The little Chinese. Lah perh-teet shee-noo-ahs. That’s what Clem’s sister calls me.
Our flight was relatively painless save for an hour delay from Doha to Paris. Friends are always asking me what airline I take, and I’m always happy to rave about Qatar Airways. For a return ticket to most cities in Europe, I usually pay RM3,300. During non-peak seasons, tickets go as low as RM2,800. Their service is wonderful – the stewards and stewardesses remind me of how I grew up envisioning airline service. They’re insanely polite and smile genuinely to the point I feel guilty. Their food is so delicious I have trouble picking what I want at every meal. Oh and their entertainment choices are prime as hell. The movies are always so up-to-date that at times they haven’t even reached Malaysian cinemas yet. Score. On the KL-Doha flight, I picked a new Hindi film to watch, called Agneepath. I had no expectations, as I’ve never heard of it before, but I’d say it’s my favourite Hindi film since Devdas. I sighed in awe at the production quality of the dance scenes and costumes, told Clem ‘I’m sorry, but if the main actor proposed to me I might say yes’, and sobbed through all the sad scenes over two small bottles of shiraz.
After a 16-hour plane & transit journey in total, we arrived in Paris on Saturday morning at, I don’t know, 8am. We took ages to get through the tunnel that leads one off the plane as the French policemen were doing strict checks for illegant immigrants. All the French around me were cursing ‘merde!’ about how we had to stand for roughly 20 minutes in the hot sunny tunnel. When I showed one of the policemen my Malaysian passport, he look at it, and brightly greeted, “Selamat Khabar!” I grinned back at him widely, appreciative of the local welcome he gave me, and he said a few more words in Malay which I returned, before being allowed to pass through. Clem said, “I think you must have met the only policeman in France who speaks Bahasa.” I laughed, glad to finally be on French ground.
At the immigration queue, one of the officers let us skip the queue when he saw Clem and I in the ‘international passport’ line and also spoke to me in simple Malay. Clem was completely taken aback, “What? Everyone in Paris can speak Bahasa now or what?!” It IS a really surprising thing but I felt quite proud that people in Europe actually KNOW Malaysia and Malay words. Clem and I arrived at two different immigration booths at the same time, and we separated to go through them. Strangely enough, the officer glanced at my passport, chopped it, and I went through the barriers before Clem. Clem wasn’t amused, “I don’t understand this country. I’m French and I take longer than you!?” I commented maybe it’s my red hair. No one would try to be dodgy and have such an apparent hairstyle at the same time.
Didier and Flore (Clem’s father and sister) met us at the airport. Flore looked like she just woke up haha. They bought us croissants I turned down, thanks to the large breakfast of sausages, omellete, croissant, fruit and yogurt Qatar Airways served us before landing.
We took over an hour’s drive to their grandparents’ house in Le Mee, just outside Paris. I’ve been to the house for Christmas in 2010 and it’s a treat to see what it looks like in summer. The garden which runs around the entire house is absolutely gorgeous. It’s huge (but so seems most of the gardens at houses I’ve stayed in so far!) with two dozen treens (fig, nuts, etc); a wide plain of perfect green grass; many-a bush with orange, pink, pink and yellow, yellow and red roses; a swimming pool and pool house; and winding paths.
Clem’s grand-mère and grand-père looked really pleased to see us, and I can see how much they love him! His and Flore’s child drawings line a wall upstairs, and photographs of them adorn the furniture in the living room. The obvious change I noticed in the house is a new machine installed on the side of the stairs (sad), for grand-père to get up and down easily. I couldn’t help sitting on it and Flore pushed the button for me to ascend some steps as we giggled like little girls. I wish it were faster haha.
I have discovered that my French is better than when I last saw all of them in 2010 and I can guess what everyone is talking about, but still abominable by French standards. I must take up French again when I return to KL. This lack of partaking in conversations is shameful. I’ve spoken more broken French these few days than I have since January, so it’s not bad to string basic sentences but er, yeah I’ll just stop talking about it now.
Grand-mère took me by the hand and we took a walk around her prized garden. She chattered away to me in French and I felt like a small child – you just talk to them regardless of whether they understand, that’s how you make them learn! I probably got one out of every five words she said, and managed to get that she spends a lot of work on her flowers, the big tree at the end grows nuts, and that certain flowers have fences cos of her Scottish terrier (elle chien).
As is customary before a big lunch occasion (which it was, was since Clem is home!), we had champagne, rosé, and different types of saucisson (sausages) in the living room before the real deal. To me, the starters are the real deal too. Everytime someone visits us from France in KL, or when Clem comes to France for work, we get kgs of saucisson and other tin food brought back. This time, I tried a type of starter I’ve never seen before – 2mm-thin slices of pig intestines that have been twice rolled so its diameter is two inches wide. Flore and Clem refused to touch it, saying they can’t stand the stuff. But being the adventurous Chinese foodie I am, I had to try it. Verdict: I really love the texture, it has got fatty bits you can roll around in your mouth, but I must reiteriate… the stench of it is certainly challenging. I won’t even say what it smells like here – just that I gave myself a pat on the back for getting through one piece. The only way I did was by holding my breath or breathing out as I ate it.
Pour dejeuner (For lunch) - Didier is an enthusiastic chef (which his son has unfortutely not taken after) and cooked us a sublime lunch of avocado and prawn salad, pan-fried potatoes with herbs and mushrooms, and rare-medium beef with roasted bread and stuffing.
Clem told me that Didier and France (his aunt) gave him separate looks and comments on, “Where does she put it?!” throughout lunch. I was like, “What… and I was trying to control myself too..!” He said I shouldn’t control my appetite cos they’re pleased the way I eat (though I think it’s a polite way to say it -_- Oh SHY.)
After main lunch, was fromage. There were six different types of cheeses and just looking at them made me so happy. J’aime fromage!
Then for dessert we had a beautiful platter of different flavoured eclairs – caramel with salty butter, coffee, and cherry. Oh my goodness, as it was I was already SO full (trop mange!) but because it was just so blinking good, I managed to try the salty caramel and cherry ones. I was thinking half cup full - that it’s good we don’t have this in KL else I’ll be so so fat.
Coffee came last. I usually don’t drink coffee but love the taste, and decided to (which was a mistake cos everyone took a nap after lunch and I had trouble with that). Didier, Flore and grand-père slept upstairs; with France, Clem and I lying on lounges by the pool. I thought they were crazy for sleeping under the startling sunshine, but I gave in after wanting to be close to Clem. Bloody coffee kept me wide awake, so I just lay with him with my eyes closed while everyone snoozed away. I was pretty tired from the traveling tho, and since my eyes were closed, I listened and smelled to everything around me.
I heard: A ball bouncing. The church nearby chiming. At least four types of birds twittering simultaneously. It was like bird playground in the area.
I smelled the smell of summer and grass and wind. A smell that reminds me of spending childhood summers in Newcastle. There’s a distinct summer smell Asia will never have, which I love so much cos it spells out sunshine and happy play time.
After a while I fell into a light sleep for a little while, before everyone started waking up. We got ready to leave for Germain and Pauline‘s farmhouse in la Ferme du Mont Saint Sebastien, Soignolles, where I spent Christmas Eve before. They have a sprawling farmhouse and I got so excited viewing their new foal that was just born just ten days before. I’ve never seen a foal before! It was so tiny and came up to below my shoulders on its spindly legs. I admired its cute little tail and short curly mane, and felt like just HUGGING IT.
Nelly, Clem’s 4-year-old niece, was already hugging another pony while patting a big horse. I spent some time patting an adult pony, and stared into her big soft eyes, wondering what she could be thinking and hoping that she couldn’t tell my ancestors would probably gobble her up.
We had white wine and saucisson before main dinner in their big kitchen. I absolutely love their kitchen. There’s a steel island table and equally modern fittings set in an old school farm kitchen with fireplace and dining area.
Germain and Pauline's three children - Louise (9), Emile (6) and Nelly (4) - ran around playing with the new toys Clem bought them (or more like, i went to buy for him for them).
At that point the jet lag was hitting me real bad cos it was around 4am Malaysian time and drinking a few glasses of vin didn't help. I made myself last till right after dinner ended, and excused myself. Even Flore said i looked like i was going to collapse. Je suis tres fatigue.
Passed out the moment i snuggled up in bed, and only woke to when the others came to bed around 3am after drinking and dancing all night.
I hope i will continue to write in this much detail as my journey moves along...!