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…”

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