samedi 18 décembre 2010

The Snow, Christmas, and random thoughts

I'm off on holidays as of tomorrow! Fingers crossed the snow doesn't foil my plans. I'll be travelling around parts of Germany and France and am very excited. I'll also be going to Paris for my third time :)

The Snow still continues to fascinate me. Thursday night (16 December) had the biggest snowfall since the start of the month. It's been so cold here that the snow from the last big snowfall hadn't even completely melted yet! (I didn't see any snow in Lyon last weekend but there are still bits and pieces here). One time I looked out the window and just stared and stared until I was lost in my thoughts (about the snow!)... I love how it glistens in the light as if it were made of crystals. I laugh inside my head when I look up at the sky and think that the snowflakes look like dandruff flakes. Well, heck, they were both white and unevenly shaped and sized! Haha. It's just such a magical and wonderful thing for me to see but I appreciate that it causes huge amounts of havoc for people who have to do any kind of travel anywhere (ie everybody) on roads, on trains, or on planes. :( Worst is when people are stranded in below freezing temperatures... It's all too sad.

One of my friends just posted this shocking (but sort of funny) video:

Christmas... I've been quite ambivalent about Christmas for many years now. I generally feel that Christmas is only fun if you're a child or you have children. Since it's been many years or will be many years before either of those things will happen to me... well...

Also, my family are not Christians so we don't ever have a 'proper' Christmas and being in Australia, all our Christmases are in summer so.... Also I feel that in Australia it's just all about the presents. All about stressing about shopping for presents and people getting upset because there are no car spaces in the carparks etc etc. Stupid petty little things... all for what? To buy presents?! ARGH.

Christmas 2006 was the last Christmas that I had a long term partner to celebrate with. I can't help but feel sad and lonely that this is my 4th Christmas without someone special to spend Christmas with :(  This is a confession that I long for my own home, my own big kitchen (to bake Christmas goodies), a loving and supportive partner (and stable relationship) and kids! It seems like almost everyone I know has those things (or at least one of those things) and like a carrot danging in front of an animal, those things never seem to be within my reach. *sigh* One day...

Since I spend a lot of time by myself I tend to think a lot. I have noticed that those who write the most statuses on Facebook are people who are single and/or are living by themselves (or work alone at home) or are young stay-at-home parents. It makes sense because these are the people who have no adult conversation! I think most people take having someone to talk to when you get home from work for granted. But like anything in life, you take everything for granted until you lose it.

I find myself comparing myself to my friends a lot. Not in a competition sense, but just for interest's sake. I have friends who had kids at a very very young age and I have friends who are older than me and still single... so we're all at different stages of life but I do get a sense that those of us without long term relationships and kids somewhat feel left out. Or maybe not.

I find it hard to be around couples as I hate being 'the third wheel' and I admit I feel some jealousy (not in a nasty way but just in a sad, wistful way) when I see them being lovey dovey towards one another or doing really simple things like holding each others' belongings while the other goes to the toilet. In fact, when I was with my mother's or sister's partner and they offered to these simple things for me I was very humbled, shocked and thankful. I was/am just sooooooo used to doing everything myself!

But what is it with couples anyway? Once your friend gets herself a boyfriend you never see nor hear from her again. Usually the only people who call me up to do something with me are single people... I do have a few friends in long-term relationships who still go out and do stuff but the majority of couples I know seem to just stay at home every night and every weekend (with the tv and/or pet for entertainment). It's as if once you find a partner you don't need a social life anymore... Of course I'm talking about those without children yet as I realise that once you have kids your free time goes out the window (well yay for me in that respect because I have all the me-me-me time in the world right now and I do cherish it because one day that'll end for sure ;) )

Although I shouldn't really criticize or judge as I used to be EXACTLY like this. In my younger years. But I have learnt my lesson. You need to continue to socialise and make contacts, if not for making friends but for connections for work and for anything. You never know when you'll need help from other people and you can't rely on your partner or your family 100% of the time.

Another topic that is constantly on my mind is city living vs suburban/small town living.

• I'm a big city girl. I've always been one, always will.
• First, I want clarify... in Australia we have very few cities and they are all biggish. Then within each city we have hundreds and hundreds of suburbs.
• In France they have a different 'system' where you have thousands and thousands of little cities dotted throughout the whole country.
• So even if you live in a small town you only need to drive 10-30 minutes and you'll be in another bigger town. But if you were in Australia you'd be in the SAME town the whole time. Hope that makes sense?

I live in a town of around 10,000 people which is TINY to me, but it's decent-sized for France. In fact, after having visited various towns of various population sizes my idea of what is 'big' or 'small' has shifted dramatically. I now consider pop. 50,000 a medium sized town and pop. 100,000 a large town. I say this because in a town of  50,000 you can find most things you need but not all and 100,000 you can pretty much find anything you need and the train station is a decent size with many lines/connections.

Now I'll back to my life in Sydney. I grew up in the suburbs (like 99.9% of people in Sydney). It must be every parents' dream to buy a big house with big backyard for their kids in a nice, safe, suburb. I say this from experience with people that I know... Also with the huge immigrant population in Sydney I think that for them, having a large piece of land is almost impossible in their crowded home countries so it's the ultimate goal to have a big house/piece of land.

I grew up in a very nice suburb. It is very safe and full of friendly, helpful people. 10 minutes to the beach, 10 minutes to other bigger suburbs and 25 minutes to the CBD (central business district). It is very 'leafy' as they call it, full of trees and nature.

However, around my teenage years I got very very frustrated because I was forced to rely on the bus system to get anywhere (that made me get my driver's licence quick smart)..

Then it got far worse in my university years. The city is only 25 minutes away by car, but by bus in peak hour, it often took about 1.5 hours!!! I hated the commute. It was a nightmare as people who lived much further away got there quicker than me (because they had the train and I didn't). I had absolutely zero social life during my university years because of the bus that stopped running at about 7pm and only went to/from the city once an hour during weekends. Driving was not even considered as parking is hideously expensive.

I hated living in the suburbs then. Absolutely hated it. I dreamed of living in the city but I didn't make enough money from my part-time retail job to do so (rent in Sydney is amazingly expensive - so expensive it's calculated weekly and not monthly to not give people heart attacks ;) ).

I eventually got a car in 2001, started a relationship in the beginning of 2003 and moved out of home to live with my then-boyfriend in the beginning of 2006 and my life changed forever from then on...

A year later we both moved to Shanghai. 'A big change' is an understatement. I admit I didn't want to go at first. I had been there before (for a 1 week holiday) and couldn't imagine living there...

But it was living there that shifted my perspective on life and the world forever. I knew myself a lot better, and I changed my views on so many things in life... for the better I believe (and hope).

I was fascinated by how people could work so hard, live in such squalor and yet never complain. All these poor people living and working amongst those earning literally 10-100x more than they do.

Every time I have a 'hard' moment I think back and say to myself to get a grip and stop whinging. I have had such an easy, comfortable life that I took everything for granted. It wasn't till I saw how others lived that I finally began to appreciate all that my parents gave me. The fact that they were always telling me, "When I was your age, I had nothing... When I was your age, we didn't have cars, we had to walk 5km to go to school... we never had a washing machine... I only got one pair of shoes a year... I remember the first time I tried chocolate I savoured it as it was such a rare treat..." etc etc. I have to admit none of that meant anything to me till I saw it all with my own eyes and was old and mature enough to understand it.

Living in Shanghai almost made me realise just how much I LOVEd living in a big city. Although I'd always lived in a big city (Sydney) I never really lived IN the city. I just loved how the public transport was so good and it's walkable everywhere, I really appreciated everything the city had to offer and I didn't miss having a car at all because I never needed one! Taxis were also cheap and plentiful.

When I came back to Sydney a year later (after having broken up with my then-partner) I missed Shanghai dreadfully. I moved to another suburb in Sydney but this more like a city it's so big. I loved my suburb/city to death! It was so easy having everything I could possibly need within 10 minutes walking distance. There were also events and festivals. There was the bus, train and ferry. One of the biggest shopping malls in Sydney. A huge park. Sites of interest and more!

From living in those 2 places I made a mental checklist of my ideal city:

• pop. 100,000+
• excellent public transport infrastructure (both within the city and to other cities)
• easily walkable
• big park
• water feature (river, lake, beach, etc) and nature
• decent variety of shops and supermarkets
• decent variety of restaurants with cuisines from around the world
• puts on events, festivals and street parades

If I have all those things I'm as happy as a clam! Unfortunately the city I live in now doesn't fit all the criteria but most of them. My main gripe with my city is that there's not a lot of shops so I'm forced to do most of my shopping online (I mean for clothes and household items that are not common/everyday things). There is a beautiful river which I bushwalked around 4 times when I first arrived (it's too cold now) and the autumn leaves colours were so beautiful. I miss the lack of a big park though. There seems to be some sort of big city park and carousel in all the French towns I've seen over a certain size.

Now, this is one thing which really shits me about people who choose to live in suburbs/smaller towns. They like their peace and quiet and space but still need to go to the city to buy supplies so this crowds the city up with loads and loads of cars. I was shocked at the hideous traffic jams I saw on a Sunday morning (!!) in Lyon last weekend. The people who live in the city walk or take public transport everywhere and they must get the shits at all the cars. I know I would. In fact, I LOVE the rues piétonnes (pedestrian-only roads). I get sick to death of seeing cars when I'm in a walkable city. Every time I am exploring a new city I wish ALL the roads in the inner city were rues pietons! And I wish every city on earth was walkable!!

(related post)

Those were some random thoughts I wanted to get off my chest so there they are!


(pictures from here and here)

vendredi 17 décembre 2010

Memorable blog posts about Life in France

When I first started to become interested in France (around the time that I started this blog) I started to read a lot of blogs about life in France because I wanted to know what it was really like! And not just in Paris!

There are some posts that I remember quite well and ever since moving here I think about these topics a lot...

1. Prêt à voyager and the water blogpost

It's true! French people don't seem to drink very much and they NEVER EVER carry water with them (unless, of course, they are hiking or on a long train journey or something). I tried to find a small 500ml (as opposed to 1 litre) thermos flask thing and it was impossible for me. I was going to buy it online but the pictures were not clear enough. In the end I bought it on eBay from the States!

I seem to be perpetually thirsty (and in Australia too, not just in France). I often notice when I am having dinner with other people I'll drink about 3-4 times as much water as they do. I'm not sure why that is. Many years ago I was even paranoid that I had diabetes or some other health problem but every blood test I've ever had has come back normal so now I don't really think about it.. that is, until I came to France!

I've often heard people say in various places and at various times, "j'ai soif" (I'm thirsty). It's as if they just don't think to ever carry water with/on them! It's as if you can only get water from a shop. I don't think people really drink tap water much either. Remember, this is the country where Evian and Perrier come from!

Also, in France and pretty much everywhere in Western Europe, interiors (houses, restaurants, schools, shopping malls, offices, etc) are heated very well so that makes your skin feel dry and your mouth feel thirsty (well it does to me anyway)... constantly! I don't know how much money I'm going to spend buying lip balm, facial moisturiser, hand moisturiser and body moisturiser. I've already had to replenish my supplies...

I don't go anywhere without carrying water with me. To me it's like carrying a purse or a phone. It's a necessity!

2. Le Franco Phoney and the roundabout blogposts

Ever since I started reading about French roundabouts (ronds-points) in this blog I noticed all the roundabouts I ever passed both in my town and others I travelled to/in. The vast majority of them are decorated with flowers, trees, plants or random statues and large outdoor ornaments. I saw one that had a large beach scene with sand, and a huge pail and shovel. I don't live in an interesting, big, or well-known town but one roundabout has a little bridge on it, another has a 3D light up model of an igloo and a penguin and another has a fountain with lots of flowers (which has now been replaced by a 3D light up model of Santa's sleigh and his reindeer).

It's so cool seeing the 'art' on these roundabouts as I would never see such a thing like that in Australia. It's just a concrete (sometimes tiled) thing, I think. Or maybe I just notice everything more here since it's all new and different (and special) to me...

One of my French friends told me that a few (?) years ago the government decided to replace large intersections (which had traffic lights) with roundabouts which means during non-peak times you can drive through without having to wait for lights to change.

There may be other blogposts too but I can't remember them off the top of my head now... Suffice to say that with all my "pre-knowledge" about life in France I can't help but compare my own findings to that of other expats and chuckle...

jeudi 16 décembre 2010

The Journey Part IV

The Journey Part I

The Journey Part II

The Journey Part III

I'm so behind in my 'story' now that I can barely even remember anything in detail from way back then...

So with my illness and the terrible weather (lots of rain) and it nearing peak hour, I caught a taxi and high-tailed it to the airport - FIVE hours before my flight was due to depart. It wasn't even on the board yet! Yes, five hours is a record for me but surprisingly I didn't once get bored or run out of things to do.

I sent off some postcards to my family and even looked up on the internet in advance that I'd have to got to a particular terminal and then change to another to catch my flight. I took my sweet time with everything like I was a sloth...

At first they wouldn't even let me into the customs area saying my flight was too far away (timewise)! grrrr...

Well as everybody knows, Singapore Changi is one of the best airports in the world so I had more than enough to keep me occupied. They had lots of games and promotions on and if you spend $x you get a ticket which may win you a prize. All I won was $5 off the next purchase which was crap. They said you could swap this for a prize if you punched a punching bag or something strenuous and sporty and won which, given my delicate state of health, would have been impossible so I just put on my best puppy dog face/eyes and asked if I could have the prize instead of the $5 voucher (without playing the game) and they said yes! I could choose between a toiletry bag or a shoe bag. Since I already have the former I chose the shoe bag. Good for separating your dirty shoes from the rest of your clothing!

I had lots of fun walking around REALLY slowly and... I had to go to the chemist as I started feeling worse at one point and I also needed to (still) go to the toilet very very often so it was a pain but I just tried to make the best of the situation.

I will say this though, being sick AND alone AND in a foreign country miles away from anyone you know is one of the WORST feelings in the whole world. I think I actually cried at one point because I felt so terrible both physically and emotionally.

Thank God those antibiotics kicked in and I got rid of that stupid gastro bug.

I'll leave out the boring details about part where I then arrived in KL and tried to do a little bit of sightseeing and shopping and nearly killed myself doing so... I gave myself asthma-type symptoms because the air was so polluted and I ended up in a shopping mall full of smokers. Then I was back at the airport AGAIN.

At Kuala Lumpur airport I met the nicest young Parisian couple. It all started because I started panicking that I had too much hand luggage. The sign said you could only have one and I asked the couple behind me in the queue if they could say one of my bags was theirs, just for the check-in part, but they told me they already each had a bag. They said not to worry so I tried not to stress (and luckily noone said anything when I checked in!) but anyway we got talking...

I told them what I was doing... and that is, I am going to France to teach English. I am flying to Paris (like they are) and then catching a train to my little town in the middle of nowhere.

On the plane I had my first taste of French politeness. The majority of people on the plane were French and they were just sooooooo polite. At one point I needed to get out to go to the toilet but the man next to me was asleep. I could climb over him (via the armrests - it's a move I have perfected from many many years of airplane travel and always taking the window seat, and quite often flying alone) but I had nowhere to put my tray full of food!

The girl sitting in the seat on the other side of the aisle saw me and offered (using just body language) that she could take my tray for me so that I could get out. Not only did she take my tray off me (I thought temporarily), she actually brought it to the kitchen for me!

It was only until the end of the flight that I started talking to the guy next to me. He was Chinese and since I speak Chinese I spoke to him in Chinese (prior to that I spoke to him in English) and then he started opening up to me (as opposed to reading or sleeping) and we talked a lot about our lives. He said he's staying with a friend who lives in Paris and even gave me his number in case I wanted to visit his friend!

The flight was 13 hours long but seemed to pass rather quickly. I actually fell asleep for the entire first half which was a miracle. Of course I woke up frequently (or they woke me up for meals) but still, that's pretty good. I really needed the rest.

There was a big high school group (from Australia in a town not far from Sydney) on a tour (for sport) and they were rather loud but apart from that the flight was pretty good. Usually I have to put up with a bratty kid kicking the back of my chair or getting no sleep whatsoever because people can't shut up (when everyone else is asleep too) but nup, nothing super bad that I can even remember...

All sorts of wonderful and amazing things happened on that flight.

After I got off the plane I had the guy who sat next to me offering to get my huge suitcase off the carousel for me and even push it out into the arrivals area. I had the young French couple ask if I was alright getting to the city.

Everyone was just wonderful to me but then, after I caught my Air France bus to Gare de Lyon I was dumped on the footpath and I was alone. I felt kind of exhilarated yet scared at the same time.

I was, finally, IN FRANCE!

... to be continued ...

The Journey Part V

mercredi 15 décembre 2010

Christmas / Noël

Christmas is a time of giving, no? I sent off a big batch of letters/Christmas cards, photos and small gifts to some of my family and friends back home in Australia as well as around France and I felt so excited and happy. To be honest I don't even care if I don't receive anything in return (because I have nowhere to put it hahaha. I'm kidding.). Seriously, I can imagine the look of surprise on their faces and that's enough for me.

I can't afford a great deal (and heck, the postage usually costs more than the gift!) but it's the thought that counts right? And even if it was a pain queuing up in the LONG queue at the post office (twice!) it was totally worth it to me :D

Noël, c'est le temps de donner, non ? Je viens d'envoyer beaucoup de letters/cartes de Noël, des photos et des petits cadeaux à ma famille et aux mes amis en Australie et autour de la France et je me sentais très heureuse. Franchement, je m'en fiche si je ne recevrai rien (parce que je n'ai pas assez d'espace pour les placer.. je plaisante ;) ) Sérieusement, je peux imaginer le regard de surprise sur leurs visages et ca, ça suffit pour moi.

Je n'ai pas les moyens d'acheter pas cher.. (et le livraison coûte plus cher que le cadeau!) mais c'est l'intention qui compte, n'est-ce pas ? Même si c'était ennuyeux de faire une longue queue dans la poste (deux fois!) ça vaut la peine.

This will be one of the rare Christmases that I don't spend in Australia with my family and friends :( so it will be a little bit sad but I will be with new friends so I'm looking forward to it... and some lovely home-cooked French food! :) 

All that snow and all those Christmas decorations has put me in somewhat of a Pollyanna mood and I like it! It's so unlike me! I just feel happy and giddy all the time. It's kind of crazy. The locals don't even like their town and I love it! Everything is beautiful to me... Every little thing intrigues and surprises me and everything is just beautiful because... it's Christmas and I get to experience a REAL Christmas, in winter, with real Christmas trees, and real snow and soon... skiing!

Merry Christmas / Joyeux Noël to all my readers. Stay safe and happy and I hope that you will have some special and memorable moments with your loved ones.


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