Friday, June 29, 2012

Amendments to recent posts

Some amendments to recent (or nearly recent) posts:

Becoming a football fan
Alas, as soon as I say Germany may be the best team, they lose horrifically to Italy last night in an outstandingly bad show of 1-2, scoring their only goal on a penalty kick. ~_~ This may have been due to the bad juju caused by the loss of the flag pen (therefore no flags were drawn out on various body parts), but either way...no Germany in the finals.

On a positive note though, since Germany won't be in the finals, we've decided to have a bbq at German T's house on Sunday for the finals since we will only be semi-watching the game. Good food and watching sports, galore! Back to my old ways, it seems.

You start becoming a Finn when...
More DFB has been observed on my part. Really Disturbing Finn Behavior. Particularly:


9. I walk in the rain without an umbrella and don't even care. 
Literally, could be pouring rain, and as long as I am wearing something with sleeves, I actually don't really care. It doesn't even need to be waterproof! Or have a hood! (Though that is still preferable). Geez, what is going on.


10. I have actually started to slightly enjoy the taste of salmiakki. 
LOL, as I wrote the word "salmiakki" here, spell-check highlighted it and suggested "salmonella" instead. But that's a whole other story. :) 


No, but really people, chewy salmiakki (or salmi-yucky, as some have referred to it), has actually started to taste alright to me. The other day I was in the middle of a call when my blood-sugar dropped drastically (this happens sometimes when I stay really late and do a crappy job of eating my lunch). When this happens I usually go downstairs for an emergency purchase of gummies from the vending machine near the large eating hall. Invariably these fruit gummies always come with a smattering of salmiakki. Something something Finland, get over it. This time though, I decided to give it another try. What the hell, right? It's sugar too...with chemical salt. And licorice. It actually...tasted alright. I won't say the word "good" because that would be overkill, but I didn't feel like throwing up. And that's something. Good god, what is this world coming to. O_O


(Sorry, maybe I should have clarified what salmiakki is first - it's salty black licorice candy that comes in various forms...a favorite of the Finns and other various Scandinavians/Europeans. Here is a wikipedia link for more information:

Salmiakki)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Becoming a football fan

Well, in plainspeak it's actually soccer, but whatever, this is Europe.

For someone who genuinely finds sports generally uninteresting, this is actually quite a development. Up until my move to Finland I actually avoided sporting events. Like if someone offered me free tickets to see something live, sure I would go and see it, but other than that I would actually mostly do something else with my free time. There was the occasional Superbowl party or various other American football parties, but that was mostly so I could eat all of the amazing finger foods and drink booze with my friends, not for the sake of the sport.

So who could have predicted I would actually find myself loving a real sport? And watching it with actual fervor? Well, not this one (points at self).

It all started when my friend German K asked if I wanted to support her team at a local sports bar after the VIP Kiasma event. Since I didn't have anything else to do and I was feeling pretty fine, I said sure and met her there. Hilariously overdressed in my dressed-to-kill outfit, I was certainly out of place, but since I was spectacularly early I managed to snag us front row seats to the big screen there.


Then I immersed myself into the world of football. And boy, was it glorious.

First, as most people probably know or could easily suspect, Germany's football team happens to be one of the best teams, if not the best team, currently playing in the championships. I didn't know this beforehand, of course, so rooting for her team was just a given (since I was there to support her). But when your team is good and they're winning, man, that puts a whole new spin on things. I was used to rooting for the whatever team that did however.

Second, she was into it enough to bring one of those flag crayon/markers with her. Observe:


If you drag it hard enough across your skin, it makes little German flags. She had us paint one somewhere on our bodies for the start of the game and insisted we paint another one for every goal her team scored. Let's just say we were painted with flags by the end of the game.

I was hooked. The air in these sports bars, with so many fans who actually care is downright infectious. I knew I would be coming back. And coming back for subsequent games I definitely have. And will. Until this Sunday, in fact, when the finals are.

So, there are many things for me to share about this newfound love of football. All of them revolve around the bar that my friends and I also frequent in order to watch these matches (since few of us actually bother paying for live tv). Oddly this bar is called Elmo's, like the furry red creature that outsold every other toy that one year and had mothers clawing at each other like ravenous zombies. But I digress.

Here are the glorious things I've observed at said sports bar:

1. You must arrive proportionately earlier and earlier as the games get closer and closer to the finals.

When we first started watching the matches, it was just sort of the whatever games. It was not yet time for elimination or if it was it was still double elimination or something (little fuzzy on the rules, to be honest), so people were amped, but not that amped to make sure they saw the game on time. As the finals close in we've had to stake out our location far in advance to make sure we actually have enough space for our group (which has likewise been getting larger and larger).

Case in point: the semi-final between Spain and Portugal yesterday had us arriving at an hour and 15 minutes before the actual game was to start. We did in fact get the seats we wished from the previous time (which is in a private back room with comfy sofas and a nice big screen tv), but there was barely enough space with us and two other parties to fit our entire group:


2. Bar food is in fact, delicious, but it is also expensive.

Or at least in Finland it is. This particular sports bar has a really vast menu - waffle fries, chicken fingers, pizzas, hamburgers, salads, desserts even...it's pretty extensive. However, any item on there will cost you around 9euros at least (like waffle fries), and more gourmet things (like hamburgers or salads) are around a whopping 12-15euros.

Lesson learned: order finger food. I made the mistake last night of ordering a chicken caesar salad because I really wanted one (good salads are really hard to come by here...it's ridiculous) but the time spent cutting and eating my salad distracted me from watching the game and I eventually gave up in a huffed fury. I need my eyes for sports, not for eating! I set my plate down and resumed during half time.

This is why you order things like beloved nachos:


The nachos at this place are actually halfway decent. They're warm at least, and have something resembling nacho cheese on them (what it actually is, I'm not really sure...it's not actually cheese, in the normal sense of things). It does come with pickled jalapenos though, as well as chopped onions and the option of chicken, so I give it my grudging thumbs up. This is as close as Helsinki gets I think.

3. This is the one place, ever, on Earth, where you will find a queue for the men's bathrooms, but not the women's.

And this fact is simply glorious. I went during half time the first time I was there, expecting that I would need to elbow a Finn or two to make sure I could get back to my seat in time but when I got there...the bathroom was completely empty. I mean absolutely no one in the facility. Now as the finals approach this has become less true, but I've still only waited as the first person in line at worst. Pretty sure that as a woman I can't consider this actually standing in line. I actually hit men with the bathroom door on the way out. I won't lie: I do giggle to myself everytime this happens.

4. The Finnish commentary is well...Finnish.

This particular bar obviously caters to the Finnish crowd. This makes sense of course, because we are in Finland. This means, naturally, that the commentary is also in Finnish. Which very few (sometimes if any) of my group understand. This means we've taken to ignoring the commentary. I've come to understand that under normal circumstances the commentary is actually quite helpful, but having never experienced such a thing I'm going to pretend that commentary is for the weak - I can clearly understand what is happening in the game, even without the men telling me what is happening between such and such player (I can read their names...what else could they possibly be telling me?...okay, I know there's more).

But one of the funniest things about this is...the commentary is still very Finnish. Even if I can't understand what they are saying, you can still tell that it's very Finnish in nature. When goals occur, even if the bar isn't loud (which it usually is), you can't hear the announcers say anything. I'm pretty sure there would be a very polite and meek, "Goal." in Finnish. None of this long, drawn-out, passionate, "GOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAALLLLLLLLL!!!!!" business that we hear so much about from Mexican and/or Spanish commentary. I laugh to myself.

5. You always send someone as the envoy to the bar.

Should your group actually want something from the bar, whether it be food or drink, you send an envoy. One person to stand in the queue. Because to go as an individual would be foolish, not to mention time consuming. As games get closer to finals and time on the clocks gets further to the end, fewer envoys are sent out and orders get more massive. Sometimes envoys go in pairs just so there are enough hands to carry the order. Luckily food gets delivered to you, so that takes away some of the problem.

6. Making friends with the doorman gives you no special advantages (at least not yet).

The doorman has come to recognize our group, since we're there several times a week (every time there is a game on that we need to see - i.e. one of our friends' respective countries is playing or it's a semi-final/final). We're a pretty easily-recognizable bunch, being those weird foreigners, and he now knows us. However, despite our sweet talking and smiles, he still has yet to give us any sort of discount. I even made a joke about it to him last night and he just smiled and sort of snorted. Pretty sure bargaining doesn't exist here. Damn.

7. Pretty sure this is just the tip of the iceberg.

This is just my first sport love. What is next from here? Hockey? Curling? Cell phone throwing??? The possibilities are endless, but I definitely welcome them. Because if what I've seen from football is any indication of what loving sports is like, then I look forward to any future sports love. It seems to bring together people from all countries and eventually we're all rooting for the same team.

Epic woolen cape from Tallinn

Apologies for the extremely long-awaited post on the woolen cape from Estonia, but alas, it took me this long to remember to bring out my camera while at home and snap pictures of it. (This is what happens when you get older and put things away...you forget about them).

So, without further ado, I present you with the hooded woolen cape from Estonia:


It's true: I made my sister and myself spend an exorbitant amount of time searching for this cape. This exact cape. I'm a short person, so I require a cape of a certain length and depth, not to mention a hood size that is neither too small nor too large.

I tried children's capes, thinking this would solve my shortness problem, only to be confronted with other issues such as excruciatingly small hoods, or neck holes that were meant to kill me. Sigh, the problems of being that weird inbetween size (usually considered an advantage in this day-and-age).

But, after careful consideration and searching, we found the cape of wonder. We found the perfect cape. And it is glorious. 100% pure wool, knitted in the most intricate of designs, with very odd details that give it character.


Take, for example, the wooden buttons (very characteristic of Tallinn itself):


Or the fact (invisible in these pictures) that it does actually have arm holes, which you can decide to use, or not use. In other words: be a bat, or simply an octopus. Your choice. It's THAT awesome.

This woolen cape is so epic that even the hood fits perfectly, and even has the matching trim:


Yes, I have worn this around my apartment several times since I brought it back. Yes, I have every intention of wearing this at the most inappropriate times both at work and out in public. Yes, more than likely I will throw some sort of ridiculous party in which medieval dress is required or penalties will be incurred on guests not participating. Yes, I definitely will wear this during the winter while reading a fantasy book while listening to my medieval minstrels CD.

Pretty sure that's what this cape was made for. That, and watching Game of Thrones on my sofa. But that will have to wait until season 3.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Foodspotting around Scotland

In actuality we did go to more places than just Edinburgh. We also went to Inverness and Aberdeen. Unfortunately there wasn't enough time (because I'm lame and have no vacation this year) to reach the highlands and other places of note (like Glasgow or the Isle of Skye), so those will need to be gotten to on another trip.

Since I failed spectacularly at recording those places to their fullest extent, it was mostly about seeing each place for what it was about (rather than just being a tourist), I will focus on things of note. As is always the case for me, one of these things is the food. I always want to know what local food is like, and luckily British A knew where to point me in the right direction. YES, points to the tour guide.

So, without further ado, I will take you across the culinary landscape of what I experienced in Scotland. Behold:

1. Steak and Ale Pie

Traditional pub food, definitely food for the booze-drinking masses. One of the things I absolutely love about the UK is that they serve food at the pubs! Ah, Finland would so benefit if they did this (or at least they would get a hell of a lot more money from me).

Steak and ale pie, a staple to any Scottish pub menu. Hilariously, it doesn't look like a pie at all:


It's more like delicious stew with veggies thrown on the side with a large mound of pastry set on top (very flaky and airy). Not a people known for salting or peppering anything to a particular degree, but tasty nonetheless. I was badgered into not salting or peppering anything in the presence of British A...something about it being unhealthy and unnecessary. Whatever...would have made it taste better!

2. Cheese and Bean Toastie

According to my tour guide, cheese and bean toasties are excellent hangover foods. Fortunately there was no need to test this theory, but I did sample the wares anyway and boy was it delicious.


Imagine a grilled cheese sandwich that has pork and beans (hold the pork) inside of it. Crispy, gooey, and absolutely delicious. This could become one of my favorite new sandwiches, if I were able to get baked beans regularly in Finland (not sure, will need to check out my local grocery stores...amendment: yes, these can be obtained though they are 4x as expensive as they should be as compared to the UK). This is pure illogical genius. Whoever thought these flavors should go together should be given a handshake. And told how right they are. Right-oh. Or as my friend WW would say, "pish posh, hob nob, and what what!"

3. Haggis

There was no way I was going to Scotland without trying haggis. No way.

Now all of you must know what haggis is by now. It's world-renowned for sounding like the most disgusting thing in the world. Here is a wikipedia description as such:

"a kind of savoury pudding containing sheep's pluck (heart, liver and lungs — see offal); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally encased in the animal's stomach and simmered for approximately three hours."

Mmmmmm...offal with oatmeal and spices in stomach.

Unfortunately mine didn't come in the stomach (as is traditional now, since they're actually quite difficult and expensive to get, according to my tour guide), but it did have the rest. Chopped up into a presentable mound of goo:


And it was...

Good. Actually it was pretty good. The texture was sort of like really gooey risotto with bits of chewy something mixed in (that would be the lung, I imagine). It had a little bit of spice to it (in the spiced way, not in the spicy way), which made it interesting. No lingering internal organ smell or flavor. Really quite pleasant and filling. Enjoyable. Would definitely consume again. :)

Alongside it came the neeps and tatties, i.e. mashed turnips and potatoes. Mine also came with oatcakes, which to me really seemed like oatmeal biscuits (which I decided, after one little nibble, were not to my liking...a bit too sweet, which clashed with the rest of the savory dish). Oh, and a side of dressing which supposedly had horseradish in it, I believe (but could not detect). Tasty, whatever this creamy gravy was. Poured it over everything.

Honorable mentions:

1. Irn Bru

Scotland is one of the only countries where another soft drink outsells Coke. That drink: Irn Bru (yes, it's pronounced like "Iron Brew").

Think of Hawaiian Punch mixed with orange Fanta with an extreme amount of caffeine in it, but tastes like fruity cream soda...that's what you get with Irn Bru. I thought it was horrendous stuff, but apparently every Scot in the world thinks it's magic. Also widely known as an awesome cure for hangovers (I'm guessing it's the quantum amount of caffeine in it), it solves most problems after just half a bottle or so. Given the labeling, it seemed a bit sketchy to me (think Mountain Dew: Code Red or Jolt):


2. Old Speckled Hen beer

Of course I had to mention the beer with my name on it! This is apparently what I'll look like once I'm canned and marketed. Hilarious. Just thought I'd mention it, just because. Unfortunately I didn't get to have any.


Other meals eaten on this trip were not particularly Scottish, so that's why I'm not mentioning them here. It's also likely that I failed to photo document them somewhere along the way. (Well...one can't be totally surprised at this point...still getting used to photo documenting almost anything ^_^*).

tSH goes to Scotland: Edinburgh

So being a noob to Finn culture, when my friends told me a few months ago that no one stayed in Helsinki for midsummer, I took them at their word...and booked a trip to Scotland to visit my friend, British A. What they failed to further explain is that people didn't stay in Helsinki proper, not that people didn't stay in Finland. Apparently the tradition is to leave the city and go to the country to celebrate midsummer, not actually flee the country in rapturous vacation mode. Whoops. Oh well. Guess I'll have to do better next year.

So while my friends were having fun bbqing on the beach for the one spectacular day of weather we've had this year (it was like 23 degrees C/something like 77 degrees F), I was in Scotland. Edinburgh, to be exact. Where it was rainy, misty, and 15 degrees C/63 degrees F. Bugger.

But all be not lost! Because Scotland was just as beautiful as it presumptuously tells everyone it will be. And I enjoyed all of it. Because it was gorgeous. And I had a personal tour guide who had been to every part of where we were going. Sweet.


So, back to Edinburgh (oddly pronounced, "Ed-in-burr-oh"...not "Ed-in-bur-gg"...which is what you'd expect...sigh). 

What do you do when you're in Edinburgh? You see the castle, of course! And the castle, we saw. 


There were many hilarious things to behold there. Such as:

1. The Spectacular Views

(This is a board of what you should have been able to see)


(This is what you could actually see, given the typical Scottish weather)


Although the fog rolled in just as we got there (it was a clear and beautifully sunny day as we were walking there, completely atypical of any Scottish summer day), it was actually still relatively pleasant. Not warm, by any means, but not raining the entire time, so not unpleasant. People still had their umbrellas out, and lots of people (tourists) were wearing the silly Edinburgh Castle ponchos that one could buy at the gift shop (I resisted the urge), but it was actually not that bad. I didn't feel the need, and if I was fine with being at that level of damp (absolutely loving dryness to its extreme), then I think most people should have been fine with it.

2. Various Royals That Look Like Jesus

There was actually quite a good rundown of the history of Scotland and its various royals and comings and goings. Not knowing a lot about Scottish history I tried to take a good deal of it in, but alas, there was too much. British A schooled me along the way, scolding me for not knowing this various famous (well, famous for Scotland) person or that, but generally speaking, I did what I could.


Many royals from back in the day, I noticed, looked a lot like Jesus. And had absolutely hysterical names. Sure being known as, "The Strong" or some other prestigious name was just dandy, but would a king ever really want to be known as "The Maiden"? Just seemed sort of odd.


3. The Family Jewels

I'm sure many come to Edinburgh Castle specifically to see the Crown Jewels. Or at least my kid girl self would try to convince others that that was the case. I was still delighted to see them, even as an older person. 

Generally speaking the crown jewels were buried and refound many times over the course of history. Some person or another would want to take them for their own to try to crush the current monarchy so they would be smuggled out and hidden somewhere safe only to be forgotten for around 100 years and rediscovered, safely where they were thought to be sometime later. This happened several times. The part that always made me laugh about this was that they were always where people thought they would be - just that no one bothered to look there. Like there were rumors that they were in such and such place, legends even, but no one bothered to look, so they remained safely buried there until some court order demanded they be unearthed. And so they were.

Naturally pictures were not allowed anywhere near the real jewels themselves, but I'll tell you another tidbit that tickled my fancy. When they unearthed the jewels for the final time (i.e. the time that we have now taken them into protective custody and displayed them), they discovered an item with them that they cannot explain the existence of - something they named The Wand. They have absolutely no idea what it was used for and there is no record of it anywhere. It is just a mysteriously beautiful object that was apparently thrown in with the rest, and therefore is now on display with the others. See description here:


Hilarious in my life. In my mind it was likely some play thing a royal had made for their child which was then insisted upon (by the child, of course) being taken with. Makes sense to me. Since it's not pictured anywhere it obviously wasn't part of the royal collection in the general sense, so...not much explanation. Anyway, feel free to make up your own story. History is great for that.

4. Whisky, whisky, whisky

Naturally no Scottish castle would be complete without a whisky tasting, or five. There was indeed a whisky store on the premises of the castle. And it did indeed give out free tastings of whisky.

Btw my tour guide informed me of something I didn't know, and which I will now pass on to you: whisky, as it is spelled here, is the officious form of whisky made in Scotland under certain regulations. Anything made elsewhere (such as in the States, etc), must be labeled as "whiskey" to declare itself as being not official whisky. It's the difference between champagne from France and sparkling wine, from everywhere else. Learn something new everyday.

Anyway, the tastings that were being given out at Edinburgh Castle, as it were, were neither of these two. They were whisky liquors. And man were they tasty. One was like Baileys, but made with real cream, and another was well...liquor. Sweet, syrupy, and delicious. I was seriously tempted to buy...but somehow failed to do so.


They also sold whisky-related products there, naturally. Even whisky-flavored tea!


Just in case you need to hide that suspicious breath at work...or whatever. (No, I swears it's my whisky-flavored tea that smells that way! Not me!). Right right...

5. Prisons...lots of prisons

A lot of the castle was made up of prisons. Lots of prisons. Museums of prisons, memorials of prisons, models of prisons. Or at least it seemed that way. Realistically there were probably two exhibits on prisons. Apparently they held prisoners of war from several different countries there at various times. Most of them died. I suppose that was probably par for the course though, back then. To my untrained eye it just looked like a big slumber party with hammocks:


They had a lot of recordings of voice actors saying various quotes from passages written at the time and my one comment to that is: please hire voice actors from the countries they are supposed to be from. The one from the States was clearly still from the UK. Hilarious, sure, but not so convincing. Surely you could have picked up a tourist off the street who would have been willing to do it just for the sake of awesomeness!

There were other halls and museums that we did go into, but I'll not go into further detail about them. 

Bottomline: Edinburgh Castle, pretty dec!

Apologies for the slump!

Things have been quite busy around the nest of tSH lately, so apologies for the delay in posts. A few quick updates though, on what's been going on (and therefore what you can expect in the next week of posts...once I get around to writing them and getting them up):
  • Midsummer weekend trip to Scotland
  • Wondrous nights and matches of football (aka soccer!)
  • Pictures of the magical woolen cape from Tallinn/Estonia
So, as soon as I can get my stuff together these are the things you will be hearing about.

Again, please feel free to post any comments you may have, so I know what you're thinking and/or if there are any requests! I will eventually get to them (I promise ^_^), albeit I cannot promise the most speedy of turnaround times (as you can see here).

And now hopefully...to posting I go!

Thanks,
tSH

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Laundry day

At some point or another, I knew I would need to cover this. You see, I come from a land of electronic convenience. A land where, you can litereally throw your clothes into a machine, come back some time later (not even on the same day if you're that lazy), throw them into another machine, and then immediately wear them. There are even special chemicals and potions you can throw in so ironing is not necessary. It's that magical where I come from.

Well, let's just say, that by moving to Finland, I learned that not everywhere is as magical. And I learned the hard way that there are some skills you really should have learned some time ago. Otherwise you really are that incompetent fool who is asking the stupid questions. Unfortunately I was that fool for awhile. ~_~

So, Laundry Day.

First rule of Laundry Day: Don't leave your laundry for more than a week, maybe a week and a half.

The machines here are tiny. They hold about the size of a paper grocery bag's worth of dirty clothes. Leaving laundry until the last minute, especially given the amount of clothing I have, would just be foolish. It's taken me a little time to get used to this, but laundry must be done, and done frequently. Luckily I have found the perfect-sized plastic bag to keep me in check. When the plastic bag is full, laundry must be done.

Second rule of Laundry Day: Turn on the water and the laundry machine.

Failling to do either one of these equals no laundry. Makes perfect sense, except that in the US these are a given - your laundry machine is always technically on (as soon as you turn the dials) and your water is always hooked up (because your machine knows not to explode if you leave it plugged in). Unfortunately that is not the case here. You have to make sure to shut the water off every time otherwise (apparently) your machine leaks and the world implodes. Or something. Not sure, but definitely sure I don't want to find out and pay damages.


Silver knob at the top of the picture? The water knob. (-) = water is off. (|) = water is on. Luckily the symbology (giggle) is universal.

Third rule of Laundry Day: Don't let your hand be eaten by the laundry machine.

The first time I saw the insides of one of these standup laundry machines I hesitated. Was this a laundry machine or a bear trap?!?


Surprisingly scary mechanism for something so domestic. But then again so are many beauty contraptions, so I guess it is only slightly logical that there would be some crossover. But I digress.

Anyway, the mechanics of these machines are actually quite genius. You push the white button in the middle of "drum" and it springs open two little doors. You do have to be careful, since there are teeth (this is what it uses to catch itself to close), but the two doors open to reveal the drum in which you put your clothes in. Put your clothes in, close the hatch again, and voila! The entire thing spins inside the machine, like a normal front loader, just that it happens from the inside and you load it from the top. Quite amazing, really.

Fourth rule of Laundry Day: Put the detergent into the right chute.

Oddly none of these chutes is really labeled. I mean some of them do have things written on them, some of which is even in English, but none of them actually just plainly say, "Put soap here."


Four chutes...one of them is bound to be right. I'm not sure how, but my mom figured out that the second from the left is the correct one. I experimented once and put it in the leftmost chute, only to have soap pour out the bottom. Utter fail.

Water seems to collect in the third chute, no matter what you do, and the fourth chute seems to have no purpose whatsoever. In fact there doesn't seem to be a real purpose to any of the chutes except the second one, as far as I can tell. It's the only one that is labeled, as well. It has a line that says, "Max ---" on it. And that's it.

Fifth rule of Laundry Day: Choose the appropriate setting or you will literally be doing laundry for 2+ hours...and that's just washing.

Because this is a Finnish machine, everything on it is relatively in Finnish. This is to be expected, and luckily there are some vaguely decipherable icons on it. My apartment agent one explained some of the simple ones to me (most of which I remembered, but which were of little use to me later), but in general, no one prepares you for the vast choice and variety of things you can apparently do in this machine which seem to have little or no difference in the outcome of your clothes.


It's probably hard to see from this picture, but there are in fact, three knobs and four buttons on this machine. From the left: three buttons in a column, only the middle of which I've understood as "no iron." Somehow though, it still leaves my clothes wrinkled...so I think it's pretty useless. Knob for amount of water used? Not actually sure. Knob for which wash cycle type you'd like (I'll get into this a little more). Knob for water temperature. Power button.

Now, the knob for which wash cycle type you'd like. Boy oh boy. I don't know what all of them do, but as you can see, there are three main categories of washes. They're separated out by the type of material you are washing - cotton, polyesters/synthetics, and delicates. And then there are the appropriate different types of cycles beneath each category.

After some experimenting, my parents and I finally figured out that #6 gets you the fastest wash cycle - only 30 minutes long. But this was after some painful 2 hour wash sessions in which mistakes were made and tempers ran high. A PDF version of the manual for a similar washing machine has been discovered, but even so, the mysteries of this machine have still not been fully uncovered.

Sixth rule of Laundry Day: Drain the machine or it will smell like warm peas.

So in general, in the past, I used to keep the door of my washer open to air it out. In San Diego this meant keep the lid open while my clothes were drying because it would wring out enough of the water from the clothes that it was relatively dry when I took them out and therefore didn't need much airing. By the time my clothes were out of the dryer, I could close the lid and think nothing more about it.

Not so with these machines. As I stated before, water collects in the top container, near where the detergent goes in. For the longest time (i.e. many weeks) I didn't know there was a release button so you could take this container out and separate it from the machine. So though I kept the door of the washer open for a week at a time, whenever I closed the door again each time I opened it later to do laundry, it would smell like damp, warm peas.

Now, many of you know I am freaked out by certain plants, moss, and mold. And the thought of anything similar to that 1) in my bathroom (which is where my washing machine is) 2) near my clothes or 3) even in the vicinity of my household was more disturbing than I could bear. So I asked my friend Canadian M about it. He was the one who told me about the release button. And thank god, because now I've been able to take it out, drain it, and it dries within a day or so (because it's so dry here). Warm pea smell, resolved.

Seventh rule of Laundry Day: Make your house like a laundromat.

Again, I come from the land of dryers. There are no households in the US that don't have dryers or that don't have access to dryers. It's simply unheard of. So when I found out that people here don't have them (unless you live in suburbia), I definitely did my share of whining and wandering aimlessly in the streets mumbling about the impossibility of it. I even considered buying one and sticking it somewhere inane like my living room (small as it is), just so I wouldn't have to give up the convenience of it.

But alas, I gave in and did as the locals do. Which is: the drying rack.


Normally I would have this in my kitchen/walk in closet area, but since I had maintenance people coming in to fix a gutter outside my window, I had to move it, so that's why it's in my living room this time.

Now, being completely naive and ignorant in this newfound field of "air drying," there were definitely some lessons I needed to learn before I got to my current state of nowhere-near perfection. And I'm still learning. And what you see here is not my normal state of efficiency (again, maintenance people coming in). Normally I have pants hanging from hangers and clothes pins off of every cupboard door handle in the kitchen to maximize air circulation and everything is spread out. I basically turn my kitchen into a laundromat. But alas, not this time.

Eighth rule of Laundry Day: Get yourself a Doc Sock.

And last but not least, you need to get yourself a Doc Sock (as my sister lovingly dubbed him).


These guys: priceless. You can hang socks, undies...any sort of small item off of them. Invaluable. And hilarious! Mine hangs conveniently off of the purse hook I installed on my kitchen bar table. This was acquired from Ikea for a minimum of euros. Totally awesome.

So, in conclusion, despite the fact that I came from a land of fluffy warm laundry that conveniently appears whenever you throw it into a machine, I am indeed learning to deal with harsh realities. And it's not so bad. I feel like a real person who has some real world skills now. I may actually make it, should I be left to my own devices in some electricityless land somewhere out in the middle of nowhere.

Thanks Finland, for showing me light. I still miss the smell of dryer sheets, the warmth of clothes straight from the dryer, and most especially the fluffiness of a towel freshly washed and dried...but it's cool, because the dryer sheets I foolishly brought with me are being given as a wedding present to someone who does have a dryer and who knows the preciousness of such things (plus she now understands the pains of knowing something amazing and not being able to get it anymore...she just ran out of her supply a month ago and has not been the same since). Ah, the sacrifices.

And yet, the world still goes on (unless of course, you forget to turn off the water ^_~). Until next time...


Monday, June 18, 2012

The news

As I am sure many of you read the news, you're probably aware that my company has announced there will be some serious changes soon. I won't talk about those here, nor will I discuss anything related to them, but just wanted to reassure you that for now, things are fine.

The department in which I work will be cut somewhat, as most departments will be, but we are one of the least affected. We will know more details in about a month.

I am reassured that my team is very unlikely to be cut, but in times like these, words are as wind. For now I am going to continue my wonderful life here in Helsinki and adventure on like there is a tomorrow, because there is and as far as I am concerned, there always will be.

As my life motto goes: things may not always turn out the way you expect them, but in the end, things always work out.

Thanks for your understanding and for the concern, everything is fine.

Regards,
tSH

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Being a VIP

That's right. tSH has made it big enough to be a VIP somewhere in the hinterlands.

Well, that's not completely true, but I was a VIP at an event last night, and it felt pretty dang good. The facts: there was a special preview night for an exhibit opening at Kiasma, one of the local art museums. Being part of the design department, I had the opportunity to quickly email back that I was interested and thus be one of the first 30 or so people to respond and thereby get a VIP invite to their preview opening. Apparently I was one of those people. YES quick typing skills and being on top of my email!

So, after rushing home from a long day of meetings, I quickly got dressed in my art-gallery appropriate wear and strutted my stuff down to Kiasma (about a 10 minute walk from my apartment). It was a beautiful day - sunny, about 18 degrees C/65 degrees F. I actually got slightly warm walking there (unheard of!).

VIP event indeed! There was free white or red wine (as much as you could possibly guzzle, which is the Finnish way), and a rather impressive set of noshables:


Close up of the bites:


There was some sort of soft cheese with arugula and preserves, amuse bouches with meatballs, pickles, and peas, and my personal favorite - little triangles of thin buttered rye bread with some sort of mushroom butter, raw white fish, and chives. To die for.

Just as a small note - the museum is so fancy on itself that its wine was museum-brand wine. It had its own brand of wine! Kiasma white and red!


Anyway, I nibbled and had my wine like the other VIPs. We heard the founders (only one was there, and luckily gave her speech in English...she explained two of the others couldn't make it because they were at "art bars"...I'm going to pretend that means something fancier here than it would in the States), and some other people (unknown to me because their speeches were completely in Finnish after the cursory "Ladies and gentlemen").

Then the presentation of the exhibit itself started. So, to give you some background, the pieces being displayed were supposed to be a combination of art and design. It is described as, "visual art and design in disguise." You can take that for what you will. The first piece we saw was by a hilarious performance artist, who combined fashion clothes-making, photography, and childhood whim:


In reality this means she dressed up as various things (a chanterelle mushroom, leaf, herring, snowflake...the abstract version of "my undirected anger") and had us hold up cards that showed where she had photographed herself in nature wearing these costumes, but cut out (meaning we had to look through the cards and place her appropriately in the picture again, live). It was actually quite a lot of fun. I wouldn't have thought anyone could have so easily gotten a group of 60 adults to hold up cards and squint through holes. I'm sure the wine helped.


The rest of the exhibit was a bit more "art" and a little less whimsy. Child mannequins dressed up in couture, wearing lacross masks and cups, with horror masks on their faces.


Gloves made of leather with human hair and sutures.


Taxidermied birds, squirrels, and lions with crystal geods inside of them (one of my personal favorites).




And of course, the photos of the performance artist in her costumes.





Overall it was a pretty swell night. I felt the wonder of being amongst the "beautiful people" of art. Even got to meet and talk to some of the artists.

Thanks design department and Kiasma, for giving me a taste of the sweet life.

Kiasma - Camouflage

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

You start becoming a Finn when...

I've started noticing some disturbing behavior. Notably some disturbing behavior within myself. Disturbingly Finn Behavior (DFB).

I've been thinking about it these past few weeks, and I've discovered that even though I've only been here for a little over two months (realistically about two and a half), I've started to acclimate quite drastically in the Finnish direction. My observations:


  1. I feel no need to smile randomly at people in public anymore. I have started to become an emotionless robot towards the public and as far as I am concerned people I don't know are just people I don't know. It's weird, it's like I have...no emotions. O_O
  2. I have started to eat faster than I ever have before. Those of you who have ever eaten with me know that I eat with horrendous slowness. To the point of detriment (professionally and otherwise). Usually I have to take things home with me in doggy bags because people get to the point where they say, "Look, I have a meeting, I really need to get going," even though I'm still eating. So instead of making them stay behind, I politely pretend like I'll eat it later and pack it up to go. This doesn't happen very often anymore. I can actually eat a lunch in 20-25 minutes now. Without it hurting. That much.
  3. I consider 16 degrees C/65 degrees F appropriate sunbathing temperature. This actually happened last weekend. It was sunny and my girlfriends and I went to the park and sunbathed on a blanket, in tank tops. It was 16 degrees C/65 degrees F. In California this would be considered crazy and/or stupid. Certainly asking for illness, at least.
  4. I don't balk at the fact that stores close at 6pm on Saturday. This has become an expected thing instead and in fact it's become so innate to my schedule that it doesn't even occur to me to shop on Saturdays anymore. Apparently my brain naturally blocked that day out as "useless" and I shop either in the mornings or on Sundays (luckily Finland deviated away from the rest of Europe on that account).
  5. I consider something 5-10% off actually on sale. This is actually true, at least in grocery stores. I'm still too cheap to buy other items (i.e. clothing, household items, etc.) here, but when it comes to groceries and I see something that is "on sale," I actually say to myself, "wow, that's not bad." Compared to the States where things are half off or buy one get one free, this is stupidly not on sale.
  6. I am so green about my recycling and trash it hurts. There are literally about 10 different recycling categories here. That's no lie. And I follow them as hardcore as I can. I save every bag and tie and thing that I can possibly reuse for anything else because everything is so ridiculously expensive here. I was a bag lady before, but this just takes it to a whole new level.
  7. I don't turn on my lights until it's way past dark in my apartment. This is sort of null because it's the summertime (therefore it's never dark until you close your curtains and blinds), but I used to wonder if I really had neighbors because no one turned on their lights ever. Now I understand - they just sit in the semi-darkness to acclimate themselves to the season. It's weird, but it does actually make some sort of weird sense. I'm pretty sure I'm ruining my eyesight (this goes hand-in-hand with my theory of extreme cold+naked eye = damage), but, oddly it feels right after awhile.
  8. I can sleep just fine even though the sun is still out. And will be out. Yes I've installed the most amazing blackout curtains and cardboard to block out every available peep of sunlight in my apartment, but sometimes I just forget to close them. And yet I still sleep like the dead. Disturbing.
And these are just the trends I've noticed. I've also started automatically saying greetings in Finnish and understanding enough words in Finnish to know what people are asking me (simple questions), but of course that's just immersion (i.e. understandable). What will be next?!? Will I insist upon going to my summer cabin (mökki, pronounced "mook-kee") even though every Finn I've talked to about it has admitted that it's always been a horrible experience?? (This is actually hilariously true, they all tell me it's cold and never pleasant because most cabins don't have electricity and the weather is never consistently good so quite often it's raining...so you're trapped in a small cabin with no electricity, while it's raining...with lots of bugs...sounds swell).

Will it soon be the Finned spreckled hen?!? O_O

Progress will be recorded...

Monday, June 11, 2012

Pub food: Helsinki English pub edition

Last Friday my friends and I went on a makeshift pub crawl. We started out at a bar just down the street from my apartment, called Bar Bhangra (though I like to call it Bhagra Bar, which if you say it fast enough sounds like Agraba, the madeup city from Aladdin), with tire swings that you can sit on and enjoy as well as a constant drone of Bollywood music. It ended at a bar owned by the same guy nine hours later called Navy Jerry's, which specializes in rum and apparently gay men (or so we found out...much to the dismay of the guys in my group).

Anyway, I won't write about the shenanigans of that night, as there were many and I never disclose happenings of that sort, but I will tell you about the amazing pub food that was eaten at one of our midway stops. We were paused at an English pub for a bit longer than normal called St. Urho's. Now, I'd seen this bar many times in passing - it's right next to Storyville, a great (albeit "older crowd" (a pleasantly diplomatic way of saying, "old people")) jazz bar with a New Orleans theme that I'd been to a few times, and I'd stopped in there once on the way home because it was the only place open with a restroom, but I'd never actually stopped and given them business.

Well on this night we were there actually doing just that. And me and several friends got hungry (as so many of us do, on nights that involve drinking). So we took a look at their menu, and it was actually quite impressive. Fresh pizzas, fish and chips, as well as some other more unique items of note: an antelope burger, seared liver items (multiple, I might add), even an offering of boar.

So, naturally, we ordered the antelope burger. How could we not?!!

And a pizza, for good measure.


The pizza is what I've come to regard as "standard fare" for Finland - pepperoni, pineapple, and bleu cheese. They really love the pineapple + bleu cheese combination. I would have never thought that this would be an acceptable combination of ingredients, but actually it's quite good! Surprisingly delicious. You should try it before you knock it.

And the antelope burger:


Heavenly. Surprisingly quality burger. The meat itself had an interesting flavor - really unique, almost salty by itself rather than being seasoned. Very lean, and musky. Fantastic. (In case you're wondering, four of us split the burger, which is why I have a quarter...and why it's so neatly cut).

The fries were incredible. The British might not make a lot of famously great foods, but they do know their fries. These ones were no exception. Really. Great. Fries.

The burger itself was covered in some sort of delicious creamy sauce, almost like a slaw. I'm not sure what it was, since the menu was unsurprisingly nondescript (all that it said on the menu was "ANTELOPE BURGER" in all-capped Finnish), but we were all too amazed by the flavor of the burger to care.

So, there you have it. Apparently some pubs do make good food. Really glad of it too, because most of my pub food experience so far had been cold con queso, like at my favorite Friday haunt Teerenpeli (don't even get me started on my thoughts regarding cold con queso...that's just plain wrong).

So here's three cheers for St. Urho's and their awesome pub food menu. If you're gonna have a nice pint of something, might as well have something delicious to go with it!

St. Urho's

Chinese food in Helsinki

Similar to when we were in Estonia, before my sister left Helsinki she wanted to see what Chinese food in Helsinki was like. I agreed, figuring it would be nice to know if there was any familiar home food to be found, and away we went to a place I've spotted many times on my nights out but had never actually been to: Tang Dynasty.


As we approached and looked at the menu posted outside, we noticed that it actually isn't just a Chinese restaurant. Not only is a buffet, it is a Chinese-Japanese buffet. You can pay to just have the Chinese portion, or for a little bit more, get the Japanese with the Chinese. In plainspeak this means stir fries, or stir fries with a small sushi selection. My sister and I were and always have been, wary of sushi at buffets, so we chose to just have the stir fry selection.

And stir fry it was! Chinese buffets are hardly ever a letdown and this was no particular exception. It wasn't the best Chinese buffet I'd ever had in my life, but it certainly wasn't the worst. The restaurant had a surprising amount of Chinese people in it, actually, and my sister and I wondered if they were tourists or actual residents (I do see a fair amount of Asian people 'round town everyday...and by fair amount I mean like one a day or so...which usually involves awkward acknowledgement but luckily no interaction or meaningless attempts at friend-making because "we are the same"...much appreciated).

Anyway, back to the food:


Not a huge selection, but what was there was 3/4 good. :) Starting from next to the chopsticks and going clockwise: chow mein, beef with bell peppers and celery, chicken with bamboo (bamboo was very salty), garlic green beans (frozen again...must be just how they get them here), stewed vegetables (exceptionally salty and mostly boiled), curry beef, and sweet and sour chicken. Mostly what was disappointing was the saltiness of most of the veggies. Strange, since most of those veggies would have been fresh or canned, so salting should have been minimal.

One thing though, that was absolutely amazing (and that my sister went back for seconds for), was the fried chicken (with optional sweet and sour sauce):


Hilariously like a donut with chicken in the middle. Really light fluffy tempura-like batter with chicken in it. Pleasant and very light. Tasty! :)

Overall I give this place a B/B-. Convenient and relatively cheap, espeically for lunch (it was like 8euros or so for the Chinese lunch buffet, 12euros if you bought the Japanese additions). Not exactly a taste of home but getting closer.

Luckily my second taste of Chinese food in Helsinki was more successful. It was a little place a bit further from the center of town, but still not far away, called Nanking.


I had lunch on the weekend here, so it was pretty empty when we arrived. It was surprisingly cute on the inside, especially considering how small it was on the outside. They obviously spent a lot of money on the atmosphere, and I'm glad they did:


Their food is appropriately more expensive as well. They did have a sweet weekend lunch special where you could get an appetizer (eggrolls or some sort of soup I believe), a choice of one of three entrees, then a dessert (it was fried something with icecream) for 14-15euros, but I was decidedly not that hungry and decided to opt for just a normal dish, as did the person I was with:


Beef with mushrooms, ordered from the Nanking specialities section of the menu. I was not disappointed - it was like something I would make for myself at home, just a little bit better. Fantastic! I'd finally found a place that makes legit Chinese food. The waiter and host were actually Chinese as well - it was clear they only spoke Chinese and English...they didn't even speak Finnish! (This confused the person I was with because they tried to order in Finnish only to be spoken to in English, much to their chagrin).

The sauce was rich and flavorful and the perfect smooth consistency. All of the ingredients were cooked just right and the quality of them was great. I loved my dish. Pretty sure I will enjoy eating the leftovers even more.

Luckily my companion loved their dish as well - they ordered sweet and sour chicken:


Surprisingly battered and fried, but not in the bad way. I thought the chicken pieces were a little bit salty but they thought they were awesome, so power to them I suppose. :) 

Overall this place was a jewel and I'm so glad I found it. A little more expensive, but not outrageous in the scheme of Helsinki food prices - 13-15euros per dish, which is normal. Totally worth it, and a place I will definitely be coming back to. Grade: A-. The only reason it gets the minus is because the chicken was a tad bit salty and I am leaving a little wiggle room for error and the possibility of finding an even better place.

Thanks, Helsinki. You've renewed my faith in the possibility that I can find good Chinese food within your city bounds.

Food adventures, ho!