Globe Trotter: Valentine’s Day all over the World!


Roses are red, love is in the air, it’s Valentine’s Day! And to celebrate this lovely – … – opportunity to spend time with those we cherish, Babel Tower Keepers invite you to join them on a cruise from Oceania to Africa, from South America to Europe, to discover what the 14th of February looks like in Australia, Benin, Costa Rica, Honduras and France!


th-2.jpegAUSTRALIA, by Siobhan Reardon

I’m sure people are expecting something extremely interesting when it comes to dating in Australia. Maybe riding to the location of the date on the back of a kangaroo? I’m sorry to say that this is not the case. When it comes to, pretty much everything, Australia mostly follows the rest of the world. 

As in other countries, when it comes to a heterosexual couple, the man is usually expected to pay for the date (however as society becomes more progressive I would say this is definitely changing). It’s also looked highly upon if he takes the woman to the date and, if this is the case, he is expected to drive her home as well. Other than these things, there isn’t really a special event or gesture that is made by either partner on a date in Australia. 

One thing that is different between dating in Australia and other countries is how dates are generally a lot more laid back and casual. I think people are a lot more open to group dates than in other parts of the world, say like the USA, most likely just to make people feel more at ease in a dating environment. Honestly, the dating scene is pretty relaxed in Australia and is primarily based on what makes the couple comfortable and happy, rather than conforming to a kind of idealised image of dating. It’s, honestly, pretty simple, I would say. 


th-4.jpegBENIN, by Iman Eyitayo

I’ve never celebrated Valentin’s day, since I grew up in a city where, I think, nobody cared. I only learnt about that celebration though TV and books, and how people would give their loved ones chocolate, roses, or other kinds of gifts or rituals. I’ve often wondered why was that, and I have a double theory : first, most Beninese do not spend money on « unnecessary things » (so most commercial celebrations are not a « thing » back there), and second, we do not publicly express love. It’s sort of taboo, I think. For instance, the first thing that shocked me when I arrived in France later on was people touching and hugging and kissing in public : this was impossible where I come from. However, since we are being influenced by Western culture, if you happen to be in Benin at this time of year, inviting your loved one to dinner would not considered a bad thing : food is the best celebration you can find in my country, so every occasion to do so is celebrated !


th-5.jpegCOSTA RICA, by Pablo Castro

I think of two major environments when I think of Costa Rican couples: a festive party scene and a calm nature one.

Festivals, communal activities and loud bars allow couples to enjoy music in large cheerful crowds. It goes without saying that dancing is a central part of most of these outings. At Las Fiestas, yearly carnivals that travel around towns, the dancefloor is invaded by couples of all ages, ranging from awkward teenagers to experienced 80-year-olds. It is common knowledge that dancing skills are necessary for anyone trying to charm a partner, be it at a bar or at a relative’s wedding. Bachata is known to be the most sensual of dances and if someone invites you to the dancefloor when it plays, you can tell what his or her intentions are!

People who are less interested in crowds, may look for some of the many scenes of picturesque landscapes or simply surround themselves with some of the rich biodiversity the country offers. With many people living close to beaches, mountains and even volcanoes a date can often be a hike, a picnic or a simple sunset-watching session.

If you ever date in Costa Rica, then, be ready for a routine of Salsa, Merengue, stargazing and sunrises.


th-1.jpegHONDURAS, by Ana Catalina Espinoza

The red roses, absurd overuse of cologne, the DIY cards, and who knows even mariachis could get into the equation. Valentine’s day is either a day many are waiting to ask a girl to be their girlfriend or the day to make a grandiose declaration of love to your ‘already’ girlfriend. Hondurans are mad romantics that will gift you 100 roses on your first month-versary. But they could also just forget you birthday… so don’t get too excited. Valentine’s day can get cheesy. Back in the day, serenades were a very popular form to demonstrate a boy’s love for a girl. A serenade consists of a group of singing mariachis, which are singers, guitar players, accordion players and some other instruments as well. The magic of the serenade is to have it delivered to your house, you open your window to one of the most romantic gestures ever to exist. (I must admit I am a sucker for romantic musical gestures) The mariachis usually sing songs about how beautiful a girl is or how the man behind the gesture is madly in love with the girl. Now, the usual starter pack for Hondurans lovers includes red roses, a love note, and grooming up in your best formal clothes.


th-3.jpegFRANCE, by Camille Ibos

No matter the country in which I was travelling, I’ve always been greeted by people referring to Paris, capital of France, as the town of Love with a capital L. My Australian host sister kept calling Paris ‘la ville de l’amour’, and a Romanian friend joked that one could not tight their shoelaces in Paris without being thought of being proposing to the person in front of them. Another friend from Romania didn’t remember anything else from his French classes than ‘Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?’, ‘Do you want to have sex with me?’. It’s true that in France, we take dating very seriously. It is common knowledge that the day after a first night together, the man of the couple ‘should’ buy a handful of croissants for his partner’s breakfast – which man should be in charge of the croissants in a gay couple, the story doesn’t say. In a country considering itself the ‘world center of gastronomy’, it’s no surprise that love and food often go hand in hand, and bringing breakfast to one’s partner is seen as a peak of cuteness and romanticism. For Valentine’s Day, it is a tradition to offer roses and a present, as well as to go to a fancy restaurant for dinner. Valentine’s Day being a huge thing in France, single friends often organize ‘alternative Valentine’s’ on that evening, and a harsh debate is still going on, on whether Valentine’s is nothing but a commercial celebration or is, on the other hand, a wonderful opportunity to celebrate love. Anyway, it’s at least an occasion to eat good food, and pâtisseries in Paris even offer to sell cakes two by two at this period of the year…


And you… how is it in your country? 🙂

Globe Trotter: US#1: Los Angeles and Las Vegas’ giant fantasies


‘Living in America, at the end of the millenium… you’re what you own’

And what I was owning, fully conscious of my luck of being one of the too-few people on Earth able to move because they longed to, was a cabin-sized suitcase, a small backpack and my passport opened to a border officer. My Mum and brother were on my side. We had left Lyon, France, two days ago, to take a plane to Germany. After our second plane was cancelled, we’ve had to go to Warsaw, Poland, to take the third one, and after hours of flights and hours of queuing up, here we were, eventually.

In Los Angeles, California, United States of America, for the first time in my life.


My family had decide months before to go on this trip, the first one we would do during Summer holidays. It was a dream of my brother’s to go to the US and after I studied it for a year already, I thought it was high time for me to see it with my own eyes. After years of watching American movies, having American food and hearing about the ‘American dream’, I finally had the opportunity to go at the source. We would spend two weeks on the West Coast; cross California, Arizona, Utah and Nevada; go to the Grand Canyon, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Francisco or Monument Valley. All those, with a group of fifty other people and a guide, as for the first time ever, we’ve decided to go on an organized trip.


We arrived exhausted but delighted to finally be there and eager to learn. From the first few minutes I spent on the American soil, I couldn’t have a more bursting and loud memories. I remember lights, lights everywhere as if life in this town was a constant feast, the highest buildings I’ve ever seen and the largest road. As soon as we’ve gone out of the airport and met the driver who would take us to our hotel, an incident had happen that had make me realize I clearly was not in France anymore. The driver was looking for his car on an endless carpark; at some point, he pushed a button on a remote control, noticed a car whose highlights had light up, and hopefully opened the car’s door before snapping it stressfully and telling us, ‘That is not my car’. He had just make another driver, in a car exactly similar to his, freak out.


On the way to our hotel, this adorable former immigrant let my brother play with all possible gadgets in the car – and there were so many – while telling us his story, after I asked him where he was from since he sounded exactly like a friend of mine coming for Romania. He told he himself, Sebi, was Romanian and had come to Los Angeles to become an actor – ‘but I didn’t try hard enough, I only tried six months’. He added, joyfully, that in Los Angeles everything was about money, was fake and was a fantasy, and continued with the stories of the celebs he had seen in bars thanks to his work. It was fantastic to meet such an open-minded and extraverted person at our arrival; this trip has started the right way, and everything I discovered for the two weeks that followed made me realize how impressive a country this multi-faced land is.


LOS ANGELES, California

However, we only visited Los Angeles two weeks after our arrival, and after touring four different American states in an exhausting but amazingly rewarding trip. Coming back to Los Angeles was a bit sad, as it meant the end of this beautiful journey; but getting to see this town was like being thrown within a postcard, and seeing with one’s own eyes something one has known for years from photos and reputation. The first glance we took at the letters ‘Hollywood’ on the hill really felt like something; it was as if we’ve entered a story that went well beyond us. It might sound crazy; but getting to see the very place we’ve get glimpses of in movies and books, made me feel extraordinarily grateful.


We also walked through the moving Walk of Fame, its pink and Bordeaux stars and its multiples shops selling awards ranging from ‘Best musician’ to ‘Best roommate’. We put our hands and feet on to the foot- and fingerprints of so many celebrities, Meryl Streep, Clark Gable, Tim Burton! We were laughing at ourselves, admitting this ambiguity of feeling like we were living something extraordinary, while doing the same thing as million of tourists before us who probably thought, too, ‘My foot is only half of Will Smith’s’, ‘Marilyn Monroe really had long fingers, way longer than mine’


Eventually, we went to Venice Beach, a beautiful and crazy area that gathers both the worst  and most greasy fast-foods, the most dedicated body-builders of Los Angeles, more souvenirs shops for us to count them all, topless guys playing basketball and whose skills made my outraged brother complain that ‘Players clearly aren’t that good in France!’, and people trying all possible existing sports including swinging in a hoop or dancing with rollerblades.




A few days ago, we’ve been to Las Vegas that, as my Mother kept repeating for weeks before, actually is ‘the town of excessiveness’. It’s not even about the gigantic sign ‘Welcome to fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada’ at the entrance. It’s not, either, about the dozens of wedding chapels all over the streets; or about the Stratosphere tower, the highest tower in Las Vegas, on which people can do rides that consist into plunging into the void; or about the people literally flying above one’s head on Fremont Street yodel; or about the fact that they rebuilt an Eiffel Tower, Venice, the Coliseum, an Egyptian Pyramid… and many more, within the town.

IMG_6324.JPGGoing to Las Vegas is like entering a new world, one that never sleeps, a fantasy based on lights and colors and money. We stayed open-mouthed in front of the endless casinos’ flashing machines, occupied by players whom we could see but who could apparently see nothing but the game they were losing their souls or gaining their life with. As we were lucky enough to tour the town by night, we could go in all the town’s most extraordinary hotels. From outside already, they looked fascinating and it was about the one that would be the most incredible sub-real. In two hours of touring the town, we went through many countries and atmospheres without even living Nevada. We saw the Excalibur, my favorite-looking by far, built to look like a Middle-Age castle; the Luxor, with its full-size sphinge and its pyramid whose beam caresses the evening’s Vegas; the  Caesar Palace with its marble stairs, Coliseum and Roman statues; the Bellagio, with its hundreds of flowers building patterns within the hall; the Venetian, that reproduced Venise’s canals and where it is possible to do gondola rides. Gondola rides, in a hotel! And what impressed with the most, is that not only did they dig canals in their hotel, they also did it on the second floor.


But I think that the one hotel I liked the most was the Paris Las Vegas, that features an Eiffel Tower and a Montgolfière, but also a beautiful casino with the names of the Parisian metro stations. This place was wonderfully poetic, as a midsummer night’s dream, and I loved the fact that this was the idea Americans had of my country.

Nevertheless, I think that the best memories I’ll keep from Las Vegas will be about food, and more specifically, about a very famous restaurant called Umami Burgers. I am not a huge fan of burgers usually, and not eating meat clearly does not help; but we were unanimous: those were the best burgers we’ve ever had. I personally tried the semi-cooked tuna, ginger and wasabi one, and it was amongst the purest and most delicate scents I’ve ever had. So, if you ever go to Las Vegas and have 15€ to spend, do not play them in a Casino, go have a burger at Umami!


This is the first article of a probably very long series, for me to write about all the marvels I witnessed in the US. At least three other articles are to be expected, on respectively, the Natural wonders (Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon…); what I discovered of the American culture; and San Francisco! Keep reading 🙂

OverSeas Swap #1: France & El Salvador


Originally, all the concepts and names of Babel Tower articles’ topics – except for Thoughts, I hadn’t think of Thoughts – come from a 5-pages-document that I, Camille, Keeper of France, drafted on a chill summer evening in August 2017. A year after, all categories are now filled up with nice and diverse articles that were written on all four corners of the world – except for one: the OverSeas Swap.

The concept is simple: two Keepers, from two very different countries, send each other a parcel containing their culture epitomized in items. They are free to fill it up with whatever they want; the one and only mandatory element is their country’s flag. And for this very first – and hopefully not last – Over-Atlantic-Ocean Swap of the website, I had the honor to send a parcel to, and receive a parcel from, the wonderful Maria, Keeper of El Salvador, with whom I wrote this four-hands article, explaining our choices and our reactions!



th.jpegThis swap was the first of the website, however it wasn’t the first for me. As a former ‘booktuber’ (I used to post videos about books on YouTube, and though we cannot call it a success, I was lucky enough to meet longtime friends thanks to it), I had already make a few. But this one had something particular, as I had one tremendous responsibility: that of making someone discover my country and culture… differently.

Indeed, Maria, my swapper, had already studied in France for a year when the idea came up. I thus decided to make her travel through France, and discover aspects of it she didn’t already know.

Therefore, I put in my parcels items coming from Lyon – the town I come from -, Paris, the French Riviera, the Southwest of France… I wanted to make her get a taste of the first things one can think of when hearing the word France. That could be ‘gastronomy’ (so I attached French syrup, as I have been told recently that this is a very French custom, a candy called pralines, some chocolate), the Eiffel Tower, the landscapes, beauty products such as expensive perfumes (which is the reason why, being an undergraduate student, I replaced it by relatively cheap soaps – I am sorry, Maria!), the European Union… I had a lot of fun walking in French ‘marchés’ and exploring little street shops or big malls during my summer holidays, trying to find the perfect symbols. Finally, I wrapped it up in the French three-colored flag. I had a hard time finding this one – after the Football World Cup, there was none remaining in the first three shops I went to. In the fourth one, three young sellers went to search for one into their reserve; five minutes later, delighted, they came to tell me there was one, only one remaining, and offered it to me. I felt so relieved – and they looked even happier when I told them their gift would travel to Latin America!



El_Salvador_Flag12.jpgUnlike Camille, this is the first proper swap I’ve ever done with anyone else, but it’s not the first time I try to make sure I can show the beauty and talent of my country while giving someone a gift. Having lived abroad with my family before, we’ve always made sure to bring small artisan objects that we can give away to people we meet, and illustrate how wonderful our small nation can be.

El Salvador is known for its particular style of artisan crafts, much like many Latin American countries, so I decided it would be fitting to make a package full of these for Camille, someone who has never visited El Salvador (or Central America) before. Although we’re also known for our excellent food, there wasn’t anything I could include that would survive the journey back to France, so I’ll just owe Camille some home-made food!

In my package, I included a small notebook that was encased in a traditionally woven cover, with bright colors and symmetrical patterns, since I’ve known Camille to be an avid pen and paper writer. To compliment this notebook, I included a decorated pen: a normal pen that has been encased in clay to give it a brighter, different look, and with a small, clay torogoz – the national bird of El Salvador – resting on the end. The pen also had a small bamboo piece where the artisans can inscribe any message or words. Instead of opting for the traditional “El Salvador” inscription, I thought it would be nice to personalize it and have Camille’s name on it instead.

I also included a small magnet of a doll dressed in a traditional Salvadoran outfit, and a small purse that had been dyed in añil (indigo), which is a large part of national artisanry. Finally, I included a few objects (A key-holder box that can be hung, three small decorative boxes, and a bookmark) that had been decorated in the most recognizable art style of the country, inspired by our national artist Fernando Llort. The drawings are bright and colorful, and seem almost child-like in their beauty, and are a staple of Salvadoran culture. And, of course, I wrapped it all in a Salvadoran flag.




I did not have any particular expectations or clichés on a parcel coming from El Salvador when I received it, nicely closed with some green starred tape. I knew from my Central American friends that I’d better not call this country South American, and I had a pleasant memories from a Central American meal that Maria had cook for me and a handful of friends. That was all and I was ready to be surprised!

The first thing I got was a pen, full of bright colors with a bird on top and my first name on it – which I found wonderful, knowing that there most probably aren’t a lot of ‘Camille’ in El Salvador. I then discovered a little wooden box, decorated with patterns of nature and houses, and that contained a smaller box, that itself contained a smaller box, which means that I spent my childhood with Russian dolls on my bookshelf without even knowing the very same concept was applied to Salvadorean boxes!

The more I would unwrap my parcel, the more crazier I understood Maria had been. The box and the pen we followed by a bookmark, a notebook, a purse, a little cloth doll and a wooden thing that I will call a hanging box. Most of them had in common bright colors, pink, red and green, and patterns representing multicolor birds and white and red houses.

As a big fan of traveling, whose room is filled with photos and souvenirs from Belgium, Honduras, Romania, Australia, Italy, New Zealand, America or Ireland, places where I have been or where friends have been kind enough to think of me, I always get emotional when I think of how far those items come from. Now I can only thank Maria for her generosity, for finding gifts that coherent with my tastes and for making me want to visit El Salvador as soon as I can!




Having already spent a year living in France, and having already visited a few cities, I thought I had already seen quite a lot and not much was left. I didn’t realize how wrong I was until I got Camille’s parcel, which has only left me longing to visit every city in the country!

The first thing I noticed once I unwrapped the red, white, and blue flag was a postcard that depicted the beautiful city of Lyon, somewhere I have yet to visit (and now have more reason to want to go!). Right next to it, I found one of France’s most iconic landmarks: the Eiffel Tower, but in the very handy form of a toothbrush! Considering what else I found in my package I knew I was going to need it, since Camille had also included eucalyptus syrup that I could add to my water to give it some flavor, as well as what looked like hard candy (which I later found out to be praline). Both of these things became quite addicting to me once I tried them, not to mention the delicious 1€ chocolate coin included.

On the more decorative side of the package, I found a lovely little tray that was also from Lyon that depicted more famous aspects of the city, as well as a colorful package of artisan soap with very strong aromas that came all the way from Cote D’Azur. Their scent was also combined with that of a small bag of lavender, brought from Provence. They say that smell is one of the senses most linked to memory, and now I know that I will never forget the places all these things come from thanks to it. All the more reason for me to head out and see everything else that France has to offer!


You liked this article? Another one, on the second OverSeas Swap, between Ana Catalina, Keeper of Honduras, and Antony, Keeper of Chile, will be published very soon!

Globe Trotter: Advice From a Traveler Who Lost Her Luggage More Than Once


‘Ma’am, the plane left five minutes ago. You must go to the counter to know what to do.’

That’s how I learnt I would be stuck in Frankfurt for at least a day, on my way to the United States.




Last Summer, I went to the United States for the very first time in my life. My family had decide to book an organized trip to make the most out of the ten days we would have there. First there was a flight from Paris to Frankfurt, then from there to Los Angeles – flying with a company which for its own reputation will remain anonymous ( was cheaper). So we got up at 4 am on that Tuesday morning, took a plane from Paris, and arrived in Frankfurt to know that the airport was fully blocked because of a security incident. We were parked for five hours in an airport hall, and our plane took off without even calling out for passengers, leaving many people behind


We safely arrived to Los Angeles a day later, after more than ten hours of queuing for tickets in two days. However, the situation was solved quickly enough for us to be able to laugh about it a month after. It also made me think over the hardships that a traveler can meet, even though they remain very light when considered through the realm of the luck we already have to travel, freely and without constraints. I however noticed that in the four long trips I have been lucky enough to experience, only one went perfectly well (with no lost suitcase or blocked airport). Indeed, our suitcase was lost for five days when we went to the Seychelles island, our plane was cancelled when we went to New Zealand, leaving us stuck in Australia, but at least we could do some tourism in Sydney whereas queuing up in Frankfurt’s airport doesn’t offer much of an entertainment. I thus came up with these advice, for people who love to travel as much as I do, and will still love to travel no matter the number of lost suitcases, blocked airports or cancelled planes…


  1. Always take the vital minimum in the cabin with you

The day after we were told we couldn’t take the right plane to Los Angeles, all people stuck in Frankfurt were divided between a handful of different planes to finally reach the US. Some of them went through Manchester, Paris, or even – as was our case – Warsaw. At all moments of the process, we were told our suitcases would leave in exactly the same plane as the passenger and that we would get them back as soon as we’d arrive in Los Angeles. That sounded too good to be true; to me, that was impossible; either the suitcases would have left in the plane we should have taken, or they would stay in Frankfurt. Turned out – to my disappointment – that I was right, and all families that had suitcases checked-in didn’t get them back for at least a week.

My family was the only one that had decide to keep everything with us in the cabin – which means we didn’t have much, as the weight and size are limited, but as least we had some. We were able to share some first-necessity goods with the others; toothpaste, tampons, medicines… From now on, we’ll always travel with at least some clothes and necessary items in the cabin with us!

  1. Find other travelers

As soon as we learnt our plane had taken off without us, my family and I started running to The Company’s counter to see what to do. After a long race through Frankfurt still partially blocked airport, we found the place – wasn’t that difficult, there already were 200 people queuing up. We would spend six hours in front of this counter; the company hadn’t brought enough people to help. Finally, it turned out the counter could not give new plane tickets but only an accommodation for the night.

Nevertheless, after asking all people we could see, we managed to find other travelers who should also have been in the plane to Los Angeles. We gathered altogether and spent those six hours talking, getting to know each other, the situation making us closer than we would have been without this. We called ourselves the Frankfurt’s Shipwrecked Squad and stayed together the whole time. The next day, one of the Squad figured out which line to choose, so that we could leave Frankfurt. When we eventually arrived to the United States, our trip was even better, as all Frankfurt’s Castaways felt like a large group of friends that had gone through an adventure together.


  1. Carefully divide your belongings in case you lose a suitcase

Four years ago, my parents decided to take my brother and I on a trip to an earthly paradise, the Seychelles Islands, where they’ve had their honeymoon. As soon as we arrived, after a long flight that left me delighted – I had just discover we were given food and could watch movies in a plane, which made my 13-years-old-self overjoyed -, I was caught by the Seychelles’ unique atmosphere. The air was so hot I could literally feel it, there were palm trees everywhere and the airport looked like kind of an exotic treehouse. However, nothing perfect is made to last; after two long hours of waiting for our suitcases under the warmth, we found out one of them hadn’t arrived. We were told it had most probably been put into another plane, which means that by the time it would take to find out where it was and to bring it back, we would have to wait at least three days. It finally arrived five days later.

It eventually turned out that we’d been lucky enough to lose the least useful suitcase, but half of our clothes, swimsuits, solar creams and those highly necessary items had been left out. If you have two suitcases,divide everything between them – clothes, pads, everything. We never know.


  1. Always keep a small backpack with you during the flight

When one decides to keep all their belonging in the cabin, one ends up with a ten kilos-luggage to carry by hand and to put on the shelf above their seat. Then, one quickly understands that there’s nothing as annoying, in a plane, as someone trying to get their luggage from this shelf during the flight. As a 1,60m dwarf that does not even weigh 50kg, I could picture what would happen if I tried. I’d have to climb on the next passenger’s seat, which would probably coincide with turbulence ensuring that my suitcase would fall on someone’s head, as would I.

That might have been a bit too dramatic. Nevertheless, I couldn’t have been happier I had chosen to bring a small backpack with me, to put under the seat in front of me. I first thought I couldn’t fit more than a book and a box of tissue, but this small backpack with black and white elephant patterns turned out being more useful than even I could have imagined. It made me think of my roommate – who happens to be the Honduran Keeper! – and never travels without her tiny little backpack, that already went to France, Italy, Spain, Guatemala and so many different countries. That became the ultimate goal for my backpack, too.


  1. Take every hardship as an opportunity

In 2015, my family and I went to New Zealand, to follow the steps of the movie The Lord of the Rings. I’ll remember this trip as one of the happiest moments in my life – now that I think about it, most of the ‘happiest moments in my life’ are related to traveling. However, after we arrived in Sydney, we were confronted to an unexpected hardship. There was wind that day; and the company that should have taken us from Australia to New Zealand had its reputation to maintain; it never had any accident, and was determined to not take any risk. Our flight was cancelled and we were stuck for a whole day in Sydney.

We were terribly sad. We had less than ten days to spend in Kiwiland and one of them was being withdrawn from us; moreover, a Lord of the Rings tour was planned for this day and that was what we’ve been the most looking forward to.

But finally, that was literally the best thing that happened to our trip. My Mother and I were able to visit Sydney during a few hours; we went to the Opera – which made me understand I still had to improve my English-speaking skills, as I spent ten minutes asking a stewart for a soup while he was laughing his heart out and probably wondering why this Frenchie was asking for a soap – and saw the Harbour Bridge. Even better; the tour guide accepted to work on Christmas day, two days later, for us to still be able to do this Lord of the Rings Tour, and we spent an unbelievably awesome couple of hours with him. Bob turned out to be the best guide we could have had and made us feel like we were involved in the movie. Without our flight being cancelled, and without the Kiwis being amongst the most pragmatic, helpful and generous people I’ve ever met, that would have never been possible.


Finally, all those advice can be summed up into one: always believe that things happen for a reason, and that we can make the best out of anything. If our flight to New Zealand hadn’t been cancelled, we wouldn’t have seen Sydney and meet Bob the Awesome Tour Guide. If Frankfurt’s airport and That Company’s jobs hadn’t been awfully done, such a solidarity would have never been triggered between Frankfurt’s Castaways, and so one. Keep smiling, and keep traveling!



World’s Next Door: A Week With Romanasul


‘Buna Ziua’, ‘La revedere’, ‘Multumesc’, ‘Ce faci’; I was mentally rehearsing the few Romanian words I knew from a friend who was living there. My colleague guide and I, seated in an overheated car at the entrance of the town, were waiting for the bus and the 30 artists it would be bringing from Romania. It was a very sunny Monday evening and the international folklore festival of Montignac was about to start.


During a week, this 3000-inhabitant little town of the Périgord, in the southwest of France, would be filled by tourists and artists from all over the world. Every year, dancers, singers and musicians from ten different countries come to Montignac to share their traditions and delight the audience. Every time, this week would be full of great meetings, cultural exchanges, happiness and hope through seeing what this ‘youth of the world’, perpetuating customs and arts from before globalization even was a word, was capable of.


Ever since the age of eight, I have been coming to the festival every year: first, as a tourist; then, as a volunteer. I can still remember melodies I had heard years ago, and this little town, which I have also explored for an internship, had become as familiar to me as if I had always lived there. In 2015, the festival’s organizers had asked me to write the event’s newspaper, and I have been doing that, assisting a team, ever since. But this year, now that I was – officially at least – an adult, I wanted to have another challenge. I wanted to become a guide.


To make it simple, during the whole festival, the guide is the group’s Mommy or Daddy. They are in charge of establishing a link between the organizers and the artists, who often do not speak French. They have to make sure that their stay goes well and they also are, to me, an ambassador of the French legendary sense of hospitality – more or less supposed to prove that it’s not because we are often depicted as the least welcoming people in the world, that we actually are.


A few months before the festival, I was first given an orchestra from Brittany; and then, one from Spain; to finally end up with a Romanian band called Romanasul. My guiding buddy would be the most experienced guide of the festival; for nearly 30 years he had been there, taking care of a different group every year, most often from Eastern Europe; and here I was, the youngest one, over-enthusiastic and jumping all over the place at the idea of meeting new people and trying out my brand-new knowledge of Romanian – ‘I should have asked my friend how to pronounce this’.


From the first minutes with those who would become my closest friends for a week, I remember a firework of faces, colors, new sounds, new feelings, and too many names to memorize them all. Very kindly, my colleague had proposed that I would go in the bus with them for the end of their trip; and so did I, greeted by dozens of ‘Hi’s’ and smiles as soon as I came in. The week with Romanasul had started.


I had two fears before I met them. The first one was that we would not get along – I already knew we would manage to communicate, as they all spoke English and some of them a bit of French. The second one was that I wouldn’t like what they were doing – and besides being forced to see all their shows for a week, I would also have to lie and tell them I liked it. Before the festival, I had decided I did not want any kind of spoiler; I did not know what to expect, and did not do any research to know what kind of music and dances they would present. The pressure was even greater, knowing that it was the sixth time this group was coming to the Festival of Montignac.


They performed for the first time the day after, and I realized immediately how fortunate I was.



The group consisted of two parts: an orchestra, and the dancers. The eleven musicians of the orchestra were accompanied by two singers. They played the violin, a typical Romanian clarinette called the taragot, the guitar, a range of saxophones and flutes, the double bass, drums, and a unique and wonderful instrument that looked like a piano without any keyboard: the cymbalum. They also used little ceramic birds filled with water that sounded like a cuckoo. I was enthralled by their dynamic and lively music the first time I heard it, and two weeks after, I still find myself whistling my favorite ones in the street.


During that week, I went from one surprise to another. Every evening, ‘my’ Romanians, as I had fondly start to call them, would gather in our dormitory’s courtyard, sing a type of Gypsy-Romanian music, manele, for hours and dance on it. Some of my happiest memories of this week lie in the way they would welcome me within their group, tell me about this custom and about the night-long parties they would spend like this in Romania, or dance with me as I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. At this occasion, I learnt that the main violin player was also playing accordion ‘and everything that has cords or a keyboard’, as one of my Romanian friends told me, and that the double bass player was also a singer – and what a singer! – and that the cymbalum player, besides also playing guitar, used to be a dancer.


And the dancers! I am glad I didn’t try to watch any videos of them before, so I could open my eyes widely when I saw them for the first time. Dancing and singing go together in Romania, which means that not only were they jumping everywhere; they were simultaneously talking and singing casually about men and women relationships or life in their country. One other thing men and women had in common was tap dancing, men in their boots and women in their heels, which I loved as the absolute fan of Irish dancing that I am. The boys would also throw their legs in the air on the rhythm of hand clapping and body percussions, while women would turn again and again in their flowery dresses. It looked like a colony of incredibly dynamic and gracious elves had suddenly invade Montignac.


While discovering them as artists, I was also meeting them as friends. They told me about their country and we talked about the stereotypes our people had of the other. One of them told me a joke that said ‘one shouldn’t bend down to tie their shoelaces in Paris, in case they might be thought to ask someone to marry them’. I told them the reason why French people are often confused between Romanians and Gypsies: in French, we call the latter ‘romanichels’, which means ‘nomades’, and often shorten it into ‘Roms’, which can make people think it’s the abbreviation of Romanians. A few days after, I would also learn that our two countries have been friends for centuries, and the French embassy in Romania is part of the sixteen first embassies my country opened before World War II.


I also quickly learnt to never accept a bottle of water given by a Romanian with an innocent look; it may well contain their terribly strong (56%) homemade alcohol, the ‘palinka’, that they made me try out on the very first day – and all the days that followed. The very first word they taught me was ‘cheers’: ‘noroc!’. After the numbers from one to ten and a few other expressions, two of them, laughing so hard they were crying, taught me their favorite swears- that I won’t repeat here. I also learnt about a custom of theirs to give a child a nickname that would follow him until the end of his life, making a Mihai become a Titi, a Vasile become a Tica…


In a week, we had loads of adventures together. A dancer’s heel broke in the middle of a dance on the stage, but she continued to dance up until the end. When we visited the internationally well-known cave of Lascaux, only a French-speaking guide was available and I had to translate to English everything she was saying. The very last day, my colleague guide and I organized a small aperitif with French wine, foie gras and pralines, to help them avoid the shame of going back home without having tried those finest samples of French food. Finally, the very last day, they gave us Romanian clothes and arranged my hair for the final parade – that also made me realize how courageous they had been to continue to perform in those under the heat wave.


Sunday evening had come too fast. They were staying in France up until the upcoming Tuesday, but I would be the one leaving to go on holidays with my parents. Right after the last show and the closing fireworks, as they were gathering just outside the stage, I went to say goodbye. Before I could understand what was happening to me, two guys had lifted me from the ground and they were throwing me in the air like the French coach after the World Cup victory. When I turned back, leaving to join my parents, I was half-laughing half-crying, and had Romanian music in my earphones.


A week later, I still feel incredibly grateful for the opportunity I had to meet and befriend these kind and talented people. It was even more moving, considering that many of them had met their wife or husband in the group and no less than four couples were dancing together. Thanks to them, this week – that I mostly spent bringing water bottles to three dozens of dehydrated artists! – has been like traveling without leaving home. Discovering their culture and gaining an interest in their unique style and language had been fantastic. So if you ever have an opportunity to go and see Romanasul, or to become a guide in a folklore festival, seize it! I am very much looking forward to experiencing this again – but before, I want to go and visit some people in Romania…

To discover more: (not entirely up to date, notably on the names of the singers/choreographers/…, but still enjoyable!!)


China’s Home Trotter: the Chinese Language and Glorious History


The history of China, which some people say has been lasting for the past 4,000 years – but we Chinese usually think it has lasted for the past 5,000 years, depending on whether its beginning dates back to Shang or Xia Dynasty -, is long enough to be respected. A Chinese historian, Liang Qichao, advanced a statement last century that there were ‘four ancient civilizations’: Babylonia, Ancient Egypt, Ancient India and China. Whether this statement is acknowledged by others still remains a question, and the Chinese civilization would be the youngest of the four. However, the Chinese civilization would be the only one of the four that lasts until now. During thousands of years these civilizations have been invaded and conquered many times, making their once-advanced civilizations ruined. But China, to our glory, has never been completely conquered. The Mongol Empire, which almost invaded the whole Eurasian continent, also built its government on our homeland. However, their government chose to learn from or even copy our own culture. They chose to change themselves, but not to ruin us. While transfer of government happened all the way through – even a century ago we still didn’t have a sense of modern nation -, the development of the Chinese civilization was never interrupted. Of course, it has a lot of problems and will meet more difficulties in the future, but it is still alive until nowadays. To me, that is enough to be proud of!

Specific conditions can have quite a strong influence on the history and culture of a country or a region. According to A Global History (written by Stavrianos), it is, to a great extent, the specific geographical environment that made the Shang civilization, originating from 17 century BC, so different from any other civilizations in Eurasia. If anyone has interest in looking at a map, he may find out that China is located on the east side of Eurasia, surrounded by mountains, deserts and an ocean, which were all impossible to get through at ancient time. Compared with those located in the center of Eurasia, such as Mesopotamia, China apparently suffered mush less invaders because of those. But in the meantime, the constant war with nomadic people made Chinese people develop their fighting skills. Deserts in northwest China prevented foreign armies to invade us, but didn’t block normal trade between east and west. Compass, gunpowder and printing were introduced to west through a trade path going across the desert, called the silk road. Chinese civilization had kept an appropriate exchange with Ancient Roma, Arab, Persia during a long time. That means that Ancient China, at least sometimes, was not as unenlightened as one could think. Meanwhile, the topography and climate there are extremely suitable for agriculture development (most of the place is under a monsoon climate). Crops growing on this land were merely enough for its people at that time. Like specific conditions make Earth suitable for us to live, those made of the Chinese culture what it is today, guaranteeing its continuity and development over thousands of years.

Before we formally start with the history of China, I’d like to talk about Chinese, the language we use first. As we can figure, when talking about history, writing either names, people or places will be unavoidable. Chinese is considered one of the most difficult languages in the world. (Anyone who doesn’t believe it is welcomed to give it a try!) To those whose Mother tongue is English or French, or any other language where words are built as a combination of sounds, Chinese and Chinese characters seem amazingly different from what they have already known before. Chinese, marked as photography, comes instantly from symbols our ancestors carved. Actually, when a civilization first appeared, people tended to drew or carved some symbols to express themselves. These symbols were like drawings and hard to remember, so most of them gradually abandoned them and invented a totally different way to record things, known as alphabet. However, that was not the case for Chinese. Our Chinese ancestors didn’t give up on the drawing symbols. They chose to constantly simplify them until they became today’s Chinese characters. The very last simplification happened in 1950s-1970s. No matter how much they are simplified now, we can still find an obvious link between them and ancient drawings, which reflects even more apparently on some simple characters.


As a kind of photography, Chinese doesn’t have any alphabet. Round 10 000 characters that make up for this lack of a Chinese alphabet. We don’t use a single ‘b’ because it is meaningless. Only in a word, ‘bee’ or ‘before’, does the letter ‘b’ have its meaning. But Chinese characters can be used alone, although we do also have words consisting of two or more characters. For instance, the word “马上”means ‘immediately’ or ‘at once’, but the single character “马”and“上”do have their own meaning. “马”means horse and “上”means up. It can be really free to express your thoughts. Knowing these, you can even create a new word yourself!

The problem is, it sometimes might be hard to translate Chinese into other languages such as English, and especially names. The British first name Mary is just Mary, you cannot spell something like, err… Maryiana. ‘Mary’ now is simply a name and the word itself doesn’t have real meanings. However, Chinese names (Japanese,Korean as well), consisting of one to three characters, most of the time two, can have their meanings, often the best wishes from parents. My name is Yihan. When it is written as Yihan, it is nothing but five letters. But Yihan, written as 艺涵 in Chinese, has a meaning. “艺”might mean ‘art’ or ‘talent’. “涵”can be explained as self-restraint. Names of places go the same. The capital of China, Beijing, also spelt as Peking, is written “北京”in Chinese. “北”is north and “京”is capital. Beijing means the ‘north capital’, because when it was first built it was in the north of the previous capital Yingtian, now known as Nanjing (南京,南means south, so it can be translated as the south capital. ) How could we know these through the seven letters that form the word Beijing? As you can see, if you are good enough at Chinese, you will find it interesting.

     Another difference is the tone. Chinese has a system of tones, which is a particular pitch pattern on a syllable that can be used to distinguish different meanings. We have four different tones in total. For example, characters 依yi 仪yi以yi义yi all spelt ‘yi’ in English, but they are read completely different in Chinese, known as first, second, third and forth tones. I notice that some foreigners find it hard to pronounce the second and third tones correctly… You may want to have a try!

Chinese doesn’t have any concept such as tenses or grammar. Especially in ancient times, people liked to use a lot of ellipsis and inversion, which needed readers to guess.

Language is a vehicle of culture. Translation can solve most of the problems, but not all. If you truly like Chinese culture, learning the language should always be a good choice for you!



World’s Next Door: Welcome to the International Folklore Festival of Montignac!


I am seated on a ping pong table in a small lost village in the Southwest of France, my laptop on top of my knees. A few meters away from me, a band of happy dudes from Romania are playing music, drinking beer and enjoying themselves. Later in the evening, I will join them, and  then we will most probably be joined by other people from Spain, Brazil or Palestine. I feel so grateful for all these meetings right now.

I am currently at the international folklore festival of Montignac.


It all started when I was six. My France-trotters of parents had decided they wanted my brother and I to travel around the country and visit a different region every year. For our second regional trip, we went to the French Périgord, a delightedly green area in the Southwest, full of medieval castles, prehistoric caves and welcoming locals. But at the end of our stay, while we were supposed to leave and not come back, I told my parents – actually, I cried them a river – that this was my paradise on Earth, and that I was coming back no matter what.


To their credit, we did come back the year after. And the year after that, and so on. It has been more than twelve years now. I grew up with this certainty that no matter how bored and unhappy I would get during a full year at school, there would always be this parachute, those two weeks in earthly heaven that would make me forget everything but the very definition of happiness.


I was ready to welcome anything related to that place, to say the least. That is why two years after, when we discovered the international folklore festival of Montignac, a little town nearby, the dice had already been loaded so that I welcomed it with open arms. Quickly, this festival became such a tradition that I could not imagine missing it.


First, one needs to imagine what Montignac is. This small village in only inhabited by 3000 people, most of whom stopped working, which doesn’t stop it from being a dynamic place whose cultural offerings are much wider than in many other largest towns. Besides its pittoresque cuteness and awesome inhabitants, Montignac, ‘Monti’, has two richnesses: the cave of Lascaux, the most well-known prehistoric cave in the world, and its festival. Every summer, during a week, this place no one has ever heard about before turns itself into a center of the world. Every year, folklore groups from ten different countries come to town to demonstrate their arts, in a week full of talent, music, dancing, and multiculturalism. Around every two years, two people who met there get married, and the awesome president of the festival never stops reminding people that this event is about peace, sharing, and welcoming the ‘youth of the world’.


For years now, I have seen the festival as a tourist, stuck in a public like one another. Then, in 2015, I called its director to ask for an interview for the newspaper I was working for at the time. Not only did he say yes, but he also proposed me a spot as a journalist for the festival’s gazette. I haven’t left it ever since. For the first time, I spent a week interviewing people, getting closer to artists, musicians and dancers from countries I didn’t even know existed, and it was wonderful. I remember a lot of work and tears for that period, but it paved the way for what was to follow. I am writing the festival’s newspaper for the fourth year in a row, and this year, I also became a guide for a Romanian group.


Being a volunteer, I discovered that instead of one festival, there really were two: the official one, where a show would take place every evening on a stage and the groups would make shorter performances during the day; and the ‘off’ one, even better: parties at night, mixing up people from all the countries invited, meetings backstage, deep conversations, Facebook friend requests and a team that works together. Behind the artistic performance, this festival has a whole spirit and is all about the people themselves. The leader of the Romanian group told me yesterday that coming to France cost them a lot of money; ‘But the President of this festival is a very good friend of mine. When he asks us to come, we come’, he said plainly.



// The Romanian group parading in the streets; here, on the bridge //


I have many wonderful and cherished memories from the ten years that I have spent looking forward to the festival every summer. I have lived things as extraordinary as learning a few moves of salsa by the Colombian World Champions. In 2014, I witnessed a Mongol singer interpreting, in French, the universally-known ‘La vie en rose’ by French artist Edith Piaf. He probably could not understand anything he was saying, but hearing this was wonderfully moving. I also still have melodies from the United States and Japanese taikos stuck in my head. I will never forget the image of these two musicians, from Spain and Scotland, symbolically swapping their pipes, and I receive regularly news from my Georgian, Ecuadorian or Irish friends, met at this festival.


To me, it has been nothing less than life-changing. When I was younger, I thought about working in astronomy or history, before eventually applying for a degree in international relations and social sciences. I cannot imagine myself in any other kind of studies now, and I owe it partly to the festival of Montignac. Wouldn’t it have shown me how much I valued multiculturalism, meeting people from the whole world, culture itself and traveling, I wouldn’t have been that sure of my choice.


There is something wonderful in the way that every year, this youth of the world gathers in this little village of 3000 inhabitants. They then leave with an image of France shaped by Montignac, as much as we stay with the idea they gave us of their country. However, when I talk about the festival around me, I can be sure I’ll always have a few negative reactions, of people telling me that we should let these traditions from another age die for good. In France especially, when one says ‘folklore’, one often thinks about old men and ladies in dusty traditional costumes, boring steps and music and lack of modernity. I would be glad to welcome those people at this festival. Most of the other countries have a completely different approach of folklore than us; many of the groups come from universities and have modernized their traditions while remaining faithful to their core. This leads to an explosive mix of energy and tribute to their culture that unites generations and links those people’s past to their present. For many of them, music and dancing are also a way to express themselves politically: recently, in Honduras, to protest against the regime’s policy, people filmed themselves dancing in the very particular Honduran way, so as to show that nothing could steal their joy and identity away from them; and this year, the festival welcomed a Palestinian group, whose opportunity it was to exist as a people, away from the conflicts that torn Middle East apart.


At the heart of the festival is a delightful paradox: by keeping alive those traditions that come from an age without any globalization, these artists pave the way for even more positive sharing with people from all over the world. I call it an open-minded nationalism, and every year reinforces the happiness and confidence towards the future that I feel thanks to it.


// 1300 people are waiting for the final performance at the Terrasse de l’Amitié //

France: We Are the Champions, my Friends


3:20 pm. We were wandering in the Old Harbour of Fréjus, a nice little town on the French Riviera. I had a French flag wrapped around my shoulders like a cloak and my brother was wearing a roaster-like hat. On our way to the one bar that finally let us in, we crossed the path of more French flags and supporters than I’ve ever seen, including a man whose hair was tied in blue-white-red. Most bars were closed by a big sign claiming they were fully booked; the World Cup final, for which the French team was considered a favorite, would start in a bit more than an hour.


That French people were hopeful is the least we could say. There were omens, you see. The one and only French victory in the Football World Cup had happened precisely 20 years ago; in 1998 and 2018 alike, Israel has won the Eurovision, we’ve been in the Group C, we were opposed to Croatia… We had to win. And added to this, our national team was  cute, enthusiasm-fostering, and formed by a balance of older experienced players and young wisps. So were the supporters: some of them had hardly ever known any other World Cup, some others had obviously lived the 1998 one, but all of them were screaming and waving flags all the same.


It’s 10 pm now, and I’m writing seated on my flat’s loggia. Right outside, a man has just plunged in the normally out-of-bounds-by-night residency’s swimming pool, crying that ‘On est les champions’, ‘We are the champions’. We can still hear the cars’ klaxons on the other side of the town, and memories of this afternoon keep flooding in.


Not even the skin-burning sun of the South could have deterred the French fans to be there, gathered in the bars on that day. Of the two hours I spent seated in that bar, I’ll remember the Marseillaise that we sang altogether at the beginning of the game; the joy of the supporters, that would literally jump from their seats and yell at the screen every time a goal was scored or a foul committed to one of our players. Behind us, a painted man was howling in a megaphone, claiming that we were the French people and that we would win, enumerating the names of the players or singing parts of the national anthem.


1-0, 1-1, 2-1, 3-1, 4-1, 4-2. Every time we scored, we would see young men running to the bridge linking the two halves of the Old Harbour, climbing to its very top and jumping in the water, their fists raised and a French flag flying behind them like a superhero cloak. Five minutes before the Final whistle, someone in the bar stood up and cried, ‘In five minutes, we’re World Champions!’.


And indeed we were.


Next thing I knew, people were hugging people they didn’t know; my brother fell in my arms, yelling ‘We’re World Champions!’. Around us, everybody seemed exhausted as if they’d play the match themselves. Dozens of people were running to the bridge, clapping and singing the Marseillaise; the streets were now colored by blue, white and red smokes, and when people came back into the bar to watch the team being given awarded the FIFA World Cup, half of them were wet and happily wringing their clothes after jumping in the Mediterranean Sea fully dressed.


When we came back in town, surrounded by the continuing sound of the klaxons, it was to see people half-seated out of their cars, giving high fives to every passer-by in the streets, waving French flags and still singing. Euphoria, that’s how we can call it, and the young boy that nearly ran into me yelling that we were World Champions could not deny that.


So now we won, the day after our National Day. On the eve of that victory, the French skies were illuminated by fireworks. But what is to be expected, now? This victory smells like a midsummer night’s dream. As the Captain Hugo Lloris, also gamekeeper, very beautifully stated, this team and their victory have united the French people in joy and happiness, and it’s like this that we love to see our country. Tonight, France was a nation like I hope it could always been: proud, with its head held high, and positive in the sense that our identity was not built on the rejection of others, but on something great that we have achieved. Not only them, the players on the ground, but us, the French nation, in the sense of a body of people that hold together and stay together.


Even though that evening also contained its share of evil (hundreds of cars caught fire and many women were sexually harassed in the crowds), I do expect positive effects of this victory on France. Economically at first; this day probably made many bars’ turnover skyrocket, and football clubs will probably welcome more newcomers than they’ve ever dreamed of. French football players will have a new reference and an enduring trust on this Golden generation. The feminine football World Cup, that is taking place in France in 2019, will also, as far as I can imagine, be much more followed than it could have been without this triumph.


Deep inside myself, I hope that it will go beyond. I’m however afraid that in a week, these French flags that have flourished on the windows through the past weeks will disappear, even though there would be thousands of reasons to keep them, as there are thousands of reasons to be proud to be French. Here’s one: two weeks ago, I watched the France vs Argentina game surrounded by young people who’ve survived cancer. When time came to sing the Marseillaise, they stood up hand on the heart, and simply told me after that, by its universal social security that paid for everything to heal them, ‘France has saved their life’.


We could be even prouder if we now could see immigration as what brought us the player that scored our 4th goal in the final. Kylian Mbappé is the second player in history who ever scored a goal in a World Cup final before the age of 20; for weeks now people have been replacing the Fraternité in our motto by his name, to make it ‘Liberté Egalité Mbappé’ – and his Father is from Cameroon and his Mother from Algeria.
A few hours after this victory, that made France – and its President – smile broadly and yell of happiness, I can only hope that its effect will hold as long as possible. Now I can only thank – that’s gonna be terribly cheesy and non-original, I’m sorry – everyone who made this possible. Our wonderful team first, who two years after our country was deeply wounded by a terrorist attack on the National Day, embodied its beautiful values with a talent pushed to its unexpected. The Croatian team, too; we say, in France, that winning against no danger is triumphing with no glory; and even though I do not quite agree with the two goals you scored on that day, your game made us shiver and be proud of playing against such strong opponents. And eventually, in advance, I’ll say thanks to the French nation: our 23 players, their coaches and their staff have brought that Cup home, but the show must go one. It’s our role, now, to decide what we want to make of this victory.



France: Vive la République, et Vive la France!


It happened 229 years ago, at the early dawn of the first French revolution. On July 14th, 1789, the French people marched over to the Bastille, a prison that embodied the absolute authority of the King, overthrew its administration, and took hold of the weapons it contained. It was the very first time the people of Paris would get directly involved with the French revolution.


The 14th of July has since become our National Day. I usually spend it on holiday at the French Riviera, the Mediterranean coast in the Southeast of France. I have always associated that day to the sand cracking under my feet while I picnicking on the beach with my family. My brother and I would go swimming in the sea until we were freezing and then we would all go to the neighboring harbor to have ice cream. As the sun progressively disappeared, I would read under its declining light until my parents forbade me to go any further. We would make jealous remarks on how wonderful it would be to be on a boat instead of the crowded beach; and then, we would wait for the National Day fireworks, say that ‘They threw it later than last year’, that ‘It was one of the best ever, without doubt’, and then hurry up to the car to avoid getting stuck in the crowd.

It’s because of these kind of moments that I love my country.


I love France, because we have so many various landscapes. If each landscape corresponded to a planet as in Star Wars, a whole galaxy wouldn’t be enough to depict them all. From the heaven-like Riviera, in which the Sun has the scent of olive oil, lavender, and the sound of crickets; to the neighboring Camargue, with its deafening flamingos and its salt marshes. From the Northern Lille that looks like a colorful mash-up between Disneyland and St-Petersburg, to the greener-than-green Périgord in the Southwest, so full of forest that it looks black from above. We have a bit of England, Italy, Germany, Spain and so much more, as much as we have mountains and prairies, dynamic towns and deep countryside, rainforests and hot beaches.


I love France, because the country still wears the remains and the open wounds of its history. We still have the aqueducts and walls built by the Romans that invaded us, which stand firm and proud in the South, thousands of years after they they were erected. Castles from the Middle Ages or the Renaissance can still be spotted everywhere, each with its own glorious past, notorious characters and architectural originality. In France, men competed with nature to create the most beautiful wonders, and it sometimes did not even need to build to win the game. The beaches of Normandy, where Eisenhower’s troops landed to free the country in 1944; the maquis, where the French Resistance would hide during World War II; or the terribly sad Verdun in the East. All of them keep reminding us that our ancestors fought for the right reasons.


I love France, because I love the way it’s seen by foreigners. Travelling to the other side of the world, I have been told about this universal cliché of Marcel the mustached cyclist wearing his beret and carrying his baguette and croissant – which is both very French and ridiculously non-French at the same time, and a quite good depiction of my late Grandfather. I have been asked whether France was in Paris – ‘well, that’s not exactly true’ – and I have been mocked for my love relationship with cheese. Last, but certainly not least, I have almost fondly fainted in front of foreigners turning our Bonjour into a ‘Boonjouh’ – which is so inhumanely cute that I can hardly breathe thinking about it. I feel so honored whenever foreigners try and learn our beautiful headache of a language.


I love France, because of our gastronomy. French-gastronomically speaking, I am a living shame; I can’t help but declare my love for thai food and, even worse, I am a vegetarian and will make a face in front of a boeuf bourguignon or a blanquette de veau. However, I’m still the first one to very scientifically demonstrate that, since France is the world center of gastronomy, and Lyon is the French center of gastronomy, and the indoor supermarket Les Halles Paul Bocuse is the Lyonnese center of gastronomy, and having lived seventeen years right in front of the establishment, I am therefore the happy embodiment of French cooking. More seriously, and even aside of our typical and universally known dishes that boldly mix meat, vegetables and tasty sauce, our cheeses are a delight, our desserts are life-saviors, and a British journalist found exactly the right word saying that our croissants are nothing but ‘buttery pillows of perfection’.


I love France, because of the memories of our past and our art. There is a place in Paris that I love among all others, called the Panthéon. Great men and women are buried in this impressive building that always gives me strength, confidence and unlimited love for those who lived there before me. Recently, an incredible woman, whose name was Simone Veil, and her husband Antoine, joined the Panthéon as a show of gratitude for Simone for her involvement in the debut of the European Union, her contribution to the memories of the Shoah after she was deported to Auschwitz concentration camp, and her fight in favor of women’s rights and abortion. This country is also that of Victor Hugo, whose torrential writing style makes him our land’s most well-known Writer; of Edmond Rostand, whose character Cyrano de Begererac is a perfect embodiment of France; of Pasteur, who invented the vaccine…


I love France, because of Paris. Paris is a town like no other. It’s a whole. It’s not only because of the comforting light of the Eiffel tower that caresses one’s windows at night. Neither is it only because it’s impossible to get lost because one always has a famous monument to guide them back on path, such Montmartre, the Invalides, the Louvre or the Notre-Dame Cathedral. It can be because whenever one is randomly walking in the metro or in the streets, one can simply happen to find the Panthéon or remains of the Bastille by chance. Paris is the town of the unexpected and of the sweetness of life, that endured even when it was hit by one of the most devastating terrorist attacks of our time.


I love France, because I recently spent a weekend with young people who were sick with cancer and whose treatment was paid entirely by the social security, no matter their age or their social situation. My Grandfather – not the one that looked like Marcel the cyclist, the other one – was diagnosed with brain cancer when he was 65, and the State paid to ease his life and make it last in the best possible conditions, without even counting. These social benefits may cost a ‘crazy money’, Mr President; but last Saturday, as the sound of the Marseillaise played for a football match, all these people whose lives were saved thanks to it, got up and sang with their hands on the hearts, spontaneously declaring « J’aime mon pays » (I love my country), « Vive la France ». I sang with them.


I love France, because I was lucky enough to travel, and to see enough beauty and kindness in the countries I visited as to not compare them to mine. But every time I would go abroad, I would feel a peak of patriotism, far from any aggressive nationalism, and make myself my country’s ambassador, and hope I’d give enough of a positive snapshot of France to, one day, welcome home those people who welcomed me.


I love France, even though we did not welcome the 629 migrants saved by the Aquarius, even though we’re plagued by an enduring crisis and well-known for our strikes, even though we’re criticized for our ambiguity towards laicity and for the laws of our state of emergency; I love France, even though the memories of our past are far from being all glorious, and wars and colonization should not be forgotten.


I love France, because I have the right to point out what I think are its flaws without fearing anything. I love France, because those flaws do not make me want to leave but to try and change them a bit, at my level, because besides them, there’s everything else to love.

Vive la République, et vive la France!


Credits: An Adventurous World

China: Is Our School Life Heaven or Hell?


Like many other countries, China takes education seriously. In China, we normally have a six-year primary school, followed by a three-year middle school (Junior) and a three-year high school (Senior) before we finally enter college. Many differences between China and other countries may be found throughout these twelve years.


Why heaven? School life in China brings its teens a lot of good qualities!

Team spirit: We Chinese like to emphasize the conception of a team. While many foreign schools allow their students to choose their lessons themselves and therefore, be put in different classes with different classmates, it doesn’t apply to most of Chinese schools. We have certain schedules and are supposed to stay in a certain classroom, together with certain classmates. So the conception of a “team”, or in this situation, a “class”, seems to be much more important, for we spend a lot of time with our mates. Almost every teacher in Chinese schools considers ‘class-building’ as a hard but unavoidable task. So do we, the students. We study together, exercise together, eat in our school dining room chatting with others. The time spent together strengthens our relationships. Classmates are also our great friends. Even after many years pass, students may keep in touch with their previous classmates.

To improve students’ team spirit, many school activities are held in the name of the class, such as the annual celebration of New Year, which encourages students to make performances in their class and have fun together. There are also some activities for which classes compete against each other, such as our Art Festival, Technology Festival and sports meeting. Winners of such activities are often announced as “Class One” or “Class Two” instead of their names, even if the victory is due to only one student.

While fully respecting every individual, we have to acknowledge the great importance of team. All the wonderful achievements in China today rely on a team of people devoted to the group.


Discipline: Chinese schools especially emphasize students’ sense of discipline. It doesn’t mean we need to live as soldiers, but means that we have a much stricter code of conduct to obey, especially in those famous schools. This code of conduct aims to instruct students about what is good and what is bad, how to do things correctly when we are still young and easily misled by others. We are supposed to follow it exactly, in order to grow to be a better person.

Military training is a necessary part in almost every Chinese middle schools, high schools and colleges, often before new students start their new school life. It is held in a special base, not real army, but by real soldiers. During these days students are required to learn some basic skills like goose step. But the most important thing is that students can learn discipline and tenacity from a-week-or-more training. These qualities are thought to be significant in study and in daily life.


Depth of knowledge: Chinese students usually have nine main subjects (including Chinese, mathematics, English, physics, chemistry, biology, politics, history and geography) and several other subjects (such as music, art, physical education and computer). Before going to college and choosing a specific major, we have to study all these subjects. Because of that, we Chinese students can grasp comprehensive knowledge during middle school and high school.

Chinese courses are generally more difficult than in many other countries. For example, in Australia, when students learn conic curve, they merely know its definition. However, in China, the use of some relevant theorems is more important. Generally speaking, Chinese students learn much more difficult things than some others’.


Why hell? Breaking off teenagers’ wings

Utilitarianism: Chinese education is often called an ‘exam-oriented education’. This nickname is a typical expression of the utilitarianism in the education practice.

Here’s a typical situation as an example. Qian Liqun, one of the most famous professors in Peking university, once taught a session named “Selected readings of Lu Xun” in a famous high school. But then, he found that only twenty students came, for the reason that “We wouldn’t have disliked coming to your class, but it was not relevant for Gaokao (college  entrance examination), so we’d rather get infos on Peking university at first and then come to listen to your class”

To get a higher mark in the college entrance examination, students have to give up on their own interests and only focus on studying mandatory courses. In my school, most of the books are forbidden when we are in third grade, because the books are seen as a waste of time, no matter how fantastic they are are. Also,most of the students only have to worry about their school work, so they rarely get part-time job when they are young. Nor are they devoted to social or volunteer work, which makes them lack some basic and essential skills when they grow up and get to work.

Even more: Chinese children, especially children in primary school, also study many extra skills such as music, drawing, dancing. However most of them do not study for fun or to follow their hearts, but according to their parents expectation of upward mobility.

Most of the time, what the students study and know is not what they like; what has a tremendous importance is not what they need. The society never needs a worker who only knows how to work out a mathematic problem, but doesn’t know how to live and work with other people.


Simplification: In Chinese middle school, we hardly have any optional courses, and because of the existence of the settled class, all of us get the same knowledge. The single examination system also limits students’ horizons. In China, there is a vivid metaphor: our middle school education is just like an assembly line, producing the exactly same product, not taking care of the personality at all!

On the other hand, in a couple of top-range middle schools, there are abundant clubs and school activities prepared for students. But we also have to admit that the clubs are virtually imaginary in a certain sense, for students have few breaks and time to organize various activities, and the school activities are limited to a number of traditional ones (such as reciting, singing, sports meetings and so on). Most of these activities are still team work and lack demonstrations of any personal ability.

The homework we are given is also a reason why we can talk about simplification. Unlike some European and American countries, there is no essay to write in our middle school homework, but fixed subject. Even Chinese compositions, the one task that can best reflect one’s theoretical thinking, also have many fixed routines. Therefore, Chinese middle school students easily lack personal analytical and thinking skills.

So when everyone learns the same courses’ content, reads the same books, does the same exercises everyday, how can our education raise skilled people who love the field they’ll be working in and are good at it? 


Harm: The harm caused by education in China is divided into two aspects: physical and mental.

Long hours of study have seriously affected the health of Chinese students. In China, due to the serious pressure of competition, most of the students have to work more than 16 hours a day. For example, in our school, we have to go to school at 6:50, and go back home at 23:30. Many students still can’t finish their homework at that time, so after they get back home, they still have to work many more hours. “Sleep only five hours” is a typical thing people in grade three can be told, because it is an evidence of dedication and in some cases, it can lead to better grades. But apparently, chronic lack of sleep and physical exercise can do great harm to health. In a general way, high school graduates are always in poor health. (We have a joke that says: every student in grade 3 will gain more than ten pounds!)

Distorted competition regimes and excessive pressure can also be the cause of many psychological problems. “Every senior grade 3 student cries at least once a year “. More seriously, some students develop autism or anorexia. Some students only consider their grade and are never curious towards the outside world. They even think that chatting with others is a waste of time. It’s a vicious circle: they become more and more asocial, and without necessary communication, the pressure on their shoulders becomes heavier; so they see, even more, their grades as a reflection of their own value as an individual. And once they loose the competition, their mental state will sharply deteriorate.


Education is a thing that has its good and bad sides but can hardly be evaluated fairly. Many Chinese parents hate the education they have gone through, so they spare no effort to send their own kids abroad. But there also rumors that some schools in Britain and America want to introduce Chinese textbooks to their class. Actually, the evaluation of education can never be separated from the conditions of the country. What’s the special national conditions of China? It is huge and has a large population. There is an obvious gap in economy, society and population quality and therefore, education. The normal solution in some developed countries now seems unfair in China. Some provinces, that have a better environment and better opportunities, are much better in education without doubt, which is also unfair for those who live in mountainous areas. Also, there are a huge number of graduates every year. Only in Shaanxi, my province, the number of high school graduates goes up to 268,000. A universal examination may then appear to be a convenient way to deal with the problem. School life in China today is then merely decided by the way colleges choose their students.

Twelve years have passed. Now, when I look back to the life I have had these years, I can’t say whether they were good or bad. They are memories. How many twelve years will we have? Eight? Nine? No more than ten. These years were, at the utmost, 10% of my lifetime. And no matter whether they were heaven or hell, they are a precious period of time in our life, that make us the people we are today. School life in China is far away from perfect. We are still trying to improve it. But more important, it is neither heaven nor hell: it is memory, or rather, life.


Written by Yihan Liu, Keeper of China

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