Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Off to Norway

I'm going on holiday tomorrow! Woo! I haven't been to a new country for almost two years, so I'm extremely excited. I'll be off to the airport at 5am tomorrow, will be in Oslo all day, and on Friday morning I'll be with my lovely friend Selina in Bergen. She seems to have lots of exciting things planned for me over the weekend, so I'm really looking forward to it.
I'm pretty much ready, just need to pack my case, but I have some Norwegian money, my travel documents are printed, and I've got some ideas of what to do tomorrow when I'm left to my own devices in a strange city.
So I'll be back on Monday with plenty of dirt on those Norwegians and probably a lot of pictures. Palaan!

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Libraries are good

Today Minttu took me to the library to print some things, and it's really very nice. The older part is a really beautiful building, and inside there were some sculptures and digital artwork. There are lots of comfortable places to sit, and they even have a cafe!
She showed me where the foreign language books are, and they have a large selection in English. They also have quite a big section on art, also in a variety of languages. If I'm a bit bored sometime I think it would be enjoyable to go there and read something new. I wish I'd been there during the dark winter days, it would have been a good place to visit.
There's lots of light, especially in the new building, which can't be a bad thing if you're going there to read. However, my absolute favourite thing about the library was that the children's section, with lots of games and nice places to sit, was filled with teenagers and adults. Presumably it was more comfortable than the adult section.
It was quite busy there, and it seems to be a popular place to visit. I think it's good that people are keen to go to the library here - I'm not sure the attitude is the same in England. I think I will go there again. If I get a babysitting or au pere job I will definitely be dragging the children off to find some lovely books.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Pirate hippies and music in the park

This weekend has been amazing! The weather has suddenly become very sunny and warm, with no clouds in the sky, and it's so lovely. It's like Turku has suddenly burst into life, and it's wonderful.
Yesterday we went back to the hippy culture house for the evening, and it was so relaxing to sit in the sun in the garden. This time we decided to be super cool...and make pasta salad! We were well-prepared, but it seems the organisers had found some more food to go with their bread. Very good. We might be going back tonight too, it's become a bit addictive. The atmosphere is so nice, and it's perfect for a sunny day.
Today I decided to go to the park to sketch - certainly didn't want to waste such a beautiful day at home, and I think another building in the park has been taken over. They put a black flag outside when they've claimed a building, and there was one in the park, plus a very good band playing in there for a couple of hours. I didn't go inside, but it was very pleasant to sit outside drawing and listening to them.
I walked alongside the river too, and there were so many people hanging out around there. It's infectious when everyone is in such a good mood. I'm so excited for the summer - already there's such a great atmosphere, and everyone seems so happy. I love how good weather does that to people.
I can't remember the last time everything felt so wonderful, so free, and so full of hope. I really couldn't be happier with how things have turned out for me, and I really feel now that the struggles have been worthwhile. I'm so glad I'm not missing out on all of these things, which so easily could have happened. Thankfully, things changed. Turku has a really amazing energy right now, that seems to have suddenly exploded out of nowhere. Things are so insular in winter, but everything seems to have opened up and become very inviting. All this and I'm going on holiday in a few days! What more could I ask for?
It's a shame I'll be missing May day here, but maybe something will be happening in Norway too.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Mad party

Minttu took me to a really strange party last night. It's held in an abandoned house, by people who want to do something for underground and alternative culture. It's on all weekend, there were a few punk bands playing, and they're screening films and doing various things. Someone told me they're trying to make an agreement with the council so that it can be an official thing, as right now it's underground, and potentially a bit illegal.
We had a lot of fun though. For ages we just sat on the roof drinking beer, and I saw that it still wasn't properly dark at 10.30, which is a bit mad to me. Some guys were skating on the roof, which was maybe not the best idea, but it was fun.
We spent quite a while just walking around this house and talking to people, because there were four or five floors and lots of random rooms. It was huge, and a bit creepy sometimes. A lot of people seemed to be just looking around the building. At one point we ended up smoking in the basement with some random guys, in a room filled with bits of rotting wood and paper, which they were very convinced had a grave in the corner. The weirdest part was that we tried to find this room again later, and couldn't! Spooky stuff. Groups of people were hanging out in various rooms, we found some guy sleeping behind a wardrobe. There were lots of young, different people there, and the atmosphere was really nice and relaxed. They'd even provided food, although this seemed to consist of bread and coffee. Still, it's thoughtful.
It was a really good alternative to going to a bar. We didn't get wasted, we met lots of people, and had a good time. I even had a conversation in Finnish, which never happens because young Finnish people seem to like having a chance to speak English, and therefore forget that I'm the one who might need to develop their language skills. It went well, and I was informed that I speak quite well. Excellent news.
We left around 1am, when things were getting quieter, but as it's going on until Monday we might go back sometime. We had taken the bus to get there, but we walked back and it really didn't take that long. Definitely a good night, and more fun than just going to a bar and drinking. Didn't cost anything either, and it was the kind of thing I think I would do with my friends in London, so that was cool. It would be quite nice if we do go there again.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Happy 6 months anniversary!

Wow. I came to Finland six months ago today. What an exciting, surprising, traumatic, and beautiful six months it's been. It feels so strange, in all this time I've spent only five days in England, and so much has happened and changed.
Six months ago I was unhappy. I'd been ill for several months, and I was in a bad relationship. I came here out of love, and a naive hope that a change of scenery would do us good and save the relationship. It actually had a very different effect. It made me realise the one thing that everyone else already knew - that it wasn't worth saving. My desire to take advantage of new opportunities here, and to not be held back, pushed me to become independent again. So much good has come out of this experience, but if nothing else, that is something to be grateful for. I'm very happy now. I feel like I'm back to being the person I was, and always should have been.
That's obviously the most significant change to my life, but there are others too. I've been living in a new culture for all this time, and that's what has made me happiest. I appreciate my own country more now, and can see it's good points, whereas before I was desperate to get away. I've had to keep an open mind about a lot of things, and I think this kind of experience is very valuable.
I've also met lots of lovely new friends, and I'm sure there are still more to come. I've been given so much kindness and support here, and I'm very lucky to have met a lot of trustworthy, decent people. I wasn't sure how I'd make friends in this place, but I haven't done too badly.
I've found a city that I really like. I think Turku is beautiful, I have a wonderful home here, and I'm so glad that circumstances lead me here, because I doubt I ever would have come here independently. It's quieter than London, but I think I needed that, and much less intimidating than going to a larger foreign city. There's still plenty to keep me occupied, so I think I've hit the right balance for now.
My knowledge of the Finnish language has vastly developed, even if it's still far from fluent. It's a complicated language which takes a long time to master, so I'm quite satisfied with what I've learned so far. When I came here I knew two or three words, now I can have a simple conversation, and say some more complicated sentences. I've learned a lot since coming here.
Six months ago this blog was non-existent. Now it has many readers, a few fans on Facebook, it's allowed me to meet new people, and it keeps growing. It was planned as a way to let my friends in England know what I was up to, but it's become so much bigger than that now. It's been a big surprise.
I've thought about things, and the circumstances in which I came here were all wrong, but I don't think it matters because now things are wonderful. Sometimes I'm sad that I'm not graduating with my friends this summer, and worry that I'll be lonely when I go home, but when I think of all the positive parts of this period of time I'm so glad I'm here, and I think it was worth it. It was an unplanned and plain stupid decision, but it's turned out so well. Sometimes there's a lot to be said for stupidity.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

I feel efficient

I've had a busy day so far, but I'm feeling very efficient. I've been to a couple of places in person to ask if they need any staff. I've not had any luck but the lady in one hotel I went to was so lovely, she wrote down the contact details for some work agency she thought might be able to help me, she asked to see pictures of my paintings on my phone, and she talked about the royal wedding a lot. She was so lovely, and very enthusiastic.
I've also made the sign to advertise as an English teacher, kindly helped by Minttu translating for me. Just need to get it printed and put it everywhere.
I've applied for some jobs via email too, and contacted somewhere about selling my paintings. I'm glad that today is turning out to be so productive, and hopefully something will come out of this. As time goes by I'm feeling more anxious about this, but for now I'm still remaining hopeful. I just need a bit of luck I think. I've still got a few more ideas to try out, and I really think that with this much effort I'm bound to find something.
I've also discovered a very effective way to get rid of charity workers in the street - ask if they speak English! They're off like a shot the minute you say that.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The mämmi experience

I tried it. I hated it. Heli and Minttu really couldn't understand why. Minttu had been eating several bowls of it, and Heli commented that she couldn't imagine anyone not loving it. I tried the tiniest amount, and frankly it didn't taste any better than it looks. This is a Finnish thing I just don't get. It's a traditional, widely loved food, but I thought it was terrible.
Somehow it tasted very faintly of Christmas pudding, maybe because of orange peel. The texture was gelatinous and reminded me of rice pudding. It's not something I plan to eat again.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

It's the little things that count

Obviously I've mentioned how foreign and different this country is to me, but I don't think I've written about the tiny details, that maybe you wouldn't expect, that are different. There are lots of simple things that I sometimes realise are not at all like home.
For example, the air is clearer in Finland. Maybe I'm just used to breathing in the dodgy London air, which is probably not very healthy, but it feels a lot cleaner and clearer here. The first time I came to this country we noticed it straight away, and we loved it.
Food is saltier here. I don't know why that is, presumably it just suits the tastes of Finnish people better, but it's definitely noticeable for me. English food seems a bit bland in comparison. I'll probably add a ton of salt to everything when I leave because I've got used to how Finnish food tastes.
On Friday and Saturday nights people go out later than they usually would in England. I see "going out time" as between 8 and 9pm, but often in Finland we've been at home until 10.30-11pm. Bars are open until 2am here, so maybe there's just less of a rush to get out earlier. I'd never wait until that time if I was just going to a bar in England.
The light levels are strange. In winter it's dark almost constantly, but at this time of year it's light for so long, much longer than in England. I certainly prefer it as it is now. I'm not even in Northern Finland, where the light levels are much more extreme than this. It's been such a nice change recently to have light for much longer.
Just about everyone lives in blocks of flats here. Hardly anyone lives in a proper house with more than one level. I don't know why, and in England families wouldn't usually live in a flat. The building I live in now is old and beautiful, but the last place I lived in looked like a council towerblock. I'd be embarrassed to live somewhere like that in England, but here it's completely acceptable, and normal.
The whole thing in the supermarket with weighing your vegetables and getting a sticker for them - we don't do that in England. The first time I did that by myself I felt quietly very proud. In England you just take it to the till and they weigh it there. It's such a strange little thing.
The obsession with taking a numbered ticket when you're waiting somewere. Why not just form a queue like we would in England? Very occasionally we have ticket machines, but here they are absolutely everywhere - the supermarket, the bank, the bus station, the police station...just everywhere.
All these little things add up to make things so different. Things like language, weather, and food are obvious, but I've noticed all these tiny aspects that perhaps you'd never expect to differ. Somehow I think I like the strange feeling.

Friday, 15 April 2011

The joys of jobhunting

My father tried to convince me to go home...with money. I'd rather be happy than rich though. I've applied for lots of jobs and written to different places asking if they need anyone, and I think something will come up, even if it's not the ideal job. Last night I was a bit miserable and my amazing friend Emma in London found lots of links to au pair jobs for me, so I applied to several of those. One family specifically wanted an artistic English girl, but unfortunately they'd wanted one in January. I wish I was as efficient as Emma is, she seems very good at finding these things, even though she's in another country. If all else fails, a family in Switzerland has already emailed me asking me to move to Zurich and look after their kids. Switzerland has always seemed like a very nice country, very peaceful, never gets into fights and minds it's own business.
I also purchased a showcase spot on Etsy, meaning they shove photos of my work in everyone's faces for a small fee, and hopefully that'll increase sales there. Unless I sell the two massive paintings, costing over €100 each due to their size, I'm not going to make a significant amount of money, but something extra wouldn't be anything to complain about.
Today I'm planning to finally write signs advertising my services as a teacher or babysitter, which can be put up in my building and the supermarket etc. As this building mainly seems to house families I'm hopeful that it could lead to some childcare work. I'd most like some private art tutoring work but I don't know how many people would want to have that.
I know I'm putting in enough effort to find a job, I'm looking into everything I can think of, so something ought to come up. I still have a couple of weeks before I really start shitting myself over this, so I'll just have to keep going. Emma, in her wisdom, advised me to just get out there as much as possible and go through every option I can, and that sounds like very good advice to me. I'll get there, one way or another.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011


Now that the weather is warmer and it's lighter for longer I've noticed how late the shops stay open in Finland. Today Emmi and I were buying shoes for her wedding outfit, and I noticed it was 7.15pm! It's rare for shops in England to be open at that time, but very normal here. Gives you extra shopping time so it must be a good thing. It also gave me more time to lust over shoes, and create a mental wishlist for when I have a job, and that's probably not such a good thing.
It did make me wonder why Finland doesn't have 24 hour supermarkets or corner shops though. It's definitely something I've taken for granted in England, and here I realise how useful such places are. The K-Extra opposite my house is open until 11pm but I believe that's the latest in the center of Turku.
I also heard today about a Finnish Easter tradition of growing a little patch of grass. Emmi didn't explain it too much but she insisted I take the free packet of seeds offered in the coffee shop. She said it's mainly a thing for children. English children normally just eat their chocolate egg and are satisfied with that. Maybe I should grow my Easter grass. I'm not entirely sure what the point of it would be but Emmi was very keen that I should try.

Sunday, 10 April 2011


Today I went to Logomo for the Tom of Finland retrospective, and it was a really good day. Some of the images were quite explicit, and certainly not appropriate for children, but some of the work was more romantic. The technical drawing skill was stunning, and I came away from the exhibition with a lot of respect for Tom. Currently, most people don't find homosexuality shocking, and most people don't consider it to be wrong, or an illness, but he was making work about being gay at a time when it was illegal and very much frowned upon. I think he was very brave to put something like that out there and to be honest about who he was and what he was into at a time when the reaction would be very extreme. Work like this probably wouldn't be quite so controversial if it was done today, but in his time it was a risky thing to produce. I hope that the subject matter doesn't scare people away, because the drawings are very skillful and really do show talent. The exhibition is on all year as part of the capital of culture programme, and it's worth seeing.
The other exhibitions were also good. One of them was photography based and concentrated on models. There were a huge range of artists included, and this lead to a wide variety of models being shown. It was quite diverse, and as I normally work in portraiture it was of particular interest to me. I particularly liked a room full of pictures taken to resemble early photography, and they were quite convincing. In some cases it was almost impossible to tell that they were contemporary.
As a gallery space I thought Logomo was brilliant. It's an old industrial building, and paraphenalia such as fuse boxes have been kept in place, which provides an exciting contrast with the artwork. The setting isn't overly refined, which was appealing. It also has huge windows, giving a lot of natural light, and on a day like today - bright, sunny, and clear - it was really beneficial.
It's behind the train station, so a bit out of the way, but definitely worth a visit. It's more expensive than other galleries I've been to here, but I think you get a bit more for your money, and it has a much more contemporary feel. I definitely preferred it to the Taidemuseo, for example, which seems a bit old and dull in comparison. I hope the secondary exhibition changes at some point, because I'd really like to revisit Logomo.
When it comes to jobs I've had a few more ideas and suggestions. I've applied to some more things, and am developing a plan to sort something out. Hopefully it works, because I really don't want to leave Turku. This week I'm going to be concentrating on sorting these things out. I'm very determined to find something so I can carry on with things here, where I am happy. This is hanging over my head and ruining my otherwise perfect mood, so I want something to come up to solve the problem.

Friday, 8 April 2011

The beginning of the end

Kela won't help me. Unless I find a job in the next few weeks I think it's all over. I'll do any work, I don't care. The idea of going home is hell. It's the last thing I want. I have a nice place to live, I have good friends, and I like things just the way they are. Going back to live with my parents would be the biggest anti-climax I could imagine, it's so unpleasant to me that I can scarcely accept it. It's not them, it's the fact that I've been independent for almost four years and I hate the city they live in. I'd do anything to avoid it.
I've applied to the tourist place, and to a souvenir shop near to my house, other people are trying to come up with ideas for me, and I'm willing to do just about anything. I don't need the best paid job on the planet, just enough to pay my rent and keep me where I want to be. I'm in a constant state of panic right now. I'll take any bullshit cleaning job, looking after kids, wiping an incontinent old woman's arse - it really doesn't matter. Selling paintings doesn't make enough money; I get some extra cash out of it but I can't pay my rent with it. If anyone knows of any solid opportunities, please tell me. I'm pretty desperate right now. I can't cope with the idea of leaving.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Successful week so far

I've amazed myself with my own productivity in the past couple of days. I seem to have found a sudden spurt of energy and motivation. I've been a bit lethargic recently so maybe I'm getting over the hump.
I went to my appointment at the employment agency, and that all went fine. I've got a few more ideas of possible work options to look into, so I'm feeling more positive about that. Posti and Maistraati have also both confirmed my change of address, although apparently that's only been registered as a postal address, not a permanent address. I don't understand why, and don't quite understand how the hell you do get a permanent address, short of marrying a Finnish person. I suspect that this is the thing where I'm required to pay €47 at the police station, which I really didn't want to do, and still think is rather unfair. I'm a bit worried that's going to affect things with Kela, so perhaps tomorrow I need to find out what's going on with this. I really need the Kela thing to come through, otherwise I have a huge problem. I guess that paying that money isn't so terrible in the grand scheme of things if it means I'll get my rent paid and ensure me a stable place to live. It seems rather unjust, but if this is the difference between being safe and being homeless I'll have to do it.
I wish all this stuff had come to my attention months ago, or at least that I had been more efficient. I really think someone should compile a step by step guide to what an immigrant needs to do to get their stuff sorted here - I've been here for five months and it just gets more and more complicated. Although if I didn't need something from Kela I wouldn't be dealing with all of this at all, but I didn't even know I was required to apply to be covered by them until I went there for help.
Are things like this in every country? At least if I choose to come back to Finland in the future I'll be much better prepared.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Visiting Naantali

Today Tero and I went to Naantali, and it was nice to go somewhere different. I've been to Naantali once before but I think we only stayed for about five minutes because the weather was so depressing at the time. Today was also cold, grey, and slightly rainy, but we wandered around for a while. It was a bit surreal because everything was quite bleak, but all the buildings in the Old Town are very brightly coloured and cheerful. That area made me feel like I was in another time; nothing about it seems modern.

We walked to the Muumimaailma theme park, which isn't open for business at this time of year, but we were still able to walk through it and see all the buildings, such as the Moomin house! That was very exciting, and it was so cute. It was completely empty, and a bit eerie. I'd definitely like to go there again when it is open during the summer.

We walked through the town, and it really is very different to Turku. It was extremely quiet, and pretty much deserted today, and seems to be very calm and peaceful. It probably is not the kind of place I would like to live in. I'd like to go there when the weather is better and there are more people around. It's one of the big tourist centres of Finland, so I expect it gets a lot busier at times. The buildings and harbour are pretty though, and I'm sure it looks a lot better during the summer.

I enjoyed going to a different place, and it was interesting to see somewhere so contrasting to Turku. It seems that every time I visit Naantali the weather fails me, but I'd certainly like to return there on a more pleasant day.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

An excellent and surprising night

I was so bored and a bit lonely last night, I was worried about spending money. However, by 10pm I was talking to Emmi on Facebook, and we were both so bored and frustrated that we decided to just go out anyway. I was starting to think that, if I can't afford the rent anyway, another €40 on a good night out wasn't going to kill me. I'm so glad we didn't stay at home because I had a really good night, and now I'm in an excellent mood.
We met a lot of comedy characters last night. In Tinatuoppi various old men decided to make us to object of their affections, presumably because we were both the only women, and the only people under 50. I don't understand why Tinatuoppi has a lot of good looking, young customers during the day, and yet was filled with dodgy old men last night. We decided to leave fairly quickly. When we got outside, a very nice young man who had clearly ingested a lot of drugs invited us to go to Pori with him. Hmm. Perhaps not.
We moved on, and met two very nice ladies who love Stephen Fry. Excellent. I'm always very warm to people whose first words to me are "I like your piercing and you're really pretty." That's the kind of greeting I appreciate, as opposed to the kind of opening lines Finnish men use, such as "Beer is good" and "Are you German?" Those particular people also consider British people to have the best sense of humour in the world. The more I think about it, the more I realise that those women were definiely my kind of people.
Later we met Emmi's brother and his friends and went to Klubi. We went upstairs because the downstairs bar was so busy, and I was overjoyed to find it was EBM night! I've been wanting to find an EBM/goth club in Turku, but when I've asked others about that they haven't had any idea. I was starting to think that maybe that kind of thing would only be available in Helsinki. To be fair, this was a very small scale operation, but it was so nice to listen to that music and dance, just like I did a long time ago, before my life got a bit messed up and I was prevented from doing that kind of thing. I almost felt like I was back in Slimelight. It made me a bit sad, because I miss my friends and I miss those nights, but I think when I go back to London I'm definitely going to get back into dressing up and going out dancing like that. It used to be a pretty standard part of my social life, but I ended up losing it.
The best part is that Klubi has no entrance fee, so even if I'm completely broke I could just go there every Friday to dance! I had no idea they played that kind of music there, but I've only been there before on a Saturday, when they played quite normal indie stuff. I think there will be many return visits in store for me, and probably more dressing up. It's a shame I left most of my really nice "going out clothes" in England, as they seemed unnecessary, but I've still got some things. I'm really excited to have found this out, it was a very happy accident.
Now it's Saturday afternoon, I have an enormous blister on my heel and a bit of a headache, but I think that's a sign that things went very well last night.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Looking for a job

Yesterday I felt so ill that I didn't go to the employment agency, but I've been there now as I'm much better today. I have an appointment for Tuesday to get some help looking for work; their website is quite useless for me as the whole thing is available in English, except the job search. I'm a bit more optimistic now. I did have an alternative plan to get enough money to pay my rent, but that backfired. It probably would have caused more trouble though, so maybe that's a good thing. My landlady seems to be quite chilled out, so I hope that if I explain that I'm waiting to hear about benefits she'll be understanding.
The lady there also told me that when Kela have processed my application to be covered by them I can apply for unemployment benefits, which I hadn't thought of, I'd only considered the housing benefits. Technically that application should be acceptable, and I will hopefully get a letter about that next week. I wish I'd applied for all of this months ago, but as I said previously, no one tells you you need to do all this stuff, there's not enough information explaining what te necessary procedures are. Even Finnish people can't tell you that you should do all these things because they don't know either, none of this has ever applied to them so they've never had to find out.
Still a bit paranoid about what the outcome will be, hence why I'm looking for a job more actively than before. They were unable to help me in October because I didn't have a social security number at that stage, but as I do now it should be more successful. I wish I'd thought of going there before. I'd rather work than just live on benefits, but if that's how my rent will get paid I'll put up with it. I feel a bit calmer now, having done something to help my situation. I'm really worried about my rent, because all of these applications take time, but I hope that other people will be understanding. If all else fails I'll take advantage of the integration law, although, again, I'd prefer to have a job of some kind.