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Musée de l’Histoire de l’Immigration

What is the common denominator between an immigrant, an expatriate, a foreigner, an alien and a non-citizen? Me. And countless others like me. We who fit the aforementioned, albeit with situations that vary in thousand shades of paperwork grade. Time and time again, the debate, in particular the pitting of an immigrant against an expatriate, can be painfully divisive. Just search for “immigrant vs expat” and you’ll see all kind of perception attached to these words, of social standing, origin, wealth, skin colour, intention. The fight is ugly.

Museum of Immigration History

Museum of Immigration History

The topic of immigration is a sensitive one and the question of integration has been contentiously thrashed out, in public and in private alike. At times of economic hardship, the subject is paraded – not only in France, mind – like an evil which must be stopped (UKIP’s Nigel Farage would like everyone to go back to where they came from, thank you very much) and the rhetorics filled with “selected truths”. My visit over the weekend to the Musée de l’Histoire de l’Immigration (i.e. Museum of Immigration History) was therefore an interesting one, one where I get to explore briefly the stories of the people who make France the nation it is today.

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Trolling Fox (Faux) News

Life in Paris – and France – is gradually returning to the norm in the aftermath of the shootings at Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher. In this past week, enormous queues had been spotted all over Paris at newsstands, everyone eager to get their hands on a copy of the survival issue of Charlie Hebdo, currently printed at a phenomenon number (5 million copies!) and being doled out to the newsstands like ration during tough times. The first mornings, they sold out rapidly and disappointed folks were told to return the next day after they were restocked.

Charlie Hebdo

I found myself standing in a queue on the third morning, fulfilling a request that came from abroad just the previous evening, and snagged the third last copy at my local newsstand. Not that I read it though; we had never read Charlie Hebdo before and were not particularly pushed in starting anyway. The copy got duly posted away and I hope it won’t disappear in transit. Anyway, this is less interesting than the skirmish between Le Petit Journal and Fox Faux News.

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Occupy Central with Love and Peace

It is difficult to walk around central Hong Kong and not run into the occupy protestors, with their tents and living areas pitched on a number of streets around Causeway Bay, Mong Kok and Admiralty. The Umbrella Movement valiantly stood their grounds, but alas, their courageous protests and occupations were brought to an end last week. It is a complex socio-political issue and one which I don’t have enough knowledge to discuss, so all I can offer are a few photos, guiltily taken, during the week I was in Hong Kong.

Occupy Central

Occupy Central

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Joyeux Noël

I am currently sitting in the living room of my belle famille, to a background of lovely classic and seasonal instrumental music, all set for my first Christmas in France. I’ve taken some photos of Christmas ornaments around the house and of the creche at the corner, although this year we’re doing without a sapin de Noël. No worry, the presents will still appear in a timely manner to reward everyone on their good behaviour this year. ;)

Christmas 2013

Christmas 2013

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The (failed) art of giving directions

I was recently catching up on Episode 2 of The France Project (it’s all about stereotypes) and right near the start, an Indian guy interviewed by Katia talked about helpfulness of people in giving directions. Instead of feeling all nice and fuzzy that Paris came across so positively , I actually started to feel guilty.

No, no, I have not been rude and ignoring requests for help.

My guilt lies in that I felt I haven’t always given them the best advices.

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Can we stop now with the love locks?

It is no longer a mere curiosity.

Love-lock bridges have cropped up in various locations worldwide, and Paris is no exception. On a number of occasions, I have even had the honour of giving direction to the “Pont des Clés”, as one tourist put it. It has been talked about in plenty of columns and blog articles, some of the recent ones include:

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Vouvoiement vs tutoiement

I came across an article on BBC yesterday that discusses the use of “tu” on social media and how this is causing a cultural clash in France. But first, let’s pedal back a little for those who read the sentence above and went “what”?

What’s tu?

Or for the Malaysians, apa tu? ;)

We have it easy in English. When you talk to someone, you refer to the person simply as “you”. That’s it. It doesn’t matter if it’s address to one person, or several, or the age and rank of the person. However, in French, not quite so. There’s an entire quagmire to navigate here and a false move can quickly make you a social pariah to said offended person.

At a basic level, “tu” is you in the singular, and “vous” is you in the plural. Add on the layer of politesse, “tu” is now an informal you, used to address a friend, a colleague (but not a superior unless he/she is a friend or has ok’ed), a child or a family member/relative; “vous” is a formal you, used to address anyone you don’t know, someone older than you, someone with authority (bosses fall in this category) and someone you’re showing a level of respect (say, the President).

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At the brocante

I have noticed, in the period that daylight savings is in operation, big bright banners start to crop up just about everywhere. Brocante! Vide grenier! Salons d’antiquaires! (Garage sale! Empty the basket! Antique salon!)

At the brocante

Held usually over a weekend at a specific location, these pop up markets have some pretty interesting things to sell. However, because I am just that wee bit lazy, I haven’t specifically went to one for the purpose of browsing. Besides, I am not a natural shopper – I wouldn’t know if I hit a bargain or have overpaid for something that used to belong to someone else.

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Cimetière du Montparnasse

Yet another year in which I fail to make it home for Cheng Beng – a customary “festival” similar to that of All Souls Day on a Christian calendar.

The last time I participated in the tending of our family ancestors’ graves was just before I moved to Europe, half a lifetime ago. Normally the timing simply didn’t work with my schedule but this year, it came incredibly close. I was home for my brother’s wedding recently, and it crossed my mind to extend my holiday so I can finally join my family on this year’s occasion. However, with work being incredibly busy, I didn’t feel it was appropriate to tack on another week to my ten days trip.

Cimetière du Montparnasse

And thus, rather peculiarly, I have cemetery in my mind. I think back to the Asian-styled tomb and final resting place of people near and dear to me, and at every turn, I also get flashbacks to the cemeteries that I’ve visited in Paris. Normally, according to my grandmother, one should not go to a cemetery bar specific event (like a funeral) or occasion (like Cheng Beng). However, I am less particular about keeping away from the Parisian cemeteries.

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Personal thoughts on Sri Lanka

Returning from my short visit to Sri Lanka, I’ve been asked on numerous occasions my perceptions and thoughts of the country. I find this relatively difficult to respond, as every observer notices different things. Even though Claire and I travelled together, I’d bet my last euro that what she thinks of the trip would be quite different from mine, plus some common points of course.

While knowing the fact that Buddhism is practiced by the majority of Sri Lankans, until my arrival, I simply had not realised just how significant its presence is. Everywhere we went, we would come across a Bo tree which under sat a statue of Buddha, or a simple shrine at the edge of a road, or a large temple overlooking the turn of a bend, or magnificent (and historic) complexes attended by many for prayers and ceremonies.

It also served to remind me that the root of Buddhism lies in South Asia, despite the main practising strongholds of Buddhism and its related/linked religions being East and South-East Asia. The iconographic representations of Buddha are noticeably rather distinct here from those of other parts of Asia. It also highlights how prayers are conducted quite differently from these fractions of Buddhism, yet at the same time hold through the practice of calm meditations. I find them all quite fascinating, but to discuss them in details would merit long articles in their own rights.

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What makes you happy?

I have a few posts that I’ve written up in the last couple of weeks, but the photo processing has been a little slow. That’s why it has been a little quiet around here. They are definitely coming up this weekend, back-dated (I know, it’s cheating a little), as I finally find myself with a little break from the whirlwind of social and non-social activities. Hurrah for me-time! ;)

But I could not resist posting this first. A video, based on the concept of 50 People 1 Question by Crush+Lovely (which I’ve been a big fan of, and I used to post their videos to my social network page), has been filmed in Paris. Seems it was filmed most likely over late last autumn, given the colours of the leaves over many sunny days, and everyone wrapped up relatively well.



So what makes you happy?

Today, I am happy because it’s Friday and it’s nearly weekend. Because I’m looking forward to some time to sleep-in and lounge about the apartment in my PJs. Because I shall have some reading and writing time. Because I will be talking to family and friends living far from me. Because I am plotting (shhhh, sorry can’t tell you what yet). Because I have amazing people in my life. But most importantly, I am happy because I am focusing on the good’s that are in my daily life and while I may be insecure about certain things, I work hard at not letting the negative thoughts take precedent over the positive ones.

To all who listens to my voices of doubts and soothes me that all will be well (you know who you are) – everything takes one step at a time indeed – thank you so much! What will I do without you and your support? *Hugs*

I wish you all many happiness too and have a fantabulous weekend ahead!

Eat, Learn, Move

I came across this series of videos today which is absolutely brilliant and inspiring! It makes me want to get out and away, but alas, without an income, it would be pretty hard to finance my travel-and-food habit. Plus, I like my job and the challenges that it brings, even if it’s keeping me a bit too busy to keep the Project 365 to be entirely up to date. (I’m working on it, I really am.)



I hope you enjoy these videos as much as I have, and that they give you some ideas of what to do next when you embark on new adventure(s). I sure have picked up a few things there. And here’s wishing you a good weekend ahead too. Like the majority a subset of the French population, I’m going to find myself enjoying the sun and sea of the French Riviera for the next few days. Will be back all re-charged before you know it. ;)

Updated: my friend was quick to point out not a majority of French goes to the riviera but the rich. Mind, I don’t have their kind of deep pockets. Luckily what I do have are Prem’s tickets and a host family!

And there were limbs…

My friends and I were wandering the alleys of Bastakia Quarter in the dark, peeking in at every opportunity when there were open doors, curious of what we may find. It was a breezy evening and the salty air of Dubai Creek was never far, making it pleasant for aimless stroll after a substantial dinner.

We turned a corner and spotted another door. We stood outside for a minute or two. The face of a screaming woman adorned the low settee for one, and on the wall, a turban-wearing man with haunting eyes and disfigured face stared at us intently. As we stepped across the threshold, above our head, something didn’t quite fit in…

Happy Halloween everyone!

Dubai: not miniatures

I visited Eve and Pras today, and my do they have apartments with views! One on side, there’s the skyline of downtown Dubai and a slight shift to the right, Burj Al Arab stands proud of its own and a little further afield, Atlantis at The Palm. On the other side, the view of Bur Dubai and beyond, and another slight shift later, the floating hotel aboard QE2, now permanently docked, yet another luxury sleep in The City of Gold.

However, with the changing season comes an unavoidable feature – fog. It makes it just that bit harder to photograph the city. The position of the sun at that time also meant it was hard to see Burj Al Arab (gotta squint a little) and Atlantis was hidden from sight, so photographic attempts for these buildings failed rather miserably.

So far, I have only explored a small part of Dubai given limited time and opportunity (Eve and Pras did take me out on a city-wide introductory car tour one night), but there’s always something to be discovered. I’ve been to and visited some of the landmarks including Dubai Mall (next to Burj Khalifa), Atlantis and The Palm, Madinat Jumeirah (to peek at Burj Al Arab), Dubai Creek, Dubai Museums and Bastakia Quarter.

However, there are more things that I’d like to do, such as a visit to the Jumeirah Mosque, the various souqs (I’ve only been to one), have a traditional Emirati meal at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding… but so often, they’re time restricted. E.g. a tour of the mosque begins at 10am, but to try to travel from Sharjah to Dubai in the morning is just asking for sitting in the traffic for 2-3 hours. Not ideal.

I could try to stay over in Dubai one night with Eve, but magic time scheduling will be required, since we have wildly different kind of timetable to observe. I was lucky to have nabbed both of them on the same day to hang out a bit today! In any case, the next day we are all free, we reckon we should go to Oman together. Road trip!

The question is, will that happen before I fly back to Europe?

Don’t you mind the taxi driver…

To get from one place to another in the UAE, unless you drive (or have a host/ friend driving you), you’ll most likely be travelling by taxi. Public transport like buses can be infrequent and irregular, and the last thing you want is to wait out under the hot sun without knowing for certain when the next bus will come along. I have been using taxis to travel within Sharjah and Dubai, and between Sharjah and Dubai.

I am quite a chatty person and I’d quite happily talk to anyone, even random strangers. Taxi drivers? Sure. There’s nothing wrong with making some small talks and discuss the weather. Normally, that’s not a problem, but in the UAE, it can be. It can be misconstrued for something else altogether, e.g. you’re interested in him.

My first couple of taxi rides, the drivers tried to engage me in conversation and I obliged, being friendly like I normally would back in Europe. As a result, I have taxi drivers who were very interested in knowing when I would be free and if I would like to (a) go shopping with him – he promised to buy me a present(!), (b) see him when he’s off work, and (c) tour and sight-see the city with him.

Of them all, the last is quite possibly a genuine and innocent proposal – as I was obviously a visitor, naturally this would be an opportunity for the driver to make a bit more money by offering taxi tour. Fair enough. But the other suggestions, downright dodgy.

I learned quickly that I should be courteous but never friendly with taxi drivers. In a firm and no-nonsense voice, I conveyed my destination and checked that the driver knew where he was going (you’ll be surprised at how some of them can be quite clueless – by chance or by design, I have no idea). Then, it was staring out the window and not engaging in conversations at all. On arrival, I paid, said my thank you and got off. Khalas. No funny propositions, no ambiguity of intention. And also, I was cautioned by a friend to never ride at the front of the taxi when I was on my own.

There is also something called Ladies’ Taxis available in Dubai (I’m not aware of it in Sharjah). The fleet is pink in colour, of course, and should be booked ahead as they don’t normally drive around looking for fares. However, they are present at the airport and some malls where females frequently visit. They do cost a bit more though but if that’s what you’re more comfortable with, go for it.

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