Wednesday, May 28, 2014

From Mother's Day to Parenting thoughts

Mother's Day 2014

Last Sunday was Mother's Day in France. I was not really expecting anything from Aelig, but her school did teach her to make a gift for me. It was wrapped in gift paper. She couldn't hold it but gave it to me on Friday right after her school. At home, she was going to open the gift but was stopped by hubby.

Hubby : My love, when Santa gives you presents, who opens them?
Aelig: Me. 
Hubby : So now you are giving this to mummy, who should open the gift then?
Aelig: Me (without hesitation).
In laughing, hubby taught her the rule : You can open the gift but only if the people who receives the gift give you her/his consent. Ok?
Aelig looked at me, I nodded, then she tore off the gift wrap.

She was very proud to present me her drawing : Sun, hubby, a bird, our apartment with windows and a door, a flower, a raining cloud (top), herself and me. These are her current drawing style.

A poem from her school about mother. Thank you my girl.

Parenting Thoughts
A terrible incident happend last Wednesday in Taiwan which led me to think about the parents' role in a kid's life. A 21 years old University student killed 4 people and wounded 23 passengers inside a Subway train in Taipei. During interview, he said that he wanted to kill himself, but was too afraid to do so. Instead, he tried to kill as many people as possible, so that he would receive a death penalty.

There were many comments and critics regarding this tragedy. His parents first stated that he has shamed the whole family, later they went to the Subway station and publicly apologized. What shocked me the most was that some people think his parents should be held responsible for his act. 

I found this accusation heavy, I don't think parents should be responsible for their children's acts after they become adult. I would say that in the first 10 years of a kid's life, parents have the most important influence over he/she, but later on, friends, surroundings and the society play a more crucial role.

Influence from parents
Just to give an example. My MIL was convinced that parents play a huge role in instilling reading as a hobby for their children. I would say it is true in certain ways. If parents love reading and encourage kids to read, most likely they will love reading, but until certain age. Later on, it depends on who they hang up with. I take myself as example, my parents had never bought me any storybook during my childhood. There was no bedtime storytelling. I turned out being a bookworm since primary schools. I would save money then used all of them to buy books during book exhibitions in my school. I have to contributed this to my school's effort in encouraging their students to read. There was storybook corner in my classrooms. Our library was modern and had huge collections. Some of my classmates loved reading so we just exchanged books among ourselves. 

Unlike me, Aelig has probably around 100 storybooks in three languages at age 4. She loves reading but I don't know if this would become her lifetime hobby. That day she decided to take photos on her books. As for hubby, he used to read but now I'm not sure if he reads a book per year.

Influence from society and friends
In France, the society has become more and more aware of alcohol abuse and smoking issue among the young. I watched a documentary just last week, where young kids partied the whole night and drunk several liters of hard alcohol per person, and some ended up in the hospital. Partying with hard liquor on Thursdays and weekends has become a norm among Universities students. Young teenagers smoke right in front of their school buildings. These are somehow tolerated by the society. Every weekend you see drunk students wondering in down-towns. Police would increase their patrol to make sure no one is hurt, hospitals would anticipate more patients being brought in. Many parents were shocked that their kids smoke or became alcoholic.

In my schools in Malaysia, if you smoke, you get a warning and after three warnings, you could get expelled. Since uniform is mandatory with school logo and name tag, if you smoke in front of the school or in public places, anybody could call up the school and inform the Principal of your acts. As for alcohol, the society discourages it especially for young kids. It is strictly prohibited in our University compound. We rented an apartment and shared with 12 students during our University life, but we had never organized a drinking party because nobody actually drink alcohol or think that party should be associated with alcohol. Most of my friends started to pick up alcohol after they went to the workforce. There are of course alcohol abuse among students (mostly in private colleges & Universities), but this act is criticized by the society.

So growing up in Malaysia and surrounded by friends who didn't take alcohol, I was not used to partying in France. Almost every party I participated in my earlier years here ended up with people gotten drunk with disturbing behaviors. It seems that party without alcohol = boring. All I want to say is that when we grow older, we are being influenced mostly by the surroundings than our parents. For me, the parents in the Taiwanese incident do not have to apologize for what their son did.

Just that day my daughter was telling me that she didn't want to wear skirt because her classmate commented that she always wears skirt. I told her that you don't have to care about what people say, just wear skirt if it is what you like. But she insisted of wearing pants. So here you go, even a 4-year old has peer pressure.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Taxes : Are we slaving for the French government?

Today is the last day to fill the 2013 income tax. Talking about taxes, we realized that we are basically slaving for the government. Just see how much taxes we are paying:

1. Salaries
Looking at my payslip, every month the government is directly sucking around 25% of my salary, and my company has to pay an extra 50% for all the social charges imposed. Let's say I'm earning 1000€ a month, I will have only 750€ in my bank account, and the government is getting 250€ from me + 500€ from my company = 750€. So basically, for each working citizenship, the government is taking half of what he or she costs/earns into its pocket. The percentage may varies depending on which income group you are from.

And this is not the end, you still need to file for income tax, so once again one part of your salary is gone.

2. Beside salary, one might have other source of incomes, like interest rate from saving or investment, rental, inheritance...which the government also wants to have a hand on it.

3. Property (taxes foncières) and local taxes (tax d'habitation)
We have an apartment, so we have to pay property taxes each year.
And whether you own or rent, you will have to pay local taxes based on the size of your apartment / house / studio. This includes an annual fee if you own a TV.

4. Sales taxes (TVA)
With your net income, you are going to spend it on food, petrol, leisure, all type of bills...
Well, you have to pay sales taxes on them. Sale tax on food is around 5.5% if not mistaken, for other items it has increased to 20% starting from 2014. So, just imagine for whatever you are buying, you are paying 20% to the government. Since we are thinking to build a house, the TVA sums up to a gigantic amount which is quite scary.

5. Transaction costs
Buying and selling a property involves transaction costs that we have to pay to the government. For example, to buy a piece of land, we have to pay the government around 7% of the price. This is not all, since the local government has to build access roads linking to the new residential area, we have to pay another taxes once the house is built.

There might be other ways that the government is taking money from us, but these are what I could think of at the moment. My conclusion : the government is trying hard to take money from us. The first three income sources for the government are sales taxes, income taxes and company taxes. Unfortunately, what it gets from the people is still not enough to cover all the expenses, which resulted in budget deficits. In order to cover the deficits, it has to borrow, so part of the expenses are to pay interest rates on debts.

I don't know if this is fair to have to pay so much taxes, as on the other hand we have good social benefits. Some of them are too good that it simply costs too much to maintain, for example healthcare, retirements, free tertiary educations. Many reforms are needed but when you have the best, it is hard to accept a downgrade.

Now I understand why some people prefer to not have salary increment. The more you earn, the more taxes you have to pay and besides, you might not be eligible anymore to certain social benefits (ie childcare, housing allowance...)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

When Chinese is easier than French

I have to admit that I don't pay much attention to Aelig's progress at school.

Actually I don't know how to. At the beginning of school terms, I wanted to know what she was going to learn this school year. All I got was a list on a paper saying that she would learn how to express herself in speaking and writing, nothing in detail. There is no text book nor syllabus. We just need to provide several empty exercise books and the teacher will glue printed paper with her work on it. We only got to know what she actually did at school the last day before a school break when all the exercise books are passed back.
Hubby would take time to browse through these exercises, praise her when she did well, practice with her on her weak areas.

One day while browsing through all the exercise books, my MIL teased us that we didn't even sign a feedback book where the teacher graded her on different aspect of her works. Only then we discovered that there was a mid term evolution and we had to sign on a page. Her teacher put a number of smiley to represent how satisfy she was in each area: counting from 1 - 20, writing her own name, finishing a puzzle by herself, able to answer a question after a story telling... Overall she was doing ok but very weak in public speaking, and not able to tell what day it was, not able to distinguish morning and evening.

Well, she knows how to say what day it is in Mandarin, but not in French. This is simply because in Mandarin it is so much easier, it literally means day one (Monday), day two (Tuesday), day three (Wednesday) she knows after day three (Wednesday) it will be day four (Thursday). Whereas in French, everyday is a new word, she knows a few but still doesn't get the sequence right.

Days during a week in English / Mandarin / French:
Monday = 星期一 = Lundi
Tuesday = 星期二 = Mardi
Wednesday = 星期三 = Mercredi
Thursday = 星期西 = Jeudi
Friday = 星期五 = Vendredi
Saturday = 星期六 = Samedi
Sunday = 星期日/天 = Dimanche

I think she still hasn't figured out how to memorize these in French. She chose the easier way by telling me that Wednesday = trois (three in French), it seems that she wanted to apply the same system from Mandarin to French. She was also telling me one day that she and her wolf friends are using a different system: it would be day 1, day 2, day 3 until day 9, then it would restart again at day 1. That's how it works in her wonderland with all her imaginary friends. I told her that it was not how it works for human and it was certainly not her to decide.

Anyway, I think she likes to question the existing system and try to apply the easier way out, which is probably a good thing. But still, she would need to know that every language has created it's own system / logic which she has to accept.

Monday, May 12, 2014

A 7€ mango

学无止境 : There is no end to learning .

Years after in France, I still get myself into trouble because I didn't know the meaning of certain words, certain situations...

One day I saw some fruits being displayed at the entrance of a shop. My fruit supply was running low so I decided to step into the shop and look around. Besides fruits, it was selling cheeses, canned foods, local products. A woman was buying two mangos and a bunch of fruits. I looked at the price for a cucumber, 1.50€, and I thought it was quite reasonable. Without hesitation, I asked for a mango and went to the paying counter. The bill came out to be 8.50€. I was shocked but proceeded to pay. What the hell, I just bought a 7€ mango!

I got home and told hubby that I got cheated again. He looked at the receipt and pointed to me the words that explained all : "Epicerie fine". This kind of shops sell luxury groceries. Luxury grocery store? Located in the same area as a low cost grocery store? I didn't really understand, but I know I would not step into one in the future.

We were supposed to be away to visit family so I brought the mango and the story with me. Everyone had a good laugh. I secretly hope that the mango would taste heavenly, but no, it was just an ordinarily mango, it was not even organic. Hubby bought a 1.50€ mango the second day and according to him, his mango tasted better than mine. But there is still one question lingering in my mind : why would people shop at this kind of store when the product qualities are not superior to a normal one?

Thursday, May 01, 2014

A house : Light at the end of the tunnel or still in an impasse?

In a relationship we always have to compromise. Hubby and I managed to find one on many things even though we come from completely different cultural backgrounds, but there is one thing that has been blocked for the longest time : finding a land to build our future house. There are two main reasons that push us into an impasse on this issue:

Location : Countryside vs suburban
Hubby wanted to live in the countryside, the ideal situation would be to live in a piece of big land, with his neighbor being cows and lambs. That seemed scary to me. I'm not a city girl but I simply couldn't foresee myself living in area surround by no one, especially during winter. What happens if hubby is not around and I'm left with kids, then something bad happened? Beside, living in a countryside means that we have to commute long hours to work, facing traffic jams everyday. I couldn't stand that idea either. What if my kid is sick at school and I have to rush back immediately? And, I hope my children would be able to play with kids in the neighborhood. Eventually I set my limit : no more than 30 minutes travel to work per way; the house has to be surrounded by neighbors. Hubby also set his limits: the land couldn't be less than certain meter squares; it needs to have exposition to the South so that it will have the maximum sunlight; there should be enough space between our house and the neighbors to have some privacy. 

Urban planning restrictions
In France every community has their own set of urban planning rules. For example, in some communities no flat roof is allowed. Hubby wants his house to have a center patio, so most likely the house won't have pitched roof as required by certain communities. We visited several lands, and had to give up because pitched roof was mandatory. Due to this rule we have to exclude a lot of areas, and each time we saw a land that was situated in a new community, we have to check if they accept flat roof / patio. Besides, lands in the city suburban areas have become scarce, the common trends these days are to sell smaller lands, while preserving agriculture lands or natural lands. In rare occasion when we did find one that was big enough, it cost an arm and a leg. 

Over the years, we must have visited over 20 - 30 piece of lands. We did find some that suited our requirements. We felt in love with the very first one we visited, but the whole project was put on hold due to many reasons. We were ready to move to another city for a land that fitted into our budget and requirements, but the community didn't allow a flat roof or center patio. At one point I finally lifted one of my limits, the land situated 45 minutes from my office, and I kind of like the idea of being neighbors with a bunch of cows, while still able to walk my daughter to school. But after verifying with the neighbors, the land was flooded from time to time. Then you have the perfect land but it was situated closed to a highway (too noisy); or close to a high voltage power line (might incur health issues). I was so discouraged that I completely gave up on searching land for years. It didn't help when I heard people buying houses within 1 month of searching, it sounded so easy! Why do we want to build a house instead of buying one then? I know of nobody in Malaysia building their own house. Then I remember, it is hubby's dream of building a house with patio. When it comes to realizing a dream, as a spouse, I could only give my support, I suppose?

Then one day I saw a piece of land close to where we live now, with the size that hubby wanted. He wasn't keen on it as it stretched our budget too far that we simply couldn't afford it. He kept on searching land on his own, and came back to this land. This time he felt that we could probably make it, but I had doubt, so it was on hold again. But then we keep seeing the land, and realized that it might be the right one : I'm 99% happy for the location, he is ok for the size. I'm satisfied as it is located in a new residential area which will be surrounded by houses, he is excited because houses built in the area came with different shape and roof. The only problem is PRICE!

We decided to try it out. We were so disappointed that somebody had put an option on it (reserved the right to buy the land but nothing was signed). We were patient, and managed to put an option on it weeks later. I was elated, so I immediately asked my FIL to draw us a house plan. We went researching on forums on all the construction related issues. I was overwhelmed, hubby was stressed out. Starting from 2013 new houses have to be complied with RT2012, rules that require a green energy installed in the house and good insulation. When the house is built, someone would come to control if the house meets the requirements. With this rule, houses cost around 15% more. We got a quotation from a builder, the masonry work already costed 3 times more than what my BIL had paid. Obviously we are discouraged.

Now the big question : Do we give up the project and go back to square one or we go ahead and reserve the land?

Food : How we show our love differently

Got inspiration to write this post after reading a blog. It was about a father kept giving fish meat to his son even though he himself loves fish. His wife told him to keep some for himself, he replied : " As long as my wife and my son are happy with their food and eat well, I'm a happy man."

This is so typical in my family. Growing up, whenever my mother prepared chicken, me and my brother, the two youngest in the family, would each get a drumstick (considered the best chicken part). Other siblings would share other good parts, my mother would finish the rest. When eating fish, children get the meat, my parents would clean the rest. I don't know if other siblings complained about not getting drumstick, everyone seemed to get used to it. Now that we are adults, we understand that this is a way of showing love to kids. Now the parents are being served the good parts.

Things are handled quite differently in my in laws family. Kids do not always get the good part, but they try to be fair as much as they can. Imagine my shock seeing my FIL quickly grabbed the last tomato and served it to him and his wife, while their children and me would just fill with what was left into our sandwiches. While eating shrimps or oysters, they would divide them by the number of person then place them directly in our plates. My FIL would always make sure that the tarts / cakes are cut equally before serving them. Over the years, I understand that they have to do this if not their kids would complain who's who got to eat a bigger tart / shrimps. And apparently the kids ate like a pig, they finished everything so the parents have to save some for themselves.

No one method is better than the other, it is simply the way you brought up. Now with my daughter, naturally I apply my family method. She can get whatever she likes from my plate. The other day, we were being served different kind of dessert, she chose an apple tart, but she also loved the strawberries in my tart. So I gave her all, she was happy, I was happy. One day I bought a box of strawberry, she finished everything by herself. It was not a problem for me, but hubby was not happy as he wanted some too. I realized that there is a problem, because she doesn't think about sharing, so from there on I make share she leaves some for others. As for hubby, he wasn't the guy that would give very slice of beef in a bowl of beef noodle soup to his girlfriend like some Malaysian guys would do, but now he would share some food that I like from his plate. I don't know how my daughter is going to turn out, as I'm showing her that I love her so I will give her the best part of foods; while her daddy is more like I love you so I would make sure everything is shared equally with you.