#40 Differences in how the public reacts to you when you speak Chinese, compared to other languages

Bonjour everybody! It’s been 10 months since I came to France and I’m glad to report that I’ve never had an unpleasant racist incident happen to me so far. I say “unpleasant” because I actually find the useless “nihaos” tolerable as long as the “gentlemen” saying it are more than 5 meters from me or when I’m with a friend/friends. I’ve heard stories of my Asian friends who started and had a pretty much decent conversation with these NIHAO hurlers in perfect French but I don’t think I’ll ever address them unless I was tipsy and feeling brave or extra chatty or something.

But yesterday at lunch, I was talking to my Chinese friends in Chinese in the break room while waiting to microwave our bentos. I know, it’s important to mix with the locals when you’re in that country to be really immersed in the culture yada yada but with B1.5 French and nobody to speak English with it’s nice to have a relaxed conversation in a language I’m comfortable with just during the break times. There were other French girls whom I’ve never seen on campus before in the break room with us.

I can’t remember what we were talking about but at one point our conversation turned funny and we started laughing (joke in Chinese but laughter in Universal language). And at this moment I turned for a moment to the side and caught one of the girl’s eyes and she raised her eyebrows in a condescending semi-eye rolling manner at me and quickly looked away.

Now, MAYBE she was rolling her eyes at something one of her friends said so I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt here, you red-headed (dyed) slightly chubby Caucasian girl in the break room. Or maybe you just had something in your eye, I don’t know.

But one thing I know, is that there is a general unspoken disapproval of this phenomenon of a bunch of Asian-looking people speaking Chinese in a Western country like France. I know it’s not as bad as the horror stories in the US where people tell you in your face to “SPEAK ENGLISH!!”. But one thing that pisses me off is that people don’t have the same problem when a group of Spanish-speaking people speak and laugh in loud Spanish, or loud Russian, or loud English, etc. but people always frown at the Chinese.

I know this because I’ve gone out with English-speaking friends, Japanese-speaking friends, and Chinese-speaking friends in France and the treatment we get in public places varies subtly. Nobody gives a fuck when you speak English. People generally seem intrigued when you speak Japanese. But with Chinese, it’s either ①the same with English where people don’t seem to give a fuck because there are plenty of Chinese in Grenoble, ②NIHAO! or ③Subtle eye-rolling.

I hope I’m just too self-conscious and thinking too much (most of the time, this is the case), but it is true that Chinese people don’t get a lot of respect when they go out in groups in a country that is not China. When I was in Taiwan on a family trip and speaking rather loudly in Cantonese on the train station platform for a total of 1 short minute, the Taiwanese family next to us gave us dagger stares because they assumed we were mainland Chinese. And of course, even Chinese Malaysians / Singaporeans / HKers / Taiwanese like to avoid from being identified as Chinese.

Why is this? Because once people assume you’re from China and you open your mouth to speak in your mother tongue and in most instances the only language you know, you would be the victims of all kinds of stereotypical and unfavourable generalisations against you no matter how nice a person you are or how impressive your life resume is. You’re just a “Chinese outsider who never tries to assimilate in the local culture and choose to stay with your other loud Chinese friends”. I had a classmate from Syria in my French class who, at our first meeting, downright told me and my Chinese friend in class, “You Chinese people like to stay together and not venture out to do anything else.” Granted, he could’ve been an extreme example because throughout the course of the French class we found out that he was just generally an abrasive and inconsiderate, extremely chatty person.

Another reason why I know people think this way? Because I catch myself thinking like that too. Nowadays much less, but yes, it’s still there. I’m always cautious with Chinese speaking people like the other day, a Chinese-speaking family I think from Malaysia/Singapore tried to cut my line at security at the airport and I told them in stern polite Chinese to queue up (although in the end because they were going to be late for their flight, the staff let them cut our queue of grumpy-looking people who have been waiting patiently for the past 20 minutes).

Anyway, I guess the purpose of this rant post is to encourage everyone including myself to get rid of generalisations against a certain race speaking a certain language and just give them a chance. I think Chinese-speaking Overseas Chinese people like me have a unique position (and responsibility?) to spread this love because we have experienced both sides of the coin: ①We’ve had bad experiences with Chinese speaking people and we put them down with other non-Chinese or non-Chinese speaking friends and ②We’ve been the victim of this stereotypical way of thinking and we hate being grouped as a Chinese especially when we are overseas.

And for people who ARE Chinese / speak Chinese including myself, I guess it’s also important to give the eye-rolling and NIHAO-screaming people a chance. I like to think that sometimes they are just curious, or just not exposed enough to different cultures in the world to have the tact to act otherwise.

 

#31 Provincial France = Real Life Harvest Moon

Harvest Moon is a highly successful farm-simulator game made by a Japanese game company called Natsume Inc and easily tops the list of my all-time favorite games, along  with The Sims. Actually, I played this game so much it was probably the reason my eyesight deteriorated and why I needed glasses when I was 11. Basically, the story is you inherit a farm and you gotta work the land to produce seasonal crops, attend to livestock, make money, court girls (yeah, lol), participate in festivals and life with the community, etc. Being a city girl from a tropical big city, everything about the cute towns and the farm with a barn and chicken coops and a vegetable patch with SEASONAL veges and of course, a forest with wood to chop and flowers and mushrooms to pick was almost like another world to me.

That is, until I came to France.

The chateaus here with their French gardens and the old forts remind me of Disneyland and other RPG games respectively, but I’m mostly going to focus on Harvest Moon for this post. I need to share my happiness about stepping into this real world that up until this year had been virtual to me.

The Town Halls

First up, the itsy bitsy teenie weenie mairies aka Municipality Halls!

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Here’s the town hall of Gieres, a tiny town next to the university campus with a population of 6,000 people in an area of 6km2. It’s a stone building with a brick roof complete with windows and shutters! Apparently there are community facilities like tennis courts and conference rooms managed by the city and you just come here to get permission if you want to use them, most of the time for free! Such socialism. That explains the high taxes I guess.

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The Grenoble agglomeration consists of 46 of such municipalities, each with their own governing body hence their own municipality hall. My “city” of Meylan has about 17,000 inhabitants over an area of about 12km2.

To understand my glee and why I think the French town halls look like the ones in the game, you gotta know what the city halls that I’m used to look like:

Selayang City Hall (Left) and Nerima Ward Office, Tokyo (Right)
Pfft such boring modern buildings!

The Town Squares

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Public square in the city center of St. Etienne

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Dining at a restaurant by the public square in a tiny town called Allemont

Almost all cities in France that I’ve visited, regardless of size, had squares like this for people to chill, sunbathe, or to people-watch. It’s a shame this doesn’t exist in Malaysia. In KL, most “public spaces” are owned by private developers / malls, anyway.

The Crops

As any fan of Harvest Moon would know, growing vegetables is the most essential part of earning your livelihood in the game. I still remember that you plant turnips, potatoes, and cabbages in spring, tomato & carrots & corn & & pineapples in the summer, and sweet potatoes & pumpkins in the winter. Super important lessons about botany right there, because in Malaysia we don’t HAVE seasons, you know? 😦

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And tada! Here’s a real life example ↓ In fact, I see plenty of them everywhere in the outskirts where people have enough land to own a little vegetable patch like this.

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And here’s a real apple tree in the rain!! With actual apples growing on them. They were laughing at me for taking pictures of such an “ordinary” tree but it’s frigging exotic for me lol. Strange I’d never seen one in Japan before, but I just never had the opportunity to go up north to Aoyama where all the juiciest Japanese apples come from.

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The Flowers

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“Aku sedang apa?” Haha random pic of the indonesian version of Harvest moon I found online.

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Here’s my post on picking wild flowers during my hikes in spring.

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Besides amassing flowers, I also hug them to pose for pictures.

The Farm Animals

Here’s my other post on animals in France.

Horses:

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This is a groovy horse with highlights on his mane.

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Dogs:

One of my favorite things about France is how much they love dogs. ❤ But as a downside, you see dog poop everywhere. :/

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This lil guy barked at us when we walked past his house but didn’t dare come near us.

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I think this lil guy is a shepherd dog trained to check out passers-by like us to make sure we are not a threat to his flock. All we had to do was look and act normal until he decides we’re harmless and runs away back to his flock.

Sheep:

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This was taken from the top of a mountain with a powerful zoom, but if you look closely, those are sheep resting and frolicking in the grass. Some are sheared and some not.

Chickens:

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And that’s all, folks!

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#30 My first 3 weeks at a French university

I started my Master’s course 3 weeks ago here in Grenoble. The first two weeks were pretty intense because 1. I’ve basically been bumming for the past three months with no serious commitments and 2. Apparently in France, they like to make the first weeks of uni relatively busy to prevent students from slacking.

Also I started with a weird system, the first two weeks were fully assigned to Graphisme (or graphics / drawing) and I handed in my dossier (a folder with about 8 types of drawing assignments) at the end of the 2 weeks. After that, I was done with this subject and didn’t have to come back to Graphisme again. It’s a bit strange to me because in Waseda, we had 1.5 hours or 3 hours of class every week for each subject from the start till the end of that semester, which I thought was the norm for most universities, but I guess not.

THE CLASSMATES:

  • French girls are all skinny. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder so I don’t wanna say they are all pretty objectively but to me holy shit most of them were all so above average. Lol check out my PC-ness. And yeah, no comment about the guys because we’re, I wanna say, 75% girls? And obachans like me no longer check out guys.
  • Speaking of the male:female ratio, many of my professors are women, too so that’s pretty refreshing to see. ALTHOUGH, all of them are white (and my class of 48 people are 80% white anyway). Well, when in Rome, Grenoble.
  • The same girl power is evident in the ratio of smokers. I wanna say at least 20% of the students smoke here. It’s their prerogative I guess, but sometimes it’s annoying to have to walk past a group of smokers just to get into my school building.

THE TEACHERS:

  • “Teachers” dress really casually. My photoshop professor was in shorts and a see through top, and another male professor was in a polo, shorts, and sneakers. Reminds me of my time teaching English in a Japanese primary school when I wore a slightly see through top with a camisole inside and comparatively short skirt and the headmaster told me to dress more decently in case I made the 11-12 year old kids “excited” -.- Apparently girls in high school in Japan MUST wear camisoles in case their bra straps / hooks are visible and “distracts” the male students. EYE ROLL

THE CULTURAL DIFFERENCES:

  • French classmates at AUTOCAD class were wondering why the decimal point on the software uses a PERIOD ( . ) instead of a comma ( , ) because they don’t realise it’s a universal thing. I.e. in France they write 99.9 as 99,9. And then I stumbled upon the list of countries using decimal commas instead of decimal points and I got a slap in my face because apparently more countries in the world use the decimal comma. But with China, India, and the USA on our side I can confidently say there’s more PEOPLE in the world who are more used to the decimal point.
  • Naked people in my professor’s slides. Naked people in the magazines we had to use to do our collage assignment. It’s not exactly a SUPER culture shock for me like すごい!!! (sugoi!!! or OMG awesome!!! ) but more like やっぱり (yappari, or “as expected, the French really do live up to their stereotypes”). Digression: This reminds me of my trip to Musee d’Orsay in Paris where I saw an explosive X-rated painting. It’s a realist painting by Gustave Courbet and totally NSFW so I’ve saved it for the very very bottom of this blog post. Check it out only when you’re sure no one can see your phone screen. After looking at the painting from up close and cheekily snapping a picture at the museum, I had to leave because I was joined by a Japanese old man who stood next to me and it quickly made me nervous.
  • It’s so weird to do the bise, or cheek-kisses every morning every day when you see friends for the first time. And it’s even weirder to do it with my ASIAN FRIENDS here. LIKE WTH HOW PHONY ARE WE?? STOP IT. (does it anyway, because I’m weak like that and when in Rome)

THE SUBJECT:

I’m still super super excited about being able to study urban planning again. Since last week we have been having lectures (2 frigging hours) and the workshops / practicals will finally kickoff next week. We’re going up north to Annemasse, a city right next to Geneva on the Swiss border for a field trip to the city hall!!! AND it’s going to be in ENGLISH!!! HALLELUJAH

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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L’origine du monde (“The Origin of the World”) by Gustave Courbet, 1866. Apparently when it was first revealed at a salon back in the day, they had to hide it behind a curtain and only sleazy rich men privy people were able to look at the painting.

 

 

#26 老夫子 Classic Comic Book Series from H.K.

I wonder how many of you who grew up in Chinese-speaking families in Malaysia know about 老夫子?

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老夫子 (Lao Fu Zhi) or aka Old Master Q is an old comic book series originating from Hong Kong. The comic strips portray the simple and often hilarious daily life of Lao Fu Zhi and his friends or sidekicks in Hong Kong during the 1960s – 1980s. Of course I didn’t know that when I was young but I just remember reading this comic book as I had them lying around my house. They were probably my siblings’ and most of the strips don’t have too many Chinese kanjis so it was easy for me to understand it by just looking at the pictures. It was good for my Chinese practice, too when I did try to decipher the kanjis one by one and guessed the meanings of the harder looking ones.

And I recently came across an old comic book (they are still publishing new ones, apparently! I wonder if they modernised the background and setting?) in the house and laughed out loud at some of them so I thought I’d like to share them with you here.

You can’t tell from the scanned pictures below but they are actually printed in those really thin brown paper that crinkles when they get wet so it has an even more retro feel to it irl.

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I especially like this because the dogs he draws look like my pet dog at home.

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As I understood from this interview with the artist on his official website, Lao Fu Zhi is actually man of traditional values caught in the era of modernisation in HK, hence the old-fashioned looking Chinese clothes (shortened for more hilarity) and hat whereas the rest of the people in the strip are usually in more modern and “trendy” clothes like bellbottoms hehe. When reading his comics, he always struck me as a righteous but rather foolish old man – old because he has almost no hair left on his head although there are some comic strips in which he courts young women with flowers.

So when my friends were reading Archie comics or Marvel (? I’m not sure lol) as a child I was actually more exposed to comics from Asia like this Lao Fu Zhi, Japanese manga, Doraemon, Crayon Shin Chan, etc. I can’t really name any Malay comics off the top of my head, but I do remember reading “It’s a Durian Life” on the newspaper. These were always so funny because they were true.

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Don’t they just make you chuckle? I wonder if they still exist.