Unique: Tanning and Gifts, ICT4D and KFC

Unique: Tanning and Gifts, ICT4D and KFC

I’m in Kentucky right now, and after shooting this video (outside of the birthplace of KFC) for the course I am teaching

I also drove past this business establishment…

Unique Tanning and Gifts

Important Questions:
What do you think a “Unique Tan” is?
And what kind of a gift would go with it? 🙂

Joey Lundgreen – One of the funniest people that I know!

Joey Lundgreen – One of the funniest people that I know!

First of all, forget whatever you think you know about funny. OK, now remember it again.
That was just for practice.
Ok – now forget what you know about funny again, and then remember it again, but this time when you remember it, instead of the word “funny” think “Joey”.Snowboarding with Joey

For a while on the signature of my emails I have had a quote that says: “He deserves paradise who makes his companions laugh” – Quran (c. 651 ad)
If that is true, then Joey should already be sainted!

He’s not a professional comedian, he actually works in real estate and on the side fulfills some of his other hobbies and passions (e.g. snowboarding, bug control, teaching people “the nose flute”, hugging anyone who will let him, trying to join sororities, attending the meetings of random spiritual movements, etc…). But something about this guy just inspires hilarious moments and the funniest memories.
Jeremy Joey and Clint in Mexico Clint Joey and Jeremy in Mexico with wrestling masks Joey and friends in Turkey, after a Turkish bath Joey hugging Snowboarding with Joey Joey climbing a light pole in Mexico Snowboarding with Joey 2

If you know Joey at all, and have a favorite “Joey story” – please share it with all of us. For those of you who don’t know him, maybe I will just share a couple (although it really is hard to pick which ones to share).

Wow – where to even start?…

Joey Story 1: Free t-shirt goal
One day I was on a university campus in the student center when I saw Joey. I said, “I thought you were in class, aren’t you going today?”
He replied, “Nope, I just want to walk around instead.”
So naturally I asked if I could join him, and he agreed. For some random reason we decided to make it our goal to get a free t-shirt within an hour.
After our first couple ideas failed, we kept walking around until we saw a crowd gathered to watch an outdoor performance. It seemed like the volunteers had matching t-shirts, so I suggested that if we asked to be volunteers then maybe they would give us a free t-shirt and we could accomplish our goal.
Through a series of events (maybe too long to tell), they wouldn’t let us be volunteers, so Joey had the ideaJoey with an idea to tell them we actually wanted to be performers and sing a song that supposedly we had written for that specific event. At first it looked as if there was no way it was going to happen, and so I played along. Only when the head guy of the event found out about our “song” and loved the idea – he indicated that we could sing it right then before they took down the microphones and speakers.
That is when I felt some panic, starting to regret our goal, and I tried to get out of it by saying we would really like sing it but that we somehow forgot to bring a guitar. Well, Joey saw a girl walking past with a guitar and asked her if she could help us. The only thing is she couldn’t play …and neither could we.
“Oh well,” I said, indicating my disappointment while trying to conceal my relief, “I guess we can’t sing it now after all – not without the guitar part.”
Well, by then Joey was at the microphone and asking if anyone in the audience could play the guitar. One guy raised his hand and so Joey invited him up to the stage. The guy asked what he should play, and Joey just told him to just start playing something. When the guy started to strum something, Joey said with surprise,
“That is it! That is our song”
A few seconds later I found myself with him on-stage, tightly griping a microphone, staring at the crowd, my heart beating fast (when he seemed so at ease), and then singing an improvisational song – which ended up even including some hand actions, as I remember!

To be honest, the look on people’s faces at the beginning of our performance seemed to be a cross between confusion and disgust, but by the end – and I don’t really know how – everyone was laughing and clapping. The guy in charge the whole event came up to us and he loved our song too – telling us it was one of the best performances, inviting us to sing it more places, and asking us what our motivation was behind writing it.
And, thanks to Joey, we got our t-shirts.

Joey Story 2: Text messages and an unforgettable laugh
Every once in a while I will get an email or a text message from Joey where he shares some funny or strange quote – sometimes even quoting himself (for example: “When you find something it’s always in the last place you look, unless you continue to look for the thing you’ve already found”- Joey)

I was in Hawaii a couple years ago and I got a text message from Joey that said: “I’ve been awake all night thinking about you.”
This text message was just weird enough that I called him and asked him if he sent it out to everyone that was in his phone book, which he did, and something about the timing of it – immediately we both started laughing. cute nephew laughing

Joey has this unforgettable whooping laugh, which often ignites laughter in whoever else is in the room. Hearing other people laugh makes him laugh more and harder, which then makes you laugh more, and it turns into this cyclical laughing effect until everyone is in tears and their sides are hurting from laughing too long and too hard! He inspires the kind of laughter that seems easier for kids, before we get too worried about all of the things that worry us in life.

It is true that maybe at times his humor does get to the point where peopleRandom girl kissing Joey just cause people love him might feel awkward and could misunderstand his heart and his intentions, but a huge majority of the time it endears people to him – recognizing their lives are better with him as a part of it. (He is so humble and unassuming though, that I bet he will be really embarrassed if he finds out that I even wrote this blog entry about him.)

Joey Story 3: His niece Liberty (“Libby”)
I also think Joey’s funny-bug is a bit contagious, just being around him somehow brings it out of others. For instance, his 6 year old niece Liberty heard her mom on the phone with Joey and told her to tell Joey that she wished him luck on this upcoming Tuesday. Both her mom and Joey were confused, so her mom asked what was happening on Tuesday. This cute little girl said that she was wishing him luck because she knew Tuesday was either going to be a good day for him or a bad one, and she was betting it was going to be a bad one. She then said, “just kidding” and burst into laughter.
Any kid who meets him loves him almost instantly.

Without a doubt, Joey is the kind of person that just makes life better. This world is so much of a happier, more colorful place because of him!

Questions
There are so many more stories I could share, but if you are lucky enough to know Joey – what are some of your favorite stories about him?

If you don’t know Joey, who is the funniest person that you know; and how do they make you laugh?

Bribing the Police – a first time for everything

Bribing the Police – a first time for everything

I’m the kind of person who usually likes to barter with people in the markets. It was a totally unique experience for me a couple of days ago, however, when the person we were bartering with was a policeman – who was expecting us to settle the issue “as friends” so that my friend did not need to formally get a ticket or pay a fine.

So – here is the story…
My friend was driving me somewhere when she evidently violated some obscure Ugandan Uganda Police Dudetraffic law because she was signaled to pull over by the policeofficer standing in the middle of the street. With theatrical flare the police officer told her what she had done, that the excuse of not knowing the rule was no good in Ugandan courts, that she would owe 300,000 Ugandan Shillings (about $188 USD) and get 30 demerit points on her license, and that we needed to now leave the vehicle and go to the court – only to return to the vehicle sometime the next day.
Having lived in Uganda for a while, she offered him 20,000 to settle it “as friends.” His demeanor then kind of changed and his counter offer “as friends” was 100,000.
Since our normal appeals didn’t work (didn’t know this law, the fine was too expensive, etc…), I started to try a new approach. Once I got past the initial gut reaction of thinking using police authority for personal bribes was sick and wrong, I kind of got into the action too and imagined myself in a street market with a vendor.
I had some left-over pizza in a bag, and I told him that we would offer him the very nice pizza and 15,000. He didn’t look too interested in that, so I pulled the pizza out, had him smell its appealing aroma, examine the slices individually, and tried to convince him of the superior nature of this pizza – it was such a tasty treat we should probably only have given him 5,000 or 10,000 and the pizza. Then since perhaps we were going down in our offer instead of up, he went over to discuss the issue with his colleague who was on the police motorbike watching. I’m pretty sure that broke the ice enough, because he came back and settled with my friend at 30,000 USH (about $18 US), since we were “friends”, after all.

As we drove away, the bizarre nature of that experience for me just made me want to “laugh and cry at the same time” (so to speak).

My only regret was that since we were friends and left on such good terms, I wish I would have asked to have my picture taken with him. The next day I saw a police officer and asked him if I could get my picture taken with him (so you could see what they look like), and he asked why. I told him “for fun” and he said something like– “That is not fun. Why would you want to have fun?”
A few minutes later, I saw another officer, so I took a picture of him as I was walking past. I didn’t think he noticed, until he kind of shouted at me –
“You! Come here.”
“Yeah?” (thinking to myself – ‘uh-oh, here we go again’)
“What did you just take? Can you show me the picture you just took?”
So I showed him, and he was not happy about it. He walked me to his colleague on a bike to discuss the matter. They asked me a lot of harsh and pointed questions about why I was in Local trying to take a pictureUganda, and looked through all my bags. I had just bought some books, and the policeman on the bike really liked one of them and asked if he could have it. I told him, “no way, I just bought that” – and he seemed to understand. Somehow through the conversation, we laughed a couple of times, and then everyone felt a little more at ease. I offered to delete the picture so we could all leave as friends, and they agreed to that. I then thanked them for their time and kindness in wanting to meet me, and told them I needed to go because I was late for something.

They told me in a strict manner not to take pictures of anyone without Me and Ugandan police “friend” dudespermission, and I agreed that was probably the polite thing to do. As I started to leave, I took a couple steps and then stopped. I turned around back to them and asked them if I could get my picture taken with them, and they said they would really like that! So here it is. ?
The first picture of us together was taken by a random Ugandan guy that was walking past. When that didn’t work as well as I hoped, I just took the next one by holding my arms out and clicking.
The picture earlier in this blog entry is of a policeman actually doing something very useful here(directing traffic). There are too many crazy traffic jams, and at those times, you are grateful to see the police try to bring some order to the choas.

Questions:
• Anyone else have any experiences while traveling where they felt like they were expected to bribe someone?
• Or, if you come from a country where bribes to government officials, teachers, police, and so on is the normal thing – what do you think about it? If you think it should be changed, any ideas on how?

One of the kids that someone I met here takes care of here said he was thinking about being a judge when he grows up. When asked why, he said, “Really good corruption money.” Kampala City Clock

And this picture of the Kampala city clock is just in case you were wondering…

Welcome to Uganda: interesting sights and funny signs in Kampala

Welcome to Uganda: interesting sights and funny signs in Kampala

I am here now getting all the last minute details organized for the upcoming On the street international conference and workshop on Technology for Innovation and Education in Developing Countries (TEDC 2008). Just for fun, here are some of the interesting images that jumped out at me today while walking the streets of Kampala, Uganda…

What if you are not the “management”? Then is it OK to put up posters?
What if you are not the management?

Aren’t you glad that some advertisements don’t come with pictures?
I guess different things are attractive in Africa?

You probably couldn’t even comprehend this hall if you saw it!
Complex Hall

Conflicting messages?
Conflicting messages?

I walked in here and asked them if they could make me beautiful. They said they had a lot of faith there, but not that much.
God is Able Beauty Salon

Don’t get your hopes up. No “slushees” inside.
Seven-Eleven, but no slurpees

And some others…
Dancing for your soul

Blessed Videos, Kampala

How good I am at learning Finnish

I have tried to maximize my time in Finland by learning as much Finnish as I can. Some people said that they were impressed by how fast I was learning it, so I started to be impressed by myself too! 🙂
I even booked an airline ticket on a Finnish-only language website to France (for a paper I was going to give at a conference on culture and technology – where I am now).
Pretty impressive, huh? I was kind of proud of myself.

So I showed up at the airport in Helsinki on June 23rd, and I wondered why my flight didn’t show up on the screen. I went to a help desk and asked the lady if it was still scheduled or if they canceled it for some reason.

She kindly informed me that it was still scheduled, but that I had booked it for November 23rd!!!

So, to make a long story short – a couple hundred Euros and a couple hours later I was booked on a plane to Berlin then to Barcelona, and then took the train to Nimes, France.
And I obviously need to study my months better! 🙂

[Despite my humbling experience, at least it has been a great conference – well worth the effort, and I will try to post an entry about it later.]

Finland Productivity Levels: An international success story

Finland Productivity Levels: An international success story

Attending a conference at Oxford last week (“Confronting the Challenge of Technology for Development: Experiences from the BRICS”), I heard several of the speakers refer to Finland as an example of one of the mostProductivity Chart successful countries in terms of development and productivity growth over the last couple decades (one speaker even referring to it as one “Superstar model”). Being back in Finland again, I have asked myself why has Finland been so successful (when so many other countries struggle and fail to do what Finland has done)?

[FYI – There are all kinds of quotients and formulas out there to measure the “productivity” of a country, and people are constantly debating about what should be included in them. Usually included are a combination of things like GNP, import/export ratio, capital accumulation, growth per capita, patent applications made, publications, Research and Development ROI, etc…]

So why can you give money to Finland, and they very effectively turn it into productivity and growth, when you could give it to other countries and not have nearly the same result?

Here are some of the ideas I have thought of or heard from others (You should vote for one of them or suggest your own). Why Finland has been so productive and successful:

  1. Because Finland has such a low corruption rate (one of the lowest in the world), the money doesn’t get embezzled by government leaders, and people work together better because they can trust each other more.
  2. Finland is very homogeneous – this also helps with getting people to work together and trust each other.
  3. Finland is very egalitarian (perhaps due to the Lutheran influence?)- and so this helps to mediate some of the gloryFinland seeking and conflict. [e.g. I heard from one man that all government officials at a certain level are required to take a business economics course in which they get assigned a role that is not their own, then use real data and numbers from Finland’s economy to make decisions and policy recommendations. This helps them see that they need to work as a team, and appreciate the insights they learn from those with another expertise.]
  4. Finland is used to pulling together to face very difficult challenges and great odds. [e.g. when China started becoming more of a threat economically, they flew over some of their top people who came back with a much different approach.] This is like the “sisu” mentality – which comes from things like enduring months of freezing cold weather with virtually no sunlight, living in the woods for years without talking to another person, or sharing a boarder with a country that likes to keep you on your guard.
  5. There is a hypothesis that a country’s productivity level and growth is directly proportional to the amount of Karelian pasties they consume? 🙂
  6. Perhaps by requiring men to wear speedos at all public pools – this bring a special camaraderie, creating a better environment for working together? Kind of symbolic of stripping issues down to the meat and bones and avoiding anything extra.
  7. The fact that Finns don’t engage in much small talk (e.g. ignoring each other rather than saying “hi” to each other as they pass each other) maybe saves time for them to be more focused and productive?
  8. Perhaps it is because people around the world serendipitously thought “Nokia” was a Japanese company – and so invested in it heavily? 🙂

Any other ideas that you can think of for why Finland has been so successful?

Cute Kids and Funny Stories

Cute Kids and Funny Stories

Jayden and MeGrowing up in a family with 8 kids had its advantages and challenges – but one of the greatest advantages now is that I get to be an uncle to so many adorable kids! I love my nieces and nephews and they provide a never ending source of funny and meaningful memories. We had a great family reunion this last week reminding me that, although things don’t always turn out perfectly, there are also plenty of reasons to laugh and enjoy the moment.

For instance, one of my nieces was kindly brushing my leg hairCute Serena a couple days ago, which it badly needed as it hasn’t been brushed in years. Later I saw her brushing my brother’s chest hair too! I got a great picture (but don’t worry I won’t post it here unless I get enough requests for it)! I’m thinking chest-hair-brushing might catch on as a special spa treatment for men.

It was also the birthday of one of my nieces, who Eliah smilingturned 5 years old, the day before I got here. Her name is Eliah, but for some reason she has decided that for now she wants to go by Jenny. Towards the end of the birthday party she told her mom that she was sad that her uncle Clint couldn’t be there. Then she looked happy as she said, “You know what – I bet he is celebrating it wherever he is.” So when I got to the family reunion I told her that I missed her on her birthday but that I kind of celebrated it when I was in the airport in London. She smiled and said, “Just like I thought!”

My four year old nephew Jayden (who frequently tells meJayden Monkey “I’m a monkey”) tugged on my hand and said, “I have a secret. Let me whisper in your ear.” So he whispered this: “Why did the banana go to the doctor?” – “Why?” – “Because he wanted to go to the doctor.” (I think the original punch line for the joke was supposed to be “Because he wasn’t peeling well.” – but he adapted it for his own purposes. I’ve also noticed that it is not totally necessary for “knock knock” jokes to make sense for kids about that age. If you just put the word toilet in it somewhere – it is usually a hilariously funny hit!). Jayden’s mom also promised him today that he could go swimming right after he saw his sister do a dance for everyone in the living room. The instant she was done and people were clapping, he already had is pants and underwear off and gave us all a different kind of show as he streaked across the living room to go get his swim suit.Cassie and Clint

And the older ones constantly surprise me by how smart and talented they are. I thought it was funny that the teacher of my nephew Matthew made a rule on how many questions he could ask in class – he is just so curious. I read to some of the kids a book that my 11 year old nephew Brayton had written (with 6 short chapters). I kept asking them if I should stop or keep reading at the end of each chapter and all the kids yelled out, “Keep reading” – it was a page turner! He also sent me an email the other day with a picture that he recommended I use for my gmail profile Matthew, Brayton, and Jaydenpicture. It was a character he created for a game he invented called “Battlemon.” I’m so proud to have that as my profile picture!

A few days ago my 7 year old nephew Jeremiah, while riding in a car with my sister-in-law and two of my brothers, out of nowhere said, “Mom, did you know that Sparta and Athens were city-states, like Washington DC is a city-state?” When she said she didn’t know that and asked him how he did, he talked about he read it in a testing book that he selected about Greece. He then said in a matter-of-fact way, “I figured if I didn’t read it I would never know.” A couple years ago, when his parents tookRylanTJ and Alexander him to Florida and spent a lot of money visiting Disney world, the beach, and all the other attractions – he was asked what his favorite part of the trip was. He said something funny: “Hmm. I have a picture of it in my mind. Oh – I remember!” And then he said his favorite part of the whole trip was going to McDonald’s!

I love getting emails from my nieces and nephews too. Here is a recent exchange with my 11 year old nephew.

Brayton: “Guess What? You don’t have to answer that, I’ll just tell you. I made my own buissnes-like thing. I call itPsych-ix ad Psych-ix! It’s where my partner and I try to figure out mysteries of the world. But… the thing is, I don’t have a partner yet. But when I do, I’ll Be sure to send you an up-dated page. Bye!!!”

Me: “That is really cool! What are you looking for in a partner? Can I apply?”

Brayton: “I’m not sure, I guess. Okay, the most recent mysterious happenings I have noticed are some dissaperences. I had a little card-like thing with a green ferret I made on it. Here’s what happened, I was at a friend’s house we were in his room, I set the card down on a box that he had and we went outside for a while. When it was time for me to go, I went upstairs to get it, but it was GONE!! I looked around his room, but there was’nt A trace of it anywhere! Isn’t that cool!”

In addition to making me laugh, they make me feel so loved. A couple days ago I also got to meet for the first time my 5 year old nephew Blake (who was just Jayden, Blake, Ashlynadopted). Already by yesterday he decided to cuddle up to me on the couch and said, “I love you.” I said “I love you too.” Feeling warm and fuzzy, I then turned to my little niece and told her I loved her. She responded by saying, “I love juice,” and then giggling uncontrollably.

It didn’t happen this week but we were remembering how when my niece, Shaelyn, was about 5 years old she was watching TV with my brother. The commercial said, “Every kid thinks their dad is the greatest.” My brother asked her, “Do you think I am the greatest dad in the world?” She said, “Yeah.” He said, “Do you really mean it?” As a five year old, she said, “Well, not really, but I didn’t want to hurt your feelings dad.”

Oh man, there are so many more funny stories and memories – but I guess this entry is getting long enough already.

My dad (who I don’t have to pretend to say he is one of the greatest dads in My awesome dadthe world) went through a heart attack and emergency heart surgery only a couple of months ago. When I asked him the other day how he was doing and how he was enjoying the trip – he said he thought it was like heaven for him. He was talking not just about his cute grandkids, but also about how meaningful it was for him to notice at night when others began to go to sleep, most or all of his kids migrate towards each other just to play, talk, and laugh.

I don’t think I do a good enough job of telling each of my family how much I love them (through words and actions) but the truth is that I can’t help but feel very lucky that their lives are a part of mine, and that I now get to enjoy all of their spouses and very fun and cute kids too. 🙂

Do you have any favorite “cute kid stories” from the kids in your life? If so I would love to hear them. What is it about spending time with kids that makes life seem better?

Finnish Independence Day – and my own slowly growing liberation

Finnish Independence Day – and my own slowly growing liberation

As today (December 6th) is a national holiday in Finland (celebrating 90 years of independence!), I thought it would be fun to point out one way in which I have acquired a new form of, well…I guess you could say “liberation” while living here in Finland. Specifically I am referring to the fact that wearing a speedo is now (almost) within my comfort zone.

This sign is posted in about 5 places at the local pool…

Funny Swim Suit requirment

The only people I know from my hometown in the US who always wear a speedo-type swim suit to the pool are either on a swim team, are a bit loony, are posers, or are any combination of those three options.

I think I would have easily understood if more people in Finland just naturally wanted to wear this kind of swim suit to the local pool (because after being naked so much in the sauna, a speedo actually seems like a good deal of cover) – but I am still struggling to find a good answer as to why it is required to wear it here?

Anyone have any good ideas?

In the mean time, it has helped me break free of old prejudices and fears (…although I suppose the true test of how long that lasts will be the first time I am in a public pool back in the US).

I suggest that men throughout the world should celebrate this day by wearing a speedo to a local pool.

Happy Independence Day! 🙂

Something strange happened today…

Something strange happened today…

…we saw sunlight and a bit of blue sky. My friend Antony and I were both pretty excited, as this time of year in Finland it seems to be a rare thing. I checked with some people passing by, and they confirmed that it was indeed the sun light. Antony recommended I take a picture of it, so now that wonderful moment is captured for future reference (this picture is taken just as the sun was setting – between 2:00 and 3:00pm). Hope you enjoy. 🙂

Sunshine in Finland

P.S. Has anyone ever met someone (either foreigner or local) who looks forward to this season in Finland because they simply love the darkness? (As a joke the other day I thought it would be a funny thing to tell people – when they ask me why I came to Finland, that I just really liked the darkness. The instant laugh reaction is a pretty good sign that no one really believes that is a possibility – but at least it all gives us something interesting to talk about, and perhaps a chance of acquiring an extra measure of “sisu”)Sunshine in Finland

Experiencing Fall in Finland: Finnish Culture

Experiencing Fall in Finland: Finnish Culture

**Warning** This blog post might not be suitable for young children 🙂

Finnish Sunset

I can’t believe fall is almost over and I have not yet blogged about my “cultural experience” thus far in the land of the Finns (a.k.a Finland). I hope it is entertaining for you (both my Finnish and non-Finnish friends) – at least as entertaining as it has been for the people who hear me try to speak Finnish.

Today, for instance, I used my Finnish to ask someone’s name. She replied “sorry?” – and my mind was racing. I thought for sure I said the words right, so I repeated them a little more slowly and clearly (“Mikä sinun nimesi on?”), and she still replied “sorry.” I started to wonder if she really just didn’t want to give me her name but was trying to being polite, like there was some Finish tradition of not wanting to give your name to funny-looking strangers, or if I was just really mispronouncing the words that badly, or what? I asked her if she spoke English and it seemed almost to turn into an Abbott and Costello act:

– “What is your name?”
– “Sorry.”
– “What’s the matter?”
– “What do you mean?”
– “Why are you sorry?”
– “I just am.”

Well – it turned out her name was actually “Sari,” a fairly common name to Finns – so chalk up another embarrassing experience for me. 🙂

Moving on, these next three pictures I wanted to show are taken in a national park not far from Joensuu in NorthErkki and Paivi Karelia, Finland, called Koli. It is beautiful, especially as the leaves are changing colors. I hear that soon the Aurora Borealis are visible in the night sky here too. Many people here like just going to the woods so that they can escape into the silence (which is much more valued here – making the Finnish band Lordi that much more of an idiosyncrasy). Correct me if anyone knows better, but as I understand it the stereotypical Finnish man is one who drinks a lot (the national way to relax), spends free time in the sauna, lives alone in the woods and eats bear. The picture to your right is not your stereotypical Finnish man and woman, although they still enjoy a good sauna and trip to the woods. It is the legendary Erkki and Päivi Sutinen, some of my favorite people here. Erkki tells a joke about a Finnish wife who asks her husband after being married for 30 years, “Why don’t you tell me you love me?” The man’s response: “I already told you when we got married, I’ll let you know if the situation changes.” Erkki, on the other hand, tells his wife how jealous he is of her. “I tell her that am actually very jealous that she somehow managed to find a perfect spouse.” 🙂

Clint in Koli

They only told me after we arrived to forest that the real place they wanted me to experience was the Paha-Koli cliff and the court stones (Erkki is all about helping people experience new things). The story goes that the people who lived here anciently used this place to hold a court – and if they couldn’t agree if the person was guilty or innocent, they would put it in the hands of the gods to decide by throwing the accused off the cliff. If they died, they were obviously guilty, and if they lived that clearly meant they were innocent. It is not surprising that with that kind of ingenuity running in their ancestral lines that Finns have come up with things like Nokia (which, by the way, provides an entire 1/3rd of Finland’s GNP). In the end, despite Erkki’s encouraging words, I decided not to utilize the throw-me-off-the-cliff method of innocence detection. I did, however, participate in an activity that felt somewhat suicidal, which I will talk about shortly.

As a quick aside – I think walking in the woods and trying not to get lost is considered a sport here. And if you are isolated in the middle of the woods and happen to pass someone that completely ignores your existence – that is actually considered very polite (see previous blog entry about Finnish etiquette).

Of course, the fact that people aren’t paying attention to each other comes in handy when you are walking nakedSauna in Woods from the sauna (pictured here) to the freezing cold water for a quick and painful swim (the near-death experience I referred to) and then running back to the sauna. One of my foreigner friends here calls Finnish saunas a “sight-seeing” experience of its own. It’s amazing how much submerging your naked body (not pictured here) into icy water will do to clear your mind! They say it is healthy, but I’m not sure I buy it quite yet. Of course, maybe it is this kind of conditioning that has helped Finland produce so many champions in Formula One racing, High-speed downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, long-distance running, rowing, even tennis – basically good at any sport as long as you can do it alone and it almost kills you.

 

 

Nordic WalkingSpeaking of sports, this is another unique sight on the streets here – Nordic walking. It is like cross country skiing, but just no skis. I’m thinking of bringing it back to America and see if it catches on. What do you think?

 

Here is a picture of a few of the typical unique foods here: There are Karelian pies, rye bread, and somethiFinnish Foodsng else that I don’t remember the name of, but which is a type of bread thing with fish pieces inside of it. You can also see the cheese off to the upper right, which is really nice to put on all of it. There sure are a lot of hot drinks too – which I think is one of their strategies to keep warm.

Something not in this picture, but which is also pretty common is different types of berries and edible mushrooms. Either people go to the woods to pick their own, or more commonly these days, buy them at the store. After I got my first “moose fly” from picking berries in the woods I think the store is not that bad of an option. Other local favorite foods are Smoked Salmon, Pea Soup (always on Thursday, because a Swedish king hundreds of years ago made his troops eat it every Thursday to prevent deficiency disease, so why not continue?), Meat balls, and Salmiakki (a salt liquorice “treat” which is really a compound of ammonia and hydrochloric acid).

**This next part is where you might want to plug the ears of your young ones**

This might come as a shock to non-Finns, but did you know Santa Clause actually comes from Finland? You can still go and visit his house (I am thinking of trying to go there in early December). Certain Christmas traditions, however, are a little different here. The person I am renting my apartment from told me one of her family traditions at Christmas time is to have Reindeer Stew! We like to talk about Reindeer at Christmas time in the US, but generally don’t think about eating them. Maybe that is where the “rumors” began that Santa moved to the North Pole – to get away from the Finns eating his help.

**OK to unplug ears**

Cute Finnish Kids

There is not really any celebration of Halloween, but in April the children do dress up as witches and knock on your door to trade you a stick they decorated for money or candy. Seems like a lot more work than just saying “Trick or treat” but perhaps that was an intentional strategy from the government to limit sugar consumption.

OK – this entry is already getting a bit too long, so here is one last picture. Just kickin’ it in the leaves. Sleeping in Leaves

When people ask me why I love it here so much, it is sometimes hard for me to capture it in words. Finland has no real enemies, and nobody knows anything bad about Finland. Of course, nobody usually knows much anything about Finland. But I find that there is something just good about Finland. A book by Roman Schatz summed it up well: “Finns really are… they are… let’s say, they are a bit different than your common or garden variety of people. They’re wholesome, if you know what I mean, a bit like their dark bread, the one with the hole in the middle. They’re hard to digest, but very good for you.” 🙂

And who knows, maybe a little “sisu” is even rubbing off on me? (Sisu is an almost super-human Finnish characteristic of non-aggressive, passive, introverted stamina that gets stronger when the odds get worse.)

Suomen kesä on lyhyt, mutta vähäluminen.

Viva Finland!

Finnish Flag

For Anyone Concerned With China’s Environmental Policy – A new recycling initiative

For Anyone Concerned With China’s Environmental Policy – A new recycling initiative

It is true that with 1/5th the world’s population (1.3 billion people), an exploding industrial economy, and sketchy national restrictions – there is cause for concern over China’s environmental policy. Recently walking the streets of Shanghai, however, I came across a new experimental initiative to increase recycling (see picture).

Cash recylcing

So if you have any extra cash sitting around the house, resist the temptation to throw it away. Reduce, reuse, recycle.

And as a friendly public service announcement when you travel the subway…

Subway sign

Don’t “send money to the thief” …please recycle it instead.

Finnish University Ceremonies and PhD Swords

I went to an official Finnish university ceremony today. I found out that, first of all, there is no college graduation ceremony in Finland – you just kind of get your degree and that’s it (although every four years after that there is a “promotion” ceremony). But instead of getting a robe and a hood (like happens in the US), you get a hat (that looks like a velvety top hat – somehow it is a symbol of freedom) and at one of the promotion ceremonies you get a sword (a symbol of the sword of knowledge, I believe). Feel free to correct me, if I am wrong about any of this.

The sword part is pretty cool, huh?

Much better than New Zealand at least, where a man from there said all they get is a bright red floppy hat, that I kind of imagine looks like a wimpy pirate hat. But I guess New Zealand has so much else good going for it, that PhD apparel probably isn’t a big concern of theirs.

The ceremony today was very somber, no smiling really even, and the woman who was translating for me said she thinks the somberness comes from the Finish Lutheran tradition of putting off this life so that you could have a much better after-life. She was funny and told me that she thought most people endured the ceremony for the refreshments, but I think that is typical of most countries 🙂 I wondered if part of the somberness was because you were afraid someone was going to whip out their sword.

Actually, maybe the PhD sword is how the professors keep order in the Finnish classrooms? I should check into that…

Preparing for Finland

I love to talk about Finland!

I am surprised by how little most people in the US know about Finland (including myself before about two years ago). It seems like the ones who do know about it love it, are passionate about it, and know quite a bit about it (I even personally know two men with Finish saunas built into their Utah houses!).

On the other end of the spectrum are people who I wonder if they can even identify their own state on a map (see Miss South Carolina try to answer a question)! One girl, upon finding out I was spending so much time in Finland, was concerned about whether I would be able to communicate, and so asked me: “Oh, do you speak European?”

I suppose I do speak at least one “dialect” of “European” – I’m pretty good at the version that they use in the England part of Europe. But even that, I’m not quite sure. 🙂