriz and I said farewell to each other on a street in Saigon. I headed
North. At Mui Ne, a deserted beach resort on the South Central Coast, I was
fortunate enough to meet Mr Pierre Williams. Pierre lives in Sydenham, the
area of London in which I spent the first five years of my life. He is a
property journalist. Had I not encountered Mr Williams, I believe I may have
started to slice my head. For the place (though empty) was full of couples.
Now, please, I beg you, kindly do not misunderstand me at this point.
Despite the unwanted lengthy periods of contemplation, I have few objections
to being a 'solo tourist.' In fact, I am glad this is my temporary status of
sorts. However, trying to elicit even the slightest acknowledgement of your
existence from some 'twos,' is as difficult as something that is very
difficult. By 'slightest acknowledgement,' I mean: looking vaguely in your
direction. At times, I felt as though, if the spectacular sand dunes of Mui
Ne were behind me, such 'newly-weds' would rather gasp in delight at a
plastic camel-shaped litter bin located 'sufficiently' away from me, than
labour to give me a false smile. My much-cherished Michael Palin-esque
companion appeared to whole-heartedly agree with this clichéd and somewhat
laboured thesis, '...and, they don't even look happy, do they?' It was thus
with a trace of sorrow that I left the affable half-Frenchman early the next
morning. I was bound for The Jewel, like a disillusioned Prince, perhaps
with some kind of cause...

Jesus Small*

N.B. Have unofficially changed my name to that of The Son of God's,
following a recent episode upon my arrival in Dalat. There was confusion at
the hotel reception, as 'Jesus' tried to check in. The receptionist informed
me that she had to ask the proprietor if it was alright for spirits to stay.
I guess it must have been my preposterously unkempt hair (now admittedly
resembling Graham Chapman's in 'The Life of Brian'), and horrible, straggly
blonde pseudo-beard that had, in a little over a week, transformed me into
Mel Gibson.

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