Trip: Phan Rang to Da Lat

The one thing I remember about this trip was the baguette. It was the best sandwich that I've ever had in my entire life. On the road we were getting hungry – it was late afternoon. We stopped of in a dusty, grimy, disgusting village in the middle of nowhere. The fact that it was the middle of nowhere in Vietnam didn't stop it from heaving with people. There were businesses all along the main street, which included a bridal shop and a satellite TV sales outlet, in a building that probably had been a barn in an earlier life. The place was choked with clouds of dust, and the road, a giant, unpaved pothole, didn't know whether if wanted to be dust or mud.

We stopped the van. Duyen went across the street to look for some food, and Hung and I sat at a streetside cafe and had something to drink. The cafe was one table. Next door was a jeweller's shop, and the jeweller was sitting on the stoop with his entire family. He pointed me out to his baby son, and I waved. On the other side was a one-chair barber shop. In the chair was a client, horizontal, and so perfectly asleep that it looked like when the haircut was over, the barber would have to call the family to come and claim the body. For some reason, the barber shop had a floor-to-ceiling stack of baskets, though none of us could figure out why.

After we were back on the road, Duyen explained that the sandwiches took so long because there was only one person, and each one had been made on the spot. While he was waiting, a little girl asked him, "Uncle, why are you buying so many sandwiches?" Duyen explained that he was very hungry. "But uncle," she said, "you're already fat." Little girls can be the scariest of creatures.

As I said, this turned out to be the best sandwich that I ever had. It was a crisp, fresh baguette with a flaky crust. On it was chicken, pork pate, and a sweet, pickled salad of shredded green papaya and carrots. There was a red chili pepper to liven it up. When you have an experience like this you know it. It was sensational. My soul left my body for a brief moment and came back again. At least, now I know why such an unlikely town would have so many people in it.