Previously on The Espoo Diaries:

“…soothing, sultry manner in which certain young Finnish women speak…”
“…introduced me to some Nigerian connections…”
“…Lost on Lautasaari…”
“…rest of evening all blurred into one…”
“…brightened with a smile from Moneypenny…”

The 20th of May is a good day in most of Europe. Previously known as
Ascension Day in South Africa, it maintains its Public Holiday status in
the rest of the world, and like any good mid-week holiday, this year it
turned out to be on a Thursday, perfect for destroying productivity on
Wednesday and writing off Friday.

And of course, as with any holiday, this one required a celebration and
full usage of the opportunity it offered. The search for a trendy,
upbeat funky restaurant to dine at turned up the establishment ‘Belge’
(Bell – Ge), which I didn’t realise at the time but later confirmed had
been one on the list of hotspots passed off to me concealed in a secret
capsule under the rice in one of my meals served by an informant. Belge
is not just for Belgians, seemingly exceptionally popular with at least
the Finns too. It sports a restaurant/cigar bar/lounge atmosphere with
full bookshelves lining the walls, and pretty young blondes lining the
couches. There is also a live DJ playing upbeat soul, rhythm and groove
style music. Having feasted on Belgian lasagne, certain members of the
group decided they were not fit to continue the evening further, but
rather return to the secluded comfort of their hotel rooms.

This left a mere two of us to explore the night further. This South
African was never going to ‘not feel so well and go to the hotel’, and
Matthias seemed to share the same spirit. so we steered our horses
towards ‘Kaarle’, a nightclub a couple of blocks away. Kaarle, what a
place it turned out to be – there were three or four isolated sections
to this club, which seems to be almost an old fraternity house or museum
or gallery, devoted to the various cultural inclinations you may hold.
On the bottom floor there is the “Suomi-Pop” bar, where you can find a
delectable choice of drunk Finns dancing preferably on anything higher
than the floor, to the sounds of popular Finnnish music. Turning the
opposite direction on the ground floor leads you to a bar in the
traditional style, fitted with barstools and couches to recline upon.
Upstairs the choice is just as diverse. On the one side we found a bar
(surprise!) where a live band was playing a variety of pretty good 80’s
rock and pop covers, as well as the odd Finn cover version too. The last
section was of course for all the disco monkeys out there, with the
standard fare of flashing lights, mostly techno music, and lots of
women, and lots of women (No smoking though, kiitos).

The night flew by, with me meeting a girl by the name of Mari Koskinen –
a typical reserved, not-so-shy bank employee (Terror Tip #4: Make
acquaintance with potential sources of funding), who expressed a big
interest in me, and in turn I reciprocated with an interest in her. (Her
shirt did have the words ‘Look at me now!’ on it, although Matthias
initially read it as ‘Book me now!’) Needless to say the evening moved
along quickly with some assistance from ‘Black Vodka’ or I think,
‘Salmiakki’, a liquorice flavoured alcoholic delicacy in these parts.
Now my track record with liquorice flavoured shooters is not the
cleanest, and so the activities that followed cannot fall under the
domain of my responsibility. Since I was planning on doing some work on
the public holiday (the rest of the team requested me to do so, just as
they were leaving for the airport and a long weekend earlier that
evening), I eventually left at around 3:30am with Mari in tow. Later
that day I would see the interesting contrast where the 3am streets were
busier than the same streets at 6 o’clock the following evening.

The rest of the weekend flew by in a frenzy of university assignments
being completed with just one break on the evening of Saturday the 22nd
at ‘On the Rocks’, a rock club I had been planning to visit for some
time. Once again my diplomatic skills with drunk Finns played up, I
think this time he was upset because I was NOT actively attempting to
gain the interest of a girl dancing in front of us. I lost a full 5€
beer out my hand to the floor before the upset Finn was restrained by
his friends. Ultimately it seems that Shaun + Finn + Rock Club is a not
so healthy situation to be in.

The next week one of my restaurant visits turned out to be to a Japanese
restaurant, which of course meant Sushi, with Wasabi and more. I made a
brave attempt, and enjoyed a fair amount of the delicacy, especially the
eel (which was actually cooked), but in the final stretch the wasabi
beat me with flashbacks to a certain university car-rally experience
where I had combined the flavours of marshmallow and wasabi, to my great
demise.

So it almost seems I’ve written so much I could leave it here, but I
won’t. At this point I would suggest you all have a cigarette break,
fill up your coffee cup, switch off your screen savers, and fasten your
seat belt. You are about to enter a high speed, action filled account of
the next exciting weeks.

It started the Wednesday evening at the Viola restaurant at the Radisson
Seaside hotel – Moneypenny (and yes, I bet you were all just waiting for
me to mention Moneypenny) suggested that we get together for a beer the
coming Friday, and get to have a bit more conversation than the ‘I’ll
have the pork, again…’. I agreed instantly, being a strong sufferer of
the ‘lonely man at table 8’ syndrome which seems to permeate hotel
restaurants and bars. Friday arrived and a few text messages were
exchanged to relay the meeting spot – ‘Fever’ – a night club on
Annankatu. I was, of course, slightly delayed due to me having to stop
first to be invited to a new club nearby (hey anyone would have stopped
for her) and then at an ATM, while in the queue, had to assist a blonde
damsel in distress who was searching for a means to light her cigarette.

I found Moneypenny finishing her drink at Fever and then we quickly
relocated to an interesting little bar hidden far from the city streets
and tourists. It’s name was Superbar (Theme Tune #6: Superman Theme)
and the decor was in the style of pictures and colours of superheroes
from comic books. It was a comfortable, busy place with a friendly
atmosphere. The conversation had a slightly jilted start but pretty soon
we were laughing and chatting, sharing all manner of stories and
histories about our life experiences. The time flew by all too quickly,
and we were forced to leave at the last moment to attempt to catch the
last tram for Moneypenny to get on to get back to her apartment. We
missed it, and I am ashamed to admit to a South African audience that I
left Moneypenny to walk home in the company of a relatively unknown man
in the middle of the night. Its a small comfort to admit that it wasn’t
exactly pitch dark and would have taken longer to queue for a taxi than
for her to simply walk back.

Saturday the 29th turned out to be a miserable rainy day, with little
prospect for outdoor activity and so I did what any good hotel bound
citizen would do. I dashed to the supermarket to stock up on cheap
Coca-Cola, chocolate and crisps – Lay’s Mediterranean Feta flavour – and
spent the day catching up on movie viewing – I covered at least three or
four movies that day. Later that evening I caught an sms from
Moneypenny, who’d had a tough evening at work, and was hoping to have
a quick drink afterwards. Having had a really good time the previous
night, and needing to get out of the hotel room for a more concerted
amount of time, I immediately volunteered my services to accompany her.
We met at Hemingways, a run of the mill pub – they don’t vary much in
size and appearance – around the corner from the hotel. As it turned out
we would be having a beer on a time limit again, but at least we could
continue further with our conversation from the previous evening. In the
end the whole ‘last-tram’ idea was trashed and we agreed that she would
catch a taxi ride home, and so could relax and enjoy herself a bit more.
I ended up being quizzed on my day’s activities, and to my dismay could
hardly remember any of them. Thereafter thousands of words consumed the
time rapidly, and we parted early Sunday morning as we arrived back at
the hotel lobby.

It struck me as unusual the openness with which us two strangers were
starting to interact with one another. Unusual, but exciting and good. I
now had a good friend in a foreign country, and at the same time a
remarkable friend who’d just started winning in a difficult life.

Sunday the 30th was the last day of my current stay at the Seaside
hotel. I was due for a hotel move due to some sort of ineptitude by the
travel agency. I’m sure it was largely unnecessary, but be that as it
may, a change of scenery would probably do me good. I proceeded to
slowly place all my possessions into my suitcases and bags, getting more
and more frustrated by every piece of clothing. By the time I checked
out I was largely upset at this unneeded turmoil in my life.

I tried to maintain an open mind as I arrived at the Hotel Helka,
considerably closer to the city center than the Seaside, but the Seaside
had been a small home away from home, and I knew everyone there and was
rather comfortable there. To add insult to injury, I was the receiver of
what is known in travelling circles as the ‘elevator room’. The
‘elevator room’ is the obscure, smaller-than-usual room, often located
near to the elevator, which is added in the hope of squeezing a few easy
bucks out of the weary or complacent traveller.

Further adding to my bleak Sunday, I was due to become test driver of
the now commonly known ‘Hotel Helka Bathroom Experience’ ™. In many
ways this is largely similar to any ‘ride’ or ‘fantasy experience’
available at theme parks across the US and Europe. The shower tends to
leak a lot of water magically through the shower doors – there must some
matrix glitch here – and I always end up swimming to reach the basin,
using the toilet bowl as a flotation device to keep me afloat. I have
yet to check whether canoes are available at reception. There is another
Finnish bathroom device that is prevalent in the WC – connected to the
basin is a hand held shower head that I hope is used when washing one’s
hair in a basin, but honestly I have no idea. In my bathroom, when you
turn on the tap in the basin, this shower head leaks all over the floor,
but I solved that problem through strategically and surgically placing
the leaky shower head into the basin every morning. Come on Universal
Studios, I’m sure its the next step after Reality TV – Reality Theme Park.

I always consider complaining about problems, but honestly how cheap is
that – I’ve seen so much worse in Africa – and if this is the biggest of
my problems then quite frankly I’m living as a king.

So Mari had smsed me and suggested we meet for lunch and she could
console me in my frustration at moving, which we did. The food at Via
Ravintola was pretty good, and after having another beer I once again
discovered my previous interest in Mari. I can’t be cruel – she seemed a
nice enough person, but I didn’t find a real connection or any deep
relation to this person. There are times when a syndrome clouds my
judgement and it’s directly related to the thickness of the glass at a
bottom of a beer bottle and the appearance of objects seen through it.
At Kaarle I had been wearing ‘Beer Goggles’.

But never fear, for the following Tuesday was a day for a bit of
celebration. Moneypenny had just recently received her Finnish
citizenship, and was now waiting in anticipation of gleaning an
interview as part of the admission requirements for Photography School.
We decided Mexican was the flavour of the evening, and so headed off to
Santa Fe, an open-air restaurant in a courtyard just off
Aleksanterinakatu. The food was good, although a bit too efficient, and
the company was great. We even had a live Finnish Band singing some good
hits to accompany our meal. Of course the band was determined to
continue ad-hoc into the night, and so it seemed that if we were
actually to communicate verbally Moneypenny and myself would have to
find another watering hole. U. Kaleva is a tiny bar, just opposite
Bakers, and we found ourselves a cosy, though somewhat smoky spot at a
tables against the wall in the passageway, less than two meters from the
bar. The friendly barman assisted us to quickly retrieve some beer
served out of a very funky set of beer mugs, much better than the
regular glass used everywhere else. From there, who knows, the
conversation decided its own course through music, travel, romance, good
and evil, computing, photography, star trek and even cows until the wee
hours of the morning. This time when the evening closed I got it right
and put Moneypenny with a handful of euros straight into a taxi home,
like any good Sugar Daddy would.

This was quickly turning by far into a most interesting week. Following
up on the events thus far, I joined David and Colin and family for a
meal at Romanov, this time a Russian restaurant (these foreigners must
have something that looks like boerewors somewhere…) The food was
rather mediocre, like something a low-ranking KGB officer would have
considered exquisite during the Cold War. Fortunately the menu is not
confined to mere potato dishes and vodka. (Theme Tune # 7 – Soundtrack
to James Bond Movie From Russia with Love) The ruskies didn’t have it
all bad.

Out the corner of yet another week popped none other than a Friday night
on the town. I had received an invitation from Mari to have dinner at
her place that evening. I also had the possibility to meet Moneypenny
late that night for a single quick drink after work. This was it. Crunch
time. Mari Koskinen versus Megan Moneypenny, head to head in a celebrity
deathmatch. Dinner and an ‘interesting’ evening with Mari OR A quick
drink with Megan. If Sherlock Holmes had been around he would have said
“Elementary, my dear Watson, go for the best of both worlds.” (Theme
Tune #8: Mission Impossible Soundtrack) And B.A. Barracus from the
A-Team would’ve said “Shuddup you crazy fool. Ten minutes with
Moneypenny is a whole lot better than that other possibility.” I decided
to go with B.A’s choice – he’s a lot bigger than me.

So I dissed MK, and instead visited the sights of Helsinki from the
perspective of the Tram that is a pub – Sparakoff – or is the Pub a
tram? – I never quite figure which, but you get to ride around the city
on a tram and drink, which come to think of it doesn’t make it that much
different from the other trams, except on this one they actually serve
the alcohol. After that a rather expensive dinner of true Finnish food
was had at Lappi – reindeer for the most part – which is real good, but
Santa sure must be worried about poaching. (No fear, I haven’t found any
red noses yet.) I headed back to the hotel for a short while before
receiving a message from Moneypenny to meet her at Stockmann’s clock to
continue our evening further from there. Yes, of course, Stockmann’s
clock. As I neared the building all I could see was a clock on the
topmost point of the roof. How the hell was I gonna meet her there?
(Replay short segment of Mission Impossible)

Fortunately Meg found me before I started climbing the walls, and we
slinked into a small unknown pub. The location was pretty irrelevant, so
long as the beer was standard and there was a place to relax. Old South
African traditions of being the last people left in a Bar or club were
coming to fruition – this pub was closing and yet the night was but a
playful puppy with large, dark eyes. The remedy to this dilemma – a
visit to Lady Moon.

There’s not much bad that I can say about Lady Moon – it holds fond
memories for me. Its just a regular ‘dive’, so to speak. Nothing wrong
with that I guess – each to his own, and the people there seemed to be
having a crazy although good time and loving the sounds of retro 80s
pop. Of course, being so young-looking and beautiful, to gain entrance I
had to withstand the usual scrutiny of my proof of age. It doesn’t help
when the choice of identity used is a lousy third world driver’s licence
with a photo that looks more like Thabo Mbeki on it, but I was admitted
all the same. Its terrible, at least back home if you flash around a
credit card it adds some legitimacy to your age in the event you are
under scrutiny, but here it seems everyone has a credit card, and so
there is no advantage to making that visible to the bouncer.

Inside Lady Moon I met some of Moneypenny’s old friends and
acquaintances who worked there, and then proceeded in typical fashion to
try make friends with the biggest Finn I could find. This time I got it
right, or at least having Moneypenny around must have helped – the
Finnish guy was buying me alcoholic drinks containing milk (a very good
thing ™). Later on, having heard I was from South Africa, and feeling
comfortable in the presence of my white skin, he also claimed that he
was a Nazi. At this point I believe I chose to depart his presence with
a strategic song, which turned out to be a request by Moneypenny, and
ended up on the dance floor to the sounds of Elvis – Falling in Love
With You. (Bachelor Tip #1 : Whatever you may think of Elvis, get over
it, cos his magic works the bomb…)

Of course a perfectly special moment of stillness, quietness and
togetherness was abruptly interfered with when a short while after the
song ended, a Nazi cry arose : “Wake up, South Africa!”.

We ended up being invited to the Nazi’s apartment to drink red wine and
answer his ‘3000 questions about South Africa’, but I instead chose to
use Moneypenny as an excuse to vanish into the daylight streets of the
late night city and find a suitable ending to the evening. That ending
was found as part of the ‘Hotel Helka Experience’, where after a long
chat (yes it was only a long chat) I put Moneypenny to bed with a kiss
and found a place for my head to rest…

A late start on Saturday saw Moneypenny heading back to her apartment in
Kallio, with me in tow. On this trip I got the full rundown on the
complexities of the Helsinki underground, how to beat the system for
free rides, and a discussion on the chances of getting busted for
‘Scamming’. Apparently there are a set of Metro police (not like ours)
that run around in blue uniforms – they are called ‘Smurfi’ – trying to
catch those who freeload off the transport system. The fine for a free
ride is 50€ which has prompted many office workers to start small
‘Smurfi-funds’ into which everyone contributes a small monthly amount to
pay for anyone’s fine if they are busted, which in turn still saves
everyone money compared to paying for the transport.

We arrived at a station in in Kallio and made a beeline for the nearest
Chinese fast food restaurant – good hangover food. Along the way
Moneypenny kindly pointed out a number of establishments that catered
for the needs of lonely men. (Bachelor Tip #2 : All the ‘massage
parlours’ are in Kallio) The rest of the afternoon was spent fixing some
of Moneypenny’s computing problems (don’t laugh, I know you’re laughing)
and lazing around her apartment just off Helsinginkatu – a comfortable
living space which also serves as Moneypenny’s safehouse during
dangerous missions.

Saturday night while Moneypenny went to work I headed to Kaivohuone, the
current trendy spot on the social scene in Helsinki. My entourage for
the evening included Oscar, a Spaniard from Nokia, and a dutch friend of
his. Arriving shortly before eleven, we queued for an hour before
entering the busy club. A further ten minutes at the coat-check lay
between us and a beer, so we went to the outside bar to set things off.
A number of beers later saw us upstairs in the alternative part of the
club, where we could kick back and enjoy the rest of our evening. Not a
bad place to go, I guess, especially if you arrive in a smart car or two.

This eventful weekend was finally closed with a quiet meal alone at the
Aurinko restaurant – a very good restaurant at the Hotel Helka –
followed by an early movie across the street at ‘Tennispalatsi’ – yes
its summer, but still no Tennis anywhere.

The movie, at Moneypenny’s suggestion (in fact if I had not gone to see
it I would have been subject to Chinese water torture), was “Lost in
Translation”, a most appropriate theme considering my situation. I
highly recommend seeing it. Amongst its many cinematic jewels it holds
the perfect depiction of ‘the lonely man at table 8’ and another perfect
depiction of the power and absolute heartbreak of forming a strong,
finite-term relationship with someone in a foreign country.

Afterwards there was nothing left to do but to head off to Toolonlahti
to sit and enjoy the beauty and write about finding a way to deal with reality.
(Theme Tune #9 : “Norah Jones – Feeling the same way”)

🙂
Shaun.

Next time on The Espoo Diaries…

“…pilot go-live for the system…”
“…3am photo session…”
“…Kaivopuisto, or more appropriately the ‘concert in the rain’…”