I have not been very disciplined in my blog writing this last week, but this is not for the lack of things to talk about. I moved out of my flat on Tuesday, and so now I am staying in Erkki and Paivi’s home where I have been made very welcome and entertained a great deal. There are always people coming and going here, so there is never a dull moment!
On Friday night Clint and I went to a concert at the university that was put on by the choir. It was all in Finnish, but the singing and music was really good. The concert was celebrating forestry, for which the university has a big department, and all the choir were dressed in traditional Finnish clothes of people who work in the forests. After the concert, and after wandering about the town, I ended up in an Irish pub playing scrabble and drinking hot chocolate! :)
On Saturday we went to see the Joensuu basketball team beat their opponents from another part of the country. I never thought my first basketball experience would be in Finland, but at least I was there with an American who could explain the rules to me!
In the evening I went to Ilkka’s Christmas party at his house which involved quite a different concert from the previous night. It was a small gathering of friends which I was privileged enough to be invited to. We sat around eating and drinking (as is necessary at any Finnish occasion) in Ilkka and Sari’s living room with some special entertainment: Ilkka’s band Takauma played a short set of their own songs as we sat bopping away on the sofa. It was really good, so good in fact that I am sure the neighbours were rocking away to the sound of the drums and guitars in the surrounding houses. After the performance, we had the traditional Christmas drink (Glögi) which is similar to our mulled wine, and then we headed to the sauna. There was plenty of light fluffy snow in the garden (the snow goes like that at -10 degrees) and so we rolled about in the snow to cool off in between trips to the sauna.
Also at the party I learnt to make ice lights. Here is what you need to do… Fill a bucket with water and leave it outside for a few hours (or if you are in England you probably need to leave it for a week or put it in the freezer). The water freezes at the surface and at the sides and bottom. Using a knife (which it seems everyone carries in Finland!), cut a hole in the top of the ice and pour the water out. Now with a little persuasion (or hot water) the ice in the bucket will come out in one piece that forms a hollow cylinder. Then a candle can be placed in the hole to make a pretty ‘ice light’.
Today (Sunday) has been different again, because Clint and I took Dr. Lee from South Korea on a tour of the local area up to Koli. Clint organised a university car and we were free to drive wherever we liked for the day – the American and the Englishman as tour guides in north Karelia! Koli was as beautiful as ever, with the lake starting to freeze over completely, and now the surrounding slopes have enough snow we saw many people out skiing.
We rushed back to Joensuu to catch the university choir performing at the main church in the city. I was surprised this time that they were singing most of their songs in English, and I was most pleased that I was able to sing along to the classics such as O Little Town of Bethlehem and Oh Come Let Us Adore Him. I am sure that Warwick Buddhist Society choir wish they were here! Joensuu university choir sang beautifully as ever (especially Anya!), although some of the hymns were not exactly in the style of Narborough church and their set failed to include (in my opinion) the best Christmas carol We Three Kings Of Orient Are. I hope there will be chance to warble away to this one when I get back to England. :) It seems that I am consistently attending church events whilst I am in Finland – as yet I have not met another Buddhist!
Back at the house we were able to relax over tea and cake – an activity that should be cultivated at every opportunity. The cake, expertly baked by Paivi, was to celebrate the fact that Erkki has secured funding for an international science festival for children (SciFest) – and if SciFest tastes as good as the cake then it will surely be a big success.