A KEEN fascination for Paris, brought about by travel books and French language classes, led Reilly Belambang to write a poem about his two loves, Paris and Miri.
The labour of love paid off, as the 15-year-old was one of five lucky youth around the world who won an exclusive one-week all expenses paid trip to the French capital.
The contest, J'ai deux amours, ma ville et Paris (I have two loves, my town and Paris), was organised by the International Federation of French Language Lecturers and relayed in Malaysia by the federation's local branch, headed by Dr Kim Yok Choi, dean of the Faculty of Languages and Linguistics at Universiti Malaya.
Each participant had to write and illustrate a poem on Paris, produce eight photographs of their hometown accompanied by original humoristic comments in poetic form, and a cassette recording of their poetry recital.
All entries had to be in French.
Reilly, a Form Three student at the fully residential SM Sains Miri, spent a week in Paris with four other winners – from Mexico, Niger, Lithuania and Romania.
Reilly's interest in Paris and everything French began when he started reading travel books and pamphlets distributed to his school by the French tourism board.
“My teachers helped me and seven other students from my school with our entries,” says Reilly who has been studying French since Form One.
More than 300 young people from all over the world took part in the inaugural competition.
Accompanied by his French teacher, Yip Pei Yian, to Paris, Reilly visited famous landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower, Arch de Triomphe and Notre Dame, which he mentioned in his poem Cet endroit (That Place) – a poignant expression of his longing to see Paris.
“I met a lot of people and made friends with the other winners during the trip. I'd love to go again,” says Reilly, who was born in Sri Aman, Sarawak, where his parents live and work as farmers.
Among the photographs of his hometown sent by Reilly for the contest were shots of people selling dried prawns in Kuala Barang, the Miri municipal library, and the world-renowned Mulu caves.
Reilly, who hopes to work in the field of forensics as a medical detective, composed his poem in one week. “I got a lot of help in correcting my grammar from my teachers who were very supportive,” he says.
With 20 euros pocket money in Paris, Reilly bought postcards, keychains, and chocolates for his family back home.
In Kuala Lumpur on his return, Reilly met with French Ambassador Jacques Lapouge at the French Embassy and discussed his trip at length whilst conversing both in French and in English.
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