When Sun and Wind Collide

My fourth and final day in Copenhagen began with much-needed sunshine, although the weather was deceptively beautiful: the blue skies failed to hint at the ridiculous gusts of wind that numbed you to the bone. Nonetheless, C and I embarked on a 2.5 hour free walking tour, which covered the highlights of the city—City Hall, Christiansborg Palace, Nynhavn harbor, the Royal Opera, and the Royal Palace of Amalienborg. We also learned some fascinating history, which I’m going to quickly bullet-point below:

  • Copenhagen has a very unfortunate relationship with fire and burning down (buildings with 90-degree corners survived the main fires, while buildings with rounded corners were built afterwards because it was easier for firemen and their hoses)
  • Women have a higher median income than men
  • Denmark was the first country in the world to legalize gay marriage
  • The Danish pay high taxes but healthcare is free, as well as the dentist until you’re 18
  • The government pays students 5500 kroner a month to go to university
  • People leave their bikes unlocked on the streets and babies in strollers outside restaurants
  • During WWII, the Danish saved 98% of their Jewish population and smuggled a majority of them into Sweden. After the war, when the Jews returned, they found that their neighbors had maintained their houses and fed their pets. (Okay, I won’t lie, I cried during that story.)

Basically, Denmark is an incredibly socialist country, and America needs to follow its example.

After all that walking, C and I briefly popped into Frederik’s Church before lunch. We ended up sitting in Constellation Burger for two hours, defrosting, talking, and demolishing the sushi buffet.

By that point, we decided we needed to walk that food off, so we headed to Christianborg Tower for a less foggy, though much windier, view.

Since admission is free on Tuesdays, we trekked over to the Glyptoteket Museum, which, in addition to all its art, featured a neat winter garden at its center.

Finally, we walked to Papirøen, otherwise known as Copenhagen Street Food, a very hygge (Danish word that sort of translates into cozy) indoor market full of the most incredible food choices. It was quite unfortunate that C and I were still stuffed from the sushi buffet, because everything looked and smelled so good. In the end, we split a small Danish hot dog, which put all American hot dogs to shame.

On our way off of the island, we passed a cute project, a wishing tree garden, which was a heartwarming way to end our time in Denmark.

Wind, Rain, and Broken Umbrellas

My third day in Copenhagen began with a kick of nostalgia. Thinking it was the Botanical Museum, I wandered into the Faculty of Social Sciences Library and couldn’t resist taking a peek around—but being in the university library made me realize how much I miss R-MC (well, okay, not the school specifically, but my friends, professors, essays, and French classes).

Next, I gave myself a much-needed dose of nature by exploring the Botanical Garden, which must be absolutely gorgeous during the springtime. The same could be said for the expansive Rosenborg Castle grounds, although by that point, I was so cold that I started exploring supermarkets. (Hey, don’t judge. Grocery stores are fascinating ways of learning about cities. For example, my stomach is telling me to leave France and move to Denmark because their tiny supermarkets have more variety than Laon’s massive Carrefour—coconut oil, peanut butter, and real ethnic spices.)

Supermarket stint over, I drifted into The Organic Boho, a tiny vegan restaurant, to meet C and consume the most incredible falafel salad of my life. We then failed to make it to the walking tour on time, so we headed over to Christianhavn ourselves to get a look at the free town of Christiania. The place is essentially a graffiti-strewn hippie commune with a green light district, where photos were forbidden and the smell of weed abounded. C and I also encountered a curtain of very, very sketchy green smoke emanating from a building—we have no idea what it was, but hopefully it was harmless?

After that bizarre experience, we made our way to the vibrant, famous Nynhavn harbor, getting pelted by rain and wind along the way. We moseyed through the streets for a bit, and by then, our umbrellas had become shields against the wind instead of the rain…which is probably why mine broke. Seeking some shelter from the rain, we climbed the Round Tower–which had the strangest architecture, a spiraling ramp instead of stairs–to stand on Point Zero of Denmark and see Copenhagen by night.

Finally, we ate delicious Indian food at the Shahi Indisk Restaurant, and now I’m in my Airbnb with a holey sock and a broken umbrella–what else will the gorgeous Copenhagen take from me?

 

 

Copenhagen

Day 1:

Uneventful. My flight was delayed for an hour, and then the bus screens weren’t functioning, so I accidentally got off a stop too soon. Next, Google Maps led me astray and I floundered through the streets in utter confusion for an hour and a half. But hey, at least I got to experience Copenhagen by night, even if I swore I’d never use the Danish bus system again.

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Day 2:

Clearly, the logical thing to do was walk an hour to the city center even though my feet were killing me. My eyes were quite happy with the the colorful architecture, but the rest of my face and my hands? Not so much. Lunch seemed to be a good excuse for getting out of the cold, so I dipped into California Kitchen, which had a nice aesthetic and the friendliest staff.

After munching on delicious ethnic food that France so hopelessly lacks, I saw my first canal of Denmark, and then sauntered though Ørstedparken. (In case you were wondering just how cold it is here, the park’s lake was frozen over.) I finally made it to City Hall Square, where, as my Airbnb host suggested, I found the Hans Christian Andersen statue. Since I’m poor, I opted to snap a quick picture of the Tivoli Gardens rather than go in (my life pretty much flashed before my eyes when I withdrew a frighteningly large amount of kroners from an airport ATM).

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I ambled through the tourist-filled shopping street before getting to see more colorful canals on my way to Christiansborg Palace.

Outside the palace, some kind of event was happening—and though I cannot understand a single word of Danish, I did appreciate the three gay flags. Standing there attempting to learn Danish through osmosis proved futile, so I took the free trip up to the palace tower for a sprawling view of Copenhagen.

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Since the wind had essentially turned me into a popsicle, defrosting in the National Museum of Denmark sounded like a good idea. Entry was cheap, and the museum was massive, though I wish I’d had more time for the Danish history exhibits.

By closing time, my feet hurt so much that I promptly rescinded my promise to never use the Danish bus system again. I can’t tell you how many miles I walked today, but I can tell you that I walked so much, I wore a hole into one of my poor socks.

Ambling Through Amsterdam, Day 4

Although the day was gray and cloudy, I ventured out into the cold and sauntered through the picturesque streets, searching for a souvenir for a friend. (No, Iszi, no matter how hard you insist, I will not buy Joseph a butt plug. Even if you’re letting me crash at your house when I fly to Dulles in May. Our marriage has limits.)

I made the mistake of walking into Primark empty-handed and walking out with two shirts, though in my defense, I under-packed for my time in France and need more clothes. M and I then met up and headed to the public library, and I’ve officially decided that I want to live there. Seriously, the place has seven floors, English and French books, a restaurant, and a view.

After lunch, we set off in search of pancakes, because being in Amsterdam calls for experiencing Dutch pancakes. Thanks to TripAdvisor, we found a little hole-in-the wall shop called The Happy Pig, and oh my god. That pancake batter. All other pancakes have officially been ruined for me.

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We hadn’t been expecting quite so much pancake, so M and I decided to walk off that early dinner by strolling through the city again. I’m pretty sure that, even though I got back to my hostel an hour-and-a-half ago, my poor feet are ready to revolt and run off to find a new, less abusive owner.

Amsterdam, Day 3

One of the benefits of this program–besides the whole living in France part–is getting to meet other assistants. M and I grabbed breakfast and then started a free walking tour at 10:30, with a group of varied tourists and a great guide.

He took us through the Red Light District, which was…uncomfortable, to say the least. (My phone tried making me walk through there last night to get to my hostel. Um, no thanks, I’ll pass.) And then, because I have a terrible memory, I don’t remember where else he took us. I do recall a hidden church, the Dutch East India Company/white people ruining everything, the Amsterdam University (where M and I horrified Marius the guide by telling him about outrageous American tuition fees), and a café that made me laugh because it was named Quartier Putain.

Two hours later, we ended up back where we started, at Dam Square. M and I immediately embarked on a mission for lunch at Omelegg. Afterwards, we winged it and decided to flâner the city, absorbing its beauty and coughing madly whenever we got whiffs of pot. Highlights of our meandering included Marks & Spencer, where M introduced me to some oddly delicious gummies; Waterstones, where we had to tell ourselves we weren’t allowed to buy any books; and the Anne Frank House, where we snapped a picture of the building but decided the line wasn’t worth it.

To rest our sad feet, we treated ourselves at a cute café (shoutout to the stranger who dropped ten euros on the ground, which M used to pay for our tea and banana bread), and ended the day properly with delicious Thai food.

Amsterdam, Day 2

Normally, I prefer to walk through new cities so that I can drink in my surroundings, but since I’d agreed to meet N at 10, I would’ve showed up late had I gone on foot. Instead, I hopped onto the tram, and luckily didn’t have to pay for a ticket since the machine was out of order. (Hey, even saving 2.90€ is a huge help when you drop a hefty 38.50€ on two museum tickets. Yes, two. Amsterdam, sadly, isn’t a fan of student discounts.)

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We spent at least two hours in the Van Gogh Museum, because that man isn’t famous for nothing. If I could paint, I’d probably be running around copying his and Impressionists’ styles. Next, we spent another two hours in the Rijksmuseum–yes, I know it’s an art museum, but it’s a bit overwhelming because there’s so much artwork in there, I didn’t know where to look. (I also ran into F, a fellow Picardie assistant, there—small world.)

Eyes satisfied but stomachs starving, we grabbed delicious burgers from The Butcher. (Thank you, Amsterdam, for knowing how to spice your food, unlike France. Seriously, my chickpea patty contained more spices than I’ve ingested during my entire time in France.) Outside the restaurant, the street market on Albert Cuyp saved my life. Although I’ll never use it outside of Europe, I now have a USB wall plug for my phone and portable battery.

N and I parted ways at the Heineken Experience, and I wandered the city instead, drinking in the gorgeous canals and architecture. A stroke of genius hit me, and thanks to Google Maps, I found my way to the bench featured in The Fault in Our Stars film. Who knew sitting on a bench could be such an awesome experience?

Dinner consisted of fancy Ramen at a museum restaurant, where the waiter looked deeply confused/judgmental when we walked in. Look, give us some credit, I promise we can afford your food. The day ended in me telling myself not to buy any peanut butter from the supermarket, because thanks to white people paranoia of terrorism, I wouldn’t have been able to get it through airport security. Sorry, peanut butter, you’ll have to wait until I get back to the US in May.

Meeting People and Failing Adulthood

My first day in Amsterdam could also be described as…an adventure. It started off with me panicking because my seatmate from Paris to Amsterdam was a random man, and let’s just say that I have severe trust issues with men. (Look, I’m small, Asian, and a woman. Not exactly the best combination.) Luckily, he turned out to be a friendly American from Philadelphia who’s cavorting across Europe for vacation—but he’s 26, and a real adult with a real job, unlike me. Talking to him was a lot better than suffering through an otherwise long, boring, 3.5-hour train ride, and he thought that I was actually 22…that’s a first. He taught me a self-defense move (which I failed miserably because I am not an aggressive person), got salty about white people with me, and shared a piece of chocolate and half a caramel, although the real gem was when he said, “Honestly, if you think about it, men are useless.” (I…do not remember his name. Sorry, guy, but know that I appreciated you.)

Once we reached Amsterdam, he called me sweet, which I guess I’ll accept, and then he saved me from the struggle of having to tug my suitcase down from the overhead shelf. We went our separate ways at the train station, and after I checked in at my hostel, I had my finest moment in Europe: walking straight into a glass door. Luckily, no one witnessed my human failure, but in my defense, the door doesn’t really look like a door. Look at it. Doesn’t the conniving little thing look like it wants to trick unsuspecting humans?

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The other three girls in my room are incredibly friendly Malaysians, and after meeting them, I wandered off to the Museum District to meet a fellow assistant, N. We satiated our ethnic food cravings at a Thai restaurant, and then meandered through the city at night, wondering why everything was closed at 7pm. The heteronormative mass marketing of Valentine’s Day, perhaps? Right, speaking of Valentine’s Day, N and I received one hell of an Amsterdam welcome: we were waiting for the light to turn green at a crosswalk, and we unfortunately had a perfect view of a second-story room, where the inhabitants had failed to close the blinds and we were stuck bearing witness to a guy’s naked butt and a couple having sex.

Anyways, I walked about 40 minutes back to my hostel, and strangely, I felt perfectly fine being outside on my own at night. Normally, I get a bit paranoid walking in the dark, but something about Amsterdam made me feel safe (no, it’s not the pot). Is this what it’s like to be a man?

Once I’d taken the ferry to the other side of the river, I ran into a girl who told me that the gate to the hostel was closed, so we had to walk in a circle to find another bridge. We started chatting, and it turns out she’s from the north of France and doing the French equivalent of TAPIF, in a small town outside of Leeds. Funnily enough, she’s traveling solo too because she wanted to get out of her tiny town—small world. Unfortunately, I didn’t get her name, but she loved my American accent—in English and in French—which I found hilariously endearing.

The reason I say I failed adulthood is not only because I walked smack into a door, but also because I somehow managed to leave my iPhone plug in Laon. Luckily, the hostel loaned me one in exchange for my passport, but this is why I shouldn’t be allowed to adult.

Hang On to the Night

After L and I had a near-fiasco with the train at way-too-early AM, we wandered through the feeble snowfall in Paris and into the warmth of a café. The waiter kept shooting us dirty looks, so we eventually returned to Gare du Nord to wait for two more assistants, J and A. (While we were waiting, I unexpectedly spotted Ag. Small world.)

We had a much better café experience, with a waitress who was beyond relieved that we spoke French and weren’t drunk Scotsmen. Around 12:15, the four of us went our separate ways; I walked over to Hotel Luxia to drop off my backpack and meet Ae, the first of 7 more wonderful queer assistants I’d get to know that afternoon.

Before Ae and I went off in search of food, we had to leave the keys with the dude at the front desk, who seemed very confused when we told him that no boys, only girls, would be joining us. (Pfft, if only he knew.) C joined us at the restaurant, and the three of us wandered into a few shops on our way back to the hotel. There, amongst snacks, drinks, and good cheer, we met the rest of the assistants as they trickled in—M, G, Sa, O, Se, and Sr (same name as me, but different spelling!)—who’d all gathered together in a hotel room at the base of the Sacré-Cœur for a very important purpose: attending a Tegan and Sara concert (and meeting other gay assistants…and sharing salt about men and straight people).

Doors to the Elysée-Montmartre opened at 6:30, and the line was a hella lot longer than we expected (so that’s where all the queer French people have been hiding), but we still ended up a decent distance from the stage. Ria Mae opened at 7:30, and then there may or may not have been tears involved from some assistants when Tegan and Sara finally appeared on stage at 8:40.

After an incredible concert, there’s nothing like sharing “how/when you realized you were gay” stories at 11pm in the middle of a pizza restaurant. Just being able to hang out and talk to other queer girls was one of the most incredible bonding experiences of my life. My closest R-MC friends were basically all gay, and leaving them for a small northern French town in the middle of nowhere has taught me that being around straight people (okay, ngl, and racist white people) 24/7 gets exhausting.

Somehow, within the span of six hours, we managed to offend the hotel receptionist and the pizza shop owner—maybe they sensed that we were a threat to their male privilege and heteronormativity. Who knows? Sadly, we eventually had to hug each other goodbye, though hopefully this experience has given us a night to hang on to.

Quick Winter Break #2 Update

Yes, I have another 2 weeks of paid vacation. No, I’m definitely not procrastinating on packing. After a concert in Paris, I’m officially venturing into the dark unknown, AKA leaving France. I’ll be traveling solo, but hopefully I’ll be able to meet up with other assistants in each city.

Paris: 11-12 (where I’ll get to see Tegan and Sara, a fact that made Nat promptly drop her phone into mashed potatoes when she found out)

Amsterdam: 14-18 (where I’ll spend the entire time giggling over a story from one of my R-MC professors)

Copenhagen: 18-22 (where I failed to realize that Denmark doesn’t use the euro until after I’d booked my flight ticket and Airbnb)

Unrelated to winter break, but the teaching highlight of the week: Tuesday, only one student had a speech to present, so they asked if they could play Hangman in English. I handed over dry erase markers, and their Hangman game turned into an artistic masterpiece.

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What Happens in Class, Doesn’t Stay in Class VIII

  • K had me read aloud English climate change vocabulary so that students could give me the French equivalent, and then she asked if I could do the reverse. I took one look at the list and went, “I’d die in a natural disaster.” (Lit classes don’t really teach you how to say “tornado” or “forest fire.” The only reason I know the French for “hurricane” is thanks to the French Mulan.)
  • While doing black stories with Mg’s class, I was trying to get them to guess “the hiccups,” so I said, “It’s something that happens to everyone.” One kid raised his hand and proceeded to ask, “Is she a call girl?”
  • I spent an entire hour literally twiddling my thumbs because At’s students were taking a practice reading comprehension exam. J gave me a copy of the test, and I decided to see how quickly I could finish it— 10 minutes, which was a poor life decision, because I had to go back to my thumb-twiddling. Clearly, we assistants are being put to good use.
  • One of Mc’s students asked, “Are we doing the synthèse today?” and Mc confirmed that they were presenting it to me. The kid then muttered, “Merde” while face-palming.
    • Another student asked me, “Do you ever have a crush,” leading me to be deeply concerned until Mc clarified, “Have you ever had a car crash?”
    • The same kid asked me if I had a favorite car, to which I replied no. He muttered something I didn’t hear, and Mc translated, “He said women don’t know anything about cars,” and for a moment I wondered if the teaching program has ever had to penalize an assistant for stomping on a sexist’s foot.
  • The contract, the administration, and the teachers: “It’s illegal for an assistant to be alone with an entire class.”
    • N: “Hey, Tess is sick. Do you mind taking the class tomorrow?”
    • Me: “Yeah, sure!”
    • But substitute teachers don’t exist in France, so his students saw that he was absent and only 8 of them showed up. I gave them a fun New York-related quiz, and one of them saw Toby Maguire in The Great Gatsby and exclaimed, “Spider-Man!”
  • Probably my favorite line from the hundreds of oral presentations I’ve had to listen to was, “He died in a ditch. Poor guy.”
  • S asked her class, “Who is the Vice President of the United States?” and a kid replied, “Barack Obama.” Sweetie, I wish.
  • One of J’s students walked into the classroom, saw me, excitedly said “Hello!” and then walked past me saying, “I’m love this.”
    • The first ten minutes, I ran back and forth between students when they raised their hands to ask, “How do you say __ in English?” (I failed with emprise and dénonciatrice, and when a kid asked how long segregation has lasted in the US.)
    • I don’t know who was more horrified when J announced to her class, “One-fourth of your grade will come from Sarena”—me or them.
  • R gave me half her class for 30 minutes, and when I told the kids that I was supposed to bring them back and exchange them for the rest of their classmates, one boy screamed, “Oh no, not Madame G!” I’m not sure how to feel about the fact that they appreciate me more than the teacher.