Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Grandma got run over by a reindeer...so I ate it!

And it was delicious.

Yes, it's true people - I have officially tried my first bites of reindeer. Unfortunately it was not at a prestigious Michelin-star restaurant in the heart of the design district (though I plan to make that one of the things on my Helsinki bucket list, along with putrefied shark and this apparently legendary bear-paw stew that I keep getting the run-around about), it was a pre-packaged sandwich that I was grabbing from one of the cafes here at work.

I'd been on IM with IT all morning and had skipped breakfast because I had been horrendously late, so decided that I'd had enough finally and needed to grab some sustenance. There is only one cafe in the whole set of buildings here that easily allows take-away food (the rest are too green and so don't really have take-away containers easily available...JMK suggested I ask one of the chefs or cashiers if they even had them because he'd never seen them), so I went there to get something easy and portable.

And low and behold, amongst the normal ham and cheese, veggie and cheese, and salmon offerings, was the reindeer:


Reindeer and lingonberry! Even better. :) Totally grabbed it and gleefully made my way back to my desk.

It was pretty good, I'm not gonna lie. It was a sort of pita bread/flat bread sandwich, and admittedly the reindeer meat was mixed with mayo, pickled red onions, and some sort of leafy feathery green (no visible traces of the lingonberry), but it was tasty. Sort of tasted like...well, like nothing else I'd had before, actually. Not even venison. With the texture of very light tuna fish. With a smokey slightly gamy aftertaste. Totally worth it. Take a look at its unwrapped glory:


Admittedly I need a more pure sample to see what reindeer really tastes like, but I'm pleased I got to try it this way as my first time. :) JMK was definitely laughing at me. No surprise I suppose.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Mysteries abound at the grocery store...

So I finally got my lazy hibernating butt out of bed on Saturday late afternoon and made it to the grocery store two blocks down the road. The closest one that I could visually identify was a K Market, so that is where I went. I found out later that I not only went to the most expensive grocery store in my neighborhood, I also went  to the one with arguably the least selection...but we will see about this as I explore others in the area (now that I know where they are).

I decided to buy sandwich fixings, as this will provide much needed sustenance for the week ahead. It was also, in my mind, probably the cheapest way for me to get food, as I looked around and noticed things are really quite expensive here (again, might be just the place I went to). My loaf of bread, lunch meat, cheese (which is like a white version of Kraft Singles), metal tube of mayo (which has a very delicious relish in it), small carton of juice, head of cabbage, and two large cans of Strongbow cider costed me a whopping 18,70 euro (i.e. about $23!). Holy nappers my sandwiches better taste like butter and look like gold! Luckily, they were pretty successful (^_^):


I nommed on this masterpiece while watching a very satisfying episode of some documentary where guys went around capturing great white sharks in San Diego to tag them for scientific research purposes. I was quite content. :)

There were definitely some gems to be had at the grocery store, prices aside. I once again found evidence of the monolithic confusion regarding American products, as seen here by a delightful interpretation of our thousand island dressing:


Though I completely, and fully agree that this is a much more delicious use of our sauce, only In N Out Burger and selected other restaurants use it in this way. Which of course begs the question...HOW DID THEY KNOW?!? O_O 

Other than that the other large thing of note in my shopping experience was probably the produce section. They have these very peculiar cards underneath some of their veggies and fruits that have a number, plus a Finnish word, then next to it, a price in euros per kilo. Now, luckily, I'd been told by someone before that they had some sort of weighing system for their produce, so I was not taken completely aback by this system, but I did stand there like an idiot for a good 5 minutes before realizing the machine behind me was for weighing said produce and then selecting the number on the card, which would then print you out a label to stick on your selected produce:


I put my head of cabbage on the scale, selected #113, and it printed me out a little sticker that said 1,65 euros for my particular head. Quite ingenious really. :) Saves the checkout people quite a lot of work.

I have lots more to report on my grocery store fiascos but I'll save those for another time. Unfortunately the store was too crowded so posing with my mustache monocles would have been even more out of place than I was already, so, next time (sorry guys). At the rate I'm eating through my sandwiches, plus my need for variety, it will not be so long before I need to make another trip. :)

Until next time... ^_^

Friday, March 23, 2012

Bus stations, bus passes, and SSNs, oh my!

Well, the weather certainly did warm up for me, I'm happy to say. I think it reached a totally ridiculous 9 degrees C / possible low 40's F today. My Finnish teammate JMK (that is actually what we call him, since his name is relatively difficult to say and he has a lot of names, as it were) was telling me that Helsinki had an unusually cold winter (like lots of snow really early on), which would sort of be like the opposite of an Indian Summer (...Russian Winter?...the Finns have a national pride thing going on about how they beat the Russians in that one war by outlasting them in that one harsh harsh winter, but I'll not get into that this time), and now springtime is hitting hotter faster than usual. Something something global warming (or as they appropriately call it here, something something climate change). I didn't even have to wear gloves as I used my touch phone today outside. Total win. Bets are off for tonight as I navigate to a bar to meet some friends, but, we'll see. I'll be going prepared either way (I'm not that much of a Fool of a Took).

Today was a mix of relative wins and total confusions. Unfortunately I decided to go the lazy route yesterday and not check out the bus station ahead of time so I would know what I was doing this morning when I went to take it to work for the first time ever. Last time I was here I was happily whisked everywhere via free chartered hotel bus (they literally went from our hotel, to another sister hotel, to work and that was it) or by taxi (awesomely paid by work), so I learned absolutely nothing about public transportation. Luckily they have a pretty good site about their public transportation networks, so I knew, relatively speaking, about which buses to take and when (there are buses every 1-2 minutes that go to my work from where I am staying and it takes about 20 minutes, including the walking that I have to do to and from the places to and from the bus stops themselves). What I wasn't ready for, however, was the enormity of the actual bus station itself.

We are talking mega bus stations. MEGA. Imagine every Greyhound bus station you've ever seen in your life and times that by ten. And underground. And better organized...but unfortunately in another language and you're probably anxious and confused. Each bus is waiting at a gate (unfortunately not corresponding to the number of the bus, but at the very least lined up in numeric order from biggest to smallest bus number), and there are light up board signs in front of each gate telling you what bus it is and when it is leaving and what its end destination is (thereby telling you which line it is, I suppose). You then go through the gate to your happily waiting bus. There are about 45 of these gates. Since I am a total navigatory fail when it comes to stuff like this, it took me about 15 minutes to figure out instead of the normal-person five. But I did eventually figure it out. :) So I got to work 15 minutes late...but I did get there! :)

So, signed my work contract, got a free lunch provided by the design department (we get those once a month along with a guest speaker of some sort...it was hard for me to hear what this one was presenting about, unfortunately - I think it was about sushi since that's what we got today), and then met up with my Finland Relocation Services agent, Annika. Annika was totally awesome. For whatever reason I kept thinking of the Disney version of Cruella Deville. Not in the mean way, but in the super outrageously fashionable, drives sort of nuts way, and in general you like her and you think she's hilarious. She was wearing a gorgeous camel trench coat with the brightest orange pants I'd ever seen in my life which perfectly matched her sunglasses case. Fantastic. :)

Anyway we drove around town in her huge purple SUV and got the application for my Finnish SSN turned in along with a slightly discounted bus pass. Turns out you can get the cheapest bus pass prices by linking it to your Finnish SSN number - they'll also automatically terminate the card if you report it lost or stolen, and you can recoop any of the credit you have on it and transfer it to another card since you can appropriately prove who you are and that it has been stolen. Talk about an awesome system. I even got to choose the color of my card (green, blue, or an orange that matched Annika's pants...I decided to go with my people's Asian jade green):



...look at that hilarious little bus logo!

After running around for what felt like hours (it was only a few), I did what you weren't supposed to do and took a long nap. Sometimes, you just gotta give in and give your body what it wants. So, I'll sign off for now, and bid you adieu. Tomorrow - first real grocery shopping experience at the K Market down the street!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

And so the journey begins...

After a grueling week of packing everything up, driving up to Nor Cal, unpacking, organizing, cleaning, reshuffling, negotiating, eating all of the food I could possibly miss, and about 20 hours of consecutive travel time, I am finally here in Finlandia. Specifically, I am here in the apartment I will temporarily be living in for the next six weeks as I attempt to find my real apartment that I will be living in for the foreseeable Helsinki future. Woohoo success!

First off, I'd really like to send out a thank you to everyone who has made this transition as easy as it has been. If I were truly doing this on my own it would have been hell and without everyone who has done even just the little bittiest thing to help, it would have been that much worse. Thank you so much. :) <3 

Now that that is out of the way, let the recording...begin! 

Here is a pic of my temp apartment. Tiny, but functional and practical. I will likely be sleeping in the loft you see above the kitchen. Yes, that's correct...there is indeed a bed right above the kitchen. I am standing in the entry way in order to take this photo. Pretty dec, yeah? :)

First order of observations (since I haven't really done much since landing here...it's only been about two hours since arrival and I landed around 5pm local time): there is considerably less snow than there was last time I was here (which was maybe a month ago...possibly six to seven weeks at the max). I am happy to report that I will probably no longer be fearing for my life every time I walk outside at night, and also 1) wondering if my eyes will somehow be permanently damaged from being nakedly exposed to the cold, 2) thinking that my fingers will get frostbite even though I'm wearing glove liners and gloves with my hands in my down jacket pockets, 3) projecting how I might actually come to look my age against my Asian genetic structure because the cold makes my facial skin age faster. These are all things I considered last time I was here, it was so cold (it was -10 degrees C i.e. 0 degrees F last time I was here...yeah, that cold). It has reached a balmy 8 degrees C / high 30 degrees F during the day here, from what I've heard, and that is pretty damn swell. Looking forward to seeing what tomorrow's weather is actually like and walking outside.

Tomorrow I go to sign my work contract and thereby start the officious process of getting my Finnish social security number and the whatnot necessary to get my officious life started here in Finland. Oh the untold wonders this will likely bring. Will the Finnish government workers be as surly as our own? Stay tuned to find out!