Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

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Reading “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”

I finished “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera on the bus this morning (could have finished it last night if I realized that the last 25 pages were an incomprehensible epilogue). Yeah, I skipped the epilogue after about two pages because it made no sense to me (it consisted of a lot of references to other works that I haven’t read). But about the book itself, I probably only understood 30% of it. And what I did understand, I understood it superficially. The book had a lot to do with philosophy, religion, and mostly politics of Eastern Europe in the last century. Not having any prior knowledge of events such as the Prague Spring severely hindered my full appreciation of the book, but I finished it anyway as I couldn’t bear leaving it half (un)read. I think another reason that this book was difficult for me to read was that I read it in Chinese. Frankly, it was one of those books that caught my attention at the book store and I bought it without having done any research on its cultural background or author or even considered whether I would have liked to read it. But yes, reading it in Chinese was a little awkward, mainly because a lot of the translated expressions were awkward themselves. The essence of the original text must have been lost in translation, even more so in Chinese. There was one part that I read over and over again and still could not understand, so I found an English translation online and, immediately after reading it, understood what it was all about. This made me realize several things: (1) I need to read more literary works in Chinese because there is a lot of room for improvement; (2) English works need to be read in the original version (except for maybe CS Lewis’ “The Four Loves” – his writing style was so profound that I gave up 1/3 of the way in and in this case, it may be better to try the Chinese version); and (3) thank goodness I was not arrogant/stupid enough to try to French version of Kundera’s work, as I would not have gotten past the second page. I should probably re-read the book in English, but not before I finally tackle “The Great Gatsby” and let Kundera sink into the back of my mind for a bit. The “read more” resolution for 2020 (and for many years prior to this…) is off to a good start – let’s continue to rediscover the joy of reading!

“The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by French-Czech writer Milan Kundera, Chinese translation.

October 2019

The October 2019 post almost wasn’t going to exist. You see, I started this monthly summary thing last October (August and September both only had 6 photos and don’t count here), so September 2019 marked one whole year of doing it. I was going to stop at one year and perhaps continue onto something else, but I changed my mind. I realized that in the midst of a fast-paced lifestyle where one is so easily agitated, it is necessary to constantly remind myself to see, discover, and record those beautiful things in life – nature, people, events, etc. In doing so, I will then not forget to always express gratitude. So then, let the monthly summaries continue 😀

Tranquil afternoon in the Luoyan Scenic Area of East Lake, the last chance for me to see the rose garden before the winter set in. The rose garden (not real roses) wasn’t all that impressive (and that’s being euphemistic) but the Luoyan area was filled with some nice surprises…

…such as this boardwalk in a wooded area. The air was quiet, particularly because it was raining slightly that day and there weren’t that many visitors, which made it more enjoyable for me.

Sunset view from the balcony outside our office. My office faces the west so in the afternoon, we are often able to catch a perfect view of the sunset right as we get off work. This one in particular wasn’t all that spectacular compared to some of the other ones I’ve seen, but it gives an aura of tranquility and peace – and time to go home 😛

An assortment of flowers around the neighbourhood in October. The weather had been unusually warm this year up till mid-November, remaining at 20 degrees Celsius (or above) whereas last year, the temperature already dropped drastically by early November. I guess as a result of this, the flowers thought that spring came again…?!! According to some sources, the cherry blossoms at Wuhan University blossomed a bit in October…WHAT!! Foolish flowers being tricked by the weather – but hey I liked that I was able to enjoy their beauties again ^_^ Special attention goes to the sweet osmanthus (top right), whose fragance ubiquitously fills the atmosphere for about three weeks each autumn in Wuhan and has become one of my favourite things in this city!

This photo takes us back to France – the day after the wedding. As I mentioned in the previous post, our wedding venue had a fantastic pool that no one ventured to use as it was too cold – well, except for my brave newly wed husband. He had been going on and on about diving in for a swim and I even found swim trunks for him in Bordeaux for this sole purpose. I guess it wasn’t enough that he was thrown into the pool the previous night while he was in his suit, so he went for a proper swim early in the morning – even though he actually doesn’t know how to swim properly -_- That obviously didn’t stop him!

This was the goodbye photo at the Bordeaux train station. We didn’t want too many people to come and send us off, but three friends (one left early) did insist coming to bid us farewell. Please disregard the awkward and stretched shape of my face as I was the one taking the selfie and the angle was NOT advantageous for me. Otherwise I love this photo because everyone else looks so joyful and cute!

Mini team-building event with the company colleagues in my sub-department in Wuhan, at a popular bookstore called “Define Deer at Discovery” (don’t ask me about the translation…it makes no sense). The main destination was actually the sunflower field right outside the bookstore…

…tada! This was the day before the team-building event, where I brought my visiting friend Jade Blanche (emcee at the wedding). I thought that they weren’t planting the sunflowers this year because last year, they were in full bloom by the end of July, and the field was still empty in September this year. But then when Jian told me that the sunflowers were planted again, only later this year, I was beyond excited! Such lovely flowers full of energy and radiance!

Final photo obviously had to go to one of Jian and me in front of the sunflower fields, under the perfect lighting in perfect weather. The sunflowers have wilted by now so I guess I will see you again next year.

So as I mentioned at the beginning, the monthly posts will continue (if not, the blog will probably die because these are almost the only things I post nowadays). I am trying to regain some more time to blog but while it has been difficult, I will not let the blog die! We suddenly welcome winter this week as the temperature dropped sharply from the 20s to below 10 in a span of one day…my hands are freezing as I type this. Also big things are currently happening in life – no I am not pregnant (yet) – so stay tuned for updates in the next couple of months 😉

September 2019

So what happened recently? Well first off I got married to the love of my life in Bordeaux on October 4 – yes, photos will follow in the next post. We got to Bordeaux at the end of September and spent 12 hectic but fulfilling days there and that’s why most of the September photos were actually taken in/around Bordeaux. Let’s neglect the fact that it’s the end of OCTOBER already…my excuse this time is that I’ve taken quite a bit of time to re-adjust to the Chinese working schedule and pace. And still I feel like I’m in permanent jetlag, i.e. tired all the time. Ah well, let the post go on!

The mid-autumn festival occurred on September 13 this year (August 15 in the lunar calendar) and while I didn’t go moon-watching on that day, the then-still-fiancé and I went for a walk two days later, and the moon was still as bright and round as ever.

Another photo of light, this time, sunlight. Or well, the sun was about to set as I took this photo from the new physics building at HUST, where ZJ’s office is now located. Because it is new, everything is clean and shiny and the environment is perfect for work. No wonder I have been a regular weekend visitor for the past month…

Hmmm, wine bottles? This must mean Bordeaux! This photo was taken at the chateau where my wedding took place, in Quinsac (20 minutes away from central Bordeaux by car). I never became the wine connoisseur that I aspired to be but hey, having a wedding at a chateau was not a bad idea, as you will see in the upcoming post 😉

What else do you get in France other than wine, you ask? Why, croissants and coffee, of course! Pastry in France in general is divine, and the croissants, warm and crispy and flaky, are unparalleled anywhere in the world. Though, Bordeaux is more known for the pain au chocolat (or chocolatine as they call it locally, not pictured here), which is similar to a croissant but in a rectangular shape and with chocolate chunks embedded inside. I would have to say that my preference is chocolatine – oh such wonders!

Now onto some lovely people. First up, an old friend (literally…) from Glasgow, David, visited me in Wuhan, so naturally ZJ and I had to take him around a bit. Seemed like he wasn’t used to the heat…nor was I, as it was 34 degrees Celsius on the day he visited!

And next we hop over to Bordeaux, where I reunited with the family before my wedding!! My dad and sister have visited Bordeaux during my Ph.D. studies but it was my mom’s first time there. Clearly my sister was a little over-excited but that was probably because we were on our way to a seafood buffet…who WOULDN’T be excited?!?!

Well, not before I got a photo with the blob aka the sister. She would also be one of my bridesmaids and I love her to bits and pieces and even more.

Finally, the long-awaited SEAFOOD BUFFET! I’ve been to Merci (name of the restaurant) a couple of times when I was in Bordeaux and brought my dad there when he visited. I hadn’t actually intended to bring my family there this time (because it was quite far from central Bordeaux) but my dad specifically said that we had to go. Wow, didn’t know he loved it that much, huh. The price is currently 37 Euros per person, and you get 6 oysters, an unlimited buffet of chilled seafood, one hot dish, and one dessert per person in a fancy atmosphere with great service. Quite a deal, actually, as the seafood was fresh and amazingly delicious. We really should have filled the table with food before we took this photo…blah, an oversight as we were all too eager for the group photo. In addition to the immediate family, we also welcomed blob’s boyfriend Marcus, whom we consider as half-family already 😛 Ho, boy, was I full by the end of the evening!!

Finally, a group photo of friends at a home-cooked meal chez Kathryn in Bordeaux. Some were old friends and others were new acquaintances but we shared a joyful time just the same. What’s interesting was that this house was where I met my then-still-fiancé ZJ two years ago, where he was helping Kathryn with painting the walls and renovation. Now, the house is well renovated and ZJ and I are happily married 😉

I shall definitely post some wedding photos within the next two weeks – stay tuned!!

In and out of my comfort zone

While looking through the MiMe (now part of CeMi) members on the web site today I realized that a lot of my former colleagues stayed in the lab after they finished their PhD. This made me think of two things. First of all, would I have been able to stay if I wanted to? I guess that is based on the premise that there was a project I could have applied to and that they would want me to continue working there. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to stay in MiMe or Glasgow – in fact, I had gotten so used to that life that it was perhaps easier to stay if I had the choice. This leads to my second point – stepping out of my comfort zone. I hadn’t thought of this in-depth but I ask myself now: was coming to China stepping OUT OF or INTO my own comfort zone?

There was a transitional phase between my departure from Glasgow and arrival in China, and obviously the deciding factor was J (my fiancé), but China was constantly hovering at the back of my mind as I was struggling to make a decision, even before I met J. Thinking back, I owe myself a round of applause for not looking back on this important decision (though I often complain about the downsides of China), being assertive, and MAKING IT HAPPEN.

It is often tempting to stay in the comfort zone rather than venture into the unknown. The path may be foggy, and it will be difficult to see the way. It takes some courage to accept change. The fog won’t fade away, but you will learn to see with new eyes.

For a long time, I’ve had this confusing identity crisis where I feel like a mixed product between western (Canadian) and oriental (Chinese) culture. Still, I always felt like I could and would identify myself as Chinese, no matter where I am. In that sense, by coming to China, I was actually stepping INTO a zone of comfort – familiar language, good food, and physically looking like everyone else around me. At the same time, China has perhaps been much more of an anti-comfort zone for me, especially in terms of expectations, cultural norms and phenomena, work habits, weather, etc. I had expected the challenges and knew that it would not be easy living here, but I was less ready than I thought I was. It’s not about being capable or incapable of adapting to the new environment and lifestyle, but the struggle to resist assimilation into a person whom even I would despise, because of the influence of my environment – that is ultimately what I fear and want to avoid.

Several points emerge from this. The fact that I say this means that there are people around me whom I despise (perhaps unjustifiably), and I attribute this to the way they are due to cultural norms. I also place the majority of the blame on environmental and cultural influence, and even though it can be resisted, it takes the patience, stamina, and wisdom of a saint, which I do not have. I acknowledge completely that this is a hypocritical statement but my opinion remains. This also brings to light my inherent arrogance and lack of empathy, which are areas that I have to work on.

The entire experience so far has been a tug-of-war between me, myself, and I. Society, culture, and the world are not obliged to change for any one person, so I will have to continue adapting to, accommodating to, and accepting – with principle – even the things I cannot seem to comprehend. The conclusion? There is no real comfort or discomfort – the process of bettering oneself will always be filled with pain and tears, but it is also during those moments that I realize how lucky I am compared to most people, who may not even know the meaning of “comfort”. It is indeed as much a lesson of gratitude and satisfaction as it is of self-discipline and self-development.

My stories 02: Chinese New Year

It is no surprise that the Lunar New Year is the most important event of the year for the Chinese, and growing up in a Chinese family, we observe it every year. We didn’t go all out with the rituals and celebrations, which themselves vary among regions across China. For us, it’s usually just a simple meal with the immediate family. The last time I spent Chinese New Year at home was in 2014, and my dad cooked a huge New Year’s Eve meal. I remember, though, that my mom unfortunately had to work that evening and was absent, so it was a dinner for three – my dad, my sister, and me. This year, however, I was finally able to spend New Year’s Eve with the entire family, after five years.

During the Chinese New Year celebrations, elders are obliged by cultural norms to give youngsters red pockets containing lucky money, or “lai-see” in Cantonese. When I was a kid, I would receive lai-see from many relatives and friends of my parents. What did I do with the money? Well, I’d be lucky if I knew how much money was in the lai-see. Why is that? Well, my mom (and many Chinese moms do the same) would claim that I was too young to spend money anyway, so she would “save up the money” for my future. After that, I would never find out the whereabouts of the lai-see. Another thing is that only married people are expected to give out lai-see – I think this is a Cantonese norm, but I’m not 100% sure. So, even though I’m in my 30s, I still receive lai-see from my relatives and am not condemned if I don’t “return the favour” by similarly handing out lai-see to their kids. I guess that’s another reason not to get married yet…

And then there are firecrackers. Perhaps it’s an irrational fear, but I’m deathly afraid of sudden, loud noises – popping balloons, thunder, and firecrackers. I can’t recall what prompted this fear in me, but I do remember shivering and hiding in the house when the firecrackers were lit in my childhood days. Nowadays, firecrackers are prohibited in many cities in China, but are still a widespread form of celebration in the countryside. It does seem like traditional Chinese heritage is being compromised by the diminishing popularity of firecrackers, but at least it effectively alleviated my pain and suffering from the deafening noises that remain in my memories.

Red pockets containing lucky money, given out during Chinese New Year.

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