Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Glory be to Krishna

During my stay in Helsinki, I went to the ISKCON temple there, on a particular weekend. I was in for a surprise (which comes later). Before reaching the temple, I got accosted by a man who told me that he was from Zambia, the immigration office was closed and he, his wife and kid (in pram) had not eaten and needed money. Had I been in India, I would have not even reacted to the story (leave alone believing it) and just walked off. But being in Helsinki, where ppl don't even know what crime is and what theft is, I did as a Finn would. I took out all change I had (little more than 2€) and gave it to him. I got some god-bless-you's and I considered it as my good deed for the day before going to the temple. After walking a little further, I checked to see if that guy was 'duping' someone else or rather asking someone else for something. I couldn't see him, so gave him the benefit of doubt.
The ISKCON temple
Before this time, I had never been to the temple earlier. I had a rough idea of the location, but then in Helsinki, temples dont "look like" temples. It's a regular apartment in which ppl have established an ISKCON temple. There's nothing fancy or remotely religious about it. The architecture is not lavish as a temple's but as normal as a typical apartments'. There is absolutely no indication whatsoever, unlike the multiple inescapable ones in India, that a house in there, houses a temple. There're no prasad walas, no phool walas, no stalls to collect ones footwear, no street kids eyeing the prasad and of course absolutely NO crowd and NOT a sound. You look for it, the way you would look for any other apartment in Helsinki - by referring to an address and a map. You announce your arrival by ringing a door bell and talking on the intercom. I must add, while referring to a map in Helsinki or even other European countries, one needs to keep in mind the fact that odd numbers are on one side of the street and even ones are on another. A lot of ppl get confused about where the number in between disappeared. This is something many foreigners don't realise even after having stayed there for months. Of course in India, you rarely have any numbers or addresses for a temple. They are just known by word of mouth according to the devotion of the local population.

This temple has a special pooja on Sundays and a feast (langar) after that. This is enough for us desis in desperate search of Indian food. So on this particular weekend, I set out looking for the temple at Ruoholahdenkatu 24 D 3rd floor, Helsinki. I expected things to be quite different, but the only way to realise how different they are, is to actually experience them. As I entered the temple, I saw extremely fair, slim, blonde ppl dressed in orange robes. Now that is quite a contrast to a typical pundit we see at temples. If nothing else, at least the hair colour is different. Seeing blonde "bodis" around me really amused me. The next was the speech. They were of course talking in Finnish or English and whatever little Hindi was uttered, sounded like a foreign language.Lord Krishna The bhajans were accompanied by music which either made them sound like a rock band performance or christian ballads! There were lots of female devotees too. They were wearing sarees! Though, they were clad in sarees their modern outlook was evident too. Almost all of them had worn a tanktop or a t-shirt instead of a blouse. The 1 or 2 who had worn an actual saree blouse, had chosen a total mismatch in colour probably because of the understandable dearth of blouses in their wardrobe. For a lot of them the petticoat was not just peeping out from under the saree, but also raising a full eyebrow! The quality of the sarees was nothing great. They certainly looked like they had been bought from a roadside shop in Janpath. Add to it trendy makeup, pierced eyebrows and navels, tatoos on the back or arm or anywhere else, and you have an idea of what the female devotees looked like. At least we didnt have any funny coloured hair ones. Even small little girls maybe 5-6 years in age, were dressed in similar "sarees". All the devotees had a tikka on their forehead which is pretty unlike a tikka I had ever seen earlier in India. This tikka doesnt stay on the middle of the forehead. Instead it looks like it slipped under and starts from just above the bridge of the nose and goes down till the middle of the nasal bone! But that's probably the way ISKCON devotees put a tikka. (Nothing Finnish about it). All the Finnish devotees had adopted Indian names like "Prasad", "Radha Swami" etc. which was again quite amusing.

The aarti started at 4pm and proceeded till 5:30pm, during which there was something similar to a "hi-tech pravachan". The priest used a laptop, projecting some pictures of temples or holy abodes in India. He also recorded the "pravachan" through an mp3 player. In all the sessions that I attended later, it was very interesting to hear about Lord Krishna from a foreigner point of view. One thing was clear. This was no serious spiritual talk or a do's/dont's list. It was more of a narration of fables which were somehow extremely spicy in nature rather than holy, probably because Lord Krishna is a "fun" god. He had all the naughtiness a child could possibly have. He flirted with the gopis. He enjoyed with this friends. He even stole butter. This probably lends a certain affability to the God rather than him appearing Chant and sway with Hare Rama Hare Krishnainaccessible, with a larger than life "please-me-if-you-can" image. At the end of the "pravachan" would be a lot of song and dance. All devotees would raise their arms up towards the sky and chant "Hare Rama Hare Krishna" and sway with the rhythm. The atmosphere gets really charged up. In the end one would put in some donation in the "daan paatra", obviously in foreign currency and get down to eating an Indian meal which tastes quite quite (this isnt a typo) different.

On Janmashtami, the temple organised a proper Pooja, with contributions from a lot of the Indian, Nepali and Finnish population. A proper "ranga rang karyakram" was arranged, where a skit with a baby Lord Krishna was enacted out. Only the baby looked a little African with that curly hair and Yashodha was blonde. After the usual pravachan, chant, dance, meal session, the devotees went out into the streets as a procession. They carried with them a couple of photos of Lord Krishna, and chanted the "Hare Rama, Hare Krishna" chant. I have never seen such a thing, even in India. Or maybe I wasn't looking. Irrespective of whether one finds it hohum or Soham, one certainly would agree with the way the priest there chants. "Glory be to Krishna".

Friday, December 16, 2005

The times - they are achanging

It's been quite some time since I posted here. I am back in India and it's already going to be a month, since I am back. (Though I would continue updating FinnTimes). A month back, I had mentally thought about a number of things that would be different after being used to a different life for 5.5 months. Finally I am listing them down.

- Finally I would be able to drive after a gap of 5.5 months!
- I would also get leered at, something which I had gotten quite unused to.
- Finally I would be able to make some sense of the conversation happening around me (mostly).
- On the other hand, I wouldn't be able to throw all caution to the winds and talk freely in Hindi, assuming at the time that no one else understood it.
- I would be able to get my hair cut and not burn a 115 Euro deep hole in my pocket!
- There would be some fragrances in the air (good and bad both), instead of an odourless environment.
- Finally I would be able to create a noise or generally be loud, without feeling guilty about it.
- I wouldn't be able to go out late at night or alone :(..sigh.
- No mid night sun either :(
- There would be lots of home cooked food. Ok, I was cooking myself, but at least I wouldnt have to cook for a change.
- I can not expect maps, information booklets, brochures at my beck and call at every place I visit.. sigh.
- I need to get rid of the habit of leaving things lying around in public places and expecting them to still be there when I am not looking.
- No more pets in all public transport or escalators or shops!
- Unfortunately, the short period of not seeing animals/ppl splattered on roads, comes to an end.
- I would finally spend in Rupees and reverse-condition my mind to feel happy with the Rupee to Euro conversion. Oh, 100 bucks? That's not even 2 euros! Imagine what all I can buy within that!
- I can now get away with not following timings, not being punctual etc. :p.
- I can indulge in some late night shopping!
- I am apprehensive about tackling crowds, places and events like Pragati Maidan Trade fairs, etc.
- No more imported fruits and veggies in my diet. Mere desh kee dhartee sona ugle or ugle taazi sabji.
- Finally I can use a gas stove/grill instead of a hot plate. Ah, the joys of cooking with an instant temperature control!
- I can not expect insurance to cover every damn thing on earth, including things like damage caused by me to someone else's property!
- I would miss saying "thank you" in multiple languages (changing quite frequently at that). I surely have had to suppress the urge to automatically utter "Kittos".
- I can finally go to a beauty parlour without the risk of coming out eye brow less.
- I can finally watch some theatre (and understand the language) or just soak in some cultural experience.
- No more exquisite cakes, pastries, muffins, confectionary items at my beck and call :(.
- No more tracking the Euro's progress in order to transfer money online. (This would happen only after the final umbilical cord called "submitting tax in Finland" is cut).
- No more looking out for events that the Indian community in Finland would indulge in.
- No more calculation of a 3.5 hour offset with the timezone. It's the reverse now, actually speaking, but on a much lesser frequency.
- No more broadband :(. No more 5 hour skype calls, no more googletalk :(. Well, it's possible here technically, but so far it's not there in my life.
- Getting used to an English keyboard after a Finnish keyboard is BOUND to be difficult (it has been so far).
- No more globe trotting/checking out new destinations on weekends :(. Am going to be a koop mandoop (Frog in a well) now.
- No more of a relaxed lifestyle..sigh.. life is in the fast lane here.
- No more blondes in the view, no more looking out for ppl who possess Indian looks, no more trying to be friendly to such ppl, no more of "all things Indian, standing out or leaping out at me" whether in print, radio or TV.
- No more of learning Finnish, by watching sub titles on TV. I am surely gonna miss that.
- No more Finnish songs on radio :(. Sigh...
- No more sauna.
- Finally I would have some house help for cleaning, washing utensils etc.
- Now I would have to start thinking about petrol prices, after not thinking abt them all this while.
- Finally no one would assume that I am Spanish, Greek, Russian, Iranian and what not, instead of Indian!
- Onset of marriage season! Oh boy! Regular traffic jams and invitations everyday.
- Finally I would get tuned in to the Indian movie scene and media. No, it's really futile trying it all through streaming.
- No more Euro salary :-(
- No more BIG moon or sunset and stars at the same time in the sky. :-(

All said and done, it's great being back on the mother ship.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Sky watch

When I came to Finland, the land of the midnight sun, 4 months back (yeah time sure flows by), all I could see was days and days on end, hardly ever night. The sun would be gleaming bright in our eyes beyond 10:30pm in the "night" and we would be sporting goggles. The "night" or rather a period of almost complete dimming of light (which never really resulted in a black night); in other words twilight, was barely 2 hours long from 1-3 am or so. Sleeping was a pain. Thick curtains was the only way out. Midnight in LaplandStill being the light sleeper that I am, I would wake up at 4am, 5am etc. only to discover that it was still "night". The scientific term for this would be "white night". It took me about a month and a half to see the nightsky at all. Civil twilight is supposed to last throughout summer in regions outside Arctic circle but above 60 degrees North. As a result, the nights are never dark and black. Whereas in India, immediately after sunset, the night takes over instantly, since the length of the twilight is heavily influenced by the lattitude. I had almost started to forget what stars in the night twinkled like. The first time I spotted a star here, which then appeared to be something bright perched on the top of a tree, it was *so* bright and twinkling, that I actually thought there was a sparking going on up there. I would regularly go out for late night walks all the time. At 12am I would set out and get a glimpse of the gradually darkening sky with its various hues. Something like that is unimaginable back home in India. Both geographically and socially. But then I had to be out. After all it was twilight.

It took me another couple of weeks, before I saw the moon out here. Again, the first time I saw it, I didn't realise what I was looking at. It seemed to merge with the bright street lights at first. Suddenly I realised that this light had a slightly different shape and colour than the regular streetlight.By the moon and the stars and the sky Now I know why they call it a pie in the sky. The moon is BIG and with just that crescent which makes it appear as if someone has hung it out there. I could see why fairy tales depict the sun and the moon in the same frame, as if they coexist! I saw that it is exactly that way here...the sunset doesn't exactly vanish into the black, inky darkness when the moon is already out with bright little stars. The whole sky seems to be divided into two - one having the aftereffects of a sunset, the other having a black night with a moonrise and twinkling stars.

The sun and the moon both, appear to follow slightly different paths than what we are used to (in India). The sun is never overhead. It cuts a low arc and is mostly near the horizon. Near the North pole, in fact, it is supposed to go around in a circle and never set actually (in the summers). Because of it being so close to the horizon, it's *really* dazzling, though we are quite used to (in India), the sun being a pinkish-orange ball when it's that close to the horizon. Again, the moon seems to oscillate up and down in the sky at least back home but not so here. It lies pretty low in the sky and never have I observed so far, the pronounced up and down oscillation (akin to a person nodding his head) in these parts of the world.

AnotherAurora Borealis phenomenon quite common around the Arctic circle is the Aurora Borealis or the Northern lights. So far, I have not been lucky enough to get a glimpse, though I have been monitoring solar activity on and off. Hopefully I shall see something when I go to the Arctic circle soon.

With time, of course the days started getting shorter (technically after the midsummer eve). About a month or so back, they reached normalcy (according to what I have been used to in India). Though, I noticed that the days were receding *quite* fast. Each day, the sunrise is about 3 minutes later and sunset, 3 minutes earlier. That would mean that on an average we are losing 6 minutes per day. That means that in a month, we would be short by 3 hours! It's already quite weird to have a sunrise at 8:15am or so. Soon it would be as dark as night at 9am. *shudder*. I am used to seeing a bright moon in the sky at 5pm in the evening courtesy my stint in Japan, but am not used to it being dark in the mornings also. If one outstretches ones thumb and index finger to the maximum and takes them to be the length of the day and then joins them together gradually, it would depict the way the days are getting shorter and the nights are gaining in. Eventually, there would be no "day" left at the point where the thumb meets the index finger. Technically this would happen completely at the Arctic circle, not Helsinki. It seems there're a lot of seasonal depression related ailments that happen in Scandinavian countries due to the "no light" factor. I hope to be out before the thumb meets the index finger!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

A day in Gamla Stan (old town)

Please read Cruise to Stockholm and Twilight in sunset and moonrise first.

The next morning, by the time we woke up, we could see that we had already entered the archipelago of Sweden and the ship was just skirting around zillions of small little islands to reach Stockholm, the capital. After quickly freshening up, and grabbing a pizza slice yet again, we again rushed to the sun deck to catch a glimpse of the slightly different looking panorama. The buildings lookedApproaching Stockholm similar (to Finland) from a distance. As the port came closer, ppl rushed towards the exits. The cruise staff had taken pictures of everyone while entering the ship and had displayed them for ppl to make it theirs for an exhorbitant sum. Yet, we all indulged and took a copy each of the rather silly looking pictures because after all, one doesnt go to Stockholm on a cruise everyday. The large crowd did what was expected. Due to us being such a large no of ppl in the group (8), and each one being at a different location when the ship touched land, we all got separated for some time. Six of us managed to find each other outside at the Viking line terminal but two duds got so late, that we missed the bus tour which left from the terminal once a day. Eventually we took local transport (had already converted to local currency - Swedish Kronor - in Helsinki) to the city railway station. From there, we took an open top, double decker, hop on-hop off bus, the sorts that Shah Rukh Khan has crooned and kareened in, in many movies. The open top, hop on-hop off bus
The plus point of these was that one could get off at any stop in between, visit the place and then hop on again into any of the later buses. It also had headphones for an individual audio tour in many languages, which gave a commentary about the various places being passed by. Thus, we passed by the cultural centre and Sweden house. We got down to see the famous Vasa Museum, which is a museum built around a ship. This ship was made in early 17th century and on the day of its maiden voyage, in all splendour, the ship sank, the moment it set sail (in 1628). A case of bad design it seems. The ship was salvaged in 1961 and a museum was built, after restoring the worlds only 17th century ship to what it would have looked like then. Click this to see the museum from inside. We were told that our exhorbitant "hop on - hop off" bus ticket included free admission to almost all museums, but that was not the case. Thereafter the hop on - hop off bus got coined as the hop on, hop off and f**k off bus.
Eventually we checked out Vasa museum from outside. There was another museum nearby which we went to and then waited to hop on again, since we didnt have much time in Stockholm either. We passed by City hall, where the Nobel prize banquet is held every year, the opera and some theatres. We also passed by the open air museum (Skansen) and the amusement park - Grona Lund, where we were entitled to free rides (for sure this time). But since we didnt have time, we didn't venture there. Next we got down at the Royal Palace, where we asked a rather stern looking guard when the "change of guard" would occur. Luckily we were just in time for that ceremony. We found some spots which provided a good view of the ceremony (yours truly being in front of a mob in full camerawoman style). The change of guard at the Royal PalaceThe "change of guard" was a typical formal, military affair and nice to watch. Immediately after the ceremony got over, the military band broke into ABBA's "Dancing queen" much to our surprise! After the change of guard, the new guard at the entrance was a rather cute looking young chap, with whom yours truly got a picture clicked. Unfortunately he looked more like a stiff mannequin than a real human being. By the time we got free from this place, it was already past lunchtime and all of us wanted to grab some lunch. We again hopped on into the f**k off bus and got off at the stop no 9 (Sightseeing boats) and went to the Central station once more (stop 13), this time on foot. Everyone had something at Burger King with the exception of yours truly who had Thai food. After a sumptuous meal, we were barely left with just enough time to walk back to the Viking line terminal in time to board the ship on time. The hop bus would have taken a complete circle of the whole town and that would have been too late. A narrow cobblestoned street
The best way to see a place is anyway peripatetic. So we gathered our maps and our bearings and walked our way to the ship. On the way back, we went by the narrow cobblestoned streets of Gamla Stan, saw the sparkling water all around and the various ships and tours available to the Viking village. I personally didn't find much difference in Stockholm and Helsinki. The architecture seemed the same due to the Swedish influence in Finland. Only the signs were not bilingual but only in Swedish this time. The same brands and the same stores are in both places. I didn't even feel as if I visited another country due to the seamless integration of EU. The only difference is that Sweden doesn't use the Euro as its official currency, otherwise everything else seems the same. A few things reminded me of back home though. For some reason a lot of the crowd in the cruise consisted of Bangladeshis. Also, surprisingly there were tongas being used in Gamla Stan! One of my colleagues even distorted Gamla Stan to gamlistan and then to gulistan.
Here's a nice bird's eye view of Stockholm. It actually has maps and pictures both and is really like flying to that place.

After getting into the ship, once again it was some more of the sun deck The beautiful skyfollowed by some more music, dance and drinks, since it got quite cloudy instantly. There were lots of pets on board and I met a couple of them. Pendo and Jerry were two of the dogs I met. Pendo is an Alsatian, known as German Shepherd in this part of the world. The ship even had a pet's corner. On the return trip, we had the tax free shopping to take care of. I bought loads of chocolates. We also had the karoake bar to try again. But this time again, by the time we got to the karaoke bar, the timings were already over. We went exploring the lower decks of the ship which were meant for the cars and other vehicles. Unfortunately, we were imagining them to be Taking a lift from the shipin some large yard kind of thing, but it wasnt like that. We couldn't see anything except for endless rows of cabins. We also visited the Sauna centre and managed to take a peek in as it was closing down for the night. After partying for some part of the night, we retired slightly early as we had to get to our workplace, straight from the terminal the next day. The next morning, 8 weary travellers got off at the Viking Line terminal at Helsinki, tired, hungry and pleased.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Twilight in Sunset and Moonrise

Please read the previous post first.

After some time, since the panorama passing by consisted of nothing but water everywhere, we got back inside the ship to explore more of it. None of us had plans to sleep that night. As is obvious, the first thing that strikes us Indians is food. We went around to all restaurants trying to see what they had for our taste. 'Pizza slice' was the only thing that came close. After gulping some grubThe flaming horizon, we went around to the tax free shops to check out what all was cheaper than the mainland. Most things are, including liquor, chocolates etc. After just making a note, we postponed this activity to the return trip, because the sun was about to set anytime soon. Off to the deck we all rushed again. It was quite windy by now since the ship was at high speed. In fact it was so windy that we could barely manage to walk. Even breathing was difficult in that draught. Most people were on the deck, trying to click pictures while balancing themselves against the wind. The sunset was very beautiful to start with but got covered with clouds towards the end.

The moment the sun set down and twilight came, it got even colder. A couple of rather bright stars could be spotted in the evening sky. We all went back inside because on the agenda was a performance in the night club. There was some dance performance going on. At the same time, there was a bar, which had live music with an artist playing the guitar and singing some great rock songs. He was amazing! I could not budge from that place for a very long time, such was the way he strummed and sang. Eventually I realised that I had only as many hours in which I could see everything else. So off I went to the pub, saw the live band there singing some oldies and people trying their luck on 'black jack' and roulette. Next to it was another pub which had a karaoke bar. I have always had a wish to go to a karaoke bar and try something there. Though I wasn't sure whether I would actually graduate from a bathroom singer to a public performer, I checked out the list of English songs. There was another colleague who was quite enthusiastic about the same. We both kept bucking each other up to go and perform. In the end, as expected, the karaoke bar closed down and we both lost our chance. But we were still hopeful of another chance while coming back on the same ship.

Some time later I had a 'Wet Dream'. A disco drink with blinking iceI must mention that it was an Irish cream and vodka cocktail, before you all start getting notions, not fit to be put down here. It tasted great! For the first time I saw some 'disco drinks' which had 'glow stirrers' which emitted flourescent light and ice cubes which glowed and blinked! It was I who stopped blinking for sometime. After cocktails, everyone was charged enough to go and shake a leg on the dance floor. The night club was placed in a location on the ship which allowed an open view on 3 sides. It was a pleasure to be able to look outside and see the picturesque view float by in the daytime or the glowing lights of another ship in the night. It was during one such moment that we all realised that the orange blob outside the window was actually the rising moon. Again, a rush for the moon took us to the 'sun deck'. The moon rise from the Baltic sea

Armed with cameras, a lot of people including us, tried to capture the beauty of the big orange moon, just rising above the ocean. I am afraid, all of us failed, not only because a camera can just not produce the real thing but also because the ship was jerking way too much for anyone to be steady enough to click something. The high velocity wind added to the obstacles. It goes without saying that the long wait for seeing the moon was worth it. It looked like quite the celestial body that it is. The face of the 'man on the moon' was also visible quite clearly. The man on the moonWe decided to wait for it to rise further and grabbed some grub in the meantime. Revisiting the deck and braving the freezing wind was again worth it. This time the moon was a little higher up in the sky and was beaming down on water. The orange glow had gone and so had the 'man on the moon'. The ambience, consisting of the peaceful moon, shining down on a turbulent mass of water, no other sound except the swishing underneath, and no other light except from the moon, was a perfect thing to be experienced. It can give a very lonely feeling and also a very peaceful feeling at the same time.

It was time to go back again since we didn't want to turn into icicles. To the bar, again it was. Some more music, some more dance and some more guitar. Eventually we decided to call it a day. After all, the cabins we paid for were also meant to be utilised. As I got down to bed, I realised that through the cabin window I could see the full moon again. It reminded me of my flight to Tokyo when I had slept off using 3 empty seats as a couch. In the interim, I had suddenly woken up, looked outside and found the big white moon right next to my window. It felt really close. Of course it was closer by several miles. This view from the ship's cabin gave me a similar feeling to an extent, of the moon beaming down at me through a porthole, while I slept. I described the same to a colleague of mine on the opposite berth and we both concluded that such nights wouldn't come again. We could sleep later. For now we wanted more of the moon. Out of bed in an instant, we again went to the sun deck. It looked really eerie now. It was absolutely dark and deserted. There were no lights anywhere at all except for the light of the moon. Everything looked black with just a little bit of white ghoulish glow to it. And of course it was windy as hell. As we took a 360 degree view of the spooky blackness amidst which we were, we suddenly realised we were not alone in that section of the Baltic sea. It took us quite by surprise. There were other ships as well at some distance and not one but many. They looked like pretty little lanterns from that distance. Some were going in the opposite direction and some in ours. It gave us a lot of comfort to realise that there *were* some other vessels at a short distance.

Our attention again went to the mesmerising moon. Eerie and peaceful at the same time.As we revisited the bow of the ship and tried to click some more snaps, we realised we were not alone on the deck anymore. Some other people had joined us and it was none other than the rest of my colleagues. It was again quite difficult to take pictures and was freezing cold as well. All of a sudden, there was a dragging sound and a huge mass eerily skidded towards us. It caught my breath. It took some time to realise that it was so windy that a bunch of plastic chairs piled on top of each other had skidded speedily towards us. With enough of midnight adventures behind us, we finally decided to call it a 'night'. It wasn't long before Stockholm beckoned us.

Continued: A day in Gamla Stan (old town)

Friday, September 16, 2005

Cruise to Stockholm

On 20th of August, M/s Mariella from the Viking Line sailed for Stockholm, Sweden at 5:30pm from Katajanokka terminal, Helsinki. Aboard were 8 desis excited about going to the land of Into the sunsetthe ABBA, and on a cruise at that. One of them was yours truly. Though an indescribable experience, I shall try to put it in words here.

Someone said, 'Mostly, the quickest and often the best way to do it is yourself'. I sure believe it. Inevitably, it was I who made the bookings for all the ppl. I got two class A cabins booked. This link, though from another ship, shows exactly the same 360 degree views of not only the cabins but also the whole ship. The ship's departure was at 5:30pm from the Katajanokka terminal (See this google map*).
I had a whole lot of tasks lined up before that. One of them being purchasing a music system which was on sale only till that particular day. After finishing off everything on Stockholm cruisemy to-do list, in record time, I reached the terminal at 5pm.

We all boarded the ship and as we got in, I suddenly felt as excited as a little girl, looking forward to one of life's experiences, never experienced before. At the same time I also saw myself detachedly as if from above, (blame it on visuals from the Titanic), entering the ship, realising with awe that it was a whole new world inside - an entire multistoried building complete with restaurants, pubs and discos, casinos and shops, floating on water. The sight of uniformed seamen, gleaming interiors, buzz of activity everywhere, made me truly feel as if I was part of a movie! I only hoped that it wouldn't have an ending like the movie.

Our cabins were on the 5th deck. After quickly dumping our bags in the cabin using the smartcards which were our tickets as well as our cabin keys, we all rushed to the 'sun' deck, where everyone was, to see the sight of the land moving past, our ship heading towards nothingness. On my visit to Soumenlinna island at the beginning of Folks at the Soumenlinna island waving at the shipmy sojourn in Finland, we had waved to the passengers going in such cruises. This time it was our turn to be waved at, as we sailed past that island. It gave us a very "sailor" feeling. After having seen the huge full moon during the fireworks display, I was eagerly awaiting nightfall so that I could see the moon again, from the middle of a water body, sans all artificial lights, with the moon beaming down in full glory over the water. Of course, there was a spectacular sunset over the horizon looked forward to, too. I had already checked the weather forecasts, which showed clear skies. We went all around the deck, trying to explore every corner of it. Unfortunately the bow of the ship was forbidden to passengers. But that wasn't the end of our desire to experience it the way "Rose" experienced it. The sun beaming down as the ship surges forwardEventually we found one corner which was considerably in the front of the ship, though not exactly in the centre and not really on the top deck, but one deck lower. It was almost impossible to stand there since the wind was so strong. The sight of a vast sea, your vessel surging forward, with you at the very front is a very different and exhilerating feeling. For miles and miles around there was nothing but water and the sun gleaming on it. I felt very much close to nature.

Continued: Twilight in sunset and moonrise

* - the google map has my apartment (which doesnt exist in the maps) location, the Viking line terminals at Helsinki and Stockholm, marked.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Fire and Ice

On 19th of August was the Finnish fireworks championship. The 1855 bombardment of Sveaborg (Soumenlinna Fireworks with the moon in the backgroundIsland) barely touched Helsinki (but for a couple overshot shells), and the population even gathered on hills to watch the dramatic 'fireworks'. This event refers to the bombing of Viapori, when the English and French navies bombed Suomenlinna (Viapori) while Finns watched on from the hills of Kaivopuisto Park. The best places for watching the Finnish Fireworks Championships are along the coasts of Kaivopuisto and Katajanokka, as well as the end of Hernesaari Island. The fireworks this year started at 10:30 pm, strategically timed with a full moon night. As I prepared to reach the venue I was 'shell-shocked' to see the crowd accumulated at the tram stop. For a place like Helsinki, that's quite a sight. Suddenly there were too many ppl, more than the tram stop could accumulate, forget the tram itself. I realised just how much out of touch I had been with jostling around in crowds. As the feeling of inadequacy started creeping in, it got overpowered by my natural skills honed particularly by travelling in DTC buses. Out came an arm clutching my handbag under it, the zipped side firmly against my person, my unduly long plait in front of me rather than behind as it has a tendency of getting stuck in zippers (of bags all ye perverts) in the most painful The full moon nightmanner. At long last the tram made its way through crowds in its way, to the stop itself. I could see people packed in like sardines. As luck would have it, the tram stopped with its doors right in front of me and I felt like I was drowning in a sea of scurrying (make that jostling) mice. I somehow made it into the tram, well versed with situations like this and held onto the first handrest I could get my hands on. I couldnt fathom just where all these ppl were going. A lit up islandIt was unusually crowded even for a weekend, and then I realised that they were all headed to watch the fireworks near the harbour. Unfortunately I had the daunting task of getting off somewhere in between and not at the destination, where I would have just flowed out with the rest of the human mass. Experience has taught me to start making my way much before the stop arrives and that's what I did. After getting together with some of my colleagues, we all started walking in the direction that we saw the crowds going in.

The harbour looked beautiful, bathed in the full moon light. The water of the Bathed in the full moon lightBaltic sea gleamed and the *huge* moon peered down. I had heard that the moon is supposed to be as big as a thaali in these parts of our planet compared to the katori in our parts, and I saw it too. Swarms of people crowded around, drinking beer and generally picnicking (something they do a lot, anytime, anywhere). In sometime, the population explosion was replaced by the fireworks explosion. The crowd gasped collectively. "Poor mites", I thought as I remembered the diwali crackers back home and concentrated more on the huge thaali sized full moon, not so readily available back home. After enjoying the fireworks display, we enjoyed the huge moon and the glistening ocean, by sitting atop a hill in Kaivopuisto Park, far away from streetlights. No photography can justify the beauty of that moment.Traffic jam at midnight
Getting back was an adventure in itself. After waiting for about half an hour for a tram which was already more than half an hour late, I decided to walk till the station from where I got my connecting bus at 12:45am, back to my apartment. Anything to get away from that place which reeked so much of beer that I felt giddy myself. I felt as if I had had two cans of beer by just inhaling the fumes all around. Walking ahead, I witnessed a traffic jam at midnight probably because the majority of the population was concentrated at the harbour. I made it to the station, just in time to catch the 12:45am bus. There was a long queue for the bus, full of people acting stupid and drunk. I stood a little distance away from the queue, also wondering how I would ever secure a seat for myself for a 45 minute journey when everyone seemed to be going in that very bus. The bus arrived shortly and for the second time that day, it stopped right where I was standing and the doors opened right infront of me. Amused to the core, I stepped in, before another jostling session would have pushed me in.
After I got home, I reflected back on the full moon glory. The beauty of that black and white moment - the dark water and the bright full moon would remain a memory for all times to come.

Friday, August 19, 2005


I finally got to see the event as I wanted - on the eve of the closing ceremony. After scouring the venue for 2 days we finally got the tickets of the closing ceremony (14th Aug) for D-upper section (originally 155€) in 35€. Now I can pat my back for my bargaining skills. We ultimately sat in the D-lower section (since our seats were already occupied!) which suited us even better. The calculated risk, that we took by waiting for the closing ceremony and not watching the event before that was not really needed. The Indian flag along with others
We expected much fanfare for the closing (like in the opening ceremony) but all that happened was 'victory ceremonies' - in other words, medal distribution. Had India been there somewhere, it would have made sense.

It seems that even a country like Finland unexpectedly has its own market of 'tickets in black'. Only these tickets are not costlier than the officially available ones (like in India), instead they are cheaper, but not very. Some agents were even selling them at the same rates as the official ticket stalls! It all depends on the date, the timing at which *you* buy it and the date/timing for which you want it, the section of the stadium (in which one wanted tickets) and then of course ones bargaining skills. These agents seemed to be foreigners too. Moroccans to be precise. That's what I learnt when I asked a couple of them where they were from. One of them wished me ASAK and I responded back instantly as if I had been doing it all my life. Another asked me how long it took for my hair to grow 'that' long and labeled me as 'the lady with the long hair' for the next 2 days.

Watching this kind of an event was great. It was a first for me inside a stadium as I am not a sports freak anyway (I detest cricket even more so because it's fed so much to us Indians in our daily diet). It was also a first for even an event of that magnitude! I saw a world record happening in front of my own eyes and not on the camera for a change. Osleidys Menéndez from Cuba made this world record. It was The new world record for women's javelin throwamazing, seeing that particular javelin throw. The javelin just didn't stop and went on and on along with the collective "ohhhh's" of the audience and finally landed outside the last boundary line made for javelin throws. I dont have any shots of that. But I dont regret that. At times, one forgets to enjoy the experience in a bid to capture that moment forever. Some irony.

Even though I have seen on TV that more than one events take place at the same time, it was weird with so many happening at the same time that one had to instantly switch ones vision (as if channels) from one point of the stadium to another. At times people kept concentrating on the wrong end for eg. at the introduciton being given for a men's 4X400m final instead of where the real action was happening at that point (women's javelin throw).
A teary eyed winner of the women's final racing event
Apart from the games, I saw just how much pressure all players face. I also saw the glistening pride on the faces of the winners. Whenever any medal awarding ceremony took place, the flag of the nation which stood first, was hoisted and the national anthem played. Many a time, tears of joy would silently be overtaken by the evident pride.

My only regret - I could not cheer for India.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

IAAF World Athletics Championships in Helsinki

This was one of the events responsible for a lot of personal misery to me (and my colleagues) unfortunately. No, I am not a sports fanatic at all. But it's strange to note, how such external factors do affect us still. I had to arrange for an apartment for myself within the first 3 weeks of arriving in Finland. We had been told it's not really difficult. But when we started searching, we were just not able to get *any* apartment available in the time period that we wanted. Even though the time period was supposedly the best, since in summers, a lot of apartments get vacant as the majority of the population goes off to a summer cottage, we faced major problems in finalising an apartment. Whatever little was available was at greatly hiked prices. I remember one chap was renting out his place only for the week in which the IAAF World Championships had to take place in Helsinki and he expected 2000€ for it! Outrageous by any real estate standards! Well the woes can make up a long post in themselves maybe later.

For now, the world championships are taking place out here. Helsinki is all geared up for the event. As can be expected, there is much fanfare, tourist friendly schemes, escalation in real estate and a good business opportunity for people. Suddenly there is a major influx of 'foreigners' in the local transport and on the streets. It feels good to be not the only ones, who do not understand Finnish/Swedish. Initially we thought that India isn't taking part in these events as there was just no information anywhere in the Indian media (on the net). Finally on visiting the venue, we managed to spot the Indian flag and later we learnt that Anju Bobby George was taking part in the long jump event (She had won the bronze in the same games held in Paris in 2003). She stood 5th in the event this year inspite of the bad weather. The weather conditions were *really* bad for the past few days and literally dampened our plans to watch this event. So far, I have not been able to watch the event. But will surely try to, in the 2 more days that the event is on. Even if India wasn't participating we all would have loved to use this opportunity to make a first, as far as watching a sports event in a stadium is concerned.

There are a lot of other activities which go on outside the stadium, for eg. marathons, fun games for free in which one can win prizes ranging from small badges and caps to passes of a cruise! I tried my hand at these games and collected a lot of small stuff (badges, pens, caps) but no cruises passes unfortunately. I also got my face painted with the Indian tri-colour! For once I won't face a problem of my nationality being mistaken.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


The public transport system in Finland is quite good. One has trains, buses, trams and the metro to commute. Finland or rather Helsinki is a tourist's paradise in the sense of travelling around the place. Maps, public transport timetables and a whole lot of information is easily available in tourist information offices, railway stations etc. Maps with the details upto the house numbers are commonly available in most kiosks, information points, hotels, restaurants etc. Getting to a place provided you know the address, was never that simple before. To add to this, there's a great Finnish website which takes the source and destination and tells you the mode of transport, where to get down, change the transport etc. according to any date and time. It also provides multiple ways in which you can reach that place at that point of time, subject to the transportation facilities available then. It also provides links to detailed maps of the source, destination and the change points. Along with this are the routes (drawn graphically in the map) and the timetable of the transport involved. This works for one major reason. Transport more or less follows a timetable. Comparing this with India, err..timetable? Does such a thing even exist in the first place? Only in schools.

Buses here are sleek and big with pneumatic doors (like in Japan). Sleek busOnly a driver is there (no conductor to come asking for tickets - which is perhaps something that happens in the entire world except India). It's one's own responsibility to buy a ticket. Checking is rarely ever done. I never came across any ticket checking in Japan. But then that is because one has to swipe ones ticket/travel card through a terminal and only then would one be allowed. Anyone trying anything else, would face a hit from some baricades jutting out the moment you try to crossover. Mostly there's a policeman stationed at these points too. In Finland, though there are terminals for swiping cards, there is no restriction to access. In other words, one can go anywhere, anytime and you can get caught only if manual checking is done. So far, with me checking has happened only once in a train in Helsinki. Special tram with a pub in it.The only major difference between buses (and trams) in Finland and those in Japan is the way to indicate that you have to get down/get in. In Japan, one had to go and stand next to the driver, a substantial time before ones stop came, else he would not stop the bus (trams aren't there in Japan). To get in, there was no particular 'rule'. The bus stopped at the stop, and one got in if one had to. In Finland, there are buttons provided right next to each seat (in both buses and trams), so that if one wishes to get down, one may press the button in advance. Button to press, if you want to stop a busTo indicate that one wants to get in a bus/tram, one has to wave one's hand properly (so that it's visible) else the bus/tram wouldn't stop! Experience is the best teacher, but its fees is very high. All desis are so unused to this waving-for-a-bus-thing, that they have had to learn by experience. Everyone of us has had instances where we waited half an hour for a bus, it came, it saw and it went on without stopping simply because we forgot to flag it down! If one is not *at* the bus/tram stop (which is clearly marked) when the bus/tram comes, there's no use running, shouting, waving or any other thing to make it stop. Once the pneumatic doors close, they are harder than Alladin's caves to re-open. The driver (usually wearing a Mogambo-esque expression and goggles) will not even acknowledge your mere presence and will move on.

The roads in Finland (and probably the rest of europe) are great. They are smooth and well tarred and of course, things like potholes don't exist in the dictionary of the roads here. Not only that, they dont even have speed breakers. They have speed limits marked on signboards and each and every person respects them. The thing closest to a speed breaker is at times a section of the road, more like a zebra crossing (it's that wide) and hardly elevated from the road. I call it a speed breaker because vehicles do slow down when they come to that rare thing, but it's nothing like the ^ shaped speed breakers we have in India, which not only break your speed, but also your head, neck, back, vehicle and everything possible. Pedestrians and cyclists have separate roads for them which are actually the footpaths which are well tarred out of which half a clearly demarcated section is for pedestrians and half for cyclists. In Japan also cyclists used the pavements but there were no demarcations. One of the secrets for smooth roads is that these ppl pull out the old stuff and then put on fresh tar. The level of the road doesnt change. In India, the elevation of the road changes (mostly increases) with the years it sees in its life. The potholes get left behind unfortunately.

Somehow I noticed something lacking on the roads, when I got here. After a couple of days, I realised it was the absence of motorbikes! Finally after the first week I saw one. They are rare, quite rare. But the ones that do get seen also make sure they get heard. They appear to be almost as fast as the bike used in the sci-fi TV serial StreetHawk. Rather than other modes of transport, most ppl use bicycles to commute. But a lot of bicycles here have no brakes! Neither do they have stands. To stop a bicycle, you are supposed to reverse pedal or at least stop peddling and it would stop. They also have tubeless tyres, which means you need to apply more force and pedal continuously for any movement. Thankfully there are some bicycles which are 'normal'. Personal cars are quite expensive and so are cabs (like Japan). The place is scenic and beautiful. At least in the summers, the weather is great. All is perfect for a good ride and a good exercise. But nothing can beat the best way to see a place - peripatetic.

* - the tram in the picture is a special one. It's a pub inside a tram and of course you need to buy a drink to get onto it. The public transport tram is just different in colour.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


I have often wondered in the recent past, how come the bollywood bigshots, who spare no country in search of locations and shoot in locations like Amsterdam and Switzerland, have not exploited Finland and it's untouched, pristine beauty so far. I was not surprised when I read that some filmmakers are indeed planning to shoot over here.

YLE TV reports - A leading Indian director, Samir Karnik, is currently in Finland hunting for locations for new film productions. The Finnish Tourist Board hopes Bollywood enthusiasm for Finland might lead to a tourist boom.

And the Finns are actually considering it a shot in the arm for Finnish tourism! Read more here.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Lingual Tangle

In Finland there are two official languages and no, English is not one of them. These are Finnish and Swedish. Finnish, supposedly, is derived from English, German and Swedish. (Now I wish I had taken at least some German classes before coming here). At some point of time in history, Swedish used to be the official language here. Now, Finland is a bilingual country where 6 % of the population are Swedish speaking. Swedish lessons are still compulsory in comprehensive schools. English, however, has become a "second mother tongue" for young people. Most (not all) people here can speak English though a lot of them have to think and speak slowly, processing it in their mind perhaps. Anyway this is much better than Japan where well educated people can not even speak English for their business needs. The chances of getting any kind of language help (in Japan) in a public place are really bleak. Your best bet would be a good practice of dumb charades*#. As far as written language is concerned, at least one can *read* the script of Finnish/Swedish and try to say something when referring to a place or anything else. Japanese renders one totally helpless.

Thanks to the Swedish speaking population, Finland's connections to Sweden and other Nordic countries are close. Swedish TV and other programs in Swedish are broadcasted out here. Sweden has Finnish as its minority official language.

People like us are faced with the bilingual situation in Helsinki when it comes to street signs and advertisements. We did not know earlier that everything was written once in Finnish and then in Swedish. So what was really two names of the same thing, was thought by us to be a two word name of something. Leppavara Alberga wasn't really a long name of the district where my office is. Rather Leppavara is the Finnish name and Alberga, the Swedish one. At times the Swedish names seem to be quite similar to the Finnish ones, at least phonetically for eg. Espoo is Esbo in Swedish. Now that we know everything has two names of the same place, we might get confused easily when there are two words for a single thing.

Most products here in the convenience stores have markings in Finnish and Swedish. If not these two, then an additional one would be in German (or maybe any other Nordic language). If you are really in luck, you might find some products with ingredients/contents marked in English as well, but that's something very rare. Even products from India do not have their contents in English. It's my hunch that some words in Finnish are also derived from Hindi. For eg. Pineapple is ananas! and Moong dal is Mung/Moong! Or maybe these products were 'brought' from India to begin with and hence the names stuck. Some words in Finnish are quite easy intuitively but one can't always rely on the assumption that they mean what they seem to mean. For eg. maisi is maize, paprika is obviously pepper, kakku is cake. But porkanna is not pork but carrot! And appelsini is not apple but orange! (this is the most common assumption most desi's make - urs truly not included). Apple is instead omena. For survival, we have tried to learn the words for chicken, egg, pork, beef, ham, duck etc so that we can at least make out some contents.

Finnish (and other nordic languages) has more vowels than English. These are ä, ö and y (apart from a, e, i, o, u) which are counterparts of a, o, u. I have already mentioned the usage of 'j' in Finnish. 'y' is also not pronounced as 'y' as in year but rather with a 'u' sound. So Yksi (means one) is pronounced as 'ooksi' and not 'eeksi' or 'yikesi' (cutesie equivalents of eeks and yikes). Out here ppl say 'Yau' (Yes), which is somewhere in the middle of Ya (yes) and Yo ('cool' way of saying yes). There are (a lot of) words differing only in the length of a sound and incorrect length can easily confuse anyone here. Like the Japanese, Finnish are also quite sing-song when it comes to talking but less than the Japanese anyway. Voice modulation keeps changing a whole lot. The 'r's are rrrrrrolled off their tongue and the 't's are much much softer than normal 't'. It's more dental (sound is made by the tongue touching the teeth) rather than the usual 't'. The Japanese way of speaking is very squeaky and nasal. They like to mull over a word (and in that process stretch it a whole lot and make it sing song too) or say it very quickly (rapid fire). Either of the two can happen. The Finnish, don't stretch their words as long. When they get stuck (during translation to English that happens), they repeat the syllable again and again (the-the-the-the-the), whereas the Japanese, stretch it and make it sing song (thhhhhhhhhhhhhheeeeeee). The Finnish are also very fond of saying 'Aha-aa' and with modulation that could varyingly make it sound like a surprise, a realisation, a magic trick or whatever. 'Ok' is said with a whole lot of force into the 'kay'. It makes one feel as if one is watching theatre. They also say 'buh-bye' or 'bye-bye' instead of 'Bye'. It's not considered childish or anything. Everyone says it and so do I.

I think my English is going to be "t'ot'ally" distorted by the time I get back.

* - acting out words without speaking
# - I searched for a suitable hyperlink for 'dumb charades' and one of the sites churned out is of my employer, where they write about the cultural events!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Nuuksio National park

On midsummer's eve, I went out just exploring the city and some of its islands. The next day (the actual midsummer day), I went to Nuuksio National park which has a range of activities for all. This is the park where you can supposedly spot the flying squirrel though we didn't see any since it comes out at twilight. This park is really amazing. Not only is it like a forest, it has well marked trails which you can trek on and mini lakes within it. It also has some campfire sites and cooking shelters. The cooking shelters have the provision of grills. There are huts which contain wood, which you can chop further to break down into smaller chunks. Then you light this wood and use the provided grill for your cooking. We were carrying our lunch with us which we heated on the grill. Unfortunately for us, it started raining the moment we got to the park. So trekking went for a toss and we quickly settled in a cooking shelter to escape the rain and the sudden cold which resulted. It was great fun heating our food on the grill. We were not aware of exactly what cooking facilities we would be getting in the park otherwise we would have carried sausages, potatoes, cheese and other stuff to be grilled as well. We made up with just heating our 'rajma-chawal' but even they were heavenly. It was almost like "daal bukhaara" or something. Because of the rains, there were more people in the cooking shelter than it could accomodate. There was a pair of guys, who were going on making tea (the delicious smell wafted towards us quite often) again and again throughout the day. We really felt like trading some rajma-chaawal for tea. We decided that next time we would come prepared with everything and have tea and pakoras. I tried grilling a marshmallow (richie-rich style). As I suspected, it shrunk in mass the instant it was kept close to fire. Ultimately it tasted like cotton candy that we get back home. I prefer the spungy marshmallows. We did heat up some tortillas on the grill and they were just lovely. After gluttonizing all day, we set back for Helsinki. The rains had stopped by this time. The natural beauty here is amazing. Even the weeds have pretty and colorful flowers. There are a lot of wild larkspurs growing around this place. They bring a lot of colour to the panorama. One thing that one instantly notices here are the nature sounds, that go with the place. Incessant twittering and cooing of birds, a whole lot of insects buzzing and at places, water slowly making its way - all soothe and calm you.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Midsummer eve

The 24th June was midsummer eve this year. This is a festival associated with the summer solstice. Midsummer is thought to be a very favourable time to find a partner. In addition, many weddings take place at Midsummer. Most of the Midsummer "spells" (more of a pagan ritual) have to do with seeing your future husband's face. According to one of the spells, you were supposed to pick nine different flowers and to put them under your pillow and in this manner you would see him in your dreams. Tradition also has it that females wanting to see their future partners should go naked to a well and peer into the water to see the face of their future partner in the reflection. Needless to say, this would attract a lot of men around the spot and obviously these encounters might result in alliances for some. Shakespeare captured this night of supernatural wonder in his play "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" when humans and other-world fairies mingled on a night when love and mischief was definitely in the air.

In today's day, the midusmmer festival is celebrated by 'raising the pole' or by burning a bonfire (much like lohri back home - Only this is done in daytime). (The picture is courtesy Wikipedia). During Midsummer Eve, i.e. the night before the longest day of the year, people light these huge bonfires to symbolize light triumphing over darkness, and life over death. It is also believed that they are driving out bad spirits by doing that. There is a lot of cultural stuff like folk dances, games, songs, fortune tellers etc at this event. The date is not fixed. The government decided that they would choose the closest friday to midsummer solstice as the midsummer eve. This way people get a long weekend. They also have a tradition of hoisting the finland flag (Almost every building has a pole for that) on this particular day. This is a much awaited event especially in Finland. Nature is one of the main elements of Midsummer. Practically everyone who has the chance will spend their few days off in the countryside. This is the time when people go out to their summer cottages and have a nice time just relaxing. The city wears a deserted look all of a sudden. This was one day when we noticed that only the 'foreigners' in Finland were left behind as they didn't go anywhere.

Midsummer is an ecclesiastical celebration, the celebration of the mid point of the summer and it has also been the National Flag Day ever since 1934. The funny thing is that all these are celebrated on the day before - Midsummer Eve is somehow more important than the actual Midsummer Day. This day has actually been a battle field for religion in Finland: it has been debated as to whether it is originally a pagan or Christian celebration. This is a popular day for getting married.

Midsummer is the time when you are allowed to go a little crazy. Some people do that by trying out the magic that their forefathers were so ready to believe in. Other people may try to achieve that same feeling with the help of alcohol and that causes trouble for the police and hospitals. One can see shards of broken bottles everywhere and people lying drunk on the streets.

Though I didn't go "out" anywhere and neither did I visit the Midsummer celebration in Seurasaari island here, I enjoyed my long weekend. On midsummer eve, the weather was absolutely great and I was walking on the streets till 1:30 am (something I have been doing quite often). The sky was a deep blue and was covered with clouds as seen in the pic I have clicked of the Esplanadé at that unearthly hour. The next post would be on what I did on the weekend.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Töpsy türvy

A lot of things here are quite the opposite of what my senses and sensibilities are used to. The traffic is obviously right hand driven with the driver's seat on the left hand side (unlike Japan). It takes a while to get used to it. Some of my colleagues have in fact been so baffled, that they have ended up taking transport in the wrong direction - the very direction they came from in the first place! Thankfully I am still sane. People walk on the right hand side of any street. They stand on escalators on the right hand side (Unlike Japan where they stood on the left). All doors open on the outside. That's a real mess. We have made fools of ourselves several times by pushing every lever attached to the door in every possible direction (at times there are some weird ones attached), when all we had to do was 'push' the door knob instead of 'pull'! Even the handles are pulled up (anti-clockwise) instead of being pushed down to open any door.
The electrical switches here function in exactly the opposite way. The 'Off' position would mean 'On' here and vice versa. Those who don't know this, get quite confused at first.
The letter 'j' is pronounced as 'y' here. So the name 'Jari' becomes 'Yaari' as in "yaari hai imaan mera yaar meri zindagee' and not "jaa ree". Similarly 'Jani' becomes 'Yanni' as in the composer and not "jaanee" as in "jaanee yeh chaku hai". Well at least they write it with the same letter. The japanese even *write* 'r' for 'l' and 'English' becomes 'Engrish' there! It's written that way and pronounced the same way. In fact as a conclusion, 'Rohit' becomes 'Lohit'. I dont know what a tongue twister 'Rahul' would become!
I have barely been able to pronounce the name of the place I am staying in. It took me two days to get my tongue used to other words apart from Helsinki (where I stay), Espoo (where I work) and Vantaa (where the airport is). 'Pursimiehenkatu' is not such a big deal now. Neither is Leppävaara. Nor is Linnavuorenpuisto. Want some more tongue twisters? You would be barely able to pronounce these words, when they assume that your memory is volatile and vanish from your memory. It takes a while to learn to pronounce a word and then *remember* it so that you can reach that place.
The first thing that every PC user from India asks is - where the @ symbol is. Obviously everyone has to send email and the @ symbol is not visible in the first look or in the second (neither are a whole lot of other 'normal' keys). Some ppl assumed that finnish keyboards don't have a provision for one, so they started the 'typical copy/paste from other mails and make do' kinda stuff. My typing skills have gone töpsy türvy as well! Normal symbols like even < > / \ etc are now typed with a different key combination! The 'normal' places are now occupied by ö ä å ü € and the like.
The TV remotes here seemingly didn't function. Only later we realised that the power does not come on by pressing the same button which was pressed for switching it off. Instead you have to press any channel button and it comes on! Weird.
Thankfully one thing is still not totally awry. The toilets here are equipped with jet sprays and toilet paper both! Phew!

Friday, June 17, 2005

The place

If you haven't come here via this link, then please read that first.

The view from the planes was great. Europe seems to be covered with forests, at least the parts I saw. Finland is smaller than Rajasthan. Its population is much lesser than even Delhi's. It's got more than 40,000 lakes and has its own archipelago! It's a very scenic place full of natural beauty. Every small little thing is appealing to look at, be it the weeds, the twigs in the lush grass or the leaves in the tall trees. As expected, everything is clean, dust free and pollution free (including noise pollution). I could take a deep breath freely after a really long time without getting the feeling that I am harming my lungs. The cool, crisp mountain air laden with the foresty smell (minus the smell of thick vegetation) is an instant energiser. The place looks like its mainly a forest dotted with houses. The heart of Helsinki is not really like a forest though. Since it's the capital, it's more populated and has more hustle and bustle due to the harbour. The languages spoken are mainly Finnish and Swedish. Thankfully most ppl understand English which is a welcome respite from Japan. I don't need to hone my dumb charades skills any more.
Helsinki has a mix of old architecture and modern glass buildings. In places it looks more like a Nordic kingdom and in some it looks like an ultra modern city and still in others, it's a mix of both. It's a different feeling altogether, seeing a hi-tech bus standing on cobblestoned streets or seeing a beauty salon showcased in a building which looks like a fortress in its own right. The
architecture is mostly Jugend. Common houses look like small little castles built of rock, with their own barricades. At times I get the feeling that I have jumped into an old Scandinavian novel - the architecture, the people - all look like they belong to a make believe world. The midnight sun phenomenon appears quite bizarre to many ppl. Though I never found it so bizarre (heard about it so much), it does seem odd when you feel the need to wear goggles at 10 in the night! It is confusing my body clock. Everyday I have been out till 12 in the night at least. It's never really time to sleep. Sleep comes only with fatgue. Fatigue comes with a lot of walking which I have been indulging in. The weather is perfect and the place scenic - what else does one need to be outside!