28 March 2010

Snow Storms

Yesterday I realized for the first time, that since I came here I haven’t really seen heavy snowfall. When I reached here, there was already sooo much snow around. And it seemed to snow only at night as I never saw heavy snowfall during the day! Sometimes there would be snowfall….but more like flurries.

But this weekend has been something else altogether. Heavy snowfall both days!!! I can’t explain exactly what it is like, but imagine when we have heavy monsoon showers in India accompanied by wind. There is snow just flying in all directions all over the place. IMG_5143

I have been out roaming EVERY single weekend since I came here. Not to break my record I decided to go out today, maybe try and capture the snow storm on my sad camera. But didn’t venture far, it was almost impossible to walk.

So much for ‘Spring is just around the corner’

27 March 2010

Africa Calling

Several times during the course of my wanderings in Oulu I saw beautiful posters of dolphins. They said Villi Meri…couldn’t figure out if it was one of those aquariums like Deep Sea World in Edinburgh or was it a movie.

Google and Google translator to the rescue – Villi Meri means Wild Ocean. It was a film being screened at Tietomaa Science Center in Oulu, with special screenings in English on request! Tag line for the movie – Africa meets the Sea.

Africa...has been on my wish list for as long as I can remember. Even as a young girl in school I remember seeing photographs of my cousins who had visited Mombasa in East Africa, and thinking …gosh I do so want to be there too!!!!

The centre boasts of a magnificent super screen theatre. Believe you me, it not one of those kahli peeli boasts. The screen was super-duper.

The movie overall was a documentary to raise awareness of the effects of pirate fishing and global warming on the marine life. It lays stress on the fact that only 1/100th part of a percent of the seas is protected and the need for marine reserves.

But it was based around a place called the Wild Coast on the coast of South Africa, where shoals of sardines head towards the coast in June/July every year. They are followed by all kinds of predators – various species of Dolphins, Sharks, Whales, Seals and Gannets.

The Gannets can plunge midflight to depths as deep as 10 mts to catch the fish!

This phenomenon is referred to as ‘The Sardine Run’ and it seems that people can catch sardines with bare hands at that time of the year as the swirling shoals are gigantic in size and very close to the surface and coast – the shoals can be upto 7 km long! More than fish, these shoals look like an oil spill in the sea.

The photography and the effects were brilliant. In the opening scene I felt as if I was sitting in a helicopter and approaching the coast!!!!

In between they also covered the local people and African music…the drum beats are something that make you just want to dance!!!

A place I love and a good screening make for some wistful thoughts. I just wanted to catch the next flight to South Africa after seeing that movie.

And then last week someone sends me pictures from an African Safari….too much of a coincidence. I just have to plan East and South Africa this year!!!

26 March 2010

Naariyal Paani

The advert was really nice…a man in jeans and white tee sprawled out on luxuriant green grass, holding a tender coconut. Alongside it said - "The play begins with the character madly in love and every time he tries to share his story with others it is of no avail. Frustrated, he decides to present his story and reach out to the general public. He wants himself to be heard. He goes on and books Ranga Shankara to tell his story to the world."

Funny name for a play, was my first thought. Couldn’t figure out how Naariyal Paani fitted in with the love story! The one thing that stands out in my mind was me thinking after the play ... was the description in the advert really apt?

Nevertheless, I really enjoyed it.

As the protagonist comes on the stage, he is accompanied by two musicians playing the Tabla and Guitar. At regular intervals during the course of the play they enter the stage from one end and leave from the other end. The protagonist gets irritated with them and wants them to leave. But they in a sing song way talk to him and tell him that he cannot get rid of them, as the guitarist t represents the universe, while the actor playing the Tabla signifies his own physical presence.

During the entire play the protagonist is in conversation with the audience, wanting to tell them about his love for a girl.

He comes across as a man with a disturbed mind, though this is not explicitly mentioned at any point of mind. I guess it is left up to the viewers to interpret and develop their own perception...was he always like that or did he become like that when he lost the girl he loved.

His acting was superb, especially the way he enacted himself cycling for football practice and how he would stop, park his cycle and stand behind the tree to observe the girl. His way of talking like a small innocent child was so endearing especially the way he gets upset when he reaches the place late to find that she has already left. He takes you into his innocent world, his reaction when he comes to know that she is getting married to someone else, his staunch belief that she does not want to get married and will return to him one day soon.

Another thing that I felt was...was this whole story a make belief, a figment of his imagination or did he really love a girl, did he really wait and collect the empty coconut after she had finished the tender coconut and left the stall. Though, I did feel that he had not ever confessed his love to the girl but just liked to believe that she knew and loved him back.

I guess by now you would have guessed where the name came from... he would secretly observe her when she came to drink Naariyal Paani at the stall and collect the empty coconut after she left!!!

25 March 2010

On Blogging

There is this one amazing pro of working in a far off land like Finland in winters. Work timings are 8:00 to 4:30…max we finish by 5:00 …evenings are sooooo damn cold that one just wants to go to warmth of ones home, so there is plenty of time to blog. I can catch up on all my pending blogs!

Usually I write about my travels, events/theatre reviews and activities that I have done. Recently I visited a very nice cafe in Oulu which was playing Beatles when I went. I even mentioned that in a recent blog. When I told my friend Poorvi about it, her response was amazing. I have kept that email coz I just knew I had To write about it. But couldn’t figure out how to tag it.

This is how the email goes -
“Beatles! My favourites! You said "Hello, Goodbye" to your new friends? You planning to tour the Arctic in a "yellow submarine"? In the summer you can visit "strawberry fields". And after a "hard day's night", you can go to "Seargent Pepper's lonely hearts club" and dance to "Obla Di Obla Da".  Who knows maybe you'll meet a "paperback writer" there. and you both can drive down "the long and winding road" and he'll sing "Love me do" for you!! And you both can watch "Lucy in the sky with diamonds".
Ok, before you say "Don’t bother me", let me sign off…
"P.S. I love you"”

I guess I need a new tag…Creativity for this one!

24 March 2010

Hamlet, the Clown Prince

Another delayed post on a play that I watched quite some time back ...one which I really enjoyed and I must say has become one of my favorites.

The director, Rajat Kapoor, is one of my favorite actors and I was still in awe from a recent play, The Blue Mug, which I had watched sometime back when I got the email for this one.

The advertisement itself was quite interesting.
"The production is a creation based on William Shakespeare's HAMLET- in English and gibberish. A bunch of clowns are putting up a show of Hamlet- They sometimes misinterpret the text, sometimes find new meanings in it, sometimes try and understand it, very often make a mess of it.
They choose to use some phrases from the play and mix it with gibberish. They even edit the text, throw out some important scenes, and made a mess of the order of things as if the pages got mixed up. But through this all they are simply looking for the essence of Hamlet. And trying to find a context for it in our own times"

I hadn’t read Hamlet, so I was a bit apprehensive that I may lose out on some of the nuances of the play. Luckily one of the girls going with us seemed to know it by heart and gave us a good rundown on the story as we drove to Rangashankara.

At RS, we grabbed some good seats and were pleasantly surprised to find Rajat Kapoor, with an unkempt beard and arty look sitting there in the audience.

A day before I had Googled a bit and found that here again, like in Blue Mug, there was no script but the whole play was created during the rehearsals. This was evident in the 1st scene of the play itself, when we find them making references to Bangalore. I believe when they play was staged in Mumbai and Delhi, they made references to those cities.

The play is about a company of clowns who want to stage a play…i.e a play in a play!!! The clowns are thinking which play to stage and who will play what role when one of clowns reaches late. When he is questioned he makes fun about the distance of the Bangalore airport from the city…on how the taxi kept going and going. Since the airport moved from the city to the outskirts this is a major irritant for frequent travelers, so you could see many people in the audience bursting out into laughter.

The opening scene is all gibberish…how the actor’s mange to talk nonsense in such a consistent way is admirable. How does one learn a line of gibberish! Guess it must be impromptu!!! But that again requires a different level of confidence.

The introduction by the clowns to their play was simple but totally hilarious -"Clown Company presents TRAGEDY!!"

Throughout the play, the clowns in the play acknowledge the audience and converse and joke around with them directly.

It is good slapstick comedy, very witty unlike some comedy shows which think that comedy is all about buffoonery.

One of the actors was amazing. Guess he was not really interested in tragedy, so he breaks into impromptu dancing – Michael Jacksons moon walk which at that time was in everyone’s mind due to his recent death. Or he would suddenly break out into songs from Lion king. He had everyone roaring with laughter.

At one time, he plays Hamlet’s dead father’s ghost. Since he is not allowed to talk, he starts using dumb charades to explain to the clueless Hamlet what he wants him to do to avenge his death!! God! I nearly rolled over from my seat at this scene.

But it was not all comedy. Somewhere between the laughter are poignant scenes. Especially Ophelia’s drowning, which was quite touching.

One has to watch this play to understand how it is possible to make a serious Shakespeear play funny. It makes you laugh so much that you sides hurt and your face muscles get tired!

All in all...a great show. Totally entertaining, not to be missed.

23 March 2010

Kemi - Walking on Sea, Fishing and Snow Castle

After the amazing Husky Safari, I went off to explore Kemi. The aim was to walk towards the most important tourist attraction - the Snow Castle and enjoy what I can on the way

There were 2 routes to the Snow Castle – one along the sea front and one from the market square. Whoever knows me will know which route I would have chosen.

I obviously took the sea front route…not that I could see any sea. ONLY SNOW…finally it started sinking in…that’s what they mean when they talk about snowmobile over frozen lakes, rivers etc. The sea was TOTALLY frozen!!!

Forgive my ignorance…but initially I saw only people skiing so I thought it was OK to ski, but maybe not so safe to walk. Vroooooooom…that was a snowmobile. And then I noticed, like we take a walk in the park, there were people just out for a walk too. Some even had got their dogs out for a walk…on the sea!

IMG_5017So I got off the pathway and on to the large expanse of snow. I actually stopped a person and asked him…is this sea? In summer will all this melt and will there be water here…it was so unbelievable!

He nodded…and then pointed towards some trees that could be seen in the middle of that expanse and said…that there…it’s an island!


I guess many people would have thought I was crazy coz I was walking and clicking snaps of my feet…



IMG_5020Noticed 2 people sitting on these small cloth stools… as I approached them I realized they were fishing!!! They have this drill to make a small hole in the snow and then they sit there on the sea and fish!! And within 10 mins they actually caught fish!!!

Somehow fishing brings up these pictures of a nice sunny day, river bank, a small boat, a broad brimmed hat. This was just the opposite. Snowy day, frozen sea, small stools and loads of woolen clothes!!!

Finally I went to the snow castle, which was quite nice. There was the Snow chapel, which I liked best and a Snow Hotel with rooms made of ice and an ice bar and restaurant. But personally I enjoyed the earlier part of the afternoon, which for me was a totally new experience.

22 March 2010

Husky Safari…an adventure

Finally the real adventure in Finland began last weekend.

I had found some information on the net about the various Safaris and wanted to do so many things but had loads of apprehensions as I had read someone’s experience on Trip Advisor on how some of these safaris were a big rip off.

On top of that when I finally spoke to the lady in Kemi who was going to organize something for me, she said that the safari company offered a pick up from the railway station for 34 euros, which to me seemed a rip off. When I checked on Google maps, the distance from the railway station to the meeting point was only 800mts!!

So with fingers crossed, I finally decided to first try the Husky Safari - a dog sledding safari in the snowy nature. This safari takes you to a genuine Husky Farm where the mushers, Mrs. Ulla and her daughter Mrs. Paula live with their Siberian huskies. A quick training session on how to drive the husky team which typically consists of 5 or 6 dogs and off you are to try your hand at being a musher.

The train was supposed to reach at 9:09 AM, the tour departed at 9:15 AM from 800 mts away…. I was looking at a very, very brisk walk!

Luckily train reached at 9:00 AM and with my Google map printouts I made it to Hotel cumulus just in time. Changed into my gear - thermal clothing, gloves and winter shoes and set off with our cute guide, Mikhail in a van towards the farm about 20 kms away, when my 2nd apprehension started. The deal is that there are two persons in a team who take turns in driving the team and sitting in the sleigh as passenger. There was just a couple and me. They would be a team, so I may be with the actual musher and may be forced to be a passenger all the time and not get to try my hand at actual driving :-(

However, my apprehensions were baseless. After the training, Paula asked me if I wanted to take a sled out on my own!!! I would be driver all the time!! Yippeee. But at the same time I was a bit nervous. What if I cannot manage? She removed 2 of the dogs to make it easier for me.

IMG_4992With her warnings that the dogs would be quite fast initially, off we were….the dogs more eager than us. In fact the moment we entered the farm, they got all excited and starting barking like crazy. They were just raving to go and in fact every time we stopped in the middle for even 1 min, they would get all impatient. They looked ferocious but were such a friendly lot. Loved to be pet and kept jumping on me. They gave me a feeling of confidence that they would take care. Still I guess I was a bit nervous because I forgot to put the cap of the thermal suit on!!! I realized as we sped off when the cold air blasted on my face and head.

Paula was ohhh so right. The first 5 mins were crazy…so fast and 2 really sharp turns. Ulla was in the lead, followed by me and finally the Belgian couple. When I went down hill it was so fast, more so because I was the only one on the sled, the huskies too found it easier. In fact they kept trying to overtake Ulla and did not maintain the 200 mts distance that must be maintained. We could use the brakes to slow down the sled, but that realization came only after 15-20 mins, once I got the hang of it all. Till then I just let them be, do what they wanted and concentrated on using my weight to turn the sled, so that I didn’t fly off in a different direction.

IMG_4988 We had been told to help the dogs when it was uphill by kicking with one foot on the snow. But my fellows hardly needed any help. They were brilliant. At one point only, the turn was 90 degrees and uphill. That was a tough turn I guess because the Belgian couple overturned!!! The passenger was left behind and the sled with the driver kept running. Such a funny sight, the lady scrambling after them!!!

The landscape was amazing, through snow forests and ice fields. I, being my adventurous self, decided to get my camera out of my pocket and try and take some snaps, all this while I was still moving…coz the babies had slowed down a bit. Gloves came off, camera came out and snaps were being clicked. But you never know when they are going to start speeding again. Luckily one hand was firm on the sled. But this is what happens to your snap when they suddenly start speeding.IMG_5000

After about an hour of this, we stopped for a break, where Ulla gave us hot berry juice. Though the name doesn’t sound interesting…hot and juice somehow don’t go too well in my head, it was yummmmmy. But the 10 mins break was one helluva noisy time as the huskies were just going beserk. They DID NOT like us stopping!

When we stopped we had moved quite close to each other. Ulla had tied the sleds with ropes to trees. She untied mine and her own sled, the idea being that since I was alone I had to keep my foot on the break while she untied the rope. For the couple, the driver puts the brakes while the other person goes and unties the rope. I don’t know what they were trying to do, but next moment I felt the huskies from their sled all over me!!! I turned around and the sled was driverless and passenger less! One of the dogs managed to scramble between my legs and from where I hold the sled, move onto the passenger seat of my sled. And the others were just trying to push ahead trying to take me and my sled along. It was tough holding on to the brake and at the same time trying to push the huskies back.

Ulla had moved on and I was like screaming…Ulla help!!! I don’t think I mentioned this before, while Paula spoke English, Ulla didn’t! I was like wondering… she had not realized our plight. What am I gonna do. In the meantime the Belgian couple had taken their position and was trying hard to pull the huskies back but with not much luck. I thought maybe if I let go of the brake, I would move forward and we would get untangled. But it seemed too much of a risk because of that one husky sitting nicely as my passenger!!!

Finally she listened to me and got off the sled. Slowly I let go of the brake and we were offfff….they had been standing for too long I guess, because the energy was amazing! At the corner I saw Ulla had stopped and was trying to tie her sled and come and help us!!!

And so after another hour of dog sledding we reached the farm. We were led to this really cosy place…a leather wigwam with fur covered benches and a nice warm fire. The farm puppy came to visit us there. It’s a different thing that he was a BIG puppy. Later over coffee and biscuits Ulla told Mikhail to tell us that we had been very good and in the 1st hr we had been too fast and overall done about 30kms!!!

After playing with the huskies for some time, we had to leave. Luckily all my apprehensions were baseless because the whole experience was awesome and worth every penny that I paid.

17 March 2010

Politeness at a new level

Everyday when I return from work, near the bus stop that I get off there is this quaint little shop. It says 'Pioni Living'. I don’t know what Pioni really means, but the shop gave a feeling that it dealt with Christian Religious Stuff. Very pretty sculptures of Virgin Mary and angels adorn the show window. Last weekend I decided to visit it.

As I entered the shop I experienced politeness at a different level.

Generally when we are just window shopping or doing TP in a small or medium sized shop in India, the sales person will give you such a disgusted look. Or will fold all the stuff that you have opened to see even before you move away...

In some other places, they will ask with a polite smile – can I help you or the likes.

But here the lady gave her warm Finnish smile, asking if I speak English. As I nodded she asked me if I needed any help or was I just enjoying the shop.
I just smiled and said...I came to enjoy your shop. Her answer took me by surprise...take your time!

16 March 2010

Rudolf, the Red Nosed Reindeer?

Finland immediately conjures up images of Santa Claus and Reindeers - smart, healthy, brown, red nosed reindeers!!! My first sight of a reindeer in Oulu was quite a disappointment.

There was a winter village on the Nallikari Beach area, which we decided to visit. The winter village on its own was quite nice. Wigwam shaped ice cafes, lots of ice tunnels linking one igloo to another to play in, ice go-karting for adults and children and REINDEER sleds.

However, as we approached the area for the reindeer sled rides the first of the reindeer was returning from the ride over the frozen beach and sea. He was missing an antler, looked really old & unhealthy and tired out after the ride :-(

Soon after, the second reindeer approached us. He was healthier, had his antlers intact and looked to be enjoying taking the kids for a ride. At least he made me want to approach him and pet him, which I did. The fur is soooo thick and soft…but he was white!!!

Maybe better luck when I visit Lapland, the original home of the Reindeers.

15 March 2010

The Stones

I saw this play a couple of months back...started my blog on it but never got down to finishing it, till now.

It is inspired by a real life incident. In 1994 two Melbourne teenagers in a dangerous rush of teenage rebellion were kicking stones off a freeway overpass. One of the stones smashed the windshield of a passing car and killed the driver.

This play starts with the playful exuberance of the 2 kids aptly referred to as Yahoo and Shy boy. Yahoo, the leader of the two always eggs on his shy friend challenging him to do several tasks, which not always the shy one is confident of doing or wants to do, especially the climbing on the top of ladder. He is shown to be aggressive with a swagger, more like a street tough in the making. The Shy Boy is more of a childish prankster and a reluctant follower who always lets himself to be prodded on by Yahoo. It's he who is guilt-stricken after the crash and confesses to his mother who takes him to the police. A trial follows and the trauma the Shy Boy goes through was very well enacted.

It was a brilliant play which left one thinking for a long time. The best thing about the play was that after it finished the actors had a q&a/comments session with audience.

They asked their first question, would you give the 2 boys a guilty or not guilty and one could feel the dilemma that each one of us felt while answering that question.

There were several other best things about the play...

The sets were minimal, no elaborate props. There are only 2 artists who did a role play. They play the two boys and with a simple change of shirt by one and police cap by the other they change to the 2 detectives investigating the play. And this is done so well. They just walk backwards on the stage itself for a few steps and return as the new avatar.

They conjure everything out of thin air, with their guitars and bodies adding a range of witty sound effects, from the sound of the stones going smashing down on the freeway to the trailing echoes of a sewer.

As adult interrogators, the men are merciless but at the same time the one interrogating the Shy Boy also seems to want to help the boy. In one scene they are shown trying to empathize with the boys, asking the question – what if their own child was involved? They seem unsettled and confused in what they really think and want – guilty or not guilty?

The one question that was on everyone’s mind was what finally happened to the boys? Not surprisingly, they had a hung jury and then a second trial was held. At the end of the trial, all felt that the trauma faced by the children was punishment enough and they were acquitted. However, where the boys are now or what they are doing is not known. The names of the boys were kept hidden from the media and the theater group, in order to respect the privacy of the children. Which is where the media in India can learn a lot – respect what should be digged up and what should not be.

It seems that the wife of the driver who was killed was invited to watch the play. She came but left half way without any comments.

As is very rightly said - the play has no easy answers but it dares to ask some big questions.

14 March 2010

Wandering around in Oulu.

I just can’t sit at home the whole weekend. So on my first weekend I just decided to take a walk and explore Oulu.

20 Walking around Oulu  1st Sunday Packed myself literally – with muffler, gloves, woolen socks, cap, 2 sweaters, thermal and a jacket zipped right up my throat, noted down my address on a piece of paper, decided not to take the usual route that I take to the bus stop but start walking in a different direction, not necessarily sticking to the main road but taking the pathways for walkers and cyclists in the residential areas. Leaving my footprints in the snow I was so engrossed in enjoying the beauty of the snow filled landscape and trees that I soon forgot that the temperature was -6C!!!

I was walking in the general direction of the market square but after some time I kinda lost track of my direction so I decided to ask the passersby’s for some help. I could barely pronounce my street name - Rautatienkatu –then, so I decided to ask for the market square. Not that people could understand that! Then I had a bright idea. I’ll ask for Stockman, which is a big store in the market square. Voila…that worked. Everyone KNOWS Stockman!

24 The friendly policeman That’s how I finally reached the market square. There is a bronze statue of the market policeman which is quite famous. In fact it’s the identifying mark of Oulu...much like the Eiffel tower, Big Ben, Status of Liberty, Taj Mahal. In Finnish it’s called Toripolliisi and this was going to be my first stop. When I reached there, 3 people where clicking some snaps. I realized that they spoke English so after their photo sessions and mine, I asked them for directions to the Cathedral. It seemed that they were going there too and asked me to just follow them. So yapper that I am I started talking to them and soon we were friends. I spent the rest of my day in their company and had an awesome time.

Basically one of them- Henrique is a medicine student from Germany who is doing one of his semesters here in Oulu as his mom is Finnish. He had 2 of his school friends – Elizabeth and Harden visiting him from Germany. So from there we walked to the Church on the way stopping by to enjoy a piece of MODERN ART where we all made guesses at what it could possibly represent, the final consensus being a human body cell!

42 Ajan Kulku Next stop was Ajan Kulku or the passage of time, which is a granite and bronze sculpture representing the passing of time. It depicts 32 people/characters that have lived in different centuries and contributed to the rise of the city. Leading the procession is King Charles IX, Sweden who was the founder of the city, followed by Serfs, Fur Hunters, Tar Barrel Rollers, Burghers, Sea Captains, Joiners and Traders. At the other end is a seated child who looks towards the future. I just loved the whole concept of this sculpture.

The Cathedral...well was different. It was simple, functional and not at all like the many churches that I have visited in other parts of Europe. Henrique explained to me that all Lutheran churches are like that. No sculptures staring down at all you from all corners, no gold and bold colours, instead just a few simple paintings. The columns looked like marble but on closer inspection we realized that they were all made of wood, with just a marble finish. The altar has THE most beautiful painting portraying the glorification of Jesus. There was a service going on so I decided to respect that and not click any snaps and go in front, but just sit at the back and watch. Soon a priestess came in followed by several children in white. Suddenly she started singing a hymn and even though it was in Finnish and I couldn’t understand a word, it had the most amazing calming effect. Again I was explained that it was a Confirmation ceremony for the children in white.

34 The last snap as I said bye to my new freinds Played around in the snow for some time after which Henrique suggested we visit this café which has a very nice ambience and plays Beatles. As I was walking up the steps, strains of Brown Girl in the rain came to my ears. I just got sooooooooooooooo nostalgic…for the first time in Oulu I felt like I was home. The café itself was amazing….very traditionally Finnish wooden structure. I can’t explain in words what the deco was like but it included a big wooden boat hanging across the roof, wooden wheel of a ship, huge spoons and beer mugs all made of birch wood. The wooden tables and chairs seemed straight out of one of the classics. The blueberry pie, hot chocolate and the music…just made my day.

In gist, it was a day of New Friends, Lutheran Church and a café playing Beatles and Boney M.

12 March 2010

Work Ethics

Long time since I did a Calvin post. Actually I have been quite irregular with my posts the last one year...maybe I too need some inspiration from the ants.

07 March 2010

Bus strike in Oulu

Last Tuesday the Transport Workers' Union (AKT) launched a nation wide bus strike in Finland. Tero, our host in Nokia, Oulu helped us out by providing a link which listed out the few buses that would be plying.

We did have a single bus service in the morning and in the evening and we decided we would use that. However, while we were lucky in the morning and managed to get the bus, we were not so lucky in the evening as we had a conf call. By the time the call got over and we reached the bus stop, we had missed the bus.

We had no clue as to where was the nearest Taxi Stop or how to go about calling a taxi to where we were waiting. There was not a single person to be seen. I had a good mind to start walking home instead of just waiting there aimlessly but my colleagues gave me such a startled look every time I suggested that, that I had no choice but to keep waiting for maybe GOD to send us a taxi!!!

Suddenly a car comes along and parks right there. I whoop with joy and decide to go and ask him where the nearest taxi stop is. However he just shakes his head and refuses to roll down the glass. So unlike the people here !!! My colleagues burst out laughing. Persistently I stand next to his car. He looks at me and points to a lady who is crossing the road and says “my wife”! Then it strikes me…

Picture this – 3 girls sitting at a bus stop on a day when no buses are expected. Along comes a guy in a car and parks his car right there. What does it look like? Maybe he’s trying to pick us up. And then one of the girl actually approaches his car. Obviously it looks like as if she is trying to pick him up….oh noooooooooooooooooooo……………shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit.

Damage control required. I wait for his wife to come and explain to her we don’t know how to get a cab. I give her my phone and ask her to order me a cab. She smiles, he smiles and I heave a sign of relief.

05 March 2010

First Impressions of Finland and Oulu

As the plane approached Helsinki I peered out of the window...all I could see was pristine white!!! I wondered had I really bargained for this when I accepted this assignment. I never imagined that there would be soooooooooooo much snow. Somehow all the time that I was preparing to come to Finland, all the programs shot in the Arctic Circle that I had watched glued to the National geographic seemed to have vanished from my brain.

Now it dawned...I was going to be in Oulu which is just 200 kms away from the Arctic Circle!!! And it is NOT going to be like Aberdeen with intermittent snow which would vanish in 3-4 days but several inches of snow for weeks and weeks. Heaven help me!!!

From the airport we went to the Hilton Helsinki Kalastajatorppa hotel where we were to spend one night. A visit to my company's office was scheduled for the next morning. Later in the evening we would travel to our respective client locations. My colleague was keen we go for a walk after we settled down a bit. Maybe get a quick bite or something. At the reception the gentleman gave us the map but at the same time added...with a smile...you’ll be back soon...its -19 degrees outside!!! The first few minutes were nice but after some time I could feel my toes and fingers freezing. Later I realized that the hotel overlooks the Gulf of Finland and so there was this really cold wind from that side. Within 10 mins we were back in the cosy warmth of the hotel.

Next day any apprehensions that I may not get any decent veggie food in Finland were put to rest. For lunch I had this awesome mushroom soup. The mushrooms had been ground to thick soup and the different varieties of bread with that was a really filling meal.

My first impressions of Oulu...it’s a cold cold place. But people are really warm. They may not speak the English language but will try to help you. Won’t just shake their heads with a "No English" and walk off like in some parts of Europe. But stop and give u this warm smile and try and help.

As I walked to my bus stop I could feel the cold seeping in through my long boots. It’s a misconception that long boots is the way to go in winter in these places. Leather Boots are for fashionable places where it is cold but not sub zero and you would still like to wear skirts. In places with so much snow woolen socks are a necessity!!! Especially if you don't have a car and would be walking to and fro from the bus stops. Moreover you need boots with a good grip or you will be sliding all over the place on the ice. The leather boots have too smooth a bottom to be able to walk without fear on the snow. I saw most people were wearing moccasins or the woodland / timberland kind of short boots. Some girls were wearing what are called Ugg boots - I guess so called because they are so UGG!!!

Luckily when I reached office (with frozen feet) I saw that everyone was in casuals- jeans and moccasins or keds. Thank god...no formals here!!!

Client office was so organized. Within 1 hour I had a fully configured laptop and all the relevant access rights. One day to get a secure id to be able to log on to the LAN! WOW...most IT companies can learn something from them!

Later in the evening was Shopping time. A helpful English speaking person behind the counter helped me get the right bus pass...though grocery shopping was a different ballgame altogether.
As I stood in front of the milk racks I remembered my friends post on shopping in the US. I was one worse off than him...all the labels were in Finnish. Walked up and down the aisle and just stared at all the labels... I just wanted plain milk and plain yogurt BOSS!!!!
Even Honey comes in 7-8 flavours. At least the jam bottle has the fruit made on it so you can decide. The honey bottles did not have any picture of the fruit either. I like pink so pink honey it shall be. Thank god it tastes good!
Fruits and Vegetables are in racks with several labels. There is no clear demarcation as to which label is for which pile. And you need to take the chosen fruit/vegetable to an automatic weighing machine, type the code from the label and get a sticker with the amount due to stick to the packet!!! I definitely didn't want to be using the wrong code.
It took me more than 45 minutes to pick up basic groceries...a task that in M K retail takes me less than 10 minutes.

Often I had seen snowplows shoveling the snow from the roads and pedestrian pathways and piling it up on the sides. As I was walking I wondered what would happen when all the snow melted. There would be slush all over the place. But a few days later I saw a truck carrying loadfuls of snow away!!! They do have everything thought over.

I have now developed a new found respect for those staying in colder climates.