Wednesday, February 09, 2011


In the late 70s to early 80s we were assigned to Brussels, Belgium. That is where I started my elementary schooling. The official medium of instruction was French. But we arrived from an English speaking nation (New Delhi, India) so my sister and I had a difficult time not only speaking but learning our lessons in French. My parents hired a tutor who taught us conversational as well as the written form of the language.

Eventually, we were able to adjust and being the nerdy studious students, we even topped our class in several subjects. I'd like to mention, we were among the very few Asian students in that school. The other Asian nationalities were mostly Japanese kids. There was also a diverse group of Africans, Moroccans, Irish and naturally Belgians in the student population of that Catholic school.

So here I was a nerdy Asian trying desperately to assimilate within this diverse group of individuals. It was culturally shocking to say the least. But those years were the happiest days of my life. I loved going to class because the subjects were very interesting. One winter, we even had a "class de neige" (snow class) which meant that we got to spend two weeks in a little cozy town in the Swiss Alps. Our classes were conducted in large wooden chalets. Our PE class consisted of skiing activities. We also interacted with students from other schools. It was such an enriching experience.

But good things never last. In 1982, we had to pack up and head back to home base. That would be Manila Philippines. I was a total misfit once again. I didn't speak a single word of Tagalog. All I knew were English (with an Indian accent, mind you) and of course French. We were enrolled in a high school in San Juan. But since I was a transferee I had to take up grade 7. My dear parents once again hired us a tutor. I really hated my Philipino class with so much desperation. In fact I really hated my high school days because truly Pinoys can be really mean to 'misfits'! To this day, I still have a difficult time conjugating some Tagalog words. And when the word is very long, I tend to stutter my pronunciation. Pathetic, I know!

My sister and I would still use French occasionally. That is when we don't want any one to understand us. After high school and university studies were done, we were assigned to Singapore and Dubai consecutively. By that time, I had already forgotten some French words. In Dubai, I developed a special friendship with an Egyptian guy who spoke French fluently. So I was given the chance to practice my French, hesitantly. Although most of my phrases were punctuated by 'hmmmm' and 'ahhh' It was mostly conversational French so I've totally forgotten how to write in French, unfortunately.

These days, I turn to YouTube to listen to some French songs. I also rely heavily on the translation websites when I am at a lost about certain words. I also try to watch during the numerous film festivals which feature French movies. Thankfully, I can still comprehend some words and if not there is always the English subtitles to guide me. I do need to emphasize that the French language is spoken differently in Francophile nations. But I won't get into the technical aspects of this beautiful language.

Instead I would end this blog entry by posting one of my favorite songs. It is sang by Claude Francois who was a legendary singer in France. He became famous in the era of the disco so his songs were mostly bouncy dance tunes. But he also had ballads and love songs in his wide repertoire.

This is one of his popular songs entitled "Alexandrie, Alexandra". I know those dance steps now seem funny. But back then, they were quite the rage. I watched those shows all the time so I think my limited dance moves were heavily influenced by those aerobic style steps. :D

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