Somewhere in the middle, Part 1: Asturias, Spain

I hope you haven’t forgotten about me.

MountainI know it’s been a while…but a little space does spice things up a little bit!

Window

I have finally settled down on the top of the mountain – the half-way mark!

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It’s crazy how fast everything is going by…I’ve already had over a month of vacation (classes started today). And, as mentioned in my previous post, I was lucky to have had two different two-week voyages,  one to Spain and the other, Morocco. Both having differing purposes and environments, I had the time to reflect and really get “deep” with all these new experiences. So, here is Part One of my reflections dedicated to my Spain adventure!

HorsesJust in case you’ve forgotten, I was invited by my lovely ex-roomie, Paola, to spend Noel and New Year’s at her place in the region of Asturias. Let me tell you, it was two weeks of the most intensive Spanish immersion “program” that you could ever wish for. [FYI: I knew nada español.]

MoredaSince Paola comes from the small parish of Moreda de Aller, it was rare to find someone who could speak French. I didn’t even dare to dream of English! I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this but the communicating language between Paola and I, is French. To sum things up, I had zero Spanish communication skills and Paola, my only source of communication (with our struggling French).

PaintingsThose two weeks really gave me time to think about a few things:

  • communication;
  • concept of learning a new language; and,
  • culture shock.

PlantsIf you haven’t noticed the x amount of times that I’ve mentioned about language barriers:

communication is a big deal. 

 I was really happy to see Paola chat away in Spanish, so I didn’t mind being silent all most of the time. However, it does get to a point when you no longer try to understand what people are saying and instead, imagine up the conversation…or space out. I can say that I was indeed a victim of this. This unfortunately causes problems because you start assuming things…and you know what they say when you assume. It got to a point that I was frustrated and so was Paola. She thought that I never listened and tried to understand her, and I thought that she never told or explained anything to me. It wasn’t until a week-in that we had a good talk with each other and realized this problem. Her family and friend were nagging her about how she wasn’t talking enough to me and that I was “unhappy” because I was very silent. And, I expressed my concerns of always feeling like an “inconvenience”. And that’s the thing, you have to be honest and clear with the people around you and yourself. Miscommunication happens but don’t let it continue.

Fountain

It’s interesting to see the many forms of communication; for the most part of the trip, it was a game of charades. At first, I did pity myself. Do you know how extremely frustrating it is when you meet nice people but can’t have an actual conversation with them (let alone thank them properly)? Then I realized, communication isn’t just an one-way road; if it’s this hard for me, it must be just as hard or harder for the other. During my stay, Paola’s Mom decided to dig out Paola’s old English exercise books in hopes of learning some. And I, on the other hand, never would have thought that I would want to learn Spanish…until now.

L'egliseYou don’t really appreciate our ability of adapting to a new environment…until you’re put in one. I haven’t tried learning a new language since I was a child (English being my mother tongue with Chinese in the background, and then, French in elementary school). It’s cool to see critically how we learn a language:

one must be openminded.

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Easier said than done because it’s still something I’m trying to do when learning French. I can’t seem to forget English and its ideology as it seems to be ingrained in the way I think. You really have to live through the language. In the case of Asturias with its immense mountain-landscape and country-life, I was captivated. It’s funny when you notice all the vocabulary that you pick up the quickest based on your environment.

BreadTo be honest, I’ve always found it hard to pick out a memory of culture shock. My family gave me plenty of opportunities to travel and experience culture so I’ve been pretty open to differing modes of life without much surprise. Then I met Asturias…those two weeks gave me a “real” experience of Spain. And, it wasn’t even just one specific thing – I have a list! Where do I begin?

HikeSpanish Fiestas. Paola is a social butterfly; I knew that I was going to have a great time with her and also, have a slight chance of death (from lack of sleep). She always points out how early I sleep or how I never go out with her, so, I promised that I would follow her schedule at her place. I was definitely not prepared when we headed to the first bar at midnight. Yes, that’s right the first of a few before the “club”. In Toronto, bars usually close at 3am latest…In Spain, that’s when the party’s getting started! Speaking of “party”, have you ever gone to a pop-up club on Christmas Eve with live-accordion music? Actually, “club” isn’t even the right word to describe the environment: a mix of all ages from as young as 13 to the ripe age of 60+, proper Asturian dancing (similar to Rock & Roll dance), and a few cool dudes wearing slippers or madrenas (Austrian version of clogs). Just when you think you could die of exhaustion from dancing and not because it’s 6am, you’re taken to another bar or a friend’s place for some coffee. Kelly – 0, Spain – 1.

New Year's EveSpanish hours. If you haven’t noticed yet…Spanish time exists. What does this mean? This means that waking up before 9 am is crazy, and eating lunch at 2 or 3pm is normal. On my second day at Paola’s, I was invited for lunch at her Aunt’s. We met up at 2:30 pm at the local bar to take a drink of beer or wine with a side-dish of olives. Lunch commenced at 3:30 pm just until 5 pm. Let me tell you…dinner never crossed my mind. If there is one thing you must know about me, it is my love for food. For once, I did not wish for dinner to come. But it did…at 11pm. And after that, a post-meal drink at the bar.

town

Spanish meals. According to Paola, the people of Asturias eat the most compared to all other regions of Spain. Oh, lucky me and my hopes of keeping fit! For the most part, Paola’s Mom cooked simple but delicious meals but I did get an one chance experience at a restaurant. Trust me, once was a good thing. The usual formule menu consists of 2 mains, a dessert, and tea or coffee. I was shocked when I realized my paella was my first course.

My trip was definitely more than just a simple, relaxing vacation. Except, it’s not the end…part 2 is coming: Voyage to Maroc!

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