Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Getaway in Stockholm

that's the power of love

At about 7am I get up and Thomas and I grab a quick bite to eat in the crew’s galley. From what’s on offer, the range is healthy enough to prevent scurvy and varied enough to avoid cabin fever for those working on the boat. After eating I go out on deck and watch the Swedish Archipelago pass by. Truly beautiful stuff. Reminded me a bit of the Hawkesbury River area near Newcastle. I meet Joakim (a photographer from the Swedish national broadcaster), and we exchange the usual Nikon vs Canon jibes with one another, like snowboarders and skiers would on a chairlift. Aside from his Nikon infraction, he’s quite a nice guy. I tell him that’s it ok, and that even some of best friends are Nikon users. After the ferry ride into Shanghai last year I made up my mind that the best way to arrive in a port city is by boat, to see the place as people have been seeing it for centuries. Stockholm certainly falls under the must be seen for the first time by boat category. As the city starts to come into view, Joakin gives me a guided a by finger tour of the place, and I occasionally confuse 17th Century churches with fun park attractions, a huge sports dome for a gas container and a communications tower for a Soviet fashioned evil genius’ not so secret military fortress. The little islands we pass have quaint red painted shacks and pretty mini-forests and petite jettys for docking one’s pleasure craft on. We begin to pass old customs houses and shipping warehouses that were built before Dirk Harthog smelt a wattle and after rounding a bend, the city reveals itself. Beautiful old buildings line the shore, sail boats dot the harbour and brides join the small islands together. Church steeples, clock towers, rock faces – awesome.

I go below deck and rejoin Thomas. We meet Monika again and we grab another bite to eat. I then return to the cabin to collect my stuff, while Thomas goes on a staff discount scout of the duty free store, later returning with the gift of chocolate from Monika, a gift that keeps on giving. We abandon ship and walk into the centre to grab a grab a coffee and get a quick orientation of the place. Emails are checked and plans for Sweden and the future are discussed. After a couple of hours, I say goodbye to Thomas and write a few emails and contact my host. I have some time to kill before finding my place, dump my bag with a kind café owner and do a little exploring by foot around the old town. Little cobblestone alleyways lead you to other cobblestone alleyways in a dizzy maze-like old school mess. Colonel Light and Escher would have a tiff and then spend the day walking around in silence if they came here for their honeymoon.

My host is a Chinese exchange student who has been studying here in Sweden for the last year or so. He lives in Rinkeby (pronounced Rink-a-boo), an area unofficially used for years by the Swedes to house all the immigrants in one convenient spot. 50 years ago you would have found only Finnish people there. Now the place resembles Sydney Road in Melbourne, with people from the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia. South America all living together in the one spot. Rinkeby is a fairly unique place, as there are the children of immigrants here that are in their late teens that have not learnt Swedish and keep pretty much to the small communities created by their fellow countrymen. Rinkeby-Swedish, a dialect which has been born from these conditions, is now spoken by 8% of the Swedish population. I’m no cunning linguist, but hasn’t this been the way new languages have formed since our caveman like relatives started blabbering a few million years ago? People move, new mother tongues are born.


The next day I rented a bike and rode everywhere that little guy would take me. I got a closer look at my evil genius’ not-so secret base, the fun park church, but missed out on the stadium-sized gas tank. I listened to the radio all day, bouncing between Swedish talkback and 80s flashback. I rode through a field full of lush green grass to the Eurhythmics’ Sweet Dreams; caught up on my Germanic language through an interview with Tim Burton; got busted singing Prince’s Kiss near the shore opposite the fun park by a couple of surly looking old Finnish fisherman (say hat 10 times fast); and there was a brief moment during Huey Lewis and The News’ The Power of Love where I hung onto the car I was riding beside. This moment was one that will treasure for the rest of my life.

I didn’t do my usual thing where I take an infamous car run and track it around the streets, but the Mabo of it was there. I did find a public bike pump and was disappointed that my tyres had ample pressure. The city itself reminded me a bit of St Petersburg, with the ornate old buildings set along water and less gypsies picking people’s pockets on pedestrian crossings along Nevsky Prospekt.

I didn’t really do much in the city other than ride around, hang out in cafes and frolic in the lush green grass of the outlying fields. I did meet a guy with a really nicely restored 1962 Volvo and complemented him on his Swedish pride. I had my first shot at playing a Playstation 3. Meh. Sure it has gorgeous graphics, but really not that much of an extension on game play in the same way the Wii is. A car game is still a car game, even when you can see the cars around you reflected in the virtual paintwork. On the subject of cars, I was surprised at the amount of classic American cars floating about the place. And in general, there were a greater number of flashier cars quite willing to run me over on my bike. This would be a good time to make a quick comment of the distinction between Swedes and Finns. I’ve found, and this is only my superficial impression, that Finnish culture and in general the people are a humble lot, keeping success, riches and achievement close to their hearts. One of the reasons I was so weirded out by seeing the 5 or so Hummers driving around Helsinki while I was there is that it didn’t match the idea of a Finn I had built up in my head. The Hummer to small city ratio was out of whack. But if you really want to put your Hummer/Small town ratio out of whack, visit Port Lincoln some time.

The trip back to Helsinki wasn’t as eventful as the trip over, but I did meet a group of teachers who I shared some fairly insightful conversations with about Finnish culture, living in Finland and even becoming a Finnish citizen. Kevin, one of the teachers, had come to Finland on exchange from Chicago back in 1984(?) when he was 15. A baptism of fire would be the best way to describe his experience. Don’t speak the language, don’t eat the food. Simple. Since then he’s become fluent in the language and has also spent time on a collection of southern Japanese islands teaching English between hopping between islands to attend all the different schools. A really interesting character and after we got into port, he and I went and had some lunch together. Over a coffee, I put to him my observation that there was something about the Finnish approach to respect and humbleness within the culture that reminded me of Japan. He agreed and articulated my anthropological ramblings in a much clearer way (which has since left me), but I’m glad to have found someone else that has an affinity and appreciation for both cultures. If anyone reading this is visiting the place, I thoroughly recommend meeting Kevin for a drink sometime.

Back in Helsinki, I stayed with Laila (another couchsurfer), who’s great fun to hang out with and can drink anyone under the table and through the floor if put to the challenge. Her obsession with Donald Duck comics, toasted Corinthian Piroshki and red wine made for another fun person hang with. I spent my last day in Helsinki with Maja (a journalist friend of Sofia), who showed me around the lakes and encouraged me to wear short shorts to go swimming in the freezing water. We took photos and now that May is about to tick over into June, there was plenty of falling asleep on the 'beach', soaking up the non-lethal sun to warm up with afterwards. Another great person to catch up with if I'm ever back in Finland.

Early next morning I was on a plane.
I saw The Alps from the air.
Now I’m in Barcelona.
With my mum.
Oh Lordi.

1 comment:

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