Founder’s Note: A Love Letter To My City Of Lights

With an open heart, we can travel far, then transform any experience in any place into our very own City of Lights.

paris france
PHOTO WENDY HUNG

Every summer when I arrive in the City of Lights, Ambroise is always the first person I see. I purposely plan it this way, coordinating my arrival time during his break from work. Weeks prior, Mathilde always plans on meeting me at the airport. I know, however, something will always come up. And I will need Ambroise, her older brother, to haul my ultra heavy luggages up six flights of stairs (“five” flights in French, they count the ground floor as the first floor.) I know my French family by heart, probably just as well as they know me. This year, within the first few hours, Ambroise and I were at our favorite bar, after visiting Antoine – one of my favorite people, in his home since he had broken his arm from a scooter accident. There we were, in Au Dernier Métro, sipping on beers while I gave kisses on the cheeks of restaurant owners. More friends arrived to catch up. But what I remember the most from that night was Ambroise telling me, “We don’t care what you’ve done, who you’ve met. It’s all great! But to us, you’ll always be Wendy.” Yes, this group does know me by heart.

Last year, I was interviewing a photographer in New York City. He blatantly asked me, “What’s up with you and Paris? Why do you love it so much?” It’s true, I do love this city with all of my heart. I’ve met expats who have lived in Paris just as long as I did (a mere two years,) the same travelers or settlers wouldn’t speak of Paris in as high of a regard as I do. My answer remains the same through the years. I feel the most free in Paris, never judged for my mistakes or my strengths. Paris brings out the best version of myself, and isn’t that what we’re all striving for in life?

paris france
PHOTO WENDY HUNG

The first time I met Ambroise, Mathilde and Antoine was at a cafe called: Aux Voisins, in the Republique area. This was 2008, I had no idea that one day, I would come to know this neighborhood so well and to also call it my home away from home. Back then, I had declared an early retirement one year prior and moved to Tokyo to learn Japanese. After six months, I discovered that the Japanese culture wasn’t quite for me, so I moved to Paris since I spoke French already. After a month of wandering through streets in my new neighborhood in Montmartre, I fell more in love with cafés, bistros, and quaint alleys day by day. What astounded me was, my joy was adamantly pure while I was all alone. I had serendipitously received invitations to several Paris Fashion Week events. In one soirée near Le Seine, I began to feel eerily uncomfortable, surprisingly lonely in midst of beautiful garments and sophisticated people. I recall texting a friend in the States and she encouraged me, “If you don’t like it, it’s okay to leave.” So I stepped outside then heard a voice next to me. “Be careful, the rocks are very dangerous.” It was Ludo, and he meant the cobblestones next to Le Seine. He, along with some friends, invited me to see the real Paris during the following weekend. And so it began, from Paris Fashion Week to Aux Voisins, where I continue to leave a trail of memories with a group of friends who have dearly become my French family.

Unless I’m traveling to a foreign country for one or two weeks, I define Taipei, San Francisco and Paris as places where I have different lives to lead. It’s a luxury to “have a life” in three vastly different cultures, but it can also be undeniably overwhelming. What draws me to my life in Paris lies in its simplicity. From my days of living in Paris, Mathilde has grown to be one of my best friends in life. By now, I can just as well call her apartment: my home. There are two apartments on the fifth floor, similar to the TV series Friends, everyone in their mid-to-late twenties. Mathilde and her friends take over the “Monica and Rachel” apartment while Ambroise and his are across the hall in “Joey and Chandler’s” pad. No joke. This summer, I even spotted a Naked Man in a building across the street! (see photo) Like the duck and the chicken in the sitcom, we have pet kittens. We share the same WiFi, the same group of friends. When we run out of milk for scrambled eggs, we knock on the door across the hall. When we hear familiar footsteps up the stairs at expected hours, one door is always open to ask: “Where were you?” No, there isn’t much privacy. But is there ever any between a family?

paris france naked guy
PHOTO WENDY HUNG

Everyday when I needed a break from work, I knocked on Ambroise’s door to zone out by watching him play video games. When he was done with work, sometimes he joined the girls for one or two glasses of red wine on our balcony. Sweet Molly, Ambroise’s girlfriend, knew where to go if she craved for a girl’s night with sushi and some bottles of rosé. Ludo and Antoine never lived in the apartment, but they were around because our floor remained as the centrical meeting point for weekend barbecues, afterhour nightcaps, even for a little bit of gossip. Or rather, lots of it.

Truthfully, the heart of the ambiance fumed beyond what we did together and how we were with each other. It was a sincere correspondence of learning about our pasts and differences. Almost on a nightly basis, we dined on the balcony and exchanged cultural perspectives with the lights of Sacré-Coeur as our quiet backdrop. My French continued to improve from endless conversations with two girls who lived with Mathilde: Marie and Béné. They explained to me why gastronomy in France is deep rooted in Lyon and how South of France carries a different mentality than that of Paris. When I felt sick, Marie was the first person at the pharmacy looking for the right medicine. Molly, originally from England, inadvertently taught me how to be adored by everyone without a rambunctious and over-the-top attitude. Her and I regularly sipped on wines late into tranquil summer nights, diving into philosophies about life or trivial blabber. Over games of dice with Ambroise, he taught me how to distinguish great bottles of wine not by the taste but by the whiff. On top of lessons regarding wine and food, I learned that Ambroise’s generosity was easy. With an open heart and a charming smile, sweating over the small stuff was simply not worth it. And there was Mathilde…

paris france
PHOTO WENDY HUNG

If I were in Paris and stayed at a hotel, Mathilde would be upset. If I were at a soirée without a smile, Mathilde is upset with me. If someone trespassed her kindness, we would be upset together. She is the sole reason why I have all that I have experienced in Paris. Just like any friendship, ours have gone through ups and downs. At times, it still does. Before I left Paris, I asked her if there was anything I should change about myself. “Nothing, you’re perfect the way you are.” She said, sounding just like my mother. The next day at Charles de Gaulle airport, she corrected herself, “I want you to sleep better, work hard but watch for your health. That’s the only thing I want you to change.” A friend who cares more about my wellness than myself, I think she’s a keeper!

In August, I took a break from Paris and spent two and a half weeks in Prague and Budapest. My French family never lingered too far away. I received texts message on a regular basis from Mathilde and Camille, a fashion designer who is just as selfless with me as the others. Years ago, I used to model for Camille’s collections. Since then, she has lived in New York and acts as a crucial role in helping me decipher the differences between friendships in America and in France. In the end, we concluded that acquaintances and drinking buddies won’t be the ones taking you to the hospital. When you’re drenched in tears past midnight, they’re also not the ones waking up to offer an embrace.

Before leaving Paris, I never asked for a goodbye party. What I adapted to our simple yet beautiful life in the city was to appreciate intimate times with friends, so that’s what I had hoped for. But Mathilde, Marie, Ambroise and Molly went above and beyond to make me feel incredibly special. Saturday night, the girls prepared a fromage and charcuterie (cheese and cold cuts) party in our home. It was the perfect chance for me to see some of my dearest friends in Paris one last time. We ended the night hailing taxis in the rain and dancing at the club with Ludo and Ambroise. Sunday feast involved seventeen friends gathering at Ambroise’s home, in which he roasted a stack of glorious beef that we devoured with three magnum bottles of fine French wine. On Monday night, he made another intimate dinner, simply for the floormates as a final goodbye. On Tuesday, I woke up early to embrace Marie, Béné and Molly before they went to work. Endless hugs and kisses on the cheeks were followed by Camille’s visit to help me pack. In the afternoon, Ambroise came home to carry my luggages down six flights of stairs, exactly as he did on the day when I arrived. Mathilde came with me to the airport, where we sat so long chatting that I almost missed my flight. In the end, I couldn’t have felt more loved. Like a little girl leaving summer camp, friendship bracelets and all.

paris france
PHOTO WENDY HUNG

Every year, I leave Paris with a heavy heart. Tears are shed despite knowing that without goodbyes, I wouldn’t cherish the present so earnestly. At a certain age, we all stop going to school, thus we begin to learn from people around us. The lessons my French family continues to teach me is the kind of selflessness beyond what any business or law school can teach. They open their homes, culture and hearts with sheer genuineness. Just as my mother always says: do anything with your “heart,” and you’ll be successful. As Jetset Times celebrates our One Year Anniversary on September 1st, I know I’ve tried and continue to apply the same lesson on this platform along with each unique contributor, with every published article. With an open heart, we can travel far, then transform any experience in any place into our very own City of Lights.

Merci beaucoup mes amis!

Je vous embrasse fort,

Wendy's siguature

Wendy Hung

CEO, FOUNDER, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

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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