Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

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My stories 05: Everybody’s Changing

“So little time
Try to understand that I’m
Trying to make a move just to stay in the game
I try to stay awake and remember my name
But everybody’s changing
And I don’t feel the same
You’re gone from here
And soon you will disappear
Fading into beautiful light
Cause everybody’s changing
And I don’t feel right…”

The song “Everybody’s Changing” has been on my phone ever since I discovered it, and I remember very distinctly the circumstances under which I first heard this song. It was October 26, 2017, my final week in Glasgow. I was having lunch with a friend at Chaiwallah, a cafe/restaurant nearby the University of Glasgow that popped up a few months before. (Side note: the site of the restaurant used to be a public toilet but has since been revamped into a cafe. As far as I am aware, at the time of writing, the cafe has closed down.) The space was small but cozy, fitting only approximately 15 customers. I wasn’t very close with the friend with whom I had the lunch date, and within the less than one year that I had known her, we never had a one-on-one conversation. Yet, there was an unspoken mutual bond between us, so it was only natural to finally have a chat with her in a relaxed atmosphere, before I left Glasgow for good.

We ordered our food, and mine was a sandwich with sweet potato, avocado, onion, and cheese. Though the portion was small, it turned out to be one of the best sandwiches that I’ve ever had, but in fact, food was not the spotlight of this meal. Our conversations were light but pleasant, brief but memorable. We talked about God, aspirations, relationships, the past, the present, the future. And then I heard it – a song played in the background that instantly caught my attention. I don’t know what it was that appealed to me. The instrumentals? The voice of the lead singer? The vibe? It didn’t matter – I knew I had to find out the title of the song and who sang it. Thankfully I had Shazam on my phone, which opened up promptly despite my phone usually being sluggishly slow. I told my friend, “I’m sorry, give me a moment, I like this song.” She smiled and waited. In a few seconds, “Keane – Everybody’s Changing” appeared on my screen, and it was like a dose of epiphany…of course!

Keane. I should have recognized that voice, and I shouldn’t have been surprised. “Somewhere Only We Know” and “Perfect Symmetry” were songs by Keane that had significantly impacted various phases of my life, and now, “Everybody’s Changing” made its way into my heart. The song speaks of embarking on the walk of life while all of a sudden realizing that nothing is the same anymore. It speaks of the struggle to accept change in order to stay alive in the game of Life but at the same time, trying to remain true to oneself and remember one’s own identity. But in this day and age, we are all sacrifices of our own products, aren’t we? When we are twisted, bent, and scarred beyond recognition, is it those around us who have changed, or is it us and only us?

Just imagine the sweet potato, avocado, and onion fusing together in a warm cushion of cheese – oh it was lovely!

(This short essay was written on January 16, 2019.)

Regaining my love of reading

COVID-19 has allowed me to pick up the habit of reading again and I’m loving it. It’s strange, sometimes I would wonder how I spent my time after work pre-COVID. I then realized how much time I wasted doing…nothing? Or perhaps nothing meaningful, shall I say. I would maybe scroll mindlessly through my phone or watch short videos that don’t require much thought, and before you knew it, it would be time to sleep. The cycle repeats day after day till I’m numb toward my perception of time, and then there’d be the perfect excuse of “I don’t have enough time”.

Then COVID hit and all of a sudden I found myself in quarantine/lockdown with all the time in the world. There’s only so much on my phone that I could mindlessly scroll through before I’d go crazy, especially during COVID when the news is either about conspiracy theories or overly sentimental positivity that does nothing but exploit emotional vulnerability. So then I turned to books – physical, paper novels. I had made the resolution to read more since the end of 2019, and COVID just seemed to make that resolution easier to achieve. For a long time, I had forgotten what it felt like to be immersed in adventure through flipped pages, to be gripped by the rich emotions of imaginary figures, to be able to experience worlds I would never have otherwise even known of. I had forgotten what it was like to have to force myself to NOT start a new chapter in order to not sleep too late (last time was Count of Monte Cristo) or to anticipate the gleaming introduction of a new book. I loved reading – and I wanted to regain that love.

Books on the small shelf of my rented home – can’t wait to move into our own home soon and get a nice big bookcase!

I started buying books, most of them classics that have stood the test of time. Some I have been meaning to read for a while (like the Japanese work “Norwegian Wood”) but many were titles that I was discovering for the first time (like those from Honoré de Balzac). Of course, these were Chinese translations of the original works. I deliberately avoided English works for the moment because I prefer to read their original versions, which are rather hard to come by in Wuhan. That’s why most of the novels I’ve read so far were either Chinese originals or Japanese/French, translated into Chinese. (My French reading skills are only at the “Le Petit Prince” level so I won’t embarrass myself by attempting Balzac or Hugo in French…)

Regardless of depth or reading difficulty, there is something to be learned from each piece of literary work, whether superficial or profound. For example, “Norwegian Wood” by Haruki Murakami, while ruthlessly exposing the gravity of depression, made known to me two classic pieces of music, both named “Norwegian Wood” (English by The Beatles, Chinese by WuBai, and they have nothing to do with each other). “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera introduced me to the Prague Spring and Czech history. “The Sound of the Mountain” by Yasunari Kawabata (Nobel laureate) and “Paradise Lost” by Junichi Watanabe sparked my curiosity in the city of Kamakura in Japan, as it was the primary setting of the former and an important location in the plot of the latter. I’m currently reading “Notre-Dame de Paris” by Victor Hugo (a difficult read) and though I’ve never lived in Paris, my connection with France made me ponder about and want to explore the themes and motifs mentioned in the book (architecture vs. literature, piety vs. compassion, virtue vs. vice). (On a side note, I wonder how Hugo would have reacted if he found out about the fire at Notre-Dame last year.) As for “Dream of the Red Chamber” by Xueqin Cao…that’ll warrant its own essay, when I finish reading it in mid-June.

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!!

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