samedi 8 janvier 2011

Facebook Fan Page

I want to share with you some of the billions of photos of taken. However this interface with Blogger is way too slow and frustrating to use (and part of the reason why I haven't uploaded many photos yet). So I decided to make a Facebook Fanpage for the main purpose of dumping my photos in there. It'll be so much easier than uploading them through the interface here (which resizes the photos too - and I don't like that!).

If you happen to like any of my posts, please consider being a Fan either on my Facebook page or just through Google.  Links to both are in the right hand column.

Thanks! :D

Posts to come: my review of macarons in Paris, and my experiences with Couch Surfing thus far.

(image from here).

vendredi 7 janvier 2011

Random thoughts about life and travelling/holidays

Some rambling thoughts in my head... (or maybe a rant)...

Every now and then I read old posts I write (afterall, this is my diary) and it's funny how your thoughts change as circumstances change and you get older.

I was reading this post written almost a year ago. I was feeling really frustrated and annoyed that I couldn't travel anywhere and all I ever saw on Facebook were friend's travel photos.

And now, here I am and it's basically the opposite situation! I travel all the time and post heaps of photos and it seems that everyone else is doing no or very little travelling.

Considering what I wrote back in January 2010, I feel a bit bad that I may be upsetting some people by 'bombarding' them with photos of all my trips. But what's a girl to do? I'm not doing it to show off, I've always liked sharing my photos. Years before Facebook existed and even before blogs existed, I had my own website where I'd upload stuff, and then I'd also email family members and close friends photos from major events in my life. Facebook just made it all the more easier to do what I've always done.

The strange thing is.. (well it's strange to me!) is that I've been told by so many friends that they are jealous of me. I'm not sure if it's the truth or they are just saying it to be flattering. I think it's that constant 'grass is greener' feeling. They probably envy aspects of my life, yet they don't know that I envy aspects of theirs!

Sure it's great to travel all the time (I travel on average every second week and I have school holidays every second month for at least 2 weeks at a time) but it's not all fun and games.

I often think that going to another country is like a relationship. What do I mean by this?

At the start of a romantic relationship, you're in complete awe of this person and oblivious to all their faults but as as time goes on and you get to know them better, you see them 'warts and all'. After many many years maybe their faults may overtake their good points and they start to annoy you more and more... and then eventually you break up (of course I'm just simplifying the story, most relationships are very complicated).

Given this is my second stint as an expat I believe it's very similar. When you first go to a new place you're in complete awe. You're in that 'honeymoon' period. When people go on holidays it's usually only for a short period so they are always in that 'honeymoon' period. They never reach the next stage.

I think I may be at that next stage or maybe I'm just sick of winter, I don't know! (actually it's probably just post-holiday blues). But I do feel a bit of the lustre has worn off and little by little I start to see more and more flaws. I think it's being in a small town that gets me down the most and being trapped without a car that really annoys me. The things I mentioned before still annoy me too.

It's really hard to live in a 9 square metre room after having my own nice 2 bedroom flat and living in walkable suburb in Sydney. It's really hard to deal with shop closing hours.

On Monday I went to the laundromat (exciting, yes, I know!) I actually wanted to go Friday but silly me, procrastinated and it never happened. Then Saturday was 1 January which was a public holiday, then everything is closed on Sundays so I had to wait until Monday. Now, shops are not normally open on Mondays but this laundromat is... but only until 12:30pm! It's located in a small shopping centre and I wanted to buy something to eat. Could I do this? No!

The worst is I don't actually live in town and it's about a 20 minute walk there and a 30 minute walk back (because it's all uphill). I usually catch the bus because I'm lazy and because I don't really feel like walking uphill 30 minutes carrying groceries when it's -4°. The bus only comes about once an hour. I try to save money by eating in the school canteen which is open from 12-1:30pm. I usually finish my morning classes at 11am, and then have class in the afternoon anytime starting at 1:30pm to 4:30pm.

I've become extremely good at timekeeping. I have to be! If finish class at 11, I catch the next bus and it gets there a few minutes later. But then I only have until 12 to finish everything I need to do which isn't that long since not everything is located next door to one another. If I don't get it all done before 12 (when they close) then I've got to wait until 2pm or 2:30 for them to open again. And if I have a class at 1:30 I can't wait at all. THIS IS BEYOND FRUSTRATING! If I miss the bus I also have to wait around for the next one.

I have to make sure I catch the bus back in time to have and finish lunch (usually around 45 minutes).

Something else really screwed up happened too. I have to buy an abonnement ('subscription') every month for the bus. No problem. I wanted to buy January's in mid December and they told me I couldn't! I could only do it during the last week of December. But I said I was going on school holidays and wouldn't be here. So what happened? When I wanted to use the bus this week I had to pay for it. That is ironic, that I needed to use the bus to go into town to buy an abonnement to use the bus.

It's not all negative though! All the bus drivers know me. The first one I encountered didn't even ask to see my bus pass. The second one asked to see it and told me I needed January's card and not December's and let me off but then the next time he said I had to pay (which I didn't really mind since it was free (grace period) all throughout September and October).

There are good things about living in a small town. I think I mentioned before that my bank manager is lovely. I think we could be friends outside of work but the thing is he lives in another town about 40km away so we'd never get to meet up. He even wanted to take English lessons with me but we can't make it fit our schedules :(  For the first time the other day, he was busy so I couldn't see him and saw another person. I somehow screwed up my login to my internet banking after 3 tries and needed to reset my password since I was now blocked out of my account. I told the lady at the desk and she asked me my name and gave me my new login details. Note: She did not ask me for any sort of ID! I know it's kind of bad... but I guess that's the trust that goes on in a small town!

In most of the towns I've visited I've found the locals lovely. Not so in Paris! (although I'll save my comments for my Paris post later).

I know this post is rather negative but I still love living in France and still want to stay here for quite a while yet! I feel like it's a beast I have to tame.

Anyway, I will end this post by posting this pic, The Holstee Manifesto. I like every quote on it. Especially this one (in bold):

I think for me, you won't truly know yourself until you travel ALONE. I've definitely learnt so much about myself since doing everything alone. I guess I'm still a bit lost and will eventually find myself one day  :)

This is your life. Do what you love, and do it often.

If you don't like something, change it. If you don't like your job, quit. If you dont have enough time, stop watching TV.

If you are looking for the love of your life, stop; they will be waiting for you when you start doing things you love.

Stop over analyzing, life is simple. All emotions are beautiful. When you eat, appreciate every last bite.

Open your mind, arms, and heart to new things and people, we are united in our differences. Ask the next person you see what their passion is, and share your inspiring dream with them.

Travel Often. Getting lost will help you find yourself. Some opportunities only come once, seize them.

Life is about the people you meet, and the things you create with them, so go out and start creating.

Life is short. Live your dream, and wear your passion.

There's a flood in Australia...

This is painfully embarrassing to admit but the French people around me seem to know more about what's happening in Australia than I do!

I like watching the news on TV but since I don't have a TV it's a little bit difficult to do that...

I generally read all my news online and to be honest I tend to skip a lot of it. All it does is depress or annoy me so I don't bother reading about the murders and disasters (or stupid, idiotic stories about celebrities or freaks) etc. Basically if it doesn't or won't affect me, I don't read too much about it. I may skim read it, but that' s all. It may seem selfish or immature or ignorant but bleurgh. People love to read and talk about bad news. When was the last time you read a piece of news that was good?

So a few people have mentioned to me something about a flood in Australia and I had no idea what they were talking about! I just put a look of 'oh dear' on my face and say, 'Oui, c'est ça' then put on a sad face. I mean... I am 15,000km away and the place where the floods are (Queensland) is over 1,000km away from Sydney. Just because I am from Australia doesn't mean I know any more than they do. Doesn't mean I'm an expert on all topics and current affairs to do with Australia!

I know they are just being nice by trying to make conversation with me... but... all I want to say is... Mother Nature is very angry with us and it seems like there are more and more natural disasters all over the world with each passing year. It's a byproduct of the way we've been treating Earth. Unless we take action I think more of these natural disasters will take place. May sound pessimistic but it's the unfortunate reality, I think :( I am truly sad sorry for the people who have been left homeless though (or even worse, died). I don't want to make it sound like I don't care. But my opinion is that people should try to help where possible, instead of just talking about it. I often feel that people read the news simply so that they can have something to talk about whilst standing by the office water cooler or photocopier.

On a slightly different note, check out this Google video about the events in the year 2010:

(image from here)

jeudi 6 janvier 2011

Posts coming up

I have a really good mammoth post about Paris (actually 2!) that is in the works... stay tuned!

mercredi 5 janvier 2011

The Journey Part VII

The Journey Part I

The Journey Part II

The Journey Part III

The Journey Part IV

The Journey Part V

The Journey Part VI

Ok, here's the last and final part of my story of how I arrived in France. NB: It was not my intention to drag it out for so long but I just happened to put off writing about it so it was just easier for me to write it in bits whenever I got the chance and felt like it (and perhaps easier to read too as I'm sure you don't want to read 5034839 words all at once ;) )

I'm kind of dying to finish it too so I can on with my other... er... backlogged diary entry type posts. ;)

I distinctly remember on the train there were people of a certain ethnic background who had 2-3 times as much luggage as everyone else. I already struggled with mine, I had no idea how they managed theirs (oh that's right, they had to use those trolleys you get at the airport!). They seemed really really paranoid about their baggage and people stealing their stuff yet the French people didn't really seem to care. They also kept walking up and down the aisles as if they couldn't sit still and this just annoyed me. After a fairly blissful plane journey where people remain in their seats (except to go to the toilet or occasionally stretch their legs) and where it's reasonably quite all that noise and commotion was driving me up the wall when I just wanted some peace and quiet! I had no idea why but that train was totally packed as well. It wasn't school holidays either. Plus there wasn't enough space for everyone's luggage so it was blocking all the doorways. If it weren't for the gorgeous view out the window I would've gone a bit nuts.

... So, these are some photos I took on the train down from Paris. I was so glad to arrive at my destination several hours later but a bit sad to say goodbye to Paris.

My hosts (a couple around my age) picked me up from the station and drove me to their town and their place about 10 minutes away. I was immediately awe-struck by the mountain vistas. My town and area is surrounded by mountains everywhere you look and for a newbie like me it was simply breathtaking. I kept wanting to take photos (when you're in a moving car it doesn't work out so well, especially since it was almost dark too).

They had recently bought a house together and wanted to knock some walls down and renovate it and do it up (like everyone seems to do these days). I had a nice homemade dinner with them and then zonked off to bed at around 8pm (where it was now about 2am in Malaysia/Singapore and I was exhausted and extremely jetlagged). Actually, my body now had no idea what time it was!

The next day I awoke to sunny skies and a typical French breakfast consisting of baguettes, muesli, yoghurt, milk and coffee/tea.

Despite the fact it was sunny, the air was rather cold for this time of year and they told me that the day before I came it was about 25° but now it was about 15° (and felt like much less).

We walked around their tiny town of only a few hundred people and then we took the car and they drove me up a mountain where there were sweeping views over the whole area. I was amazed and awestruck. I never see such things in Australia. I live in the city and if I go to the countryside there aren't really any mountains. In fact, Australia is the world's flattest continent.

They told me that the tap water is good to drink because the water is sourced from the mountains. I tend to drink tap water generally anyway (hey I'm cheap sometimes) unless I'm in a dodgy country with "non potable" water (like seriously, who ever uses that word, potable? "I'm just going to get some water from the tap, darling... oh wait, sorry, it's non-potable!") I should note that it's a French word that somehow made it's way into the English vocabulary and I only ever see this word when I am travelling - on planes, trains, and in hotels, etc.

The couple laughed when I told them I thought the weather was really cold and they had to lend me a scarf because I didn't bring any. It was the wind that made it feel really cold. (I would be in for a rude shock later when I get to experience -10° or -15°C weather!)

We saw some beautiful horses on a farm (and tried to lure them over with 'food' ie grass but they did not come over).

We walked around some more and I really felt like I had stepped back into another time. Like instead of a normal flight I'd been in a time machine. Well given the state of my jetlaggedness I really felt like I had been in one!

I was told that many houses still use firewood to heat their house (and water), including them. Check out this monster stash in someone's garage!

On this same house I also noticed these beautiful creeping vines (that I later found out were called vigne vierge (in English: the very technical sounding name of Virginia creeper)). Throughout the next 6 weeks or so I'd start to see these fascinating and beautiful things everywhere (with autumn colours) crawling over houses and walls.

Then we went to an old church which has now been turned into a hotel! We couldn't go inside because it was only for guests. There was a gorgeous huge garden surrounding the church/hotel... It actually looks like it could be summer or spring in this bottom photo because the leaves hadn't changed colour here yet.

They showed me these chestnuts (marron) and all along I've become increasingly aware of the fact that most French people seem to have a very good knowledge of geography and nature and stuff. I wonder if it's because they are more in tune with the land because of the changing seasons. In Australia we don't have much difference between all the seasons (at least not visually) and most French people know the difference between all the features of geography and in French there are words we don't have like fleuve (which is a what a river goes into before it goes into the ocean, ie it's a big river like the Seine or the Rhône). All along I'd meet more French people and they seem to have a fascination with showing me different kinds of nuts and plants and stuff that we encounter... So in turn, I became fascinated with this stuff too!

The second nut they found and showed me were walnuts (noix, which is also the same word for just 'nut')

After that we went back and had a nice homemade lunch on their verandah because it was still nice and sunny outside. It was delicious.

The next day, we had to get up early to get to school. I would be starting my new job as an English language teaching assistant in a high school (lycée).

With everything I'd gone through and done I was totally and utterly exhausted and jetlagged and thought I was coming down with a cold so I asked if they could find me a doctor to see. They kindly found me one right near the school where I'd be working and took me there early the next day. It was really cold I remember and suddenly I was aware that I was alone again in a foreign country where they don't speak English!

I actually felt like a little kid about to start kindergarten who didn't want to go and just wanted to stay at home with mummy. I know it was kind of irrational but I admit I was scared. It finally hit me that I was here in France, alone, and I had to do everything by myself from now on.  My friend (the guy) sensed something was wrong when I just stood outside the main door and froze and he came into the building with me, showed me the lift, pressed the lift button, and told me to go to a certain floor. Well I felt a bit better after that...

In the waiting room there were tonnes and tonnes of the latest gossip magazines. Yes you heard right, the latest magazines. Not from 3 or 5 years ago like I've seen in some doctor's waiting rooms in Sydney.

...Then, I had to explain to the GP what my symptoms were all in French! Gah! I felt totally inadequate and tongue-tied with the vocabulary of a 5 year old. I had to become a thesaurus and use other words (words I knew) to describe the ones I didn't know!

Anyway he gave me a prescription (for 3 different things) and sent me on my merry way. From memory it cost about 22 euros for the consultation (which I can claim back most of later).

In actual fact, I later realised, I didn't even have a cold or anything at all. I was simply exhausted (and all my symptoms just stemmed from that) and just needed to sleep for a very long time. However, I couldn't because I had a million and one things to do to get started for my new job.

I found the school alright. It's not hard to miss it's so big. However I had no idea where to go. There were so many buildings and it had been years since I was at high school. I just wandered in and ended up in the infirmerie (the sick bay/sick room) and they told me to go to the end of the corridor, out the door and into the next building.

I remember a lot of walking around aimlessly, getting lost and feeling inadequate about my poor level of French. Eventually I found my tuteur (the person who was supposed to be looking after me and is also an English teacher at this school) and he told me where to go to do such and such but after a while he left and I was left alone again. Every time this happened I felt helpless and needy and wanted to scream, "Nooooo don't leave me alone! Please!" At least I had the keys to my room (and soon to be new 'house')!

After travelling out of a suitcase for so long I was DYING to get settled and have everything arranged and have my clothes hanging in a wardrobe for a change. I had to find my friend (the host) again. It was a complete and utter coincidence that he was also a teacher at this school (I just found him randomly on Couchsurfing remember?). I had to find him because all my stuff was still in his car but I had to wait till lunch time. Right after he finished lunch he took me to his car where I retrieved my stuff and brought it to my new room in the school dorm (chambre à l'internat).  I know, I know, it sounds worse than it actually is. I actually have a teacher's room and not a student's room which means I'm on a different floor to the students, I get my own bathroom and I don't have any rules about guests/visitors or curfews or anything like that! The downside is that there is no common area to mingle, sit, chat, watch tv etc and there is no kitchen! (that's for another blog post another time).

So basically over the entire week I was just doing administrative stuff (the French are s-l-o-w at this I've learnt) and trying to find people and find where to go!

I soon meet and become friends with some of the AED (Assistants d'Education) (who are basically admin staff that the students go to when they need help with something). They are all in their mid-20s to mid-30s and most of them are former students of the school. Some of them are also surveillants (who are basically the counsellors of the dorm students at night). I eat dinner with them every night Mon-Thur.

So, to recap, I applied for the English Assistant position (which I recently found out JK Rowling also did) way back in November last year, then found out in May I was accepted (but didn't receive the paperwork until much later), got my work visa late July and I arrived in late September and here I am (still), 3 months later!

I teach seconde (Year 10), première (Year 11) and terminale (Year 12) and BTS (Brevet de technicien supérieur) (after high school, technical school sort of thing for those that don't go to university or work). Most classes I teach alone but there are a few where I 'assist' the other teachers. It's a pretty easy and fun job and I can't complain too much. My main complaints are admin, paperwork, and my timetabling issues which drive me up the wall. I don't get paid that much but I have more than enough to live on as I live and eat cheaply at the school. I do pay rent but no bills and I have free internet!

I live in the beautiful Alps area where I am surrounded by mountains (and currently also by snow). There are some things I will always love and some things I will always hate about France but more on that later! Surprisingly, I don't actually miss Australia all that much. I miss my family and friends of course. It's always the people I miss and not so much the place. Right now I would love to go and soak up the sun on a beach though!

Nut vocabulary for fun

nut             la noix
peanut        l'arachide (f),   la cacahuète (f)
almond      l'amande (f)
cashew      le cajou
chestnut     le marron  (also used to describe hair/eye colour)
la châtaigne  (hair colour)

hazelnut    la noisette (f)   (eye colour)

walnut        la noix (f)
pistachio    la pistache (f)
Brazil nut   la noix du Brésil
macadamia nut la noix de macadamia
pine nut       le pignon
coconut      la noix de coco (f)  (I know it's not really a nut!)

You can also read the end of my story and A Day in the Life of Me.

mardi 4 janvier 2011

Tu peux me tutoyer

When one learns a language one has to learn the culture as well...

One of the hardest things I've found when speaking French is to know when to call someone 'tu' and when to call someone 'vous'.

Vous is the formal/polite form and tu is the informal form. Vous is also used as a plural for addressing more than one person as 'you'. I've been told you use 'tu' for those people that you know well (friends, colleagues, etc), family members, your partner, children and animals. On the internet, however, especially if someone is around the same as as you, you use 'tu' almost immediately (well I do anyway and noone seemed offended by it!)

The act of 'tu'ing someone is called 'tutoyer' and the act of 'vous'-ing someone is called 'vousvoyer'. The title of this blog post means, "You can tutoyer me."

There are no hard and fast rules I've found as some people seem to call me 'tu' almost immediately yet some still call me 'vous' even though we've known each other for weeks, or months now! It's weird.

I remember borrowing French movie DVDs from the Alliance Française when I studied there and watching them, and noticing when they switched from the 'vous' form to the 'tu' form once the two strangers became friends. It's quite interesting!

Because English only has one word for 'you' (including the plural) I get in the habit of calling EVERYONE 'tu' which is kind of embarrassing and I often realise my mistake after I've said it, and quickly change to 'vous' which then changes the verb after (eg tu veux.. (you want to..) becomes vous voulez etc...) Oh là là !

I think it's one of those things I'll never 'get'!

Related post

(header image from here)

lundi 3 janvier 2011

Strange Maps Country stereotypes

This is one of the funniest and cleverest things I've seen in a long time. It's freakin' hee-lair-ee-ous!

I found it through that cool blog Strange maps.

Mapping Stereotypes. Go to the site to see them all! I particularly love how in the German one they've got "Ikea" for Sweden. Hahaha!!

dimanche 2 janvier 2011

You were there - Southern Sons

Do you ever have one of those moments when a random song from years ago just pops into your head? I just had that moment.. This is a song from an Australian band, Southern Sons and it's from way back in 1993.

Southern Sons - You Were There Lyrics:

I guess you've heard, I guess you know
In time I'd have told you, but I guess I'm too slow.
It's overly romantic but I know that it's real
I hope you don't you mind if I say what I feel.
It's like I'm in somebody else's dream,
This could not be happening to me.

But you were there, and you were
everything I'd never seen.
You woke me up from this long and endless sleep.
I was alone.
I opened my eyes and you were there.

Don't be alarmed, no don't be concerned.
I don't want to change things
leave them just as they were.
I mean nothing's really different
It's me who feel strange.
I'm always lost for words when
someone mentions your name.
I know that I'll get over this for sure
I'm not the type who dreams there could be more.

But you were there, and you were
everything I'd never seen.
You woke me up from this long and endless sleep.
And I was alone.
I opened my eyes and you were there.

Can I take your smile home with me,
or the magic in your hair?
The rain has stopped, the storm has passed
Look at all the colors now the sun's here at last.
I suppose that you'll be leaving but I want you to know
Part of you stays with me even after you go.
Like an actor playing someone else's scene
This could not be happening to me.

But you were there, and you were
everything I'd never seen.
You woke me up from this long and endless sleep.
I was alone.
I opened my eyes and no, no, I'm not alone, no, I'm not alone.
I opened my eyes and you were there.

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