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Friday, November 18, 2011

Paris Again - The Arrival

So I am here in Paris again, for the third time. First time was 2008 with Christina (she was still my girlfriend back then, and now she's my wife). Second time was with my mom in 2008. This time its 3 years later, in 2011. 

I left London to end my 5 months working visa in dneg. I am here on holiday with my wife, and we'll be here for a week. After that I will return to London to catch a flight back to Singapore on the same day.

This is the first time I am booking any hotel stay for 7 days at a stretch - my longest hotel stay in a country so far. I booked the hotel as a package with the train, through the Eurostar website. 
The night before, Christina and I had a rough time packing all our stuff. My suitcase was smaller than hers, but I had 5 months worth of stuff to squeeze into it. She was already finding it hard to press all her stuff into her suitcase. In the end we could just barely squeeze our suitcases close.

When I reached Paris, walking out of the train station, the first group of people I encountered was a group of girls loosely scattered across the arrival area of the station, collecting donations for poor and homeless children. They were teenagers from about 12 to 17 years old. Christina and myself were quite lost and we had our hands full, so we had to turn them down. We ran into 3 of the girls, all asking for the same thing. They all ask if we spoke English. 

The first girl showed me a list of people names on a piece of printed donation list, and tried to explain to me about the objective of the fund-raising. I got past by apologising and saying we were in a rush. Second girl came as we went down the escalator to the basement. There was a group of them at the end of that escalator. 

This girl asked if I spoke English, then showed me her donation list and asked me to sign without saying anything about money. I felt she was persistent and misleading me into thinking it's simply a petition by signing my name. However, when I took a closer glance at her paper I saw the column stating the amount donated. I said sorry with a declining smile and waved my hand "no". She physically tried to stop my by using her hand to push against mine in the middle of my waving action to stop my advancing forward. It was more of a gesture than a really obstructive force to keep me from going, but I felt it was far too aggressive for fund-raising.

The third girl was with the second girl. She approached us only after about 6 steps away from the other girl. She said "Hello" to me. I waved my hand with an apologetic smile. She looked indignant, like she was offended, like "I only wanted to say Hello". Then she repeated her "Hello", like 2 times, each time louder and more pissed off than before. I kept saying sorry and smiling but waving "no" to her. On the third time I said a firm "hello" in a matching loudness with her, with a smile while looking directly at her. I was trying to show that I was not ignoring her, but I was also not going to make a donation just because she was trying to intimidate me. She jabbed me in the upper arm with the non-writing tip of her pen and said "hello" again, with the loud and offensive tone. That was just when I got far enough for her not to be able to reach me any more. Her jab was not injuring but the force was firm, and I could feel it for about 8 seconds after.

I was quite surprised by the whole incident. Why were children who were so aggressive allowed to raise funds at Gare Du Nord, a major railway station in Paris? Were they taught to be so aggressive in their manner of approach? It would seriously affect tourists' impression of Paris and its people right? I was seriously doubting if there was a non-profit organisation behind the girls asking for donations. I also doubt they would just let me go if I told them I've already made a donation to another one of their peers earlier on. 

After we exited the station, a man tried to approach Christina asking if she spoke English. She said "no". He asked "Can I hug you?", she said "no" again then she ignored him. He continued to ask if he could help her. She continued to ignore him and he left after a while.

We finally found the official taxi stand, with a long queue. When we joined the queue we were greeted by an old lady asking for English Pounds to spare. I was wondering why she was specifically asking for pounds? If she was really in need, why is she selective about what people give her?

This was a totally different experience from my last 2 trips. We were left alone most of the time, and I do not recall any encounters with the locals that even approaches the intensity in persistence like what I had just encountered. It is just 3 years since, and I felt it is really different from how it used to be.

I know the state of the economy in Europe is quite bad, and I am wondering if all this is the result that is affecting society.

The taxi ride and booking in to the hotel was pretty un-eventful. The hotel is L'Empire, which was just behind the Louvre and just a street away from the Metro station called Louvre Rivoli. The hotel room was really nicer than I expected. It was clean, nicely furnished and had very friendly and professional staff. 
That's looking in from the front entrance
Our room. All the rooms are named after Napolean's generals.

The whole Eurostar package included 2 return train tickets from London to Paris and a hotel for 7 days. All in all it cost me £1,360.