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Here’s a brief recap of my trip to Finland:

I went to a conference in Tampere, Finland. It was ED-MEDIA 2001, and since it relates to my field (educational media) the university paid my way — good thing, cuz summer flights to Norden are expensive!

(Norden is a Swedish word for the Nordic region of the world. You might wonder why I don’t just say Scandinavia. Well, Scandinavia may or may not include Finland, depending on context, Finland being different from the Scandinavian countries in a few important ways. So Norden is a better word.)

The conference was good, over 1,000 people from all over the world. An inordinate number of Australians, I thought.

(I expected to see more Linux at the University of Tampere, since Linus Torvalds is Finnish. But it was all Windows. And many people brought Mac laptops for their presentations. But I digress.)

(As long as I’m digressing, I might add a word of warning about Swordfish, in theaters now. If you go and see this film, which I don’t recommend, you might as well leave after the first ten minutes. It’s all downhill from there. However, that first sequence is spectacular, and almost worth the price of a matinee admission, if you can persuade yourself to get up and leave after the big explosion. Otherwise, you will find your intelligence insulted most egregiously.)

(Oh, and the connection would be? In the film, there’s a hacker from Finland named Axel Torvalds.)

Tampere was fun too (I’d been there once before) especially because it didn’t really get dark at all. It’s not quite as far north as I used to live in Sweden, so I think it probably did get dark sometime around 2:00 AM. But I was asleep, so I missed it. I had to sleep with a blindfold to shut out the light.

I stayed at a hostel run by the YWCA and I met a Spanish guy who used to study in Tampere. He showed me around to a couple of cool bars. I’d have thought he’d know Finnish, but no; apparently many courses at the University are taught in English, so he never learned the language. I can’t imagine that.

Did you know there are only 21 letters in the Finnish alphabet? And they even have two letters we don’t have: ä and ö. Also there are no gender distinctions in Finnish. Not surprising, I suppose, that they have a female president. But the language is exceedingly difficult, nothing at all like the other Nordic languages. In fact, it’s not even Indo-European. It’s Uralic. So most Finnish words are completely unrecognizable to me.

Suomi is the Finnish word for Finland. Weird, huh?

The closest relative language is Estonian. Estonia is right across the Gulf of Finland to the south. It’s a popular vacation destination for Finns.

I also visited the world’s only continuously operating Lenin museum. Do you know where Lenin met Stalin? Do you know where Lenin hid out when he was on the lam from Tsarist forces? Tampere, Finland! In fact, Tampere was the capital of Red Finland during the Finnish Civil War. I hadn’t even known there was an (attempted) communist revolution in Finland.

After the conference I took the train back to Helsinki to meet Päivi. She lived with my family in Greenwood, Indiana back in the early 80s. I met her and her family when I was living in Sweden — they took me to visit Moscow. But that was in 1985. I don’t think I or anyone in my family had communicated with Päivi for 15 years.

She’s an architect now. Married, no kids yet, but working on it. She and her husband just bought a house before I arrived, but they haven’t moved in yet.

Pävi and I both remarked on how very natural and easy it was to get reaquainted. After so much time, it was strange that we could just sit down and talk, almost as if no time had passed at all, though we certainly had a lot to catch up on.

We also got together with Päivi’s family. To me it seemed that her parents, Erkki and Raili, hadn’t changed at all since I last saw them. In fact, they reminded me a lot of my own parents.

We all (including Päivi’s sister Marja, who had just returned from a year in Los Angeles) went out to their summer cottage, which is in the forest not far from Helsinki. It reminded me very much of Door County, Wisconsin.

After the weekend, I spent Monday bumming around Helsinki. Beautiful city. If you’ve never been to Norden, I highly recommend it. Everything is clean and modern; the people are beautiful; with the strong dollar things aren’t too expensive. In the summer, it’s pleasantly warm and sunny. Almost everyone understands English. But most impressive of all is the way they have their whole society set up. Little crime. Almost no poverty. Universal health care. Universal retirement pensions. They say because of the harsh climate people have been forced to help each other more.

I swear, if it wasn’t for the fucking winters, I’d seriously consider trying to immigrate. Probably to Sweden, since I know the language. Finnish is too damn hard. Did I mention they have no articles? Apparently they have prepositions, but they also have postpositions. And nouns have fifteen cases!

Maybe I’ll have a chance later to describe my trip to the Scottish highlands.

Update: I’ve scanned and posted photos from this trip.

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