August Founder’s Note: French Connections

My personal French connections, however, can not be more loving, compassionate, silly and blessed.

2014-08 Founder's Note French Connections

In the Chinese culture, we often speak about 緣份 (yuan fen). There’s no direct translation of the word. It’s a way of thinking, a concept rather, that refers to the binding forces between relationships held by lovers, family, friends or even strangers. There’s neither science nor religion behind it. But I grew up with an understanding that if there are special connections in my life, they mustn’t be disregarded and I must be wise enough to cherish them as gifts from many lifetimes ago.

People often ask me why I love Paris so much. The streets, the food, the language, the architecture, the history, the beauty, the fashion… I can go on for hours. But the one single component that tops the list is: the people. Or should I say, my people.

Americans often speak about the “Parisian attitude”, unfortunately with major negative connotations attached. My personal French connections, however, can not be more loving, compassionate, silly and blessed. In life, we strive to be surrounded by people who inspire us to be better versions of ourselves. They don’t know this, but for so many years, my friends in Paris have been continuously teaching me on how to be a better friend. For the love and for the hunger of such reminders, I return to Paris year after year.

The Chinese also believe in destiny, we don’t think that things happen for no reason whatsoever. I know, in my heart, that it was no accident when my parents enrolled me in a private school during junior high, while choosing between Spanish and French classes as a second language (actually, it would be my fourth language) that we, as a family, chose French. In 1991, we had just moved to the United States from Taiwan. There I was, learning English and French simultaneously, never once was I confused about the two. Maybe it was a sign, or not. But I know with a linguistic foundation from a young age, my experiences in Paris as an adult have been delightedly more intimate and personal.

I had visited Paris as a teenager, on family vacations just like everyone else. But when I picked up my bags and decided to move here, it was 2008 and it was intended as a three-month stay. I had worked tirelessly for years and decided to take some time off to travel. I spent six months living in Tokyo. While learning Japanese was a thrill, I never gelled with the Japanese culture. With my luggage in a cab, I arrived in Paris by myself. For some inexplicable reason, I had a feeling I was home.

A month went by, including my birthday which I spent alone at Le Louvre and a box of chocolates from my landlord. Some may have pitied me but I was in heaven. I loved the lack of social interaction. I indulged in discovery. I drank wine whenever I wanted. I sat down at restaurants I had always wanted to try. I would come home and write down every thought in my journal. Everyday, I reflected upon: who gets to do this? Who gets to live this life? I will live every moment in Paris, as if every moment belonged solely to me. What a privilege.

paris fashion week wendyA few weeks later, I was invited to a party during Paris Fashion Week. A night that eventually changed the course of my relationship with Paris. The party turned out to be a bore, full of superficial gawkers. After a few photo ops, I was ready to leave. As I stood outside by La Seine, disappointed by my first awful experience in Paris, someone spoke to me.

“Be careful, there are rocks that are very dangerous!”

“Thank you” I said.

Ludo was his name, with the most adorable French accent when he spoke English. He introduced me to three other guys next to him: Loic, Charles and Marwan. Ludo and Loic invited me for a drink with their friends on the following weekend, and the rest was history.

That weekend began as a Saturday night in République, drinking beers at a restaurant across the street from an apartment that belonged to some friends in the group. We stayed out until 5am, strolling on the same street, laughing endlessly with drinks in our hands. On this night, which we often still reminisce about, I met siblings, the Pouillarts, who would eventually teach me so much about the French culture. Quentin, who I dated, not once but twice. Ambroise, who has since become the brother I never had, and Mathilde, my best friend and my French sister.

Since then, moments in Paris didn’t belong solely to me anymore. Moments were ours. What meant to be a three-month stay became a six-month staycation. I would keep extending my time until in the end, I lived in Paris for two years. Every weekend, a huge group of us would gather. I would celebrate Christmas with the Pouillarts in their grandparents’ countryside home, I would be invited to every family birthday. All this time, I was the only Taiwanese-American. These friends were so fascinated by my cultures and I was constantly inhaling all the French-ness they had to offer.

In 2010, reality hit and I had to return to the States to work again. After a sad goodbye, I promised to return every year to my French family. Each year since then, I’ve kept my promise and always come back to a room prepared in the same apartment building on the same street where we first met.

Friendships fluctuate and they never stay on a high note forever. With my French family, however, I am consistently spoiled and loved. Every year, the same door opens for me. Ambroise always says, “We’re so happy to have you to ourselves for two months!” Every year, he waits for my arrival, along with his girlfriend Molly, carrying my ultra heavy luggage up five flights of stairs. When my world falls apart, I know Mathilde will be right there to handle the broken pieces. These friendships reach far beyond distance. Even when I’m thousands of miles away, I know I have a group of knuckleheads ready to listen, to cheer me on, to support wholeheartedly. And, vice versa.

In this month, we ask you to focus on your own version of connections. In Annie Gray’s “Ideal Travel Partners,” she breaks it down to eight genius qualities that your travel friend should possess. Someone you genuinely enjoy, someone who doesn’t drive you crazy. In Jason Canter’s “Wine and Weirdness,” he shares the experience of traveling with his wife in Portland, Oregon where we recognize as the up-and-coming West Coast destination with so much to offer. In Desiree Constance Choy’s “Best of Barcelona: An Unforgettable Excursion of the Mediterranean,” you can dive into a unique sea adventure in Spain with her closest friends in midst of a two-week trip in Europe. Are your best friends coming to your city? Lena Kazer shows you “How to be a City Guide That’ll Blow Your Visitor’s Mind” so you can optimize their visit while showcasing everything you love about where you live.

The Ideal Traveler Annie Gray
See: Annie Gray’s “Ideal Travel Partners: 8 Qualities Your Friend Should Have”

Many years have gone by with sad and glorious events that have happened to all of us in the group. But what makes my French family work so well is that we’ve always accepted each other for who we are and we continue to inspire one another. None of these lessons are taught from books or in schools. We live them.

I was texting my sister this morning about the deep gratitude for my French friends, and she replied, “Wendy, it’s yuan fen. You just can’t explain it.”

As a Taiwanese growing up in America, I never would have thought that Paris would ever be a place where I’d call home. But then again, home isn’t exactly where I define as being settled. What I’ve been given is that, home is where my family is and it’s also where I feel free.

Freedom. Isn’t that what we are all striving for? The freedom to do whatever we want, and the freedom to be exactly who we are.

Je vous aime, mes amis…

Wendy's siguature

Wendy Hung


As the founder of Jetset Times, Wendy is an avid traveler and fluent in five languages. When she's not traveling, Wendy calls Paris and Taipei home. Her favorite countries so far from her travels have been: Bhutan, Iran, and St. Bart's because they were all so different!

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