Andre was born and grew up in Port Louis, the capital city of Mauritius. One year in the 1970s, he happened to pass through Hong Kong on his way back home from his studies in the U.K. At that time, I had already obtained a diploma in French from L’Alliance Francaise but still wished to improve on my oral French. So I placed an ad in the SCMP to find a French tutor. Andre replied to my ad and became my French tutor for a few months, during which time I learned some French idioms and sayings, plus a bit about Mauritius, the fascinating place of his birth. Born of Chinese parents, Andre had the good fortune to have absorbed three different languages and cultures (Chinese, French and English) all at once from his childhood.
Mauritius can be said to be quite a place of colorful cultural potpourri (it had been ruled by the French and then the British in the 18th and 19th centuries and became independent in 1968), having a multiracial and multicolor population, made up mostly of people of Indian and African descent. The cuisine of Mauritius is an exotic blend of Creole, Chinese, European and Indian influences. The most popular languages used on the island are Creole, French and English. I can certainly understand why French writer Le Clezio picks this beautiful mountainous island in the Indian Ocean as his home of choice.
Maybe my love for the French language began when I was in high school, where French was taught, at the same time that I fell in love with the English language. But my love for French proved elusive for a while because I was prohibited from taking French lessons then due to some discriminatory school policy. For this reason, I became all the more determined to learn French when I joined the working world, and in the end I did learn it. During the course of learning, I found myself spellbound, both by the language itself and by the polished culture it portrays.
The following are three short French poems that I wrote while in the process of learning the language, the first two of which had previously been published in L’Alliance Francaise’s newsletter in the 1970s:-
Jeunesse, comme tu es belle;
Joues roses des demoiselles;
Si seulement tu etais eternelle.
Jeunesse, comme tu es vivante;
Poissons dan l’eau brilliante;
Si seulement tu etais permanente.
Jeunesse, dois-tu marcher si vite?
Toi, qui es charmante comme Aphrodite;
Doucement tu viens, doucement tu quittes.
Sans elle, on ne peut ni se rejouir
Ni avoir l’air gai,
Ni sourire, ni faire sourire.
Sans elle, on ne peut rien faire
Que rendre la douleur du coeur
De plus en plus severe.
L’amitie, tout le monde en a envie,
Personne ne peut s’en passer –
Qui un roi, qui un bandit.
L’amitie, je vous souhaite de l’avoir,
Parce qu’elle a des bontes
Inepuisables comme un reservoir.
Notre prof est gentil ;
Il porte toujours un sourire.
D’Histoire Chinoise il aime dire;
Il semble qu’il s’en est epris.
Il parle d’une voix paisible ;
Son air est toujours gai.
Comment faire apprendre il bien sait ;
Jamais il ne le trouve penible.
Il est surtout tres habile
A comprendre ses etudiants
Qu’il enseigne avec elan !
Il rend mes taches plus faciles.
It’s a shame that due to a lack of practice over the years, my French has become so rust now that I can hardly carry on a conversation with a French-speaking person, although the culture, which I still love, has made a lasting imprint on my spiritual and intellectual being.