31 August 2008

the last day of summer

...and my first view of the mediterranean sea!

the calanques at cassis
[cassis, france]

26 August 2008


French class. The last rays of summer permeate our classroom. Everyone is clad in shorts and slippers and summer attire. Voices drift around the room as we introduce ourselves to each other in French.

I look outside the balcony of our classroom, and I see this:

Puyricard. Provence just as I imagined it would be.

I cannot believe I'm here.

24 August 2008


The French are serious about their breads and pastries. If you want really good quality, you must get your pastries from a pâtisserie and your breads from a boulangerie. Most of the time, though, you'll find combined pâtisserie-boulangeries, which sell both breads and pastries but may not be as good -- but I'm not complaining!

Here's a typical sight inside a pâtisserie-boulangerie in Aix:

That's enough to make my mouth water!

23 August 2008

residence de cuques

I seriously wanted to like the rooms at Residence de Cuques.

I initially freaked out after seeing pictures of the dorm room online, but I figured -- hey, it's cheap (150 euros/month), convenient (it has wifi, a laundromat, and a government-subsidized cafeteria nearby), has a view of Aix-en-Provence, and is just a ten minute walk to the city center. I survived UP, I'm sure I can survive "dirty" by French standards.

Apparently not.

My room was much worse than I expected. The wallpapers are torn, the bed is mangy, the floors are cracked and stained with mud, and my room faces the back of a building.

Nice tour, eh? In fairness to the dorm, some of the rooms are actually okay. I think I was just given one of the worse rooms.

But that's bearable. I can live with the not-so-pretty and not-so-clean surroundings. I was even able to get rid of the smell of urine after a night of scrubbing my floors with soap. (Eeeewwww.) And I've met some great people on my floor.

I just really don't like sharing my bathroom with 35 other people. Men and women at that. Especially when the toilets look like the toilets in UP Palma Hall pre-renovation days (yung banyo pa ni Marcos!)

It's not so fun walking into the toilet and finding pubic hair and remnants of someone else's poop on the toilet bowl. Eeeeeeeeewwww. I feel like I need to take a shower every time I use the toilet.

So, I am moving to the Citadines Aix Jas de Bouffan. It's an apartment-hotel a ten-minute bus ride from the center, but...... with its own bathrooms! And a pool!


Sidenote: Well, actually, I kind of got kicked out of the dorm. I went to the caisse to ask what I needed to do in case I wanted to move out of the dorm. Due to the freaking language barrier (they don't speak ANY English!!!!), they misunderstood me as saying I was sure I wanted to move out of the dorm and asked me to move out on August 31 because they're giving my room to someone else. My apartment is only available on September 1, so I'm homeless for a day. Merde!!!! I just hope they refund the 700 euros I've paid them! Wish me luck!

20 August 2008

la rotonde

la rotonde
[aix-en-provence, france]

le premier jour

Residence de Cuques. I knock on Nastya, my Russian classmate's dorm room, to head over to Residence de Gazelles next door to meet the rest of our classmates.  Outside, the air smells faintly of pine, and as we stroll down the street we are greeted by an amazing view of Mont Saint-Victoire towering over the town of Aix-en-Provence.

Residence de Gazelles. Initial introductions done, my classmates and I start walking down Avenue Jules Ferry to catch the bus to school. My laziness overwhelms, so I convince Florian, a German classmate I had previously met in Manila, to catch the Mini 2 bus with me to the center.  It was faster all right, but we got lost once we got to the center, so the rest of our classmates eventually caught up with us. So much for speed.

La Rotonde. After a long wait and a flurry of confusion figuring out where the stop for Bus 21 was, our bus finally pulls up. I hop on the bus.

"Is this the bus for IAE?"

The driver stares blankly at me. I realize he doesn't speak English. "Eee aah ooh?" he asks.

"I... A.... E....?" I repeat more slowly.

"Oui, oui. Eeee aaah ooh!"

Erm. I guess they pronounce IAE differently here. We get on anyway and after 30 minutes of twists and turns through empty streets, the bus driver lets us off at a blue gate with the name of the school printed in large white letters.

And there it is. 

Institut d'Administration des Entreprises d'Aix-en-Provence, my school for the next few months.

19 August 2008


8pm. Amsterdam. It was at the Amsterdam Schipol airport that I began to feel the first twinge of panic. I stood in line at the gate, backpack and giant duffel bag in tow, listening to the chatter of people around me.

None were in English.

I searched around for any semblance of home, or even just one of Asia. I needed to see just one person, one single Asian, to keep the panic down and reassure myself that I could do this. That home was not so far away.

But there were none.

That was when it hit me that I was really no longer in the Philippines.

This was the end of my life as I knew it.


11pm. Marseille. The Marseille airport was deserted except for the passengers from our flight. I trailed over to the information desk to get some brochures about the city.

None were in English.


"Parlez-vous anglais?" I ask the taxi driver as Xian, my Malaysian classmate, and I queue at the taxi stand.


I whip out a sheet of paper and show him the address of my dorm. He points to the next taxi, indicating that the next taxi would take us to Aix-en-Provence.

I turn to the second taxi driver. "Parlez-vous anglais?"

"A little."

Thank God.


12am. Aix-en-Provence. Angel #1. The taxi pulls over onto to a gated driveway. "This is Residence de Cuques. The gates are locked. The taxi can only go up to here."

"This is it?" I peer through the gates, but only see a dimly lit street and a deserted building. There is no sign of a dorm. "But where is Batiment 2?"

The taxi driver reads my arrival instructions sympathetically. "You want I go with you to find the building?"

I heave a sigh of relief. "Yes, please."

He steps out of the taxi, carrying my luggage for me. We walk down the street, looking at each building until we finally find Pavillon 2 at the end of the street. We ring the doorbell. The night watchman appears from behind the glass doors and opens it for us.

"Sheila?" he asks.




Angel #2. The night watchman gives me my room number and keys in broken English. "Your room is through those stairs. Wait for me. I will help you bring your things up."

I heave another sigh of relief.


12:30am. Residence de Cuques. I am breathing heavily by the time we reach the fourth floor. A group of men and women are clustered in one doorway, chattering in French.

My room is at the end of the hall. I turn the key and the door swings open. I am greeted by a tiny room with torn wallpaper and the sour smell of dried urine. The floors are dusty and caked with mud.

"Welcome!" the night watchman repeats enthusiastically as he sets my luggage on the floor. "This is your room, I'll leave you alone now. Good night!"

And finally I sink down on the gray mattress and let the homesickness come.

one last taste of luxury

and then it's back to being a poor, hungry student again...
siiiiiiigh, i'll miss business trips!
[manila, philippines]

18 August 2008


I'm scared.

In a few hours, my family will be driving me to the airport for my flight to France. I won't be seeing them again for two years.

You see, I received a two-year Erasmus Mundus grant to study my masters degree in France, Finland, and the Netherlands. It's amazing, I know. I always dreamed of travelling to Europe, but never in my wildest dreams did I expect to actually have the opportunity to live there.

I expected myself to be jumping with glee and raring to go on my next big adventure.

But right now, all I feel like doing is curling up into a fetal position and willing the hands of my clock to start turning counter-clockwise. I can almost feel my regrets spilling out onto my pillow. I wish I had done this. I wish I had done that. I wish I had spent more time with my loved ones. I wish I had lived life instead of just letting the days pass by.

It's ironic how two years ago, I felt exactly like this. Except that time, I didn't want to go back to Manila.

This time, I don't want to leave.

The fear is still there, gnawing quietly in the back of my mind. I've managed to keep it at bay for the past few days, but I can feel time racing by. Soon, goodbye has to come. I'm terrified that the moment I step into the passengers-only area at the airport, the fear will overwhelm me and I'm going to start crying uncontrollably.

Things will change again, just when I thought I was finally getting back on track.

I'm not ready.

But it's time.

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed
by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do.
So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor.
Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
- Mark Twain