Alright, day 5 in Louvain-la-Neuve, and I am bored.
Louvain-la-Neuve reminds me very much of Waterloo. Or shall I say, the University of Waterloo. The entire place gave me the feeling of a gigantic campus, and I suppose technically that’s what it really is. To give you Waterlooians (I refuse to use the term Waterloosers) an idea of this little place, the distance from home to work is approximately the same as the distance from MKV to DWE. The only difference is that everything you need is en route – restaurants, a shopping mall, grocery stores, cinemas…you get the idea. There are no cars or buses or vehicles within the campus/city – it is literally made for walking.
And I like that, except the part where I have to carry my laptop in my backpack to and from work, but that’s only about half an hour of the entire day combined. One thing I expected even before coming here is the cost of living. I’ve heard that Belgium is on the high end even in Europe, and to be in a place where 99% of the population is university students who are stuck within a one kilometre radius, it makes sense that prices are jacked up. That means I have to make wise choices in terms of spending…thank God for research stipends.
In Belgium, there are a couple of interesting things I noted that are a little different from France:
(1) The numbers – I’ve been warned of this before, so it wasn’t particularly shocking. It became apparent when I was ordering food for the first time. In France, 70 in French is “soixante-dix” (literally “sixty-ten”) and 90 is “quatre-vingt-dix” (literally “four-twenty-ten”…four times twenty plus ten, such rationality). In Belgium, however, 70 is “septante” and 90 is “nonante”, but 80 is still “quatre-vingts”. Well I just gotta say…THAT MAKES SO MUCH MORE SENSE! Now, why didn’t they just make 80 “huitante” as well?
(2) Les bises – In other words, kisses on the cheeks. In France, generally it’s one on the right cheek and one on the left cheek for acquaintances. I was told by a colleague here, after trying the right-left bise, that it’s just one on the right cheek and that’s it. Alright, I said to myself, time to adjust to the local customs. However, I’ve gotten the right-left bise several times and even one that was right-left-right…so, I am confused. Someone explain!?
(3) Lots of English – That’s right, people generally speak English here. Unlike Bordeaux, Louvain-la-Neuve is the host to lots and lots and lots of international students, so it is more or less an expectation for people in the lab to speak English, and it is no surprise that an entire office-full of people converse daily in English. This felt a little strange for me, ironically, because I had gotten used to speaking French in the office and it just doesn’t feel so right anymore when I switched back to English. So now, I speak to my supervisor in French (he asked me to choose between English and French, and I chose French for the sake of practice) and the colleagues in my office in English…or French, or Frenglish, or whatever comes out of my mouth. You get the point.
Out of extreme boredom this weekend – and that is not an understatement – I went out to take some pictures, as I do in any new city. Here is a more pictorial introduction to the city, and if you’re still interested in why I have been so bored, please continue to read on after the pictures.
Train station of Louvain-la-Neuve. This is the terminus, which means I HAVE to take the train if I want to go ANYWHERE outside of this city – unless I have a car, which I don’t. The great thing, though, is that the train station is right in the centre of the city, and walking from either my house or my workplace takes literally less than 10 minutes. This shall be very convenient for future out-of-town explorations.
This is the neighbourhood in which I live, right outside of the main campus, and it looks like a typical drive or boulevard in Canada, doesn’t it? Nice quiet place with some rather impressive houses. I live in one unit in a three-room house owned by a man who was one of the first residents of the city about 30 years ago.
Houses across the street, as seen from my window. The housing style is really different from what I’ve seen in Bordeaux.
This is the Grand-Place of Louvain-la-Neuve, and I suspect it is nothing compared to the REAL Grand-Place in Brussels. I actually don’t know what the building in the picture is, but to its left is movie theatre. This place is packed with students during lunch time, but it’s somewhat deserted during the weekend…go figure.
Rue des Wallons, as seen on my way back home from work. To get to the train station, you enter the building on the right, take a set of stairs down to the platform, et voilà.
Another gathering place for students during lunch time. I think this is in the vicinity of the science quad.
This is one of the science buildings (I think), to the right of the previous picture. I really gotta figure out what these places are instead of guessing based on the names of the buildings. It seems like I’m still just stuck in my little corner of the campus in one building…coming up in two pictures.
Here I was standing right in front of the building in which I work, staring down at the pathway I take to get to work. Nothing terribly surprising there.
And there’s the Boltzmann building which houses my lab. Actually, the cleanroom is in another building named Maxwell, and I will probably have to run back and forth between the two buildings eventually to get stuff done. I don’t remember what Boltzmann did, but he does have a number named after him. What is the value and what does it signify again? I can’t recall for the life of me.
So there you have it, wonderful life in Louvain-la-Neuve. As mentioned earlier, the weekend in Louvain-la-Neuve was extremely quiet as students head home or out of town, just like those Waterloo weekends. I don’t exactly know where they go, but I see lots of people with luggage headed for the train station Friday afternoon, so I could only assume they were going to Brussels or somewhere close.
As for me, I took a stroll around town on Saturday and discovered that all there is to see here can be seen within one hour, which explains why people go away during the weekends.
On Sunday, I attended the local church. It was quite an interesting experience for me. There were approximately 50 or so attendees, and except for me and another couple, EVERYONE there was of African origin. The pastor was from Congo – some luck I have with Congo, huh? Having met the pastor already on Saturday, I ventured to the church without knowing what to expect, and what a surprise. At first I felt a little intimidated and out of place because of the difference in race, but I kept telling myself that there shouldn’t be any boundaries between skin colours in faith, and with that thought in mind, I stayed for the entire service.
And I’m glad I did. I got to experience a worship that I had never seen before, those lively, energetic, joyful bodies filling the air with praise through their songs and dance. There were drums and tambourines and songs sung in Congolese, and the choir even sang me a welcome song. I felt slightly embarrassed at first, but seeing their sincere smiles and feeling their earnest welcomes, all I could do was to give thanks for the courage from God to stay. After all, there’s a first time for everything, right? Why can’t I be the first Chinese girl in their church?
Alrighty, time to head to bed and prepare for a new week of work and learning. Being a newcomer is always a bit tough, but I’ll get through it! Meanwhile, if you’re free, tell me a joke or something, because chances are, I am bored. Ciao!