remembering simone and going it alone

Q left to go back home to Australia. I worked hard at having a Good Day, the last day we spent together, and I think I did quite well in not being much of a sobbing mess. I dropped them off at the airport and made my way back to the unpleasant hostel and a room that was just mine now.

The second thing I did was to check facebook, where I received a message that was clearly not going to be good news. And it wasn’t. My friend, my former housemate, was in a coma. Sometime later I would find out that she had died. Instantly, my shield of emotional distance slammed into place. I noted it with relief and intellectual curiosity – because recently this shield has not always been there for me. So I turned, and set about packing my things for Luxembourg. Only once did I break, crying heartily when a song about someone’s friend being away for too long came on. A gift from my dad, it made me think of him, and I wanted to be wherever he was, held tightly, being calmed. But there was no satisfaction in that, in crying then, so I wiped my eyes, and turned to check under the bed for stray items.

In the morning I caught the train, which ended up being three trains, to Luxembourg. I was cheerful, and made friends with someone who was useful. A friend from Helsinki uni days picked me up, and he showed me the world of Luxembourg. We walked through awesome tunnels and ate ice cream and I was happy most of the time. And so the days have continued. The world outside is pleasant and inviting and I enjoy being in it, but my heart is elsewhere, thinking of other people, wishing that teleportation did not just exist on Star Trek. I had thought, off and on, about how I would go once Q left. Sometimes I would be looking forward to it, sometimes I would be terrified of it. I was above all interested to see how I would cope, but this was not the test I was planning to set.

Simone was my first housemate, after I kicked my parents out of the house we were renting, telling them it was time to grow up and see the world. It was her first sharehouse. I conducted the housemate ‘interview’ over a beer at the bar in Trades Hall, after a Reclaim the Night march. It was mostly a conversation that went that almost-too-fast speed that Simone goes. I believe I was just as energetic, feeding off her bounce. We decided we would likely be compatible housemates through a complex discussion of music (Spice Girls, yes or no?) and politics (Unions, yes or no?). (Okay, I promise it was more nuanced than that.)

So, her bounciness moved in, and changed my life. I remember coming home to find that she had organised our considerable library according to the Dewey decimal system. The remnants of this sorting remain today. Simone would come into my room when I needed a hug, or when she had news – again, this frequently involved bouncing. I feel privileged that she trusted me enough to be allowed to comfort her when she needed it. As I sit, far away from my homelands, I can remember the feel of her hugs, comforting me after a crappy day, sharing her energy with me. Simone became a part of my family.

Simone told me once that she knew two things about herself – she was short and she was smart. She was indeed those two things – and also, so much more. I would watch as she sat at the kitchen table, pumping out an essay on some topic that made my brain hurt. It would be returned two weeks later with top marks. Every time. She used to sneak Fruit Loops into her room and stay up all night writing policy.

And I remember that our conversations would sometimes move in time to her bouncing – we would share stories, getting more and more excited, until we had to start “calling the next tangent”, a way of allowing the speaker to finish, knowing that our story would get a turn. These conversations could last for hours.

I was with her when she went to Sydney, the time she chose to move there. I could see in her eyes the excitement and the possibilities that this new adventure promised. From afar, I watched as she quickly became a part of that world, and I was (am) impressed and proud.

I am privileged to have known, to have learnt from, and to have laughed with, a person such as Simone.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

things that make me happy in berlin

Inn-Berlin
I have stayed in a lot of hostels, and my experience in this one easily makes the top three. It is run pretty much the way I would run a hostel – and they seem to have thought of everything. Before arrival they give you clear directions to get there, when you arrive they sit you down for half an hour with tea and coffee and go through a map of berlin, showing you where everything is. They have a freecycle service, and really handy things like a luggage weigher, and the weather forecast. The staff are very friendly and very helpful, and make you feel at home. While we were staying in a room with a spoilt-princess four poster bed, the dorms were all huge and light filled, with heaps of space between each bed. The place was painted all funky like, by one artist. While i was there there was a chihuahua called Gi-gi. Pets make me happy.

ice-cream!
There were lots of ice-cream stores doing a roaring trade, but easily my favourite was Tanne B (http://www.tanneb.de/), an organic place with changing menus and plenty of vegan options. While in Berlin, we went several times and I sampled banana, mango, fresh orange, cherry mania, plum and cinnamon, pistachio, chocolate and chilli, strawberry something, ginger, peanut (with waffles and honey, oh yeah), and at least two others which i have now forgotten. We would sit and eat ice cream and watch the kids playing at the awesome playground in the park, or watch Germany beat Canada in the women’s soccer world cup on TV. The place seemed to be a little community hub, with people coming and going and kids filling up their water pistols.

20110705-203054.jpg

cafes run by collective
Cafe Morgenrot does an amazing vego / vegan breakfast on the weekend. Other times you can go there and use their wireless, play board games, listen to wicked lady DJs, pat one of the dogs, drink coffee or alcohol. I made friends with one of the collective members by charmingly asking annoying questions in English.

20110809-115729.jpg

transgenialer Christopher Street Day parade
‘Transgenialer’ probably best translates as ‘trans*-inclusive’, and is an alternative, altogether more queer, parade held on the same day as the Christopher Street Day pride parade. Q and I went to both. While CSD was amazing for its sheer size and amount of trucks blaring pop songs (which are important), and gratifying for the amount of people of all sorts that turned out to watch, the overwhelming number of people and external stimuli was, well, overwhelming. Also the people handing out red ribbons were grumpy, and the ropes between floats and people were restricting. tCSD, on the other hand, felt friendly and like we were being encouraged to dance and march, not just watch. So we marched and we danced and I felt like we were with our people, and safe. This was why we came to Berlin, and it was well worth it for this alone. People laughing and dancing in the streets, with witty, angry, lefty placards, while nannas watch out their windows and the local kids pull Michael Jackson moves on the footpath, make me happy.

sliding scale prices
Several places we went to employed sliding scale price lists. The casual way this was presented made me feel like it was a regular occurence, and that made me happy.

dogs everywhere!
This is not a phenomenon unique to Berlin – dogs seem much more present and welcome in most of the cities I have been in. They are welcome on all forms of public transport, and in Berlin in particular, they were welcome in cafes and restaurants, without needing to be on a leash.

plants in shoes
This one gets me everytime, and seems to be my personal symbol for people finding new uses for old things. Several times I saw herbs planted in an old sneaker and tied to a pole for the public to help itself. Everytime it would elicit a huge grin from me.

amazing playgrounds
Q and I would exclaim over pretty much every playground we came across – and there were plenty. Often they would incorporate soccer goals and table tennis tables, would usually have some variety of swinging thing we had never seen before, and a sand or water table with pumps and pulleys and wheels to make the substance move in different directions.

it’s just the vibe of the thing
I don’t think my experience is unique here, but in Berlin I found the energy to be really exciting – I enjoyed the abundance of graffitti, and the independent artist shops. The first thing I noticed was that there were all kinds of people here. By that I guess I mean they dressed differently, walked differently, held themselves differently (from each other). The part of me that loves cut-n-paste, new-from-old design, and a beauty that does not colour within the lines, was home.

Posted in exploring | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

inari by midnight / rovaniemi by sunlight

I spent a whirlwind few days up in Inari in Lapland, to finish this part of my Finland adventures.

Inari is about 300 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, in the land of the ‘midnight sun’.

I caught the night train most of the way up, and it got to the point where you can just see a glimmer of pink in an otherwise quite dark sky. And then it stayed like that for awhile, before getting light again very quickly.

Last time I was in Lapland it was all snow and a dark sky. On this bus trip, whenever I looked out of the window, I could see a calm, still lake, or a little fast-flowing river, surrounded by green trees.

I stayed in the same place as mentioned previously (see ‘retrospective: stories from kamisak and inari’), a bed and breakfast (and so much more) called Villa Lanca. I was being a good ‘woohoo-traveler’, getting excited about everything and being (mostly) cheerful despite the weather being fairly miserable.

There are four horses now at Villa Lanca – apparently they are Norwegian fjording horses, not ponies. They are very strong, and liable to let you know very clearly when you haven’t fed them recently enough. I have the bite marks. One of them, Lilli, is new and being picked on by the other ones. So I walked her around the house where I am staying, so she could have unimpeded access to fresh grass, and mow the lawn. In an excellent display of city-kidness, I happily followed this horse around for two hours making sure she didn’t eat the flowers, enjoying the novelty value of looking after a horse.

20110610-175602.jpg

Here in Inari, it just doesn’t get dark. I watched the sun hang out low against the hills around midnight, but then it just didn’t get any lower.

20110610-175812.jpg

I could easily see the pretty views of lake and hills.

20110610-181312.jpg

20110615-114539.jpg
I look very pretty by midnight sunlight.

I went back to SIIDA, one of the best museums I have ever been to, to see the outdoor exhibition and the new exhibitions, all of which were excellent. There was some absolutely breathtaking photographs of birds in winter, and the outdoor exhibiton showed buildings from early Sámi settlement.

Most of Saturday was stormy, windy, thundery and grey, but still light! The whole time. I slept for about two hours, I think because my body was thoroughly confused. Sunday morning I went down to look at the lake, and appreciate the fact that I seemed to be the only person looking at this particular bit of it. Because that is what you are supposed to do in summer, I have been told. Lake Inari is apparently big enough that every person in Finland could stand on it (in winter, I suggest) and have their own square metre.

Then, because apparently it is what I do, I went ‘swimming’ in the lake. Nude, because I had forgotten to take swimmers. But I appeared to have been the only person there, and didn’t stay in for very long. It was COLD! But now I have swum somewhere new.

After a yummy breakfast I went horseriding with a guide up one of the closer hills, through sparse pine / birch forest to see pretty views. It was indeed pretty, and my horse Norge, was kind of hilarious. She clearly knew she was dealing with an amateur, and by the time we got back down the hill, she had managed to completely remove her bridle. It was fine though, I just directed her with my legs, and we seemed to come to some sort of agreement, whereby she would run for fifteen metres, stop to eat grass, and then repeat, heading vaguely in the direction I wanted her to. Given that this was the first fresh grass since last summer, I couldn’t really blame her.

20110615-115259.jpg

Then there was cheesecake, buying things at the artist shop, and hitching a lift back to Rovaniemi with the owner’s cousin.

In Rovaniemi, I lay in the grass in the sun and dozed until my train arrived, and I slept all the way to Helsinki.

Now, my first Finnish adventure is over. Next is Tallinn, Germany, Czech and Slovakia.

~ precis of

Posted in exploring | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

in which the finns prove they can “wuhuu”* with the best of them

For most of you it will have completely escaped your notice that the International Ice Hockey World Championships were on recently. I found out while watching the second Eurovision semifinal with a friend, whom we shall call ‘Finn 1′, as this blog entry involves heavy generalisations about Finnish culture, from a totally legitimate sample size. The conversation went like this:
Finn 1: Finland is playing in the ice hockey semifinals.
Me: Oh COOL! So you could be playing in the Finals! That’s EXCITING!
Finn 1: Yeah, but we will probably play for bronze. (ie, Finland will probably lose this game.)

It struck me as somewhat pessimistic, but i went back to watching trashy pop music, and plotted how i could best see this apparently-doomed game.

So, the following night I found myself at the Finn Family Yli’s, watching the Finnish Lions play Russia with Finn 2 and Finn 3.

(A crash course in ice hockey: Lots of boys run around with sticks on ice, with knives strapped to their feet, occasionally trying to get a puck into a goal, but mostly trying to slam each other into walls. Genius game. There are three periods of twenty minutes each.)

We watch the first period mostly in silence, except for when I can’ handle the silence any more and I have to make noise. Bloody Australians. A whole lot of intense no-scoring happens.

Halfway through the second period, Finland’s 19-year-old Granlund scores the first goal. Finn 2 smiles a little. It is an amazing, unorthodox goal – the best in the series. Finn 2 laughs a little.

That is the only goal that period, but at the end of it, the following exchange occurs:
Finn 3: So, we will lose 1-4?
Finn 2: This is not good.
Finn 3: It is always like this.
I look confused.

The third period begins, and Finland scores again. Finn 2 points, closes their fingers into a fist of satisfaction, and returns to ‘at ease’. “It could still end 3-2” comes from Finn 3 (Obviously, not in Finland’s favour.)

At some point a Finn’s stick collides with a Russian’s face and there is blood. The Finn receives a four-minute penalty. This seems to be as disastrous as the first goal is amazing. It is the beginning of the end. Apparently, the Finns start to ‘tremble’ when they realise they are winning.

Surprising only the Finns themselves, they go on to win, which means they are through to the ‘gold medal final’, where they will be playing Sweden. For me, trying to collect ‘cultural experiences’, this is very exciting, because Sweden and Finland have a sporting rivalry probably even more intense than the Australian – New Zealand one. For the Finns, it seems to be only a source of stress, merely prolonging the inevitable loss.

Finland is a small country, sandwiched between two much larger countries, both of which have ruled over Finland in the past. (Finland only gained independence in the early 1900s.) It has a major inferiority complex.

More than just Finland’s apparent habit of losing, they are playing Sweden. The last time Finland won the Ice Hockey World Championships, sixteen years ago, they beat Sweden. The way Finns tell it, that was the most recent time Finland has managed to beat Sweden. Beating Sweden would be like Australia beating England after having lost every single game for twenty years.

So, for the gold medal final I find myself back at Finn 1’s house. Present is one Finn, and four exchange students. Again, there is a lot of very fast no-scoring in the first period, punctuated only by the Latvian or the Australian yelling “Fight!Fight!Fight!” whenever players flew into walls.

Halfway through the second period, Sweden scores the first goal. This is terrible. There is a moment of dejected flopping before we return to trying to work out where the puck is. At the end of the secind period, Finland equals the scores and there is the possibility of sunshine again. The exchange students yell excitedly, and the Finn looks nervous.

In the third period, Finland scores again and again and again and again and again. With every successive goal, the exchange kids get louder and more obnoxious, and the Finn gets more and more tense. It is inly in the last minute, with Finland ahead 6-1 and Sweden not really knowing what to do with themselves, that our Finn starts to relax.

The siren goes, and Finland has won 6-1.

Helsinki EXPLODES. I find myself waving the Finnish flag and singing Danish eurovision songs. (I don’t know why.) The woman next to us at the bus stop is yelling into her phone the equivalent of “FUCKING SIX-ONE! SIX-ONE! SIX-FUCKING-ONE! FUCKING!”

We get on the bus heading to the impromptu party in the city. There is a hush as we get in the bus, but then someone catches someone else’s eye (Yes, in Finland!), and someone else grins, and the whole bus bursts into song. I haven’t ever seen anything like it. And I am in Finland, of all places. People are dancing and yelling and boys are giving each other manly hugs and manly kisses. The bus is rocking. It is amazing.

I piked on the impromptu party (the bus went past my house), but all the available evidence suggests the singing, cheering, rambunctious flag-waving, and picking up of cute police officers continued well into the early hours of the morning.

The following day 100,000 people descend on Market Square, to see the players arrive home. There are people everywhere, in blue and white, cheering pretty much just for the hell of it. Everywhere there are posters that say “Kiitos Leijonat!” (Thank you Lions!). How cute is that? Can you imagine the Australian cricket team returning with the Ashes, or the Socceroos with the World Cup, to be greeted by posters all saying “Thanks guys!”? No, I didn’t think so.

By the time the players arrive home from Slovakia, they are so totally wasted that some of them can’t make it to the stage to greet the President. Of Finland. Pretty much, Finns can wuhuu just like you.

Only once every sixteen years, mind you. The rest of the time they are their usual taciturn, unflappable selves. My other story involving President Halonen is a good indication of this. The President walks in to the cafe where I happen to be. She sees that it is full, and walks out again. The table nearest the door goes quiet for a moment, and then continues their conversation. Nothing else happens.

20110604-161652.jpg
(Caption: A giant banner reads “Kiitos Leijonat!” – Thanks Lions – above lots of Finns waving flags.)

*That is how the Finnish spell it. Perhaps I was just spelling it incorrectly?

Posted in stories of helsinki | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

heippa äiti

my favourite cafe comes with its own small children! they arrived out the front yelling “moi äiti, moikka äiti!” (hi mum, hello mum!) before getting into the cafe bike trailer to fetch some milk with their isä (dad). I, having just had coffee and not yet immune to the cuteness of small children in snowsuits, got a little bit overexcited and whispered “Q! THE CAFE PEOPLE HAVE CHILDREN!” (Which is not a very profound statement, really.) This caused approximately 100% of the people in the cafe to laugh at me, but the power of caffeine over my ability to calm down is absolute. So I bounced and apologised to the cafe owner for being exciteable and explained that I had small siblings at home that I missed very much. She laughed at me.

At this point I should probably explain some key differences in Finnish (Estonian and Latvian also) and Australian culture, as far as I have experienced (epic generalisations ahead). The Eastern Europeans are reserved, disinclined to talk unless they have something useful to say. Australians, not so much. Australian tourists*, even less so. I would like to say that I am not as obnoxiously overbearing as your average Australian traveller, but I still have that OMG-I’M-TRAVELLING-AND-NOT-IN-AUSTRALIA-AND-EVERYTHING-IS-EXCITING tendency, which I manage to keep under control most of the time. Clearly it gets through occasionally.

I witnessed an absolutely fantastic display of culture clash while in a bar in Tallinn, capital of Estonia. We were with some Europeans we had met that day, and some Australians and Americans arrived, friends of our couchsurfing host. Instantly, the noise level rose dramatically. These were the first Australians I had met while being in Europe, as far as I know. I tried to be objective, but I’m fairly sure these peeps were the loudest in the bar. Anyway, they’re chattering away, loud as, Q and I are doing our best to look unAustralian and trying to think of a way to apologise. But then, in a moment when everyone else was distracted, something ridiculously amazing happened. One of the Australians was talking almost without taking a breath about who knows what, and an Estonian leant over and quietly said:
– Why do you talk so much?
I almost died from not laughing out loud. But it got better. In a spectacular display of not picking up on cultural norms, the Australian responded:
– Because otherwise I would just be the person who said “Hey” and sat down and didn’t say anything else. I wouldn’t want to do that. No one likes that person.

To be fair, the cultural misunderstanding probably went both ways, and in Australia it is probably not such a nice thing to question behaviour like that, but Estonian is not my culture, and so I don’t have as much fun laughing at it, my humour being the self-deprecating kind.

But I recounted the antics of my Australian tourist to some Finnish friends who agreed that Australians and Americans are always yelling about something. The Finns did a lovely impression of an Australian tourist getting way too excited:
– I’m not in Australia! WOOHOO! This glass isn’t my usual glass! WOOHOO! The beer is different! WOOHOO! Everyone is speaking a different language! WOOHOO!

Which is all very hilarious until I think about my reactions to my new environment:
– It snowed last night! WOOHOO! I went tobogganing! WOOHOO! I’m learning about the Finnish education system! WOOHOO! There is a husky on the tram! WOOHOO! THE CAFE PEOPLE HAVE SMALL CHILDREN! WOO-!

Yeah, whatever.

~precis of

*In this context, I’m talking about the young Australian tourist who can afford to go on that ‘character-building’ year overseas. I’m one of them, I realise that, and very grateful for the opportunity.

Posted in exploring | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

spring?

So my Finnish friends keep telling me that “spring is here” but today is the first day I actually believe it. We were away from Q’s place for two days and when we came back there was grass and moss and greenery present. The sun has been shining all day, in that spring way, where you are uncomfortably warm if you are in the sun, and shivering if you are in shade.

I have been feelng all sickly, but have just spent an hour sitting with my ear facing the sun (yes, so all the gunk would melt) and the sun feels so lovely and warm, and I feel much better. i’m like a tropical plant in a greenhouse, but less green. The ever-optimistic temperature gauge hit +38 celsius while the sun was directly on it. It has since dropped back to a much more realistic 26.

On the bus home, we passed a river, and water was actually flowing. I think it is going to be fun watching the snow melt and finding out that big expanse of snow is actually the sea. I’m going to miss the snow, although I am now looking forward to discovering Helsinki underneath. Apparently it is made of rock. I was sure it was made of snow.

20110405-200619.jpg

20110405-200644.jpg

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

they learn what food is

Here’s my newest thing that I am excited about and would like to see installed in Australian schools. In Finland’s schools, every student has a warm, healthy, tasty (it is mandated, so it must be so) meal for lunch, provided by the state. This is something a highly-successful education system should be proud of, and a program Australia should consider emulating.

In Finland, this system was introduced in 1943, with free meals in all schools by 1948. At the time, it was to ensure that Finnish children grew up fit and strong, healthy enough to fight in a war which, in 1943 Finland, was showing no signs of ending.

Nowadays the main reasons behind this policy in Finland’s education system are: to enable improved learning, to teach children what healthy food is, and to provide an arena for learning good social behaviours. Of course, it also functions as a social equaliser – everyone has access to at least one warm, nutritious meal. Talking with a mother of a primary school child, she explains that this system ensures that it doesn’t have to rely on parents providing good meals, and that it teaches students what a healthy meal is. “If they learn nothing else at school,” she tells me, “at least they learn what food is”. And it is clear, of course, that Finnish students are learning a whole lot more than that.

There is nothing radical about the notion that a well-fed person will be able to learn more. Nor, I think, is it particularly revolutionary that learning, studying, and grappling with new ideas requires a large amount of energy. Yet only a handful of countries have followed these thoughts through to their logical conclusion, providing meals to all their students.

Moreover, where some school lunches are apparently provided by fast food chains, Finnish lunches in all schools are required to be “tasty, colourful and well-balanced”. These things are important. I appreciate that consideration is given to its appeal for children. I think that colour is a simple, and in this context sufficient, proxy for a diversity of nutrients and a measure of balance. If my experience is typical, I think the meals are the above three things.

With typical Finnish literalness, when asked how the school lunches are paid for, a school principal answers “With money”. School lunches account for approximately 4-8% of a schools budget. Lunch is a hot meal, with salad and bread. It is often a self-serve affair, with staff and students eating together. A school lunch is generally eaten in groups of four to six people at a table. This is designed to encourage kids to chat with each other over an unhurried meal. Lunch is scheduled separate from time to play, so that children can (must) do both.

Making use of an obvious opportunity, Finnish school lunches are also an arena used to teach what healthy food is, and appropriate social behaviour. The Finns have a very simple, clear way of teaching children what a well-balanced meal is. On a plate there should be one quarter carbohydrates (potatoes, rice, pasta), one quarter protein (meat, beans, fish, etc), and one half salad and vegetables. I appreciate its simplicity compared with the stars and pyramids of Australian nutrition.

Without school meals, I expect that there would be an increase in the already-high consumption of fast food by teenagers in Finland. Nutrition levels would likely decrease, both for this reason and the fact that some students would not be able to afford to source food elsewhere. The free school meal concept has had a tangible effect on Finnish culture. Most adults are in full-time employment and there is a general sense that free school meals have helped to enable parents and carers to work. Lunch is now the main meal of the day. Tertiary students, and often people working outside of home, are provided with a subsidised lunch.

In Australia, I think a similar school-meal program would significantly improve students’ learning, and decrease the gap in achievement between our highest and lowest achievers. Some schools provide breakfast to their students, often paid for by the local community. I don’t have a firm opinion on whether or not the Australian school system should start with breakfast or lunch as a provided meal, but I think the idea of the calm, unhurried meal, enjoyed together, is important. Any programs introduced in Australia must of course be funded appropriately. Sounds obvious, apparently isn’t.

One of the issues Finland hasn’t yet completely overcome, and that any Australian program would have to deal with, is catering to a diversity of needs and food cultures. This is something which can be solved, although in Finland I think that it is still difficult for vegetarians*, vegans and people with particular dietary requirements.

This school meal program is a good example of the general vibe I get when learning about the Finnish education system. It seems that the Finns have looked at what needs to happen to ensure every child gets a solid education, and then worked out how to provide it. Students need good teachers? We’ll make teaching a desirable profession. Students need textbooks and materials? We’ll provide them. Sometimes kids find things particularly difficult? We’ll give them extra help. Kids get hungry when they are at school all day? We better feed them, then. Finnish is a notoriously difficult language to learn? We’ll provide children from elsewhere with one year of instruction in their mother tongue before they join classes taught in Finnish or Swedish. Sure, like the school meals, it isn’t always perfect, but it still makes my heart happy.

~ precis of

*The introduction of a weekly vegetarian day into schools in Helsinki apparently caused the sort of political kerfuffle that spawned viral YouTube videos, and resulted in the vegetarians of Helsinki uniting, taking Brussels sprouts as their emblem. Who said it couldn’t get politically fraught in Helsinki?

Posted in the PISA pilgrimage | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

news from a monday

yesterday morning I woke up stupidly early (7 am) and faffed. I had vegemite on rice crackers for breakfast, which is not at all the same as vegemite on toast, but alas, my flat does not possess a toaster. sad. (and no, you can’t get vegemite here, i brought it with me.) i put the dishwasher on, because it hadn’t been on since last wednesday, and some of the dishes were a bit green. We are not the cleanest of folks, in this house.

i went and studied in the library for an hour (girly swot), because the library is RIGHT OPPOSITE MY HOUSE. The library (kirjasto) is next to a day care centre, so I could watch the children happily wrestling each other outside. They looked like they were doing some serious damage, but everyone was smiling, so the teachers let them go. I guess all that snow gear provides good padding.

After, I wandered down the road to meet Q at our coffee shop (Sävy cafe), where they know us, and I’m fairly sure we provide at least 10% of their weekly earnings. Good coffee is not well-understood in Helsinki. We wrote things and drank coffee, and I am instituting that as a daily ritual as often as possible, because, you know, it’s important that I have some ‘me time’ amongst all the hustle and bustle of my hectic life here.

Then, I caught the bus to the Viikki campus of uni. There, I enjoyed the delights of Unicafe (which merits an entire blog post all of its own), and did at least one whole hour of study, or at least study-related tasks, until it was snack time again, and I had a cinnamon bun. Remind to tell you some time about Finnish traditions, which ALWAYS involve some sort of sweet thing.

The day ended with Finnish class, 18.00-19.30. I am not at my best at this time, it must be said. However, I learnt about the partitiivi, which doesn’t seem to be too complicated. hopefully. it is one of the significant differences between finnish and english, though. It acts a bit like plurals, sometimes. Also we learnt how to say “I have” etc, which doesn’t directly translate, because there there is no verb equivalent of ‘to have’. that is a nice concept to think about.

this morning i woke up early again, because I don’t like to sleep with curtains, i like to wake up with the sun. honestly, it took me until today to work out that, in the land of the midnight sun, this may be a bit of a problem.

~ precis of

Posted in exploring | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

an idea of uni in helsinki

So, my semester of study here is halfway through now. How am I finding it? Not the thrilling excitement I was expecting. It’s more your quiet satisfaction and moments of triumph. Also, I miss my peeps in my hometown.

But, let me give you a bit of a rundown on how it works in Helsinki-town.

Helsinki is about a quarter the size of Melbourne, in terms of population. In terms of area, I’d say it was even less. It has trams, trains, buses, and a metro (subway / undergound). It also has a system almost exactly the same as myki, but it seems to work much better. The metro is kind of hilarious. It only has one and a half lines. Also, it has excellent sound effects. When a metro arrives at a station, it makes a noise that sounds like it is pretending to be a metro. It makes me laugh every time.

To get to uni, I generally catch a bus, but sometimes I would catch a tram or the metro. I have uni at two different campuses – Viikki and in the city. Viikki is newer and has a shiny, circular library with gardens inside, where you can sit and read, although it can get a bit cold at the moment. the city campus is less a campus and more a collection of uni buildings, with a few other buildings there too, camouflaged amongst the rest of the city.

Over the whole semester I am taking 8 subjects. The University of Helsinki works on a modular system, subjects are offered, with or without prerequisites, at the times the teacher decides, I guess. There isn’t necessarily any pattern. This means that subjects start and finish at different times. Two of my subjects have finished already, and one has only one more class to go. So far I enjoy the modular system.

In terms of subject content … I think I am a bit sick of studying. I have found the subjects disappointing in their level of academic rigour. Most of my classes are seminar-based, and I find myself wishing the conversation would have a little more depth. Having said that, I did feel like most of the subjects improved, and the last week had some really good classes. Also, I am often the only person for whom English is a mother-tongue. Also, one of my environmental science classes was actually quite difficult in the end.

I find that environmental science is taught differently, but I can’t quite put my finger on how. Perhaps it is that the emphasis is on slightly different habitats (peatlands and boreal forests, rather than wetlands and shrubby grasslands). But also environmental science has a fair bit of uncertainty, which comes out in how people teach emphasising different things. In Australia, I learnt about the concept of ‘connectivity’, and how expert judgment really wasn’t very good. In Finland, I have learnt that globally forests are improving, in terms of their carbon storage levels, and also about the idea that if you stop something happening in a particular location (say you stop logging in a particular part of the Amazon rainforest), does it have a global net effect if the logging (or whatever destruction) is just moved to a different part of the Amazon rainforest?

In education, I find myself feeling like I know a lot more than the average student in my class, about how education systems work. I dislike this feeling, as I’m sure it will come back to bite me in the end.

And how is my Finnish going? Finnish is a difficult language to learn from being a native English speaker. The grammar is logical, but in a very different way from English. Also, the vocabulary is very different, which means I can’t pick up a newspaper and guess what is happening. So, I’ve been reading picture books. It is progressing slower than I would like, but I think it is not too bad.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

ow, my ankle

When we arrived in Helsinki, it was freezing and snowy and lovely. A little while after, it warmed up and hovered around zero. This means that all the lovely snow starts to melt, and then it refreezes. This creates scary, slippery ice. I catch lots of buses traveling around Helsinki. As the ice started to appear, I had many conversations with myself about how I wasn’t going to run to catch the bus, because I would slip over and break my teeth, and miss the bus anyway. Lots of conversations about this.

So then I was in class on a Thursday, and right at the end our teacher gave us a lecture about being careful on the ice, because it is very slippery. See, I told myself, I was right.
After this particular class I have a 40 min bus ride to get to my next class which is in a different campus. So I carefully made my way to the main road, where I saw that my bus had jut left the stop. Oh, I can totally catch that, I thought, and started running. Carefully, mind you, I didn’t want to fall over after all. Careful all the way around the corner and down the unexpected ramp, until I looked up to find the bus stop and *whap*, I was over. Twisted my ankle and it bloody well hurt. (The Finns continued about their day, as is to be expected.)

It swelled up very impressively, and produced very impressive bruising. Plus, my foot filled with liquid and made disturbing sloshy, squidgy feelings when I walked.
I eventually went to the nurse at student health, which was a minor adventure all of its own. The first time I called to make an appointment, I was put through to someone who put me through to someone else, who said I’d called the wrong number and she needed to hang up now. By which time it was too late to call back. The second time I called the poor person on the phone had to take down my details while I mangulated Finnish and English.

When you have an appointment with a nurse, you are given a room number and are told to present yourself there at a particular time. This I did, and presented myself only a few minutes late. Thereis no recptionist or anyonejust a door,likeall the otherdoorsin the windy corridor. They each have a button you can push, which I did. I got the Yellow Light, which I took to mean ‘Wait’ and so I did, until I was invited in by someone who was perfectly lovely but didn’t want to give me crutches. But I sufficiently complained until I got some.

Crutches here have sharp spikes so you can kneecap anyone who looks at you the wrong way, and presumably so you don’t slip on the ice. It’s noticeable how many more people there are on crutches when it is icy.

My ankle still kind of hurts now, but don’t think I get any sympathy because the first thing I did was to load myself up on painkillers and go tobogganing (sledding, pulkkamäki for all you non-Australians). Also spent the next few weeks ice-skating, tobogganing and dancing, then going home and complaining because it was sore. I think I will survive.

you can see photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/precis-of/sets/72157625983021179/

~ precis of

PS As a result of visiting the nurse, Student Health asked me to fill in an online questionnaire. To log in to this service, I had to enter my phone number. When I enteredit, a computer called me and requested a pin code, to be entered on my phone. When I entered the code, the page on my computer screen opened into the questionnaire. wow.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment