Sunday, October 26, 2008

Because Weird Stuff Just Happens

I thought I had seen it all, in regards to the entertainment industry. At least that is what I told myself, when I sat on the log flume of Splash Mountain in Tokyo Disneyland. Peering out at the fake but fizzy little Brear Rabbit singing his classical tune "Zippidee Dou Daa" in Japanese. I swore to myself that nothing could get any weirder in my lifetime. That at just 15 years-old, I had seen some weird stuff, but that this was just going to take the cake for the rest of my life. I figured I peaked in weirdness.

When will I ever learn?

Yesterday, two days after I returned from London, England, I had a full day of strange and baffling occurrences. And now, I have come to accept something really important. When you live abroad, or travel extensively, weird stuff just happens. Kind of like the world-famous 'shit happens' quote. I may have thought I reached my peak at 15 years-old in weird events and happenings, but really, I just started down the yellow brick road.

Firstly, I am alive, which is probably a good thing because I do not remember what happened to me on Friday. There is this whole 24 hour period which no longer exists in my memory. After, I returned from London, I brought along with me extensive exhaustion and perhaps some sort of virus. But on Saturday morning, just to be sure that I was perfectly healthy, probably for the upcoming trip to the South of France, my host father scheduled me an appointment at the Doctor's office.

Now, be aware, I hate doctors. Actually, I hate one specific doctor, my American pediatrician. (I am about to turn 18 -- haha! I never have to go back to her again!) You pretty much have to be on your death bed for her to prescribe you anything. Yet, after my experience with this French doctor, or whatever she was, I firmly believe that the American medical system in incredible. First, I told her my symptoms. Extensive exhaustion, a brief incident of throwing up, and just an all-around feeling of being sick. She then proceeded to listen to my heart, lungs, and butt. I kid you not -- she placed her stethoscope on my lower back and listened in. As if that was not crazy enough, she then pulled off my shoes and examined my feet. I figured there was a method to the madness, but then she started awing over the size of my blisters. At that point, I was done. I did not care if i was deadly ill, I could not sit in tis crackpot's office. Luckily, she too, was finished with the examination. She called in my host father and said that I was going to be just fine, except I was highly contagious.

But it does not end there.

She prescribed some medicine and then saw us out of the office. We next went to the local pharmacy
M&M's or Flu medication? I honestly am not sure.
to take out the medicine. For me, it was like Halloween coming early. She pharmacist handed my host father about 6 different boxes filled with different pills for different conditions. She was handing out medicine like they were freaking M&M's. One for fevers, one for sore throats, one for headaches, and a few questionable looking things. Unfortunately none for blisters, however. I had a simple 24 hour bug, and the French doctor decided to prescribe me enough medicine to nuke an entire army. Needless to say, I refused to take any of the pills. Maybe it is because I hate putting pills in my body, or because I believe that of you take too many pills diseases become resistant. But in reality, I just think the doctor was crazy.

After a long day of resting and doing nothing whatsoever, my host father decided to take me to the movie's. He knew how badly I wanted to see this one movie, while he would go and enjoy a French film. As for me, I was headed to see High School Musical 3. Now if you thought Zac Efron was a bad singer, Vanessa Hudgeons was whiney, Corbin Bleu annoying as heck, all in English, all I have to say is that you ain't seen nothing. Japanese Brear Rabbit does not hold a candle to Zac Efron speaking French and whining about his end of high school for 2 hours. A few things were going through my mind as I sat back and proceeded to be tortured by High School Musical 3.

  1.  I have officially grown out of the High School Musical trilogy. I am done, and will never ever again be able to sit down and enjoy those awful movies again.
  2. The movie reminded me how much I disliked High School. At first, I felt upset that I had not had such a cool experience in High School. How come everyone is so nostalgic for High School, and seem to recall that time period as one of the best in their life? I look at as the worst form of torture. But I realize you really can not have it all. I choose Japan and France, over an awesome high school career. I win.
  3. Zac Efron is not cute at all, in English or French.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The London Adventures: Day V and Epilogue: Mocha Frappucino in Paradise

Morgane and I before departing for France.
Picture this: You are standing in the city of London, England. Around your shoulder is slung a *fake* TokiDoki designer bag,which you only paid 15 pounds for and are already in love with. Now as if you are not lucky enough to be surrounded by an incredibly gorgeous and historically fascinating city, you are also carrying in your hand, you most favorite drink in the entire world, a Mocha Frappucino from Starbucks. Now, I like to think of myself as an eternal optimist. There are truly a lot of things that make me happy, and I can seemingly discover enjoyment in everywhere that I go. But as I stood in the ritzy quarter of Soho, in Greater London, slurping down a Mocha Frappucino, basking in the warmer autumn weather, and surrounded by a city that I have so quickly fallen in love with, it hit me. Life is great. And me? I am really just a Mocha Frappucino in Paradise. Not quite a Cheeseburger, like good old Jimmy Buffet, and most Americans who travel abroad, but I am something else.

Fooling around in London
There is a lot to be said to conclude my journal entry on the London Adventure. I do not really feel like going into a detailed account of all the happenings of the fifth and final day in London, like I have done for almost all of the other days. So instead, I am just going to rant a little about everything I did not mention before.

When I was in Japan, I used to to get upset when people refused to believe that I was not Japanese. What I mean is, they would only speak English with me, or would treat me like a stupid foreigner. It is quite the opposite here in France, but more importantly, here in London. I think I must have said, "I am not French!" at least 20 times a day to make sure that the good people of London, and the rest of the world knew that I was not one of those obnoxious characters I was traveling around London with.

Yeah- my classmates were truly that bad.

Now I think the latest poll says something about the French being the rudest tourists in the world. I realize that since I actually am an American, I probably should not say anything about the French, since American tourists really are not that much better. But... the French are pretty bad. Even though the French always complain that the British come to Paris and speak only English, it is not like my fellow classmates made much of an effort to speak English in London. The funny thing is that they were on a trip designed to enhance their understanding of the English language. Oh and do not even get me started about waiting in line and being French. Those are two things that can not physically happen at the same time. I felt the need to
Cliche, much?
apologize for the rudeness of my classmates on a few occasions. At one time, the large British woman who had been pushed out of the way for a better site of Big Ben, replied, "Oh deary, don't you worry. The French are always this way." I could not help but burst into laughter. But I think the winning quote for the fundamental differences between the British and the French goes to Madame Pomarat, "The French, we are proud of having killed our King. The British, on the other hand, do not want to be reminded of killing Charles I."

As I said before, it was a school trip with the Lycee English class. I traveled to London with 19 French students, and two French teachers, that teach English and History. Even on that first day, a British customs officer correctly identified the situation as he stamped my passport and observed my disheveled look. "The odd one out," he said the describe me, the only American in the group. But that was not the only thing that made me the odd one out. I was also the most non-rude, most fascinated and open to England, most intrigued by the history of London, and most ready to jump into any new situation that was thrown at me.

I found myself eternally lost while being amongst the group, because I am not French, though I was often mistaken for being French as I was traveling with a French tour group. But I am also not British, though I can speak English and made effort to communicate with the Brits. Yet everyone, my teachers and the various British people I met, remarked how I am not exactly American either because I do not act, look, or think like an American. Throughout the whole journey, I experienced something, in which I refer to as, "the second sense of a stranger." I could speak the language, but could not fully communicate with my fellow classmates or England.

Waiting to cross? submerge under? the Chunnel.
And yet, there we were. Tired, no exhausted. Hungry, no starving. We barely made the train, because the Eurostar company was working in repairs in the Chunnel because of the recent fires. They changed the schedule, and our group had not been informed. In addition, one of the French customs officers decided to be a real jerk and threaten to not let me back in France. Thanks for the welcome home reminder. This is until Madame Baard swooped in and saved the day, barely getting us on the train with 5 seconds to spare.

Heading home. Home to France that is. I have really yet to decide where I want to call home or even where I should call home. Is home the place you were born, or is that place where you love and where you have family? It did not matter because at that moment, as the Eurostar entered the Chunnel Tunnel, Madame Baard said, "Okay class, catch one last glance of England."

"Nope," I said, "because I intend to be back here again, hopefully sooner than latter, but I will be back."

The London Adventures: Day IV: Endless Walking and Other Forms of Torture

Whaddup, Churchill?
I like to think that the London trip was the furthest thing from a tourist trip that the French teachers could have possibly created. Sure we all wore backpacks, spoke in almost only French, had cameras plastered to our nose, and visited the tourist sites like the other typical tourists. But we also spent a lot of time just wandering through London in the way I might expect a regular Londoner to have walked around.

Just kidding, super touristy photo.
On the morning of the fourth day, Madame Baard gave took us on a 6 hour walking tour through the lesser known sites of London. We visited the Somerset House, the Courts of Justice, Twinnings Tea Shop, the Bank of England, Leandenhall Market, and the Financial District. AT the Courts of Justice, we learned about why British judges and lawyers continue that seemingly silly tradition of wearing elaborate costumes during a trial. It makes perfect sense to me now. Law is something that has been set, a precedent if you will. Just as these costumes have been worn for hundreds of years, so to has the law. Plus the costumes signify a sort of respect people should have for the law givers of the country.

Leadenhall Market is the place where they filmed Diagon Alley for the Harry Potter movies. The old market is colorful and bustling with life, with expensive foods for the business men that parade around in worry about the impending world financial state. To me walking around London, riding the Tube, seeing the sites and learning about the magical history of the old city, and I can see where JK Rowling captured her inspiration for the boy wizard series. She did not make anything up, she based everything on something British and something here in London. The Ministry of Magic, for example, if exactly how the British
Leadenhall Market.
 government works. Diagon Alley is truly Leadenhall Market.

After the hours of walking, the group was grateful when the teachers discovered a small park to sit and eat lunch in. I myself was exhausted, and my legs were throbbing. I quickly realized that my lunch was disgusting and that I would not be eating it, so I snuck off to a local cafe and bought an extra large Vanilla Latte. When everyone was done eating, the teachers announced that the group was to be touring the world-famous Tower of London, a world heritage site on the banks of the Thames river. It is a historic monument in central often identified with the White Tower, the original stark square fortress built by William the Conqueror in 1078. However, the tower as a whole is a complex of several buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive walls and a moat. The tower's
The Gherkin.
primary function was a fortress, a royal palace, and a prison (particularly for high status and royal prisoners, such as the Princes in the Tower and the future Queen Elizabeth I. This last use has led to the phrase "sent to the Tower" (meaning "imprisoned"). It has also served as a place of execution and torture, an armoury, a treasury, a zoo, the Royal Mint, a public records office, an observatory, and since 1303, the home of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom.

With just over two hours of free time, Morgane and I latched onto a tour of the Chapel and the torture chamber. I listened as the Beefeater (the nickname for the British tourguides of the castle) explained how people were brutally tortured, and how words, such as password, were created by guards having to pass the new word through the gates to get into the castle. In the Chapel, the Beefeater told us that they had discovered over 1500 unidentified bodies underneath the floor. He also showed us the very spot where Lady Jane Grey and Ann Boleyn and many others were executed by order of the monarchy of England. He also told us the story of how Edward III became king, when his nephews suddenly disappeared from within the tower's wall one ominous evening. Being the incredible history dork that I am, I absorbed every word he spoke, and enthusiastically
My Frenchies all looking up at the Gherkin.
asked him over 10 questions about the mysterious murder and myths regarding the castles. "Well you are a bloody curious one, now aren't you? You sure you are American? Most of your people could give a shit about our history," he said. He was very honest, telling the group that the Tower was haunted by the ghosts of the many that had been tortured and murdered at the Tower. He also told some cruel French jokes that involved surrenders made by the French, without realizing that Morgane was getting offended.

When the tour was over, Morgane and I went out and did some person discovery ourselves. First we took some pictures with the Queen's guards, then toured the White Castle, and finally made our way over to the Royal family Jewels. The jewels
Tower Bridge, not to be confused with London Bridge.
belong not to the royal family but to all the people of England, so they are free to view. Besides the fact that they are not FAKE... they are incredible! Gleaming, shiny, and EXPENSIVE. If diamonds are a girl's best friend, then I totally understand why everyone wants to marry into the royal family.
With our time to explore finished, the group reassembled in front of the Tower and then headed across the great London Tower bridge.

Since the Olympics are going to be in London in 2012, the bridge is being repaired and renovated. I was disappointed to see that the bridge was half covered in plaster, but then I realized something. They do not want the bridge to become like London Bridge... falling down falling down my fair lady... so they had to fix it up. Haha. It was cool to across the spectacular bridge, and when we got to the other side, we turned around and walked back to where we started from.

The teachers had booked for us a mini-cruise on the Thames for the evening. But as we waited for the

boat, we began to realize that it was not going to show up. In crisis mode, Madame Baard ran around the river looking for another company to take us on a mini-cruise throughout London. She found one boat that agreed to take us to Westminster, where we would be able to find a restaurant and then walk back to youth hostel.

London at night is just as incredible at night as it is during the day. The whole city lights up in a beautiful array of colors. Big Ben shines bright, and the London Eye is a green circle in the far distance. it is a breathtaking experience to London at night. Alas, the boat docked and set us off in Westminster, where we walked for an hour looking for a restaurant. Finally we found some questionable cheap place. The food was not too bad. I had a delicious Toffee dessert as well. Except during the meal, Heloise
and I both got an onion lodged in our throats at the same time, and nearly wrestled to get to the bathroom first. When we got out of the bathroom, breathing heavily but still alive, we found that the entire restaurant was roaring in laughter at our stupidity. Everywhere I go, stupid things just seem to happen to me.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The London Adventures: Day III: Art, Dead People, Royalty, and Music

Dressed in my stained Khaki pants, in my furry white Roxy sweatshirt, under the purple plaid Jacket, nothing seemed to keep me warm. Of course, that was obviously my own stupid fault. I only packed one pair of sneakers for the trip, my Navy converse, which had tried swimming lessons in the puddles of London the day previously. In addition, my feet were covered with blisters, and my calves were a bit sore from the sprinting through London and endless walking. Plus I realized that I had forgotten an extra memory camera for my beloved camera, and would have to delete some of my previous pictures to make way for the pictures of London. Yet, nothing could dampen my spirit. There is just something about the city of London, something I can not explain.
Trafalgar Square

After breakfast, the group began the trek to the National Gallery just off of the world-famous Trafalgar Square. We made another assignment to do in the museum, which was to answer questions about a few of the given paintings. I found this to be a real annoyance, because as I mentioned before, I am actually becoming intrigued by art. With the assignment, we had to rush through the museum in pursuit of the given portraits. After some time of answering stupid questions, I got frustrated and put the assignment away so that I could enjoy the paintings housed in the National Gallery. There are really some true masterpieces by Picasso, Van Gogh, Van Eyke, and so may others. My favorite was definitely Van Gogh's Sunflowers, or the Arnolfini Portrait. I also latched on to a tour whereby the conductor was teaching a class of British students about the execution of Lady Jane Grey and a
Hanging out at St. James
portrait of her gruesome death at the Tower of London. But in all honesty, I think the best part of the museum, was when I began to realize that I have an appreciation for art.

Exiting the museum, and you face the world famous, Trafalgar Square. With its position in the heart of London, it is a tourist attraction; its trademark is Nelson's Column which stands in the centre and the four lion statues that guard the column. The name commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar, which was a British Navy victory of the wars against Napoleon. But the real treat for us was definitely the weather. Even though it was still quite chilly, you could honestly not beat the gorgeous sun rays and the brilliant blue sky that stretched over the city. After a dozen or so pictures, it was time for lunch at St. James park. It is nothing like Central Park, but it is truly picturesque, and absolutely gorgeous in the sun. While my classmates made fools of themselves snapping hundreds of photos of the stupid squirrels, I found myself a nice lawn chair and dozed off. Did I mention that there were quite a few
comfy lawn chairs spread throughout the park for British sunbathers in the park? What a genius idea~!

After lunch, we made our way over the world-renowned clock tower, Big Ben. Most people think that Big Ben is the name of the clock in the tower, but actually it is the name of the 13 ton bell located just behind the clock. It was named after it's maker, some guy named Ben. It was built in the mid-1850's, just alongside the Parliament building and is the most famous landmark of London and of all the United Kingdom itself. It really is incredible too. I got the same feeling a few weeks when I saw the Eiffel Tower for the first time. You spend your whole life seeing these famous landmarks on television and in Pop Culture, hearing about other people venturing out to see these things, and now it is finally you turn. And you also find that you are not disappointed. Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, and all the other world landmarks are truly as spectacular as you had dreamed and hoped. It is a great a feeling and it makes you want to keep going, to keep venturing out and seeing it all. Right below the great Big Ben is a hectic street full of terrible traffic and dangerous intersections. Of course, being that funny stuff

just tends to happen to me, my camera lens decided to make a quick escape. Directly into the middle of the busy intersection. Madame Baard knew how important my camera is to me, but she refused to let me sacrifice myself for the lens cap. Instead Madame Pomaret darted between the great red double-decker buses, dozens of angry Londoner cars, and risked her life for my little camera lens. I was so grateful to her, but she did not care because when she returned to the safe sidewalk, she dropped to her knees and thanked god for sparing her life.

As we walked along on the way to Westminter Abbey, the teachers spotted an opening in a tour of the Parliament House, a really rare occasion. Unfortunately the wait was much too long, and we could not go. Instead we headed for the Westminter Abbey. The Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster, which is almost always referred to by its original name of Westminster Abbey, is a large, mainly Gothic church. It is the traditional place of coronation and burial site for British monarchs. Amazingly it has been the sight for almost every English monarch since the foundation of the country by William the Conqueror (a Frenchman, I might add.) Since we were a large group, we entered the abbey from the backside and were immediately stricken by it's impressiveness. Founded in the 1000 century, the abbey houses the graves of the most famous people in the world, including Queen's Mary and Lizzie, Bill Shakespeare, Charley Darwin, Isaac Newtie, Billy Penn, Eddie the Confessor, and a crap ton of more incredible people. (I gave them nicknames because if I said their real names, I would feel really insignificant.)

Of course, I have had this policy all of my life of never stepping on a grave. Whenever I would go to a graveyard with my parents, I would get really upset if I disturbed a grave. The problem is that if you actually planning on keeping your feet on the ground in the Abbey, you will be stepping on a grave. Since I have not yet learned how to fly, I had to walk. There are so many dead people, famous, evil, fun, and so on and so forth. I especially the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Almost every country in the world has a tomb of the unknown soldier buried in a famous place. For example, France buried an unknown warrior underneath the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. But what I especially liked about the Tomb in the Abbey was that it said something like, "Even though we do not know who this bloke was, we decided to bury him among the greatest people in history because he died fighting for his country and what not." Alright so it was not in that sort of form, but it did seem rather funny for me upon reading the inscription on the grave. I think honestly, even though it would be a great honor to be buried in the abbey, I would prefer not to be. It felt like a giant popularity contest, who was greater, inflicted more damage, or changed history more. In the tomb of Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, I stood among two sisters, two differing religions, two views that changed England and the world during the Reformation. Peering up at the Coronation chair, I viewed the very furniture that English kings and queens have been corona ted in since the very beginning of the Monarchy. Being amongst such greatness, such fascinating history is chilling at times, and incredible at others. For me, being the kind of person intrigued by the very concept of history, the venture to Westminster Abbey was worthwhile and amazing. Madame Baard could not help but chuckle at the excitement I spewed from my mouth, as I interrogated her on the history of Edward the Confessor and King William and Queen Mary's burial in the Abbey.

Unfortunately time was dwindling, and we had a bit of a tight schedule to stick to. After a brief stroll
through the Abbey gardens, the group began the trek to the Victoria Station. First, we passed through the Buckingham Palace area. For the first time, I saw the Queen's guard in the courtyard protecting the royal family. The guards are those famous red-cladded men, with the black fur hats, made from real bear. Most people think they are some sort of acting or show put on by the royal family, but I saw how big those guns were that they carried. They were no actors. My classmates and I stood outside the palace gates and peered into Buckingham Palace, first used by Queen Victoria in the mid-1800's. I did not see any royal family, but I am beginning to understand why the British continue to tolerate their Royalty, and even love the monarchy. It had all to do with tradition, an adjective which the British love. They love knowing they have a fabulous history, and an intriguing monarchy. Often they claim that it is the oldest in the world, but this is not the case (*cough* Imperial Japan *cough*) While the French are enormously proud that they murdered their king, the British are embarrassed at the incident when Oliver Cromwell killed Charles I. SO much so that if Charles becomes king, he will not be called Charles, because it is seen as unlucky.

Coolest taxi cabs ever!
Moving on, the teachers took us to a fancy Italian restaurant just across from the Victoria Tube Station. I ate an awful tasting pizza, followed by some questionable flavored Ice Cream, until the exactly 7:00, when it was time to leave. This is because the group had tickets to the London Theater play, Billy Elliot. The musical revolves around motherless Billy, who trades boxing gloves for ballet shoes. The story of his personal struggle and fullfilment are balanced against a counter story of family and community strife caused by the 1980s coal miners' strike. For me, I had an incredibly hard time understanding the play because it was spoken in Northern British English, which may as well be it's own language it's own right. My classmates kept asking me what was going on and I was not able to tell them all the time. Even though I really adore Broadway plays, I was very disappointed with Billy Elliot. It was not what I had hoped it would be, but I am still glad to have been able to say a Musical in the London theater.

When the play was finished, we all hurried back to the Youth Hostel, quite tired from the long day. After a quick shower, I hoped into bed, and was asleep not 2 minutes later.

The London Adventures: Day II: Lost in London

When people talk about London, inevitably the color gray is described with descriptions of great
Survived being lost in London!!
downpours and cool damp weather year-round. And, of course, whether it be that it is raining, it was rained recently, or it will be raining soon. Luckily for our group, during the five days that we journeyed around London, it only rained once. It was during Monday evening in our free time period. I suppose this would not have been a bad thing, especially since it did mess up our plans in any way. Except it was the worst time for rain, because I was lost in London.

We woke up bright and early Monday morning, quickly threw on some clothes, and headed down to the free breakfast that the Youth Hostel offered us. I indulged in some delicious British Tea, while I waited for the rest of the group to prepare for the day's excursion. In the morning, we were heading the Shakespeare Globe Theater. First we walked along London's Bankside, across the Thames, and enjoyed a few lesser known sights of the city, such as the Millennium Bridge.
When we arrived at the Globe Theater, a lively giddy British woman greeted us for a tour of the theater. Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, which officially opened in 1997, is a reconstruction of the original Globe, an Elizabethan playhouse in Southwark, on the south bank of the Thames. It is approximately 230 meters (750 ft) from the site of the original theater.

The new new new Globe Theater.
The original Globe Theatre was built in 1599 by the playing company, Lord Chamberlain's Men, to which Shakespeare belonged, and was destroyed by fire on June 29, 1613 The fire was set by a cannon accident during a production of Henry VIII. The Globe Theatre was rebuilt by June 1614, and demolished in 1644. Now before I go any further, I just want to say that in High School at home, I have been unfortunate enough to read a variety of Shakespeare's plays. These include Romeo and Juliet, which I utterly despise, Macbeth, another loathing piece except for Lady Macbeth, Hamlet, which is far too emotional for me, and Taming of the Shrew. As you may have interpreted, I really can not stand reading Shakespeare, because it bores the heck out of me and is overly interpreted, in my opinion. Attending the Globe Theater was the last thing, I was looking forward to doing. But, now that I have gone there, I can honestly say that I am really grateful for having gone to the theater. Besides having shown off my incredible Shakepheare knowledge (I corrected the guide when she said the foil to Hamlet was Ferdinand, when it is actually Fortinbras!) I have come to accept that my feelings about Shakespeare plays spring from the fact that his plays were never intended to be read. They were meant to be seen, to be visual stories of agony, star-crossed lovers, and human nature. Having students read the plays is stupid because it is not what Shakespeare actually wanted. I now have a whole new feeling and aspect regarding Shakespeare pieces.

After the tour of the theater, the guide decided to give us some acting lessons. We took the first scene
of Hamlet, where Hamlet's dead father cries for his son to avenge him. Take 19 French students, who can barely communicate in English, and ask them to Shakespeare. It is truly hilarious! I helped out the guide a whole lot, and perhaps out of gratefulness, she commented that I should consider acting. All I have to say is, "HAHAHA!"

After the Globe Theater, the group was scheduled to tour the Tate Modern Museum. I am not exactly the most aesthetic kind of person you could meet, but having lived in France for two months (especially with my host father, an amateur sculptor, who could talk for hours about carving clay,) I have undergone a transformation. I am suddenly intrigued by art, at least the kind of art that catches your eye and tells a story. I love bright colors and busy pieces that have history attached to it.

The Tate is this huge monstrosity that is quite ugly. It was a former a factory converted into one of the
Inside the Tate Modern.
most premier modern art museums in the world. After a disgusting lunch of mushy mayonnaise and bread, the group entered the museum. We had to complete a paper as an assignment, but Morgane and I decided to check out the special exhibit before we entered the museum. The piece was supposed to transport museum goers in 2058, a world where it only rains, and there are thousands of refugees. There was over 100 bunk beds, each with a futuristic anti-Utopian book on it. I picked out Fahrenheit 451, 1984, Brave New World, and many other classics that spelled pessimism for the future. Even though the exhibit gave me the chills and creeped me out, I was pretty fascinated at the pessimism the artist spelled for the future of the world. Morgane had to drag me out of the exhibit before we ran out of time.

The museum was incredible. Some stuff was weird and stupid, and I hated it upon first sight. While other stuff just fascinated me. I was disappointed that camera were not allowed. One exhibit that sticks out in my mind is the studio, that you have to prove you are 16 years-old to enter. I should have known then... The artist supplemented dozens of graphic sickening photos of nude people mutilating themselves, with movies and sound affects of people screaming bloody murder. It was awful, and I had to run to the bathroom to cool off after seeing it all.

But my favorite exhibit was the Soviet Union propaganda poster. There were hundreds of colors of words in Russian, elevating Stalin and Socialism. I stayed in this room for over 30 minutes, reading the history and seeking to understand each propaganda piece.

At the end of the time in the museum, the clouds were grey and ominous as we trekked back into the bustling part of London. We were given over 2 hours to shop on the world-famous Oxford Street, as part of free time. The teacher proceeded to explain in French, where we would meet. I heard McDonald's, and I spotted a McDonald's in the distance, that I figured was the one she was referring
London in the rain.
to. Morgane and I then set off to shop. I first took money off my debit card, and then nearly sprinted to Starbucks. It has been a long time, since I have had a Mocha Frappucino. Morgane bought a soccer uniform for her brother and tried to get me to admit that France was the best soccer team in the world.

 Meanwhile, I scoured the cheap Chinatown shops for some inexpensive trinkets. Instead, I found a fake Tokidoki LeSportsac bag, that I just HAD to HAVE. I must have gove to 6 different shops looking for the cheapest price. Finally, I found a shop where I haggled for 20 minutes with the Chinese man, and got the price down from 25 pounds to 15 pounds, with a free wallet. I was sooo happy and content with my new TokiDoki bag, that I did not even care that it had begun to rain. Actually that is an understatement. It actually began to pour! Barely a few minutes passed, and my converse sneakers were soaked, and my Jeans were sticking to my legs. Morgane whined behind me, as I pranced through the streets perfectly content at my steal.

Plate of heaven.
At 6, we waited at the McDonalds for the rest of the group. At 6:10, Morgane and I realized that either they were all late, or we messed up. I urged her to call Madame Baard, but she complained that the cost was too much for a call in England. When finally Madame Baard made the first phone call, we realized that Oxford Street has about 40 McDonald's and we were currently sitting at the one on the other side of the meeting point. And so, we began a 3 kilometer run, in the pouring rain, pouncing in and out of various puddles, through London at night.

After about 40 minutes of sprinting, we arrived to the frozen glares of our classmates, and to the angry clutches of the teachers. It was very easy for me to say, "guess what? you said it in French and quickly. I heard McDonald's, I went to the McDonald's. I had no idea it was the wrong one."

Julie eats. And eats. And eats.
Morgane, on the other hand, could not escape getting in trouble. She burst into tears and apologized and begged for forgiveness. Even though Madame Baard did not seem too upset, our classmates made horribly nasty comments about Morgane. They were just mad that we made them wait in the rain. It was so bad for her, that at the restaurant, she dropped her knife and fork in midair, and ran out of the restaurant balling her eyes out. The teachers then yelled at the rest of the class for being rude, while I just sat and devoured a plate of Fish and Chips is perfect ignorance.

Which reminds me, Fish and Chips. Oh my god.

Me and Morgan
There is nothing better than a plate a Fish and Chips in England. Sure I gave away all of Chips. But the Fish was INCREDIBLE. I had the choice to dip it in Tarter sauce, Barbecue Sauce, and Ketchup, and was nearly in heaven as I devoured the fish in a rapid speed. It warmed up my stomach, which had been feeling about guilty about getting lost. I felt so good, that I did not even flinch when the teachers announced we had a 45 minute walk back to the hostel in the rain. After all, my feet were destroyed with blisters and my Converse were soaked from all the puddles. I just stuffed some napkins in my socks, and linked arms with some of the girls in my class, singing French tunes and trekking back through London in the rain. We stopped at the original Hard Rock Cafe to get out of the rain, and then continued out stroll alongside to Hyde Park back to the Youth Hostel.

When we arrived, I kicked off my shoes, examined me throbbing feet, and then raced to the shower. When I saw how long the line was, I grabbed Morgan and we snuck to another floor to get a long hot shower without having to wait. As you might be able to imagine, sleep came easily that night. But I worried about the state of my feet for tomorrow.

The London Adventures: Day I: The Odd One Out

Alex and I at Versailles. Not yet creepin'.
In a previous post, I mentioned that my good friend Alex of Long Island, New York, currently residing in Dijon as a Rotary exchange student, is a 'creeper.' Creeper as in, when you share the same bed with her she somehow manages to creep over to your side of the bed during the night. So you can imagine that I was not exactly surprised, when I woke up on the morning of my trip to London with Alex laying to my right and almost on top of me sound asleep. She had spent the night with me in Fixin, having spent the previous day with Andrew and I in our tiny little village.

At 6:30, we ate a quick breakfast and then jumped in Jean-Francois's car heading for the train station in Dijon. Alex agreed to wait with me for our departure, and also listened to me complain. I was having regrets about signing up to go because I felt like my French was springing forward and 5 days in England with French students trying to practice their second language skills was surely going to hinder that progress. Oh and I only known then what I know now!

Once everyone of the twenty students had arrived, the teachers distributed out tickets for the train from Dijon to Lille. I was seated next to Morgane, a girl from my class, who is genuinely nice and who became my closest companion on this London excursion. For the three hour train trip, she and I listened to her cell phone MP3 player and talked about how much we disliked school. When we
arrived at Lille, we had just over a two hour layover in the station before departing for London. The group sat in a Quick, which is the French equivalent of McDonald's. I, of course, ordered myself a nice big coffee, while the others ran around and made fools of themselves in the playpit. It was just then that I became vaguely aware that I was the oldest student on the trip, by about two years physically, and about 10 mentally.

But more on that later.

We had to check in for the train 30 minutes early, since it is an international service. My classmates got through the service easily, since they are all members of the European Union. However, I had to check in with Customs and fill out a whole form about my intentions in the United Kingdom. The English Customs officer was really wonderful, however. He asked me all about my exchange in the
'Land of the Frogs' and ignored a few silly mistakes I made on the customs card. Once I was finished with signing in, he said, "All right you little Odd One Out, go on and enjoy London." I did not think too much of it at the time, but that is truly what I was the entire trip.

The Odd One Out.

The Eurostar Train is one of the most famous trains in the world because it utilizes the world famous Chunnel Tunnel underneath the English Channel. It is a high-speed train service in Western Europe connecting London and Kent in the United Kingdom, with Paris and Lille in France, and Brussels in Belgium. The trains run up to 300 km/h (186 mph) on a network of high-speed lines. We took the train from Lille to St. Pancras International Station in London. We entered the Chunnel, which only took approximately 20 minutes to get through, and was really just a black hole. The Channel Tunnel is a 50.5 km (31.4 mi) undersea rail tunnel linking England to northern France. At its lowest point it is 75 m (250 ft) deep. While the other students ate their lunches, I immersed myself deep into Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in French and tried not to think about the ocean above my head.

Arriving in London was a great experience and everyone was extremely excited. Choruses of "Hello!" came from the group, which was probably the most English they spoke all week. I could hardly handle the excitement at being in Merry Old England! The group trekked through St. Pancras Station, hauling along our luggage, making our way to the nearest Tube Station. The teachers bought tickets and the group then proceeded to the train headed for the Picadilly Circus, where our Hostel was located. Having ridden New York, Kyoto, and Paris subways, I can honestly say that the Tube is truly a Tube. It is smaller and more rounded than other subways. And when you enter the train, there is a booming voice that says, "mind the gap," rather then watch your step. Packed in a train like sardines, our group finally arrived in the Picadilly Circus. More on that later. Instead of standing around, we quickly made our way to the Auberge de Juenesses, which is French for Youth Hostel.

We piled into groups of 6 or 4 students to a room. I was placed with Morgane, Heloise, Oceane, Justine, and Juliette, and placed into a minuscule room with 3 bunk beds. We did not have any time to unpack and truly explore the hostel, because barely 5 minutes later, we were being ushered back
Fake Rosetta Stone, but cool notwithstanding
outside to the streets of London. After a 25 minute walk through the narrow streets of London, the group arrived at the British museum. The British Museum is a museum of human history and culture in London. Its collections, which number more than 7 million objects, are amongst the largest and most comprehensive in the world and originate from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its beginning to the present.

Since the London excursion was technically a school trip for an English and History class, the teachers prepared for us to do a presentation about a chosen topic. Morgane and I were given the Enlightenment of the World. We headed into the Enlightenment room, where she and I searched for interesting pieces we could present to the class. It was fascinating to me to study such objects such as telescopes and ancient religious pieces. The Enlightenment was the time when the people of the world sought out knowledge and let go of their precedents of the world. They began to understand that the Earth was not the center of the universe, Christianity was not the only world religion, and
their were vast new and unexplored lands just beyond the ocean. In many ways, my years abroad as an exchange student have served as a personal Enlightenment for me.

After 45 minutes of exploring, Morgane and I presented our findings in front of the whole group. She talked about an object that showed the planets, whereby they actually revolved around the Sun and not the Earth, contrary to the popular belief of the time period. I presented an exhibit on ancient religious artifacts, which the Enlightenment thinkers used to learn about religions of the world. When we were finished we moved to the exhibit abut the America's. The Americas collection mainly consisted of 19th and 20th century items although the Inca, Maya, and Aztec and other early cultures are well represented; collecting of modern artifacts is ongoing.

Next we explored the lifestyles of the ancient Egyptians. The British Museum houses the world's largest and most comprehensive collection of Egyptian antiquities outside Cairo. Everyone's stomachs were grumbling and the museum was closing at 6. After that, the group headed back to the Youth Hostel. Along the way, the teachers hurried into a variety of restaurants searching for a cheap meal for dinner. Unlike most excursions, the tour guides (teachers) had not pre-booked any restaurants. They figured that their English was good enough to just haggle for some cheap deals. They found the weirdest place, a Vegan Chinese restaurant that offered a 6.50 pound buffet per plate, including dessert. Madame Pomarat haggled with the Chinese man for a cheaper price, with drinks. I stepped in her place and said, "Look we have 22 people, we will pay you 5.50 for all-you-can-eat buffet with tap water and dessert. Take it or leave it." The Chinese man looked at me, shocked that my English was so good, and quickly agreed to my demand.

It was in that moment, when I realized I had a skill for haggling.

For me, dinner was incredible. Since I am a Vegetarian and half-Asian (sort of) I feasted. The rest of
the group, on the other hand, was horrified at the food and at me for eating everything I saw. The boys of the group referred to some intriguing looking dish as cooked socks, and another dish as fingernail fungus. They also had a interesting time watching me master the chop sticks with utmost perfection. But they were annoyed when I explained to them that they must NEVER spear their food with the sticks, for it is the rudest custom in China and Japan. "How are we supposed to eat then?" I laughed as I watched my classmates fling food across the table in a desperate attempt to eat their food.

And so, there I was again. The Odd One Out. The weird American, but not really. I did teach my classmates how to say thank you in Chinese, and the restaurant proprietors were pleased at the French students for attempting Chinese. Except I am not totally certain that my classmates were thankful for the food. They moaned about their hunger for the rest of the night.

Back at the hostel, we really got a chance to explore the place. Located in the center of London, Piccadilly Backpackers Hotel literally has Piccadilly Circus on its doorstep, making it the most central hostel in London. This ideal spot is only minutes from London's most popular attractions; including the famous nightspot Leicester Square, the trendy area of Soho, the bustling shopping area of Oxford Street and London's renowned central Theatre Land. Even Trafalgar Square, Big Ben and the London Eye are within an average 10min walking distance from our entrance. However, it is also a Youth Hostel, and is also a bit grimy. The six of us were jampacked in a tiny room, which ended up working out just fine. Also for each floor, there were only two showers, for the whole floor. (Morgane and I cheated and snuck onto other floors for first dibs on good showers.) Nevertheless, it was an awesome place for someone like me. There were hundreds of different nationalities, and I even got to practice my Japanese with a pair of two girls from Sapporo.

That evening,while my French classmates decided to stay together and play cards with each other, I ventured into the common room. I met two really cute German boys, who live in Bielefield, Germany, which is also where Judii Hugeot (a former exchange student to New Jersey, and close friend of my family) lives. We talked about traveling, and they the boys told me that they were living in the Hostel for over a month, working at a cafe during the day, partying at night, and loving the fabulous city of London. They gave me some good ideas *smiles sneakily* When the Germans left for a big party in Soho, London, I started talking to a man from Brighton, England, about the upcoming presidential election in the states. He was really well educated, and fabulous to talk to. He agreed with me that the election was incredibly important for the future of the world, but that either McCain or Obama will make a decent president, just with a different course of action. I was so disappointed when 10:00 came around, and Madame Baard asked me to head up to the room for lights out.

Sleep came really easily for me that night. My bunk mates apparently spoke in French until about 2 in the morning, while I had drifted off into slumber at 10:15. It was a long day, but I had already known then that London and this trip was the beginning and start of something new.

London Adventures: Prologue: My London Calling

So. I have just returned from my 5-day school excursion to London, England.

But first things first: I absolutely adored Kochi, Japan. I used to feel like I was cheating on my precious New York City every time I fell a bit more in love with Kochi. Oh sure, at that time, my favorite city in the world was definitely Sydney, but nothing compares to excitement that is New York City. But now I feel guiltier because I have a serious crush on London. It might be a wee bit more than a crush though, as I have a deep-seeded passion for the city now. While roaming the ancient cobble-stoned streets that hundreds of thousands of people had walked before me, I found myself feeling like I must have lived in London in a past life. The whole time I had this weird familiar feeling, yet was acutely aware of experiencing everything for the first time. Words do not it justice: I am in love with London.

Since this is the prologue to the whole long story of my London escapades, I may as well start with
everything I know to be true. At my Lycee (High School) there is a program called European Anglais, whereby the French student select the course of intensive supplementary English. They learn more advanced English (apparently...) and also the History of England in English. They have been planning this London excursion since June, with approximately 20 spots and the 2 teachers, Madame Baard and Madame Pomaret. Unfortunately in the beginning of October, one of the students dropped out because of an illness. Rather than the take the loss in finances, they searched for someone at my school to take the spot. That is where I come in. Even though the trip was a little bit out of my budget, my life-long dream of visiting London was too important.

We departed for London on October 19, and Madame Pomarat invited me to partake in trip on October 5. I had approximately 2 weeks to contact insurance agencies, muster up 350 Euros, prepare passports, and all that jazz. Luckily, Rotary decided to pay me my allowance for three months, and I had a spare 150 Euros laying around so the trip could be completely covered. I got it all done in 3 days, with the help of Leonie. I was set and going to London. I will admit, however, my slight prejudice against the kitschy touristy traps concerned me. Taking 20 French teenagers to the British capital sounds like a formula for a touristy pie, however with two incredibly knowledgeable teachers, the group experienced London the way a Londoner would (except I suspect a Londoner would not speak French in England.)

Oh London.

I feel terrible when I refer to it as a city. It may as well be it's own country. But when you live in Fixin, a village of 715 people, any place that has their own supermarket or McDonalds ought to be it's own country. I am out for some hardcore shopping. Mind you hardcore shopping for me is maybe three post cards and a coffee if I am lucky. It pays to be the cheapest human being on the face of the Earth. After all, if I was not cheap, I probably would not be in France, and now London. Of course, I also have no choice but to be tight about money. I am seriously abused by the exorbitant exchange rate every time I open my wallet. In France, I just say $1 is .75 Euros. But in London, good gracious, $1 is .50 cents. It is utterly ridiculous, but I may as well accept the the things I can not change. For some odd reason, I found myself opening my wallet a whole lot in London. I haggled for an amazing fake Tokidoki bag in China Town (25 pounds to 15 pounds ! Score!) and a few other touristy contraptions. I also binged on Starbucks Mocha Frappucinos, which we do not have in France. I paid 3.25 pounds for a large on Thursday morning, which is the equivalent of over 6 dollars. Money well spent, in my opinion. I got called “retarded” by an jerky waiter at the cafe when I took too long to order, and got hit on by a goofy University of London boy in front of the Twinnings Tea Shop.

Did I mention, I love London?

But you know the thing about the big city, especially New York, because that is my big city, is that
The Millenium Bridge on the Thames.
when I did live near there, I did not really LIVE there. I was so busy with either school, traveling, or work, or just trying to live that I never really enjoyed the experience of living in the one of the most amazing places on the planet. Now, every time I visit, I end up someplace and think: “How and why did I never come here before?” Maybe that is why I love London so much. Because even though I was there for only 5 days, it was an incredible 5 days, whereby I explored everything, absorbed more history lessons than I could have even hoped for, and was just all around enamored with the most incredible blend of modern city life and old historical matter. Even with horrible Charlie Horses during the night from all the walking, blisters on my feet the size of golf balls, chapped lips oozing with blood, a new annoyance with French tourists, I can honestly say that London is the greatest city in the world.

At least for now. I am only 17 years-old and I have plenty of more traveling to do.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

How the Frogs Perceive the Imperialists

Never ask "friends" their good opinion of you.
Live in ignorance, my friends.
Experience has taught me to never ask people what they really think of me. Accompanied with the statement "come on, you can be totally honest," the ensuing comments of friends and family often turn out to be a character assassination, which leaves you feeling just a little suicidal.

Sometimes I am offended when someone makes a real nasty jab at the good old US of A. Okay, please, if one more person calls me a fat, Big Mac-eater, I think I am going to scream. But frankly, the Yanks and the Frogs are friends again now. The French may not have gleefully followed us into Iraq, but the bad feeling between the two countries is a thing of the past. "Freedom Fries" are French again, Nicolas Sarkozy ate a Hamburger with George W. Bush, and French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, has been making some very "positive" noises about the American "intervention" in Iraq. (But he has also said that Israel is going to "eat" Iran, so how really knows what he is talking about.) I plan to save the French and American relationship for another post, however. Instead, I want to talk about something much more comical: the French and the British. The thing is that I feel like I should only talk from
experience. Since I live in France, am surrounded by the French, and have been influenced by the French mindset, I can only really talk about how the Frogs think of the Brits.

Ten years ago, under the English Channel, or La Manche in Francais, history was made. The construction workers drilling the Channel Tunnel broke through the chalk and shook hands with each other. For the first time since the Ice Age, Britain and France were physically linked. But after hundreds of years filled with cultural and political rivalry, everything from the Napoleonic Wars to calling each other frogs and rosbifs, can Britain and France ever really learn to love each other?

The Chunnel: Physically Linking Two Arch-Enemies
Since the 1990's
Apparently, according to those I have talked to, the Brits, have the most mixed feelings about the French. One half the country hates them, the other half loves them. Those that hate the French tend to like the Americans, and vice versa. In the United Kingdom, the Frenchies are considered stinky and rude because they never line up like decent people. Oh and of course, the French are a bit yellow, based on their tendency to not fend off invaders like the Nazis.

The French, in turn, dislike the British. Perhaps, dislike is not the proper word. Actually the French like the British very much, especially since without the British, there would be no good jokes to laugh at. Before coming here, I thought that the English-French rivalry was due to their long history of warfare, for example the invasion of General Napoleon, or the 100 Years War, or even the fact that a Frenchmen, William I of Normandy, came in and kicked the Anglo-Saxons around and founded modern Britain. But now, I believe the primary cause behind the rivalry is language.

Specifically, the French revere their language. There are strictly controlled rules that define what constitutes proper French, from the grammar to the pronunciation. They also take great pains to get students to learn quite a few languages besides just plain French during their schooling. They realize what it mans to be European, and the fact that they must know more than just French to be able to get around their continent and the world. The English, on the other hand, have absolutely no respect for anyone's language. In addition, they could really care less about learning any other languages. After all, everyone speaks English, at least they think everything SHOULD speak English.

During school, I take two separate English classes; regular English and English reinforce. During English reinforce, we are studying the British from our teacher, who spent a year abroad in Brighton, in the United Kingdom. Not a class goes by, where I do not roar in laughter at the remarks made about the British by my fellow classmates. "Okay class, I would like you all to speak English now. Now, tell me what does it mean to be British?" In return the class, gave some compelling answers. It means drinking a lot of Tea, eating pudding on Christmas, not having to learn another language, going to Paris or Berlin and refusing to speak anything but English, owning more than half of the world, refusing to join the European Union because the English Pound is stronger than the Euro, having a lot of Indian immigrants, and having the world's most disgusting cuisine. The list goes on and on.

Another thing that I think the French dislike about the British is that Great Britain may be a part of Europe, yet they are still much closer the United States. It is not just about the same language, but also many of the same customs and habits.

Now that I am done with stating my theories on the Frogs and Imperialist relations, I may as well explain what prompted this editorial. I am going to London tomorrow with my school! And so the next time that I write a post, it will be after my 5 day excursion in London.

Tout Alors, mon amie!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The French Soiree

I went to my first college party... in France! There was lot's of alcohol, lots of 'hooking up,' and an all around crazy experience for me. I reckon it would not be that big of a deal for most people, but I am not most people. Most people would have been attending these sort of parties throughout high school, getting drunk, and living the party experience. As for me, I was in a school uniform attending school 6 times a week in Japan or with my nose stuck in a history textbook. When I graduated high school, it is true that I felt a pang of regret about not having had the typical 'high school experience.' Because, you know, everyone wants to vomit on a front porch after drinking too much. Yet, I would never give my up my traveling experiences, and I figured it was only a matter of time before I would be able to party and be a normal teenager. I never expected that it would be in France, but here I am.

Yesterday evening, my host sister, Charlotte, took me to her friend's 18th birthday on the outskirts of Dijon. Her friend is a college student at Bourgogne University, studying law, with dreams of becoming a lawyer. Although after having met her, I have a sneaking suspicion it has less to do with being a lawyer and more to do with finding a way how to overthrow the government.

As soon as Charlotte introduced me as her American exchange student, the birthday girl proceeded to call me, "capitalist!" Now, look, I get a lot of crap for President Bush, Iraq, and the current financial crisis. But what the heck? Capitalist? Where did that come from? Except when Charlotte took me into the girl's room to put down how coats, I saw a giant poster of Joseph Stalin on the wall. Everything made sense then. I used to have a giant poster of Hanson, followed by a Star Wars movie poster, and finally a world map hanging on my wall in my room in America. Not exactly a Communist leader, but as they say, "whatever floats your boat." Charlotte also told me that she and I were probably going to be in the small minority of straight people at the party. "Oh well," I signed, "can I have a drink?"
Charlotte and I headed into the kitchen to help the birthday girl make some drinks. I learned how to make an alcoholic beverage that is basically the French equivalent of punch. You pour two bottles of champagne with some fruity little alcohol thing, and you get an incredibly tasty citrus drink. Very strong, too, I might like to add.

As lots of people began arriving, I greeted everyone with the bisous, kiss greeting. I met some of Charlotte's friend that I had not seen since my first day at her going-away party. (Note the irony) They were pretty impressed at my French, even though I could barely say anything.

The atmosphere of the party was extremely contemporary French teen life. Very Bohemian with some jazz music, anti- government, gays, and lots and lots of smoking. Even though the French government is taking immense steps to reduce smoking, it is not working. It costs 6 Euros ($10) for 20 cigarettes, and eat box says in size 72 font, "Fumer Tue" (Smoking Kills.) Yet no one cares, and I found myself the only person not leaving the tiny apartment to smoke every few minutes. Even though all of these teenagers are essentially the same age as me, give or take a few months, I could not help feel incredibly immature amongst them. They were drinking, smoking, and talking about adult things in a way that made it seem like they had been doing this stuff for a long time. Sure kids in the States drink at parties, but they also do not sit around smoking and discussing the repercussions of the financial crisis on third world countries. They talk about their high school sports team, who they think is hot, and what good movies are in theaters. Listening in on their intellectual discussions, and I got a pang of want to learn this language so that I could participate fully.

On another note, since I think I am pretty skinny and also very new to the concept of alcohol, after only two small plastic cups of drinks, I had reached my limit. Even the room was not spinning, everything appeared funny to me, and I giggled at the littlest of things. Lucky for me, I also know I have limits and what to do when I reach them. Stop drinking and begin eating. The food at the party consisted of cheese bread, cheese puffs, salmon and cucumbers, and a few other questionable treats. I ate quite a few pieces of cheese bread, and after a few minutes, I could feel myself coming back to earth.

The thing is, I actually had a good time. Even though communication was a problem, it was fun to be around people my age and at a party. I met some really cool girls, who I probably would have been creeped out by if I was 100% sober (they were hooking up with each other...) I bonded with Charlotte and her friends, celebrated a French birthday party, and got another cool experience to talk about.
Apparently on the ride home, I had a hard time saying whether I had a good time or not, however. For some reason, I was only able to speak Japanese. Oh and laugh a lot.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Secret To A Little Piece of Happiness

Happiness can be found in all places around the world.

Coline's happiness.
A little girl in Fixin, France finds happiness in a strange Indian ingredient that imprints Henna tattoos on her arm. She runs around the house finding naked arms to scribble a funky pattern upon.

A 24 year-old Japanese girl finds happiness in a pair of knee-high leather boots, cheetah-patterned skirts, and make-up an inch deep laced across her face. She laughs with her friends, as they smile and take pictures in a computerized photo booth. (My host sister Naoko in Kochi.)

A young American girl finds happiness in getting in a red Mustang with a nice boy, whom she likes. Then they head off to band practice with their other friend. (My little sister Shannon in NJ.)

An Australian medical student finds enjoyment in stitching up a wounded farmer in the outback for her studies. As she learns, she finds happiness in knowing that she will make a great doctor one day. (My exchange student friend Althea.)

Then there is me. An American by birth, reincarnated from Japan, and living in France, and probably more cultured than your average 17 year-old. I mean, honestly the people I consider to be my best of friends currently reside in Liege, Belgium; Townsville, Australia; Belo Horizonte, Brazil; Kochi, Japan; Perth, Australia; Dijon, France; Cordoba, Argentina; and many many more. But for as worldly as I like to think I am. I still find happiness in the little things.

I will never forget that moment last weekend, sitting on the train to Versailles, France, and receiving the most envious icy glares from my fellow American exchange student. The various French passengers were giving me icy glares too, but that is excepted. They also glower at each in anger if they do not have a seat or are in a bad mood (which is most of the time.) I was holding in my chilly hands the key to eternal happiness, or at least the brief time I was able to not eat it. For my lunch, I had made a Peanut Butter and Strawberry Jam sandwich. It was a little piece from my birth culture, and it was the warmest piece of delight I could have imagined in that very given moment. I could not even find the goodness in my heart to share my sandwich with the other exchange students. The sandwich was mine. All mine.

In addition to the delight that was a Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich, I decided to make my host family some Chocolate Chip Cookies today. Now for those of you who know me, you know that I am not exactly skilled in the kitchen. But the more I try to learn how to cook, the better I become, and the more I learn about the art of the kitchen. Instead of going for a nice long run in the mountains, I decided to convert my American measuring system in to the metric system and create those tasty little chocolate temptations. My host mom, Leonie had once told me that while she was an exchange student in the States, chocolate chip cookies had been one of the main reasons she packed on 10 kilograms (about 18 pounds or so.) Plus it was a great opportunity to bond with Charlotte, my host sister, who has just returned from her failed exchange to India. I knew that Charlotte was a huge fan of cooking, especially cooking desserts.

And so we started. Two huge bars of dark chocolate needed to be mashed up into little morsels, since France does not sell pre-made chips. It was hard work to cut up the chocolate bar, I had a knife and a think piece of wood, but at the rate I was cutting, it would take me well over an house to cut one of the two bars. But Charlotte discovered an intriguing way to get it done. She took her mother's margarita mixer thing and began mashing the chocolate. It was cut into a tiny sand-like substance, which I worried about, but I figured it might actually taste good.

Next we melted the butter on the family space heater, since I forgot to take it out earlier. And finally we searched through a variety of French-English dictionary to discover the French word for Brown Sugar. When everything was mixed in the pot, Charlotte and I began to worry that the batter was too soft. But the more we mixed it up the harder it became. It also became much browner than the average cookie mix, but I suspected that was because of the exorbitant amount of chocolate we threw into the mix. Mixing the dough was fun, but eating it was even better. I think I definitely ate half of my weight in the cookie dough and chocolate, while Charlotte laughed at my inability to wait for the final product. I told her own I had a pretty good ability to resist temptation, but cookie dough was one of those weaknesses I could not overcome, as I plopped another piece of dough into my mouth.

Next we put the little balls of dough in the over, estimated a time and temperature, and waited to see how creations would turn out. While we waited and watched, the smell of chocolate dissipated all of my worries over how the cookies would turn out. Sure they were much more brown than the average cookie, but we followed the directions perfectly. And sure enough, the taste of warm chocolate chip cookies showed that we had succeeded. In fact, I thought the cookies tasted batter than the kind I make in America. I think all the extra ground up chocolate gave it a special favor as it essentially melted on our tongues.

When Leonie returned from her run, she popped about 6 or 7 cookies in her mouth, and reminisced her time as an exchange student in America. It was one of the best years of her life, and she found happiness in the taste of cookies, the taste of remembrance. Charlotte found happiness in curling up on the couch with Glamour magazine, holding a large glass of milk, and devouring the warm treats after dipping in milk. I myself was too busy enjoying the taste of cookie dough to eat the finished product. Except at some point, I could not help but laugh at thinking I had actually cooked chocolate cookies in France. The new favorite dessert. "It's these moments," I thought, "the little things that make this life worth living."