Saturday, August 10, 2019

Grandmas and blablacar

"I really miss great-grandma, why doesn't she come to our place anymore?" My daughter asked.
I sighed. My husband's grandma used to come visit us once a year, and stayed for a week during summer. I have asked her many times when does she want to come to our place. She refused, as her health was deteriorating, she felt weak to move around. Beside, her sister who lives beside her just lost her husband, so she didn't want to leave her sister alone. There was also a problem of her sister's cat. When her sister was not around, she has to take care of the cat. Once they put the cat with someone else as both of them had to be away, the cat refused to eat so they had to hurry back.

We met over Easter, she was in good health, and she agreed to come to visit us during summer.

One day, I woke up with an idea. We were going to a gathering with friends just 30 minutes from her house. We could go pick her up and bring her with us home. She can join us for the school year end performance, plus my daughter was celebrating her birthday that weekend. 

With that idea in mind, I called her, she was delighted to announce :" I can come to your place now, the cat is dead. If its ok, I would like to bring my sister along, so that she can go to her daughter's place. She hasn't been out often and I'm worried about her." We can only fit 5 people in our car, so I contacted a friend who was going to the gathering, and she has one spot left in her car to bring my grandma's sister.

Then I have to arrange a return trip. They don't want to take train as it becomes too stressful to change train and bring their luggages around. I checked the bus schedule, it was going to take 11 hours as there was no direct bus to their town. The journey by car would only take 3 hours. I then thought of blablacar, a website which proposes carpooling services. Nobody was proposing the trip from my town to their town, but I found one from town R to their town, and the person was willing to send them directly back to their house.

With the logistic arranged, grandma's sister finally accepted to come along. Unfortunately, the carpooling person cancelled the trip as she made a mistake on the date. I told them to come anyway and we will find a solution for their return trip. I kept checking the blablacar anouncement and sometimes trips just came out last minute.

We went for the gathering during the weekend in a camp site. After checking out, I went to pick up the grandmas. Luckily my GPS worked. They were both ready. My grandma was in a traveling mode, but I can sense that her sister was anxious. My GPS died on me, but grandma knew the way back to the forest. We got lost somewhere due to some constructions, but we managed to find the camp site.

Then it came a challenge. Grandma's sister was not comfortable to sit in someone's car as she didn't know my friend and  her family. I had talked with grandma, I was going to ask one of the girls to go over so that both grandmas can ride in our car. The girls have known my friend's kids since very young, I figured one of them would be willing to ride with their friends. I was wrong, they both refused at that moment, even though they had both agreed during the weekend. We were all waiting on who would get into my friends' car. We sweet talked to our girls, they once again firmly refused and I can feel that they were hurt seeing me trying to send them away. I wanted to go over but my husband needed me to be his co-pilot. Grandma had been volunteering to ride with my friend, and at the end, we let her go because there was no other solution. She had travelled with my friends to Malaysia and she was a chatty box compared to her sister, so everything went well. Grandma sister was comfortable with us and at one point, my daugther was sleeping in her arm.

Everyone arrived in S town where my friends live, and grandma's sister's daughter arrived just in time to pick up her mother. They were to spend a week together, then grandma's sister would come to my place in order to take the return trip back with grandma. We then continued our journey back to our place.

We had a wonderful week with grandma. She went with hubby on Wednesday to see how he handled the day with all the activities going on. On Thursday she went with me to be a volunteer for my daughter's school sportday. On Saturday she witnessed the school year end performance, where both girls danced on stage. On Sunday we celebrated my daughter's birthday. Grandma's sister arrived in the evening and they were going back on Monday morning.

Grandma joining us for the school's sport's day

Making a cake with the girls to give to the school. The school then sells the cake to raise fund.


The school year-end performance

The school year-end performance

Hubby reading his father's day card before heading out to the treasure hunt activites he prepared for his daughter's birthday

During the week I kept checking blablacar to find a trip to send them home. I found some who proposed the trip but they refused to send them all the way back home. They only wanted to drop them somewhere on their way. Grandma said she had someone willing to come pick them up, or they could take a bus, or a taxi. Luckily, I found a trip that seemed perfect to me : pick up point 10 minutes from my house and the driver agreed to send both of them back to their house.

The day came, I was sad to see them leave. I sent them to the pick up point, the driver was late as they got stuck in the traffic jams downtown. 30 minutes later, a couple in their 50s arrived in the parking lot. They assured me that they would send my grandmas home. 

I went to work. In the afternoon I received messages from grandma, saying the couple were very nice, they chatted a lot, they had lunch in a rest area. Around three hours later, I received a message from the driver with a photo : they were having coffee in grandma's sister's house! Overall it was a great experience. Both grandmas were happy with the trip, but I admitted I was quite worried after they had gone. I won't dare to do this in Malaysia, but I feel that overall people are more trustworthy in France.




Monday, August 05, 2019

Being illegal alien for 8 days

My resident card was expired and I only got the new one 8 days after. I was not sure if I was legally staying in France, since the Prefecture didn't give me a temporarily one. I only had a letter with me stating that I could pick up my new card on which day. Luckily I didn't plan to leave the country so life just went on as usual. I only got a notice from my HR asking me to send them the new card as soon as I have it.

The whole renewal process has changed since last time. We had to take an appointment online, directly with the Prefecture (not my local Town Hall anymore). I couldn't find information regarding how many month in advance I need to start the renewal process, so I played it safe. Went to the website in December 2018, 7 months before my card expired, and got myself an appointment in March 2019. It was a smart move, as in May I went to the website to check again, the earliest appointment I could get was in October. It would be a big problem if I got an appointment after the card expired.

I was choosing which category I could apply, and I tumbled into an EU permanent resident status, where you no longer need to renew your card. It was permanent, forever. I photocopied all the documents : income taxes, payslips, proved of residency, a statement saying that I would follow the values practice in France...All these were useless. The officer only took the prove of my address (an electricity bill) and my photos. She told me I came in too early, since my card was still valid she didn't need to give me a temporarily one. And, she told me I can only apply the one category : marrying a French. I have to renew it every 10 years. She said she would send me a letter in April telling me when I can come to pick up my card.

I left the Prefecture with a very sad feeling. The whole atmosphere made me felt like a second class citizen, like I was begging them to let me stay. In fact they didn't do anything to me, but an officer was yelling to people in waiting room. There were lots of foreigners, begging to get an appointment because they didn't know how to do it on internet, some didn't come with the right documents, or the original documents... they were anxious, they were hopeless...

April came, I didn't get any letter from the Prefecture. I started to get worry, because how if they didn't take into account my renewal application. I have no proof that I was there. I sent the Prefecture an email, but no reply. Luckily, in early May, the letter finally arrived. I was to collect my new card 8 days after my current expired, even though I started the renewal process 4 months in advance.

Came the day to collect my card, I arrived in the Prefecture, and saw a line queuing from the building outside. Since I have an appointment, an officer let me in directly. But people in line, they mainly came to ask questions. Like, their cards expired in two months, and the earlist appointment online they could get were in 5 months. And they needed to leave the country. A very messed up situation if you asked me. I so didn't want to be in their shoes. I was observing people around me when waiting for my name to be called. This time the atmosphere was a lot better. The officer who was yelling last time stayed calm this time. She was very polite and  helpful. Someone didn't pay the duty fee, she said ok and allowed him to come next time. Ok, I paid 269€ for this renewal, I wonder if that person was waiting for his salary to arrive before he could afford to pay the fees. 

It was a no hassle process for me. Book an appointment online, pay the fees online, come one time for the renewal process, another time to pick up the card. The appointment times were pretty much respected. However, for people who are not family with computer and internet, who have complicated situations and need to ask questions, it could be a very stressful situations. Long queues every time at the information counter, and they are not always courteous.





Sunday, July 28, 2019

VAT tax refund drama

"I wouldn't have bought the phones if you didn't promise a VAT tax refund!" I heard my niece speaking over the phone, with a shop she just bought the I-Phone from in UK.

My family came visit me early July, after attending my niece's graduation ceremony in UK. It took them some times to walk out of Nantes Airport, as they were looking or VAT tax refund counter/machine, as they didn't manage to get any tax refund when they left UK. An non EU visiter can claim a value added tax refund when he or she purchases over a certain amount of items when he or she leaves the EU country. In France, the VAT is at 20%, and one can get back around 12% after deducting the administration fees.

The drama started when they bought three I-Phone in a shop in UK. Not only the shop proposed to trade in their current phone, they also promised a tax refund. Apparently after taking into account all these incentives, the price was a lot cheaper than buying in Malaysia, so three of the group bought one. The did it the last day in England before heading to France.

When they were taking their flight in UK to France, they were told that since they had not left European Union (EU), they couldn't claim the tax refund. Beside, all tax refunds required a Retail Export Form ("bordereau de détaxe"), which the I-Phone shop didn't provide. As soon as they arrived in my place, my niece called the shop to ask for the form, only to be told that they needed to go to the shop as a passport is needed in order to process the form. Both nieces were in the room dealing with the shop, calling the support numbers, emailing...

They bought other items in UK too, so I assured them I would help them through the process since I was going with some of them to Switzerland. Switzerland is not in EU, and there was a tax refund machine in Nantes Airport, so I figured we could do the tax refund inside Nantes Airport. They believed me, and happily did more shopping in Nantes.

Except that I was wrong. 

The day we were flying to Geneva from Nantes, we went to the information counter and were told to use the tax refund machine in the reserved areas. We passed through the security control to arrive at the reserved areas, we were told the machine was just after the passport control. We headed towards the passport control, the officers told us it was not possible to use the machine without giving any explanation. And then I found out that our gate was before the passport control, I guessed even though Geneva is not in EU but it was still considered a domestic flight. I checked with a very nice airport security control officer, she told me to go back to the information counter then come back again.

"You may be able to do your tax refund in Geneva Aiport, or go to the Embassy of France in Geneva." The information counter officer told me. Ok I didn't know Embassy of France handles tax refund. We went through the security again, I walked to passport control, hoping that they would just let me use the machine. But all I got, was yelling and yelling from them as if I had committed a crime. I felt very sorry for my family as there was nothing I could do but to wait & see when we arrived in Geneva. 

It was almost mid-night when we arrived in Geneva. The information counter was closed. We went back there the second morning to pick up our rental car, and I finally managed to ask someone about the tax refund. She assured me that my family could do the tax refund the day they head back to Malaysia. The trick was they needed to go to the French side, get a stamp from the French custom, then come back in to the Switzerland side to do the tax refund. It sounded complicated for me.


After more shopping in Switzerland (where I discovered their VAT is only 7.7% vs 20% in France), it came finally the day when they needed to head back home. I got confirmation from the Global Blue counter about the process, then brought my family to the French side. They went inside, found the French custom, and via Whatsapp told me the French was not friendly, and was just being there without wanting to help. I probably didn't explain well, they thought they could get the tax refund there and were disappointed when the French custom just said no. However they managed to get a manual stamp on items purchased in UK, and electronic stamp on items purcharsed in France.

After they went through the security control in the Switzerland side, they finally told me they got the tax refund! Since they asked for cash, they got charged again some fees, so they didn't get the 12% as expected for the purchases made in France. Beside, in the note displayed in the French counter (photo above), it stated that if you got a manual stamp you need to mail it, but actually they got the cash refund right away with the counter.

So much drama and it sure had reduced their desire to do shopping during their trips here.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Durian and love

My mom knows I love durian, so she bought some and freeze them during the durian season. 

Now, in between meals, she would de freeze some and invite us to eat. My husband loves it too. I felt so loved.


From France to Malaysia

I was preparing gifts to bring back to Malaysia, and I went for the classic one.

My family loves ciders, especially those from Brittany. Added in some wines and champagnes. It would be so much easier if we can hand carry them. 

Butter cookies, candies, foie gras and sesame sticks

Fresh walnuts, saucissons and chorizo

Different type of chocolates. The seller told us that these will melt at 30°C, so we handed carried them in the planes.

Different type of cheese including 9 packs (16 pieces) + 1 family pack (32 pieces) raclette cheese.

Some Longchamp bags

Everything arrived safely in good conditions. I thought I was pushing too far, buying too much stuffs but at the end, they all fit in the suitcases without exceeding the weight limit.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Convinced by Jackie Cheung

I started listening to Jackie Cheung's songs in the 80s when Hong Kong pop songs were dominating the Chinese community. He was not my favorite, but he was famous enough to make people know him.

I had less opportunity listening to his new songs after I left Malaysia. When I saw friends posted news about his latest concert in Paris, I decided to go. He was called god of the songs, I knew he would give us the best performance. Beside, going to Paris with friends is always a nice getaway from the routine life.

There I went, on the 28th of November. My friend took care of the bookings, she almost missed the train though, got in two minutes before the train to Paris departed. The concert was simply awesome. He totally convinced me that he is the best. At 57 years old, he sang 3 hours, with 1 or 2 minutes break from time to time while his band took over, allowing him to change and take some drinks. His songs touched my heart, reminding me of those old days, while discovering many new songs that I checked later on YouTube.

His concert was very different from Eason Chan's that I attended one year ago. He brought over a music director with a band, orchestra, dancers and stage art performing team. I was especially impressed by the lighting system. The only regret I had was the fact that he had to speak in Mandarin instead of Cantonese. A lot of songs were sang in Mandarin even though there existed also Cantonese version. I guess he had to speak the language where majority of his audiences can understand.

Beside the concert, we also went to Miro's exhibition, and visited the gallery in Pompidou center. There were easy access to lots of Asian foods. We ended the trip by visiting the Chinese supermarket in Chinatown, where I got mangosteen, and other fruits that are more expensive in my town.

Arriving in my town train station, I quickly hopped inside a tramway as hubby was supposed to wait for me at one of the stops. When I finally sat down, I saw 7 missed calls from hubby. He wanted to give me a surprise, and was waiting with the little one around the train station. He was so mad that I didn't pick up the phone. My phone was in my backpack as I was holding two bags full of fruits and roasted porks from Paris. We finally managed to meet somewhere.

Now, I still have Jackie'q songs lingering in my head. Sometimes I couldn't concentrate at my work, a very bad timing as I had bunch of works to catch ip after absent for two days. Will definitely go buy his CDs when I have chance.



Sunday, November 11, 2018

New school year 2018

The school year starts in general in Sept in France. I always wonder why they would "start" something in Sept, the 9th month of the year, instead of in January. When I told my coworkers about this, they can't imagine that in Malaysia we start the school year in January, and, without a long summer holiday break! Anyway, the girls were eager to go back to school.

Sept 2017

Sept 2018

Every morning except Wednesday during the week, I have to prepare them for school. I usually wake up earlier to prepare myself, then wake them up to have breakfast together. It was a stressful moment, as either they complained about the breakfast, or they fought, or they took their time for everything. Especially the youngest, she would first lay down in sofa, refused to eat anything. Then by the time everyone was done, she came and requested breakfast. Of course I refused, I didn't care if she went to school with empty stomach, I had already warned her enough about the consequence. At one point, the eldest required a different hair style per day, and she had it listed on a paper. Some of them took me 10 minutes, and sometime she changed her mind last minute.

The school gates open at different time as one is in primary and one is in kindergarten. I have to send the little one to her class, sometimes she wanted me to stay to see her play a game, to show me something she has learnt. When I finally managed to walk out of school, there was traffic jams waiting, and I showed up always a bit late at work. 

A morning kiss to her sister before entering their school compound (primary school and kindergarten are separated by a gate).

Schools here will have 6 or 7 weeks of classes, then follows by a 2 week break. A lot of parents appreciate the break, including me. The girls usually go to their grandparents, that leaves me some personal time, and very relax mornings. It is amazing how having kids and without kids can change one's day. 

After the break de la Toussaint, we suddenly manage to have less stressful mornings. Hubby wakes them up before going to work, and the youngest stopped laying down on sofa, instead she comes directly having breakfast with us. And most importantly, the eldest prepares breakfast for me, and she is very proud about it. I still have to rush the little one to eat faster, as she can spend all her time talking or day dreaming. The eldest is less picky about her hairstyle as well. Sometimes they are done earlier so they read on sofa or play together while waiting for me to get ready. I always try to clean up the kitchen after breakfast.

The little one was chosen as class representative. That was a surprise to me, but well three of them were chosen because there was a tied at vote for two of them. The election process was quit formal, they had to write the name of the person they chose on a paper and put it inside an envelope, and the teacher counted the vote by taking out the paper one by one. A democratic process at young age.

I always remind myself, that there is only less then 2 school years left that they will go to the same school together. At one point, the eldest will go to middle school, and they will each have their own circle of friends, and school life. Therefore, I should appreciate these mornings, when they are still eating and playing together.




Saturday, October 27, 2018

Separation and Togetherness

These several months have been very hard for me. There were several coworkers leaving the company. People I had been happily working together for years, people who gave me a lot of autonomy in my works and who made me discovered what I was good at. I didn't know it could be so tough until I realized we would no longer having lunch together, nor bitching about something or someone anymore. Farewell parties one after another, and there is still one planned in November. I almost cried during a meeting yesterday, thinking that I would be hearing his voice and jokes for the last time during work environments. Thanks for being my coworker Céline, Patrice, Regis, Noëla, Vincent, Samuel and soon Nicolas.

The photos below warmed my heart. Separation at work, but I'm seeing my girls bonding everyday. Of course they fight, they yell at each other, but they also have fun together. 

The big sister reading to her little sister during her bath time.

The big sister fasten the bell for her little sister.

Reading together

Playing together

I felt so proud that day at this playground. The little one wanted to do this game, but I was tired having walking for several hours that day. I refused to go queue with her. The big sister, after playing somewhere else, came to her and proposed to queue with her. She did several rounds under the watch of her big sister. Not only that, the big sister stopped people from jumping queue in front of  her sister, and yelled away kids who tried to play several times without queuing. She didn't keep quiet if some kids didn't respecting the rules. She also brought her little sister to play swing. She started to show that she was capable to protect her sister.

But for how long? That's a question I often asked myself. For how long will they do stuffs together? In less than two years, the big one is going to secondary school, the little one to primary school. Will they still play together? Or will it be time they play separately? Will they seek out each other? Will their share their happiness and sadness? It is hard to tell. But in general, I notice, siblings are less close in France compare to Malaysia. When they have their own families, they see each other during Christmas, or weddings, or family gatherings. Some manage to travel together but it is rare. My sisters and nieces are traveling this Christmas and will stop by to pay me a visit. I'm eager to see them. I don't know if age matters, but I'm feeling even closer to them now despite the fact that we are living thousand kilometers away. Love has no distance I guess.