The Espoo Diaries

The Espoo Diaries, Volume 8, 11 – 31 July 2004

Oh yes. It’s back. As they say, no story is complete without being, well, complete. The reason for delay of the final episode, you ask? The author has been on hiatus in search of a muse. That muse has arrived.

Previously on The Espoo Diaries:

“…soothing, sultry manner in which certain young Finnish women speak…”
“…brightened with a smile from Moneypenny…”
“…’Hotel Helka Bathroom Experience’ ™…”
“…the author’s alcohol intake has been rather high of late…”
“…a 3am photo session…” (now infamous)
“…Helsinki Day is just the perfect reason to speak Finnish…”
“…a late night medical ailment that needed to be resolved…”
“…the what appeared to be sprawling metropolis of Stockholm…”
“…Moneypenny’s Swedish Special Forces division…”
“…something like “Rand to Euro, Euro to Krona, Krona back to Euro,
Euro to … oh what the hell, just give me another beer please…”
“…they wanted to deport me back to Africa…”
“…cute yet incomprehensible Finnish girl with beautiful dark blue eyes…”
“…fireplace especially built for those cold summer nights…”
“…south of Vaasa…”
“…the sounds of Radio Nova playing cheesy hits from the 80s…”
“…Espoo, strange little place that it is, was now set to become a
place in a story once told…”

After a week spent missioning to get an extension on my Visa for Finland, under special circumstances I was granted permission to lay my feet on the what-you-would-swear-is-holy soil of Europe. It turned out to be a long uneventful flight on British Airways – no almost-missed planes, no gorgeous air hostesses, just a deadpan flight to London. Arriving at Heathrow early Monday morning, I proceeded to walk in numerous big concentric circles around the airport building, entertainment in the form of “Guess the Nationality”, waiting five hours for a connection to Helsinki. I managed to get a few guesses right, and realised how easy it is to spot Souf Efrikans. There are worse ways to spend a Monday I’m sure, although not many.

My hotel for this leg of my trip was the wonderful Radisson Royal Hotel in the middle of the city, opposite Kamppi Metro Station. A great room, in a great location – the next three weeks were going to be fantastic. So what does one do upon returning to summery Helsinki where the sun just does not set? My answer, of course, would be an evening spent catching up with Moneypenny on the past week’s events, and that’s just what I did. Here an evil plan sprung up which saw me visiting Stockmann, which sells everything (Tourist Tip #5) the next day to purchase a 60€ ticket to see none other than Stevie Wonder who was to perform that weekend at the Pori Jazz festival. Granted, I was not the biggest fan of Stevie, but he is a great artist and I have a great deal of respect for his work, and the chances of him visiting South Africa are so slim that it was worth taking a chance on.

Friday evening swiftly came and laziness and lack of desire to find another restaurant to eat at saw me pulling the laziest of all lazies – and I should know, I’m the King of Lazy ™. I decided to order a room service dinner. C’mon, you have to at least do it once, and I’d never done it before, so there I sat, on my bed, a big meal, a coupla beers, dessert, the TV and the remote control. (Bachelor’s Tip #4 – Be sure to keep remote control, beer and food in close proximity, otherwise sudden stretching movement may be required.)

Jussi was celebrating his birthday Saturday at Kaarle, and so myself and Moneypenny headed off later that evening to the packed and buzzing club for a brief visit to congratulate him and celebrate. Tram time came (Tourist Tip #6 – Last trams run shortly after midnight) and so I escorted Moneypenny to the tram stop. Well, actually she ran, and I ran a bit behind her. Ok, she ran, and I jogged. Ok, ok, she ran and I mostly walked fast. Um, fast-ish I mean. I then made my way back to the hotel for an early Saturday, but it seems someone had tampered with my shoes at some stage in the evening and the next thing I knew I was walking into Sling-In. How peculiar. This was not my hotel. There was no bed here. Ah, this chair looks comfy, hmmm bar fridge. Oh well, I decided best not be rude and at least have a drink now that I was there.

My next truly clear memories found me walking from Robert’s Coffee at the train station towards Hertz car rental on Sunday morning. I was carrying two large coffees – one half empty (a quarter on me, a quarter in me) and a whole bunch of other possessions/refreshments in a bag. I arrived shortly before Moneypenny and we were very, very, very slowly assisted in getting our grubby paws on the keys to a silver Peugot 206. (Automatic… bleh!). So there we were – Driving Miss Moneypenny I guess. Actually she took the first segment to get us out of the city. Don’t ask me what possessed me to put Moneypenny behind the wheel of a car I hold the liability for, but we zoomed out of the city towards Rauma, tunes blaring, cigarettes burning, smiles on our faces. (Theme Tune #9 – Prime Circle – Hello) Ok, well my smile only found its spot on my face once Moneypenny’s rough driving edges had rounded off which fortunately did not take long. I don’t think I’ll ever come to terms with women drivers.

We stopped along the road at a small coffee shop about halfway to Rauma and bought Munkki. Munkki is not what you’re thinking. No you can’t spank your Munkki. I wouldn’t want you to spank my Munkki either. Sorry to disappoint, but Munkki is basically just a tasty sugar coated doughnut. Rauma is a very old, mostly wooden town. Moneypenny’s mother grew up around there. We walked the streets for a while, visiting the extremely old church, the roof coated with strong-smelling black pitch. Being lunch time we were fortunate to discover a restaurant serving meals on a sunny rooftop terrace. We basked in the unfamiliar warmth while eating our meals before retrieving the car for the drive to Pori, the venue for the concert.

Pori, annual host to the Pori Jazz Festival, is one of the larger cities in Finland. Every year a multitude of Jazz and R&B artists, the likes of Alicia Keys, Macy Gray, Van Morrison and many more, descend on Pori for a few weeks of Jazz at various venues all over the city. More importantly, Pori is home to the fine brew Karhu, now long time friend of mine.

The concert was staged in an open air park, surrounded by trees and grass and a nearby river, a very pleasant setting. What’s more, the queues to purchase food and drinks were fast moving and efficient, something that is terribly lacking back home in South Africa. By the time we’d had a first beer, Moneypenny, a long-time fan of Stevie Wonder was getting antsy to find a spot as close as possible to the stage, so I sent her off to reserve some place while I finished my beer in the beer garden.

The opening band turned out to be the Dixie Hummingbirds, a gospel Jazz group that was originally started in the 1920’s, and has evolved with replacement members joining as necessary since then. One has to wonder though, what their thoughts were to be playing to a massive crowd of 13000 people who had arrived to see Stevie Wonder. Ok, now I’m wondering about that previous sentence.

After a rousing performance by the Dixie Hummingbirds the wait was on for the headline act. This was the stage at which I saw (and heard) that photography of the artists is punishable with a €5000 fine, forcing me to attempt to at least take a few snaps. I managed to sneak in a handful of shots, an act of defiance to take away from the profit of some poor, struggling record company and its equally poor record executives. Oh, the guilt, the shame at my crime.

The man of the hour arrived on stage. He easily changed that to emblazon himself as the man of the next two and a half hours. Starting off with some of his lesser known tracks, Stevie slowly teased the crowd until they were hungry for the more popular hits. Strangely, during the entire show up until now everyone had been told to remain seated on the wooden benches provided for people closer to the stage, and this had been enforced by the security guards. Personally I viewed this as a direct insult to the artist, but watched in amazement as more people were told to remain seated and complied.

The rising tension had to crack though, and as Stevie swung into a great rendition of Higher Ground (many only recognise this as a Red Hot Chili Peppers song), I chose to tempt consequence and stood to dance, following the lead of a few other defiant groups of people. I was going to enjoy this or at least do my best to try enjoy it. It was just at that moment that I caught a glance at the big screen and saw myself, on screen, jumping up to dance. I would like to take credit for the fact that I got the crowd dancing after the camera followed my movements, but I think everyone would have ended up standing as they did anyway, such a compelling stage performance Stevie was.

After a long afternoon of entertainment in the open air of some of the best Finnish weather I had yet experienced, we slowly wound down, ambling in the twilight to find our car. Hunger attacked like a virus to Microsoft and we quickly found time to dig into a Koti blue cheese and ham pizza to toughen our defences for the long drive ‘home’. We had the surreal experience of driving in the country in the not-too-dark-night. The night sky painted the countryside in a slightly darkened canvas of blue shadow. (Theme Tune #10 : Eppu Normaali – Tahroja paperilla) Eppu Normaali, the name of the band, meaning “Of Course”, apparently.

At this stage of the project work was managing to keep me rather busy, but on Tuesday I found a gap for beers at a terrace across from Storyville with Moneypenny. The conversation stretched itself out and became rather heated with lots of drama, lots of questions, and very few answers, at least from my side anyway. In the end we sat listening to the sounds of silence. To really decimate a common phrase – you could not hear a Moneypenny dropping. (Ok, that was really really bad, I apologise). The evening’s net result – a lot of contemplation and aimless wandering in the streets of the city.

Friday the 23rd I ventured once more into the city, looking to grasp hold of every possible experience that remained exposed to me in my fast dwindling time. I enjoyed dinner for one at Belge, and then wandered up to Kaarle to see what the night had on offer. Apparently I must have just missed Moneypenny, who it turns out decided to go to the exact same club and the same area of the club. It is just by chance that I was not familiar with one more secluded section where she in fact had been with some friends.

Saturday, me now being a regular, I felt compelled to make an appearance at what was now becoming one of my favourite haunts – Sling-In. Yes, Sling-In, Kaarle, Sling-In, Kaarle – is there a pattern developing here? Later I moved across Mannerheimintie to Bakers nightclub, just to savour the experience of interacting with lithe young foreign females for a while. Walking back to the hotel I was tempted to visit Tavastia, THE rock club of Helsinki, but the €12 price tag well after midnight seemed a bit excessive.

Most of Sunday was spent filling orders and picking up final souvenirs for everyone back home. In the CD store, with a far wider selection of CDs and DVDs than most stores here, I bought a copy of “Nightwish – The End Of Innocence”, which Billy had requested. This band turned out to be quite brilliant once I exposed myself to their genre of Finnish Gothic metal with a classical twist. It was at around about this stage that I realised that I was actually doing pretty darn well in Helsinki – I knew where to get good meals, whether it be Kampin Kebab House, Java Cafe or even Hesburger, where to shop (and more importantly where not to shop), where to go out, how to get about, and how to structure one’s clothing usage to optimise your hotel laundry costs and timing through the use of an intricate system of ropes and pulleys. Perhaps it was the foreboding awareness of it being my last Sunday in Helsinki or perhaps I had too much coffee at Java Cafe, but for some reason, for the first time since I had arrived in Espoo many weeks ago, I could not sleep at all that Sunday night.

Monday slipped into oblivion but on Tuesday Colin, Martin and I met for another fantastic dinner at Bakers – makers of the finest creme brulee in Helsinki, and quite possibly the whole of Finland. Later that evening once Moneypenny had finished work I joined her to share a beer or two at an obscure pub which I suspect was somewhere around the ruununhaka suburb.

My last “Little Friday” in Helsinki caught me by surprise. Jari, one of the managers on the project decided to treat myself and Colin to dinner at Zetor. This proved to be a great treat with good traditional Finnish food, a memorable menu tainted with humour, and great posters in the men’s bathroom. (Think retro-Playboy circa 1960). As if dinner wasn’t enough, Jari then suggested we go to a favourite haunt of his when he is in Helsinki – ‘Patta Assa’, the busiest karaoke bar in Helsinki. Karaoke, hell yeah I was on board. Upon our arrival without hesitation Jari, almost before having a sip of his first beer, had the slip filled in with his song request of “Born to be Wild”. When his name was called he belted his number out with passion giving it everything he had, despite his english pronunciation errors and accent, and it turned out very entertaining. Finns may have the reputation of a reserved nation, but when it comes to karaoke they outdo all other nations with their expression.

Not to be outdone, I of course had to find something to holler savagely into an amplification device, and so after many many minutes of deliberation and one false start I eventually settled on Bon Jovi – Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night. I did an awesome job, for a Finn that is. Otherwise as a native English speaker it was terrible, but I still managed to round up some applause at the end. The trick was, of course, to make it as passionate and incoherent as possible. Upon leaving in the early hours of the next morning, our taxi driver kindly provided us with Don Mclean’s American Pie – the full ten or so minute version which lasted the whole taxi ride – for us to continue practising our drunken sing-along with.

The only unusual excitement to occur on Thursday was when I found a CD Moneypenny had introduced me to many weeks ago. The bands name: Phoenix, the album: Alphabetical. There it was, wrapped in plastic and sitting pretty in the corner of Stockmann’s. Without hesitation I bought it. These guys, classified by one reviewer as “Outkast meets the Strokes”, have the most brilliant sound, an offbeat alternative sound, a variety of instruments, and a great lead singer. Get it. (No I don’t get commission for this punt!)

Oscar, Irina and myself arranged to meet late Friday for farewell drinks, a chance to wish each other well after spending nearly four months working together. We met at Kaisla, again, and Moneypenny later turned up to join the little party we were having, so I fed her a few beers and put her onto the last tram home before taking a leisurely stroll for my final evening in Helsinki.

The dreaded Saturday morning arrived. I packed my suitcase and bag to the sounds of Eppu Normaali, a thoughtful gift from Moneypenny, and checked out of my room before going in search of some essentials – Koskenkorva Viina, Koskenkorva Salmiakki, and Lapponia Lakka – you guessed it : alcohol. Once I’d filled my bags with booze I ambled in to Cafe Java to meet Moneypenny – I still had a last gift for her – a bottle of Castle Lager, and one of Klippies & Cola. Time, as always, flew by and before I knew it, coffee was finished and I had to return to fetch my bags at the hotel and order a taxi.

The taxi driver was kind enough to take a final photo of myself and
Moneypenny in front of the hotel after stowing my bags.

Goodbye to Moneypenny was said with a final long hug. As I turned away from Megan this one last time I felt my throat tighten its constricting grip on the lump that had suddenly formed there. A dull ache pulled itself into my vulnerable chest and my cheeks refused to smile. My shoulders drooped and my eyes began to burn at my involuntary blinking to keep them dry. A quiver of the lip and a twitch of the nose flittered by as I raised my unsteady hand to slowly form an outfacing palm, a sad farewall salute to the friend on the other side of the now closed barrier of a door. I choked out an instruction and the taxi driver guided me towards inevitability. My gaze lay transfixed back at the quickly growing distance forcing itself between us.

Slowly, as the sight of the gap became unbearable I turned forward and put on my sunglasses – the sun was shining brightly on Helsinki.



The Espoo Diaries

The Espoo Diaries, Volume 7, 7 – 31 June 2004

Previously on The Espoo Diaries:

“…soothing, sultry manner in which certain young Finnish women speak…”
“…rest of evening all blurred into one…”
“…brightened with a smile from Moneypenny…”
“…delectable choice of drunk Finns dancing…”
“…left Moneypenny to walk home in the company of a relatively
(completely) unknown man…”
“…’Hotel Helka Bathroom Experience’ ™…”

It has been suggested by certain readers of this esteemed publication
that the author’s alcohol intake has been rather high of late. It’s all
liesh… damm liesh, I tal yew. I dirrent go out that mush, I jus has
one dop evre now an then, nevr djuring the weeks erryway… …hic…

So every Monday has good reason to be rounded off with a quick burger at
‘Hesburger’ – Finland’s native answer to McDonalds – followed by a few
drinks at Kaisla, where a group of us internationals got together in the
vicinity of a collection (2 bytes) of Finnish geeks wearing PC related
clothing and playing ‘Magic: The Gathering’ – the card game for the
uebergeek. I felt myself filled with comfort when that warm, homely,
familiar feeling of offending a Dutchman (this time a true Dutch man)
also presented itself later in the evening. Fortunately Moneypenny
stopped by to break the ice and a little later we all headed off home,
now ready to face the rest of the week.

Tuesday would prove to be another exciting day at work – we were busy
with the final preparation for the pilot go-live of the system, which
led to a late night that had to be fed with the monster Scandic burger
from the Scandic Hotel across the road from the office. This
‘beef-lettuce-red onion-tomato-bread’ entity is a ‘system’ in itself,
and amateur restaurant feeders should be cautious in undertaking the
consumption thereof.

Fortunately there is one true solution to bad fast food on a Monday and
Tuesday night – dinner with Moneypenny on Wednesday! We visited a
comfortable restaurant – Töölönranta – skirting the edge of Töölönlahti
to enjoy some Finnish fish delicacies. A celebratory glass of champagne
(Moneypenny had been accepted into photography school), coupled with a
few more glasses of wine found us taking a slow, summery (ok, that’s
‘Finnish-summery walk’) back to Moneypenny’s apartment to finish off
with a good dessert wine and watch a movie or two. Having fallen asleep
halfway through the second movie, Moulin Rouge, we awoke, probably due
to the now already lightening sky starting to lift the dark exterior of
the building. A lack of conversation turned into a 3am photo session
I’ll never forget – my digital camera proving its great inability to
take photos in anything but the sharpest light. (Tourist tip #1 –
Optical zoom is always required.)

Saturday 12 June is the great ‘Helsinki Day’ – with celebratory
activities such as the rock/pop concert at Kaivopuisto, or more
appropriately the ‘concert in the rain’. In truth, Helsinki Day is just
the perfect reason to speak Finnish, get drunk, fall over, speak more
Finnish, get more drunk, fall more over. I chose to be one of the many
brave souls who risked drowning in a sea of mud and rain to get to the
middle of Kaivopuisto to watch the concert that was taking place.
(Survival Tip #8 – Eye protection from short people wielding umbrellas.)
(Survival Tip #9 – Shoulder protection from even shorter people wielding
umbrellas) It was great to see and experience, but eventually the crowd
and the rain was becoming a bit too much and so Moneypenny and myself
headed to Tapasta – a small, busy restaurant – for a great meal.

The rest of the weekend consisted simply of a quiet Sunday spent filling
out time and expense reports (the bane of the modern contractor’s life),
rounded off with a visit from a rather ‘kooky’ (I’m not sure I’ve quite
figured that out yet) Moneypenny, including a nightcap at the ‘Daily’,
the hotel pub downstairs.

Ever since the first time I stepped into the office back in March, my
co-workers have been raving about the fabulous Thai food experience they
had enjoyed at a small restaurant known as “Mai-Thai” close to the
corner of Simonkatu and Annankatu. (Tourist tip #2 – Maps of Helsinki
for mahala at Stockmann, but if you want a *proper, quality* map, head
for Stockmann’s book shop – it’ll set you back about 10€ but its one to
keep) After much deliberation the Mai-Thai was chosen for another visit
the following Tuesday. I tried a dish that arrived at the table having
mostly green beans (my favourite) and some semblance of chicken therein.
As far as the ‘Thai’ aspect of it goes, lets just say this dish could
most definitely have taught even Nando’s a right lesson in hot.
(Although I’m sure Nando’s still has the bigger cock.) The meal left my
stomach groaning “my, my, my… Thai?”.

No better way exists than to correct the chemical imbalance of peri-peri
in one’s stomach than with a strong barley or hops based substance to
settle and soothe the strong gastric acids. The substance: beer. The
place: Sports Academy (Sportti). The company: Miss Moneypenny. Bear in
mind this late evening activity was purely medicinal in purpose. In no
way whatsoever was I trying to drink more beer, no matter how much it
appears that way. I had a late night medical ailment that needed to be
resolved in a quick, safe manner. At this venue a long conversation into
Moneypenny’s family history and Finnish heritage took place, which gave
me a lot more insight into the strange ways in which a woman’s mind
works. ;P After what seemed like such a short time the evening was
interrupted by a quick dimming of the lights (no, that’s not a real slow
blink) – the universal sign for ‘Go home and sleep you alcoholics!’.

A small little soccer tournament known as the European cup was taking
place at this very time. (In the end I think some
backwards-language-speaking mostly-island-dwellers actually won the
tournament, but that’s not very important). The imperative of the moment
was for me to get to Sweden so I could show some support for the Swedish
team in the match against Italy taking place the coming Friday. (I mean
honestly, who wants to support the Italians? – They look like a bunch of
dirty Greeks. ;)) A quick forty-five minute flight landed me close to
the what appeared to be sprawling metropolis of Stockholm, having lived
in the ‘Helsinki village’ for quite some time now.

Here I had the privilege of meeting Björn (byurn, not byawn) an
underground member of Moneypenny’s Swedish Special Forces division, and
a rugby player to boot. We also met an old aquaintance of theirs –
Amanda, and we ended up at the Crépery eating some really good crépes
for dinner. Going back to the mission at hand, we were quickly moved
through the city, paying careful attention not to let the enemy notice
our covert movements. Our destination this time was an underground
establishment known as ‘The Vampire Lounge’. It was comfortable enough,
if you are the type of person to enjoy spending time on the set of
movies such as ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ (No. I’m talking about everything
*except* the sexual activity, ok!) In actual fact the atmosphere, the
bejewelled dagger and picture of the Virgin Mary inset on the bathroom
floor and the golden skull that carefully watches your bathroom
activities all add up to a very gothic style encounter, but this evening
everyone just turned that right around into a regular sports bar
atmosphere. Upon approaching the bar for a refill I quickly found myself
exposed to the mind-twisting antics of multiple currency conversion
post-beer. The equation goes something like “Rand to Euro, Euro to
Krona, Krona back to Euro, Euro to … oh what the hell, just give
me another beer please” – this is why they invented the credit card – so
you could make the pain last… We closed Friday evening in Stockholm
with a great view over the river and the city from one of the city’s
highest lookout points, and then disappeared into the subway to find our
way to the comfortable Zinkensdamm hostel (Tourist Tip #3 – Save the
krona for the beer) which proved to have a better shower and a bed
almost the same size as the one I had enjoyed at the hotel Helka.

We enjoyed a late start that Saturday morning, taking a walking route
through Stockholm along the river in the perfect weather. On the edge of
Old Town, breakfast consisted of a Cappucino in the sun, before we
joined the tourist buzz in the middle of the island that houses the old
part of the city. Having spent the day wandering through the vast city,
we headed to TGI Friday’s to feed our ravenous hunger with a burger and
cocktails. We then headed back to the bus station for Moneypenny to
reminisce over McDonald’s fries dipped in chocolate milkshake before
returning to the airport. Despite a few questions and queries about my
passport and eligibility to travel in Europe – they wanted to deport me
back to Africa, but just couldn’t – we arrived back in Helsinki later
that evening.

I really don’t understand. Here I am, a peace-loving, democratically
inspiring, resident of the leading nation in Africa, without criminal
record or fugitive status, from the same place as Nelson Mandela, the
author of Lord of the Rings, and the creator of the Smallpox vaccine and
all in all a decent upstanding citizen of the world. Travelling with a
middle-east war-mongering, oil-hoarding, person from the same place as
Enron, Martha Stewart and Microsoft, and on top of this she can’t decide
if she’s a Finn or a Yank, yet *I’m* the one they question? 🙂
It’s fun to be a third world citizen. 🙂
(Tourist tip #4 – Copies of the return tickets that get you out of the
EU are handy to have at all times alongside your passport)

Another short working week presented itself in the days before the
Midsummer Holiday (Juhannus), which gave us a day off work on Friday
25th of June. It just so happened that the Thursday before was another
important soccer match – Portugal versus England. Now I don’t do much in
the way of selling fruit and vegetables, but I figured for at least one
evening I was going to be a Porra supporter. Better them making it
through than that rowdy, unruly English bunch. I formed a critical
alliance with a Chilean, his girlfriend, and a couple of Finns to be the
underground support movement in the predominantly England supporting
crowd at Molly Malone’s. Our grass-roots support eventually overwhelmed
the pissed and pissed-off English supporters in the penalty shoot out,
and the celebratory mood continued well into the night. The mood finally
waned in the early hours, leaving me to drift home much later with a
head full of memories of a cute yet incomprehensible Finnish girl with
beautiful dark blue eyes.

My next truly focused memory lies on the train to Vaasa. Everything
inbetween is mostly a blur, involving super-quick, super-late morning
preparation for the trip. Nevertheless by some mercy I managed to be on
the right train at the right time to visit Johanna, friend of
Moneypenny, and her boyfriend Jonne, for a midsummer weekend spent at a
traditional Finnish ‘Summer Cottage’. I spent a number of hours that
morning recuperating from the previous evening, but fortunately I was
presented with the delightful sight of two pretty young blonde Finnish
girls sitting in the seats facing me. Naturally I did not even notice or
look at them until their protective father in the other carriage had
finished evil-eyeing my every move, decided I was either decent or
hungover enough looking, and fallen asleep.

We switched trains in a mad dash at Tampere – our train had been a bit
sluggish in reaching its destination timeously – and continued further
into the flat Finnish countryside, this western area of the country now
home to the ‘Finlandssvensk’ – the Swedish speaking population of Finland.

The ‘Summer Cottage’ (with a fireplace especially built for those cold
summer nights) was actually located a short drive south of Vaasa
overlooking a vast expanse of water. Here we were fed to the mosquitos
in traditional Finnish manner. This feasting usually involves the act of
attempting to preserve the sacrificial being with a large amount of
alcohol while luring them into a false sense of security with mosquito
repellent and incense. Following the attempted self-sacrifice we enjoyed
the sunlight, good alcohol, and good company until 23:48 that evening,
when eventually a tired sun decided to finally pull the blue shimmering
covers over its face.

Thereafter the antics continued well into the night, with such
activities as singing (or attempting to sing) in Swedish, cooking
sausage over the fireplace, and much conversation from our well-oiled
tongues, until the sun rose again at ten minutes to four. The bright
orange disk peeking over the waters signalled the arrival of a time to
sleep (for some of us the time had arrived a little sooner) and we all
disappeared to our beds with a flower under the pillow – a tradition
supposed to make one dream of that future loved one. All it brought me
was a green smear underneath my pillow.

Saturday’s late start brought with it a rather wet and chilly day. So
indoors we stayed for the most part, and here I was introduced to the
strange and exotic world of the Moomintroll. Moomin, which are kind of
like small, white, upright walking hippopotamuses are a fictional
creation of one of the well known female Finnish authors, Tove Jansson,
and through the afternoon I delved into this land of Moominmamma,
Moominpappa, Snork, the beautiful blue-eyed Snork Maiden, and a few
other rather colourful characters that Finnish children have developed a
strong traditional affinity for. There even exists a replica Moominland
theme park near Turku, a Finnish city on the western seaboard.

Late afternoon with the weather a little clearer we took a drive further
out into the archipelago that stretches towards Sweden, crossing to an
island by ferry and enjoying an ice-cream in the peaceful afternoon sun.
A strange and very different, somewhat quaint yet peaceful lifestyle the
people of this area seem to lead.

Returning to the cottage, myself and Moneypenny continued into
Moominland while Johanna and Jonne disappeared to find a shower and
fresh clothes – such luxuries as running water are not yet present in
these rural areas. The main means of transport to visit one’s neighbour
is boat, and the main means of cleaning up are a sauna or a swim in the
lake. It would seem also that us Africans do not have a complete
monopoly on the longdrop. The Finns have their relative equivalent for
all ablutionary requirements.

Upon Jonne and Johanna’s return, we spent a short while refining our
shooting skills before heading off in search of the beast that was to
provide dinner. Fortunately the hunt was rather short lived – the fridge
easily surrendered its contents for a barbeque, Finnish style. Being the
guest, I chose to take a step back from the *braaiing* activities and
watch, observe, and maybe learn a thing or two. Judging from the goings
on, I’d have to say it’s South Africa 2, Finland 0 – we are definitely
more experienced fire wielders. Not to sound arrogant of course, but
there were a few areas where I felt I could demonstrate a skill or two.
Nevertheless the end result was perfect, so perhaps the Finns have got
it figured out in their own way. With stomachs full and a smile on the
faces there was not much else to do but sit back, relax, and enjoy the
peace with some beers, good red wine and the sounds of Radio Nova
playing cheesy hits from the 80s in the background – the same hits we’d
heard on Radio Nova the evening before of course. Late night
conversation led us into the universal male debate of Britney vs
Christina, and being more pro-Britney I was forced to disagree with
Moneypenny’s view of a superior Christina. As it turned out I watched
‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ a few days later and had to retract all previous
pro-Britney comments because of Britney’s single naive statement in that

A repeat of the previous evening’s sunset and sunrise took place before
we awoke Sunday morning to a beautiful sunny day. Most of what remained
of our day was spent lizarding in the rare sun. I even had the
not-too-unfamiliar enjoyment of assisting Moneypenny at undressing into
her bikini to catch those few extra rays.

We had a quick lunch of very tasty freshly smoked (is that an
oxymoron?) fish before we packed our single bag and headed back towards
the train station at Vaasa to catch the last train back to Tampere, and
then once again had the I’m-gonna-miss-the-frikkin-train-and-then-what
experience before enjoying a comfortable if crowded trip into Helsinki,
a buzzing metropolis after days spent away from civilization.

One last experience remained before I was due to leave and return to
‘greener’ pastures. Zetor, located in the middle of Helsinki, can only
be classed as, and makes strong claim to be the definitive Finnish
pub/restaurant, complete with tractors for decor and pictures of the
famed Marshall Mannerheim, the well-known and highly esteemed saviour of
the Finnish race. Here I met Yussi, Björn, Gustav (come on Moneypenny,
what about Gustav? :P) and later on a number of other foreigners. I even
managed to steal the glory of a certain american guy who likes to pose
as a South African to impress Finnish ladies. (Bachelor’s tip #3) Now,
for once, he had to compete with the Real Thing(tm).

My months in the land of Finns, Swedes and reindeer had quickly drawn to
a close. Espoo, strange little place that it is, was now set to become a
place in a story once told. The experiences had all been typed up and
copied to a fragile but full hard disk. The Helsinki sun had set and
risen one last time for me when Wednesday arrived on a bittersweet note,
meaning all that remained of the week was a return to the airport to
await the long flight back to a wintery South Africa (Etela-Afrikka).


Next time on The Espoo Diaries… (the unforeseen edition)

‘…catching up with Moneypenny…’
‘…Moneypenny behind the wheel of a car I hold the liability for…’
‘…Stevie Wonder at the Pori Jazz festival…’
‘…a €5000 fine…’
‘…Sling In, Kaarle, Sling In, Kaarle – is there a pattern developing

The Espoo Diaries

The Espoo Diaries, Volume 6, 17 May – 6 June 2004

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

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”)


Next time on The Espoo Diaries…

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

The Espoo Diaries

The Espoo Diaries, Volume 5, 2 – 16 May 2004

Previously on The Espoo Diaries:

“…5 people to run a restaurant…”
“…gijima to the seety, not the township, one-time…”
“…atmosphere was festive and the place was packed to the brim…”
“…at least five or six incidents of unnecessary drunken behaviours in
public places…”
“…expecting to see bullets whizzing past…”
“…McDonald’s regular or the McDonald’s supersize, no ice,
“…soothing, sultry manner in which certain young Finnish women speak…”
“…the virtues of avoiding afternoon traffic…”
“…a really gorgeous stewardess with a sweet smile to brighten the flight…”

As with all great works of literature, I thought it appropriate to begin
the second act with a poetic narration of the events thus far.

“A South African in the City of Bars,
A place where there is no need for cars,
Will he survive?
Or will he see his arse?”

Ok, maybe we should not go down that road.

The scene is set – the venue: Joburg International, attempt two.
I waved my goodbyes and boarded the lovely South African Airways
Airbus A340-600 for my flight to Frankfurt. Flying in that plane is a
real treat, as far as any long distance flight can be anyway. Here I was
afforded the chance to directly manipulate a computer system that works
within the same parameters as, and possibly is linked to, the aircraft
flight systems. A scary thought – has anyone properly
considered the security aspects involved here? “Ladies and Gentlemen,
this is your captain speaking. Would the passenger in
seat 43C please stop his denial of service attack on the flight computer
so that we may prepare for take off?” In all it was a good flight – I
far prefer the bigger planes – with the only disappointment being that I
timed my watching of a movie perfectly so that the entertainment system
would be switched off for landing right as it was reaching the climax of
the movie. Eish. (Survival Tip: #7 – Plan movie viewing to accomodate a
switch off forty minutes before landing.)

The airports proved quicker and easier this time, obviously due to my
familiarity. This of course excluding the many-houred wait at Frankfurt
Airport itself. I nearly ended up being strip-searched at the European
departures terminal due to my carrying of a dangerous metallic item
throught the metal detector. Yes, my chewing gum wrapped in a silver
foil was going to cause the downfall of the civilised world by the
blatant terrorist act of, well, just imagine where I could stick a
piece of used chewing gum… Nasty! And so the silly, yank-following
Europeans let me through without checking for a bomb in my shoe, or in
my camera, or my laptop, or even asking what the small one-buttoned
device with three LED’s (which scans for wireless networks, but looks
more like a wireless detonator) was. I was ever so glad to feel safe in
the thought that tougher security measures were working well at
eliminating the terrorist threat. (Terror tip #1: Carry chewing gum for

I arrived in Helsinki for one of the most beautiful, pleasant and warm
weeks that the city has ever known in the month of April. The
temperature was between 20 and 25 C, and it brought forth the revelation
that the miniskirt is heavily in fashion in Europe this season. In just
over a week it seemed as though everything had moved from grey to green
– a lot of green. With all the wetlands and nature-filled areas, the
flat outskirts of Helsinki strongly resemble the US state of Florida –
without the alligators and the “president”.

My first week back turned out to include a first Friday of the month and
so I was afforded the opportunity of attending the 2600 Hacker meeting
in Helsinki, where I made a few contacts and had a bit of tech-speak
with fellow geeks. With Miss Moneypenny missing this entire week – I
think our timing was just out of synch – I ended up back on the streets
alone later that same evening with no idea of where to go. In an odd
twist of fate, I visited “Sling In”, where I actually ran into two of
the guys I had met earlier.

One of the guys in the group turned out to be a Liberian
named Cucu who had lived in Finland for fourteen years. Our common
heritage of “Ma Afrika” forced us to ally in a battle of wits and drinks
against the Europeans. Later that evening, Cucu and myself headed off to
“Helsinki Club” – Helsinki’s trendiest, upmarket night hotspot. Its
apparently the place to be, but I don’t really think its the place for
me to be. Here the Liberian introduced me to some Nigerian connections
(Terror Tip #2) and pretty soon it was really starting to feel like
home. (Theme Tune #5: “Norah Jones – Feels like Home”, played very
faintly above the heavy techno beat of what Moneypenny classifies as
‘poser music’. )

One thing is for sure – South Africans are very highly respected by
other nationalities for the almost “violence-free” transition made to
democracy in our country. Now that’s how to be “Proudly South African” –
sharing knowledge and ideas about your country with foreigners – not
sticking logos on milk bottles and charging for the “privilege” do it.

All in all it was a good evening and I met some interesting locals too,
thanks to of all things 2600.

The rest of the weekend was spent mostly recuperating with little
excitement on offer other than a visit to a flea market where I found on
offer a huge variety of old vinyls, antiques, and more. It was actually
more of a “communal garage sale”, with the emphasis on antiques. I also
found medals and pins, grenades, mortar bombs, weapons, clothing, gas
masks, helmets, field radios and ammunition. (Terror Tip #3 – Hit the
flea market for supplies).

And so another week whizzed by. (Work? What’s that?) Walking in the
streets, it is interesting to see how many people are wearing
headphones, listening to music supplied by some or other electronic
device – usually an mp3 player. I also discovered a third good beer –
‘Karhu’ – pronounced “Car who?”, as in “Dude where’s my car?”.

Its an interesting thing this Finnish language. Take for instance the
word for cigarette lighter. Its “savukkeensytyttimen”, which is the
reason why so many Finns carry matches. Another interesting word is that
of the value “93” which goes “yhdeksankymmentakolme”. I somehow don’t
think “99 bottles of beer on the wall” is sung around these parts. I
have also yet to see a crossword puzzle in a Finnish newspaper.

The weekend of the 14th of May was upon me before I knew it. I had spent
nine weeks living in hotels, with cooked breakfast and restaurant food
every night and visiting various nighttime hotspots at random. Wow. One
of the restaurants which I visited this particular Friday accompanying
Colin, an English guy working for Ariba, and his wife, was ‘Bakers’. The
food was good, but I soon discovered that certain British people are
just way too fussy and picky. I’ll just accept it but I do not
understand. Thereafter I met Olaf and Irina, also members of our team,
and we visited “Torni” the tallest building in Helsinki – 25 floors or
so. The view of the darkening city was magnificent.

Saturday morning began with a jolting ringing sound – a phone call on
the hotel phone. It seemed such a strange and unfamiliar sound in this
world of polyphonic symphonies. At the office the company has their own
cellular base station in the building, so as soon as employees
enter the building their mobile phones switch to the local network and all
outgoing calls are diverted through the base station at no cost to
the employee. Unfortunately us mere contractors do not share this
privilege. No office telephones are therefore required, with the only
fixed-line phones being in the conference rooms.

The offender at the far end of the copper communication wire was Olaf,
or more accurately, on-a-mission-Olaf. The weather was slightly sunny
and a little bit warmer, and Olaf was determined that we should hire
bicycles to roam around the outskirts of the city on. I headed down to
breakfast and before I could ask myself ‘What the hell would I want to
ride a bike in Helsinki for?’ Olaf was there, with a bike in each hand.

We headed out on the streets, me now being a high speed South African
danger to locals. The entire area is well geared towards cyclists,
inline skaters, skateboarders and walkers – specially marked paths
accompany almost every relatively large road, even so much as having
special traffic lights in the city for people on the cycling paths. It
really was an interesting experience, and as it turns out, a very quick
and efficient way of moving around and seeing some of the countryside. I
would have preferred to be on inline skates though. After many
kilometers my legs decided that this really is not such an ‘efficient’
mode of transport, and I headed back to the hotel by a shorter route
than Olaf took. And that is when I discovered the problem with cycling
around Helsinki – although you can move quicker, you can also get
horribly lost a lot quicker.

There I was on the middle of some frikkin island with little wooden huts
all around, not a main road in sight, a bicycle with a seriously
uncomfortable seat under my ass and weather starting to look a bit

I was ‘Lost on Lautasaari’.

Fortunately some African survival skills kicked in.
Step one – Pray to the rain gods.
Good, sunshine.
Step two – Find a metal pin and some magnetic rock, rub the rock on the
pin and float the pin on a pool of water to find North. (Ok, I didn’t
really do this…)
Aha, North is opposite of where you think it was…
Step three – Use a magnifying glass to start a fire and set off smoke
Step four – Be the foreigner, become one with the ignorance, and ask
someone for directions.

No prizes for guessing which steps I took.

I eventually reached the hotel, cursing everything from the inventor of
the bicycle to the inventor of the sunny day. From now on I’d stick to

Of course this exercise was way too healthy, and there is only one
solution for exercise – beer. Saturday evening required a visit to
‘Kaisla’, a lively pub with a wide selection of beer to sample. Of
course one cannot merely visit one location per night in the city of
bars, and so the next stop we decided on was ‘Bakers’, the restaurant
now nightclub and bar after 11pm. Fortunately for the pub-hoppers, there
was no entrance charge, just a euro or two to look after your jacket.

The rest of evening all blurred into one, with a few distinct moments in
between. For example the blonde girl on the dance floor who seemed to be
tripping on something a bit stronger than Finnish vodka. I also brushed
up on some more Finnish, learning the lyrics to a popular song – ‘Meille
vai teille?’ – ‘Your place or mine?’. I ended the evening with another
pleasant late night stroll the to the hotel, ready to face what turned
out to be a lazy Sunday ahead.

A saying was born early that Sunday morning: “You may be horribly
hungover, but its only the foolish man who skips the hotel breakfast.”

Breakfast was fortunately brightened with a smile from Moneypenny and a
pill from Paramed.

Life in Helsinki is good.


Next time on The Espoo Diaries…

“…Belge is not just for Belgians…”
“…Karle, what a place…”
“…Mari Koskinen versus Megan Moneypenny…”

The Espoo Diaries

The Espoo Diaries, Volume 4, 11 – 24 April 2004

Please note.
Due to election coverage and ‘president’ George W. Bush actually making
a speech to the US nation (his third ever) this edition of Espoo Diaries
will not be broadcast in its regular spot.

Previously on The Espoo Diaries:

“…5 people to run a restaurant…”
“…gijima to the seety, not the township, one-time…”
“…I conducted a “hotel-migration-exercise…”
“…atmosphere was festive and the place was packed to the brim…”
“…the Golden Cap index is based on a truer scale….”
“…attempt to call the two young ladies from the floor below…”
“…at least five or six incidents of unnecessary drunken behaviours in
public places…”
“…expecting to see bullets whizzing past…”

Well it has been a while since the last edition, and there’s loads to
relate, so sit back, grab a beer, a vivid imagination and a blonde, no
wait, if you have a blonde forget about this email – focus on the blonde.

Like a flush of water down a toilet bowl, these are the days of our lives…

Speaking of toilets and flushing, a very interesting observation has
revealed itself at the Radisson Seaside hotel (and in retrospect also
applied at the Scandic Espoo although I never quite got my head wrapped
around it). In the ablution facility one is presented with a choice.
Matrix fans, think blue pill vs. red pill. Or perhaps biltong vs dried
wors, or maybe even in true airline style, beef or chicken? The choice
is this, and it is your choice alone on completion of the necessary
facility usage: big flush or little flush.

A dilemma of enormous magnitude and perhaps somewhat unnecessary in this
world filled with choices, in almost every bathroom there is the option
of the generic McDonald’s regular or the McDonald’s supersize, no ice,
flush. Admirably, it is all about saving water, but I play it safe and
supersize my flushes.

The weekend of the 17th April saw me with a bit of company in the city –
Olaf, one of the other Ariba team members was staying this weekend and
proved a dandy companion in my travels and adventures.

Friday evening included a visit to a small popular Chinese restaurant.
The food was good, the beer was low alcohol, and the chairs and tables
were Chinese size, so it was my turn to feel like a Viking, but all in
all it was a good change. Thereafter we found a bigger, better cinema –
Kinopalatsi – where we watched ‘Valamiehet’ (Runaway
Jury) for a pittance at 10€. The cinema was very big though and spacious
enough to lie in your seat with legs outstretched, pretending you were
flying first class, because this is the closest you’d ever get to it.

Afterwards a crowded Molly Malone’s waylaid our path (this now a second
appearance for me), loads of really drunk Finnish people and a beer or
two later it was back to the hotel to prepare for the weekend ahead.

Saturday morning we missioned off at Olaf’s request, roaming the
suburban areas slightly outside Helsinki in search of some “really nice
place he’d heard of” which never turned up. It was however, interesting
to see numerous sculptures of modern art litter the area going out of
Helsinki. I managed to guide him carefully back to a main street to
catch a bus back to the city. Of course once in the city, the necessary
cosmopolitan atmosphere dictated that we find a coffee shop and do the
‘coffee thing’ ™. The warm atmosphere and the smell of coffee was
accompanied by the soothing, sultry manner in which certain young
Finnish women speak. The rich sound rolls off their tongue like
chocolate coated strawberries provoking your taste sensation, a
soothing, yet unintelligible trickle of playfulness to one’s ear.

It gives true meaning to the Afrikaner-ism – “You can for like to speak

Olaf also wanted to visit Seurasaari, the open-air museum, but I had
already been there and I remembered seeing a ‘summer house’ on display
when it was snowing at Seurasaari and convinced him that it was not
really worth the effort.

This of course left us with little alternative for that evening’s
activities but to examine the efficient use of alcohol by the Finnish
working class. The venue to be frequented – none other than
Baarikarpanen. Baarikarpanen, who knows what it means (political
insiders seem to indicate a possible translation of “Barfly”), is a
small bar/nightclub on Mikonkatu, opposite the railway station. Miss
Moneypenny had provided me with the necessary intel on this location at
a prior date and this proved correct – the crowd was rather young and
the party only starts after eleven. Of course, with the sun only setting
at about 9 pm at this time of the year, nobody wants to go to a club
with the sun still shining. Except, ummm, well, South African foreigners
it seems. (Theme tune #4: George Michael and Elton John – “Don’t let the
sun go down on me.”)

Helsinki’s reputation as the ‘City of Bars’ was starting to prove its
mettle to my liver. (Survival tip #6: Prohep/Essentiale – import it, cos
I haven’t got a clue what you’d call it here)

On leaving, at about half past one in the morning, I walked back through
the city, seeing at least five queues of fifteen or more people queuing
to enter various clubs and bars. Unbelievable.

Sunday had me pursuing a quick stroll around töölönlahti – the lake in
the center of Helsinki, taking in the sights and sounds of the city and
the young women who jog there on Sunday afternoons. I then smsed the
local cellular service provider’s special ticket number and was able to
purchase my tram ticket using my cellphone, which I then showed to the
driver when boarding the tram. A simple and efficient way of bypassing
the coin carnage.

Later on I was treated to the wonders of hotel TV including South Park,
dubbed into German. (OH- mein Gott. Sie töteten Kenny!) While the German
channel dubs everything into their native language, the norm for the
Finnish channels is to simply place Finnish subtitles on the screen – a
much better option for the English speaker I believe. Even at the cinema
every movie has subtitles, often in both Finnish and Swedish. It is
small wonder then that when you speak to a stranger in English, often
they look at you in a strange manner, almost as if they are waiting for
the white subtitles to appear superimposed below your chin.

Further investigation shows that the PayTV system is running off a
windows application – the ‘your system is running low on virtual memory’
error was a dead giveaway. Of course, it also seems that there are ways
of subverting the pay tv, but we don’t want to break any laws now do we?

I was also ‘lucky’ enough to catch some CNN election coverage, including
ten years of democracy propaganda made available by the ANC. On election
day I actually contemplated hacking the results server where the results
where being published in real time and giving everyone a scare – it was
a lowly windows machine, largely unpatched from all appearances. I
decided that due to my return to Africa the following week it may not be
such a grand idea.

The rest of the week proved largely uneventful, with work taking
priority as the system testing phase kicked off.

On my taxi ride back to Helsinki-Vantaa airport, the driver proved a
good navigator as he told me the virtues of avoiding afternoon traffic
through the use of clever routes and taxi lanes. He also made mention
when asked about accidents, that they had recently had a tragic accident
where thirty young students on a bus to a ski resort collided with a
truck carrying paper rolls which jack-knifed on the ice, killing most of
the passengers on the bus. He also indicated that it was probably the
worst traffic accident ever in Finland, and the only bad one in many
many years.

As we carved our way through suburbia I glanced at a car park outside a
shopping centre and saw, something familiar, something spectacular, but
ultimately something completely wrong. I thought I had seen a “car
guard”, but in fact it was a construction worker with an orange vest…
Hallucinations of home were beginning to set in…

A relatively uneventful flight back to Frankfurt, except for the pilot
who fancied himself as a bit of a cowboy, and little excitement at the
airport found me back on a long-distance flight, crowded in with a bunch
of “Ja bru”‘s, heading for Sunny South Africa.

Fortunately there was a really gorgeous stewardess with a sweet smile to
brighten the flight. (Although it is her job to smile at everyone, the
smile in my direction was a bit more sweet than the rest.) Later that
evening I decided to take some initiative and followed her back to the
flight crew’s quarters at the back of the plane. I had a chat with her
and things were just starting to get interesting when suddenly the plane
shuddered over a turbulent air pocket.

I woke up. Sigh… Terrible thing this economy-class syndrome.

//END OF ACT I. Cast leaves stage.


Next time on The Espoo Diaries…

“…Miss Moneypenny missing…”
“…from grey to green…”
“…2600 meeting…”
“…the downfall of the civilised world…”