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…”

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