I step my foot on Charles De Gaulle Airport and feel the goose bumps all over my arms and the nape of my neck. It feels deliberating and exciting yet so overwhelming at the same time. I just flew thousand miles from the city I was stuck on to a city I never thought I would visit. The city when my mom had the best times of her life.
I stroll over the terminal 1 building as long as I got out from immigration check. A small lady with a very red lipstick approaches me and talks something in French which I can only catch “merci” of all the sentences she spoke to me.
“I’m sorry. I don’t speak French. Do you speak English?” I ask her. She looks at me with confused face and leave. That is when I realized, French people don’t speak English very well and I can’t even speak one sentence French. I’m so screwed! I might have at least taken a level 1 French course before coming here, or bought a simple French phrase book perhaps? So I make a move to look for a book store.
Having ChangiAirport as a home airport for the last 16 years, I thought I would never have a wow feeling from other airports. But it is Paris. Charles De Gaulle is different! Even though architecturally it is just like a smaller version of ShuvarnabumiAirport at Bangkok, but the atmosphere is surely magical. I still hear so many English speaking people in the airport, but it feels so French here since all the directions were written in French as well. However it is Paris, it is special, period.
I’ve found a book store and decide to buy the thickest pocket book of French Phrase I can find. It will definitely come handy later when I finally get lost in Paris, voluntarily.
It costs me about 12 Euros for a small book but quite informative. The book also shows a map of Parisian metro. I turn on my iPhone and read the address of a hostel that I already booked 2 days ago. The hostel’s name is Le Regent Hostel and the address looks so unfamiliar for me, so I have emailed the hostel to give me directions of how to go there from airport, and the replied email was only: Take metro to the Anvers Station. The hostel is just 200 meters from Anvers.
So when I see the Metro map attached with the pocket book, I shriek. The map is not even close to Singapore’s train map! This metro map is closer to a five years kid doodle drawing. There are about 15 different train lines with so many colors and station name. How will I ever find Anvers?
I wait for a shuttle to terminal 2 as it was what the internet told me, to always start the metro journey from terminal 2. So there I am, taking shuttle train to terminal 2.
When I arrive in terminal 2, I follow the crowd to what I figure is the metro station. There are cute blue machines that probably produce the coin or card for one time journey. But the most important thing is, whether I can or can’t find the Anvers station.
I look at the bigger metro map that is on the wall. I almost want to give up and take cab instead when I mumble, “Anvers… Anvers…” and a nice lady pointed her finger on the “Anvers” Station.
“Anvers!” she says it with an obvious French accent.
“Thank you!” I reply, “Merci!”
She smiles at me, “Want—buy—tickets?” She asks me using her body language and her broken English.
“Oui! Yes Yes!” I answer. “How do I do that?”
She grabs my right hand while my left hand holding to my luggage. She brings me to a ticket window and speaks French to the ticket vendor. The ticket vendor asks me, “Un jours? Trois jours?”
I just assume from the information written above the ticket windows that he’s talking about how many days pass, so I reply, “One day please. Oon Joors. Merci.”
The lady laughs a little listening of my poor spoken French. She corrects me, “Uh—n—zhoor”
I follow her, “Un jours.”
She claps her hands out of excitement. Then she shows a sad face to me, “I must go. You, enjoy Paris!”
“Merci! Merci!” I keep saying it as it is the only word I said perfectly.
“De rien.” She replies. “Au revoir!”
So then the first French lady I meet leaves a very good impression of Paris for me. I feel a little less lonely talking to a stranger without understanding her language at all.
“Nine Euros and thirty cents,” said the ticket vendors with French accent. “Passe Navigo, for all RER, metro, trams.”
I just nod and pay him with Ten Euros note and keep the change in my jeans’ pocket. I hear an announcement while I’m waiting for my train to Anvers. I try to understand the English version of the announcement but I don’t really catch the meaning. I glance to a middle aged man standing beside me, giving a question look on my eyes but he just shrugs.
I enter the train and read some information about Paris in my French Phrase book and figure out that the train I’m riding is the RER, a faster train than metro that has only five main lines with greater distance between stations than metro stations. However RER and metro are interconnected in some stations. Apparently I have to alight at Gare Du Nord in order to continue to metro.
Gare Du Nord station is so big; more of like a bus interchange or even an airport than just a metro train station. It has so many levels and I get lost within a minute. I approach a man in a uniform straightaway and ask him how to go to Anvers station.
“Une seule station,” then he points to a circled letter m sign with colored blue number two beside it. “One stop,” he continues with English when he realizes that I’m a tourist.
“Merci,” I reply.
It turns out to be very easy once I understand the whole metro concept. I just need to find what number my metro line is and follow the colored number. The Anvers station itself is just one station away from Gare Du Nord.
I take off from metro once it stops at Anvers. I follow the sortie sign, which means exit and take stairs up to the city road, Boulevard de Rochechouart.
I breathe in the air of Paris onto my lounge, wishing it could chase the cancer away with its magic, breathe in the freedom from my everyday routines, the liberating feeling from all the horrifying past I leave back in Singapore which I don’t want to ever going back. I glance around and see a busy morning of Paris. A young man riding a bicycle, a couple kissing on the curb beside the bus stop, a yellowish leaves falling from the tree of a month of July. A soft wind breezes through my long black hair. Oh what a wonderful feeling. For a second I believe my cancer is gone and I’m truly happy, just standing there, doing nothing but breathe. I am so ecstatic, can’t wait to see, hear, touch and smell Paris. I am on cloud nine, a kind of feeling I never thought existed in this life.
I stretch my luggage handle and stroll it with me across the road to the other side of Boulevard de Rochechouart. I take a left turn and see an electronic store named Jacquet with the lost “T” letter, follow by the hostels lining up along the road. I easily find Le Regent Hostel.
I step in and greet the pretty red haired girl chewing bubble gum, “Good morning! I believe I’ve made reservation.”
She acts cool and types something on the laptop in front of her. “You must be Miss Eloise,” she spoke English very well.
“Indeed I am,” I answer.
“You’ve paid for 1 week stay, let me know if you want to extend. Room number 203; take stairs up.” She handles me the key.
“Is that it?” I ask.
“Yes. Do you need anything?” She asks back.
She smiles without any reason and comments, “can’t stand being offline for so long?”
I chuckle, “just want to keep in touch with friends.”
She hands me a small piece of paper with the wi-fi password written on it. “The internet is a little slow. If you need fast internet and video chat, go to internet kiosk just beside this place.”
“Yeah I saw that. Thanks.” I reply.
“Anything else?” She becomes friendlier.
“Maybe later,” I smile at her and bring my luggage upstairs to the Room 203.
I scan the 3 times 3 meters room consisted of one double bed with a clean white sheet, thank god for that, a small wooden bed-side table with a storybook style lamp on it, an empty table attached to the wall and one wooden wardrobe. I will spend the next two weeks sleeping on it, not bad for 75 Euros a night. However I should find cheaper way to stay long term in Paris. But first thing first, I open my luggage and unpack some of my clothes to the wardrobe. I bring my toiletries to the shared bathroom just outside my rented room and take a shower.
When my iPhone finally connects to the internet, I receive so many notifications, but none of them from a real person. All the notifications are just probably promotion offers, scam emails, facebook games invitations or unnecessary whatsapp messages. Then I remember Ben, so I search his facebook from Shannon’s friend list.
I see a picture of him holding a very big beer glass. I probably won’t recognize him if I met him on the streets. He is definitely an unfamiliar face to me. Should I add his facebook?
I’m stunned for a while, just looking at his picture. Why all of sudden, I remembered him on the plane, of all everyone else? He was nobody. I never knew him personally. He was just a boy who gave me a chocolate medal when I was 12 years old. He probably didn’t even remember that.
Then I click the back button to Shannon’s facebook page. It has been so long since I talked to her. She doesn’t update her facebook often. I know that because I check her facebook regularly, to find out what is going on in her life. I know I’m pathetic.
I press the home button of my iPhone and open google map, trying to record the information I could gather on how to go to my next journey, while I’m connected to the internet.
I put on my worn out green jeans jacket and my canvass shoes, ready to explore. I swallow the three pills Dr. Boey gave me and realize that the pills will only last for like four more days. After that, I will be facing cancer defenseless.
I hush away the negative thoughts as soon as possible from my mind because I don’t want the cancer thing ruins my Parisian mood in the first day here. So I step down to first storey and see the red haired girl again.
“Going out?” She asks.
“Yes,” I reply. “Anyway, I’m Eloise,” offering my hand to her.
She shakes it warmly, “Bernadette.”
“Nice to meet you, Bernadette,” I say.
“Nice to meet you too, Eloise. Have a nice time in Paris.”
“I will.” I grin and wave a small goodbye gesture to her.
I quickly walk to Anvers station, took the metro towards Porte Dauphine, alight at Charles de Gaulle Etoile to transfer to metro line number 6 and finally arrive at Bir-Hakeim station. I get out from the station to Boulevard de Grenelle, just like I memorize from the google map, stroll along the road and take the right turn to Quai Branly.
There it is the great and the amazing Eiffel tower standing tall from afar. I march my steps faster and closer to the Eiffel tower, crossing the roads without even looking for the green man. The closer I get to the tower, the faster my heartbeat is, like a pirate finally have found the treasure.
I’m not so sure about the excitement I feel because it is all new for me. The pumping of my heart, the infinite grin of my mouth and the nauseated feeling in my stomach, all mixed up together creating this joyous fear like a complete paradox.
The words from my mom’s journal are flying in front of my eyes. Eiffel tower, midnight, the smell of the grass after the rain, lights, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, beauty, Seine River, the sparkle of Remy’s eyes… Remy’s eyes.
Then I stop running when I feel my shoe stepped on a grass. I’m standing there in front of the Eiffel tower, and suddenly everything that my mom wrote makes sense.P.S. Sorry it’s been a long time since Chapter three. I have been hooked up with novels that has setting in Paris, did some research about Paris as well. =)