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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Aussie Experience of Finland

After spending one whole year up north in the land of thousands of lakes and alcoholics, it is time to turn the page. On Sunday we are jumping on the plane towards India, and new adventures. Before moving on, however, I will share some of our best times we had the past year. To make it more interesting, this time Rohan will tell you what he thought of his year living and working in a small town in Finland, coming from a metropolis with a population almost as big as that of entire Finland.

- How was your year in Finland?
- Loved it. Got to experience a real winter and a beautiful summer. 

- What did you like most in Finland?
Nature and peoples connection with the natural environment. Forests, lakes, summer cottages, berry and mushroom picking. People are fitter and more active than many other countries and a bit of cold weather doesn’t stop people from getting out. A willingness to do something hard is seen as a virtue, and hard work is something to enjoy.

Also loved riding a bike everywhere. Riding in Australia is a constant competition against cars. In Finland it is a relaxing and legitimate means of transport. Footpaths accommodate bikes and pedestrians and you can leave your bike anywhere without needing a massive chain and removing the front wheel and seat.

The Finns have a reputation for their excellent construction quality, and I guess you need it in the cold weather. It means that in winter you can be a lot more comfortable in Finland when it is -30C outside than in Melbourne when it is +15C. And maintenance happens so efficiently. We had some very minor problems with our rented apartment, and when we asked, someone came the same day and fixed everything straight away. Customer service can be slow and the bureaucratic processes a little painful in other areas, but the Finns are serious about their maintenance.

- What didn't you like in Finland?
I have really enjoyed living in a smaller town, feels a lot more relaxed. I have really appreciated not having the long commute to work every day. I can walk 5min to work and come home for lunch.  But then sometimes I miss all the extra options you get in a bigger city, the restaurants, entertainment, events.

- What were your strangest experiences in Finland?
- Saunas, -30 degrees outside, drunk elks, crazy overalls the students wear, school hats and the Russians everywhere. Where else can a work function mean getting naked with your colleagues, beating each other with branches then jumping in a frozen lake.

- What were your best times?
      - Summer cottages, relaxing with a few drinks in a blowup boat on the lake, Finland winning the ice hockey, dancing on the tables at the after ski bar, a real white Christmas.

What do you think of the Finnish people and their way of life?
- I like that the Finnish do not have the same obsession with material things that exists in Australia. I also think I was lucky to work with a great group of people who broke the stereotype of quiet and reserved Finns.

Something that took me a while to get used to was people leaving parties and visits without the lengthy thankyous and goodbyes. Before I got to Finland I thought I was pretty good at sneaking out quickly. In Australia it would only take me 15min to do the rounds while for many others it could take an hour. But in Finland when it is time to leave, you just leave.

I wasn’t really aware of the Finns reputation for drinking before I arrived, but I think I adapted quickly. Any ‘event’ from Vappu to the regular three times a week sauna is accompanied by a drink. Yes, Finland has a drinking problem, but then they generally also have a problem of being a bit too reserved, so the two go together well.

I think I’d fit in pretty well as a Finn. If only I could learn the language.

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Last Day in Vietnam

It was our last day in Vietnam. We spent it by having a look around the city, the parks and lakes. 

We took a rickshaw ride, but our rickshaw rider got too tired and didn't take us all the way. Apparently we were too heavy for him.

We hired a swan boat and rode around the West Lake.

Our last night we had a whole pigeon and snails for dinner. Yum! And of course, a big bottle of vodka.

The next day it was time to say goodbye. I had a long, uncomfortable flight home through Moscow, and Rohan would continue his travelling through China and Russia. The plan was to catch up again in Finland...

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