Monthly Archives: January 2012

Anxious about seminars – and social media

So very true!

Endless meetings, seminars, powerpoints, flipcharts… they discourage me. I’m a hands-on person, so this joke really has effect on me.

I didn’t use to be like this, but I guess I’ve become cynical? Sometimes I spend most of my 8 working hours in meetings. In most of them I think WHY?!? Are all these long gatherings worth the while or are they, like the joke suggests, mainly for feeling important, chatting about ones’ kids and eating those donuts (we don’t even have donuts). I would say yes, but at this point they don’t ask me.

This morning I participated in a seminar on Intercultural Dialogue and Media at the University of Applied Sciences, Haaga-Helia. (A place worth considering if you want to study a career in English here in Helsinki.) The title seemed promising but unfortunately most of the presentations didn’t offer new any new, interesting information.

One did: Mr. Tapio Varis, Professor Emeritus from University of Tampere specialized in media literacy, intercultural communications and “new humanism”. The PDF of his recent publication Media Literacy and New Humanism is published by UNESCO online. I wish I’d have time to read!

Mr. Varis brought out some interesting and critical points. In his opinion Google, Twitter, Facebook and such are all just a part of a big intelligence spying machine. We, very naïvely, believe that sharing our even intimate thoughts (and photos) in social media increases freedom of expression. Really, we donate our feelings and opinions to big companies, whose main aim is to make money. Somehow the scariest thing is that everyone seems to be happy: us and the companies – at least so far.

Of course it’s not black and white. Twitter etc. have been important for the freedom of information and democracy to the Arab countries these days. And here in Finland Twitter hasn’t even got popular yet! Not like Facebook, at least.

Anyway, you already know these are things, but when you hear them from the mouth of an expert in a convincing way they make you think where all this is leading us…

Would celibacy make you feel free?

Despite the worries, I’m addicted to social media. So it would be an interesting human experiment to have a social media celibate: let’s say for a week. That would mean no Twitter, Facebook, Youtube etc. NO sharing at all! Would it be like not existing at all?

Hey I even found The Anti-Social Media blog by Jay Dolan with some cool images!

Desperately seeking attention

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Soulless supermarkets make your Monday blue

OK, Mondays are always bad but today was especially horrible. Getting up from bed was almost impossible, it was cold outside and I just missed the tram to work. The day continued with meetings without meaning, dullish routine tasks and a strong feeling of I WANT TO GET OUT OF HERE AND TRAVEL TO A PARADISE ISLAND – NOW!!!

Well, a miracle didn’t happen so I tried to cheer myself up with some shopping – a trick that never works. Well, I found a skirt and a shirt  that I “really need”.

The anticlimax of the day was a visit to our supermarket, Alepa, where I stopped for some milk and fruit. The visit made me angry. Why? Because the Finnish supermarket scene is overdominated by a couple of companies and because of that we have no choice but to consume overpacked, tasteless products – produced sometimes too far from home. That’s so wrong!

A typical Alepa in a suburb of Helsinki. Grey. Credit: Alepa (I guess?)

Alepa belongs to Helsinki Cooperative Society Elanto (HOK-Elanto), which tells on its webpage that it “provides benefits and services for residents of the Greater Helsinki area.” The idea of 55 000 member-clients who own the company is nice. But of course it’s not that simple. They give us the typical green S-cards and small discounts but for that we suffer controlled prices and limited (bad) selection. I guess all the Alepa’s across Finland are packed with the same products. All this is just… sad.

Supermarket blues. Credit: HOK-Elanto

Only in Helsinki HOK-Elanto has over 300 stores. That’s a lot for for a relatively small city.

Of course, in old times everything was better. Many foreigner complain about these monopolized supermarkets (with a reason!) but before also we used to have small, cozy specialized shops for meat, milk, bread… like they still do in Southern Europe etc. It’s a tragedy that we have almost lost all that now – for a lot worse!

Even HOK-Elanto shops used to look nice. Customers buying meat in 1954.

Pharmacies used to look like this.

HOK-Elanto bread shop in 1930s. With a style.

More photos on Helsinki City Museum webpage.

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Let it snow – but not too much!

This morning, well it was almost midday, I went out to enjoy the wonderful sunlight and snow  we have also here in the centre of Helsinki (and there’s a lot!) Then I crashed into this quite scary snowman that someone had created on our home street – it even had green colour. Not for children…

Not all the snowmen are "nice"

Anyway, the morning was beautiful and it was Sunday, so not even a scary snowman could stop me. We went with my boyfriend to see a beautiful documentary film Vivan las antípodas! in DocPoint, a marvellous documentary film festival organised every January in Helsinki. I love documentaries, and this one was interesting – telling about the opposite geographical places and peoples’ lives there… In the end we are all the same everywhere, that was clear once more.

After the cinema we did the typical Sunday walk of Helsinki people: around Töölönlahti Bay. It’s a beautiful nature area practically in the centre of the city. In the summer the paths are full of runners and even today (with -5C and a chilly wind) some brave (or crazy?) people were running around. Brrr.

Töölönlahti Bay in January

Töölönlahti Bay in January

To warm up our deep-frozen toes went up to have a nice warm drink in Torni (a bar with aview upstairs of Tower hotel). Well it’s a super touristic venue, but not without a reason: the views over Helsinki are amazing, especially from the ladies’ bathroom, but unfortunately so are the prizes. (A hot chocolate with a touch of Baileys = 10 euros) But we got ourselves warm and could continue our adventure in the winter wonderland.

in January 2012

Helsinki view from Torni

Helsinki view from Torni 2

Now we’re off to see another documentary film – and it will be a complete surprise! Sometimes it’s nice to take a risk and go to see a movie without having ANY prejudices. So we’ll see…

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Presidential elections in Finland – the first gay president?

Will he be the new president in 2 weeks...?

Sunday is not one of my favourite days – you can already feel the Monday approaching… So, it’s important to do nice things for yourself.

In the evening, we  (my boyfriend and an old friend visiting us from Stockholm) wanted to follow the counting of the votes of the first round of the Finnish presidential elections. So we went to a bar called Rotterdam and ordered some wine to make it easier… Long story short, if nobody gets more than 50% of the votes there will be a second round between the two most successful candidates in 2 weeks. And this is what happened – so the excitement continues…

The amazingly good (and quite surprising news!) for me and most of my friends was that Mr. Pekka Haavisto, the candidate of the quite small and not-so-significant Green Party (Vihreät) got to the second round.

Pekka is an excellent statesman, clever and considerate etc. but the interesting thing is that he also is openly gay, having an Ecuatorian boyfriend. It would be interesting to get the first gay president for Finland -yesyes, even if the sexual orientation does not matter AT ALL in the decision.

So let’s see what happens in 2 weeks, today the campaigning continues… The “enemy” of Pekka is the candidate of the more conservative National Coalition Party (Kokoomus), Mr. Sauli Niinistö – actually and luckily he happens to be an intelligent and nice guy too, so the situation is not that bad whatever happens…

Check out the article by Huffington Post “Pekka Haavisto, Finnish Gay Presidential Candidate, To Face Off With Former Finance Minister in Race”

And here’s an interview with Pekka in English on Youtube.

And there is plenty of more info on Internet on this, naturally! 🙂

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Barhopping in Kallio

Kallio is the bohemian, cool neighbourhood of Helsinki. The place where poor workers used to live and which artists, students and hipsters have since conquered. Most of us have been living there at some point… But then when “the situation” changes (people start wanting more space, children, peace etc.) they go to live somewhere else.

One thing is sure: the best and the most original bars of Helsinki are in Kallio. So, last Friday we gathered 6 friends together and went to explore some of them – both old favourites and new acquaintances.

Here’s how it goes.

1. Rytmi. We started at one of my all-time-favourites, a bar near the matketplace of Hakaniemi. Rytmi is a place where all the hipsters go: during the daytime old gentlemen have coffee there and the creative workers create something big with their macs. In the evenings DJ starts to play jazz-etno music and you are sure to meet your friends and colleagues on the white tables. A relaxed place to start (and to finish) the night with. A big plus are the huge windows, art exhibitions and a mini terrace in the summer.

2. Sirdie. Luckily my friend is a good timekeeper, so after one beer and hour off we went! Sirdie is a tiny classic: a Kaurismäki movie styled place with friendly service and special atmosphere. Here “different” people meet, autentically.

3. Toveri. Some of us started to complain hunger. So we moved to Toveri, almost next door to Sirdie – as it was snowing a lot that night! Toveri is a very relaxed and quiet bar full of Brits (for some reason, that night) and nice tapas, filled crepes and a good selection of beers. On Wednesdays they organise a quiz -warning: it’s a very difficult one at least for me! With full stomach, we had energy to move on in the snow.

4. Abin baari (on Fleminginkatu 13). An interesting place packed with more or less drunken people (but in a nice way). The owner (a Moroccan guy?) has decorated the walls with a random selection of photos, pictures and items from all over the world. The bar has a very peculiar atmosphere (but better to stick with the beer, at least the gin tonic I was quite bad).

5. Kultapalmu. First time here! A small, dark place which seems to be very popular – for some reason! Like someone comments on TripAdvisor: “If I would get married, this would be the place for the wedding! Excellent company, excellet drinks!” Worth a visit – I guess getting to the mood of Kultapalmu (Golden Palm) would have taken a little more time…

6. Bar Molotow. First time here, too, an excellent new acquaintance! The place was really full of hipsters and fashion people and a nice music was played by a cool DJ. Well, the original reason why we entered just this place was that my friends noticed it was full good-looking men. 😉 As Molotow describes itself: a relaxed bar with 60’s decoration. Music ranges from alternative rock to punk and indie. Yep.

Well, 6 bars in a row, it’s an ok result for a Friday night everyone being very tired after the working week. More to follow when we repeat the tour – Kallio has a lot to offer!

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Thursday is for beer, pea soup and pancake

morning snow on Thursday, January 19, in Helsinki

Today we had a cool snow storm in Helsinki. Perhaps it influenced our minds too, as since the morning my colleagues at the office were restless and finally, after a 60-year-birthday party given for a colleague (with chocolate cake and cava) it was impossible to work.

Some opened a bottle of red wine. I tried to go back to work, in vain, so when a colleague suggested to have a beer – just one! – it was impossible to say no.

We explored a great Indian Bar Bhangra (Check Google maps, in Töölö, Runeberginkatu 28), decorated Bollywood-style and offering a nice selection of Indian beers, lassi, a shot roulette (scary) and Nepalese and Indian food. Also Bollywood music and movies, promises the bar’s Facebook page.

All in all, here comes the lesson: when a Finn suggests you “let’s go for ONE beer” in 99% of the cases it won’t stay in one. Neither today.

Luckily I was “wise” enough to leave home early… and when I arrived home, I just had to get pancake (pannukakku). Why?

For an unknown reason in Finland we have a tradition to eat pea soup (hernekeitto) on Thursdays. In the restaurant below my office too. The soup was good, but one thing was terribly missing – the typical, indispensable dessert to go with pea soup – the pancake! Typical for an unknown reason too…

Normally you enjoy pancake with strawberry jam and cream. Yummy. Here comes a photo of my masterwork – growing up in the oven… What is left over, I’ll take to the office tomorrow. Happy colleagues, happy work…

"Pannukakku", Finnish pancake growing in the oven

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How to do Finnish sauna?

Sauna…. aaah. The best ways to finish a busy, snowy January day. We live in an apartment building in the centre of Helsinki, but no problem: almost all the buildings have a common sauna in Finland. Our sauna turns are on Wednesday evenings and every second week on Thursdays. We have one hour, which is JUST enough.

Today my boyfriend could not join me, so I called a friend to join me in our sauna. In Finland you normally don’t have to ask twice to get some sauna company…

Sometimes foreigners ask me how they should behave in the sauna? This is quite a funny question for a Finn, as it seems so free and we are so used to everything sauna involves, but there are some relevant instructions and unwritten rules. On Cankar.org you’ll find FAQ on sauna. I also found the photo above there – Finns really love to have sauna everywhere, this time in a mock sauna during a summer festival.

But ups, one relevant advise is missing! Me and my friend just enjoyed the famous sauna beer – it tastes just perfect after a lot of sweating. And you can even take a beer with you in sauna and throw a bit on the hot stones – it smells like fresh-made bread. Just try it!

So here come some instructions published on cangar.org…

Try this first, and once you’ve tried it out, you can change it to suit your taste:

  • Start by taking a shower. This helps to keep the hot room clean.
  • Enter the sauna and sit on the upper bench. You may want to use a small towel to sit on.
  • Sit back for a few minutes and let the heat permeate your body and open the pores of the skin.
  • You may adjust the air moisture by throwing water on the stones of the heater. The steam will make the room feel hotter.
  • Step into the changing room to cool down, maybe take another shower.
  • You may go back to the heat a few times, taking your time to relax and enjoy the warmth.
  • Finally shower to clean yourself from the sweat.
  • Allow yourself to cool and dry properly before clothing yourself.
  • Follow the sauna with a peaceful rest and a drink.

To get the most of the sauna, you will need:

  • At least half an hour of time, preferably an hour or more, so you have ample time to relax.
  • A large towel to dry yourself

You may also want to consider these:

  • A smaller towel to sit on
  • A moisturising lotion for after the sauna
  • A bathrobe to wear while cooling down
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Finnish Delicacies, part I

Ok, I’m going to introduce two delicacies now: hapankaali and raejuusto! I just brought some home from the supermarket.

First goes Hapankaali. This Finnish version of Sauerkraut strongly divides opinions. When I opened the box of the treat just now, my boyfriend’s first reaction was to throw away this strong smelling so-called food. So, the photo shooting was very fast.

Actually sauerkraut is not especially a Finnish delicacy, but it’s very popular here and has variations: hapankaali (sour cabbage) with garlic, with leek, carrot etc. In Germany it’s normally eaten with sausage.

Why is the taste so “special”? The cabbage is fermented with lactic acid bacteria – which is very healthy! Sauerkraut contains vitamins and lots of other good stuff.  They say it also has many cancer-fighting ingredients.

Haha, and a curiosity: while I was looking for the English translation for sauerkraut I found out that during the World War I the American public would have rejected a product with a German name, so it was relabeled as “Liberty cabbage”!

And then the second delicacy. Raejuusto is a Finnish cheese. It looks a bit like cottage cheese and is made of cow’s milk. I call it the cheese without taste, but I love it! It’s almost fat-free and very healthy as it contains loads of protein. You can eat it as such (directly from the box, as I do) or mix it with e.g. tuna, fruits, lasagna or  soup – only sky is the limit when it comes to The Cheese Without Taste.

Mmm… I will talk of other Finnish treats like salmiakki a little later on…

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Hello sun! The first time in 1,5 months

It’s time to celebrate! Even if it’s Monday. The sun returned: today was the first day in 1,5 months that the Northern part of Finland, like the town of Utsjoki in Lapland, saw the sun. It was for less than an hour, but the light is officially back. From now on every day will bring us more light till arriving to the amazing Midnight Sun in June.

This dark period is called kaamos.

In the northernmost part of Finnish Lapland, the sun is hidden for 51 days every year. That’s extreme stuff, so no wonder Finns might seem “a little strange” especially in the winter.

Here in Helsinki, today we enjoyed 7 hours of sunlight. That’s bearable, when you compare it with the darkest day of the year. From now on, it will get better each day. Today we actually saw the sun in Helsinki: so beautiful that staying inside the office felt a bit bad… well, maybe it was an ok option cause it was -10C outside.

No surprise that kaamos might have negative efforts on us. You feel tired, even get depressed, and you only want to eat and sleep. Some people handle it better than others. Normally, I survive with sleeping more, being good to myself and trying to do more nice things.

Here’s a video telling about life in Lapland, Norway. “When you go to the shop you know that it’s night because then the shop is closed.” Wow.

PS: I took these pictures in Central Finland in a wonderful holiday resort Metsäkartano last New Year. Even they are not from Lapland, the darkness is very noticeable – for us who live in “the South”. But the winter’s magic is there too, absolutely. As they say:

 To appreciate the beauty of a snowflake, it is necessary to stand out in the cold.

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Flea markets make you happy. Why?

You can find kirpputoris’ (flea market, also literally) all over Helsinki. There are tiny ones put up among friends in someone’s livingroom and huge ones organised in old warehouses and such.  There are the daily self-service ones and the ones that attract hundreds of people to sell their extra stuff in a big hall early in the morning.

Valtterin kirpputori is such a place. A couple of times I’ve been selling there with my friend. We woke up at six, packed our sandwiches with all the stuff we hoped to sell and joined the crowd. Valtteri takes place mostly in weekends in an old warehouse in the neighbourhood of Vallila. The atmosphere is special.

I love kirpputoris. Why?

  • For me, kirpputori brings out a special solidarity among people. We are all there, together exchanging: one’s trash is another one’s treasure.
  • Buying gets personal. You chat with the person from who you are buying a thing and hear the history of the item. Today I bought a blouser and found out that the owner had bought it from Paris and it’s been dear to her. Nice.
  • It’s ecological, so you feel better buying, or “giving a new life to an item”.
  • You save money and find things and cool clothes that you never would at H&M etc. Kirpputoris’ got popular in Finland during the recession in 1990s. Today my boyfriend bought 11 good CDs for 6 euros.
  • All kinds of people go there: snobbish ladies and poor students, immigrants and even children (with a little help for the parents.)
  • It feels so good to get rid of things! I just packed 3 big sacks of clothes for kirpputori. And it’s a special feeling to meet the person who will be the next happy owner of your jeans, book, toaster, mug…
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