Friday, September 21, 2007


I just got back from dinner at a French restaurant called La Bleue Etière (I think), where I had rabbit galantine with foie gras served with apple jelly. It was interesting (and pretty good).

Before the restaurant, we saw Ratatouille – in French! I have now seen that movie a total of three times in theaters. I think I especially like it because I especially like food.

I’m watching the rugby game (France v. Ireland), and I don’t get it. What are the rules of this sport? One of them evidently, is that females in the audience cheer for their teams in bikinis. Also, singing of the Marseillaise.

On another note, I was re-reading my last entry, and it appears that I spelled medicine the French way. This does not bode well for my English spelling and grammar.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

American Liberal Arts

For anyone unfamiliar with international higher education, students typically specialize at a much earlier age. So for example, if I were studying at a European university, I would only be taking classes directly corresponding to international relations. None of these "well-rounded core requirements" shenanigans, and no "elective credits." Actually on second thought, I'd probably be at law school, because this holds true for professions like the law and medecine as well. It's a straight shot; no detour through undergrad. (By the way, I think "college," at least in England, refers to what we call "high school.")

In China, when you take the standardized college entrance exam, you have to rank according to preference, before you take the exam, specific programs at specific universities (e.g. the biology program at Fu Dan University) you're applying to. If your score doesn't meet their cutoff, you're out of luck - there is nothing else to consider. Furthermore, it's only your first choice that really matters, because the demand for higher education is so strong that a university would never have to accept someone who listed their school as their second choice. In essence, you have to gamble on how you think you're going to do on the exam and accordingly select a school from the appropriate tier. In U.S. terms, your safety school should be your first choice. Any type of affirmative action involved is extremely tangible. (For example, minority ethnic groups in Shanghai receive an additional 8 points.) There's no winning people over with your sparking personality portrayed through your brilliantly-written personal statement. The test is it. If you don't make the cut, you can either enter the work force, or study for another year and take it again. Not to mention the fact that this is no SATs. Five hours? Try five days. This is like studying for the bar. Only in every subject you've ever learned. With your future riding on every tenth of a point. Did I mention you have to do this for high school, too?

Anyway, all this musing stems from the very sudden realization that I have, unwittingly, really taken advantage of the liberal arts system. I've taken classes in cinema studies, linguistics, writing, philosophy, Russian history/culture, religion, economics, classical mythology, and all sorts of aspects of politics; and I'm currently taking classes in art history, calculus, and French. Holy crap! Of course, I'm not claiming to possess any kind of expertise, even in the subjects I've studied more extensively, but exposure to this enormous variety of topics isn't really something I could've gotten in any other system. I guess that's the point. It's kind of amazing.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Citibank is crap.

I sent the following email to Citibank, because I hate them.

Please direct this to "Online Access to Credit Cards." (I cannot access the "Contact Us" link after I've logged in due to account access problems. No need to point out the irony.)

I am extremely unhappy with recent service from citibank regarding my credit card ending in 5437.

1) When I called to inform the bank that I was travelling to Europe, the customer service representative I spoke to neglected to inform me that there was a 3% fee on all international transactions. I only found this out by asking a representative when I called later about my online access being blocked.

2) I was not notified that my card was at risk of unusual activity. Given that I am not at my usual mailing address, I am relying entirely on the internet to interact with the bank. (In fact, as far as I know, my correspondence with the bank has been paperless, regardless of location.)

3) Because I usually rely on e-statements to remind me to pay my bill, and because I didn't receive one, I was unaware that I had a payment due on 9/5/07. Granted, I understand that as the holder of a credit card, I ought to be responsible enough to check my bills, but at the same time, there was no way for me to know that I shouldn't expect an e-statement this month, since there was no notification that my account was at risk.

4) Because I cannot pay my bill online, and because I am abroad, and because I did not bring my checkbook for security, I can't pay my bill through conventional means.

Here's what I want from citibank:

1) Waiver of any international transaction fees I have incurred.

While I'm sure I signed off on these terms when I received and activated the credit card, I also feel that it is citibank's responsibility as a company to train its customer service representatives to give friendly reminders about this policy to people who call /specifically/ to inform the bank of international travel.

2) Correspondence through e-mail regarding account information.

While I assume that the reason e-mail has not been the mode of communication is due to security issues related to the high risk activity, this is the only way I can currently receive information about my account. Please consider this permission to use my email in spite of any security settings.

3) Waiver of any late fee that may apply to my billed activity for which the payment was due on 9/5/07.

Since a) I did not even know I had an outstanding bill because of the email issue, and b) I cannot pay the bill conventionally, I feel I should not be held responsible for its payment being late.

4) Steps I need to follow to pay my credit card bill, including any account information the bank needs in order to verify my identity, etc.

Finally, I would prefer an email response to this rather than a call.

Thank you,


For the record, I know this is at least a little unreasonable, but I need an outlet for my fuming. Also, the response I got, despite the first line, was an automated message referring me to the credit card customer service link. Thanks guys, really.

Monday, September 17, 2007

BabelFish translates: Days of the Inheritance

Sunday was the second day of Journées du Patrimoine, a weekend in September during which a bunch of museums and normally private buildings are open to the public for free. Hannah and I went to the Assemblée Nationale, which is like our Congress.

There must of course, be a nice alley, lest the public bother the elites.

One of several buildings

Nah... not fancy enough

Candide is making himself at home.

I generally don't like using flash, but it really emphasizes the unecessary amount of gold.

I like this little statue a lot.

There isn't a good vantage point to take a picture of the chamber as a whole, so instead I have for you the roof/skylight, the speaker's podium, and a sliver of the members' seats:

La Salle des Conférences

He is actually an important world leader trapped in a stuffed animal.

A very impressive-looking library. Each of those little alcoves is stuffed full of books.

Of course, the useful ones are at the bottom.

I don't really know what these are, but they look important and symbolic.

The courtyard

And of course, two shots from the gift shop:

I noticed that their colors are the opposite of ours: right (droite) is blue, and left (gauche) is red.

See? I told you.

Then we went to an excellent (and cheap) Korean barbecue restaurant off of St. Germain-des-Pres. It cost us 11,50€ for a small Japanese salad, two gyoza dumplings, a “small” (but actually quite sizable) portion of raw beef, and miso soup. It was very yummy.

Tip: When in France, if you want free water at a restaurant, ask for “une carafe d’eau” and not just “de l’eau” because the former is free tap water, whereas the latter is expensive Evian, or whatever the restaurant has.

Tip: In France, you have to ask for the bill, because it’s considered bad service if they bring it to you (suggesting that they’re rushing you out of the restaurant). This is a simple, “L’addicion, s’il vous plait.”

Tip: Don’t tip. Service is almost always included, which will be noted by “service compris” somewhere on the menu. If the service is really that good, tip 1 or 2€ at most. For cafés, bars, and taxis, just round up to the next euro.

Another thing, in general, Europeans use commas where we use periods, and vice versa. So if something is 10.000€, that is not a typo, and it is not cheap. Also, the euro sign follows rather than precedes prices, unlike the dollar sign.