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This Site, Now On Steroids

1 minute read

Those of you with elephant memories will remember what this site was 7 years ago. The web was a very different place. This blog was a different blog, I was a different kind of kid (19 years old! Yowch), and the ecosystem was other sites like this with no Facebook, Twitter, not in the ways we now have them anyway. The only external outlet we all plugged out to was Flickr, and we know how that went down. It’s hard to believe we once lived in a world when Yahoo! was still important.

Through all of that, I was running the same Textdrive box. I had one of those legacy accounts with ‘lifetime hosting’. There was no cloud (not in the way we know it now).

The point of all this is: the world has changed, Facebook has IPO-ed, I have changed (in the midst of some pretty huge personal, professional and geographical transitions at the moment), and while I’m still figuring it all out, I figured the easiest thing I could change was the server that this site runs on..

Isn’t it so much faster now?

Did you hear the one about the Swedish chocolate cake?

less than 1 minute read

I’m home now of course, whatever home means, and I’ve been retelling a couple of stories. The same ones, but many of them, just because I’ve had such a crazy time in the Nordics.

This one isn’t very much of a story. Just a little tale that, once again, shows you how crazy we Asians are about our food.

I spent the first three weeks of my big Scandinavian/Finnish vacation on my own, and/or with friends from that region. In the last week, a friend from uni came to meet me in Copenhagen.

We did stuff, mostly in this order:

Eat. Drink. Eat. Drink. Eat. Cycle. Eat. Drink. Eat. Bring our bicycles to Sweden.

To buy chocolate cake. From a supermarket. She’d been on student exchange in Sweden, now lived in Geneva, and missed Swedish supermarket chocolate cake terribly. I’m sure it’s nice and all, but damn if I ever go to another country to buy chocolate cake again.

Wilderness TV

6 minute read

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I can’t say I’ve been away from my phone or Mac for more than 24 hours, not at any point in the last 10 years. I can’t say I have at all. They feel like such natural extensions of my arm, they are almost artificial appendages themselves, not just of my body but also of my brain. I needed to switch off and I needed a drastic way to do it.

Which is the backstory behind why I found myself living in a hut like the above.

170 km and 2 hours northwest of Stockholm, lays a little town called Skinnskateberg. Its pronunciation eludes me, and still does; somewhere between a huin and a hun instead of skinn. I’ll take whatever you throw me, Sweden, but your compound sounds and accents are something I’ll never get (I’ve just learned how to pronounce Nässjö… Promptly forgot it too).

When some Stockholm friends wanted to know my weekend plans, I told them I was going to be in Skinnskateberg, only to find most of them had never heard of it. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t my pronunciation too, because I showed it to them on the map.

I was only headed there because of one thing: my need to be one with nature, in a way I knew how.

Ever since I got sick, I’ve been struck with the overwhelming need to go be one with nature. I can’t explain it, and I can’t reject it. After rejecting nature all my life (damn the insects and sweatiness of the tropics), I now want to do it all: camp, start fires, cook in the open, fetch water from natural water sources, and whatever else my city slicker mind romanticised.

So off to Skinnskateberg I went. Why there, of all places, instead of the far north? My metrics for selecting this place were simple: I didn’t want to freeze my bits off, didn’t want to have to pack snow shoes, knew I couldn’t pack a winter-ready tent or sleeping bag (can’t justify the cost of one), and I needed to be close enough to the middle to travel south to Malmö afterwards.

Which left just one place: Kolarbyn, near Skinnskateberg.

I wanted to go to Kolarbyn because it promised no electricity, no running water, and a series of huts that resembled hobbit holes, to my untrained eye.

Of course they were just replicas of the huts that the charcoal-burners of the region once lived in, hundreds of years ago, first built to educate the modern crowd about the area’s history after the industry died, then turned into the eco-lodge it now is.

Kolarbyn proudly advertises itself as “Sweden’s most primitive hotel”, and they’d be right.

I booked myself on a two night stay there. Though I freaked out a little when I was told I would be alone all throughout the three days, things quickly worked out when I found Roxanne, an ex-classmate now working in Stockholm, would join me on my unconventional Easter break.

I was enamoured by the romance of the whole set up, but I worried about the details: how would I do with starting fires? What would I eat? How would I chop wood? What water would I drink? How would I even get there? I wrote emails to Andreas, the owner of Kolarbyn, pleading Asian virginity in the Scandinavian outdoors, and asked him to please show me how to do everything once. His Swedish efficiency of language and character was a simple, reassuring “don’t worry about anything.”

As it turned out, Andreas himself is ex-Swedish military, almost like a more realistic Bear Grylls (arguably better looking too). I mean, the man teaches courses teaching people how to start fires without anything, how to forage, and survive in the cold wilderness — I could not ask for a better teacher. He had me starting fires successfully in something like 5 seconds. Which just does not happen with me, usually. With non-digital skills I usually have the mental and psychomotor facilities of a five year old child, possibly worse.

He showed me the stream, from which I would fetch water, in which I would wash my cooking utensils; at which I could optionally clean myself, an option I would decline as I did not want to go home in a freezer (not to be morbid, but I’m just learning to deal with the cold and I really need more time when it comes to being in a frigid and cold body of water).

The communal fireplace was where all the cooking would take place. Though I was alone on the first night (Roxanne was to join me the second morning), I was lucky that I had a Swedish couple for company. I could not have asked for a more Swedish experience: we shared cans of Sofiero, they fed me grilled choco-bananas, and one of them even worked with Roxette. I cooked a simple pasta with mushrooms and asparagus, and dinner I made myself has never tasted as wonderful. The wilderness helps you redefine everything, including food — slow food with slow sources of fuel is indefinitely slow, slower, slowest.

My little hobbit hole, all mine for the first night, was called Botvik. All the huts have old names — such as Olof. Mine, Botvik, sounded less of a hulk than Viking-sounding Olof, and more of a bumbling little Viking version of Baldrick, which suited me fine. The Swedish couple complained that the huts were smaller than they looked online. Since I was expecting, and hoping for, a hobbit hole, Botvik was my idea of a dream come true.

Sheepskin was laid out on each side, on which a warm, winter-ready sleeping bag would go. The fireplace was a small, but sturdy little box that would be my best friend for the next two nights. A large stone apparatus enveloped the fireplace, and I came to think of it as a convection oven for my warmth.

I was worried I would be cold, but I was far from cold. The fires I started, and nurtured in Botvik were enough to keep me plenty warm at night and to keep me returning to all through the day. I was especially happy to return to the warmth of my hut after a morning hike to the compost toilet, and after the temperatures sank at nightfall.

Can it be that we have a genetic disposition to watching fires, and to wanting to make them bigger? Asked another fellow camper the next night. We had no answer, Roxanne and I, for we were busy learning about snus and stuffing our faces with soup and pork, but I certainly think he has a point.

Having never come close to a fire, or a fireplace before — I mean I do come from that breed of urbanites for whom sparkles are not good sounds, and who feared fire — fire became my best friend. Not necessarily in a pyromaniac sort of way. Fire draws you, in an elusive but unforgiving way. You can’t not look at it. You need it. Everyone can have it, but not everyone can build the right kind of fire. It sounds base and primal, but it made me think about what little our primitive ancestors had and how they made use of what they did have; fire really does change everything. Not having my phone or Mac around was totally okay, then; we joked that every time we go out camping we sit around fires watching wilderness tv.

It’s a channel I’m starting to get used to, I think.

Insta-Helsinki

1 minute read

I’ve been having way too much fun in Helsinki, and also writing offline about it, but I promise I’ll write more about it soon. I’m now in Stockholm, about to assemble my bike and go out in search of some of this city’s best sights (and there are a lot of them). For now, some pictures!

SIM card grave

A peek into my sim card collection.

Jogging around

The view from where I would jog in Helsinki.

Helena Kaartinen

The lovely Helena Kaartinen, one of the brains behind the awesome Finnair surprise dance on a flight to India on Republic Day.

StartupSauna

I’ve met lots of people in Helsinki, including tech types.

Blue cheese bread at Juuri.

Eaten some delicious food, like sapas and blue cheese bread from Juuri.

Doing the blonde

Done some weird things.

I am the lady of the woods

And weirder things.

Untitled

I < 3 kids.

I really should get on with writing about it (I do want to), and with figuring out a way to display all my pictures inline in a clever-er way!

Bottom line: Helsinki has been absolutely amazing, and I’ve been reluctant to leave it. I haven’t felt that way about a ‘new’ place in a while.

Chocolate, Nudity, Helsinki

2 minute read

Pipo outside the Kiasma museum

I brought my Dahon D7HG to Helsinki. More on that in another entry.

I have seen some places in my short travelling life, but rarely a place that offers me chocolate and naked women within two hours of arriving.

Helsinki turned out to be such a place.

Unknown to me, mostly since I knew so little about Finland other than Nokia, Angry Birds and the cold, when I pinged some local friends on what I should do while waiting for them to be done with work, they almost universally said: have lunch and chocolates at Karl Fazer Cafe, and then go to the pool and sauna at Yrjönkatu Swimming Hall — it was a women-only day the day I got to Helsinki.

What should I wear to Yrjönkatu, I asked? I came prepared: I brought a bikini, even though bringing a bikini to a place that was going to be 0 degrees Celsius seemed a little silly.

Erm.. you wear nothing. That is the idea, my Finnish friends said_, so it might not be for everybody._

I stuffed myself silly with soup and chocolates at Fazer (sidenote: starting to be quite a fan of Fazer chocolates, they ARE tasty), then cycled around downtown Helsinki for a bit. I thought I would worry about the sauna only if I saw it — I wasn’t about to go out and look for a place just because of pfft naked women — but of course I found it within minutes.

When travelling, especially when travelling alone, one has the tendency to do as the Romans (or Finns) do, and plunge right into the deep end, so to speak. Not knowing any Finnish at all, I timidly found my way around the inner workings of a place dedicated to the dark arts of naked bathing and steaming.

Like tattoos, dating twins, and other much-talked-about concepts, this is something I would do just once; the downsides are far worse than the supposed benefits. But maybe I’m just unimaginative: I don’t really feel like I can breathe in a sauna, and I get toe cramps the moment I hit cold water naked. Travel expands your horizons, makes you learn things about yourself: I learned I would rather be warm and fully clothed, around other fully clothed women.

Miracles.

After such a colourful start to my Nordic adventures, things only got better from there. I have met some great people, eaten some nice food, and done quite a number of things. If you have Instagram, you can follow me at my regular online handle; if you don’t, you can use this instead. I update Twitter, Facebook and Instagram in real time while I’m here. I’m just taking it slow and chilling out — a lot — a lot for me anyway.