Aller-Retour

On January 2, I walked out my front door in San Francisco at about 5:00 AM PST. I unlocked the door to my studio in Montreuil 25 hours later.

While my journey was long, exhausting and mundane at times, it was relatively smooth - especially in comparison to other winter travel/horror stories I heard from other assistants upon my return. I managed to catch every connection on time and my little brown suitcases made its way successfully to France (filled with 45-lbs. of toiletries, food and a few pieces of clothing I exchanged for things I brought home). Basically, it went plane-plane-train-train. Sounds simple, and since I knew exactly where I was going when I got to France, it pretty much was.

It didn't start out so certain though.

Aside from the fact I was nervous about the weather in Washington, D.C., where I was changing planes at Dulles International, I was also looking at a 30-minute connection time in DC between my flights from SFO to Paris CDG. My brother drove me to SFO about four hours before my original flight (and without traffic, it's only a 20-minute car ride from my house to the airport). We walked up to the United Airlines ticket counter, already busy with plenty of passengers there early, either for flights or because of long security line fears after the Christmas Day incident in Detroit. After flying solely with JetBlue Airways and Virgin America within the United States over the last three years, it was bizarre entering a different terminal at SFO, or flying with a different airline. But the employees of United turned out to be kind and friendly from start to finish.

I asked the ticket agent if I could get on the stand-by flight to DC that was departing an hour before my booked flight, and she replied that I probably could fit on the plane! Lo and behold, about 90 minutes later, I was boarding the flight and even got a window seat (albeit, the seat was in an exit row - a first for me - and directly across from the flight attendant in the jump seat). She also put my bag on the earlier flight, so even if I didn't make it on that plane and ended up being stuck on the later one, my suitcase would probably make the connection to France. (I thought this was a bit strange since I thought according to some of TSA's anti-terrorism rules, every bag that goes on to a plane has to have a passenger with it.) But, given that the flight got to DC on time (although there were some other delays at Dulles due to very strong winds, so only one runway was open for landings and take-offs), I got a nice 90-minute window instead of 30. I decided to use my time to buy a burrito for the last time for a while and read my new book (The Boleyn Inheritance).

With the time change and since the first flight (SFO to DC) was only four and a half hours, it was already 5:30 PM EST by the time my second flight departed from DC. I gave a last look out the window from American soil (pictured, right) and let out a big sigh. While it is always difficult to leave home, the murmurs of French voices on the plane already filled me with excitement to return to France. The part that hurt the most, however, was flying over New York City. By good fortune (and asking the gate agent up until the point where I was in line to board if there were any window seats left), I got a window seat on the left side of the plane. As the plane crept north over the Eastern Seaboard, I knew exactly when we would be approaching New York without even looking at the map anymore. And then I saw the Manhattan street grid, perfectly straight from my angle and glittering like threads of gold.

Then there was just darkness. For a really long time. And most unfortunately for me, the only flight I was able to get any sleep on was that first one. So for seven long hours to Paris, I was awake. It's time like that in which I really hate traveling alone. But as the tiny plane on the Google map flew over the island of Jersey, then Rouen and finally landed in Paris, I gained a tiny second (or third or fourth) wind.

I booked it off the plane. Given that I only had a purse for a carry-on, I knew where I was going, confident enough with the language, I felt like a local already. Getting to Immigration and baggage claim was a bit of a walk (with a moving sidewalk), and the baggage claim area at CDG Terminal One was the most bizarre room I've ever seen in an airport. (Maybe ever.) I thought I walked into a giant hamster maze for adults. There were tubes with escalators going every direction. Fortunately for me, there were again more EU citizens on the plane than non-EU citizens, so I zoomed through Immigration, and my bag turned out to be the fifth one to roll down the conveyor belt. After a few "excusez-moi"s, I grabbed my bag and power-walked for the AirTrain to take me to CDG Terminal 2, where the SNCF-TGV station is.

Turns out I didn't have to walk so fast since the first and next train to Lille wasn't leaving for another 45 minutes. Not to mention that since I now have a French bank card compared to when I first arrived, I was able to buy my ticket from the SNCF kiosk (since my card has a chip) and not have to wait in the INSANE line at the ticket counter. After waiting a bit to see which platform would be announced and checking my email on my iPhone (it felt so good to have internet on my cell phone everywhere again), the voie (platform) was posted on the board.

I was about to take the elevator down, when I ran into Liz Louie! France is turning out to be a small place. After a long voyage and leaving home after the holidays, I was already a little down-trodden, so it felt good to see a familiar, friendly face. She was taking the train back to Lille after a trip down south, so we caught up with Vacances de Noël stories while waiting for the TGV to approach. However, we had to sit in different cars since we bought our tickets separately. When I found my seat, it was the most bizarre part of a TGV train I'd ever seen. It must have been the first class car's coat or luggage closet before, since it was part of the first class car, but there were only a handful of seats, and most of them aligned flat against the wall like a subway car.

When I landed in France, it was still dark, at about 7:0o AM CST. Now that it was closer to 9:00 AM, the sun was rising over the snow-covered valleys and farms that I passed on my trip to the airport in December. Except this time there was actual sun. I dare say that it was one of the most beautiful days I have ever seen and experienced in France. Unfortunately for me, I was too tired to appreciate any of it.

After my train arrived at Gare Lille Europe, I dragged my little brown suitcase over to Gare Lille Flandres, where there was the one direct train of the day to Montreuil, leaving at 11:30 AM. I sat in the waiting area reading my book, while vagrants were walking in and out (out because the station guards were constantly checking on them). Considering it was freezing outside (literally), I felt really awful for them since they weren't causing any trouble and not asking anyone for money, just trying to sit inside and escape the wind chill.

Finally, my train to Montreuil was announced, I got up and on to the last part of my voyage. I had the hardest time trying to stay awake. My eyelids felt like hard stones and I couldn't lift them anymore. But I was more afraid of falling asleep and waking up at the train's terminus: Calais. (I'm not afraid of Calais; it's just really far past where I needed to be.) The sunshine was absolutely gorgeous, and I'd normally give anything to have such a nice view from the train. At about 1:30 PM, the TER finally pulled up to Gare Montreuil-Sur-Mer, after which I dragged my suitcase up the giant hill, past the ramparts, through the cobblestone village streets, into the very empty Grand Place and then up the stairs to my studio.

The bizarre feeling upon walking into my studio was: it was like I never left or went anywhere. I was back in some surreal dream. Is it because it's France? A tiny village in the middle of nowhere? Such a contrast from New York or San Francisco? I don't think there are as many contrasts between French and American cultures as some people might think (or like to admit, on either side), but maybe I've really adjusted to living here.

The downside to being back: I had jetlag for over a week.

Flickr Photos

I've finally uploaded photos from my Asia tour, which you can see on Flickr here. It also looks like I'll be going home for Christmas, as I got a super cheap ticket on Virgin America...but only for the return from San Francisco to New York. I still need to buy a ticket TO San Francisco, but I'm waiting to see which bowl game Cal ends up going to.I know: Priorties, priorties. Most of my sources tell me that we'll be going to the Emerald Bowl, which is in San Francisco on Dec. 27, the day before I return to NYC, which works out perfectly for me. But I wouldn't mind flying out a week earlier to Nevada for Vegas Bowl...

Big Game and Departure

Yesterday was the 111th Big Game between Cal and Stanford, and happily for me, Cal won. I took over 300 photos on my new camera, but really most of them are just duplicates on different aperture settings. The day was great because the skies were clear (and blue) and I got to see all of my friends. But since it was a 12:30 p.m. game, it was almost impossible to tailgate, um, properly. I didn't really eat much before or during the game though. When I was in band, I could never eat much before because I always had a sickening feeling in my stomach, either from being tired from practice or anxiety about the shows, or both. But I still got that feeling yesterday even though I had nothing to worry about. Bizarre. I was shocked, however, at how hot it was in the middle of November. Between standing in the sun all day and the fact that it was so early in the day, almost everyone was ready to go to bed at 8 p.m.  I loved the Cal Band's halftime show with 90s pop since it was all songs I listened to in high school. But I was kind of irked by the Stanford band show about Memorial Stadium being on a fault line and that the big earthquake was going to hit during the game. After I described the show to my mom when I got home, she said, "They always try to be cutting edge, but they always miss the mark." I do have to give them points for creativity. How could anyone else come up with harnessing a snare drum player to a contraption that spins he/she upside down through almost the whole game? But I always enjoy Big Game because its really the Homecoming for Cal alums and both sides of the rivalry get along pretty well.

big-game

My trip is almost over as the last leg of my trip back to New York City is tonight, with a FOUR hour layover in Washington D.C.'s Dulles airport. I could take the Bolt Bus and get back to my apartment faster, but then again it's a JetBlue rewards ticket on the weekend before Thanksgiving, so I'm lucky I got a seat at all. Many times when I go on long trips, by the end of it, I'm ready to go home. This time, I'm pretty depressed, so much so that even though I was exhausted yesterday, I still had trouble falling asleep. I don't know if its apprehension about dealing with job and financial stuff when I get back, or that I'll miss everyone at home and I don't know when I'm coming back exactly yet. Despite all of this, I'm pretty lucky that I get to home to a place as awesome as New York.

Royal Exchange

After recovering significantly from jet lag and getting back on a normal sleeping schedule (well 3 a.m. to 11 a.m....), I went to my favorite San Francisco pub, Royal Exchange, for some Big Game eve celebration. On the way there, my trip seemed to come full circle a little bit. As when I arrived at Oakland airport almost three weeks ago, I didn't have any change for the AirBART shuttle and asked the entire bus if anyone had change for a $5 bill. Mercifully, someone did. Yesterday, while on the J-Church streetcar going downtown, another woman had the same dilemma, and I actually had change for her.  Royal Exchange was great, as I've never been there when Cal Band has, and I actually got to play a few songs. But I haven't played since ski trip in January, so I knew I really needed to practice when I couldn't feel my lips anymore on "Separate Ways." Pictures later. 

Anyway, today is my absolute FAVORITE holiday: BIG GAME! And I'm actually home for it! (The trip's dates might have been slightly arranged around today...) GO BEARS! BEAT THE CARDINAL! (Please, pretty please!)

City by the Foggy Bay

After 8 hours across the Pacific Ocean, my mom and I are back in San Francisco, where it's foggy. Really foggy. I miss Tokyo. Neither my body nor my iPhone has any idea where it is or what time it is. Usually there's a saying about Big Game Week: No sleep until Big Game. Well, I seem to be succeeding at that without really trying. (And, honestly, I'd really like to get some sleep.) But I'm headed to Point Reyes to visit Janet Fang, star intern at the Point Reyes Light. I get to ride Golden Gate Transit for the first time. Hopefully the fog will clear up a bit later.

P.S. Can anyone tell me what's happened on Gossip Girl and The Hills in the past three weeks? Like in five sentences or less?

Election Night in America

I am truly proud to be an American again. I feel privileged to have been able to not only witness, but to vote for history and see an African-American become the president of the United States of America. This is not only a message to the world that we want change and to repair our image, it is a message to Americans on how far we have come and that anything is truly possible in this country. It reaffirms every value of this nation. And I'm especially glad that I was able to experience the night in Berkeley. Telegraph Avenue went absolutely insane! There were people crowded on the streets, people hanging from street lights, jumping on to the sides of buses. But it was all peaceful. Not to mention it was the only time I was happy to see a tree-sitter. (Video below soon...) I saw so many of my friends I haven't seen in months. Everyone was cheering "YES WE CAN" and "OBAMA" and "USA! USA!" as if we had just won every gold medal at the Olympics. The only thing that would have made me happier would have been to see Sarah Palin board a one-way flight back to Alaska. Or maybe to Russia.

elections-berkeley-telegraphUnfortunately, the evening was bittersweet. While I am proud of my country, I am ashamed of my home state. While even at this moment (9:51am PST), the San Francisco Chronicle still won't call the Proposition 8 race, it is clear that California will write hatred into its own constitution and literally divide us into first and second class citizens. It is applalling from the state that has a reputation and prides itself on being on the forefront of social change and being one of the first states to repeal laws against inter-racial marriage. Now it's a sham. I am not as proud of being a Californian as I was even just yesterday.

Nevertheless, the United States is on the right path again. For the last eight years, while I have always loved my country, many people including myself questioned the direction it was going in. I am very aware that the problems we face now will take years to repair, but I am confident now that it will get done.

And despite my renewed love and pride, I am leaving -- but just for two weeks -- as I'm boarding soon for Manila, via Tokyo Narita Airport. Unlike past trips I've taken outside of the U.S. in the last eight years, I'm not longer afraid of people heckling me. Peace out, America!

Final Countdown

Only four more days until I bounce from New York City to San Francisco, and then across the other pond. Many props to my fellow interns Kelly, Brendan and Rip for helping me title this blog (and some future entry titles as well), along with those of my friends who were on gChat on Halloween when they should have been working. But the grand winner is Ms. Janet Fang with the above title, and her prize is a shiny package of fresh Fig Newtons. Honorable mentions include: Land of the Tequila Sunrise Are You There Blog? It's Me, Rachel March of the Rachels Blog to Nowhere Island in the Sun Memoirs of a Rachel Northwest Passage Southeast Passage Return of the King The King and I The Last King of Scotland

(I think the last one was a little off base...)