One afternoon Pete and I decided to get on a motorbike, drive around the streets of Dalat and get lost. Our initial plan was to try to get a closer look at the terraced fields and greenhouses. Twenty minutes into our drive we turned onto a narrow street that climbed a steep hill. After a few kilometers we turned on a dirt road. We parked our bike on top of a hill and walked past a large intimidating dog and some waving children. When we rounded a bend we were greeted by an incredible sweeping view of the city and its surrounding valley.
We felt like we were intruding, but the people working in the field below barely noticed us so we continued walking. We were then rewarded by a magnificent graveyard that overlooked the city. For several years I have had a somewhat morbid fascination with graveyards and how other cultures bury their dead so this was an awesome discovery. It was a tranquil, beautiful site. We wandered around looking at each grave wondering who the person was and about the the family they left behind. After just a few minutes here it is impossible not to notice that there is a social hierarchy even in death. The elaborately adorned graves were obviously occupied by the wealthy, probably holding the high social status that money brings.
The graves marked by the grey weather worn headstones were more than likely occupied by the monetarily less fortunate, but no less loved. Their graves had recently been decorated with flowers.
Pete brought up an interesting point that many of these graves were built while Vietnam was still a truly communist country, before they opened up to a capitalist economy, where no one is supposed to be wealthier than others.
There were crosses on top of many of the graves indicating that there were Christians buried here. There were also many graves topped with what we would think of as a swastika.
I had seen this symbol used all over India and was aware it had some religious significance but when I got back to the hotel I did a bit of research to refresh my memory. The word swastika stems from the Sanskrit word Svastika which, when literally translated, means "that which is associated with well-being". It is a historical sacred symbol that has been used in Hinduism and Buddhism for centuries. In the early twentieth century it was used world wide as a symbol of good luck and success. Because of this widespread popularity the Nazi Party formally adopted it in the 1920's and forever tarnished its symbolism in the eyes of the western world.
On our way home we make some wrong turns and it takes twice as long to get back to our hotel. When we finally arrive at dusk I vow to myself that we will get lost more often.