09 November, 2012

Fazer Chocolate Factory Tour

I'm not sure about the rules. Are you allowed to complain about something that's free? I think maybe I am. At least I'll try and be impartial.

I went to Fazer this week, on a tour. It was free. I was looking forward to it.

It's outside of Helsinki so you either pay extra to get there by public transport or you walk about 20 minutes from the Helsinki transport border.

We watched a few short YouTube-style videos, maybe 5-10 minutes long, plus a bunch of powerpoint slides, that I think were about the history of Fazer and the tour itself. The tour guide number 1 was great, he used slow and clear Finnish so that I understood maybe half of what he said. My eyes glazed over whenever he mentioned numbers and dates, though (everyone knows that once you start talking numbers it's like a whole different language).

Good: seeing the old tv ads for Fazer. I love old ads. Even if I don't understand them, the black and white and the animations are cool.

Good: we got one free Angry Birds lollipop to eat.

Then we did the "tour".

Bad: Tour guide #2 spoke complicated and fast Finnish and I understood not one single word during the tour. Nobody in the group did, I don't think. And she knew we were only learning the language.

Bad: the tour comprised walking along a hallway for about 10 whole minutes, stopping 3 times to look at pictures of machinery on the walls. We got to poke our heads into one room where they kept factory uniforms. Wow, white aprons, exciting.

Bad: they say you can eat as much as you like. They failed to mention that it would be a postage-stamp square of rye bread and then about five minutes at the chocolate sample area. And then while you're still deciding whether to try the lemon or the praline, you get told you have to leave. No, you can't take it with you (that's ok) but damnit, I wanted to try the lemon.

Good: The shop is, indeed, cheap. Chocolates are about 25-50% off. Sweets are not very cheap, and I don't think they sell bread or cookies at all.

Good: You get a few samples in a free showbag. I just love pear-flavoured chewing gum (not) but they were free.

Bad: It was all over in an hour, including the shop, the cloakroom, and standing around waiting for it to start.

Bad: there was absolutely no tour of any part of the factory. Not even through a glass window or anything. Not even of shelves of finished, packed, hygienic products. What's a factory tour when you just look at videos and pictures? Answer: it's not a tour, it's a slideshow.

Verdict: 3/10.

27 October, 2012

Culinary Genius


The culinary genius burnt the toast, setting off every smoke alarm in the house and prompting us to run around fanning them and pulling out batteries. Then we opened all the windows and the balcony glass (yes, it's so refreshing to "air" the house down to near-zero temperatures). And then we couldn't find the cat, who was thought to have escaped from the peal of the alarms and the stink aroma of wheaten charcoal, via the nearest wall-hole aka open window.

Culinary Genius™ launched a search effort, mostly composed of whining about how the cat was missing, how it's someone else's fault for turning the toast gauge up to 6, how the cat is missing, how the alarms are really quite annoying, how it's cold, how it isn't her fault and how the cat is missing. Turns out the moggy was perched over the radiator, behind the curtain, appropriately nonplussed.

My apologies to the circa-dozen apartments enjoying enduring the smell and the noise. I have my jacket and blanket on. I am not amused.

26 October, 2012

Good, bad, ugly, sad

Good: Wedding party on the weekend for my brother-in-law and new sister-in-law!

Bad: Eight days and counting of being sick with the flu.

Ugly: The sky thought it would be funny and threw down snow this morning, and it has not melted by afternoon. It is still October. I am not amused.

Sad: That the little old lady selling clothes in the mall thought her pair of knitted socks were worth 23€ (circa $30).

Good (2): K-market had a nice pair of thick, warm boot socks for 10€.

Good (3): New phone! Woodiddles! (Thank you Amanda for that word.)

Good (4): On the first day of light snow, the mall was already gritted. I am not a fan of slippery ground, so this is great (and surprising).

18 October, 2012

A Plus

On the (more) plus side, it turns out that I am not the only student who wants to practice conversation and has noticed that all Finnish courses seem to be severely lacking in speaking practice.

Since we finish early on Fridays, P and I have tentative informal plans to regularly hang out at the school for a while after class and just chinwag in Finnish over a cup of tea. I am hoping to get other students involved, since I've tried to do it before at other classes but didn't have any other students with the same enthusiasm like P does. She truly grasps exactly why it's in our best interests to do it and how badly we'll stumble if it doesn't happen.

She has also noted the general assumption by schools and teachers that "all students have somewhere to practice what they learn". No, no, hell no! I did a quick poll of who has Finnish friends. Only P does, and she stated firmly that personal friends are not interested in spending precious scarce quality time together teaching her Finnish. I agree, because that's not fun for the friends, just like it's not fun for my family.

We have a golden opportunity to practice and it's with new acquaintances. There is no friendship-history in English or Russian or Chinese. There's no past bullshit in the way and no time-pressured environment. Fellow-students are still relative strangers, so there is new information to learn at a level we can understand (where you grew up, talking about your family or interests, discussing the weather, and so on). You already know where your best friend grew up... and your best friend is more interested in talking about what happened this week, which probably isn't in the Finnish 101 handbook.

I never have managed to form long friendships with other students, because mostly, they left me behind in Finnish and now have other things to occupy their time. I really hope that this time I can keep pace with others' learning and make a friend or two.

16 October, 2012

If you live in Helsinki

...GO AND READ this page. (I'll wait until you come back.)


She is Veronika Honkasalo and she just got my vote.

First I found my party (Left Alliance - "a modern labor party that pursues a just, independent, and free society where the people and the environment are a top priority"). Then I had to somehow pick one candidate. Sadly I found only 4 candidates (of about 70) who bothered to write a detailed information page in English.

I understand that. It's Finland. English isn't an official language and my problems understanding Finnish are MY PROBLEMS and nobody else's.

But here's the thing: we foreigners make up 12% of the population here, and we're mostly allowed to vote. It seems as if most candidates WANT equality for all, but only for the people who are already equal (and understand Finnish).

News flash people, if you don't bother to put English, Swedish or Russian pages up, you just threw away thousands of votes. And in this lady's case, the fact that she DID put up English was most of the reason she got my vote - I sincerely hope she gets a ton of votes from all the foreigners just because we only have a handful to choose from and she's the best (imo).

15 October, 2012

Guilt and Cash

Feel guilty for staying home today when I could have made the superhuman effort and gone to class.

Tried to make up for it with a concerted effort at surveys. Grand total eight bucks (so about 6 euros or so) which was annoying and lame.

Designed two new shirt logos. This one's my fave, Coffee Zombie:

(Go and buy one, they start at $11.99. http://www.cafepress.com/gemdust/8398623 )

12 October, 2012

What a week

A ridiculous rollercoaster, but at least we got off the ride without vomiting.

We have a main teacher who's Russian (and great), plus a second teacher who's a native Finn, and I'm sure she must be one of the most intelligent teachers I've ever had. I say "must be" because there is no way to know for sure apart from the fact that I don't understand 99% of what she says.

Last week (and the week before) I practically lost my voice saying "slow down" and "we don't understand" and "please speak more simply". Over and over again. Alright, I didn't come close to losing my voice, but I sure said those things so many times that she should have heard me. To no avail. I know that my comprehension is poor, but in this class I'm somewhere near the top and I happened to know that another 16 people in the class didn't understand her. (Lunchtime discussions are great.)

Finally on Tuesday she began revising something that we hadn't understood the first time, didn't understand the second time, and she managed to confuse half the class and send people into panic mode over finding their own workplace practice position. (Mention "writing up your CVs" and that people have to go to work soon, and students "wtf" and "huh" quite a bit.) I turned around and loudly asked who understood. Nobody. I started simplifying it based on my memories of last year's class mentioning it. The smart guy asked me to use English because he didn't even understand the basics in Finnish.

And once he understood what she had been talking about over and over that day, he exploded. "Half an hour! Half an hour we have been discussing this, and we don't even need it! This is high school work! We have all had jobs, we are not children, we know how to write our CVs! Why? Why? (He repeated the Finnish word for comprehensive school, which doesn't even apply to immigrants, the Finnish word for compulsory army conscription, which doesn't even apply to immigrants, and the Finnish word for being able to speak Finnish fluently, which doesn't even apply to us.) Why we need these words? How this help us learn Finnish?"

I felt sorry for the teacher, because on a personal level, I like her a lot. And she has to teach what she's told, because the government makes the rules. But she also has to teach so that we understand, and she wasn't.

She wisely put the jobsearch-talk away and gave us a pamphlet on the health benefits of milk. And then, unbelievably, she talked for an hour in such ridiculous complexity that I'm not sure anyone understood a thing. We are people still struggling to form sentences about what we did on our weekends, and faced with information on complex carbohydrates, saturated fat's effect on blood cholesterol levels and the natural food sources of the chemical Selenium, it was an exercise in futility. I'd say half the class don't even understand those things in their native languages.

At the end she tried to tell us it was good practice. I disagreed, loudly. She tried to tell me that I understood the idea and it was good to learn new words. I explained that the text was far too difficult, that if there had been 20 new words perhaps it would be ok, but 100 is too many and that on our own it would have taken four hours to look up every word in the dictionary to understand.

She kinda went quiet as classmates nodded.

The next day she turned up with a far easier exercise and spoke noticeably slower and more simply. I probably hurt her feelings, but there are only so many times that a whole classroom should be expected to endure a lesson which wastes their time, regardless of the fact we HAD to attend.

But I gave her feedback, that I had spoken with others at lunch and people could now understand her, and I thanked her for slowing down.

And then we had the third teacher today. I like her too, because she's also Russian, so she knows how to speak simply to other immigrants. At the end of the day I thanked her for being a teacher who speaks slowly so that we understand. She commented that sometimes she doesn't understand native Finn teacher herself.

So it's not just students having problems understanding native Finn teacher. Hallelujah, there is a Dog.


08 October, 2012

Constructive Conformity

Been thinking lately about schools' insistence on conformity.

We constantly measure each other and compare each other to a norm. Having grown up in Australia, it's something we evolve into as we progress through schooling... there are no exams in the beginning (or at least we are unaware we're being tested) but as we get to high school they are the benchmark for whether we are a success as a student. And the pressure to conform is even greater in places such as the USA and Japan.

I used to have a preconception that standardised tests were a necessary evil. How else can you measure whether a child is achieving what they ought to achieve? What I hadn't considered was that it just isn't necessary for a small child to "achieve" any set standard in the first place! As soon as you remove a time-sensitive goal and replace it with "in progress" learning, then every child is succeeding, each and every day. You see, children are always learning, whether we try to teach them or not. They are observing and modelling themselves based on the world they see.

Finland's approach to compulsory schooling for children: every child can learn. No ifs, ands or buts, no exceptions, children learn. They can and they will. There is no question of not succeeding. The teachers know they children will succeed. Wherever they need to get to, the teachers know they'll get there.

This is not about putting pressure on a child and telling them that they must achieve. This is about displaying trust that the child can do it. When you cannot even conceive that something might go wrong, think about how much easier the task becomes! What would you do right now, if you knew you could not fail? The answer: Anything you want. What can a child learn, if they know they cannot fail? Anything.

Most of the grading system used with school children here (peruskoulu / compulsory years) is about the personal effort they put in. Yes, even if you're naturally capable of learning, it's still possible to try and achieve better. Some kids do try harder, and they get the better results. Thus the grades become about effort and not about brains or ability, and still they're only a vague measure. This, imo, is a far better focus for school success than whether or not you are a "failure" - understanding that effort brings success. It equips children for the competitive nature of high school, of university, of life in general. Effort = Reward. Not Brain = Award, a huge failing on the part of test-based schooling, which leaves the bright middle school students utterly unable to motivate themselves to study - why bother studying when you're accustomed to getting your results handed to you? What happens to those kids when the work becomes more difficult? Sink or swim... hardly a pleasant life experience at the age of 11 or 12.

Teachers in Finland are very well trained (probably among the best-trained teachers in the world). Their overriding goal is to support a child into achieving success - a concept very different from "ensuring all kids meet a benchmark". The reality of life is that we have benchmarks. Doctors measure our weight and compare it to a healthy norm. Professors measure our university work. Bosses measure whether we've done our job to a certain standard. In an adult world we know about benchmarks and we expect them. But for a child, they hinder healthy growth and the love of learning.

This is not to say that you need to move to Finland if you want a healthy learning environment for your child. (Although it might be the simplest way.) There are very similar aims in Steiner schooling, and other independent schools embrace the same concepts. Many might consider these child-centric methods to be "hocus pocus" - yes, they do seem strange and "not serious" when you are used to traditional test-based schooling in rigid setups. The thing to understand is that there is still very real learning going on despite the lack of school desks, or the lack of times tables. The learning is just not according to the timing you might expect. These children frequently out-perform their peers when they reach high school age as they have learned to teach themselves. Their teachers do not have "no goals" for the kids - just no pressure to meet a timetable with them, no pressure to get there in a certain predictable way. The kids will get there anyway.

When you think about it, what do you really need to start high school? The ability to read and write. The ability to do basic arithmetic. The ability to get along with your peers; to tell the time; to respect the teachers. Despite what you might assume, you don't actually need much else - even the kids that can't do complicated mathematics are still accepted into high school! Think about the endless hours and tests and homework and practice and stress and useless knowledge that school kids pick up along the way. Traditional schooling seems as if it's a relic which has been untouched for decades; nobody has pulled it apart completely and questioned what's useful and what's not.

But you can still nurture a love of learning, even if your child attends a strict traditional school. It's about investigating things because you can. Of reading for the fun of it. Of collecting rocks and leaves, of playing with berries and learning that they stain your fingers. It's genuine enjoyment of learning. It's about praise for effort rather than for success. It's about trusting in your child to learn despite what benchmarks say. Every child learns.

03 October, 2012

Pekalla on uusi poikaystävä. Hänen nimensa on Mikko.

Doing Finnish homework. All Finnish men are named Pekka (unless they're named Mikko).

All Finnish women are Liisa.

(Did you know... Pekka Virtanen on rappari työskentelee uudessa rakkennuksessa Malmilla tällä hetkellä? Now you do.)

Gave my husband a headache asking the difference between "nopeampi" and "nopeammin" = SUCCESS. He has declined my kind offer of attending school with me tomorrow. These things are important so that I can tell the class why Pekka's car is red.

29 September, 2012

Back In The Saddle

I was in two minds about whether I'd be happy about it, but considering my return to riding is compulsory, here I am. The Powers That Be have decreed that I shall attend Finnish 2 classes fulltime until June.

The class is actually ok. I'm bored stupid with the grammar, finishing my 30-minute practice sheets in about 5 (and sitting there staring into space) but on the plus side, the grammar teacher is great and I understand her. Considering it's the vocabulary and speaking that I need, this is a Very Good Thing™.

The other students range from hopelessly lost to I-should-be-in-Finnish-4. Some of them are quite amusing. Unfortunately the ones I would like to write about might stumble on this blog one day, so, I'm afraid I can't. All I can do is write their quirks into the characters in one of my books. Who knows, one of them might become a main character one day.

Oh but I will mention Dumbshoes, from a sister-classroom. Let's just call her Dumbshoes. She's in her 20s and always dresses nicely but for some reason the "great outfit!" vibe seems to skip her feet completely. So far I've seen:
 - high heel tennis sandshoes
 - stilettos with huge pink satin ribbon bows
 - lovely high-top delicate leather sandals, with awful green socks underneath
 - low-heeled red slip-on sandals with big gold buckles, plus socks underneath
 - flat leather sandals with yellow and orange striped (hip high?) stockings underneath
 - mustard-coloured leg warmers

I just cannot understand how this lady has such awful leg attire in her wardrobe when the rest of her looks like it could be in a fashion catalogue.

When I get my new phone, I think I'll start photographing strangers' bad fashion choices. The attire all over Helsinki gets worse during winter as people throw fashion out the window and begin throwing random pieces on which deal with the cold rather than style.

That'll make me feel better about the fact that I wear the same black jeans and grey jacket every single day.

03 September, 2012

It's awful!

And horrible and mean and nasty!

I don't want to learn any more languages inside Google+. English and Finnish are quite enough trouble for me.

I don't want to go to French classes, I don't want to study German verbs or Italian case forms.

I don't want to learn the Russian alphabet or learn to paint beautiful Japanese kanji.

Turkish accents confuse me, Arabic is backwards, and Thai's stacked vowels just boggle the mind.

Isn't it awful that I don't want to learn to master 784 languages?

It's TERRIBLE! I'm mean and horrible and mean and nasty!

Heaven forbid that I should ask people to use a language I understand when they reply to MY posts. It's inappropriate, and I have no right to understand the replies! Inappropriate, my internets!

27 August, 2012

On Acknowledging Pain

As humans there is not a single one of us which never experiences pain.

Each and every person on this planet knows it, or will know it, at some point in their existence. And yet somehow, most of us are terrible when it comes to dealing with others' pain.

Why? Are we afraid? Or are we deliberately disinterested in trying to comfort others?

I don't have answers, apart from being more willing to at least acknowledge pain. To at least tell someone that you have heard their suffering.

One of my dear Google+ friends, Dede, made a post last week, that really makes some poignant musings:
Some years ago,  when I still referred to men as boys and women as girls,  a friend of a friend was involved in an horrific accident. Flung from his car, his spine was smashed against a raised drain, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. Following the accident, the tea makers and scone bakers came in droves all declaring, “How lucky he is. He’s alive. It’s a miracle.” Miracle? I didn’t think so. 
Read more here: https://plus.google.com/u/0/107635094329792651474/posts/VQ3QozWaCQ7

20 August, 2012


...how utterly unaware some people of themselves. Either in word, or in health. The ladies who haven't a clue they're pregnant despite a foot shape appearing on their swollen bellies. And the ones who shout down the walls, and cannot understand how they end up in a pile of rubble.

I'm talking about the shit-stirrers who cry "woe-is-me" when things go wrong.

Back in days of yore, I had an ArchNemesis™ whom we'll call Deidre Smith. Deidre was a self-serving bitch. Any idiot could see that Deidre was slimy, false and thinking only of themselves. Others agreed with me. Foolishly I ended up in a fight with Deidre via email. Deidre then edited my rant very carefully, and made a public website slagging me off. It was not pleasant. I was very lucky to have a friend with some legal knowledge who managed to scare Deidre into taking the site down and apologising in public. But I learned.

I learned that if you get into a fight with someone when you're angry, you might say things you don't mean - and people can reproduce them out-of-context to make you look terrible.

I learned that whether I was right or wrong, it felt terrible to be fighting, and awful in the days that followed.

Why are we all so focussed on standing up for our rights - that we forget to stand up for what's best for OURSELVES?

It's great to defend our rights. It's awesome to stick up for the little guy. But sometimes, just sometimes, self-preservation matters. If you're angry and excited and pumped up, ready to blast someone online, stop, and pay attention to your body. Recognise the signs for you - maybe you breathe heavily, grind your teeth, feel excited, maybe you shiver. Everyone's different, but pay attention. Learn to pick the signs.

Get and walk outside. That's not a silly euphemism, I'm serious. Count to ten. Close the window. Exercise some self-control and don't react. Come back to it in an hour, in a day, in a week. However long it takes you to calm yourself down and view it rationally. The internet will not collapse if you don't reply for 24 hours. In fact, (shock, horror) people will get on with their lives and probably not even know that you were angry.

And when it comes to any website - if people fight with you all the time - it's one of two things. Either it's a bad environment to be in, full of bullies, and it's time to find a better playground. Or else, it's related to the way you behave.

Maybe they got upset because they misinterpreted you. It happens. And it's OUR fault. It is nobody else's job to make ourselves clear. Even though we can't control their reactions, we can be careful how we speak. We can take the time to re-read our comments before we hit "post". We can try to make sure it doesn't upset someone on purpose. If someone does get upset, we can be the bigger man and apologise; really, it's no skin off our nose to say, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend you." Consider that it's hard to understand tone on the internet.

Maybe it's time to change tack. This part sucks fairly royally. To finally join the dots and realise that it's NOT "everyone else being an asshole" - it's, unh, you overreacting to everyone. Examine your own attitudes.

Nobody likes to think of themselves as a bad person. We all think we're better than average drivers, lower than average weight, nicer than average people. Simple maths says it can't be true for everyone - we just don't like to find fault in ourselves.

BULLYING is when everyone goes after an innocent party.
RETALIATING is when everyone turns on someone who started it in the first place.

Learn the difference.

We have been so ANTI-BULLYING that we've all forgotten to take responsibility for our own behaviour. It is NOT always someone else's fault. They are NOT always picking on people and being bullies. Sometimes it's because you were a jerk. I don't care how politically-incorrect it is, it's true. We shouldn't wander around the internet being assholes and then crying when someone slaps us for it.

Yes, retaliating can be horrible. It can be way out of proportion. It can be unfair, and hurtful, and devastating. When it happens once it's depressing enough.

When it happens over and over, there is a common factor - and it's YOU. More specifically, the things you do which provoke it. Habits, behaviour. It doesn't make you a bad person. It only means you need to work on your communication.

Either stop provoking it, or move on to a greener pasture. Why stick around, provoking people again, and ask for more abuse? Is that the best thing for YOUR health?

LOOK AFTER YOURSELF! You can hardly do good for anyone else if you're ruining your own health...

18 August, 2012

Seattle san fran santa clara

Today's expedition in Internet Land was about the Santa Clara Broncos. Not being from the area myself I deferred to Wikipedia, and it turns out there's a university in Santa Clara with a bunch of sports teams, all known as the Santa Clara Broncos. Who knew?

It also transpires that they play games, and that you can buy tickets to their games online. I'm proud that I've helped share this info with the world. For Science!

san francisco dons tickets
santa clara broncos tickets
seattle university tickets

(sponsored post)

PS I had to type the whole thing with my left hand because I sprained my wrist. Feel sorry for me! ;)

10 January, 2012

This is me. Too often.

Pay attention please google. Your new bar is far too big and clunky and just yuck.

What was wrong with the old one?!