Annie Bananie en Europe

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Wedding day

After almost 8 months of planning, the wedding happened on October 4th in magical Bordeaux. Yep, I married Jian, the love of my life, in the city where we met. Well to be exact, it happened in the village of Quinsac, about 15 km from central Bordeaux where a church friend owns a château. Enormous thanks to Lilly for hosting us and providing us with a perfect venue, along with catering and planning assistance. Definitely could not have done it without her!

I was never the girl who dreamt about her wedding day or believed that it would be the most important day of her life. Rather, I enjoyed the entire process of planning the wedding and looked forward to the day for two main reasons: (1) I genuinely LOVED planning and organizing such a large event, especially because it was such a personal one and I got to interact with and work with so many friends (although all at a distance), and (2) I viewed this as a grand reunion of the people whom I love the most, whom I’ve met at various stages of my life. It was a celebration of love but also one of friendship and life!

We had around 65 guests coming from four continents, some flying in from China and as far as Martinique! Jian and I individually invited people who have made personal impact in our lives, so that this would be a cozy wedding with the people whom we cared about and who cared about us. We wanted the wedding to be about the guests as much as it was about us, so we involved them in all parts of the planning process – people helped design our wedding pamphlet, transport accessories from China, set up the audio system, move tables and chairs, emcee, etc. etc. All in all, it was more like a big informal party! Endless gratitude goes out to every person who attended and made it such a meaningful day for both Jian and me ❤

We were grateful to have David Page as the photographer of our day. After having contacted no fewer than ten wedding photographers able to work in the Bordeaux area, we chose to work with David because of his enthusiasm, professionalism, and most importantly style. Also, although we didn't have an exclusive engagement session, we did have an opportunity to get some individual photos taken after the ceremony and before the evening reception, with gorgeous nature as our backdrop! We wandered around the grounds of the château with David, looking for different perspectives and new inspirations. The results were outstanding, as you can see in the gallery of our wedding on his web site (password: wuhan), and David managed to capture some valuable candid moments. Here are just a selected few photos that I really loved and put into mini-collages.

Top left: Dad walking me down the “aisle” and me trying very hard not to trip on my dress while still smiling; Top right: Saying our vows, with Pastor Alan as our officiator; Bottom left: The groom seemed a bit nervous? Bottom right: Exiting at the end of the ceremony, with guests throwing flower petals at us!

Top left: Family photo; Top right: The Glasgow people; Middle left: Bordeaux Chinese Christian Church; Middle right: Bordeaux International Church, English service; Bottom left: Homies from Canada; Bottom right: Friends of Jian, AKA Annie and all the cute guys 😉

Top left: Obligatory pic of the bride and the bridesmaids; Top right: Annie and Amy, designer of the wedding pamphlet; Bottom right: Annie and Peiguang, good friend and English/Chinese translator of the day; Bottom right: Huge hug to Andy, still the same after nine years.

Top left: Château grounds; Top right: Annie, Jian, and nature; Bottom left: Just enjoying a nice walk and a fun chat; Bottom right: Gorgeous living room of the château.

Top left: Guests helping with preparations for the outdoor ceremony; Top right: Guests chilling after the ceremony, with perfect weather – maybe even good enough for a dip in the pool? Bottom left: What’s Bordeaux without WINE?! Bottom right: Dinner preparations…mmmm the food was good, so good…

Top left: Tea ceremony for the parents, not really formal or done in the traditional way and mainly done for fun 😉 ; Top right: Behind the scenes of champagne-opening time (actually just sparkled wine), where I showed my true colors by revealing my 3+ chins, thanks to the sister for noticing -_-; Bottom left: The sparkle in my eyes was filled with warmth and satisfaction, so maybe my new husband said something that impressed me…? Bottom right: As foreshadowed earlier, someone (hint hint: the groom) was going to take a dip in the pool, whether he wanted to or not. Would you believe me if I said that he requested to be thrown in?!!

Top left: Family photo after the morning tea ceremony; Top right: Mommy putting on a necklace for me; Bottom left: Casually chatting with dad after the ceremony; Bottom right: Extremely touching and well-delivered speech by Sherry AKA the sister AKA the blob AKA one of the bridesmaids AKA someone who means the world to me.

Top left: Intimate, quiet moments with Jian away from the guests for a little while; Top right: Receiving blessings from Pastor Alan; Bottom left: Presenting our “first dance” with a Chinese children’s tune, “Two Tigers” (tune of “Frère Jacques”); Bottom right: The guests were treated to another song from Annie and Jian’s private concert 😉

Top left: Wedding pamphlet containing the program, song lyrics, and dining menu; Top right: Behind the gates; Bottom left: Wedding gifts for the guests; Bottom middle: THE ONE RING; Bottom right: Dining table set-up, courtesy to my lovely helpers throughout the day!

Special thanks to the following people: Jian for unconditional love and support, resulting in an unforgettable day; mom and dad for granting me the freedom to pursue my dreams; my sister Sherry and my friend Mini for an amazing hair and make-up job and for taking care of me so well as my bridesmaids; Florence for the emotional and spiritual support; Alan for officiating the wedding and Pat for the beautiful bouquet; Andy for traveling all the way from Martinique and offering love that never seems to have a limit; brothers and sisters from the Bordeaux Chinese Church for helping out with planning and coordination, especially Jade Blanche the emcee, James and Luming the groomsmen, and the members of the choir; Kathryn for her gentleness and continuous prayers; Regine for marriage counselling; LS for translating; Mario for transporting guests back and forth between Bordeaux and the venue; the Glasgow crew, especially Amy for designing the wedding pamphlets, CQ+LY+XQ for transporting materials, YBB and WB for operating the sound system, Joy for assisting with small things throughout the day, and Pastor Pan and Anita for the encouragement; the Canadian homies for traveling all the way (one flying in from Singapore) and maintaining our friendship for 10+ years; and everyone else for participating in setting up, celebrating, and having fun. Yup I basically thanked everyone, this felt like a prolonged Oscar speech, thank you very much. (This was why I enjoyed writing the “Acknowledgements” section of my PhD thesis so much.)

In the end, the day had to come to an end, but love and friendship continue to thrive and remain to connect us with each other. Let this be a memory and a seal of all that is joyful, peaceful, and hopeful. Cheers!

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!!

Beautiful things: Gates and doors

There are many things I like to take photos of: clouds, reflections, and cityscapes at night, to name a few. Gates and doors are not the most popular or common subjects to photograph, but while sifting through the photos I’ve taken over the years, I realized that I’ve encountered a number of them that impressed me or are simply beautiful. I’ve gathered a small collection of these gates and doors here for your enjoyment.

Perhaps my favourite of them all are these aged but colourful gates all aligned outside the imperial palace in Hue, Vietnam. This is certainly not what most people went to the palace to see but it somehow caught my attention. There were at least five arched doorways (maybe not even gates or doors themselves?) that were lined up in a row in such a way that it was very pleasing to the sight. Almost symmetrical, but not quite perfectly, which is where its beauty lies.

The second one is this gate somewhere in Basel, the first city that I visited in Switzerland. You can only see the outline of the gate itself but two things appealed to me: the elegant details of the curves on the gate and the vivid colours on the other side. The contrast between the dark silhouette and the bright exterior further accentuated the features of the gate, making it one of the most unique ones I’ve seen.

Onto one that took on a rather different style – a door covered with graffiti in Prague. The sprayed writings on the door made it look quite messy, and in fact the door couldn’t be any more ordinary. Ironically, that’s what made it special to me because it shows that the ordinary exists, even in a popular and acclaimed tourist destination like Prague.

Let’s stay in Prague for a bit and go to the Prague Castle, where two weapon-wielding giants guard one of its gates. The one on the left chose a bat as his weapon of choice while the one on the right had a sharp object, presumably a knife of some sort. Each giant was in action, arresting what seemed like tresspassers trying to bypass castle security. Don’t mess with the giants or you might end up under their feet like that…

This door-and-window combination, photographed in Saint-Émilion, couldn’t be simpler, but its exquisiteness lies in the details. The three pots of flower, the octagonal hole in which one of them was placed, the aged walls, the intricate but delicate patterns on the curtains inside, the cobblestone street…a perfectly serene picture.

And finally…here’s a creepy gate that leads to a cemetery, I presume. I had actually completely forgotten where I took this photo and had to dig through my harddrive to find out that it was in…Edinburgh! Looking through photos of this particular trip, I believe this was taken at the Greyfriars Kirkyard. Indeed Edinburgh is one of my favourite cities in Europe and I visited it plenty of times when I was living in Glasgow. In addition to the many spectacular spots that most tourists would visit, Edinburgh certainly hides some secrets very well, like this one… 😉

What beautiful thing should I blog about next? Shadows? Clouds? Reflections? Hmm…

Paris, je t’aime…?

The curious thing about the verb “to love” in French – “aimer” – Is that it is the same as the word for “to like”, so the title of this post is a slight play on words. (“Je t’aime” = “I love you” or “I like you”.) You see, I’ve never loved Paris, not even liked. If you’ve ever read my posts on Paris, you would have seen that I make this point clear every time, and I’ll spare you the explanations. However, my most recent visit to Paris last month changed it all and I might even say…that I like Paris now, just a little…?

The original plan was to go to Paris with my friend TK, who’s never visited. I mean why else would I go back to a city that I never liked? Everything was booked except…TK missed her flight back to the UK because of Typhoon Hato in Macau, and that was the day before leaving for Paris. WELL THAT AIN’T COOL. Consequently, whereas the two of us were supposed to fly together from Glasgow to Paris, I ended up flying alone and spending the weekend in Paris without a companion…well that’s not true, I ended up meeting a lot of old friends as a result. In fact, the trip turned out to be a lot more interesting than I had expected.

Aside from my sudden lack of company, the most unconventional thing that I did this time around was that I left my DSLR at home and only had my phone camera on me, so all photos were taken and edited on my phone. I had to learn to not rely on Mr. Nikon all the time, and it was not easy! Also, at this point, the glamorous side of Paris (Eiffel Tower, Louvre, etc.) doesn’t appeal to me anymore, and I was more drawn towards the local neighbourhoods that were just waiting to be discovered. With a bit of research beforehand, I narrowed down my long weekend to a few places that I wanted to see…beware of photo spam coming up!

Coulée Verte René-Dumont

If there was a place that could define “urban oasis”, then this was it. Situated in the 12th arrondissement, the “coulée verte” is a park-like promenade that spans ~5 km from nearby the Place de la Bastille to the edge of central Paris. I only walked part of the elevated segment, from one end of the Viaduc des Arts (which itself was a place I had wanted to visit) to Bastille, and what a nice walk! From 10 metres above ground, you traverse the heart of the 12th through a long garden full of greenery, with many viewpoints of the city and several fun murals along the way. Joggers seemed to particularly love this place, as there were plenty of them passing by in each direction. Certainly a quick and easy escape to an otherwise hectic Parisian city life!

Père Lachaise cemetery

Père Lachaise is a huge public cemetery in the 20th arrondissement of Paris where many famous people including Chopin, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, and Bizet were buried. Walking through the cemetery was like taking a stroll in a maze covered by fallen leaves upon the remains of those who have passed. The peace and silence were calming but not eerie, and I would have liked to spend more time there if it weren’t 30 degrees Celsius that day and if I hadn’t already walked all day…

Rue Crémieux

The first thought I had upon turning into this secluded street in the 12th arrondissement was, “Seriously this exists in Paris?!?!?” Delicate houses with colourful shades of pastel on both sides – you would have thought this was Burano or Cinque Terre but no, there it was, right in the midst of a grey, busy Paris. I could see why this place is often overlooked – the “entrance” is so inconspicuous that you’d have to actually know where you’re going to find it, but wow it was a beautiful street. The walls of each house was painted in a different colour with a different design on each door, and my favourite would have to be the pastel green house with the painted tree and the motorcycle parked in front. Such a unique find!

Mur des je t’aime

I guess this photo fits today’s post quite well seeing that it’s all about “love” or “je t’aime”. This is also probably the most “touristy” and well-known place out of all the ones in Paris I’m writing about here. The “I love you wall” has, as the name implies, “I love you” written in over 200 languages. Though it’s situated in a small park right outside Abbesses metro station at the foot of Montmartre, it is easily overlooked because people usually just head up to Montmartre and don’t venture into the park. A lot of couples come here to take their photos taken for obvious reasons, and I actually thought that it was cuter and more creative than the love-lock bridges that seem to be everywhere nowadays. I rather liked the quote that was inscribed above the wall: “Aimer c’est du désordre…alors aimons!” (Translation: “Loving is chaotic…so let’s love!”)

Parc Buttes-Chaumont

The Parc Buttes-Chaumont, located in the 19th arrondissement, is another one of those places where locals go to escape from the city centre. With an artificial lake, a small temple perched on top of a cliff in the middle of the lake, and several bridges crossing the lake, the atmosphere of this green haven was peaceful yet dynamic, as there were many runners, cyclists, and dog walkers throughout the park. In fact this was a lovely place for a picnic, but I had to catch a flight that afternoon and didn’t have time to prepare for a picnic. Not wanting to miss out on a beautiful day, my friend MM and I went to the nearby McDonald’s and grabbed some good ol’ burgers and wraps, found a space on one of the grassy areas, and enjoyed a sunny break with many locals who decided to do the same. Not a conventional picnic, alright, but still cherished as we had so little time to spend together!

Murals

Murals are one of my favourite types of art. Though I have heard of the street art scene in Paris, I had not intended to look for street art specifically during this trip. That is, until I caught a glimpse of several gigantic murals out the window of the subway during one segment of the ride on line 6 that was overground. WHAT. The bonus point is that it was actually only one stop from where I was staying, near Place d’Italie, and I estimated that it would take no more than 10 minutes to walk from my hotel to the mural area. Well then LET IT BE DONE. On the last morning of my stay, I went down Boulevard Vincent-Auriol from Place d’Italie and as expected, found no fewer than 10 impressive murals in various locations within a 15-minute walk (some shown here), on both sides of the street. Some of them were so huge and impressive that I had to stop and marvel for a good 5 minutes before continuing the hunt for the next. Now this was a surprise and certainly THE highlight of the trip. I late found out that the 13th is actually famous for its street art in Paris…well I know where I’m staying again next time! (Side note: the drawings on the wall in the Bastille metro station on line 1 and the ones outside of Gare de Lyon were also spectacular!)

Friends

Of course I had to meet up with some friends in Paris. The original plan of showing TK around Paris was completely foiled, and so I had more time than originally anticipated to spend with friends living in Paris. These were mostly old friends that I met in Bordeaux during my PhD days, those who in the past years have either settled down or been temporarily working in Paris. I had the chance to eat delicious grilled seafood at the famous Pedra Alta with Jiang, explore much of the above-described parts of Paris with MM, and attend Ara and Victor’s wedding celebration (where I also saw Diana and Edgar too, of course!) Definitely not a weekend wasted! Sorry TK, you’d have to come back to Paris again some other time 😦

So, this turned out to be the longest and perhaps happiest and most positive Paris-related post that I’ve ever written in my blog, and I’ve written…quite a few. I guess I can now say, perhaps with a little less reluctance…Paris, je t’aime 😉

Things I miss about France

There are days when I just miss France and Bordeaux. I had called the elegant Bordeaux “home” for three years, and everything that was so unfamiliar at first little by little became a part of my everyday life. From time to time (and now is one of those times) I think of the tidbits of my French life and begin to appreciate these beautiful things all over again!

Fête de la Musique

France is probably not the only country that has an annual music festival, where in every city and town, large and small, music comes to life all night on June 21, the summer solstice. I was fortunate to be part of the event in Bordeaux in 2011 and 2013, and all the way till way past midnight, music and dance in all forms invaded the streets. Alors, on danse! (Well, let’s dance!)

Gésiers, confit, and crème brulée

Ah, French food. If I were to piece together a perfect 3-course meal, it would begin with gésiers (duck gizzards) from Les Provinces (the restaurant doesn’t exist anymore, unfortunately) as an appetizer, confit de canard (duck confit) from La Table Bordelaise – they really have the best! – as the main course, and crème brulée from well…anywhere, as a dessert. My mouth is watering just thinking about this…

Bonus: I also crave the beef (with the oh-so-delicious special sauce) and the unlimited French fries at L’Entrecôte from time to time. Even though the queue to get into the restaurant is always at least 30 minutes long, it’s never stopped me!

Wine

How can you say you’ve lived in BORDEAUX without mentioning its wine? Alright, while I admit that I’m no wine connoisseur and still can’t tell the difference between one wine and another, it’s become a social and cultural thing that I gladly immersed in. A good meal (the abovementioned, for example) is just not complete without an aromatic glass of wine. Santé!

Coffee shops

Some days I like to go to a local coffee shop with a friend or two and have a quiet, relaxing chat for a whole afternoon. Some days I like to go by myself with a notebook and a pen, writing as it rains outside. My favourite spot is a little place called Les Mots Bleus, but there are so many unique coffee shops around the city that it suffices to just drop by any one and enjoy a cup of coffee or tea with maybe a slice of cake.

TGV

The TGV (train à grande vitesse, or high-speed train) makes travel so convenient within France and to nearby countries. Three hours from Bordeaux to Paris (3.5 to CDG airport) and only two hours from Bordeaux to Toulouse – and the rides are always smooth and comfortable! Oh, being young with the youth discounts is an awesome deal in France – make sure you go before you turn 26 (28 in some cases)!

Life in France was once only a dream but one that came true and left behind its traces in the form of these things that I miss dearly. Oh France, what a beautiful country you are!

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