Tuesday, May 26, 2009

If we didn't have kids

If we didn't have kids
We'd be DINKs with lots of chink
What can we buy with double the income
Lots of stuff for ourselves
And plenty other events to go to

Then we had kids
One of us bade our job goodbye
Four fellows now share the spoils
Still we saved more
Than when there were only two

If we didn't have kids
My wardrobe gets new additions
Every time I hit the shops
Suits, bags and shoes
Money buys some satisfaction

Then we had kids
Their wardrobe gets new additions
Every time I hit the shops
Pink dresses or Spidey Ts
Giggles brings instant gratification

If we didn't have kids
We'd live in the city
In a cosy apartment by the sea
Fiddling with fancy gadgets
Lounging on the balcony

Then we had kids
Chose a house in the country
Flanked by flowers and trees
Cycling on gravel tracks
Running in the forestry

If we didn't have kids
We'd choose a fancy restaurant
Every evening, a new menu
We'll hang out late into the night
Maybe some friends over for a chat

Then we had kids
I whip up yummy-licious stews
Every day, a fresh menu
We exchange hugs and kisses before bed
They get more when sound asleep

If we didn't have kids
We'd take off for hols this week
Get on a plane with some clothes
Shopping, coffee and dinners
In Barcelona, Paris or Rome

Then we had kids
Packing for hols take a week
Extra large suitcase with more on board
Shopping, food and rides
Disneyland, the beach or the zoo

If we didn't have kids
We'd have more time
And money too
We can go wherever we want
And eat whatever we want

Then we had kids
We share all that we have
Time and money too
Love and joy multiplied
There's nothing else we want

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happiest Place in the World

Feeling blue?

Walt Disney's dream to create the Happiest Place on Earth gave birth to the theme park of theme parks - Disneyland. Here, children and adults indulge their fantasies in oversized stuffed animals, wild rides and make-believe kingdoms.

But I am not talking about short-term escapism but real life.

The OECD has found the happiest places in the world: Denmark is tops, followed by Finland and the Netherlands.

Yes! Finland is one of the happiest places in the world.

Finland is a nice place to be in. I continue with gripes about high cost of living but otherwise, life here is great.

Finns generally aren't particular about wealth, brands and other status symbols that many Asians are mad about. They enjoy sports, music, spending time with their families and friends. Children in Finland are encouraged to play. Not to conform to parents' or society's template of who they should be but to grow into a person who is ready to make friends and enjoy life.

While North European countries are some of the happiest (others on the top 10 list include Denmark, Sweden and Norway), someone left a comment on the Forbes article that these are also countries with some of the highest suicide rates. Maybe it's because the people here tend to be introverts or they may be troubled by long dark nights during the winter months. Finland has two tragic cases of school shootings, just 1 year apart from each other.

Nevertheless, Finns take any indication that their people are not happy quite seriously. There were local news reports that Finnish children are stressed... please, they haven't compared themselves to kids in Asia yet. Or studies that show children who exhibit disorderly behaviour tend to have trouble integrating with society later on.

No place in the world is perfect.

Thankfully, we and the people around us belong to the happy group.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Nothing to do - how blissful

In Finland, May 1 is called Vappu Paiva. The Finns celebrate Vappu with colourful balloons, preferably filled with helium, pom-poms, streamers and lots of drinks. The kids had a party in school and had their faces painted. You will see Jules' Spiderman/Optimus Prime Transformer-inspired art in the video and Estelle had her hair coloured purple too.

Over the long weekend last week, we took a short trip to Hanko. Hanko is a seaside town west of Helsinki, over 120 km by road. 

We see the name "Hanko" almost every day because we travel on the highway that leads to this little town whenever we send the kids to school. It didn't occur to us to find out more about this place until our friends suggested our families do something together.

We set off from our home in Espoo at around 4 pm and arrived in Hanko at 6. Our apartment at Villa Lundmark was great - neat, equipped and tastefully furnished. 

Hanko used to be a spa town and many large villas were built in the 1800s. In later days, rooms in the villas were segregated into smaller apartments, much like the one we stayed in. As such, we could enjoy the experience of living in a villa with modern facilities like electricity, shower/toilet and kitchen - some things we take for granted in modern life.

We arrived on Thursday evening and set out to paint the town red on Friday. We wondered if we chose a wrong time to come. The streets were empty and shops were closed. Our friends from China thought that Hangzhou was tranquil but Hanko took "quiet little town" to the extreme. Not surprising, since the population of even a third-tier Chinese city often exceeds that of Finland's.

There are several restaurants along the coast but only a handful are open. One of the activities recommended by the Hanko tourist guide is "check out the new menus of the restaurants as they open their doors again". More will open as the crowds check in. HG thinks the town will probably be quite busy in summer when Finns raid the beach in search of a spot to worship the sun. 

We walked along the sandy beaches and climbed little granite mounts. Since there is little else to do, we simply walked around town and took in the sights. Besides interesting buildings, like lighthouses and villas, statues and monuments are scattered around town, many of which are testaments to Hanko's military past. 

Villa Orman has a cafe serving drinks and pastries as well as a second hand bookshop, something I'd very much looked forward to. The small section of English books had some obscure titles. The gem I unearthed is the Good Housekeeping Electric Casserole Cook Book. It has a collection of recipes, from soups to stews to desserts, for slow cookers, also known as crock pots. 

"Cooking with an electric casserole has all sorts of advantages but there's no doubt it's a new technique to master," goes the foreword. Funny because crock pots aren't fashionable nowadays. Published in 1978, this book is truly a sign of the times. I bought it because I want to try out new recipes on my own little crock pot, a wedding gift that I've now found extremely useful.

Hanko welcomes visitors to do nothing - how blissful. A simple life, indeed.