Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Conquering new terriories... again!

A bout of gale hit my area a couple of days ago. Although 40 or so lives were taken in France as a direct cause of the 150 kmph gusty winds. No casualties in Saint Maur and around, thank goodness. Just a few broken branches (large branches of our very mature pine trees) and a couple of displaced roof tiles!

I'm now more motivated to type! So, here goes. During my now regular hiatus from blogging, ideas came pouring in my head about what to blog about. Due to my very short-term memory, I am slapping myself now for not jotting them down. But alas, fear not, I have purchased a beautiful handy notebook to never again miss those impromptu moments when subject matters seem to spring into life.

What have I been doing since? I have been eBaying. I have been Amazon-ing. And most of all, I have been reading blogs about another country! We may indeed be making a move into a land far far away...

Where do I start? An inter-web of reasons have brought us here to this beautiful quiet life. But that has always been the underlying predicament, it is quiet, for all its intent and purpose. Too quiet for our young minds. If I could take a little bit of Paris, a little bit of KL and a little bit of LA, arrange it around our current home, and then throw in some English and sprinkle it with more warm sunny days, life would be bliss here. But that's just isn't so and an interweb of reasons is slowly ejecting us away from here.

About 2 months ago, my husband got struck with reality and concluded that the business is just ain't progressing at the speed he had hope it would, and went on a cyber-spree of job application across the globe. Since then, 3 looked very promising, out of which, one, from Abu Dhabi, gave a solid proposition. At the other end of the orient, namely Ho Chi Minh City was to be the jackpot should he be accepted. It is the first time he has ever put himself in the market and actually realise his market value (He has always insisted that his earnings is in the top 10% in France, even though I strongly feel that he is underpaid for his skills!)Hubby being the special man he is (oh, I love him enormously!), doesn't fancy these 2 and became strongly attracted to one being offered by a nobody, from a nobody firm, in what we thought to be a nobody country with a far from reasonable salary package. The country in question is Oman, and ever since this opportunity arised, we have been frantically researching literally everything about the place and its people. We were surprised and then the one week trip re-affirmed our amazement. It's nothing like the New York style cities of its neighbours. It is booming but town-planning are strongly controlled, resulting in beautiful structures respectful to the feel of the region - no building taller than 7-storeys, no v-shaped roof and colours, in harmony of the earth. Many aspects of its lifestyle conjures up life as I knew it back in KL. Fancy cars, fancy restaurants and fancy cafes. Ice-blended coffees aplenty! Which comes to the topic of weather. Right now it's about the end of their 'winter' season, which basically means that the daytime heat is bearable (we're still talking 30 degrees Celcius on average, less the humidity). The grind comes during their 'summer' (April - October) where temperatures soar ridiculously high (can be over 50 degrees!) and no one lingers around outside unncessarily. Goodbye to our habitual al-fresco lifestyle come the warm season in France... And back to living fully air-conditioned EVERYWHERE indoors, where stale air and germs go whoopeedoo. On the bright side, Muscat is by the sea, and we all know what sight and sound of gentle waves batting against sandy beaches does to our senses... Me like. Not only does proximity to the sea makes it alluring, two other aspects top my 'pro' list - they speak English over there and we will be able to afford a full-time maid!

Nevertheless, an unexpected feeling of sadness at the thought of leaving France and its many advantageous facets is quiet beguiling, if not strange. These years of abhorrence of anything French (that DOES sounds a bit harsh!) has finally reached its terminus. Patience and better understanding of La France and the very engine that drives her, has drawn me to appreciate it.

France, my darling, you win, hands down, I have been seduced by you. I'm now terribly heavyhearted to eventually have to bid you Adieu.

Although France will soon be miles away, encountering strange Frenchified phenomenons, I am certain, will STILL befall unto me! The recording shall thus continue!

A plus!

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Cold Freezes Everything

I ought to blog more often as I have so many things to share - about living in France, about being yet another Malaysian, but mostly being ME, infusing in a foreign culture and lifestyle. But the winter winds of the Indre Valley is numbing me to a halt. I feel like I'm semi-frozen, even in a panoply of woolies. The cold doesn't agree with me. I am tropical through and through.

It has been over 3 months since I last made my measly effort to record my thoughts in cyberspace and I'm not too proud of my non-enthusiasism. I'm lazy and I lack motivation. Has this new life of sleepless nights (kids) and endless physical labour (expensive domestic help) and the feeling of entrapment (practically zero social life) taken a toll on me? Maybe.

Almost all Malaysians with French partners (or other non-English speaking natives for that matter) who moved to their partners' country go through a "difficult" period at the beginning. Most, are smart enough to take the initiative to learn French immediately. As oppose to me. I have learnt from my time that this is absolutely CRUCIAL and the root to happiness when we arrive into France. It's the key to total immersion into their world. Without this proficiency in their language, you will not be able to enter into their society in contentment.

This is what I lack and although it's never too late to learn, once children comes into the picture, your mobility becomes very much limited. So, for those who stumbled upon my blog, who are in fact 'newbies' to this Land of Frogs, hungry for the littlest of insight into this unique world of the French - my first advise to you is GO LEARN FRENCH PROPERLY! :) There is no way around this. It's now or never. Once you are equipped with this, I tell you, half of the battle is won.

Back to the freeze. Oh yes indeed, it is COLD. Brrrr... I was mortified the other day when I saw an outside reading of -9C on our thermometer. These days, I dread at the thought of going out of the house. Sending and picking up my kids, included. I just want to stay indoors, snuggle up in a warm cover with my 2 hands clinching tightly on a hot cup of cocoa. The reality is that daily chores await and I don't have the luxury to do all that was mentioned. I hate putting piles of clothes on. It's weighty and restrict my movement. But I have no choice, if I wish to stay defrosted. Our house is maintained at 18C for 2 reasons. One, gas and electricity is expensive here (we have a huge space to heat), and two, my husband insists that this temperature is the healtiest to be in. (My parents used to turn the heat on to the max, probably more than 25C, in winter, when we used to live in Europe - I was always sleeveless and in shorts). 18C - me no like. Me from hot country! What do I do? I put on my warmest pants, throw on 3 layers of itchy woolen tops, put on my Merino wool-lined Emu boots on (yes, that Ugg boots competitor) and hey why not a hat too, since I'm about to climb the cold Hilamalayas. Err... no, you are still inside your house, dear. And off goes the abominable snowman, I mean snow woman, to do her mundane wifey, motherly, tasks... clean, clean, scrub, scrub, wash, wash, wash, store, store, chop, chop.. and round again.

Aaah.. at the end of the day... What's nicer than to de-stress in front of the fire place, prepared with love by hubby dearest... oh, wonderful flame, may you crackle and pop till my winter blues are burnt away..

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Neighbours Who Love To Give

My house was apparently once a stable and a part of a bigger farm. The other buildings of this "farm" have long been divided into smaller lots, and the proprietors of these, make up my neighbours. We have since gotten to know around half of our neighbours, who are generally septuagenarian and my favourite one, our pal, Pierre, an octogenarian. He and his wife, Solange are just wonderful neighbours who like to give us things - mostly produce from their 3,500 metre squared garden chum orchard. They have been sending us basketful of tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, mirabelles, flowers and so on and so on. The other day, they brought over apples and again, tomatoes! Isn't that nice? Now, if I was still living in concrete Petaling Jaya, I would perhaps be getting less of such kindness from neighbours. That's the beauty of living in the countryside. An abundance of vegetation. A profusion of genorisity.

In return of their kindness, I would add ample calories to their diet by baking them a cake or two!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

DIY or Bricolage in France

Service is expensive in France. Gone were the days when I used to call the family handyman to fix things in the house. Gone were the days when I would pay an affordable amount (even with my then measly salary), to paint, to assemble Ikea furniture, to get some minor plumbing or electricity job done. Over here, you 'get down' to it yourself!

When I was back home in Malaysia, I never did any work, except of course the work I have to do to earn money! I never did my own laundry, I didn't need to cook, I didn't need to make up my bed, I didn't need to iron clothes, do the dishes... nada! It helped that I was mostly living at my parents! Wati, our lovely maid, was my PA, butler and confidant! None of that here, mate. Unless you live-in the Elysée Palace or belong to the Rothchild family, no one really has a live in full-time helper. It would just cost too much for the average family, and plus, you would be entagled with strict employment laws left, right and centre! So, I say again, over here, you work your butt off for that job to be done or get things fixed.

Since I arrived here, I have done all of the above plus... steam off stubborn wall paper from walls; used a fancy sanding machine to sand numerous things including again, walls, dressed in workman overalls, complete with goggles and mask; layer walls with an umpteenth number of paint coating; assemble numerous Ikea furniture and objects (yes, I did the impossible... ); helped to install clip-on wood flooring, use cement and special tools to fill-up holes and recently, gardening. And I mean getting on all fours to get rid of weeds! This list, I assure you, will not be exhaustive!

For the most part though, it is my husband and his brico-savvy dad who does the more complex work, especially those requiring drilling. My father-in-law has paved tiles to the floor for his son at numerous location, he has changed door handles, fixed an old but trency-again toilet flushing system, and many other more difficult work requiring precision. My husband, on the other hand, has sawed-off doors, fixed our new locking system, the alarm system, changed water taps, install/remove big kitchen appliances, fix a malfunctioned washing machine and the list goes on...

As you can see above, my FIL, Jean, who is reaching 75, but still fit as a fiddle, is in the midst of fixing our new gutters.

This is the reason why DIY shops flourish alongside hypermarkets in France. In my considerably small region there are two giant names in DIY in France - Leroy Merlin and Mr. Bricolage, and I could name many many other shops found here which is related to DIY. Getting someone to do it is just too expensive. That's why the French don't have enormous shopping malls for people to kill time in! There are just so many things that have to be done yourself that will occupy your free time.

Laying wood floors and removing wall papers and painting, just for the living room, would have costed us over 6000 euros, excluding any materials needed to be purchased. We saved that amount simply by reading the instructions included and doing it ourselves... and of course broke our backs in its course ;).

Another Lovely Bouquet From My Son - from the Market

In France, EVERYONE goes to the market (or what some people call Farmers' Market, and what we Malaysians call 'pasar tani'). This entry was supposed to simply log my eldest son's weekly weekend gift for me which he choses at the market every Saturday morning with his papa. In fact, I should elaborate a little more about this French habit - taking a caddy or a woven basket to the fresh market whenever it's market day in their area!

I dread having to wake up early to go get some fresh local produce at the market which for us is only available on Saturday mornings, 10 km away at Chateauroux centre. When I arrived in France 4 years ago, my husband would drag me to the market when it was 'market day' to buy some fruits and vegetables or even some meat or fish. At that time, I couldn't see the point of walking 20 minutes to reach our destination and then queue for miles to get all these stuff which would be easily available at a supermarket. Worst still, they tend to cost more, and you would have to queue more than once. You would buy kilos of food and would have to walk back with all the weight. Pointless. Or so I thought. Four years later, it all makes sense. Buy local. Buy organic and even better, buy from smaller farmers. It costs a little more but the resulting taste of these produce are worth every penny (oh, sorry, I'm in France, so, centime).

I am still not fully converted to market-going rituals, preferring to push the cart and march alley by alley at a hypermarket nearby, and not having to chat about nothings with those you bump into at marché. Although, now, I totally understand why the French gets excited over the trip to the market - old habits die hard, just like mine!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Maggi Mee, Fresh Figs and Basil

I was excited the other day when I stumbled upon packets of Maggi Mee at Auchan, another chain of hypermarket in France, just like Carrefour. I'd like to consider myself as the 'adaptable' woman, y'know, not always hung up over things I grew up with - things like maid service, teh tarik, and of course, the infamous Maggi Mee. We all know that it's not really good for you - after all its fast food. But who can fight the power of desire? And above all quick, light ready-in-2-minutes meal. Once in a while I would get my parents to send me a box of these bright yellow packets of flavoured noodles. And to my surprise, I discovered that you can even get Maggi Mee in Chateauroux, the city with that one Malaysian, yours truly here. I decided to sample one to check whether they taste as mind-boggling hot as the one I get delivered by post from Malaysia.

Verdict: it's the same recipe! (too hot for what I was used to before)

Before I discovered the practice of eating food during it's season, I never knew figs to be other than the ugly-looking dried version. Fresh figs are funny to eat and marvelous to look at. Last night, we had figue au miel for dessert.

I love Basil. I love the plant. I love it's taste. And I love pesto. I thought that it deserves an inclusion in my blog entry today as I had purchased a pot to keep indoors this winter (if it survives). That's all.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bouquet from my son

Last Saturday morning, my eldest son, 3 years old, went to the farmer's market in town with his papa. He returned with a a big smile on his face and utter thrill to hand me over this beautiful bouquet of flowers.

Merci, mon cherie. T'est mon petit chouchou!