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Picture of the Day

October 21, 2014

It was a beautiful day last Saturday, this picture is too nice not to share!

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Maddening packaging!

October 20, 2014

Does anyone else hate this kind of packaging as much as I do? In recent years cartons and TetraPaks have started to appear with these “corks” on them. (Can’t think of the right word in English, so you get the direct Finnish-English translation.) I am not pointing out any specific company or producer in particular because they all seem to be doing it.

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The reason why I hate these “corks” on the cartons is because they are not conducive to getting everything out of the carton when it is nearly empty. Plus, it is more plastic, which we don’t need! I might take the opportunity to remind people who are recycling fanatics like I am, that the plastic cap is “energy waste” and can be recycled accordingly.

Sorry, just a minor pet-peeve on the consumer front. Continue as you were.

There and Back Again (not a Hobbit’s tale)

October 8, 2014

This is Lim (right) and his wife V and their son H. Originally from Malaysia they have called Finland home for six years, except for the year that they lived in Australia.

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I wanted to tell you about Lim and his family because they were immigrants to Finland who left… and came back. Thank you for graciously accepting the challenge of being featured here. This interview took place in May 2014.

A bit about you and your family, where were you born and raised and where did you live prior to moving to Finland?

Lim: We were all born and raised in Malaysia. Our son was born in Malaysia and he was seven years old when we moved to Finland. Prior to that I had studied and worked in America, I was there for eight years.

I grew up in a small town in the southern part of West Malaysia, about 200km from the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. I have a brother and two sisters, all older than me; our parents were both teachers. My childhood memories include cycling all over the town and into rubber or oil palm plantations, making and flying kites, reading comic books from Hong King, and basically enjoying childhood.

I had the opportunity to study in the US, so I attended the University of Oklahoma and studied Computer Science. Soon after graduation, I found a job developing DOS programs and later for Windows and OS/2. After about eight years, I decided to move back to Malaysia to be with my family and I also wanted to do my part to help Malaysia move towards becoming a developed nation.

Why did you move to Finland?

Lim: It was a job offer I couldn’t refuse – to work in the HQ of my employer as an expat. So in 2008 I took the opportunity to move to Finland and work here. My wife and I thought long and hard about it, and the decision was more difficult to make because we had just received permanent residence visas from Australia. Ultimately, we decided to move to Finland, as it was a unique and once in a lifetime opportunity.

V: For me, I was tired of the lifestyle in Malaysia and I thought if I didn’t take the opportunity to move abroad, I knew I would end up in the same cycle that I couldn’t get out of.

One good thing that came out of it was that I learned to cook!

What was the biggest shock for you (back then)?

Lim: It’s so quiet everywhere – in the supermarket, at the bus stops, etc.

You left Finland, why?

Lim: In the summer of 2012, my wife and I decided to move to Australia so that we would be closer to Malaysia and it would be easier to maintain family ties there; plus, our visas were expiring. People from many countries are trying all sorts of ways to move there, legal or otherwise; we had permanent residence visas, so it was something we had to try. Our family and friends said we were brave, they probably thought we were crazy; I called it “brazy”. We had to give it a shot before it was too late and we didn’t want to regret passing up the choice later on.

The move went smoothly… I had some experience with big moves; so we were able to settle down quickly in a suburb of Melbourne. After several months of living there, we realized that we didn’t find what we were looking for. It was then I started talking to my employer here in Finland about the possibility of returning later in the year; it so happened that several positions had opened up and I was given the chance to apply for them. I did, and I came back, ready for new challenges.

V: A few reasons for that:

  • I was a bit doubtful about staying in Finland when I’m older or retired. I think the winter here is too harsh for me.
  • I thought that it will be nicer to be closer to our families if we stay in Australia, especially that our parents are quite old and in case they need us to be there to take care of them.
  • I think it will be easier for my son’s tertiary education since everything in Australia is in English. I was not very confident that he could get into a Finnish university, since the English courses are very limited.
  • Our neighbor complained about our piano playing.
  • Above all, we were still holding Australian PR (which is hard to get these days), so we still had a choice. But the visa was going to expire soon so we had a make the decision.

And then you came back!? How did you feel when you came back?

Lim: The apartment was one of the main factors, the other was a new opportunity in the company I had worked for for more than 10 years, I wouldn’t have returned to Finland for any job. The job I have now is in a new area and it is an interesting challenge.

In talking to Lim I understand he jumped right back into life here, his family followed a few months later. Many of Lim’s friends commented on how happy he seemed after getting back to Finland. V and H arrived a few months later after ironing out issues related to H’s education. It was almost as they had never left. V got many of her former clients back and H was able to rejoin his former classmates at his school in Helsinki. V called it luck – most definitely!

Lim: I rekindled my childhood passion of cycling after moving to Finland and it became more than a hobby, it’s a lifestyle for me now. (And he jumped right back on his bike in August 2013 when he moved back! The cycling opportunities in Melbourne were apparently not the same.)

V: Well, for me, it felt a little ‘foreign’ on the first day arriving at my own home here in Finland, even though everything looked just the same as before. I suppose maybe it was because I stayed in a different place for one whole year so I was kind of just starting to get used to things there. But then the familiarity came back to me soon after that.

I think the only setback comes from my own perspective. Perhaps I am a pessimist by nature and tend to think more negatively when things don’t work out. I did really feel a big sense of failure even after I returned to Finland and was still pretty upset about it for a while. The financial burn was a cruel reality that I had to accept. I knew it will be worse if I had too much free time. Hence I signed up for intensive Finnish course which began soon in February, so that I had something to occupy myself with and wouldn’t have too much time to think about the bad things. It worked! I met more friends in the course and got some students again, and before I knew it, I was really busy. Now everything seems to be back on track. I managed to pick myself up and look ahead in life. I think it’s still a blessing that I’m able to make a U-turn in life and moved back to Finland.

Lim and V said that the timing was just not good for going to Australia, in spite of meeting helpful people and having a support system on the ground (friends and family from Malaysia).

Is there something you don’t like about living here?

Lim: The bureaucracy, everything is so “by the book” here. The inconvenience of some services is also an issue and the cost – for example car washes and locksmiths. Lim mentioned that he has learned to do a lot of stuff on his own in order to keep the cost down.
Socially it’s so different. Finnish people come across as really cold, but he learned that he just has to ask something and then people open up. Finns really respect other people’s space.

Lim and V: The harsh winter.

I made a joke about cross-country skiing and Lim said that he had already tried it. (I think now that they’re back they should try again! ;))

Tell me about some of your favourite places in Finland.

Lim: Porvoo, Naantali, Nuuksio National Park, Iso Vasikkasaari, Suomenlinna, and the island area between Espoo and Helsinki.

Is there some place you’d like to get to?

Lim: Rovaniemi and Lappeenranta.

What do you miss about Malaysia?

Lim: Family and the food culture.

V: Food, people, convenience of services and a chance at establishing my own career.

What kind of advice would you give to foreigners coming to Finland these days?

Our advice for foreigners coming to Finland is quite simple – just accept the environment (climate, people, system) in Finland as it is and learn to enjoy all the good things Finland has to offer (nature, peace, stability, etc).

Picture of the day

October 6, 2014

Alright – the flurry of travel is now over. I can get back to life in Finland – and Life In Finland. Sorry, it has been awhile!

I washed my sauna on the weekend and realized that I have never discussed sauna elves. There is plenty of folklore and stories about elves in Finland and I actually won’t go into that, you can read this link instead: Elves: General facts. You can also pick up (or borrow) a copy of Mauri Kunnas’ The Book of Finnish Elves for a more thorough overview. I am no expert on elves!

What I did want to share is a picture of our sauna elf, who faithfully sits on the bench cheerfully waiting for us to join her take part in the sauna ritual.

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This is Arwen. The Mr. found her at a Christmas market in Germany more than 10 years ago. I have to admit I didn’t take an immediate liking to her at first, she just didn’t fit my image of an elf (think: pointy hat). Time passed, however, and our sauna would just not be the same without her in there.

I have seen other saunas that house small elfish figurines on the benches and in the sauna rocks. While they are more like decorations, I actually think that they add a bit of fun to the sauna.

And while we’re on the subject of sauna, Mark Bosworth, a BBC Correspondent, filed this report about Finnish sauna last fall. He ponders why Finns love saunas: Why wouldn’t we?

Do you have a sauna elf in your sauna?

Update (October 20, 2014): I got a picture from one of this blog’s readers of the sauna elves she has at home. Here is a smattering of the cool things you can buy for your sauna stove!

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Clean nature and water in Finland is a myth: a(nother) rant

September 24, 2014

Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece.

I think I live in a hypocritical society when it comes to the state of the environment in this country. Just think if more people made better choices – you know, putting their garbage in the garbage can, putting it in recycling bins, returning the bottles and cans, stubbing those cigarettes out and then actually putting them in the garbage instead of throwing them on the ground… It wouldn’t look so ugly. There has been plenty of discussion recently around the way we have accepted the throw-away culture in Finland. Littering is worse than ever before and the city of Helsinki spends EUR 11 million a YEAR in clean up costs…

Awhile back, I brought the Little Miss to a local park to play. I often clean up the garbage on the ground, especially if there is glass. But on that day, I picked up 5-6 handfuls of cigarette butts – in a park for kids. What’s up with that? If parents are going to smoke while their kids play, fine, no problem – but don’t toss your butts into the same sand that your kids dig in – and may put in their mouths. You know what kids are like!

I think we need to take more personal responsibility to keep the environment free of garbage – the wastefulness and blatant lack of respect for the environment by some sectors of society has to stop. Stop being so lazy and apathetic.

Recently YLE News reported that Finns waste 9 MILLION EUROS in returnable cans every year, 9 million euros… If people are going to waste their money like that I will gladly take it. On the other hand, the reported recycling rate is 95 percent, which impressive. Too bad we can’t up that number and make it more admirable.

Water quality is in Finnish lakes and rivers is not as good as we think.

Agriculture is responsible for high amounts of phosphorous and nitrogen emissions into Finnish waters. In 2007 more than half of Finnish river waters and one fifth of Finland’s lake waters fall short of the “good” quality standard. The number of rivers and lakes classified as being of poor quality has remained almost unchanged since the mid-1990s. (From the now defunct HS International 24.11.2007)

Just a few weeks ago “deadly bacteria” was found in the waters near fur farming operations in the Pietarsaari region in Pohjanmaa. The situation is also apparently exacerbated by the drastic increase in the number of seagulls in the area. The water quality is so bad that environmental officials have recommended that people avoid swimming in local waterways.

Let’s talk catastrophy…

The failure of a tailings pond at the Talvivaara Mine in Kainuu in November 2012 sent millions and millions of litres of waste water contaminated with high concentrations of nickel, zinc, mercury, cadmium, aluminum and uranium. The waterways will probably never recover and the Finnish taxpayers will be shouldered with burden of cleaning up the some of most catastrophic environmental pollution this country has ever seen. Other mining operations in Raahe, Harjavalta and Orivesi have also released large amounts of polluted waste water into local waterways, seemingly without consequences.

Currently the Finnish Mining Act does not shoulder the costs of environmental clean-up on the (largely foreign) mining companies that set up shop in Finland. Basically they get to extract the metals, make a mess and take the profits with them – mostly outside of Finland.

The story of Talvivaara and mining overall in Finland and how it has affected people who live in these areas deserves to be told as it is, but that should be saved for another entry. Mining is necessary, yes, but in this country it can be done far better than it has been so far. I come from a mining community and I know they have done better than Finland as a country has. The wild west attitude shown by business and government with regards to mining in Finland is focused on short term maximal profit, with little regard for how it will play out far into the future.

Sustainable mining is an oxymoron and I detest the term. There is no such thing as sustainable mining, you either do it or you don’t – sustainable is leaving it in the ground and finding other ways to meet our needs.

That Finland is a clean, natural paradise is a myth, we’re well on our way to destroying a lot of it in the name of short term economic gain.

We can do better but let me end it here for now.

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The bits of Finnish culture that don’t appeal to me

September 9, 2014

I have been living in Finland for nearly 16 years and I have tried and seen and done a lot of different things. Yet, I just realized there some are habits that are culturally important in Finland that I have just not subscribed to or do not actively take part in. Here’s a few:

  • Crayfish parties – ‘Tis the season – now. Taking apart a tiny little crayfish is a lot of work for the measly reward of a tiny little piece of meat.

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  • Dancing to humppa – maybe I need to be a little older ;)
  • A lot of Finns pick seasonal flowers and tree branches to mark different kinds of celebrations, like Juhannus (birch branches). I prefer to leave them in the fields and bushes.
  • Changing curtains and house decor with the season. Are you kidding me? I don’t have time and nor do I feel like I need to fill my house with extra linen to be washed, dried and ironed.
  • Spring / Christmas cleaning – Finns tend to basically empty the house and clean like crazy ahead of Christmas and in the spring. I clean regularly, but I don’t make a ritual out of it.
  • Seasonal / celebration food – Don’t get me wrong, I really like Christmas ham and Christmas food, but if it was my house, you probably wouldn’t find the peruna and lanttu laatikko on our table. You’d probably find turkey, oven baked potatoes, lots of fish, salad and sweet desserts

Have you lived here for a long time? Is there something you don’t do as the locals do?

p.s. Sorry for the recent absence. With the advent of school and ringette season (both mine and the Little Miss’) my energy has been focused on those things. It’s been tough to keep up!

If you can’t beat ‘em…

August 19, 2014

We came back to Finland from Canada a few weeks ago and the capital area was suffering from near drought conditions. It felt like the summer of 2010 all over again. Back then it was dry and the stinging insects were out in force. I also discovered that yellow jackets were a relative new comer to Finland.

The first day home and out in the back yard, we noticed: They’re back – and there are lots of them, AND they’re hungry.

The Little Miss even got stung by a bumble bee. It wasn’t pretty. :(

Eating supper out on the deck was not a good idea because we were getting dive bombed by yellow jackets and they were welcoming themselves on to our plates.

The solution? (Not poison… The occasional fly swatter, yes…) I bought cherries and now they’re happy and out of our food.

I rigged up a yogurt container, put a couple of cherries in it and hung it in our back yard. Problem solved. When they’re finished devouring the cherries, I go and grab a couple more out of the freezer and pop them into the container. What amazes me is how little time it takes these stingers to completely take apart a piece of fruit!

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<shrugs>

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

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