Thursday, September 24, 2009

Watch out, autumn is here

You don't want to crash into one of these.

This is a taxidermal specimen of a moose. Also known as an elk, there are about 150,000 of them living in the forests in Finland. Apparently, just about 30km away from home, we might be able to encounter one of these.

Here in Finland, between six months and two years after passing the driving test, one has to take what-is-called Phase II driving lessons. Phase II consists of an approximately half-hour drive with an instructor so he/she can point out areas that need improvement, and a 6-hour course at the slippery tracks.

Three weeks ago, I spent 6 hours at the slippery track driving centre. After an hour of briefing on the day's programme, the class of 6 took turns slipping and sloshing on oiled roads. One by one, we drove our cars around strategically-placed obstacles. Instructor-of-the-day Merja reminded us many times over the walkie-talkie: "Winter is coming very soon. The roads are going to be slippery."

After the driving session, Merja brought us to the "Safety House". More like house of driving horrors. We went through a maze of exhibits relating to traffic accidents. Mr Moose here and a badly-crumpled car was the first scene to greet us.

Mr Moose and his friends like to venture out of the forest when the day turns dark. This week, the sun rises at around 7 am and sets at 6.30 pm. They don't realise that at 7 pm Human Time, the night is still young and the highways are buzzing with vehicles. Statistically, the highest rate of accidents takes place between 6 pm - 7 pm during winter months.

The specimen in the Safety House stands at over 1.8m and weighs more than 250kg. According to Merja (a well-built lady who referred to me as "the small girl"), this was a young moose - it's just about 4 years old. A typical moose can grow taller than 2m and adds bulk on its body as it ages.

Should a car crash into a moose, the bonnet will hit its legs, thus smashing its huge body against the windscreen. The force of impact will easily cause lethal injuries to those in the front seats.


This morning, we woke up to 4ºC. The highest day time temperature reached today was around 9ºC. Looks like we are bidding the teens goodbye. First snow fell in the north of Finland yesterday and we are expecting sub-zero nights later this week.

I haven't update the blog for 2 weeks because I've been nursing a bad flu. I showed symptoms like headache, high fever, muscle aches, fatigue... Is it, dare I say it, swine flu? I didn't see the doctor or got tested. Thank goodness I've recovered after plenty of rest and some analgesics. This couple of weeks felt so long, but I was floating in and out of sleep so time flew by in a blur.

The good news is: I'm back!

Before I close this entry, I want to share with you another exhibit from the Safety House.

An axel turns this car 360º on its side to simulate an accident situation. The students, including myself, experienced the importance of safety belts as the car turns and we also learnt to climb out as the car is upside-down. I'm thankful I'm agile enough to climb out easily and pray that I will never have to do it in real-life.

I commented that it's a good thing I'm not pregnant, otherwise this would manoeuvre would have been very difficult. Another student, Kevin's eyes grew large. I noticed a child seat in his car so he probably has a family he's concerned about.

Autumn is here and the roads may be icy and slippery before winter arrives. Got to drive carefully.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Ripe for harvest

Autumn has arrived.

Temperatures this week barely scratched 20ºC and goes to about 12ºC in the night time. Skies were overcast and showers come down every other day. My potted plants are practically flooded.

The most significant difference is the daylight hours - the sun rises after 6 am and sets at around 8 pm. This timetable feels like the regular routine in the tropics where there are even amounts of day and night. Very soon, the balance will be tipping (more like lunging) towards darkness.

Now that rainy season has come, it's the time to pick mushrooms. Yellow chanterelles are apparently tasty and expensive, and easy to identify. Others look similar to familiar ones like button mushrooms (champignons) but are actually deadly. In this tough economic climate, it seems that more people are foraging in the woods to look for food. Tragically, some lives are paid in exchange for free food.

Our landlord is a gardener so we have a wide variety of plants in our little garden. We've had some tiny but sweet strawberries. Over the past weeks, the apples on our trees have turned red and today, we harvested some more.

Yummy apples from our own backyard. Gorgeous.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Learn by playing

This week marks the beginning of Helsinki Design Week where all things related to Design are presented.

Last year, I found out about the Design Week pretty late so the only event I attended was the Design Market. Designers and companies from around Finland took part in a "warehouse sale" where they sell off overstocks or items from previous collections. The event was held at the Cable Factory in Helsinki, which used to be an abandoned factory which has since been turned into offices and working space for hip companies.

I guess this is kind of like the 798 Dashanzi arts district in Beijing or downtown Waterloo Street in Singapore. Maybe the urban planners thought artists may be inspired by the past. Or maybe, they just can't find other less premium property to give away. Anyhow, old buildings are now "in".

So I was looking though the programme to see what other events I can take part in. There seems to be lots more organised this year, and the range is much wider too. When I checked the website over a month ago, many events were still not unconfirmed. Todays' programme looks very comprehensive.

There are several events I am interested in. The Design Market this Saturday has already been marked on the calendar and I am determined to buy something this year. I'm not sure about the furniture - they look really cool but I'm not so hot about the prices. I'm hoping to attend at least one of the conferences.

Then I came across this seminar on architecture and design education Kulttuuruareena Gloria. It sounds a lot like my Interdisciplinary Product Design workshop, until I clicked on the web link and found out about Arkki, the School of Architecture for Children and Youth. In keeping with the Finnish culture, children are taught architecture through play. Looking at the video presentations, it's amazing that kids in their pre-teens are working with architecture plans and building pretty complex models. Above all, they are having lots of fun.

Here is a video of a Hut Building Camp held during summer time.

Classes start for children as young as 4 years old. This would have a really good course for my kids and I am sure their lives will be very much enriched. Whether they will finally become architects is besides the point.

Unfortunately, we can't commit to their attendance until they are 18 years old. Secondly, I suspect the classes are conducted only in Finnish, which puts us at a great disadvantage. If we want to live in Finland in the long term, we really should be learning the language. But we only have short term plans here, which excludes us from fully benefitting from what Finland can offer.

The kids' kampong father thinks building those tree houses are chicken feet, while their mom reminisces those happy RR days building teepees and other structures. We hope our kids will develop a love for nature, and find their place out of this sanitised and air-conditioned world.