We were holding our breath when she said, “I should have told the police about you when they came here. I regret I did not tell them, because it was my duty. Tomorrow the police will come again. And tomorrow,” she paused, “you will not be so lucky.”
We didn’t need to be lucky tomorrow. We were lucky enough today. We rounded up our miserable driver, who cranked up the engine of our ancient Citroen, and lurched off toward Nha Trang.
Today, Dalat is a major Southeast Asia tourist destination. The Palace Hotel has returned to, and perhaps exceeded, its French colonial grandeur. It is now a true luxury hotel with air conditioning instead of languid overhead fans; with internet access instead of Bakelite telephones of purely decorative purpose; with fully stocked mini-bars instead of enameled storage boxes unconnected to electricity. Where the Dalat Fair once entertained local farmers, a football stadium is now under construction.
But, a quarter century ago, during Vietnam’s emergence from decades of calamitous war, Dalat was just a mountain way station with an agreeable climate and lots of flowers. Its people were poor enough to want to stake pennies on the whims of a frightened rodent. But they were also rich enough to pardon two hapless travelers through an unsolicited, if slightly reluctant, act of kindness.