Tuesday, July 20, 2010


I've finally wrapped up my year in Finland and am back home in Texas now.

I just want to say that I miss living in Finland. I miss Europe. I miss the forthrightness of the people and the simple richness of the culture. It was all really wonderful, and I hope to retain some elements of it in my life now.

I'm not one to be easily attached. I always tell people that I'm used to leaving places behind because I had to move so much when I was growing up (I sometimes think that it's a bit of a personality disorder to be able to handle goodbyes to easily), but I was sad to leave Finland. I think I'm beginning to feel like an adult, and in leaving, I'm parting with friends who are also adults. Here are people with real lives, who have accepted me into their lives as a true friend - not just a student, a mentoree, or a little sister - and I'm so grateful for that.

So to everyone who made this a wonderful year: thank you so much and best wishes for your futures!


Sunday, June 13, 2010

And so on...

I realized today that I lost my Helsinki travel card last night... after returning from reporting my lost wallet at the police station... yep, it just keeps getting better.

But more seriously, now that I've stopped being angry at the world, I think that God is trying to teach me a lesson. For the past year, I've gotten used to living on my own, to doing things my way. Remember my laundry post from last fall? I think from instances like that, I've learned to streamline my life. I'm starting to figure out the little comforts that I enjoy: doing things with my hands, baking, creating things in general, lighting candles, reading at night, cute kitchenware, etc. But I've also figured out an order in life that I enjoy and am unnecessarily proud of at times, and I get stressed when that order is upset.

I think God's trying to teach me that it's not necessary - and maybe even destructive - to rely so much on my own sense of order... the world isn't that orderly, and the messiness is kind of beautiful at times.


By the way, I met the young cheerleader on the tram again last week, third time this year. We acknowledged each other with smiles, hers very shy. Then when she got off the tram, I saw her looking for me. When our eyes met, we waved goodbye. It was really nice. :)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Mixed emotions

I lost my wallet, and the attached keys, today, just a few short weeks before leaving Finland. It sucked. And the morning was another miserably drizzly one. The afternoon was better but rather schizophrenic, as Terrence put it. The clouds rushed across the sky making the day mostly sunny, sometimes cloudy, and always very windy.

After losing my wallet, one of my thoughts was that I couldn't wait to go back to the U.S. I just looked forward to being past this mess of canceling cards, needing to get a new license, and possibly having to pay loads and loads of money to replace my key.

A little after 21.00, I finally made up my mind to brave the weather - which had by then become drizzly again and extremely windy - suck it up, and go make a report at the police station.

I sullenly took the elevator down to catch the bus, but just as I found a seat, I saw an elderly man fall down stiffly onto the wet sidewalk near the bus stop. It was like watching a wooden board tip over as a result of some freak of gravity. The guy behind me in line was paying the bus driver, but he stopped and got off the bus to try to help the old man. He took a look at his head and hands, which were bleeding onto the pavement, asked him some questions, tried to call someone, and finally helped him sit up to wait for help. He was having some difficulty tugging the old man up at first, so I was about to get off the bus myself, when a couple of girls, who had appeared to wait for the next bus, agreed to call the ambulance (or call someone, soitta...). In the meantime, the bus driver waited for the guy to get back on the bus. Having put the old man in the care of the girls, he returned and thanked the driver for waiting. The driver said "Ei mitään" (it's nothing).

During that entire episode, I had completely forgotten about my missing wallet. There was something about it that produced mixed emotions in me. I was reminded of why I love Finland, love the decency of the people here, and love trying to be a part of that decency. Watching someone help an old man. Learning to offer my seat on the tram to some grandmother... though after a few minutes of hesitation, I have to admit.

Afterward, making my way to the police station in that rain - with my umbrella flapping around unhelpfully in the wind and my shoes becoming progressively squishy - was something else, but by the time I was halfway home again, I was really happy. Listening to "Se mig som jag är" then the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack, I attempted to sing along, out loud, on the streets, which were my own for a bit because of the dreariness.

It's going to be okay.

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Good Day

A good day in Helsinki... :)

This morning started off sunny but ungloriously normal, with the forecast of a drizzly day looming just at the edge of that unpredictable Finnish sky, but I had gotten enough sleep for the second night in a row and managed to get up early enough to throw together some sandwiches and pay the housing manager. I was late in catching a bus to lab, but I managed to connect quickly to my second bus and so was not too late.

The first really sweet surprise happened at the bus stop, while I was waiting for that bus to lab. I was feeling fairly impatient, as I had already missed the two previous ones, but suddenly I thought I heard a strange, small voice calling my name. "Naaann. Naaann." Thinking I was hearing things, I ignored it for a second before looking up in the direction of the sound. It ended up being Samuel! He is a little boy that I "mind" once a week - the cutest baby boy - and he was saying hi with his dad Mark from Mark's apartment balcony.

Later in the evening, I went to Mikko and his girlfriend's housewarming party. I really appreciate Mikko. A few days ago, we left lab at the same time, and it made me unreasonably happy. :) It's funny. Perhaps because it takes so long to get to know Finns, when a Finn starts to open up, it feels really worthwhile and special. At the party itself, I had a good time talking and joking with people from lab. Now that my time in the lab is almost at an end, I'm becoming more reluctant to go, when I see the progress that I have finally made in building some of these relationships... and just how wonderful the people in my lab are.

After the party, I headed to the city center to wait for Mark below the Torni - with it's pretty tower that glitters at night - where Mark has been interning this summer. It was around 11.30pm, and the city was absolutely beautiful. There's something about summery Friday evenings in Helsinki that makes one indescribably... content. Perhaps it's the peacefulness that surrounds all the bustle; perhaps it's the still visible hint of a fading day that gently fills the air with a deep blue glow. Just beautiful. When speaking about Finland, both Erika and Elliot have said things along the lines of: you don't realize how much it's grown on you until you leave, and then you really miss it. I think I'm already starting to miss this place.

After I found Mark, we went to Molly Malone's, his part-time place. We grabbed a drink with a couple of his co-workers there, including a British guy who reminds me a little of a tall hobbit. We talked about his love for his family, building a life in Finland, his enthusiasm for his summer job and Torni, and me becoming a part of the Irish family, at large. :P

I think Finland has grown on me, especially now that I finally feel like I'm building a life for myself here.

A view from Erika's apartment, at around 11.30pm.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Live life earnestly

That's my conclusion from our Fulbright gathering tonight at Elliot's place.

If it's the right thing to do, do it.

If it's not the right thing to do, don't do it.

If you believe in it, go for it.

No if's, but's, what's, when's, etc etc.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

SNOW and more...

Sorry about the delay in putting up new stories! Here is another compilation picture post. :)

But first of all... yay Finland for beating the Czech Republic in ice hockey this morning! Only four teams left now: Finland, Slovakia (who beat Sweden!), USA, and Canada. Finland plays USA tomorrow night. Now that's something to anticipate!


I said a couple of months ago that the snow doesn't pile up much here. Well, boy, was I wrong. I haven't seen sidewalk concrete for over a month now, and at some places, the snow has been shoveled into a pile as tall - or taller - than me! Here are some pictures.

This is the road outside my apartment. There is so much snow that it is difficult to tell where the sidewalk ends and where the road begins. Remember my post about the bus drivers having incredible skills? They truly truly do. However, even they cannot compete with Mr. Weather sometimes. Kumpula is the physical sciences campus of the U. of Helsinki near my apartment. The narrow, winding roads had so much snow earlier this month that only one bus could pass at a time, while the other unfortunate one would have to carefully back up into some side road. They ended up canceling that segment of the route altogether for a few weeks.

This is what happens when cars are left parking for an entire winter...

Senate Square. There is so much snow that the steps are no longer steps. Some brave teens have actually turned these steps into a sledding hill. Only a thin path, barely visible on the right side of the picture, has been cleared for visitors to the church.

Of course, the snowy landscape can be quite beautiful, too, especially when the sun comes out, and that is happenings more and more these days. In fact, by 6pm, there is still light outside. This is a huge deal considering that two months ago, the sun was still setting before 4pm!

So much untouched snow that it's kind of amazing! :)

Now, with all of that snow to take care of and an entire city to keep functional, the snow plows are often seen hard at work. I watched these two shovel snow the other day. Their motions were so deft (and their color so yellow) that they reminded me very much of Wall-E.

Here is Wall-E number one....

... and there comes Wall-E number two!


Talking about the snow brings us to the topic of winter sports. Winter sports, such as cross-country skiing and ice-skating, are an integral part of Finnish culture and education. From a young age, it is mandatory for Finnish children to at least learn the basics of these sports through their physical education classes. This winter has been the coldest and snowiest Helsinki has seen in YEARS, and this week, school children get a holiday just to play in it.

Also, instead of Lent, there are two days of celebration called Laiskiassunnuntai and Laiskiastiistai (Shrove Sunday and Shrove Tuesday), except they are basically days designated for sledding. I don't think I've talked much about pulla yet, but it is pretty important in Finland. Pulla is a traditional Finnish sweet bun. However, it tends to be more dense than the buns that we are used to, and it contains a special spice, the name of which I always forget. So the Finns create various versions of pulla to celebrate their various holidays. For lent, they have laiskiaispulla. (I didn't take a picture myself, so this one is actually from online.) It's a basic pulla filled in the center with a delicious whipped cream (and sometimes jelly, too!) and topped with sugar or sliced almonds or both!

For Runeberg's Day, which celebrates the poet Runeberg, they have a runebergin pulla. This variation is a little more extreme, but the sweet nature of the bread, as well as that special spice, are still there.

I keep saying that I'm going to get fat if I stay in Finland much longer...


"Friendship Day"

Instead of Valentine's Day, Finns celebrate ystäväpäivä: ystävä = friend, and päivä = day. Only recently has the holiday taken on a more romantic tone, with the increasing influence of mainstream Western culture. But this day in Finland can still be celebrated with friends and other meaningful relations. I liked this postcard so much that I bought it and stuck it up on my wall.


Finally - and briefly - a small reflection of Finnish humor, which a couple of friends and I found at a computer cluster in the main university library.

Translated, it reads "SLOWEST MACHINE IN THE WORLD."

Friday, January 29, 2010

Ice Swimming!

Last week, I finally got to go ice swimming with Erika, Kate, and some ladies from the Fulbright center: Johanna who led us, Topi, and elegant Terhi.

It might sound crazy, but there's something really wonderful about ice swimming. First we walked shivering over a snowy path from the changing room to the steaming smoke sauna. This place was kind of funny, in addition to being really warm... Whenever someone came in - especially if it was a man - he would pour a ladle full of water over the hot rocks to create more steaming heat. I think that seeing who could withstand a hotter sauna was sort of a test of manliness. I couldn't really handle it at first and had to sit on the steps. (The temperature is hottest up on the platform.) Now, this is where the ice swimming comes in.

Before leaving the sauna, Johanna told me to breath calmly. "Just tell yourself that you're not going to die." It was very good advice.

So you step onto the stickily frozen wooden porch and first let yourself adjust to the cold a little bit. This is pretty important. The second time I went into the lake, I didn't wait as long to cool down beforehand, and the water felt much colder and stung my skin a little. So anyway, then you walk over a walkway to the lake, where you slowly let yourself down a slippery ice-covered ladder and into the water. Those who are brave enough will actually take a short swim around the little lake, but I only dipped myself in then slowly let myself out. After adjusting to the cold then dipping into the lake, the freezing air actually doesn't feel that bad at all. It's even rather pleasant. Then on the way back to the sauna, I could see everyone's bodies enveloped in a cloud of steam. After the lake, I could withstand much more heat in the sauna and managed to sit on the raised platform.

I told myself while outside that the sauna was hot, but now, it's time for the cold part, and the cold part is supposed to be cold. Somehow, ice swimming ends up being a truly amazing blend of the two extremes.

By the way, here's a quick fact. Aaron didn't believe this until he looked it up himself. While most saunas stay at around 40-50C, Finnish saunas range at about 80-110C (170-230F). The older men, who are experienced, might try for higher. And while there are about 5 million people living in Finland, the country has over 2 million saunas. Amazing in kind of a quirky way, huh?

Left to right: Johanna, me, Kate