Friday, April 11, 2014

Oh one more thing

Before I go silent for the weekend and potentially a few weeks, I would heavily encourage any readers interested in making sure they get all my posts to subscribe to the email newsletter. Then you'll know everytime I post, regardless of regularity. :)

You can subscribe at the bottom right of the blog page (Follow by email pigeon).

Thanks again and hope to be writing creatively again soon!


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Thanks for your responses!

After hearing from two of my most devoted readers, I have decided I will be taking a hiatus. Now I will post when there are things I'd really like to share and simply cannot stand not posting about. My mental plan is to post once a month, hopefully on the first of the month, but we'll see how this works. :)

I want to thank you again for being great readers and for listening to my story - strange, hilarious, and awkward as it has been. I really look forward to bringing you more quality stories as my time here with Don continues and I grow evermore.

Look forward to the next post!


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The end of tSH?

Hello readers,

Instead of posting like normal I'd like to put a question to you: are you still interested in reading this so I should continue or would it be okay for me to take leave for an undetermined time?

I realized several months ago that it's been over two years since I moved abroad, started this blog. It originally started out as a way for my friends and family to keep track of me as I discovered new things, traveled to new places. Also personally it was a way to document my adventures, my life moments.

But seeing as how I'm going into my second year here in London and things are becoming more stable and potentially routine (though I'd have to admit that my life lacks the strictest kind of routine), I find it harder and harder to write witty things about the adventures I have, to make them something other than documentation, and sometimes my backlog of unwritten posts is higher than my ones ready for publish.

So, if you simply cannot live without my blog, please respond to this post or send me a message. I am perfectly happy to keep doing it if someone is vested and would like to continue reading.

Otherwise, it'll be nice to take a break from writing, maybe get some of my creativity and wit, while focusing on the present.

Please let me know, I'm very curious to hear your thoughts and feelings. :)


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Karneval loot

The next day or so was mostly sleeping and eating a lot. We didn't go out again until Saturday, when we were rousted from our beds relatively early (read: sometime before 2pm) and made to dress in our costumes again (I'd basically been in it everyday anyway, but this time it was absolutely required).

After our enormously satisfying breakfast (this set of food items came out for our group at least 2-3 times a day...I never got sick of it), we walked as a group down the street and waited at a family friends' house for the parade to start. Everyone was outside their house that day, eating and drinking with friends and family, waiting for the parade festivities to begin.

An hour or two later the parade started and we were instructed by German K's mom and dad to yell "Kamelle" and "Strüßcher" for candy and flowers, respectively.

And sure enough, as the marching bands went by and there were myriads of people on homemade floats and marching with their organizations, they threw stuff at us.

It was interesting to see but there was a lot of variety in these items - candy, chips, cookies and cakes, toys, entire boxes of chocolates, tissue packs, even kitchen utensils. I had to duck a few times from getting beamed in the head with some sort of treat. It was pretty awesome. Our group filled a reusable grocery bag full of loot.

German K, no stranger to this tradition, told us that when she and her brother were kids they'd look forward to all the different parades during karneval because it allowed you to get your entire year's worth of sweets all at once.

Being used to this type of strategy, she encouraged (that's the nice word for it) us to get as many items as possible.

Now, many of these items hit the ground because they're too difficult to grab out of the air (especially the smaller things like single wrapped gumballs or small chocolates), so you have to go around picking up the undamaged ones for the group collective. Hong Kong P, being the shortest of us all, was up in the front of the crowd trying to get first dibs on anything that fell. She later explained to me that she was literally stealing candy from babies. It was hilarious.

A photo of some of our loot. I think you can get a good idea of the type of stuff we were given. We divided it all up later on and left plenty for German K's parents.

I should mention now that being in the parade, whether your community one or in the larger ones that circulated around town (several days in a row, it's not just a single day for parades), is a great honor for the German people of Cologne. You have to pay to apply for a position to be in it, then for the more eagerly sought positions, such as the Prince, Virgin, or Farmer, you have to apply and be selected by a committee then pay to be in it then pay for all the sweets you throw out. It comes out to vast sums of money. Many battle to pay for this honor.

After eating yet another hearty meal of homemade German potato salad (this started to creep out after German K's dad made it the night before and came out with the breakfast goodies), we set out to meet German K's friends for a real carneval experience with people our age:

Which means it took place in a bar.

This definitely required costumes, and we were still in full regalia from the parade a few hours before.

This part of the celebration meant drinking lots of beer. Kolsh, to be exact - the official beer of Cologne. Delicious and crisply cold in the tiny glasses made just for it.

We sang and danced as a group, everyone except us expats knowing the lyrics to all the songs. Apparently there is official karneval music, and German K's dad, being a huge one for celebration, had been blaring the songs at us since we first arrived. Usually quite loudly because his hearing has started to go. So we recognized most of them, and were even able to sing some of the main verses and chorus.

All in all it was a fun night. The celebrations of karneval are pretty extensive and if we were more up for it (e.g. one of us didn't have a broken wrist and the rest of us were instead not exhausted from normal work), I don't think we would have done it any differently, haha.

Monday, April 7, 2014

To karneval, karneval, karneval...

I was only back in London for a few days before flying out once again, this time to Cologne where I would once again be meeting up with German K and Hong Kong P for some much needed girl time.

An added surprise for all of us was hearing from Finnish Irish T and her making quick plans to join us in Germany, even through a broken wrist that happened the day before her flight! We all expressed our awe and how impressed we all were. It's not just anyone who travels despite having a full cast and sling. Especially knowing there would be crowds around. Drunken crowds.

The first day was just the three of us - German K, Finnish Irish T, and me. We had plans to meet up with British D and German T, who were also supposed to fly in and enjoy the karneval festivities. Unfortunately German T got waylaid by work and we didn't end up meeting up with him at all. I guess I'll have to make more of an effort to see him next time I'm in Helsinki.

We made it into town in the early afternoon, enjoying a part of town that was not so center that it was overcrowded. Just pleasantly crowded.

After meeting up with British D we chatted for a bit, were given big bottles of the special Cologne karenval beer, and decided to get in line for the pub everyone was already in.

This line ended up going nowhere but we got a great chance to people watch.

People really go all out with their costumes in many cases. The general idea is to scare away the bad spirits for the new year so you can start the year afresh.

The practical side of it is people may spend a lot on their costumes, but it's understood that eventually you'll be so drunk that you'll lose all your loose props. So people didn't spend so much money on those, rather the clothes they would (hopefully) return home with on their backs.

I decided in my packing stages that this would be a good opportunity to spread some hilarious cheer - I packed my entire remaining supply of sticky fuzzy mustaches and passed them out to children who looked like they could use some help with a mustache.

The first kid I gave one to was a boy dressed as a cowboy/sheriff. He didn't speak English (as a lot of the Germans seem not to, or refuse to), and when I held up the mustache to my face to mime what it was for, he laughed and took it, thanking me in German (I know enough German for that at least). I later saw him with it on, begging his mom to take lots of pictures of him. Love it.

After the line stayed stagnant for over an hour we decided it was time to move on. We'd seen British D and that was good enough for the day. Plus it was starting to rain.

We took shelter in a nearby kiosk, wanting hot drinks and a place to stand while the rain came down. There I had my first cup of coffee in probably 10 years; I've been avoiding it altogether because I can't drink caffeine. As the medications come down and my interest in living normal life again expands, I've been trying little things to test my boundaries. Score 1 for coffee - no effect. Its warming effect was wonderful and I understood once again why people drink it (among other reasons).

While we were standing there German K chatted happily with the store owners, not wanting it to be unfriendly that we were using their store as a place of shelter and only buying few things - three cups of coffee, a bag of chips. In their exchange the owner tried to set German K up for marriage with his cousin, the young man manning the cashier. He said she would be covered in gold and there would be 300 guests at their illustrious wedding. It was hilarious. For grabbing something hot to drink, getting a marriage proposal at the same time isn't a bad deal.

She decided it would be her Plan B, just in case. ;)

As the rain didn't really let up we decided we had lingered long enough and rushed out to the nearest tram stop to get us home. It took us another 3 transfers, but eventually we were close enough to catch a cab home.

There we had a wonderful dinner with German K's parents of pizza, pasta, salad, and all of the noshables that are served at breakfast, plus more.

I've not eaten so heartily in a long time.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Seeing Her and hitting the town

After I came back from Arkadia it was only a matter of hours before German K and I were meeting J&O for dinner again then going to see the movie Her, which I'd been dying to see.

We met them at Sushi Bar and Wine, the selfsame restaurant I'd stopped at last time for my last meal in Helsinki after returning from a roadtrip to the Turkku archipelago with German K and Hong Kong P. Hard to believe that was 8 months ago.

The food was just as wonderful, though expensive, as I'd remembered:

I ordered the vegetarian platter, with inari (sweet tofu pouches stuffed with rice), mushroom rolls, vegetarian Californian rolls with inari skins, cucumber, avocado, and egg, and a replacement for the middle nigiri that instead contained avocado and sweet shrimp. Blissfully washed down with a small Asahi beer.

It was then time for us to see Her while J went back to studying, trying to finish his last exam for a masters he's been writing for years.

The movie was wonderful and thought-provoking, just as I hoped it would be. I encourage anyone who's not afraid of a little awkward human-computer relationship stuff. It's a real thinker about how technology will affect us in the future. I doubt it's in the way it's portrayed, but there were some noticeable things I'll be taking back for my team to discuss.

After the movie O, German K, and I went out for a drink or two.

Our first stop was the old standby Teerenpeli.

I hadn't been there since my farewell party more than a year ago. It was weird to be back. It looked exactly the same except instead of recognizing most of the people there (okay maybe not most, but many), they were all strangers. It was sort of like the first time, again. Except no one was looking for me. And I wasn't looking for someone who looked like a Jamaican Homer Simpson.

I did, however, get to order my favorite drink from there: blueberry cider. The Finns really do know much better than the British. It was sweet and tart and refreshing. The way a cider should be. Perfect.

We went to another place after that, called Books & Antiques. The new pop-up speakeasy by the same people who put up Liberty or Death, as apparently that location is going through repairs from water damage.

They had an abbreviated menu in comparison to LoD, but that also made sense given the incredibly tiny space they had in there. There were only 5 tables to sit at. Luckily one was open when we got there.

The parties that came after us were not so lucky.

Despite the high price I ordered one of their signature cocktails, not wanting to waste an opportunity to taste glory. And glory it was. I ordered the Roasted Reindeer, as I'm sure Two would have expected from me. It was wonderful; bright juice tones with absolutely no nose of alcohol. This is the kind of cocktail I would qualify as dangerous. Delicious on its own. Terrifyingly good.

We walked slowly out after that, saying our goodbyes to O (I'd already said goodbye to J earlier in the night, figuring he would likely not come out to join us after starting with his studies). It was a sad goodbye, but a hopeful one; they said they would try to get to London before starting their world travels. I said they were welcome, anytime, of course. I do hope they stop by. It would be lovely to show them London as they've shown me great places in Helsinki.

German K and I walked home, reminiscing about how similar it was to be walking home together, towards Toolo, late at night. I had forgotten what it was like to walk home from wherever you are. What a luxury.

We stayed up talking for some time before crashing. I had a plane to catch the next day.

This was one of my most fulfilling trips to Finn since I've moved. But that's hard to say; it's always a pleasure to go back. I could really move back there again when I'm older.

Goodbye Finn, until next time.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A stop in Mecca: Arkadia

It should be of no surprise that the next morning as soon as I had showered and eaten a little breakfast, as German K (who I was staying with) left for her hair appointment, so I did walk and go to Arkadia, my long Finnish used bookstore love.

I've tried to find a replacement for it in London, but somehow it just doesn't exist. Call it the prevailing use of charity stores for easy and cheap book buying or the amount of used books that end up in the weekend markets...but somehow this just isn't the same. It's not even the same as my San Diego used bookstore love, Pennywise, in Pacific Beach.

And so I came prepared for my visit there: I brought 6 books with me that I'd finished reading. As a token to the old days. It was also my intention to trade again like old times and reminisce about what I no longer had and missed.

The shop had transformed while I was away, becoming increasingly popular with expats and locals. I still get the email notifications when they have events going on so I know that they are busy every night they're open now with new artists, performers, philosophers...everyone part of the fantastic literary crowd who is interested in sharing their work. There were several exhibits showing when I finally walked downstairs after catching up with one of a partner of owners, Ian:

A small collection of framed illustrations. This was the selfsame place I'd seen the medieval instrument performers. Seems like a lifetime ago now.

The quite spaces were the same though; hidden in the back of the shop there was still the bottle of wine and bread that you could help yourself to as long as you brought up the dirty dishes.

But somehow it felt a little different this time. Like it had expanded. The place was bustling with youngsters and regulars. There was even a book club meeting happening later that day. I was sad I'd have to give it a miss.

I suppose most notably was that Ian's wife, the other shop owner, was pregnant. They were expecting a surprise sex baby in another few months. The world keeps on turning and changing.

There was also a hilarious dog that was following everyone around the shop. Apparently an adopted dog from the owner's sister, who came by, dropped off the dog, then continued travels around the world. Seems everyone is doing this now.

My favorite sections were still the same though; still packed with novels of all sorts. And as I struck up conversation with those sitting there, wanting to spend as much time as I could squeeze out of my schedule in this delightful atmosphere, I got more book recommendations.

I ended up getting 7 books in total. More than I'd brought with me. And Ian seemed to have forgotten about the ones I'd brought by the time I came up to the counter, having taken my time to get through everything. I was more than fine with paying him for the books I'd taken though, instead of just my normal trade. I love supporting local businesses like this and I could not think of a better place to put my money. Not in Helsinki, anyway.

The warm atmosphere was wonderful; so many things had stayed the same while changing in this place, a rare luxury for me, having come back more than a year later. Ian incorrectly thought I'd only been gone a few months. I guess it just goes to show that time passes quickly when things are going well. I definitely felt like some time had passed.

Ian said they thought of me, from time to time, wondering where in the world I was at that exact moment. I thought it was so sweet to be thought of, even if only in passing.

So I made them a promise; I'd send them a postcard at the shop wherever I am, so they'd get a taste of where I was, exactly at a moment. I've made a silent vow to myself also to tell them about the books I've finished since last writing to them, so they can stay current with what I am diving into. Ian has always been so impressed with my reading rate, despite my travels and full time job. I even surprise myself sometimes, I guess.

Things are always changing, but I'm glad some things still stay the same. Arkadia is one of those things. I hope I can continue coming back over and over again.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Tell me the way to Sandro jay...

The next night when work was officially over for the week, German K, Hong Kong P, and the awesomest J&O gathered for some noms together. It'd been a solid year since I'd last seen J&O and it was wonderful of German K to remember to invite them out to dinner with us so we could catch up.

Turns out lots was going on: O had been hired and quickly fired from his last job and J was asked to continue being a trainee for our company. In O's case it seems like a case of discrimination; his boss was worried he would lose motivation for the job because he was too qualified, therefore leading to the need to let him go. Where does this happen without repercussion? I said, like the true American I am, that he should sue the company (because in my opinion they'd have to give a real reason why he needed to be fired), but such is not the way in Finland. O just accepted it and now gets into a rage whenever he sees his former boss on the street (this happens more often than you'd expect in a small town like Helsinki).

J on the other hand, though being offered a job in his current position, had been looking for something more permanent other than another traineeship.

So after talking with O about their current situation, he decided to turn down the position and now they've sold their flat and are going traveling around the world for 9 months. Or as long as their money will last them (which will be pretty long because the flat sold for a pretty good price).

Jealous. I always find it so inspiring when people quit the security of their jobs and just take off to explore the world. I know I'm not really one to complain about this, since I travel enough as it is, but I do envy those who are able to let go of obligations long enough to take a trip of a lifetime.

This is what they'll be having while I'm hopefully in grad school and work slaving away at my future. All good things, just very different. :) And difficult in their own ways, also.

Anyway, all this was discussed over a lovely Moroccan place that someone recommended called Sandro.

J used to eat lunches there all the time when O was working at a nearby office. It was extremely crowded, loud, and dimly lit...which means that it was clearly the place to be.

After starting a Moroccan bottle of red together (which was delicious, btw), we ordered our entrees. I had no idea the platters would be so humongous:

This is what I ordered - saffron lemon cream mussels from the "royal feast" section of the menu. Holy crap. Royal feast indeed. This platter was literally bigger than I am.

And it was good, oh so good. The mussels were fresh and fragrant and absolutely covered in cilantro and parsley. The broth was fantastic - so fantastic that I almost tried to sop it all up with the huge chunk of bread they gave me (barely visible behind the tall blue and white was the size of about four of my fists put give you scale).

This is exactly what I hoped it would be, and there was tons of it.

"On the side" were all the things you'd want in a Moroccan dish - olives, fragrant couscous with dried fruit, and a bevy of sauces and dips: pumpkin hummus, mint yogurt, something called moutabal (an eggplant dip that is made similar to hummus - with tahini), and harissa pesto with preserved lemon.

All of them were absolutely delicious.

And despite this being almost larger than my whole being, I ate basically the entire thing. I think I left just a little bit of the couscous and bread behind, though I wanted to eat it all. I was so full.

And yet the night continued with goodies - Hong Kong P had to go because she had an early flight to Barcelona the next morning, but the rest of us continued with lots of red wine and chocolate at J&O's beautiful but now sold, apartment.

The night was wonderful and being in the snow a refreshing reminder of winter instead of a sad one.

The good weekend was just beginning though; it made me miss Finn all over again.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Aloha treat time

After the hustle and bustle of the several days of work, it was time for my teammate Marta and I to kick back with some much needed fabulous food.

I did a quick google search and found that Hoku was a well-recommended Hawaiian Japanese restaurant near our mutual hotels. Win and win.

We were a bit late in arriving, since work took us longer than we wanted, but we still arrived a solid hour and a half before closing. This was not enough time.

With a bottle of fantastic white to share between us, we dug into the appetizers. We ordered salmon and whitefish sashimi with wakame seaweed salad. Always a winner, always good. The fish and seafood in Helsinki is always fantastic. This was no different.

Marta got the braised crispy pork belly. I tried some and it was heaven. Pork belly is always a winner, but crispy and with sauce...oh boy. Not to mention the incredible sprig of cilantro on top of the entire thing. I definitely stole some cilantro from her dish later on...I love cilantro a little too much.

I on the other hand...ordered seafood and lap cheung stuffed kuha (some type of white fish). As soon as you read lap cheung you should have known why - my god it had been so long since I had had my favorite sweet Asian sausage. At a solid £8 a pack in London I have been avoiding it altogether, and unfortunately the UK like the US still bands the entry of meat products into the country.

In other words...I have been suffering. Suffering without lap cheung. My life is so terrible.

But this was a relief - an Asian restaurant that has it on the menu! No longer just for the home!

I'd be lying if I said this dish was the most amazing thing I'd ever had in my life, but it did temper my desire for lap cheung for a little bit. I savored every little morsel of the stuff as I ate through the other fish and seafood.

I think what threw me about this dish was that the creamy sauce was citrusy...very much like a hollandaise. I didn't expect that coming into a Hawaiian Japanese joint. It was good, just not what I was expecting (and where's my cilantro?!).

Tasty but I would probably order something different if I came here again.

Before we walked back to our hotels, I took a stop to the ladies room. I was just at the door when I started laughing:

I'd never seen such a bizarre toilet set up in my life. Huge room, toilet right in the middle, surrounded by chairs.

It's obvious they were only storing the chairs here because there was so much room...but I can only imagine the floor planning that originally went into the place to lead to a toilet placement like that.

Kind of ridiculous...but also kinda cool. :)

The culinary adventures were just beginning this weekend. More noms of Helsinki were coming up.