Lille, the unexpected city

*Dream in Eb by Rand Aldo

Welcome to the start of the second national lockdown in France! It feels strange to say that I have been through two lockdowns since the beginning of March, only in two different continents. It feels completely different from what I read on the news and especially from all the images I have created out of my own imagination. It feels even more strange to experience this in a place where I still barely know anything about. I guess not everything is still new nor unfamiliar to me. I guess I’m already somewhat used to this new lifestyle, to the idea of craving for a warm, crusty and fresh-out-of-the-oven baguette at 8 PM and being able to pick it up in a small supermarket only 5 minutes of walk from where I live or to the habit of having my breakfast with half a baguette, two slices of plant-based butter, Alpro yogurt and a glass of fresh orange juice.

Oh and Alpro! I don’t even know how to start talking about why I’m absolutely in love with this vegan brand. I’m sorry for being a little obsessed with plant-based yogurt only because it used to be considered as a luxury in Canada for me. And here, sometimes I can get it at Auchan for only €1. I’m not even joking. And I can’t tell you which one I like better, the oat-flavored or the coconut-based one. They’re both my favorites. They both have this smooth and creamy texture with unparalleled taste that even the dairy ones have no chance to compete with them. So I love them equally. Each has their own characters. Okay, that’s probably enough about Alpro for now haha. The non-dairy cultural scene here has surprised me greatly since France is not the most vegan-friendly country in Europe, compared to their neighbors like the UK. But I can share my sympathy to understand why their adaptation takes longer time, considering the roots of French cuisine.

I also didn’t realize at the time that there are different types of baguette. I didn’t even know how to properly order a baguette in a bakery shop at the beginning. It came with a dreadful moment of silence that must have felt like a lifetime along with a bit of embarrassment since the vendor talked to me on a very high volume that would sufficiently reach through everyone’s ears behind me, and hopefully end before the start of the other half of the line through the entrance. “A bit” definitely does not depict the accuracy of the situation. Also, I seem to forget one tiny but very important detail that might have happened only once in our lifetime, having a mask on was obligatory and so was social distancing. Therefore, my ego couldn’t have been hurt that bad. Yay! Feeling like a victory for identifying a loophole in my own rationality policy and defending myself with such a strange argument. Or simply put, it is just a self-serving bias.

Oh okay, I don’t know why all of sudden I felt the need to bring up this concept from my social psy course, probably one of the only few things I still remember. Wait what am I talking about now? Right, so what happened after I walked out of the store with my eyes riveted on the sidewalk as I walked. Well, I was just trying to watch out for dog’s poop cause you know, Paris is not the only dog’s poop capital of the world, Lille has its own reputation as well. Anyways, I went straight home afterwards and had a good laugh at myself that night. And that summed up pretty well the definition of a perfect day in my new home. Somehow I keep forgetting to tell all my friends about this. It was probably unconsciously on purpose haha. But well, how am I supposed to learn something new and exciting with a zero-mistake policy, right?

That is inarguably unsustainable.

Also, it is so convenient to buy them as baguettes are sold in many places, not just in bakery shops. It is no wonder that they are the icons of the French culture. Getting a little bit of an exposure to the French cuisine scene has changed my worldviews in significant ways. And baguettes definitely taste better here, considering Paris probably offers the best baguette in the entire France and in the world! Or maybe, I’m just being biased or exaggerated a little. This is probably not related, but it reminds me so much of when I first came to Montreal and my friend told me that they would take me to the best Viet restaurant in town with the best Pho, I responded to her so fast it felt like having a reflex that it definitely cannot taste better than the authentic Pho in Vietnam.

However, I was right. And she totally agreed with me after her summer trip to Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries. Her name is Anna. Let me tell you just a little bit about her cause I don’t have enough space here and I will need at least over 20 posts to talk about her hah. So she is one of my closest friends from Montreal. She is also my soul friend. We met in a CEGEP Chinese language class in 2015, and the rest was history. Anna went on a summer trip to Southeast Asia that summer, came to Saigon, visited my childhood’s home, met my parents and tasted my mom’s food which according to Anna, was the best meal she had in the entire Vietnam. She is doing her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at McGill University and currently doing an internship in Vancouver. The last time we saw each other, was probably one week before I moved to Ottawa. I remember that we went to a poké bowl restaurant in downtown Montreal, had a very good talk, walked a little bit and then gave each other a big hug at Guy station (Concordia University). I think that’s what happened, but you know, like Kent Nerburn says, “memory is a fickle thing, a flickering light in a darkroom of possibilities.” We haven’t seen each other since then, and I miss her very much. Time really does fly so fast.

I’m sorry that this post is unstructured and poorly organized, but well, my purpose of writing this blog is to create “a collection of personal stories that also happen to be random, unrelated, messy and sometimes very challenging to understand due to its lack of coherence and clarity. I guess that maybe it’s just my way of reminding myself that life is filled with constant struggles and chaos, but there’s always beauty in the mess.” Okay, now let’s get back to my life in France.

Anothing thing I’m also used to is the idea of living in a city where a populous Chinatown with lots of Asian supermarkets with one standing right next to the other, becomes only a thing of the past. But I’m still very happy for being able to find a very good Asian supermarket with a reasonable size not too far from Montebello station in central Lille. And on top of that, they have Asian-quality certified-by-me tofu that tastes very much like the one I had back home in Montreal, and they are also being offered at a reasonable price too! I’m extremely picky about my tofu, and I’ve been to almost every single bio supermarket in Lille, and their tofu is, first of all, so expensive, and absolutely not cooked in the proper traditional ways. Tofu is my first love, so there’s nothing that will make me change my mind about how they should be done. I’m also used to the thought of not being able to find a single decent Korean restaurant in town.

When I first came to Lille, the first thing I was looking for was Korean food. I thought at the time that I found one on Place des Reignaux. The restaurant’s name is “Bi Bim Bap”, so with that name, I was allowed to have very high expectations that they will serve at least somewhat authentic Korean cuisine. But NOPE! Their menu is totally mixed with Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine! They are serving Pad Thai, Nem and Salad Bò Bún, and well they do have a separate section for bibimbap so that the restaurant’s name at least makes some sense. I was quite disappointed that day cause I had a long and exhausting day dealing with the French administration, so I was looking for some comfort of home. But unfortunately, it wasn’t delivered properly. Well actually, there is a good one in Tourcoing, which will take me an hour to get there. And I haven’t tried it yet since the pandemic makes it a bit tricky to go that far just to order some food for takeout. On the other hand, my Moroccan friend told me that there are tons of great Korean restaurants in Paris, which is only an hour from Lille. Oh and I don’t know why Nem and Bò Bún (aka spring rolls and a bowl of vermicelli mixed with grilled meat, raw veggies, pickled carrots and fish sauce) are so popular in France. I was very surprised to find frozen nem packages in Carrefour, a North-American version of Walmart in Lille. The texture of their nem looks particularly uncanny, but I give them a B for the effort to learn about our Viet cuisine.

I was planning to visit Paris by myself during this week’s vacation (aka La Toussaint or All Saints’ Day in France), but now with the new imposed restrictions, travelling between regions is no longer possible until at least the beginning of December. And that will possibly be extended after reevaluation. Hopefully, I will be able to visit the city of light during the holiday season. I have heard so many things about Paris so far, both positive and negative. But at the end, I choose to take them as a grain of salt because I want to go there on my own to have my own experience, and to contemplate the beauty of Paris from my own perspective. Now, I guess I’m also used to the idea of hearing French everywhere I go and somehow forcing myself to speak the language as much as I could. I didn’t realize much before that my French writing skills are strongly influenced by how I normally write in English, especially when it comes to writing emails.

For example, I would literally translate the phrase “I have attached blablabla to this email” that I often use in English, directly into French. In other words, it sucks! It really does. Well, I guess taking a couple of French classes for immigration purposes are definitely not helpful for an academic environment. And of course, there is no wonder why listening to lectures and taking notes in French still tortured me every day because of their mediocrity. I think using the word “mediocrity” to describe my competence is still quite generous haha. I have to train myself again to finally get rid of those unproductive habits! I have a year to make that goal accomplished, or possibly even more. I’m glad that that was also one of those reasons for me to choose to come here, to get a proper (almost free) French training as a second language by taking courses of psychology all in French … that was for sure an enjoyable experience haha … wait, no it was not! Again, it was not! I indeed struggled a lot when it comes to languages, and this is definitely not the first time, so I kinda get the hang of it by now. Plus, I’m also a highly sensitive person/high sensation seeker (HSPs), so I (aka my brain) tend to internalize each challenge at a much deeper level, and then intensify them all on a psychological level. This is still something I struggle with on a regular basis, and I need to invest more time into reading, understanding and learning to live with this trait on a healthy balance.

I think this is probably a good moment to sit down, write something and reflect on everything that happened in the last two months since I arrived in the country of love. I think I’m very fortunate for having met a couple of incredibly nice people who in no doubt have made my first two months the most memorable one. Actually, I’m going to save it for another time since this post is a bit too long by now, and I need more than just a couple of paragraphs to talk about these amazing folks! I have met them all from a group called “The Franglais” in Lille. They started organizing events again since I arrived in September, and unfortunately, they had to cancel all the upcoming ones after the new restrictions. But I was SO LUCKY for having met all of them right before the lockdown! Hadn’t I met them, I would have probably chosen to book a flight and come back to Ottawa right away when the government announced the second lockdown.

Anyways, I love France and I am grateful for being given a chance to be here.

“La solitude est aussi une voie d’accès à la vie intérieure et la connaissance de soi,” Christophe André

Vive La France! #liberté #égalité #fraternité

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