Thursday, September 18, 2014

Thursday in Noumea

After breakfast in the room, I drove downtown to explore the centre of Noumea. The streets are narrow, and many are one-way, which made navigating a little interesting, and it was quite difficult to find a parking spot. There were plenty of places to park, but they were all full. I finally found a spot along the Place des Cocotiers, the large park in the middle of downtown. I walked over to the market and wandered the stalls there for a bit, giving in to temptation for a tartalette aux pommes (that does it; AutoCorrect is now off, as it's a huge pain in the ass when trying to include French words!).

From the market, I wandered around a while longer, and then, as my parking was about to expire, I moved the car closer to the Museum of New Caledonia, finding a parking spot after a couple laps around the block. The museum was small, and not of great interest to me, so it was not a big deal that I had arrived 45 minutes before they closed for lunch.

I wandered around some more, stopping at a restaurant by the ferry quay for lunch. I returned to the car, and drove across to find the building for this afternoon's volunteer meeting. It was easier to find than I had expected, and there was plenty of parking nearby, so I went in about half an hour early. There were a few other volunteers there, and we chatted (mostly in French, though one guy wanted to practise his English) while we waited for the meeting to start. which point I had a humbling experience. My French is half-decent but not fluent, and I have been managing pretty well in one-on-one face-to-face conversations. However once the group meeting began, with multiple people speaking at full speed, I really struggled to keep up, and probably understood only a quarter of what was being said. And it was hard work listening and trying to understand!

After the general briefing, we split up into groups working on different things. In addition to helping register athletes Friday afternoon (I asked for the Russian team, whom I can greet politely in Russian, and whom I registered at last year's World Youth Climbing Championships in Victoria), I am also helping with the translation of the web site for the event. The content is first produced in French, and there is a guy tasked with translating everything into English. I help him make the English version better. I started helping with this weeks ago, before I left Toronto, and have done a little more during my trip. I was able to ask the translator some questions to make sure I understood everything covered in the meeting, so I think I'm ready now.

My cute little rental car

View of Noumea's harbour

My volunteer badge and Tshirt

All of that paying attention in French for an hour and a half was exhausting! I returned to the hotel for a siesta, feeling like I pushed myself a bit today, which is good.

Had a Hawaiian pizza (I consider that close to culturally appropriate) and a good local amber beer before returning to the hotel to read and sleep.

I've now explored a good bit of Noumea, and my impressions are mixed. The island itself is beautiful, and more hilly than I expected, especially within the town. The beaches and ocean views are gorgeous. The people are very nice and friendly everywhere I've been, and when they find out where I'm from, they usually tell me about a friend or relative they know who lives or studies in Canada. Some parts of town are beautiful and touristy and well-maintained, some parts feel like I'm in France, and some parts are neglected and run down, and feel a bit like I'm in one of the poorer parts of Africa or Latin America. I've read a bit about the indigenous people here, the Kanaks, and it seems to be a very familiar story of an existing race being overrun and poorly treated by the European invaders, though there have definitely been some recent efforts to improve the lot of the Kanaks, and New Caledonia is close to being able to have its say about whether to become fully independent of France. Overall they seem to be a little better off than the Australian Aborigines, and worse off than New Zealand's Maoris, but that's a pretty superficial impression.

The comp gets underway tomorrow with the athlete registration and Opening Ceremonies!

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