Les Petits Contes

About life's little observations, which matter. About hilarious situations, which illuminate. About stories which offer immense possibilities, open endings, different interpretations and perspectives.

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Location: Singapore

A nature lover; sun-worshipper, manic book-collector, dessert-devourer and a magnet for hazards

Friday, April 06, 2007

Ah Mauritius !

Kia su, sua ku or both?
The customs clearance was prompt, the meet and greet by the car transfer was efficient. There was only one problem – two other parties on the same flight and taking the same van were missing.

Slowly but surely a young couple sauntered towards the car park, 15 minutes later. Great, one party down, one more to go, I thought to myself. While waiting, they clicked at every thing in sight – perhaps to kill time. The girl asked me to take a photo of them, posing in the middle of the uninspiring car park, with an equally uninspiring airport signage in the background.

Almost half an hour later, still no sight of the other couple. I urged the driver to go look for them – could they have cancelled the trip or got lost in the tiny airport?

Finally they came – with a cart over-flowing with duty free shopping bags. They must have bought up the entire little Mauritius duty free store, and shopped like there was no tomorrow, even before their holidays had begun. They too sauntered unhurriedly towards the van, unapologetic and unembarrassed, oblivious to the waiting driver and other travelers. They had the cheek to ask us, ‘’are you from Singapore also?’’ I was too ashamed to be associated with them and simply pretended not to have heard them.

‘’What, it takes more than an hour to reach the hotel?’’ the woman asked the driver, incredulous. What do you think, baby? You think everything is within reach, like in Singapore? And don’t you ever do some reading before you go on vacations? I hissed under my breath, with no attempt to hide my scowling face.

Too bad they could not shop during that one hour of journey, so they did what many Singaporeans know best – take video at anything and everything. They shot footages of the barren boring highway, like there was no tomorrow. And when they were done with filming, they took out their calculator and receipts and started calculating how much they had spent at the duty free. Dee dee dee went the mini calculator as they jabbed at it, intensely. When we finally reached their hotel, whose decorations looked like a piece of crass kitsch (like a Gaudi gone wrong, or a cheap imitation of Disneyland), I heaved a huge sigh of relief that both couples were staying at a hotel sufficiently far from mine, though my heart sank again when I overheard that they would be on the same flight back on Tuesday (and hence potentially sharing the same van).

Cultural diversity
I rang Veena, Johahn’s mother, who lives in Mauritius. She suggested meeting on Monday. ‘’We can meet after lunch, I’ll take some time off work,’’ she said. I was silent for a while, stumped. ‘’Hello, are you there,’’ she asked. ‘’Er… 3 pm?’’ I asked hesitantly. ‘’No, 2 pm would be fine,’’ she replied. The more I travel, the more I am sensitive to differences. I simply do not know what time is lunch time anymore – in Spain it could be as late as 2.30 pm. In Greece dinner starts at 10 pm. In Singapore people just eat all the time.

Soon after speaking to Veena and a short walk by the beach, feeling rather chilly, and I literally collapsed in bed. I woke up incredibly exhausted. I felt like someone had smeared superglue on my eye lids and removed my spine. I went for dinner half-heartedly.

The huge restaurant felt like an Italian village. I don’t recall having seen so many Italians in one place, not even in Perugia where I lived for a month in 2005! I did read that this hotel is popular with Italian tourists, has Italian chefs, restaurants and menus but I had not imagined this mini Italian-ville! There were a couple of French and other Europeans but I was the only Asian. What happened to the ubiquitous Japanese?

The local service staff were very fluent in Italian and seemed to understand Italian better than French. Once I asked a guy ‘’cést quoi,’’ pointing to a yellow gooey mixture and he could not answer. ‘’In italiano?’’ I prompted. Quickly came the rely, ‘’ I fagioli’’ (beans).

The same guy caused an Italian guest to hesitate too when the latter enquired about a crepe dish and its accompanying fillings. ‘’Due, una?’’ asked the service staff when dishing out the crepe. ‘’Uno,’’ came the guest’s reply. ‘’Una,’’ he quickly corrected himself, while I smiled to myself and tried to squeeze my brain to recall if a crepe was feminine or masculine in Italian.

At times the staff preferred to answer me in English whenever I spoke French. But when addressed in Italian, they would gladly reply in impeccable Italian. I had asked what would be the closing hours for tea in the café and the reply in French was rather incomprehensible – it could be due to their accent or their creole language. ‘’ le cinque e mezza?’’ I asked (5.30). ‘’Ah, vous parlez italien,’’ he exclaimed happily, after having tried valiantly ‘’wu dian ban’’ (5.30) in Mandarin.

I still have not figured this out – many of the local staff I met are of Indian origins, and English is the ‘’official language of Mauritius, with French and Creole spoken very widely’’. How then, did all of them acquire a French accent in their English with all zat ‘’zees’’ and ‘’ees’’?

After dinner, as if by magic, a few sudden sneezes confirmed the arrival of my cold, which had begun with the feeling of chill earlier. Again, I collapsed reluctantly in bed, with the lights and TV still on. For the rest of the whole night, it was a routine of massive drinking of water, pee, doze, drink, pee, doze.

Centre de Flacq
The next morning I woke up with a throbbing headache. Still, I wanted to do some sightseeing and took a taxi to the village centre, to visit the Sunday market where many locals shop.

It was teeming with life, full of exuberant sights, sounds and colour. It was a mini Chatuchak, only more crowded, more sweaty, more noisy and chaotic. My head whirled and swirled as a young man yelled at the top of his voice at his stall selling ladies’ underwear.

Morning Runs
The rest of the Sunday was spent trying to rest, sleep and get well. It must have been nature’s way of detoxifying me of six years of that French IT company and to make up for all the years of lost sleep. Yes, I like to borrow Gordon’s apt word – ‘’detox’’ when he used it to describe my sudden two days of illness on the very day I left the company!

By Monday morning, my remedy of rest and water must have worked. I was raring to go. I burst forth at the beach with my long, wide strides at 8 am. I felt the wind on my back and beneath my thighs as I lifted them high and delayed my landing, the way I would do during ballet jumps. It was lovely, yet powerful and soft landing. My legs and quads felt the immense power and strength that I have not felt for ages. My occasional creaky knees now disappeared. Motivated, I carried on and on, first at a gallop, practising my long-forgotten ballet drills, and then running sideways to the left, to the right, turning front, back… oblivious to the beach bums lying contentedly around me.

The next morning, I woke up even earlier for my run. The sky was less bright, and the sea was still. I could not replicate the power of my run the day before – I must have depleted it completely in one frightful eruption the morning before.

The sun must have conspired with the waves and by 8.30 am both synchronized their emergence in full glory… the sun blazing strongly down on my dripping hair and body, while the waves began its rhythmic chants as they sent ripples upon ripples into the sparkling sea.

Brief Visit to Port Louis
Veena was unable to take time off to meet me at Grand Baie and so I decided to visit Port Louis instead. I told the cab driver to take me to the Caudan Waterfront. He wanted to take me shopping at Grand Baie and to other parts of Port Louis. There are many factory outlets with great brand names and good shopping, he tried to entice me.

I told him no, I just wanted to ‘’take photos’’ at the waterfront and did not want to shop. The days of indiscriminate brand worship and frenzied factory outlet shopping in New York are over for me. These days I travel miles and miles (even across to the Indian Ocean!) with my no-brand $12.90 sandals, while my old Hermes casual clogs, which had given me countless blisters and days of limping, now sit collecting dust in my store room.

I received many friendly cheery ‘’Bonjour madame’’ greetings from beach boys operating scuba diving and snorkeling activities whenever I walked along the beach. Each time I would shake my head and say, ‘’je ne sais pas nager’’ (I can’t swim) when they asked if I wanted to join them. They would insist, ‘’ce n’est pas grave…’’ (it doesn’t matter).

When I met the tour desk representative Lena on Sunday morning to sort out my airport transfer and flight re-confirmation, she recommended the ‘’submarine tour’’. Lena made me very breathless – even worse than learning to swim and breathe in water! She spoke extremely fast and animatedly, almost gasping for breath, like an excited kid.

Alas, the famous submarine tour was not available – it was on repair for two weeks! She then recommended the acquawalk – ‘’you don’t need to know how to swim and it’s not difficult and I have done it before and when I did it there was even a seven year old boy doing it,’’ she assured me breathlessly and without a pause. I booked for the activity and held my breath as she vigorously pulled out every single drawer at her desk, as well as those belonging to other tour desks around her, hunting frantically for a credit card roller to settle my payment.

She found an old dusty one somewhere on the floor and after dragging and pulling it with even more verve and vigour she managed to imprint my credit card. Not satisfied, she ran across to her colleague nearby to borrow his roller and ran back to her desk where I was watching, even more breathless by then. She crushed the old imprint and decided to repeat the whole process with the newer and cleaner roller, with the same verve and energy of a bright Sunday morning.

The acquawalk was fun and easy enough, if you manage to get yourself down into the water (4m deep) in the first place. Despite a heavy belt weighing me down, and a hefty ‘’helmet’’ over my head, I kept bobbing up while trying to descent. The other adventure companions did not have the same problem so I flattered myself by saying I am too light (instead of wondering if I might have too much body fat to float effortlessly). I also noticed the other companions did not swirl around or swing backwards or get frequently hurled away by the currents, hence requiring the guide to pull me back up. I once again mentally reconfirmed my waif-like stature, rather than think of my poor balancing skills, which Jo my dear trainer would have immediately pointed out.

She Sees Sea Shells by the Sea Shore
I rang the front desk to pick up my luggage upon check out. The agreed plan was to check out of the room at noon but I could still use all the facilities until 7 pm that night when I would be taken to the airport to catch my return flight. I went to the front desk to pay up and was told to wait some more. I waited and waited. The bell boy came with everyone’s luggage except mine. ‘’A moment,’’ he said, and I waited again while he disappeared.

I remembered Gordon’s advice – expect Malaysian-style laid back service and ‘’speed’’ in Mauritius. More than half an hour passed and I chose to forget this precious advice. I went to the front desk, this time in cold clipped English and not hesitant French:

Me: Excuse me, I have asked for my luggage to be collected more than half an hour ago
and I am still waiting.
Front desk: They will collect for you madame, please wait.
Me: Could you please check again, as they have left long ago and they are still not here.
I need to put my hand luggage together with the main luggage.
Front desk (after calling someone on the phone): They are coming.
Me: How do you know? Maybe they got lost? If it’s so difficult to get it, I’ll happily go
get it myself you know!
Front desk: I rang the housekeeping and she said he has left your room…
Me: And maybe gone for a tour of the hotel garden?
Front desk (by now realized I was displeased): Ok, I go and check now…

As if by telepathy, the bell boy at that very instant appeared with my luggage!

Annoyed, I went marching up and down the beach, hoping to walk off my displeasure. As I walked yet another lap, to return to my deck chair, I saw an area of the beach that glistened prettily. I went closer and saw a scatter of pretty shells, mostly lilac.

Why hadn’t I noticed such nature’s treasures earlier? The shells were smooth and shiny like little gems. I stooped to select and pick them up.

I spent almost the entire afternoon walking up and down the shore, this time not blindly marching or pounding the sand with my mighty legs. But looking out for beautiful gems of the sea, washed ashore by the crystal waters.

Picking shells by the beach is therapeutic. And it made me very happy.



Blogger ALLAN TAN said...

Wow Janet! Mauritius is a nice place! Cool! Love to read about your travels and your pics are GREAT (as usual)... me becoming a fan of yours laio!
Heard your new office is nearby... hee hee... lunch when Sarah comes back ok?

Saturday, June 09, 2007 6:07:00 PM  

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