Spring Fever

There’s something surreal about lying by the lakeside, basking in the warm spring sunshine, and still being able to see snow on the distant mountaintops. And being the only non-German in the vicinity – but that’s personal to me (and an increasingly common phenomenon in my life these days…)

Springtime in Lausanne; I’ve been looking forward to it ever since the mercury dropped to my horror to -14° in February. Now, two months on and the sun is in full glorious blast, and all anyone wants to do is toast themselves by the lake. Unfortunately the work seems to be piling on thick just as the clothes are thinning down and the sunscreen and shades are coming out.

Spring fever seems to either mean a decrease in energy and vitality (also known as Frühjahrsmüdigkeit – try saying that ten times in a row!), or the opposite. I’m supposed to be studying, but this weather appears to have a soporific effect as soon as I hunker down to hit the books (definitely Frühjahrsmüdigkeit). However, I never seem too sleepy to enjoy a drink in the great outdoors at our favourite expat bar, or to take a long stroll along the lake. I guess I have selective spring fever.

In any case, I know I’m not alone. I defy you to find one person who is not deliriously delighting in the beau temps right now. Springtime has brought back out the sheep on campus, the magnificent mountain views, barbeques on the beach and the license to not  check anything into the compulsory cloakrooms in nightclubs.

C’est génial.

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The (Chinese) status updates that could have been

Travelling around China for the last two weeks has been many things: chaotic, fascinating, hilarious, and at times dangerous. Having been there before, and with China’s rapid development, I didn’t experience much culture shock, as a first-time visitor would. However, the last time I was there (about three years ago) there was one, massive, major difference.

I could access Facebook.

At some point between now and my last visit, Facebook has been banned in China. Having no access to WordPress and Youtube and most news articles was not particularly enjoyable, either. But I won’t deny that being banned from Facebook was the most disorientating. As you might imagine, there were many things over the course of my travels which merited a witty status update, but sadly could not be. Until now.

So I’ve decided to give my frustrated Facebook urges an outlet and put together some of the status updates that I would have posted during my trip. I could write endlessly about mouth-watering Chinese food, stunning skylines in Shanghai and Hong Kong, getting in touch with my ancestral roots, museums and ancient sights, but it’s the little moments (that are so often well summed-up in a short status) that make a trip. Plus I’m too tired to write it all. So here, loyal readers, is a bit of what I got up to…

  • I hate long-haul flights. At least we’re flying Air France, so I’m getting in a bit of français…
  • I genuinely feel like a giant here
  • Aaahh the sweet music of people deafeningly hocking spit in every direction
  • When you don’t speak the same language as your hairdresser it’s a SERIOUS PROBLEM
  • Why are trips to the hairdresser always so epic? Literally, five hours. Finished at last at 1am!!
  • When you look Chinese and speak with not much of an accent, people take you as a local. So when you can’t string a sentence together properly, they take you as a local retard. This has happened more often than I am comfortable with.
  • Just ate snake. We got to pick one before it was slaughtered. It was yummy, but tough.
  • First time on a motorbike: three to a bike, weaving madly through traffic, honking the horn like mad, no helmets. Motor taxis are way more fun than the normal kind.
  • Think that Chinese vodka was dodgy…
  • Ate pig intestines and didn’t know it…
  • Reunion of the clan! Wasn’t expecting to have to make a speech to a roomful of 30-odd relatives though. In Chinese.
  • Queuing at Nanjing train station’s ladies’ toilets; one cubicle didn’t have a door…didn’t stop a woman from using it right in front of us all anyway. Didn’t know where to look.
  • After three days of grand Chinese banquets, I’m desperately in need of some simple peasant food. Plain rice or noodles, PLEASE!!!
  • My cousin’s German girlfriend was actually translating Chinese to English for me. What’s wrong with this picture??
  • Ate duck tongue. Oh, and pig tongue.
  • Truckin’ with 7 travel buddies, the youngest (after me) being 50 years old. Rock on!!
  • Can actually hear someone hocking spit from my hotel room…glad we’re upgrading to a 5-star tomorrow!
  • Trying to order room service in Chinese…disaster!
  • Mongkok Ladies’ Market in Hong Kong seems to have brought out a shopping fiend in me, and a haggling beast in my friend.
  • Back in Europe, where good bread and dairy products actually exist. So when’s the next trip to Asia…?

The Language Files 10: Now that’s my language…

I don’t know about you but I sometimes find it hard enough to express myself when I’m speaking in my mother tongue, let alone a foreign one. I’m much more comfortable with the written word, where I have more time to formulate. There is sadly no backspace for your mouth. E-mails to friends, even facebook messages, can become meandering, elaborate essays and I wish I were as articulate when speaking, but the words tend to trip over one another.

That’s in English. Imagine how it is when I am trying to express my more complicated cogitations in French, and I am (as is usually the case) in an awful hurry to get it all out. It’s amazing, then, how I have somehow managed to have some really quite profound (I like to think) conversations in French. A challenge enough with a native speaker, but imagine with another non-francophone…

Yet, somehow we manage. My comely German neighbour and I do not share a mother tongue, yet our regular tea and chat sessions in (albeit staccato and mixed with German and English) French are more enjoyable and rewarding than many a conversation I happen to have in English. And she’s not the only one. How is it that, umming-and-ahhing and vocabulary mind-blanks aside, sometimes conversations in French just seem to flow better than with others in English?

This is how I know that language can be completely arbitrary, if you got the click. I know couples who do not share a mother tongue, yet muddle along just fine; better than many couples who do. It can be difficult for your full personality and sense of humour to come across in a foreign language, but they are often transmitted without a word being spoken anyway. Indeed, an Italian I know, who happens to be in a non-native-language-sharing romance himself (there must be a simpler term for this!), really likes to emphasise the importance of body language!

But seriously though, to communicate one’s values and motivations and find them compatible with another’s (the essential ingredients for a friendship, or any relation that brings any kind of satisfaction), an expansive arsenal of advanced vocabulary and sophisticated grammatical manipulation is not necessary. All you need is that little bit of magic, that chemistry, that affinité, and you’re laughing.

Delighting in Blighty

So I’m back in England for a period of about 40 hours before flying off again to visit the fambam in China, and have really rather a lot to do and should not be blogging… but I can’t help when the blog Muse moves me. Or perhaps this is just another symptom of my very modern malady: an inability to disconnect.

In any case, it must be said that though I was not exactly dragged home kicking and screaming, I did come away from Switzerland rather reluctantly; I was just getting into the swing of the second semester, and enjoying the fine weather and barbeques. Mind you it was raining when I left Lausanne, and it’s lovely and sunny here in London. And in fact, though the crowds and bustle immediately started to stress me out when I landed yesterday, today I’m actually rather enjoying England.

It’s the little things you don’t realise you missed, until you encounter them wandering down the high street. Red post boxes; English accents everywhere; Waitrose; the fact that everything seems affordable (even Waitrose feels bargainous); meat products proudly declared “born and bred in the west country”; chavs bopping along in their tracksuits holding loud conversations on their mobiles. Ok, maybe not the last one so much…

Then there are magazines that actually cost less than 10 francs (about £7.50); cover stories featuring Kate Middleton or Alesha Dixon; that annoying electronic voice at the self-service checkout saying “please place item in bagging area”; cheap, low-quality food abounding in every direction; fat people.

Seriously, you just don’t get these things back in Suisse…