One of the highlights in my life is when my mother "forced" me to take a 3-month summer course in Paris when I was in my early 20s. I was mad... I was not a kid anymore and she had to force me to "have a vacation".
I was very reluctant to go as I didn't speak a single French and I didn't feel the need to take those courses in Paris. I could take the same courses in San Diego (where I studied last time) and spend fun-packed summer with my friends.
I didn't understand why my mother insisted that I had to go to Paris. After a lot of arguments, finally I relented... (as I usually did). I registered with University of St Paul to take International Business Marketing and Comparative Business Law in Paris.
I was lucky that one of my classmates from Thailand interested to take the same courses with me so I could share an apartment with her. I also had an Indonesian friend who enrolled in the same program but chose to be in London instead of Paris.
The three of us left San Diego two weeks before the program to indulge in our shared passion of travelling. With Eurail pass and a few Lonely Planet books in our hands, we travelled to Innsbruck, Salzburg, Vienna, Zurich, Nice and Cannes by train.
I had never been to Europe before and I was BAD in history and geography thus I didn't know what to expect. At that time we had no internet, so we totally relied on our trusted Lonely Planet books to arrange the hostels and restaurants.
I was exposed to a lot of crazy experiences during my 3 months there.
As we traveled on a tight budget, we stayed in various youth hostels. It was the first time I had to share a bedroom with 10 strangers on bunk beds. It was also my first time sleeping at 10 pm during vacation because all light was switched off at 10 pm. It was my first time experiencing "common shower". I don't really remember where it was but I was shocked when the hostel operator showed us the shower area. It's just an open area consisting of 20 shower heads... no partition, no door.
It was the first time I saw 20 women walking around naked... Live..!!
I just couldn't do it... I just couldn't display my fat to anyone in an open space... I felt too self-conscious... The next morning I forced myself to wake up at 5 am when everyone else was still snoring just so I could take shower alone and spare my audience from a heart attack.
(This experience has saved me from an embarrassing moment when I went to a locker room of a gym in Jakarta a few years later. I acted cool when a westerner walked naked from the shower in the changing room. Had I not experienced it before, I would probably grab a towel and try to cover that woman for fear of catching a cold..)
One morning in Zurich I woke up with a heavy head and lots of red dots in my face. Muay and Inne, my travel companions, were surprised and brought me to a clinic inside a local university. The nurses ran some tests on me and brought me into a small room. I was left alone for a good 20 minutes until Muay came sneaking into the room and told me to run away. I was shocked and scared.. She told me that I had chicken pox and the nurses said that they didn't have any chicken pox case in Switzerland anymore.
Based on the regulation, they would need to deport me back to my country.
I quickly ran away from the hospital. We were running like fugitives. I had never ran like that in my life... My friends checked me into a hotel at Geroldswill, a suburb of Zurich. Chicken pox is a normal illness in Asia that usually goes away untreated within a week. We didn't know that it was a rare thing in Switzerland.
Inne and Muay continued the trip without me and my father came to stay with me. (Coincidently he was attending a seminar in Lucern, a few hours away from Geroldswill). My father took care of me throughout that 1 week.
At that time..... I became his little girl again.
He put lotion on the chicken pox marks all over my body, he bought us food and we watched TV together without understanding a single German word. After my marks almost disappeared, we took a TGV train to Paris together.
It was one of the best times in my life... Had I not had the chicken pox, I wouldn't experience those beautiful moments. Now at my 40's, I notice that it was the one and only time I had a private time with my father, just the two of us.
During my summer course in Paris, Muay and I decided to spend our weekends travelling to the nearby towns.
When I read the Lonely Planet guide on travelling to South of France, the book mentioned that the best way to enjoy the trip was to use a bicycle. Muay rented two bicycles for us to go from Loire Valley to Mont Pres Chambord to see some castles. I had rode bicycles a million times before but I had never saw or touch any bicycle with gear. Just a few pedals and I tripped... I tried again and I tripped again... After several attempts I managed to cycle slowly. Not too long after that I fell down again, this time almost ran over by a car. It was one of the scariest time of my life.
Just when I almost cried and pulled my hairs crazy, a small red car pulled over. A girl came out from the car and asked us in English if everything was OK. I told her the problem with my bike and our plan to go to Chateau de Chambord.
|Chateau de Chambord|
She laughed saying that even if I could ride that bike, it would take us 2 hours to ride there as the place was quite far. She offered us a ride in her car. She folded our bikes, put them in the trunk and asked us to go inside her car. She said that it was better for us to go to the chateau tomorrow as the day was getting dark. In the meantime, she offered us to stay in her house.
So, we spent our evening with Sabienne and her sister, Nadine. Both of them were very nice. They were beautiful French belles in their 20s who spoke fluent English with cute accents (I always looooove the accent).... They took us to the garden behind their house to pick vegetables for our dinner.
Over dinner we got to know each other better... Nadine told us that she travelled to US a few years back and was lost in a highway. A kind couple helped and sheltered her until she could contact her friends. Because of that experience Sabienne and Nadine had always tried to help "lost travelers" like us. This experience is one of the most unforgettable experiences in my life. I felt blessed to have met Sabienne and Nadine who helped travelers in need without prejudice. After that time we became penpals for a few years. I always remember their generosity and kindness... This experience has touched me so much that I named my second daughter Nadine.
At the end of my 3-month program, I left Paris with two certificates and countless valuable experiences. The certificates are useless now but the experiences that I got from those 3 months are priceless.
I met so many interesting people, increased my knowledge in geography (and bicycle), learned that it was impossible for my tongue to pronounce French words correctly (even after drinking Perrier everyday), found out that I could really run very fast when I needed to (being a fugitive), bonded with my father, and at the same time I found out the domino effect of kindness from Sabienne and Nadine.
I thank my mother for forcing me to go and explore the world...
Being a mother, I learn the importance of "Tough Love" from my mother. She didn't mind if her children hate her when she instills tough love. She only concerns for her children's well being and their futures. Whenever I have to discipline my kids, I can feel the pain... I hate to see their faces when I discipline them... It breaks my heart when I see them cry.. But I am reminded by my mother. Has she not disciplined us before, we would definitely grow up differently...
I won't be able to travel like that anymore now. With 2 growing kids attached, traveling means theme parks and kid-friendly places. I can't travel carrying a backpack anymore. I have to check in at least 2 heavy luggage full of children stuffs, medicine and snacks.
Although I still need to run like a fugitive to catch a plane, the chance of seeing 20 naked women walking around is pretty slim now....
Siiiggghhhh.... the good old days are gone......
Happy Mother's Day everyone..!!
Guide to European hostels