August 31, 2009

It's Time

It's time for the land of Rene Descartes, Victor Hugo, Coco Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Napoleon, King Louis, Claude Monet, Yves Saint Laurent, Baudelaire, and... me!

I figure that putting myself in that kind of company can't end up to badly, right? Well, it's time to go. My plane departs tomorrow, and I can barely sleep from all of the excitement. I take off at 4pm Toronto time, and I arrive in Paris at 6am local time. My parents suggest that I have a couple glasses of wine on the plane to induce a nap before I arrive. I'm not arguing with that.

I finally packed up my bags tonight, and weighed them with my mother's super-accurate scale to make sure they're under the weight limit (she works for Weight Watcher's, so I know it's the real deal). I'm bringing one large suitcase, one large travel backpack (like the kind people hike mountains with... except I'll be hiking up the Eiffel Tower), a small carry-on, and a très cute messenger bag that my sister got for me. It's Lesportsac, vraiment français. Hopefully all of this luggage will meet me punctually and in tact at Charles de Gualle.

I know I'm ready to go, because I've run out of pages to read in the Paris section of my "Rick Steves' France" book. So far, he seems to be very helpful and informative. I feel that Rick and I now have a connection of sorts... but really he's just told me where to go, where to eat, and what to see. It's nothing too serious, yet.

Additionally, up to this point I've spent countless hours trying to become an expert on French culture without actually being in France yet. I'm a people person and a communicator, so I want to make sure that I've prepared myself well for the barriers ahead that may set back my efforts to engage with others. These barriers may discourage my propensity to connect with the people around me, but with the help of many authors, bloggers, and study abroad-ers, I hope I can overcome those barriers and really reach into the heart of my new city.

I'm diving in, head first, into one of the most famous cities in the world. After all, how many people do you know would fail to recognize the Eiffel Tower? Not many, I'd guess. I'm taking this opportunity as an honor. It's nothing short of a dream to be jet-setting to Paris tomorrow. Tomorrow! Wow... and I've been thinking about this time in my life since I was about 13 or so, if not younger. I always knew I'd study abroad in France.

To my friends and family, au revoir! To Paris, bonjour! I will be updating this blog often, and I always check email. I can't wait to hear from you and tell you about my times.


August 25, 2009

Predeparture Jitters

What should I pack? How should I get to my host family's house? Will my host family like me? Do I have everything prepared? Will I make it in a French-speaking country? How much room does a peacoat take up in a suitcase? Where should I visit in Europe? How many pairs of shoes will fit in my suitcase?


I'm having predeparture jitters... filled with questions, excitement, worry, and anticipation. I am officially feeling the reality that I'll be in a new place this fall, as my home (Saint Louis University) started this past Monday without me. That's right, school started without me. I guess it's possible. Sigh, embrace ego-check. I am here in Toronto having a lovely last week with my parents and sweet dog Sadie before leaving, and missing the beginning of the semester at school has me realizing that I won't be there until... January. I know it will seem like a flash, but I can't help but wish I could be part of Freshman move-in or Syllabus Week parties.

However, I've had my brain to keep me busy. I can't stop thinking about preparing for my semester. I know I'll be fine in the long run, but seriously, I'm kind of freaking out.

My mains goals are as follows:
- Get to know Paris, not the touristy kind.
- Get to know myself
- Become better and more confident in my French
- Visit some really great places
- Make good friends
- Overcome tough situations
- Have a blast

I think that sounds do-able, right? I'm ready to tackle my new adventure, and I'm ready to meet the French version of myself. I've prepared long enough, and it's time to get this show on the road. Paris, here I come!

August 23, 2009

Hong Kong

Mark and I on the tram at night - headed for a night out in Hong Kong
A stand in the Jade Market in Kowloon
This bird just got a bath at the Bird Market
The night view from the Peak of Hong Kong - amazing!
The Big Buddha on Lantau island

Taken from the Star Ferry while crossing the bay

Me in front of Times Square

Hong Kong was an amazing city! I had a blast exploring all of the different markets and sites. On the first day, we went to the Jade Market, the Bird Market, and the Flower Market. I couldn't stop taking photos, because there were so many beautiful things! It's a truly international city, and everything is so modern and civilized. It's the easiest city to get around, with multiple forms of transportation. You can take the metro (MTR), the tram, taxis, buses, or ferries just about anywhere in minutes! The landscape is unbelievable - the skyscraping city is nestled between the harbor and a lush island on either side. I was definitely amazed when Mark took me up to the Peak. I've never seen a city skyline so dense and amazing! We had a great time going out at night, walking around during the day, and doing a little shopping here and there. I didn't feel quite as foreign in Hong Kong, because you can get by anywhere speaking English. I also had a great time seeing Mark's high school stomping ground. He went to school in Hong Kong, so I got to see that as well as his old home. Seeing someone's past definitely helps you understand them in the present.

August 7, 2009

CHINA - Shanghai

Finally, my post about China! I have far too many pictures to post on a blog, so you can check out more in my Facebook albums. However, here is a glimpse into my time spent in Shanghai.
Here I am standing in front of a random assortment of Chinese people. My mom says this looks photo-shopped, but I assure you it is not.
Much of what I ate was dumpling style foods, noodle dishes, and of course all of it was accompanied by my new favorite : Tsingtao beer!

Here I am perusing some of the goods in the Antique Market. It was amazing what kind of stuff they had for sale.

Standing next to YAO was a humbling experience... that guy is huge!

On our first day, we visited the Old Town. It was packed! I loved the architecture as well.

Here Mark and I are standing in front of the Pearl Tower.

I loved the retail genius behind this store in the antique market...

One of my favorite meals was the Peking Duck. It is roasted for 3 days before serving, and you eat it with plum sauce, onion slices, and wrap it up in a tiny pancake.

A few remarks about China -

It was amazing being in a place so new and unique, as I had never been to Asia before. I absolutely loved the experience of being in a place that is clearly going through a revolution. There is propaganda everywhere about making it a better city and society. It's so easy, having grown up in the US, to take civilization for granted. Never before had I ridden in cars that simply weave in and around traffic with no particular boundaries, or seen so many people walking around in pajamas (if wearing clothes at all), or seen babies peeing on the sides of any typical city-street. It was definitely eye-opening at first, to realize the different norms of their society.

As I grew more accustomed, however, it became background noise to the real sites, sounds, and smells of Chinese life. I came to realize that they are a fascinating, humble, and very hard-working people. They live their lives in community with one another, as personal space and privacy are rarities. The difference between living in spacious American homes, separated by lush yards and high fences, and living in a high-rise Chinese apartment building with no elbow room, definitely creates quite unique cultural and societal mentalities. I admire how accepting the Chinese are when it comes to occupations. I saw so many people pedaling vegetables, pulling weeds on the side of the road, or picking up trash. In America, one would expect these people to have bad attitudes, or be some sort of lower-class type. In China, this is someone's job, and they do it well without complaint or bad attitude. They inspired me to be more accepting of the day-to-day task that I may typically complain about, because, like them, I am part of a giant whole.

Pros and cons taken into account, the Communist way of life also opened my eyes to a greater appreciation of freedom. This sounds like an understood statement, but although I've been well-aware that communism exists in this world, the reality never occurred to me that billions of people's lives are literally controlled by government. I could not blog while I was in China, because blogs are banned. So is Facebook. So is Twitter. So is Youtube. That's right, not only did I have to do without "Charlie bit me" and seeing how many people had uploaded new photos -- I couldn't even Tweet! All sarcasm aside, it's a true gift to live in a free country. Freedom is a luxury for a large part of our world, and I've been blessed to live somewhere that it is a right.

I had an absolutely wonderful time visiting Shanghai, and I definitely would go back. It was a great time to be able to experience a new culture, and I was lucky enough to have my own personal tour guides. My boyfriend Mark and his family showed me a great time, and I'm very grateful to them for their hospitality!