Monday, September 20, 2010

China & Speaking Chinese

The very first time I became acquainted with Chinese was 10 years ago. I was 19 and travelled to China with my younger sister for an older cousin's wedding, and at the time it was my sister who could speak a very decent Chinese. The good point was that we did not have to stay with my grand-mother all the time (we were the youngest of all cousins being there) and we could head just the 2 of us to visit Beijing. At the time, Beijing was still this big city where there were more bikes than cars, and you had to negotiate crossing the streets with all the cyclers coming up to you and not letting you cross the street in peace.
It was all about visiting the city and enjoying the nights out with cousins and cousins's friends who were at least 10 years older than the 2 of us. Restaurants, bars, nightclubs, massage places, you name it, we did it. No wonder why I completely fell in love with the place, the city, the lifestyle, and especially the impression of being in a city that lived life full speed, compared to "Old Europe".
So when I came back to France and got into my Ecole d'Ingénieur then I started to learn Mandarin. Speaking the language was what had made all the difference for our trip in Beijing, and if I ever wanted to go back there, and maybe work there, then I had to speak the language!
The learning was not that good though, because when I graduated and finally got a job in China - Wuhan this time - then I could hardly make my co-workers or taxi drivers or waiters understand me. It took me 3 months of listening and repeating to be understood and follow a simple conversation with Chinese friends.
So I think it started this way... First the need to communicate directly with people, which quickly improved into being able to hold a full conversation (with a lot of hand talk too, though) with my colleagues and friends. But now, having been back in France for the past 4 years (I know!) and still studying Mandarin on a weekly basis, it is the pleasure of speaking Chinese that is the most important. How to explain? Well, I just love speaking Chinese. The rythm of the language, the tones that make it lively and quite physical, the sounds so different from anything you would find in Europe, a bit like poetry on its own... I can enter my Chinese classroom tired from the day, leave all my worries at the door and enjoy the simple fact of reading and speaking Chinese for the evening. This is why I don't think I'll ever stop learning Chinese.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Pangkor Island

Sometimes the only thing you want to do is to lie on the beach and soak in the sunshine, running in the sea just to get a bit of fresh water, and coming back to your towel to finish reading the 1000 pages novel you bought just 2 days ago - and which will only last until the next evening, if you keep reading non-stop like this.
Well yes, sometimes the only thing you need is that. This is how I usually spend my holidays when with my family, reading thick novels and playing cards with my brother, sleeping in the sunbed and getting the best suntan I can think of - we're talking of my pale northern skin. But this time no, it wasn't for me. I packed my rucksack and went all the way to Malaysia. I walked and dived and bundled my way through this lively country, loved the pace and heat, the noise and the smells, it all reminded me so much of China, without being China at the same time. I guess it's the travelling I missed...
But then, at some point, I needed the time off. Put the rucksack down, walk in flipflops and sit in the sunshine. So I found a spot in my Lonely Plat which said: Pangkor island - beautiful small island (Pangkor means beautiful in Malay) - fishermen village - long white beaches - not too touristy - not too far from KL - can cycle around the island in 2 hours... This was all I needed.
small fishing boat and the fishermen village right behind

I didn't stop for long though, just one night. But it was worth a stopover. Jamaican style hostel with hammocks hanging outside, beach within walking distance and good fresh food too.
I must admit I was worried, it was the almost only stretch of my trip when I was on my own, and although I like it from times to times, I wanted to visit the island and if possible to share it with people. This is where speaking Chinese helps, as I noticed four women my age speaking Mandarin where I was having lunch. They looked just as much on holidays as I was, and where planning their day trip. I introduced myself in Chinese and we hit it off straight away! They were energetic and curious ladies, and offered for me to go on the boat trip 5 minutes after we met. So we went for a short boat trip in the bay...
Chinese friends from China
and Malaysian Chinese friends
...and then for some snorkelling in the shallow water. Lots of fish and a few sea cucumbers. Unfortunately it seems I'm the only one with another of the Chinese who can swim confidently enough to enjoy the snorkelling, but the other three stand on the shore and can see the fish too, so we all have a good time in the end.

In the evening, after the required shower to take the salt out of the skin, dinner-time! And we're having fresh fish in hot pot, which they call steamboat over there (for those who like hot pot / huoguo / fondue chinoise / steamboat, I've got the best of addresses here in Paris, just ask). Enjoyed the food that we topped with banana and honey pancakes. Not the most Malay dinner ever, but then, when in Rome...