Sunday, March 29, 2009

Tale of two cities

Blogging activity was suspended for about two weeks because I am now in Singapore.

We arrived two weeks ago and are living in a en-bloc development that has been put on hold. The developer re-organises the units and rents them out on a short-term basis. In this way, the company can still bring in income while it awaits better times to build the new condo.

Our first week was spent on organising "home", cleaning up the rooms and establishing a regular routine with the kids. By the time we had settled down, we got ready for my brother's wedding last Wednesday. On Thursday and Friday, I brought the kids to Vivo City and Ikea at Alexandra to enjoy the children's facilities. 

Perhaps we have been away for a long time - nine months this time, and a total of three years since we left for our first posting - Singapore feels different.

I noticed more foreigners and maybe we lived in China for two years, we can spot them rather easily. Many food stalls have Chinese helpers. Even the cleaners at church are partly staffed by Chinese.

We took the kids on a cable car ride, starting at Cable Car Tower (now called HarbourFront Tower 2), passing Mt Faber, then Sentosa and back. Seems that several workers at the Mt Faber point are Indians.

Angmohs are no longer confined to the city area. They look like they fit in the heartlands in T-shirts, bermudas and flip-flops. Very Singaporean, except for skin colour.

Singapore has become an international city. People are drawn to this little island near the equator by its clean environment, keen education system, safe food supply, among other things.

Helsinki and the surrounding capital region has also seen a rise in its foreign population. My family and I contribute to the statistics. As I sense a change in the demographic make-up of Singapore, I am part of the same change in Finland.


Sunday, March 8, 2009

Cool winter outing

This is our final weekend before we leave for Singapore next Friday. Will Finland still be in winter mode when return in April? We've heard that spring comes in May...

We decided to make the best of this weekend by definitely not staying indoors.

Since our visit to Uunisaari last Sunday, we began searching for our next outing.

Uunisaari is a little island off Helsinki. In summer, it has a popular beach and one has to take a boat to get across, even though it is just about 100 m from the mainland. Unless you are Michael Phelps (and don't mind getting wet), you are less than a minute splash away.

On the website, we read that a suspension bridge is set up in winter. When we arrived, we realised that all we had to do was hop onto the sea. Yes, we walked on the sea again. Everyone else was doing it. Men, women, children, babies in prams, dogs...

We walked to Uunisaari, around it and on it. We also walked to the island next to it. Some parts of the sea just next to the coast was slightly wet so we had to be careful choosing our next step.

Today (Saturday), we visited Ooittaa. It has a camping site and a recreation centre where we can rent skis and other necessary equipment. There is also the quintessential Finnish sauna.

I asked a family from the children's school to join us. We had visited their home some months back and hadn't had a chance to invite them to ours.

Ooittaa is a nature site just next to a large lake called Bodominjärvi. The lake is frozen and a skiing track has been made out on the ice and leads onto land. Our friends told us that the area is actually a beach in summer and popular with Finns who come to tan. Today, we could not tell where the coast starts and where it ends. And even in summer, temperatures in southern Finland hover around 20ºC and don't forget sea breeze. Bbrrr...

The kids found a slope and sledded. A lump of snow which had somehow become a slide and had a hole at the base became a playground. They also had great fun playing on the slide and swings. Children need so little to be happy.

The highlight of this trip was our BBQ. The simple menu of sausages, marshmallows and hot Milo was really fun. The pit was open to all visitors and the centre provided free firewood. People just sat around the fire and placed their food on the grill. We may look like we are enjoying ourselves, but in reality, we were actually freezing. 

Sausages were the most popular food. The other kids looked enviously at our marshmallows so we shared our large pack with them. The Tohs seemed to be the only ones who know what to do with marshmallows at a BBQ. We are happy to transfer some technology.

The pit was tiny yet everyone was happy to share some space on the grill and seats on the benches. The area was generally clean because users tidied up after themselves. Very nice.

I told you Finland is a nice place.