Sunday, April 25, 2010


Much of my free time recently has been spent following the NFL draft. Being a Cowboys fan we didn't have much to look forward to this year, with a pretty late first round pick and couple picks in the later rounds, but we still managed to pick up a good wide receiver with plenty of attitude and off-field problems (including a current suspension from NCAA football) who should feel right at home in Dallas. This bit of "haven't I seen this before" got my reminiscing about life before moving to France, so I wanted to post a few of my favorite pics from the home country.

Somewhere near Forks, Washington looking out over the Pacific Ocean. The Washington coast is not very developed, and much of it is National Park, so you get a lot of trees, rocks, and driftwood, and not many people or buildings. Some spots, like this one, have some really cool rock formations and small islands just off the coast and right behind us is one of the only temperate rain forests in North America--The Hoh Rainforest--which averages about 14 feet of rain every year (400 centimeters).

Seattle is not right on the ocean, but rather on a large bay called Puget Sound, which is separated from the rest of the Pacific by the Olympic mountain range that juts out of the water to the West of Seattle and forms a peninsula about the size of Ireland. The forests out on this peninsula are pretty amazing. The abundant rainfall keeps the plant life very green and very thick, and the low population in comparison to the land area keeps them very tranquil. I usually consider myself a city person, but hiking thru these forests, I often wonder why.

The climate around Seattle is also ideal for growing tulips, and the skagit valley area north of Seattle exhibits this every April. Every spring we seemed to have more and more tulips in our yard in Seattle, and I don't remember ever planting one.

The abundant rainfall of the pacific northwest isn't limited to Washington state, Oregon gets a fair amount of the wet stuff too. The border between Oregon and Washington is mostly formed by the path of the Columbia river as it makes its way to the ocean, and along this gorge you can find some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world. Multnomah Falls above is one of the more popular ones.

The beaches of this part of the country are also pretty cool. The water is usually too cold for us humans to enjoy without proper mental and physical protection, but for some reason marine mammals love it. Seals and orca whales are probably the most common water mammals, but sea lions and otters are fairly common too. I'm pretty sure I got this picture on one of the San Juan islands.

California has a few cool things to look at too, and probably the most amazing site in the world is the incredible giganticness of the California Redwood trees. I have a giant dog, and that fallen tree makes him look like a chihuahua.

Washington has some big trees too.

Surfing is another thing I miss from living on the coast. I never did as much surfing as I would have liked to, but I got out a few times, and I often dream of warm water and big waves. The west coast of France has a pretty big surfing scene, so I will have to make a trip out toward Biarritz sometime this summer.

And of course, the thing I miss the most from living in Seattle is my dog Tosh :-(

For more random picks from mostly around the pacific northwest, click here.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Hey! Nice breasts!

Growing up I never gave much importance to learning other languages. I spent most of my youth in Texas and therefor had some passive exposure to Spanish and managed to pick up a bit here and there, but I never really put much effort into learning any languages. In fact, when required to study a foreign language in High School, I picked Latin precisely because nobody would ever really expect me to speak it.

Living with George for 14 years has resulted in nearly daily exposure to Cantonese, but to be honest it is usually limited to vocabulary related to food, me being a jerk, or my inability to keep the toilet clean. Visiting her family in Hong Kong I usually have to get thru slightly more complicated sentences related to how much I like Hong Kong, when I will move there, and when I will be having children.

I've been in France now for about a year and a half. When I moved here I could barely say hello in French, but now I think I can pretty much say anything I need to say. I still speak like a 3 year old, have a horrible accent, and rely on short games of charades to make up for my limited vocabulary, but I get by.

French grammar is not too bad, and Chinese (Cantonese) has probably the simplest grammar of any language on the planet, but both of these language are really hard to pronounce for my 'merican tongue. Sounds that I am just not used to making, or hearing, result in some words that are clearly different words for a native speaker sounding almost exactly the same to me. Usually the context of the complete sentence will make it clear what word was meant, but not always. One of the harder sounds in French for us English speakers is the French 'u', which is a sound somewhere between the vowel sound in "loop" and the vowel sound in "ewe", and when I first started studying French, I was watching an educational program teaching french adjectives of location which included the important examples below:

Le lait est au-dessus du pain dans le réfrigérateur.
(the milk is above the bread in the fridge)
Le pain est au-dessous du lait dans le réfrigérateur.
(the bread is below the milk in the fridge).

The only difference between these sentences is the ending vowel sounds in the french words for above (au-dessus) and below (au-dessous), and I must have rewinded and rewatched this video 25 times before realizing that I was simply never going to know if the milk was above or below the bread in the fridge, and that hopefully my life never depends on me solving any French riddles regarding the relative locations of objects.

I haven't yet come across any situations in French where I have made a complete idiot of myself by mispronouncing something, although I have certainly had cases where I was more benignly misunderstood. I've honestly been a bit disappointed by this, as I am always reminded of American movies where the hero's basic knowledge of a foreign language leads to all kinds of hilarious misunderstandings. Like John Candy's character in Splash when he and Tom Hanks are pretending to be Swedish scientists so they can sneak in and rescue Darryl Hannah. As only Hollywood luck would have it, one of the guards is half Swedish and he questions our heroes in Swedish asking what they are doing there, to which John Candy mistakenly replies "Hey babe, I got a 12 inch penis".

I have absolutely no knowledge of the Swedish language, but I have to imagine one would need to speak the language quite well to respond in such a way, and that it would be difficult to mistakenly refer to your genitals when trying to say something more appropriate like "We are here to see the mermaid".

But maybe not. In my infrequent and not very efficient efforts to improve my spoken Cantonese, I will point to random objects around the house and ask George to tell me how to say it. Last night I randomly pointed to George's breasts, and she responded hung bo (胸部), which to me sounded exactly the same as a word I already knew--horrible (hung bo 恐怖)--with the only difference in pronunciation being the tone at which one pronounces the word. To make this even worse, the word for "very" in Cantonese is the same as the word for "good", and so to my ears that cannot hear all the different tones in a language like Cantonese, the phrase "very horrible" (好恐怖) has pretty much the same pronunciation as the sentence "nice breasts" (好胸部).

I can totally see myself walking down the street in Hong Kong, and some women comes running around a corner covered in blood or something screaming about a terrible accident, and in my efforts to say something supportive like "oh, how horrible" I might just inappropriately compliment her on her woman parts.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Happy Easter

France is a predominantly catholic country, and Lyon a predominantly catholic city, so we celebrated this Easter the traditional way:

bmx bikes


freestyle bikes



De La Soul

The 7th annual L'Original Festival of Lyon was this weekend, a 4 day celebration of skateboarding, biking, graffiting, breakdancing, and hip-hoping, culminating today with a free show in the plaza in front of the mayor's office featuring a Lyon-based breakdance crew, The Pockemon Crew, and one of the best hip hop bands ever, De La Soul.

Happy Easter everyone! I leave you with a video of De La's most popular song (which totally makes me feel old :-( )