#48 Reminiscing PB88: Marseilles (Port 13)

What is Peace Boat?

Bonjour! (Hello in French)

  • Date: 2015/10/8
  • Port Name: Marseilles
  • Country: France
  • First time there?: Surprisingly, no! I was there with Jas back in 2012 to catch a bus to Cassis!
  • What did I do?: FINALLY GET TO SEE LE BF FOR 6 HOURS

The day I get to see someone I was really looking forward to see had to be the shortest port day out of all port days. But it was still super worth it! We just spent the day having lunch and walking around at the Old Port, followed by a visit of the boat! It was a timely and much-needed emotional battery charging session for the remaining half of the trip.

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Next port: Barcelona!

#44 Dogs in France are so doggy

One thing that I absolutely LOVE about living in France and something that is hands-down better in France compared to Tokyo and KL, is the dogginess of the dogs here. Never have I seen this many varieties of dogs, and these are real dogs in their element, just casually walking in the streets, barking in the farms, swimming in the ponds, etc. French people really have got it right in the doggy aspect.

(But on the flip side, you get lots of dog poo on the streets.)

Here are symmetrical good boyes at a kampung called La Motte d’Aveillans one sunny Sunday. Here they are barking at us but we couldn’t hear them.

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A black burly dog coming over to us because we were feeding bread to the swans at Lake Annecy. So curious and such a good boye. Also look at the swans so majestic. But in fact they were rather greedy birds desperate for my piece of bread.

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This good boye’s name is, omg I dont remember but hes a dog of a friend. And here he doesn’t look too happy being held like a trophy.

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I cheated, this good boye was actually in Madrid playing with a balloon. But no dogs deserve to be left out.

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Saw this shiba-inu at campus when I was still just studying French. Ahhh the good old stressless days.

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Another picture from last year. I was experiencing the French culture firsthand by hanging out at a demonstration (they were protesting against the Loi de Travaille or Labour Law at that time). As you can see, demonstrations are kinda fun in France, you even bring your dogs along for a day out not working.

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Another cheating picture (lol). This was a tired down-to-earth looking terrier (?) listening to a tour guide talking about the church in Freiburg, Germany just two days ago.

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They can even bring dogs into theme parks! Here’s one at Europa Park.

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A farm dog somewhere near Montbrison trying to see if we were threats to his sheep!

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Here’s a guy walking his gorilla bear dog. Having a dog that’s bigger than you and being able to control them and walk them in front of other people in public is not that uncommon here. So jealous. Actually I’m just jealous of everyone who has a dog.

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And finally, my Malaysian good boye is also pretty cute himself. Just look at him.

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: P

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#42 Via Ferrata in Grenoble or how I may have conquered my fear of heights

After living here for one year, there’re still plenty of sporty things to discover in this city. Yesterday, I went to do a Via Ferrata (“mountain road” in Italian) at the Bastille, the ancient fort in the middle of the city on top of the mountain and one of the symbols of Grenoble.

I was quite excited before going because I thought it was just climbing ladders on rocks with extra clipping gear for safety but what greeted me were 90-degree cliffs, tight wires suspended 30m in the air, flimsy-looking planks (that are apparently very secure because Etienne’s friend jumped on it to show how sturdy it was), and a couple of suspension bridges with not a lot of wires to hold on to for balance.

Now, I actually have a considerable fear of heights. It’s not so bad that I get dizzy standing on top of Petronas Twin Towers or Tokyo Tower because I know I’m in safe hands (or safe steel), but I still have vertigo when I’m on the roof of a building where I am exposed to being toppled over by the wind. The most extreme thing I did that challenged my fear of heights was a mini bungee-jump I did back in Yomiuri-land in Tokyo a few years ago, where I told the lady to push me because I was holding everyone up in line by not being brave enough to take the leap lol. Here’s a video of an experience I’m rather proud of:

But the Via Ferrata is a completely different thing. Unlike a roller-coaster or a drop tower where I don’t have any control but to just let go and scream, this was relying on no one else but MYSELF to walk on a 30m-high tight rope in mid-air with NOTHING below you and nothing to secure yourself except 2 very minimalistic looking clips attached with elastic and unconvincing looking strings that are supposed to support my weight if I ever fell off the cliff (<– super amateur description of via ferrata equipment). The guys in front of us had gloves and helmets and all, but basically, all I had were these clips attached to my harness. Looking back, I can’t believe they just leave the place open to everyone with no one ensuring the safety equipment of the climbers. In Malaysia, you would probably be forced to sign a waiver saying you won’t sue anyone if you were injured. But here, I guess public rocks aren’t afraid of being sued.

Here’s me before going on, oblivious to what was coming. Because #YOLO right.

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I didn’t take any pictures after we started climbing (ahahha how anticlimactic) because 1. Too scared, and 2. Don’t want to drop my camera. But here’s a picture I found on www.viaferrata-fr.net:

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During this tight rope part I was freaking out but here’s where I think I conquered my fear of heights. Because we were already halfway through and there was no turning back since there were a dozen of people behind me (extremely sporty looking people who were literally laughing while doing it) and so I just had to suck it in and not look down and keep looking into the eyes (lol) of the uncle stranger in front of me who was nicely encouraging me because he heard me swearing and freaking out in the middle of the rope. I was also screaming to Etienne who was behind me not to get on the rope until I was off it because I knew any unintended movement would’ve freaked me out and topple me over, and it was only after we finished that I found out I was creating a bottleneck behind me because I took a longer time than usual. But I think the laughing couple behind me understood because sporty people are just generally nicer and supportive as long as you’re not in a place of breaking their momentum. For example, I’ve seen plenty of times when someone (sometimes me) falls on a ski piste, there will always be someone who swoops in gracefully by the fallen person to ask “Ça va?”

And here’s me feeling proud of myself after the climb.

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That’s all! Just sharing an accidental empowering experience and an extra attraction to bring my friends to whenever they come visit Grenoble. Moreover, it’s free if you have someone to lend you equipment (which costs minimum 45€) but I guess even if you had to rent it, it would cost around 10-15€, not a bad price for a cool mountain experience in the middle of the city!

#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.

 

#34 My frustration with post-B1 level French

Featured picture is a view of the Italian quartier and the Bastille Fort across the Isère river in Grenoble. Picture taken from inside the Grenoble Museum.

You may have heard that the French language is very similar to the English language. It’s true, I think it takes around 500 hours for an English speaker to reach an acceptable level of fluency in French, compared to 2000 hours to attain competency in Japanese. And I certainly made more rapid progress than my Chinese peers who don’t speak English back in French class.

For example:
English: Comprehension, energy, conquest, numerous
French: Compréhension, énergie, conquête, nombreux

See, easy! C’est totalement identique! (It’s totally identical!)

And if you were a Chinese speaker (with limited English ability), it would be:
English: Comprehension, energy, conquest, numerous
Chinese: 理解,活力,征服,許多

So that explains the extra 1500 hours lol.

But it would be the other way round if you were a Chinese speaker trying to learn Japanese. Because:
Chinese: 理解,活力,征服,許多
Japanese: 理解、活力、征服、多種

But a language is not just words. You need to learn grammar and understand the sentence structures and flows and all that shit and these are the things that take up the most time. Let’s return to my topic, i.e., how frustrated and betrayed I felt by the French language once I advanced into intermediate level, which is where I am at currently (but I should be in advanced level on paper, because I’m doing a Master’s course in French, lol. #phoney #sorrynotsorry)

When you first start learning French, you practise sentences like:

What is your name?
Quel est votre nom? / Quel est ton nom? / Comment tu t’appelles? (more common)

I eat an omelette.
Je mange une omelette.

Look at the pretty girl!
Regarde la jolie fille!

I start work at nine.
Je commence à travailler à neuf heures.  

And the French sentence structure appears to resemble the English structure a whole lot!:

What  |    is     |   your   |  name?
Quel    |  est    |  votre   |  nom? 

I    |   eat        |    an     |   omelette.
Je  |  mange  |   une   |    omelette.

Look at  |  the   |   pretty  |    girl!
Regarde  |   la    |     jolie   |      fille!

I      start               |        work          |        at nine o’clock.
Je commence à   |       travailler   |      à neuf heures.  

Hoorah!! But who speaks in present tense all the time right? Let’s see how past tense works in French:

J’ai bu un verre du vin. 
I drank a glass of wine.

L’oiseau a survolé la rivière.
The bird flew over the river.

Let’s break it down to the literal meaning of each French word in the sentence:

J’     |   ai          |     bu       |   un   |  verre     |du    |  vin. 
I      |  have     |   drunk  |    a     |  glass     | of    |  wine

L’    |     oiseau  |    a        |    survolé        |   la      |   rivière.
The |     bird       |    has    |   flown over   |   the    |    river.

Still not so bad. Now, let’s spice things up with negation.

Je n’ai pas fait mes devoirs.
I did not do my homework.

Elle n’a pas compris pourquoi il était en colère. 
She did not understand why he was angry.

Literally in English,

Je       |    n’             |   ai       |      pas          |   fait   |    mes   |    devoirs.
I         |   negation |  have  |  negation    |   did   |   my     |     homework.

Elle    |       n         |    ‘a        |     pas        |   compris          |   pourquoi |    il  |    était |   en | colère. 
She  |   negation |    has   |  negation  |    understood    |       why     |   he   |  was  |   in   | anger.

Now let’s add one pronoun. To make things less complicated, let’s go back to present tense, non-negation sentences.

Il l’invite à la soirée. 
He invites her to the party.

Il     |   l’     |   invite     |    à  |    la      |     soirée. 
He  |  her   |   invites   |  to  |    the    |     party.

Now it gets more confusing. What about having two pronouns and changing it to past tense?

Je te l’ai donné.
I gave it to you.

Je    |    te   |  l’  |    ai        |    donné.
I      |  you  |   it  |   have  |   given.

What about trying some negative, past tense sentences with pronouns now?

Tu ne me l’as pas dit.
You didn’t tell me that.

Tu      |        ne               |     me    |       l’     |    as            |           pas            |    dit.
YOU   |   NEGATION   |   ME     |   IT        |  HAVE       |    NEGATION  |    TELL.

So basically, when coming up with a French sentence, in my mind I gotta be like ” YOU NO ME IT HAVE NO TELL” when I mean “You didn’t tell me that.”

Let’s compare that with other languages:

Tu ne me l’as pas dit.
You didn’t tell me that.
你沒跟我說那件事。(Mandarin)
你冇同我講嗰樣嘢。(Cantonese)

あなたはそれを私に言っていなかったよ。(Japanese)
Kamu tak beritahu saya tentang ia. (Malay)

Tu      |        ne               |     me    |       l’     |    as            |           pas            |    dit.
YOU   |   NEGATION   |   ME     |   IT        |  HAVE       |    NEGATION  |    TELL.

Mandarin:
你       |    沒   |    跟      |  我        |  說    |   那        |      件事。 |
You  | no       | with    |   me    |  say  |   that    |    thing    |

 

Cantonese:
你       |    冇   |    同      |  我      |  講    |   嗰樣      |      嘢。 |

You     | no     | with  |   me    |  say  |   that    |    thing    |

Japanese:
あなたは  |    それを   |     私に    |     言っていなかったよ。|
You          |   it             |     me      |   didn’t say        |

Malay:
Kamu |   tak  |    beritahu   | saya    |    tentang     |  ia.  |

You     | no     |    tell             |   me    |     about         |  it   |

To sum it up:

For an English sentence “You didn’t tell me that”
French: You no me it have no told.
Mandarin: You no with me say that thing.
Cantonese: You no with me say that thing.
Japanese: You it me didn’t say.
Malay: You no tell me about it.

Surprise! The structure of the Malay sentence is the closest or at least most instinctively understandable order of words compared to English. Second place actually goes to Mandarin/Chinese, followed by Japanese, THEN only French! Don’t even get me started on the conjugations…

This proves my argument, when it comes to sentences with a combination of pronouns, tenses, and negation, French sentences are nothing like English. But I have to say, I get it though, somewhere deep in my brain I understand why the Latins decided to make their sentence order like this. In fact, the more I learn French, the more I feel that it’s actually quite an efficient language.

And the best thing about it is that it’s so different from Japanese, my other foreign language, in terms of precision. In Japanese I could be vague and beat around the bush yet have decent conversations in Japanese but in French you really got to find the most accurate word to describe what you’re saying what you’re saying to avoid a misunderstanding. I think that over time, when I continue to improve my French, it’s even possible that I will even enhance my critical thinking and assertiveness. And as a plus side, I’m also on my way to increasing my vocabulary in English because I’m coming across a lot of French words which have English translations that I’ve never even used or heard of, like “redact”, “injonction”, “attestations”, etc. etc. and these French people throw words like these around in daily conversations.

I always don’t know how to end my blog posts lol but I guess I’ll just say this, learning languages is wonderful! Till next time!