It’s sunny? In Yilan?

So, when was the last time I updated this thing? September 12, that’s when. Since then we’ve done Halloween and Christmas at school; I’ve ventured to the south of the island on high-speed rail and the north of the island on my scooter; I’ve met my host family and the Taiwanese president. Winter has come, which means cooler temperatures and rain, which in turn means bundling up for school (there’s no heat) and living in a perpetual state of wet (just bought a dehumidifier). But we’re trying not to let the drizzle put a damper on anything. (Get it?) When we got three days of sunny skies last weekend after 27 straight days of rain, I took to my scooter to enjoy them to the fullest.

On Saturday, after agonizing for about 15 minutes on my balcony about the best way to soak up the sun, a friend and I hopped on my scoot to pick up some delicious baozi at a town about 20 minutes away, then hauled it up a mountain near our favorite beach to Mr. Brown’s Coffee Castle. Mr. Brown is the king of canned coffee in Taiwan, and this castle is his. . . castle, I guess. We just sat there, letting our baozi and coffee sink in, taking in the view of Turtle Island below.

Sipping Mr. Brown's on the mountain

Sipping Mr. Brown’s on the mountain

Refueled and ready for more scooting, we headed for Jiaoxi and a festival we had heard about that morning. All we were going off of was a woman who said she thought her family would go to a festival (celebrating what, she didn’t know) in Jiaoxi that day, but turns out we found it, and turns out it was celebrating Jiaoxi’s hot springs, its most famous attraction. Far in the distance was a large stage, on which my friend swore she saw some Native American dancers. They were actually South American, but dressed in traditional clothing much more like America’s indigenous tribes than Taiwan’s. They spoke English and so, as we suspected might happen, they picked Charissa out of the crowd to join them on the Mayan drums. She worked the crowd like any waiguoren should, and then we stayed for more drummers, unicyclists, and a Taiwanese rock band before scooting back to Yilan and making the split decision to eat for the first time at our new night market. Another off-the-cuff bit of awesomeness, which spilled over into Sunday, too.

Charissa and her drum

Great friend, great drumming

South American indigenous dancers

A lovely dancer

The sun still shining–albeit less brightly–on Sunday, Charissa, me, and my scooter, plus three more friends and two more scooters, drove up the northeast coast of Taiwan, lots of time and few plans in tow. Our first stop was to climb among some of the huge rocks that line the coast, about 45 minutes into our drive.

The Taiwan coast

Taiwan’s northeast coast

Another fifteen minutes down the road, I glimpsed a few boats and some tents and told my co-pilot to pull over. We ventured down a flight of stairs, and BAM! There we were in Daxi at about 2 p.m., prime time for the fishermen to be selling the day’s spoils. My eyes kept bouncing from one thing to the next as I walked down the narrow path along the docks, the wonderfully colorful boats on my left, the bright tents and equally colorful seafood on my right. There was no shortage of activity, and that kind of bustling atmosphere–like the night markets in Yilan and Luodong–is the best for taking photos.

Fishing boats in Dali

Fishing boats in Daxi

Dali fish market

Daxi fish market

Just a little sampling of the Dali fish market

Just a little sampling of the goods at the Daxi fish market

I didn’t think it could get better than the fish market when we hopped back on our scoots again. And yet, a half hour and a handful of incredible views later, there we were at the San Diego Lighthouse, on the easternmost point of Taiwan. And, funny enough, it wasn’t the lighthouse, but a litter of stray puppies, that made this stop so memorable. Though Taiwan has little of the trash or other unpleasantries (word?) that would show up in mainland China, it does have a huge number of stray dogs that are consistently annoying and occasionally really freakin’ scary. But these ones were just precious. We played and played and then sanitized our hands. By the time we were done, the lighthouse was closed, but we left happy and (hopefully) germ-free just the same.

That's joy.

That’s joy.

IMG_2030

New pengyou!

We had the same favorite puppy.

Locked out of the lighthouse

Locked out of the lighthouse

So, the time being late afternoon and our hearts being filled up on puppy love, we headed back down the coast to fill up our stomachs on some taro ice cream and celebrate the end of a gem of a weekend. The skies had grown cloudy, but the rain held, and it managed to hold until Monday afternoon.

Now it’s Wednesday, it’s rained the past three days, and it probably will for the rest of the week. And that’s why they say, “Nothing lasts forever.” And that’s why we say, “We enjoyed it while it lasted.” And it’s also why I say, “I hate rain.” It’s going to be hard to ever look at it again without thinking of riding my scooter in the dark; my helmet visor pulled down, keeping out the water but fogging up from my breath; my rain poncho keeping everything dry except my hands and a little of my pants because it’s Taiwan length, meaning it ends before my rain boots begin. The weather will be like this through February at least, and I’ve been told to venture south on the weekends if I want downtime without the drizzle. Look forward to updates on that in the future.

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Posted in Taiwan 2012 | 2 Comments

It’s in the Bag

Today’s fifth-grade class brought me face-to-face with a struggle I hoped I’d left behind when I fled the U.S. this summer. But there it was again, headlining the phonics section of Lesson One, taunting me as it always has: How do you pronounce the word bag?

I know how most of the country says you pronounce it—short a. I also know how the Upper Midwest pronounces it—long a, like leg with a b. And I know how I’ve come to pronounce it after four years of outside influence from my college peers—somewhere in between, meaning no one actually understands what I’m trying to say, and I avoid the word as much as possible. My speech changed pretty noticeably in college; I now say roof and rootbeer with long “oo” sounds and soda instead of pop, and I occasionally throw out a “CARE-uh-mell” instead of “CAR-mel.” But bag is one thing I can’t fully commit to.

All of this is to say that my insides let out a little scream when my LET asked me to do phonics for the short a sound, and the word list began with bag. I still contend that the a in bag is not the same as the one in cat, Pat, rabbit, or sad, but I taught it like it was. Regardless of my sacrifice in the name of education, though, some of the kids simply say their long and short a‘s the same, so I like to think the Midwestern bag will live on in Taiwan for years to come.

Teaching phonics and pronunciation to Taiwanese students is an imperfect process to say the least, but when you have a language as inconsistent as English—both in the way words are spelled and the way they are pronounced across states and even countries—you do what you can. The students have trouble knowing when a c is soft, like in race and excited, or when a k sound is actually a hard c, like in coffee, and sometimes they drop the endings of words like brave because Chinese syllables don’t end with consonant sounds. Listening to my LET sound out words phonetically makes me realize even more how difficult the English language must be to learn.

In other school news, yesterday there was an earthquake drill, and the kids wore these pillow hats for protection:

Little gnomes at the earthquake drill

And in slightly related news (because I drive it to school), I became a lot cooler when I bought this scooter last week:

Scootin’

Posted in Taiwan 2012 | 10 Comments

Who is Teacher Emily?

“Who is Teacher Emily?”

So read the first slide of the powerpoint I used to introduce myself to the third graders at Sin Sheng Elementary today. I’ve always thought of the first day of school as a chance to be whoever you want to be. “This year,” I’d tell myself the night before class began, “I’m going to be nice. I’m going to go with the flow. I’m going to work hard and be excited about life.” Yada yada yada. But no matter who you tell yourself you’re going to be, you always end up being exactly who you are.

First day of school at Sin Sheng

To the Sin Sheng students, I’m a really tall girl with really curly hair who reads while eating ice cream at Christmas time in the middle of a blizzard somewhere in the northern U.S. or China or France. They think my niece is cute and my mom is hao piaoliang (very pretty). All of this is true but simplified, just as first encounters usually are. So who will I be to them after a week or a year of teaching?

Coming to school this morning, I had a powerpoint and a worksheet prepared but no idea what I was actually going to say when I got in the classroom. But lucky for me, my LET (local English teacher) knew just how to help me, and the kids had way more fun guessing the answers to questions like, “What is Emily’s favorite food?” than I bargained for. Literally, cheers erupted every time the teacher would say, “And the answer is . . . ” Other things fascinated them too, like pictures of homemade Christmas cookies and a video of a blizzard, and the looks on their faces were too precious and priceless for words.

As a last question on the worksheet, I asked students to write me a note or draw me a picture of anything they wanted: their favorite food, something we had in common, their name. It was a random idea I threw on at the last minute, but it turned out to be great for a laugh and for introducing me to the wide variation in English ability in the classes. The cram school phenomenon—where students take private classes until 8 or 9:00 at night and in the summer—is widespread in Taiwan, meaning some of the third graders have been studying English for years already, while others only get it a few hours a week in school. I’ve heard that the disparity this creates—usually following class lines because cram school is so expensive—is one of the most difficult parts of teaching English in Taiwan. But with cram schools as popular as they are, they’re necessary if you don’t want your child to fall behind.

On a lighter note, here are some of the 63 drawings and notes I got today:

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Posted in Taiwan 2012 | 8 Comments

The Eighth Floor

Nothing like another typhoon day to catch up on blog posts. And the haunting sound of the wind currently blowing through my un-closeable bathroom window reminds me of a story.

Ghost Month

Last Friday at midnight marked the beginning of Ghost Month, which means the gates of hell that lead to Taiwan are currently open for trans-world communication. All month people burn offerings for the dead and refuse to go swimming at night, lest ungoverned ghosts decide to pull them under. We walked through a lantern-lit park in Yilan to mark the start of the month, but we had little way of knowing what the ghosts had in store for us later that day.

So there we were on Friday night, my roommates, neighbors, and I having just bought tickets to see a movie on the seventh floor of Yilan’s biggest department store. We hopped in the down-elevator to get some movie snacks at 7-Eleven, the be-all, end-all of Taiwanese convenience stores. There was little cause for alarm when the elevator went up rather than down. Elevators go up all the time, right? And there was little cause for alarm when the doors began to open on the eighth floor. People get on elevators from the eighth floor all the time, right?

But as the shiny silver doors slowly split, they slid open to reveal . . . nothing. A dark, empty room with concrete floors. A red, movie-theater rope stretched in front of the elevator. And no one in sight. I was in the back of the elevator, but all it took was a couple of screaming girls flinging themselves in my direction to realize that something was up. We stared at the barren warehouse, startled but unable to move, for a good five seconds before finally closing the doors.

I have to give myself some credit here, because I wasn’t actually scared. I was rational: someone must have been on the elevator before us and pushed number 8 on the button panel accidentally, I thought.

EXCEPT: there was no button for the eighth floor.

. . . .

We told this story to the LETs (local English teachers), who we’ll be co-teaching with this year, at our orientation workshops on Monday, figuring they’d have a logical explanation. But Ghost Month trumps logic every time. Since there were no Taiwanese in the elevator with us, one teacher suggested the ghosts were trying to send the foreigners a message, and another recommended we go to a local temple and pray. Our lovely coordinator Kelly has already given offerings to the local gods to keep us safe on our scooters (a topic I’ll have to fill you in on soon. I take my driver’s test on Tuesday!), and I think a trip to the temple would be a great cultural experience to say the least. One more incident like “The Eighth Floor,” and I may be buying some incense to show my respect.

And now some photos from my life in Taiwan:

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Posted in Taiwan 2012 | 4 Comments

UPDATE: I’m in Taiwan.

One last bit of Americana during my layover in San Francisco, then on to Taipei!

Hey there! It’s nice to talk with you again. Can’t believe it’s been over a year since our last one-sided conversation. I want to apologize for how abruptly I cut off our contact in Paris, but life got busy, and I just didn’t have time for such a demanding relationship. I can’t guarantee that it will be any better this time, either, so if we’re going to make this thing work, you’re just going to have to agree to compromise. Deal? Deal. So, what have you been up to lately? I’ve been, you know, just killing time: graduating from college, doing a publishing internship, becoming an aunt, flying to Taiwan. The usual.

In reality, though, the last few months have been far from “usual,” and the next eleven will be, too. I landed yesterday at 5 a.m. in Taipei, Taiwan, and took a bus to Yilan County, where I’ll be teaching English through the Fulbright program until next July. I know pretty few details about my position right now, but we’ve started a month-long orientation that should clear things up soon.

“X marks the foreigner.”

When I say we’ve started orientation, I actually mean that we’ve moved into our apartments and bought sheets and enough food to last a couple days. Beyond that, all of our activities have been pushed back a day by a nice little welcome called a typhoon. I was stoked about starting things out on an adventurous note, but the most intense part of the storm took place while I was sort-of-sleeping last night, and it has all seemed pretty mild compared to the images of palm trees snapping and debris flying through the air that come to mind when I think of tropical storms. Sadly, the typhoon did cause a few deaths elsewhere, and the government declared today a typhoon day (like a snow day, only warmer!). The Fulbright people made sure we bought tape to put X‘s on our windows to keep them from bursting, and we followed their instructions, but from the looks of the other apartments, none of the Taiwanese did. Guess they can tell when you don’t need to get worked up over these things. As one of my roommates put it, “X marks the foreigners.”

So far today, a few other Fulbrighters and I have read, walked to 7-Eleven, played cards, walked to a noodle shop (where the woman was kind enough to just ask how many bowls we wanted and bring us something she figured foreigners would like), and walked to a nearby track to scope out the running situation. It’s been great for adjusting to the time change, but I’m sure the relaxation is going to end soon enough. And then—one last warning—this relationship might become a little more strained.

Posted in Taiwan 2012 | 5 Comments

Getting out of the City

So much to say, so little time to get around to saying it. I’ve been keeping busy for the past two weeks, doing homework and running off to places outside of my normal routine in the 13th and 7th arrondissements of Paris.  Here are my past few weeks of craziness:

Saint-Denis.  This is the place I was looking forward to during my last entry, a northern banlieue of Paris that our entire program visited to meet some students and get a bigger perspective of the area.  We were all feeling a little weird about what it would mean to “meet some students,” mainly because we were afraid the trip would seem like a bunch of American students coming out to analyze/study the banlieue, not to meet real kids our age and talk about normal things.  It didn’t turn out like that at all, though, and the students there got into groups and showed us around Saint-Denis for a couple of hours, basically just chatting about our homes and school and whatever else we felt like.  I can’t say that I had any deep insights there, other than the fact that it was all very normal, and the kids were really positive about their experiences.

Laura and adorable French child

Nantes.  Then I left Paris for three days to visit Laura, a good friend from Carleton who’s studying in Nantes.  People always say Paris isn’t France, and that was really evident when I got to see how different her study abroad experience is from mine.  Nantes is more of a place you would raise a family, if you want to use the cliché, and I guess that’s evidenced by the fact that we babysat a two-year-old Saturday morning whose parents moved to Nantes from Paris for a slower lifestyle.  He was completely adorable, of course.

Laura and me on la Côte Sauvage

Other highlights of the trip: a ridiculous French hip-hop dance class, a fantastic meal with Laura’s host family, an international festival, and a beautiful trip to the beach.  Hard to believe, but it was my first time seeing the ocean outside of the English Channel.

Paris excursions.  I stuck around town for a while the next week, but my days were still full of things I’m not used to doing.  Monday night that meant going to a piano concert with our program, which I can fully appreciate, but I’m not one for watching one person play the piano for two hours. I had tons of homework to do, too, so I snuck in a little reading during the concert…

The Head and the Heart!

On Wednesday I also had to do some prep work for an art history presentation by going to an exposition at the Modern Art Museum, but it turned out it was a lot less like homework and more like fun.  The exhibit was of a trio of Canadian artists called General Idea, and it’s extremely hard to describe everything they do (which likely doesn’t bode well from my presentation), but a big part of it was critiquing mass consumption and working to fight AIDS.  It definitely made me want to go to more expositions, because they’re everywhere in Paris.  All of my big assignments were due on Wednesday, so Wednesday night a few girls and I went to see an American band called The Head and the Heart at a little venue in the east part of Paris.  I can’t even express how great the band was, plus we were standing in the second row, plus we weren’t doing homework.  Gotta thank a friend at home for the recommendation!

And then, because it wouldn’t be right to just go see Canadians and Americans all the time, on Thursday our program went to a ballet of Romeo and Juliet at the Opera Bastille.  Again, hard to believe, but it was my first ballet, too. And again, I really want to see more.  The costumes and music were incredible, and of course so was the dancing, and I’d be excited to see a more modern piece in the future.  Plus I have a stipend for “cultural experiences” that I have to spend, so might as well.

Berlin.  And now we arrive at my favorite outing yet.  I’m so excited to tell you all about it, and then start learning German, and then move to Berlin so you can come visit me and experience it for yourself.

Modern Berlin

That might be going a bit far, but Berlin – the first of two cities I visited with two of my classmates during our nine-day midterm break – is one of the most interesting cities I’ve seen.  Its history is both terrible and fascinating, with the Nazi headquarters located there during WWII and the Berlin Wall separating the city for over 30 years.  Today, though, the city is proud of its tolerance (it’s the third gayest city in the world) and has tons of young people and artists who make it really vibrant and exciting, and also a little edgy.  Its architecture is really different than most European cities because most of the buildings were destroyed during the war, making it more spread-out and modern.  Our time in Berlin was full of random discoveries from friends, guidebooks, and our own intuition that made us feel less like tourists and more like people just enjoying a really cool city.

Some of my favorites:

Graffiti and a ropes course

Our first day we walked out of the U-bahn (the subway) on the way to the Berlin Wall memorial and right away saw an Ultimate Frisbee tournament, a welcome site for my friend and I who play Ultimate at Carleton.  Plus it was right next to one of the coolest rope courses any of us had ever seen, surrounded by a wall with some of Berlin’s signature graffiti.  We knew things were starting off right.

Then that night we went to an amazing Indian restaurant with delicious drinks that our friend who studied in Berlin recommended.  I know that doesn’t seem very German, but from what we were later told by a guide, Berlin is not really German, either, and if you’re looking for traditional German cuisine, you’ll have trouble finding it there.  Later we randomly discovered a pay-what-you-want wine bar on the Internet and, being true Parisians now, had to check it out.  It really couldn’t have been better:  a pretty small place with comfy couches, nice lighting, and about 15 different types of wine, and all you had to do was pay 2 Euros for a glass and then decide how much you needed to pay when you left.  The bar was full of 20-somethings just lounging around, a normal hangout spot that wasn’t touristy at all.

A stand at the flea market

The next day we took a tip from the same friend to go to a flea market and saw even more of the coolness that is Berlin.  Almost all of the stands were run by 20- or 30-somethings selling everything from used clothes to antiques to graphic art and photographs, plus we got some more amazing food (waffles and milchkaffee!) and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere.

OMG a dinosaur.

Then that afternoon we found two great museums, the Hamburger Bahnhof contemporary art museum via the Internet and the Natural History Museum via our trust in small children to congregate in fun places.  At Hamburger Bahnhof, we also quite randomly decided to take a free English tour, an excellent decision since the guide was pretty magical (Diana’s description) and taught us way more than we could’ve learned on own, plus we all found subjects for our art history papers thanks to him.  Then we saw tons of children playing outside another museum, so we wandered inside, saw the dinosaur skeletons beyond the ticket booth, and figured we had to go in.  Upon entering, we discovered that the Berlin Natural History Museum is home to the tallest dinosaur skeleton in the world and to Lucy, who is 40 percent of a 3.2-million year old skeleton. (Though it might have been a copy of the original.  I never can tell with German captions.)  Either way, what a win.

One of my favorite murals on the wall

And the last wonderful discovery was a bike tour we took through the city.  I seriously recommend doing this, because in less than six hours, we were able to get in some mild exercise, see and learn about nearly all of the city’s touristy things, and eat an amazing lunch at a beer garden.  Another huge win.  And then we went to the East Side Gallery, a 1.3 km-long portion of the Berlin Wall that was painted by artists from all over the world after the wall came down in 1989.  Yet again, so, so cool.  We left Berlin so excited that we’d visited but wishing we’d had more time to see more of its awesome museums, especially the ones at the Topography of Terror and Checkpoint Charlie, so I’m probs going back…

Prague.  Forgive me if I’m a little less enthusiastic about Prague than Berlin.  Call it a travel hangover (not alcohol-induced, I assure you).  The city itself is beautiful, with traditional European buildings in warm colors that are completely charming as they sit along the Vltava River.  If we had been there for two or three days, the trip would have been perfect, but five was stretching it a bit.

My favorite parts of Prague:

Katie and her trdlník

Our first day we went to a great Thai restaurant called the Lemon Leaf (I promise we did have some traditional food in both Germany and Prague, too) that was so good that we went again our last night.  Thanks to our friends and the Internet, again, for the recommendation.  Other food included this dubious little battered cheese sandwich called the smažený sýr that I happen to love, but certain other people are not too fond of.  I actually found myself eating a lot of battered cheese over the trip, including two separate meals in Berlin.  Odd.  There was also really great mulled wine and this cinnamon twist dough thing called a trdelník that you must try if you’re ever there.

Eggs, eggs, and more eggs

I also absolutely loved the world-famous Easter markets, where you can buy all sorts of hand-painted eggs and tons of other Czech souvenirs.  I bought an egg the first day, it broke, and then I lost $50, so that might also have something to do with any bitterness I have toward the city.  That, and the fact that there are tons of tourists.

View from our paddleboat on the river

But we kind of got away from them for a while when we took two (yes, two) paddleboat rides on the river.  The weather was 70 degrees and sunny the entire time we were there, which made not having anything to do for two days quite a bit more bearable.  It also helped since we walked everywhere the entire time we were there.  Had to make up for all that battered cheese and sausage, you know.

And since we had a lot of spare time, we also checked out the nightlife, which was really relaxed and fun, though we purposely avoided something called the Pub Crawl, which apparently involves a bunch of British college boys drinking themselves to death in five different bars.  Happy we did without that.

Other than that, we went to a farmers market and the Prague Castle, which isn’t really a castle, but a bunch of different buildings all encircled by other connected buildings.  And we caught up on homework, making it possible for me to write this excruciatingly long blog post.  Congrats if you got to the end!!

And a preview of what’s to come in the future:  yesterday I went to two used bookstores, the first ones on my growing list of bookstores that I’m going to visit and then give a report on for my culture/language class.  Expect lots of photos.

Posted in France 2011 | 4 Comments

Just Moving Along

It’s always surprising how easy it is to adapt to new environments.  And when the environment really isn’t all that new, it’s even easier.  I haven’t written since my first day in Paris because, to tell the truth, I don’t know what to write about.  Everything I saw and experienced in China was new and different and exciting, and for the first few days, new themes were popping into my head by the hour.  Life in Western countries, though, is more similar than different, and it just kind of moves along.

That’s probably why the one thing I keep wanting to write about is the banlieue—it’s the part of Paris that’s the most foreign to me.  The diversity I described on my train ride from the airport is actually present on most of my daily métro rides, too, and interestingly enough, I just finished reading an article about how the subway brings together people from all over Paris in a kind of big social conglomeration since it’s stretched out to the banlieue.  We’ve talked about French views of immigrants and the banlieue in two of my classes so far, and Thursday we’ll be heading to Saint-Denis—a northern banlieue—to meet some university students, and I’m hoping it’s going to be great.  This afternoon I went to Europe’s largest flee market, which happens to be close to the start of the banlieue, and it was incredible to see how much the buildings and the people varied from my neighborhood in the middle of Paris.

Today in our class on the press, I chose to present some interviews with a journalist who writes about the banlieue.  Since describing the banlieue as the ghetto in my last post, I’ve learned that the word “ghetto” is actually a taboo in France, yet certain sociologists and people far more intelligent than me are pushing for its use.  French people rarely discuss the existence of “sensitive urban zones,” as they’re called, in the banlieue, while Americans find it one of the most interesting parts of Paris.  According to one of our professors, the whole perception of the banlieue is a combination of hyper-awareness of social and ethnic inequality on Americans’ part and hypocrisy and the need to cling to the ideals of equality of “the Republic” on the French’s part.  Whatever it is, it’s something different and relevant for a liberal-leaning college student like myself, and I find it incredibly interesting.

But now I’ll tell you about some happy things:

Food. Nothing says happy in Paris like bread, crêpes, cheese, and wine.  For breakfast, I eat bread with nutella and drink tea at home.  Then, lucky for me, there’s a completely lovely boulangerie (bakery) right across the street from our classes that I’ve been to every day for lunch so far.  I usually get some sort of warm and flaky combination of bread, ham, and cheese, plus they have those amazing French desserts that I’ve so far been good at staying away from.  I’m not sure how much longer I’ll hold out, though.

Dinner at home always consists of a meat or egg dish, followed by vegetables or potatoes, then a salad, then baguette and cheese, then fruit or mousse for dessert.  The process of eating takes about an hour, and although I never feel full at the end, I never get hungry either (surprising since we don’t eat until 8:00).  It’s a completely different way of eating, but I can see why French women don’t get fat.

Of course, even if I don’t get hungry, I still have to indulge in a few crêpes while I’m here, plus a little ice cream here or there.  And Saturday after returning from a day trip with the class, I had to take advantage of the fact that I live ten minutes from Chinatown (so perfect) and ate at a fantastic Vietnamese restaurant, complete with a bottle of Tsingtao just like on my 21st birthday in China in the fall.

Diana and Claire drinking some wine at a café

Some of the host families have wine with dinner every night, too, but since mine doesn’t, a few friends and I sat down at a café and bought a bottle Friday night.  Real French cafés are seriously intimidating places, but we managed to figure it out and only got laughed at a few times by the waiter.  Plus, I think he appreciated our pick of wine, since one of the girls’ family says rosé is very in right now.  Go us.  On Saturday night we also bought some wine for 3 Euros from a supermarket, though, so obviously we’re not too picky.

Walking the runway in the Tuileries gardens

Fashion. It’s tough to get by in a city where even the 10-year-olds are more fashionable than me.  It’s the clothes that make me feel the most out of place in Paris, even though I’m doing my best to sport the skinny jeans and neutral colors.  We are in the fashion capital of the world, and every street you walk down is like a runway of the newest trends.  It’s intimidating, but also makes for great people watching.

Sites. Most of the time I feel like I’m just living an average student’s life, going to school, going home to do homework, eating a family dinner.   But then sometimes we branch out into Paris, and it’s a little different than Northfield.

Père Lachaise cemetery

Our first excursion was to Père Lachaise, Paris’ biggest cemetery that’s home to  Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, and Marcel Proust, just to name a few.  Parisians often picnic in the cemetery, which sounds utterly morbid, but after going there, you realize that it’s a kind of peaceful sanctuary of natural green space in the middle of a city where most of the trees are manicured into perfect geometric shapes.  I think it’s one of the prettiest places in Paris.

It's Paris.

Last week I had to make a jaunt over to the Musée d’Orsay to look at some paintings for my art history class (how cool is that—just go look at the original works that you’re studying), and when a friend and I came out, we figured we might as well look at the Seine, then saw the tip of the Eiffel Tour and figured we might as well look at that, too.  That metaphor about only seeing the tip of an iceberg could probably fit pretty well here, because when you can only see the tip of the Eiffel Tower, that means it’s about a 40-minute walk away.  We endured, though, and at least got in a few photos.

Chartres

And the most beautiful site I’ve seen yet wasn’t actually in Paris, but in Chartres, about an hour and a half south of the city.  Our entire group took a day trip to the Chartres Cathedral on Saturday to be showed around by one of its foremost scholars, a 77-year-old Englishman who’s been giving tours for 55 years and still climbs to the top of the cathedral.  The city of Chartres is undeniably charming, and the cathedral—the best-preserved medieval cathedral in Europe—is huge and gorgeous.  Plus the weather was perfect for photos, so needless to say, I’ve included a few below.  Since our guide has been giving Carleton groups tours since the 70s, he took us up to walk through the cathedral’s tower, over the roof, and up into its steeple, an amazing experience that had us all really excited.

There’s still a long list of things I need to see and do while I’m here—right now it’s at about 15 I think—but I’m slowly crossing the items off.  The next one comes Wednesday night, when I go see a French theatrical adaptation of Moby Dick.  Can’t wait.

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Posted in France 2011 | 6 Comments