Tales of the Wanderlust Daughter: Nice

I started this series last year. It was born from sharing some stories with my mother to show how I encounter so much kindness and care, especially as a lone female traveller.

I have seemed to rid of my writer’s block and wanted to revisit the memory lane with these stories. Furthermore, having recently experienced some bad, I needed to reassure myself and many travellers out there, that I had experienced the goodness of humanity and those far outnumber the evil.

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I’ve been traveling all my life.. my first flight taken when I was a mere three months old. Of course I wasn’t aware of it, but I have a sneaking suspicion my mother remembers it to great detail.

My first truly independent trips were taken a the end of college, when I set of on my version of the “Grand Tour,” designed under the auspices of an independent study abroad itinerary. Looking back, I realize now how naive I was. I was confident, armed with recently learned languages, in what would be a modernized Western Europe compared to the emerging Asian countries I grew up exposed to.

My first destination was a language school in Nice, where I did a home stay. My school mates were diverse, mostly students studying hospitality and travel and taking the summer to immerse and become fluent in French. It wasn’t a large university program that American kids tend to participate in groups together. I was one of three Americans in the whole school of about 50.

The students I bonded the most were an eclectic group: two Germans, an Austrian, one Colombian, one Mexican. Yes, they had their own languages they could communicate with one another. As true to any language program, we never spoke French to one another. The boys wanted to practise their English, calling it killing two birds with a stone in their language proficiency.

Our program scheduled went over the 4th of July. The boys insisted we go out to the beach, break open a bottle of wine to celebrate on my behalf. How can I turn them down?

We were sitting on the pebbly beach of Nice, enjoying the evening breeze when we heard commotion behind us. Standing up and scanning out of curiosity, the commotion approached us. A group of thugs in their mid-twenties were marching around with a pipes and sticks in their hands, demanding with tangible hostility at everyone “Les Américains? Où sont les Américains? You, from America??”

When they approached us, my friends formed an instinctive circle around me. I never could recall, in the darkness, whether the gang ever glanced at me. I am of Asian ethnicity, an advantage especially in that moment. One of the boys stepped up, quite literally, to answer the questions from the gang when they came us. The rest of the guys backed up, forcing me back behind them. But we all had accents in our French, and the ring leader of the gang kept challenging our guy, a Colombian.

After what felt like an eternity, the gang moved on, in search for victims. They weren’t mollified, just satisfied that we weren’t enough targets for them.

Looking back.. when I related that story in the pre- September 11th days, even shortly after, a lot of my American audience would get indignant and puff up and stated I should have yelled back in their face and been proud of my nationality. Arguing with those statements was futile. I learned that night what it meant to put my attitude and pride aside and to avoid trouble.

More importantly, I learned, even at our young ages from 18-22, my new found friends knew to look out for one another. We never knew what the gang was up to, but their menacing body language told us the threat was real enough to be taken seriously. I didn’t even have to say anything and I didn’t even have a chance to; the boys instinctively physically shielded me from the gang. That was the beginning of the program, less than 10 days in.. we were inseparable for the entire month.

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Other posts in this series:
Italy
South Dakota

Tales of the Wanderlust Daughter: South Dakota

I started this series last year.. and forgot about it for a while. It was born from sharing some stories with my mother to show how I encounter so much kindness and care, especially as a lone female traveller.

I have seemed to rid of my writer’s block and wanted to revisit the memory lane with these stories. Furthermore, having recently experienced some bad, I needed to reassure myself and many travellers out there, that I had experienced the goodness of humanity and those far outnumber the evil.

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On a cross country vacation I took back in the USA between my moves from Asia to Europe, I stopped through South Dakota. I got off the train in North Dakota, and drove to South Dakota. I wanted to see the parks in the area- Badlands National, Mouth Rushmore, Wind Cave, Custer State…

I found a charming bed and breakfast run by a sweet couple who still maintain the working ranch it sits on. I hadn’t paid attention to the fact that it was SD’s busiest two weeks of the year- the Sturgis rally. As a last minute booking, they worked to accommodate me, asking me to move from their main B&B building to a separated coach house usually rented to families for one night in the middle of my stay. No problem.

I completely underestimated the distances I had to drive to get to all the sites I cared about. As a native New Englander, I completely lost perspective of how large some of these states are. So I found myself driving longer and later than anticipated.

One morning, the day I stayed at the coach house, I slept in. I had a particularly late return, the night before, barely awake enough to grab my pajamas out of my packed bag to change into before collapsing on the closest bed to the entrance. So I took my time getting up the following morning, rummaging around my new surroundings to find the kitchen and prepare a breakfast. I also took advantage of my access to laundry machines to do a couple loads.

I heard car tires rumbling up the dirt road and looked up to see the owner pulling up. He popped his head in, apologized for intruding, saying his wife asked him to check on me. They hadn’t seen my rental car turn in before they went to bed last night and wanted to make sure I was OK before they call the cavalry.

I was surprised, but pleasantly so. Even I knew I had returned at an extremely late hour. But, as B&B owners, they didn’t have any responsibility over my coming and going, as long as I paid for the lodging I booked. Knowing that they were concerned on my behalf was both embarrassing and comforting. The fact that they were willing to notify someone if I wasn’t present after one night alone, gave me the assurance that despite the vast and seemingly desertedness of the state, I wouldn’t have been stranded unknown for long, were I to encounter any troubles.

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Other posts in this series:
Italy

Tales of the Wanderlust Daughter: Italy

My mother came to visit me while I was in DC for business. It was some nice mother-daughter bonding time we had. It has been a while since we’ve had time like this together. And I found myself sharing more and more of my carefully edited travel stories with her, finally realising that a part of her lives vicariously through me.

I haven’t forgotten my audience. My mother, as many a loving parent goes, worries about us, about our well being. She doesn’t care about that big promotion and whether or not we got it. She worries if we are eating well, staying healthy, and being safe. As I regaled my tales, many forgotten moments came back to me, moments that I knew my mother would appreciate to know what there are many parents like herself looking out for lone wanderers such as myself as if I was their own child.

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I was studying abroad, in Italy. I had just arrived a couple of days earlier. Despite having taken a semester of Italian for fun, I had forgotten all my vocabulary, leading communication between my homestay hostess and me to be a comical exchange of gestures and broken French. After a few days in school, I was eager to venture out and practice my renewed Italian vocabulary. As I left, I told my hostess I went to walk, a passeggiata, and will be back in time for dinner. I was gone almost two hours, still making it back with plenty of time before dinner would be served. I walked into a flurry, a barrage, of Italian. My hostess had worked up a worry over me, thinking I was going for a short stroll. Not a long hike. Knowing I barely spoke the language, she began to think I got hurt, run over, or kidnapped. Passeggiata is a stroll, a short one. not a long trek around the entire town.

I didn’t realise it then, but did as I recounted that incident to my mother, ten years after it happened, that my Italian hostess hen pecked me. I didn’t realise it then. She wasn’t my mother so I saw it as a very affectionate protective hostess trying to look after a clueless American girl whose curiosity seemed to land her in odd places.