Monday, July 29, 2013

Reclaiming my identity

I have posted many pieces of my private diaries in the last 2 months, which gets me used to coming here to talk randomly to myself.  Thus, this is really for myself and I don't find any value in random farts from reading other people's websites.  So go away as fast as you can, but if you decide to stay, feel free to give few skills that you want to reclaim.

In the next few months, I plan to do the following:

1.  Catch up with grant submission.  Do you guys know that we scientists don't have real vacations?  Vacations to us usually mean we work without being bothered by seminars, lectures, faculty meetings, or needy students and postdocs.  But this past vacation, I postponed my grant submission deadlines; failed to prepare my lectures; and even not called the lab to ask about the progresses of any ongoing research projects.  Well, that really means that I had a real vacation and now it's time to get some work done.  I am fed up by my slackness and I have decided to make a significant change!  So if you read here occasionally, be my eyes to watch me beating the following deadlines: Aug. 30, 2013, Oct. 5, 2013, and Nov. 5, 2013 for 3 research grants!

2.  Catch up with paper publications.  My job as researcher and the lowest grade of professor is not really attractive.  However, I truly enjoy reading and writing good papers and I've only published well-written and highly visible and citable papers so far.  I must say here that 80-90% of scientific papers are poorly written nowadays, either because people don't have the time to perfect their manuscripts as they need to spend all their precious hours writing research grants, or the majority of new scientists simply don't have good training in writing scientific reports - again, due to the fact that their mentors are too busy (on writing research grants) to fulfill mentors' duties!  I am not a native English user thus the time for me to write anything worthy of publishing is long.  I cannot even use editors to help because I can't stop changing what I write until the deadline, which means that I need give myself extra time.  My goal for the remaining months of the year is to submit 2 papers.  Again, give me some push here.

3.  Catch up with sleep.  This seemingly fights against both of the above points, but I have to list it here because sufficient sleep allows me to think and write much more efficiently.  Of course, sufficient sleep brings me other benefits too, such as helping me to stay in a good mood!  Fortunately, compared to Fabrice, I sleep at least 1h less per night.  A good night sleep means 6 hours for me.  So I'll try my best to hit the bed at 11 pm and to fall in asleep at midnight so that I can get up at 6 am or so.

4.  Claim/reclaim my independence.  Many married people have experienced what I am about to say - losing the ability to live alone.  One of the couple becomes more and more dependent on the other and vice versa, meaning they become symbiotic.  Fabrice has disabled me.  How so, you say?  

Well, our regular day goes like this:

Morning - Fabrice gets up early to prepare his own coffee and then works an hour or so.  Then he wakes up the kids and prepares their breakfast.  While he is in shower and the kids are eating their cereals, I get up to finish breakfast together with the kids.  Then he drives us all to our respective schools.

Lunch - Fabrice and I have our work date - yes, we date every lunch time.  Boy, this reminds me a funeral that I just attended early this summer.  A husband of my friend who was only 41 died from brain tumor.  When people gave his eulogy, one of the many evidence that he loved his wife was that he had lunch with his wife every single day, which put me in tears instantly.

Evening - Fabrice drives the car to one of the kids' schools and I walk to pick another and then we meet at one of their schools.  Then he drives us home.  I cook as soon as we enter the house and he takes care Zhuzhu's homework as much as possible.  After dinner, I wash dishes and he showers the kids, takes are of Zhuzhu's remaining homework, if needed, and then puts them to bed.

On weekends, we are much busier than regular working days.  Here is a typical weekend:

Saturday morning - Fabrice gets up to enjoy his morning alone.  The man loves to eat his breakfast alone.  Then the kids get up, which wakes me up.  We, the kids and I, eat our breakfast when the daddy is taking care of the yard.  At 9:40, Fabrice joins his swimming team and I take the kids to swim beside them.  After a short pool time, I leave Niuniu to him and then drive Zhuzhu to her Chinese dance class.  Fabrice cooks lunch with Niuniu's "help" and together they wait for Zhuzhu and I to come home.

Saturday noon - poor Zhuzhu and I have only 5-10 min for our lunch because her Chinese school starts at 1 pm!  After dropping her, I swing by my office waiting to pick her up 2 hours later.  That counts as my uninterrupted alone weekend hours.  Fabrice usually takes this time to do his man/boy shopping at Lowes - he loves to support hardware stores with his earnings!  He even does grocery shopping at the Costco at this time most of the times because it's on his way to Lowes.

Saturday evening - Party time - we either cook for our friends or they cook for us.  Saturday dinner is usually the most relaxed meal for our kids because it is the only meal at which they can do whatever they want with their food.  They usually eat at their own little separate tables with their own friends.  We adults generally don't monitor how much and what they eat.  

Sunday morning - Fabrice gets up early to cook French toast, pancakes, or whatever he is up to cook with the kids.  He likes to have a family homemade breakfast - I feel like a queen on Sunday mornings because he usually does not wake me up until the hot food is on the table!  After that, it's my supervising Zhuzhu's Chinese homework time and boys' get their own bonding time.  I do few loads of laundry at this time frame also.

Sunday noon - If the kids have no playdates/birthdays, Fabrice usually grills us some delicious lamb/beef/chicken/fish.

Sunday afternoon - Fabrice goes to soccer games.  The kids and I cheerlead his team.

Sunday evening - Fabrice cooks dinner, feeds the kids, and then puts them to bed.  I go to my Chinese dances - I've only started this a few months back.  Prior to this activity, I played piano almost every night after dish washing.  

Are you bored so far?  

I get to the point in a minute.  

We still have few extracurricular activities for the kids - I attend Zhuzhu's piano and ballet weekly lessons.  She will add art weekly lesson and Niuniu starts his soccer lessons this coming Fall.  I will drive Zhuzhu to this art class and Fabrice promised to drive Niuniu. We shall see how that plays out.

Obviously, this schedule applies to school days only.  For non school days, like now, well, we are still at our learning phase.

Looking at what I listed above, I cannot believe how much housework in which Fabrice is involved, I have not even lifted a finger about our rental property, which is completely under Fabrice's control.  What I wrote so far almost makes me to decide not to get mad at him ever again in the rest of my life, even when I am having my periods - yea, right, ha ha, no way.  I have no control over this matter, sorry, hubby!

But this is not the point of this post.  The post is about how his diligence has crippled me.

First, he made me a bad driver.  Apart from the fact that he does not allow me to touch the wheels while he and I both are in a car, he does not understand why people ever drive, instead of fly, anywhere requiring more than 2 hours on a highway.  This reminds me one day when we still lived in Texas, I asked him to drive to the Big Bend with me, he said why we would not fly to the closest city like Del Rio and then drive a rental car to continue the journey.  I said it would be easier to drive our own car.  Then he said okay but he would prefer to take a plane and to meet me at Del Rio.  Then I told him to have a nice fly-everywhere-life and goodbye.  Now he is still in my life albeit has missed the chance to see the magnificent national park - I visited there in my little green beetle with 2 other friends of mine while he was out of town attending a scientific meeting.  I was that independent then, where is that girl now?

Anyway, I don't just want to get back my abilities on a highway, I want to have my "quickness" in responding to dangerously situations back, which I realized that I'd lost recently.

A week from last Friday, I car-pooled with a girl to our Chinese dance practice which was held at a studio 5 miles further than our usual one.  When I picked her up, she was quite happy and trusting.  But as soon as she got in the car and I started to drive, she lost her composure, which followed by giving me driving lessons constantly!  Can you imagine that I, a driver of 20 years in this car-dependent country, had to receive "instructions" from a girl who bikes to work and has only come to this country from China 3 years ago - I am not even sure whether she owns a car!  When she criticized about my driving once again later, I asked, "Are you calling me a reckless driver as my husband does to me?"  She answered bravely, "I must admit that I am quite nervous here."

I could have asked her to walk home or I could also drive safely.  Clearly I wisely chose the latter.  Truthfully, her gentle reminders have made me decide to retrain myself to drive better.  I need to insert driving on a highway into my tight schedule, 20 min/week, minimal, regardless what Fabrice says!

The second skill that I have lost is working independently!  Well, let's face it, I run a research lab and I decide what research projects are.  Fabrice and I started our independent jobs almost at the same time and we used to have our joint lab meetings together.  Thus, we are used to giving each other suggestions, which means that we disagreed with each other often.  But after a while, we had decided to separate our lab meetings because our labs expanded.

This is good, why I am complaining here?

Well, here is the thing, I used to be independent and original thinker and my hard working had made me a "go to person" when Fabrice and I worked in the same lab as postdoctoral trainees.  He might be a well-qualified "go to person" himself at that time except he was a baby and did not have the guts to claim the title.  Ever since I promoted him to be my husband, he has quickly grown into my skull and squeezed my mojo out of it.  Now he replaced me.

What the hell has happened here?  What is that talented and helpful girl?

Sure I could blame my kids; sure I could blame the bad economy; sure I could blame my female hormones; sure I could also blame my Asian race...

But I don't want to, because that would not change a damn thing.  I must swim against all these limitations.  I have always been a female Asian ever since I was born.  If I could do well before, why I cannot make it now?  Plus, she has done it with RA, and her sister has done it with cancer, what my excuses are?

Alright, Fabrice is my husband, I could take his help for granted.  But no, my friends, the price is too high - I rather keep my independence!  The best thing one can do for her/his brain is to use it.  I am sure that you understand that the brain is part of our physical body and it needs constant exercise!  Thanks to my grant reviewers who have constantly and mercilessly criticize my research approaches, discounting completely my productivities, I've realized it's time for me to "catch up" with modern technologies.  I need to claim my identity back!

Even this means that I have to say goodbye to my blog site!  Well, I am not too sad because I really have no followers, so I consider this decision has no impact to anyone else but me, am I right?

So good luck to me?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Last day in Paris - vacation in France XVI

July 8, 2013.  Monday - a continued story

Alright, do I need to give a reason for our misfortunes?  Let's first blame the Americans, shall we.  Fabrice and I had gotten Zhuzhu and Niuniu up early to catch a TGV to reach the Eiffel Tower to meeting our American friends at 12:00 pm.  With the help of that particular luggage storage locker, we made it there at exactly 12:01 pm.  The naive Fabrice immediately immersed himself among the crowd to fish our friends, whereas I was pretty sure that he was wasting his time.  I have known them long enough to understand their concept of "being on time".  So I took the kids who were whining about the hot sun to the park beside the Tower where the kids could have plenty shady areas  to cool down.  When Fabrice came to join us, I requested, "Could you watch the kids so that I can give my poor bladder a break?"  I'd been holding my pee for the last hour because the man did not think we had time to use a toilet at Paris Gere de Lyon!  Listen to what he told me, "The toilet must have been very far away.  Look at the crowd, the line must be very long."  I did not say anything back because the man had a point.  Seeing my silence, he knew I was getting into my unpleasant mode, so he said, "As soon as they arrive, we will go to get some lunch and you can use the restaurant toilet then."  I bet that my face turned blue at that moment.  In the mean time, our Friends called to let us know that they were walking out of the train station and towards the tower.  Instead of rushing them, Fabrice said, "Oh, we were late too.  I thought that we have already missed each others."  What the hell he just said?!  His indulgence to others and inconsiderate to me can be so unbearable at times!  When the Americans had not shown up at 12:40, I was ready unleash my anger against Fabrice.  The man wisely left the scene where he also left the "red bag" - see below.  The kids and I followed him towards the bottom of the Tower where we met our friends who were walking towards our direction.

"How did you guys manage to be late when you were here in Paris while we made it here on time from an 1.5h-TGV ride away!"  I abused friendship as soon as we completed our usual greeting with newly acquired "French kisses on cheeks".  See what Fabrice made me do?  He should have let me the chance to burst my angers earlier!  Our nice American friends really knew me long enough also to ignore what I said, plus they did have their own version of unfortunate story - they were stuck in their cousin's car on a village road just outside the Paris last night for a whole 4 hours, which resulted that they had not gone back to Paris until 2 am in the morning!

So we loved each other again.

But what happened in the next 10 minutes put me in rage - remember my bladder was not released yet?  Fabrice must have suffered from Alzheimer's since he completely ignored my basic physical need!  He was leading the gang of 7, 4 adults and 3 kids, away from the Eiffel Tower and together we walked, walked, and walked passing numerous fine looking restaurants, but none of them was good enough for him.  The sun was hot, the kids were whining, and my bladder, boy, I cannot even describe how painful that was.  So I had to remind him that I was carrying a near ruptured pouch of urine, he said to me in annoyance, "We cannot choose restaurants based on your bladder!"

I was totally wrong about living with a saint yet I liked this version of him better, because... got the rest of the adults in our group to stand by me!  Immediately we disqualified Fabrice as our executive director.  The headless team then decided to pick one of the 2 restaurants right in front of us.  After we ordered our food and finished our turns to the wash room, Fabrice asked me while sitting down, "Do you have the red bag?"  "What red bag?"  I had nothing red, my purse was beige.  So he flew out the door - the bag was left at the park at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower - see above - few minutes later he returned with it.  Phew!  I said, "See, a restaurant further away would have cost you a fancy camera!"

We are perfect for each other, don't you agree?

My anger went away as soon as I released the tension from my bottom yet it was built up as soon as I found out Fabrice again allowed our Americans to pay our lunch bill!  He was the only one who could speak French among us, how the hell he managed to be slower than the Americans?!  You can only imagine how mad I became later when his "saved" cash had all gone to the hands of a theft(s)!

After lunch, we returned to the bottom of the Eiffel Tower but only to find out that the access to the top was closed so we walked across Pont d'Lena, the bridge immediately in front of the Tower, in an attempt to get to the Trocadero district.  But the place was blocked since Paris was busy in preparing for the National Day (July 14th) Cerebration!  We then acted like typical tourists to have few photos taken with the glorious Tower behind our back and then continued our journey to take the subway to Notre Dame.  At this moment, Niuniu dosed off, Fabrice had to sit with the kid and Mike outside while the rest of the gang were standing and waiting in line to enter the famous Cathedral.  Niuniu woke up in the end of our tour.  Following that, we played/rested in the park behind the Notre Dame.  After a long rest of other adults and my short fight with the stranger, Vera suggested us to get some famous Berthilon ice-cream.  What a great idea.  We consulted Fabrice's iPhone to locate the authentic location, but only stopped at the second closest satellite store for our ice-cream of a lifetime (you should definitely get some of that, totally worth of the walk).  Then we continued to enjoy what île Saint-Louis could offer.  Following that, we crossed the Pont Marie again let the kids enjoy themselves at the playground of  a small park close to Le Marais.  The kids also got their carousel ride at the entrance of Bastille metro station.  Then we wandered about those charming streets and shops at le Marais.  Fabrice got some cakes and croissant for the kids at the pastry shop on rue St. Antoine, which boosted the kids energy level and they started to play a silly game called "butt in the air" - hand-in-hand they bended their bodies to put their heads down to the ground and butts up to the air and laughed hysterically on the streets.  We all should have agreed on Fabrice's suggestion to have our dinner a bit early right at le Marais and then to decide whether we would continue on visiting the Montmartre hill.  But somehow the French was pushed by the Chinese and Americans, so we got on the metro train after giving our kids one more ride on the carousel to the Montmartre district.  When we arrived, the kids started to complain about their "empty" stomaches, which wasted our next 30 min to find a decent restaurant that would not reject kids.  Our valuable Montmartre visiting time was completely consumed on waiting for our drinks, food, and desserts at the restaurant!  It was also then that Fabrice began to worry about our luggage at Gere de Lyon.

Now, I cannot wish more to have followed Fabrice's hunch and to have cut our day in Paris short!  We all came to the Montmartre only for a dinner at Ville Des Abbesses restaurant.

After the dinner, Marie's parents granted her wish to go "home" and we said goodbye to each other and see you soon in the U.S..  

Our journey of 6 weeks in France is now concluded and lessons learned from our last 24 hours: if you take little kids to Paris, make sure you are not over ambitious to cover those monuments!  They would definitely have more fun to eat ice-cream, ride on a carousel, and play at parks!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A series of unfortunate events - vacation in France XV

Hi guys, I know you have been waiting for the finale of our trip and sorry for the wait - I had few lectures to give and few exams to grade!  About our AirFrance/Delta refund, well, I suspect that the airline is playing a persistence game with its customers - persistence wins, no?  The time and effort that Fabrice spent on the airline would have allowed him to make more money.  Even today, he had to write a long letter to provide further explanations, justifications, and pieces of evidence in order for the airline to process our refund - check back to see whether the airline keeps its promises.

July 8-9, 2013.  Monday-Tuesday

I hate to end our vacation with negative notes but what we experienced in these last 2 days within a span of 30 hours simply can only be described as the title of this post.  We had worst time in Paris ever, which is mostly due to our own fault - the worst kind!   

First, we failed to retrieve our luggage from the locker room at Paris Gare de Lyon.  The service was advertised as a daily of 24 hours of storage time, which led to my logical guess that it provides its service with 24 hour access.  Fabrice knew better not to believe his nonFrench wife in this matter so he tried to call the office at the dinner time, however, he failed to locate any contact information from the locker ticket/receipt or his iPhone.  Then the man could not follow through the important task because he was frequently interrupted by the needy kids at the dinner table.  I did not bother to take the task in hand since I was convinced that an operational schedule of the luggage storage service in a major train station of the capital city of France would at least be in syc with the metro subway service, which would be from 5 am to 1 am!  So after dinner around 10 pm, I said, "We are already at the bottom of the Montmartre hill, why don't we take the remaining hour to climb up the hill to have a look of the night beauty of the city."  Fabrice said, "Train stations in the center of Paris are absolutely not the places for the little kids to be at this hour of the day/night!"  So his stubborn and assumptive wife had to drag 2 overtired kids to follow his lead to take the returning subway.  By the time we arrived Paris Gare de Lyon at 10:45 pm, the luggage office lights were off, the whole bottom floor of the train station was dark with only few passengers walking as if they were chased by zombies.  Where are the people?I have been to this station countless times in the last consecutive 11 years but never seen it so dead!  The kids and I looked through the glass walls wishing we could penetrate them to retrieve our bags from the digitally controlled locker.  Zhuzhu was crying for her teddy bear TuTu locked inside, which attracted a passenger and she came by and also looked into the storage room.  With slight hope of that lady might have some magic tricks to unlock the door, I asked, "Is your luggage locked inside also?"  She looked at Zhuzhu and Niuniu attentively and answered, "No no, I was just wondering what could be done in the case like this."  Hearing her Parisian accent, Fabrice started to discuss with her about "what could be done".  Then the nice lady and Fabrice led us everywhere to locate the police or security guards hoping that they had a master key to control every room in the station.  However, the police were nowhere to be found and a security guard initially was unwilling to help then later he suggested us to go to the information office one floor up.  We thanked the kind lady so that she could get on her life and then walked towards the information office, which surprisingly was still filled with few passengers and 2 personnel.  At last, we were in good hands, I thought.  But when Fabrice finished his story, the man looked at him, and then us, and said (based on Fabrice's translation, "I am sorry but there is nothing I can do.  The luggage service was provided by an independent party that was not part of the metro system."  But then he grabbed his phone and started dialing.  Even without understanding his French, I knew the guy was calling to see if someone else know whether any guy worked in that office was at reachable distance - it was only an hour after the closing time, one could always hope!  But the answer from the other end was again negative.  Then he suggested Fabrice to transfer our reservation from the B&B hotel CDG airport to the one "in" Paris, "It should be free of charge as they belong to the same hotel system." the man said confidently.  Fabrice had just suggested me the same thing not long ago so he happily accepted his kind words and retreated himself to a corner to call the hotels.  While the French was on his iPhone to decide our fate, I went inside a room beside the information office where I found a guy who understood me and agreed on the severeness of our situation, "Could you let me know when your international flight leaves tomorrow morning?  It's important for me to know." He said, which led me to believe that he would find a way to access the locker room for us.  With the help of his computer, I pulled out our itinerary and showed it to him.  When he saw that our flight would leave at 10:40 am next morning, he said, "You should come back tomorrow morning to get the luggage since the place will be open at 6:15 am."  Then he turned his head away from me and the kids who by then had come inside the room.  I got out his office but with some renewed hope and planned to ask Fabrice to beg the semi-sympathetic guy for further help.  However, when Fabrice finally got off his iPhone, he walked to us and said, "I booked a room at the B&B in Paris and let's get to it before the train stops running."  "Did you transfer our reservation from the B&B from CDG to here?" "No, but it only would cost us about 60 euros per night."  "Did you cancel our reservation in the hotel at the CDG airport?"  "No, I'll do it later."

When a Chinese meets a French, problems arrive!  The French was overwhelmed by getting us all out of the "unsafe" station asap, whereas I was aiming at obtaining the best possible outcome.

His answers to all my above questions made me conclude that it would be a better idea to book a hotel room at where we were - we did not have to use the metro trains in Paris, you see.  However, Fabrice did not give me the chance to express my best possible solution.  Clearly the man was confused the French-speaking capability with the executive decision-making authority!  He rushed us all onto the M1 train and then M13 train to reach the B&B hotel 30 min later at Malakoff, a dark and scarily quiet district located at far South-east of Paris!  Worst of all to me was that he paid the walk-in price of 107 euros for a room with 1 full- and 1 twin-size beds.  "80 euros would have gotten us a room in the center of Paris!" I said to Fabrice disappointingly and then I heard, "Do you really want to wake up the kids for 100 euros?"  Fabrice was fired up, which forced me to keep my mouth shut, but I was determined to send him to hell with my silence.  I hated him to condemn me for my respect for "his" money - did I tell you that we have separate sets of bank accounts?  Now you see how hormones mess with women's minds!  After his shower, the man walked back downstairs while I was in the shower.  When he came back, he said, "I cannot trust that guy would wake us up on time.  He said he would come up here to knock at our door tomorrow at 6 am."  Look, for 107 euros, we could not even get us a room equipped with a telephone or an alarm clock!  His iPhone was dead and our life style turned back to stone ages!

For the record the front desk guy did wake me up from my dreams with his knocks on the door on time and then my cell phone alarm backed him up 30 min later.  The kids got their much needed showers in the morning and then we all headed to Paris Gare de Lyon for the third time in the last 24 hours.

Second, Fabrice reminds me to pay close attention to the purse stealing habit of some Parisians every single time when we get on trains.  However, this very man lost his wallet on the way to CDG airport.  He must have lost it at Gare Chatelet les Halles at which we got on our RER.  It was overly crowded and he had to use all his energy and attention to squeeze 2 large heavy and 3 small suitcases in between passengers and I had to focus on Zhuzhu and Niuniu to make sure that they would not be smashed into meatloaf by the crowd.  When he had a moment to breath, Fabrice asked whether his wallet was in my possession.  The man was living in a thread of hope to find his wallet in one of our 9 bags since he noticed his iPhone was still safely living in the very pocket in which his wallet was kept.  I was also in denial because I knew he had changed clothes at the luggage locker room earlier and I thought that he simply had forgotten to transfer the wallet from his dirty clothes to the clean ones.  However, our worst fear was confirmed by en email from Bank of America (BOA) to report to Fabrice about his "unusual activities".  He read the email only 2 hours later after we had plugged in his iPhone at the CDG airport.  It was then we moved on to acceptance phase - the man lost his French ID, American ID, >400 euros cash, 5 major credit cards (1 French and 4 U.S. ones) and >2200 euros credit card charges - the thief spent $50 on both ATM and visa cards issued by BOA at Chatelet les Halles train station, as well as over $1700 at an Apple Store.  It was then the BOA detected its usual uses and blocked those cards.

My fingers and toes are crossed for the thief to be caught by a video of the Apple Store!  

All my angers against Fabrice had then shifted to against the thief and myself - I blamed me for not being with him on speaking terms since the night before this incident!

Third, AirFrance put us, a family of 4, on the wait list.  We had gone through so much to arrive the airport 2 hours ahead of the original departure time only to find our flight was overbooked?!  The AirFrance person gave his explanations/instructions to Fabrice in his utmost professional tone - gentle, unsympathetic and emotionless - then Fabrice also in his typical pragmatic voice translated what he was told to me.  The bottom line was if no seats available in our flight, each of us would be given a minimal of 200 euros of compensation for their oversight.  "So you are telling me that the 4 of us spending an extra 3 hours in Paris CDG airport would allow us to complete the grieving of your lost wallet?  Boy, that was a super fast fix!"  I refused to let the opportunity of my revenge go.

Do any of you know how difficult to live with God?  If you do, give me some sympathy here!

After sending our bags to heaven through the luggage carousel, Fabrice and I finally could walk with our 2 kids lightly.  We proceeded to the gate at which the kids and I were watching all other passengers boarding and Fabrice was finally got his "alone" moment to deal with his personal loss with various credit card companies.  Thanks to the fact that majority of the automatic machines in France do not take the U.S. credit cards, Fabrice's American Express, discover, and Chase Visa cards were intact.    

Fourth, I had gotten into a small fight with a stranger at the park behind the Notre Dame.  Told you hormones mess me up big time!  What happened was that Zhuzhu and Marie wanted to get on a swing that was occupied by a little girl who was not even swinging!  The girl was just hanging on to the swing waiting for her caregiver (mother or nanny) who was speaking loudly in some kind of language on her cell phone.  Seeing me approaching, she started to free one of her hands from the phone to push the little girl on the swing and continued on chatting away for a long time.  The chatty chick completely ignored my very existence or maybe she was even annoyed by my standing in her way, during which Zhuzhu and Marie had come and gone several times checking whether it would be their turns to use the swing.  Plus, 2 other little girls came close to wait for their turns.  Seeing such inconsiderate behaviors of the woman, I asked Zhuzhu and Marie to leave the girl and the swing.  "But we have finished playing with everything else!" they insisted to have their turn.  So I had to ask, "Would you ask your girl whether it's possible for her to share the swing with these 2 girls?  We will keep it brief."  My words were polite but my attitude must not be gentle, which evoked that woman.  She stared at me angrily and yelled, "Here is Paris.  In Paris, we have to wait in line for everything.  I live close by and we come here everyday.  We are not like some tourists!"  I was not sure what issues that she had with us tourists but what she did and said certainly got on my nerves, so I pointed to the direction where Fabrice was sitting on a bench holding Niuniu and yelled back, "It's funny, I live right there too but I am quite happy to have tourists to share this swing with us, you see.  By the way, if you want a swing for the girl all by herself, you should install one at your backyard."  She seemed shocked by what I said and could not respond with words.  But she regained her senses back shortly after that so she removed the little girl and said to me, "I just don't like your approach."  Whatever, so long as Zhuzhu and Marie would leave the swing!  I put them on and let them each to have exactly 10 swings/pushes - I made them to count in French!  Now when I come to think of it, I have never met any Parisian speaking with audible voice.  I suspect that the woman was a nanny, not the mother, of the girl, because a mother would not have passed on an opportunity to teach her kiddos to share.  Furthermore, the woman spoke to me in English naturally and her English was way too good to be a local.  No offense to Parisians here, you guys just love speaking French more, I accept that, I would definitely speak Chinese while in China, too!
Edit:  The remaining of the story will be posted in the next one.

So what's the worst travel experiences that you guys have? 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Heading to Paris - vacation in France XIV

July 4, 2013.  Thursday

Today we took our dear American friends to shopping for shoes at Montceau downtown in the morning and then Chalon-sur-Saone after lunch of Polish cabbage wraps (first time for me and I had 3!).  Above photos were all taken in Chalon and the church is sitting right in the middle of the city where Fabrice and Mike had their coffee and the kids, Vera and I were running in and out of the surrounding stores.  Got few gift items.  It's a big sale week of the year but our friends bought nothing.  This is the third time that I went in any stores during our whole 6 weeks of vacation and this tells you how much I "enjoy" shopping.  We spent quite some time at the park at the center of the city for the kids.  They have earned the right to have some fun.  Hopping in and out of stores really does not suit them.  

Dinner at Camille's was fun.  The 2 bottles of red wine that our guests brought would have gone well with the grilled duck breasts and merguez but Ton Ton Neville served his own red wine stock, which was great too. 

What's worth of recording is that Fabrice got lost in the middle of nowhere on the way back because he did not want to follow our "outdated" GPS.  A result of this?  We spent our next 40 mins. on the country curvy roads and ended up going over 30 Kms on our rental car!  BTW, do you know here in France, the rental car's daily limit is only 100 kilometers?  Unlimited distance rental is available but not without selling one of your kidneys!     

July 5, 2013.  Saturday

It's the last weekend for us to be in France during this trip so we took our last chance to visit le marche in town.  As you can tell, my happiness is almost gone and stresses are building up just to think about next few days.  Wrapping up the "shopping" with few kilos of fresh fruits we went to the post office to send postcards to the kids' teachers - we will be arriving before the cards, but better late than nothing, right?  The kids enjoyed the carousel by the city hall for the last time.  We had baked pork sirloin lunch.  Upon request, I made this (see photo on the right) for the family for dinner.  Do you want some?  After that, I can hardly eat another bite of French food.  It's time to go home, I miss Chinese food now.

The highlight of the day is Fabrice spent his afternoon shopping for more food - we will have 17 people eating lunch tomorrow!  He got a whirlpool stainless exhausting hood for his parents also.  When he was installing the thing, he managed to cut his finger resulting a blood shed all over the kitchen and his clothes.  The poor man now have an injured finger to bring back home!

July 6, 2013.  Sunday

We are overwhelmed today by the lunch.  My mother-in-law is gathering her whole family to lunch so that each can say goodbye to us properly!  To give her time to get the table and food ready, Fabrice, Da Da Camille and Ton Ton Neville take all 5 kids, Tavin, Zhuzhu, Leone, Niuniu, and Stephan out of the house to the swimming pool.  I drop them off and go on with my running life instead because the pool automatic machine does not sell tampons yet it has regular pad for women in need, how odd that is - it's a mini-store at the pool, do the French think?!  I had to change my purse for this trip, you see what the damage that caused.  I so wish I were in the U.S. and I would have gotten a tampon for free

The kids could not stay at the lunch table because it's way too hot.  We were eating outside under the sun while they were jumping in (hot sun) and out (cold water) of the pool at the back yard.  I spent my lunch hours watching others enjoying their couscous and Andre's signature desserts - from left, down, and then right are: pineapple-cream cake, cream brulee and strawberry-cream cake.  They looked tempting but I had something else for dessert - the kids' left the blue cream-jelly-fruit cake (not shown in the photo) that Camille made on their plates and I could not let it go to the trash.  It's tasty too.  
Among our 17 people, there are 4 from the volcano region - our Aunt-in-law brought her daughter and her grand daughter of 1 yr old.  The dark blue eyed and blond haired doll made my day - I had quality time walking her at the back yard.  

Following a massive lunch that lasted forever, our volcano's relatives left and the rest of the family of 8 adults continued to chat and the kids fighting/playing in and out of the pool until 7 pm.  Then Fabrice took the kids and me to say goodbye to his grandma - the very old lady, as the kids called her.  She is only 87 and in a great shape - she eats as much (or even more than) as I do yet she only weights half as I!  When Fabrice told her to "continue eating well" she answered with all the seriousness, "I eat a lot, as much as I can, but cannot manage to gain any weight.  I look so ugly."  Then she pulled her skin off her bone to show us how "skinny" she was.  Funny grandma.  What a world of perfectionists!  

Dinner at 8 pm is escargot.  Zhuzhu and Niuniu both do not like the snails yet their cousins Tavin and Leone can't have enough of it!  When Leone starts to lick his plate for more, I share mine with her.  It's too hot for me to enjoy it anyways.  The sad moments are when we all start to kiss each other to say goodbye - Zhuzhu cries, Leone refuses to kiss Zhuzhu, Stephan gives hugs as tight as an anaconda, Tavin, well, he squeezes everyone's hands, and Niuniu gives "French kisses" to everyone - I don't like to see kids saying goodbyes to each others.    

We are heading to Paris to meet our American friends tomorrow.  Want to hear more of our adventure in Paris?  

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Americans brought hail in town - Vacation in France - XIII

June 30, 2013.  Sunday

Ah oh, it's almost July.  That means we are heading back home in a week!  It's sad yet inevitable.  I hope that you have been enjoying our journey so far?  

The kids are almost fluent in French now: according to the teachers, Niuniu formally started communicating with them and his classmates in French immediately after his show on the stage yesterday afternoon!  Zhuzhu has been speaking French earlier but only after the "show" she would speak loud enough to be heard and in confidence.  She even made a little video recording herself singing and speaking French with Daddy's iPhone - I cannot upload here because Zhuzhu deleted immediately after the excited Daddy showing it to his nanny who came to visit us last Thursday without  her permission.

On top of the improved French, the kids also have had their fair dose of rock climbing training, particularly today.  Pierre and Sandy, Fabrice's childhood boyfriend and college girlfriend, respectively, are more attentive and patient than Rousset.  Instead of training them to descent with the rope, the new teachers climbed up to the top to securely release them from the rope and then walk them down via a back road!  The kids had a blast to discover the beauty of the village from the top of the mountain.  The best thing on today's climbing is the fact that both Emma and Camille, Fabrice's sisters, joined us with their kids.  Predictably Tavin and Leone went wild on cliffs, they climbed to the top in a blink, even the 18 month old Stephan, Camille's son, climbed few steps on for the first time of his little life (see the left photo)!  Camille and her hubby Neville have also had their first climbing experience.

Additional gain of this trip to France of course is the bonding between the kids.  It's great to hear Zhuzhu and Niuniu speaking French to their cousins.  It's great to watch Zhuzhu acting as a little baby sitter to her 18-month's cousin Stephan.  It's also great to know that they all love each others with passion!

To have all 5 kids playing and fighting at the back yard of Mami/Papi with each others is not rare, but to organize them all together climbing rocky cliffs is not unmemorable.  Don't you agree?

July 1, 2013.  Monday

Alright, do you know what these 2 monkeys are doing in the photo?  They are Pierre and Fabrice looking for flees, no, I mean looking for ticks!  They just finished one hour run in the forest.  The mountain bike is what I uses in order not to fall too far behind.  Fabrice was surprised and happy to find himself is not too out of shape as indicated by the fact that he could run in the same level as Pierre.  The French man makes everyone feel life is too short!  He was the one first received me when I came to France; he was the one first took me crayoning, caving, and climbing; of course he was also the one tricked me to be jealous of Fabrice's previous girlfriends, which led to my realization of the fact that I was in love with his best friend!  Anyway, Pierre is someone who does everything with a full heart.  If you have not met a typical French man with his brand name, you should meet Pierre.  He definitely fits every criterion they say about French.  He loves every girl in the world thus refuses to commit himself to any as he knows that he is unlikely to stay with a particular one for long.  I have come France almost every year since year 2002 yet never have I met the same girlfriend of Pierre's twice.  Each and every visit to us, he brings a new girlfriend!  Pierre used to love all sorts of activities but has become more focused in the recent years.  Few years ago, he spent most of his time training himself to run marathon and managed to break his own record every time he competed.  In the last 3 years or so, he has fallen in love with Tango due to his last girlfriend.  "Now the girl has become a history, but the Tango has stayed with me."  He said to me on the way to climbing yesterday.  He loves Tango so much that he has decided to take 6 months of administrative leave from his job as a computer programer to Argentina so that he can learn Tango from the professionals.  What a life he has.  No wonder he needs new girlfriend at each stage of his own development.  I admire him but cannot live a life like his.

We are not the only ones who had fun today.  It's finally hot enough so the kids splashing water in the backyard huge plastic pool again.

July, 2, 2013.  Tuesday

Fabrice has gone to Paris once again to give the last talk of this French trip.  I am getting mad at these disorganized Parisians, why can't they just gather everyone in the same room to listen to Fabrice's lecture once for all!  What a waste of their money and Fabrice's time for all these talks he delivered within a month of time.  He goes to Paris so often that the kids are even getting used to the Daddy's absence now.  When Zhuzhu woke up in the morning, she smiled and said, "I got to kiss Daddy before he left."  Niuniu said, "Me too!"  Then Zhuzhu said, "But I kissed him awake!"  Niuniu could not continue the dialogs.  I guess that the Daddy kissed him while he was semi awake?

Zhuzhu's Friend Marie and his parents are coming from the U.S. to spend few days with us.  Papi and I picked them up at TGV station in the early afternoon.  In order for them to get rid of the jet lag as soon as possible, Fabrice asked them not to sleep and asked me to keep them busy for the remaining afternoon.  "At 16:00 o'clock, I'll come to pick you up so that Marie can go to pick up Zhuzhu at the French school." I said to our American friends and then I left them at the hotel to fresh up.

At 15:50, Papi and I got out the house.  We noticed the sky was dark and grey and winds were blowing strong.  "Oh, a storm is coming."  I said to myself.  Papi and I went on with the plan since it needs only 5 min drive from our house to the hotel.  Unexpectedly however, the storm did not give us our 5 min and it started to dump ice on us at exactly 3 min. after we started our car.  "La Grêle!" Papi said to me with miner excitement as if he saw hail routinely.  When I heard the loud bang bang sound on the roof and the windshield of our car, I put hands on my ears and started to shout, "Ouch! Ouch!" as if I was the one hit by the heavy hail.  Papi continued driving crossing a bridge over the canal that had claimed a life in a car accident last Saturday night.  When I saw the man had no intention to hide, I started to scream.  Papi's eyes did not leave the road, but he laughed hard at me.  I ignored him and was frantically turning my head in all 4 directions to determine whether there would be a covered parking spot nearby.  There was none so we continued on - that was the longest 2 min. car ride in my entire life!  The hail storm had gotten heavier by the time we finally reached the hotel.  When I felt that Papi was slowing down intending to make a full stop, I shouted loudly, "No, no no.  Pas ici, pas ici.  Continue, dans garage, dans garage!!!"  The hail is attacking our car with no mercy and I was in serious pain worrying about big dents would be made by the falling ice!  Fortunately Papi understood my Frenglish so he drove the car foward to enter the covered garage at the E'Leclerc.  I then noticed that our car was followed by a long line of other cars - obviously we were not the only ones who thought about pulling in a safe place to wait the storm's passing!  Papi, as a typical French, went to the trunk of the car and handed me two big umbrellas - he wanted me to pick them up with them?  He must have been joking!  I put back the umbrellas and said, "Attendre until the storm to stop."  Papi was smart enough to understand that I intend to wait.  A few minutes late certainly is acceptable in this particular case!  So, we spent our next few minutes listening the louder and scarier bangs on the roofs of the garage.  Take a look at how big those ices are - I took the photo at the gate of the school with one hand while another was holding both Zhuzhu and Niuniu in a heavy rain at 16:30 o'clock.  Zhuzhu was crying out loud when she saw the ice debris.

Fabrice missed his train to be home on time for dinner by only 4 min - he called us at the train station to explain that his last meeting with a famous professor was delayed because the said professor neglected the very fact that Fabrice needed his office address to locate him!  I would have given up the meeting to catch my train home but my French husband was too chicken to be seen arrogant by his own people.  He had to deliver all his talks in French for the same reason.  The man is modest and considerate to his famous French but not to his American guests of honor.  So we had our Polish sausages dinner without Fabrice.  Mike, Marie's father, can speak some French but he has not gotten over his jet lag yet so our dinner conversations were limited.  Fortunately Mike is impressed by the table wine that Fabrice's father contributed to brew - Papi harvested the Burgundy grapes for this wine with mild and sweet taste - so Papi at least can serve him a lot of the wine to keep him happy.  Poor Vera, Marie's Mom, can only fill herself up with Burgundy cheeses - a vegetarian's life is tough when living with a great chef.

The kids and I welcomed Fabrice home around 9 pm thanks to the TGV.

July 3, 2013.  Wednesday

It's a non school day.  Fabrice picked up the 7-seat rental Peugeot van in the morning.  Our guests are struggling with the jet lag so they were more than half an hours late to be picked up.  Although we had no concrete plan for the day, a late start would likely to lead to a less productive day.  On the top of that, Vera cannot survive without her morning coffee so Fabrice took us all to the café at the E'Leclerc Mall.  The adults sat at the café drinking coffee while the kids were running around inside the mall.  A cup of coffee later, a plan was made - first, a brief shopping at where we were for food so that Mami could get dinner started; second, a lunch at a restaurant named "Finger food" so that we could introduce frog legs to our guests, and finally we would go visit few towns in the afternoon.  Our American guests paid the lunch bill and after that, I was mad at Fabrice for not willing to put up a fight for paying the lunch bill.  We are the hosts, remember?!  Fabrice didn't follow the good manner code, I called him a bad host after the fact.

We visited Cluny, a little charming town in the afternoon.  Pierre, and Sandy took us there in year 2007 while Zhuzhu was still an infant.  In year 2010, we and Rousset's family visited the town again.  It's great to refresh my memory with different companies.  Follow that, we continued on our tour in the Château de Cormatin.  By the time we reached home, the dinner was on the table.  Here is what we had for dinner.  Doesn't the raclette cheese make your mouth watery?  The cheese is melt in a mini heating pan at the bottom layer of a raclette hot plate and the steamed/boiled potatoes are kept on the top layer.  Now imagine you are pouring the cheese on the top of flattened boiled potatoes?  Raclette is truly a great meal for both vegetarians and meat eaters alike!  If nothing else sticks to our guests' head, this dinner should.

Not everything is perfect though.  Mike had a can of coke-cola open in the car that popped up on the bumpy road.  The toxic brown sugar water spilled all over his car seat and his shirt and pants.  I threw few paper towels to him but he used them all for taking the liquid out of his pants and shirt.  The man got everything backwards.  His coke messed up a brand new rental car yet he felt drying himself was more important than keeping the rental brand new car clean!  I was mad but didn't know at whom: Mike who spilled the coke or Fabrice who did not say a word about this?  I possibly was mad at Fabrice more because his silence to Mike was in a sharp contract to what he did in the morning to us in the morning.  "Mia and Remy," he told the kids before he allowed them to step inside the car, "be very careful with the car.  Don't get it dirty.  Okay?!"  Then he told me that the rental car company guy asked him to be mindful about the status of the van.  "It's brand new car that has only 1000 km on it."  Fabrice said to me just before we headed to our guests' hotel.  How come he is now keeping his mouth shut?!

Fabrice is that programatic - it's done already, he would say.  I knew what kind of a man that I married but still wished that he could say something.  When that wish did not come true, I took over the duty, "What makes you even think to open a can of coke in a brand new rental car?"  I accused Mike.  The wise man did not get down to my level, thank God!  He explained that the can was already open before it was spilled.  It was the fault of a bumpy road, he said.

What a load of crap!  Still someone to be blamed!

Let's see, oh, my period is arriving.  That is why I cannot hold my tongue.  Poor Mike, he has to live with my moodiness for 2 more days.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Camping in trailers - vacation in France XII

June 25, 2013.  Tuesady

What happened today?

June 26, 2013.  Wednesday

Alright, yesterday we were under stress.

After morning school, I had to take Zhuzhu to practice her piano thinking we wouldn't have many days left for her homework.  The girl has 2 pieces of Suzuki and few short Fabor's theory lessons to learn this summer.  But our stress mainly came from the fact that we decided to take them to camping right after their afternoon school, which means we would have to skip her afternoon's practice.

Yes, the girl has agreed to play piano twice a day after school, can you believe it?

Anyway, eventually, we did not skip the piano, which is good.  Then we drove to the camping site where we unloaded tons of food that we prepared for lunch next day and headed to a family restaurant in the village close by.  One should never dine in restaurant like this one because the food is all pre made and kept frozen, I knew it from the moment we walked in and the owner was watching a table full of men playing some sort of game while drinking wines.  The owner is also the cook and server, all in one!  We order a pizza for the kids but it was a pita bread converted thin crust pizza that was not even warn enough, Niuniu rejected to take a second bite and Zhuzhu did not give it a chance seeing Niuniu's reaction.  They had to fill themselves with the fries from their cousin's plate as Leone only ate the "steak" that was made from ground beef.  Papi and Emma ordered "dried meat plater" as appetizers, which in my opinion is the best dish on the menu except the baguettes was as hard as rocks.  Their main course was some sort of "steak and fries", which to me are junk food.  My order called "veal head", I liked it as it needs no chef to cook - the veal head was boiled with herbs and potatoes that one would not mind to eat days after it's been cooked, thus, it tastes great, except the amount of it was not even enough to be counted as my appetizer.

After the meal, I immediately went to the fridge to steal some of the food so that I would not be sleeping in empty stomach - this is an very important concept for Chinese, we cannot sleep hungry because we would dream of a full table of delicious food without being able to get a bite of it for one reason or another.  Just like dreaming of disgusting toilets that you don't want to use when in reality you are holding a pee in your sleep!

Tyvin and Leone slept with Mami in Papi and Mami's single bedroom trailer and our little family borrowed a 2-bedroom trailer from Rob, Papi and Mami's friend, next to it.  One of the bedrooms can be converted from the "living room" with a dining table and 2 cushioned bench chairs.  It's quite comfy and the kids loved it.  However, our first trailer's life almost killed Fabrice: in the middle of the night, the man's coughs and wheezes woke me up, he had severe allergic reactions to something on the bed.  After hours of struggle, he figured it might the down feather inside the pillow.  Throwing away the pillows psyched him into sleep but it was too late, the episode led to his oversleep and delayed his fishing time from 6 am to 7 am!  When the owners of the trailer showed up later that day, we found out Fabrice was almost killed by his hypersensitivities to dog furs instead of down feathers last night - we have changed bedding except for we did not have extra pillow covers so we used a big beach towel found in the trailer as a pillow cover.  Either the towel was for dogs to sleep on or the bedroom was so infested by the dog fur bugs that even a clean beach towel was not sufficient to cover them.  Poor Fabrice.

This is exactly why we don't' have fur friends in our house!

Fabrice's hypersensitivities to furs not only cost him a whole night's sleep, but also delayed him a hour fishing time.  The man got up at 7 am to stand in cold and windy river shore to catch fish.  Before he could enjoy it for long, Niuniu got up, and then Zhuzhu, and then Leone and Tavin, all of who fought for turns to fishing!  Between taking care of the needy kids and fishing himself, Fabrice managed to catch about 15 tiny fish, I caught 3 or 4, and Tavin and his Daddy Andre who joined us around 10 am caught 1 or 2.  At the end of the day, Andre and Fabrice put them back to the river.  They took the chance to educate the kids the fishing fun, whereas I would have eaten them regardless!  We often eat them fried and they are extremely tasty.  

In between fishing and taking care of Tavin and Leone, Andre cooked barbecue sausages, chicken, and merguez for lunch, that went with dried pork and sausage and white wine as appetizers.  After lunch, we spent few more futile hours on fishing and then Fabrice and Andre went to with Rob, Emma and to play Pétanque, living Tavin alone on the shore, the 8-yo kid was persistent although his whole day of effort only awarded him 1 tiny fish!  Zhuzhu, Niuniu, and Leone were running around wild on the camp site while I sat down with Mami and Rob's wife Susie under the sun who were chatting and drinking and I was sewing a zipper on a pair of pants by hand, an activity effectively helps me to be socializing with my French family. 

A friend of the grandparents Rob provided his trailer to us.  In 2007, Rob accompanied Papi and Mami to the U.S. to visit us for 6 long weeks!  They arrived exactly the same day when I was in hospital to give birth to Zhuzhu!  Ever since then, Rob has become someone we must visit each time we come back to France - he wants to watch Zhuzhu grow as much as the grandparents, you see!  We presented him Niuniu in the Summer of 2009 in his house, he fed us with wild mushrooms he picked in the forest and chicken raised in his backyard!   In the Summer of 2010, he came to meet us at the Camping site and fed us with about thousands of freshly fried tiny fish caught in the same river where we spent our morning. 

Rob is a funny guy.  He lives in a belief that all the food sold in supermarket are bad, especially meats.  So, he raises his own chickens and goats, whose feces are used to grow vegetables in the garden.  He does not have cows yet hence he has to go a special local butcher that he personally knows well for that.  In fact, all the cows here are raised wildly, as far as I can tell.  I see them everywhere here eating grasses whole day long, how can anything be more organic than local grasses-fed cows?  But our dear Rob has to know everything that an animal takes in.  I guess he can only lives on vegetables if he travels outside of his territory.  Rob enjoys his retired life on running, cycling, and traveling, of course.  He used to be an engineer/electrician/mechanics but fed up by working on undesirable hours at his job.  As soon as he has worked enough years to earn privilege of retirement, he did, at age of 54!  Then he spends his time waiting for poor Susie to retire, which was why he came alone with Papa and Mami to our house in 2007. 

This year, Rob insisted to welcome us home with a camp dinner, which he started early in the morning from slaughtering chickens, harvesting their livers, and then finally transported them to the camping site.  We had cashew, pistachio nuts, and fries as appetizers to go with white wine and champion; following that was freshly harvest salad from Rob's garden served with the freshly harvested pan-fried chicken livers.  I was full by then because it's been years that I had not had such delicious chicken livers and I also thought that was the main course since the kids were in the mean time served with cheese wraps (pasta rolled in a big round shape filled with various cheeses).  While I was mentally ready to watch the French to complete their meal with cheeses and desserts, 2 courses I consistently skip, Susie brought Burgundy beef in red wine to the table.  My goodness, please give me some sympathy for my fasting growing belly!  I was not going to eat much of the beef Plat but when Rob presented his 23 years' Burgundy reserve, I could not resist.  The glass of wine went well with the cheese also later served.  I had to skip the strawberry pie though.

 BTW, do you know Burgundy is a region where most of the tasty beef meats are produced in France?
A camping day ended at 10:30 pm we headed home since the kids fell in asleep on our shoulders.  We left a big mess for Rob and his wife to clean.  And I don't know how late it would be when they finally got home - they had to drive back for Susan to get back to work next day.  

June 27, 2013.  Thursday

A regular school day.  At lunch table, the kids were reporting one of their shows on the coming Saturday Le lion set mort se sour.  In the evening, Fabrice's nanny and her husband came for a visit after the kids came home from their school and left at 7 pm.  Mami prepared ham and butter cake, pate, peanuts, and baked eggs with ham and cheese as aperitifs to share with them.  The nanny is like Fabrice's Mom whose daughter actually was the "first wife" of Fabrice - they "married" at age 3 and the cute photo was presented to me at our wedding in 2005.  Fabrice's French wife now is working at St. Tropez in the South of France. 

June 28, 2013.  Friday

Went downtown with Fabrice and scanned through few shops, but found nothing - the trendy color this year in France is florescent everything: bright pink, green, and other flashing colors, which don't seem to be fitting my office-based job.  We went for Fabrice's passport, yet the man forgot to bring his old one to exchange it so he was sent home without his new one!  A trip to downtown for nothing!  A brief nap in the afternoon after reading Fabrice's grant serves me well.  Sweet vacation!

June 29, 2013.  Saturday

Wow, I am impressed, I caught up, almost!  I had to get up early to get ourselves ready for tomorrow's climbing.  Fabrice's childhood friend Pierre and his last girlfriend Sandy will drive from Besancond and Lyon, respectively, to join us.  Pierre used to be an ardent climber and devoted teacher for beginning climbers.  He was the one who taught me climbing among many other crazy things that men and women could enjoy doing together years ago!  

In the afternoon, we attended Zhuzhu and Niuniu's semester ending cerebration.  It was well - organized activity and little kids have performed on a stage in the Gym in the big kids' campus because it was raining hard in the morning.  The parents were all excited to see their little clones dancing and singing.  At the party, we finally met the youngest group and those were the cutest ones on the stage!  This also helped me to realize that I was wrong about those little beds - they were in fact in use by this particular group.  Thus, another correction has to be made here.  The campus has 6 classes in total and 2 classes each age groups of 3, 4, and 5.  Niuniu belongs to her age-matched group but Zhuzhu is in class that mainly has kids of 5s.  Kids of all ages danced: the 3s followed the children's songs, the 4s and 5s prepared some talking, singing, and gaming shows to demonstrate their advanced motor and language skills.  Niuniu was making faces the whole time to his cousin Tavin during this possibly to cover his nervousness of not knowing the lyrics.  Zhuzhu joined few "animals" to go around asking few larger groups of animals' names and the types of food they were eating.  She was a snake dressing in a dark green T-shirt, which took us took us a whole morning in the rain to find yet the whole le marche of 100 vendors had nothing close to what she needed, eventually we found it at E'Leclerc, a Wal-Mart type supermarche.  We were glad we finally located the shirt because she looked lovely in that color.  

After the show, the parents took little kids to play various silly games to earn their "tickets" so that they can use them to "purchase" some plastic junks.  For 15 euros, the kids brought home a plastic soccer, 2 long sticks for blowing big bubbles, a tiny mermaid, and a rainbow spring.  The extra money allowed the grandpa to enjoy 2 sodas and a bag of fries.  

Socialism is great, isn't it?  Fabrice feels terribly guilty for having his kids so well taken care of by his own government.  Hopefully one day in the future we will be rich enough to pay back.  

Our day ended with a family dinner at the restaurant where Emma's husband Andre works.  The manager served our table personally and then charged only the main course.  We had free appetizers, cocktail drinks, red Burgundy wine of 2005, and desserts!  Fabrice's grandma who paid the dinner said on the way back that she was "sick" of paying so little for a whole family of 10 - true, it's inconceivable to have such meal for 70 euros.  Guess what, I am also so "sick" of taking advantage of my grandma-in-law's retirement! 

Another favor needs to be returned to Granny, Emma, and Andre.  We are so in debt of the French people!