A hectic week – of relentless assignment deadlines, a four-hour examination, spontaneous Chinese New Year celebrations, a day of going about and getting lost – has been exhausting, yet every undertaking brought me a little closer to home.
There is nothing more Singaporean than examinations, and the past week was unfortunately dedicated to a process of rote memorisation and regurgitation that I have long grown accustomed to. Amidst the regular lectures and tutorials we had to pore through three monotonous business strategy texts – less-than-inspiring publications about designs for research and development, the open innovation paradigm, as well as communities of practice and identities – so as to answer awfully specific questions about the books. Perhaps it is the universal nature of business education, the field of management and organisation in particular, but written assessments still test students pedantically on their recall abilities per se. In fact the overall demands of coursework and the framework of modules at the Aalto School of Business differ insignificantly from those in my home university.
I turned in my paper with an hour and five minutes to go. So it goes.
Right after the examination I headed down to Simon’s apartment at Espoo, a municipality next to Helsinki. He had graciously hosted me when I first arrived in the city, and on Friday it was a homely night of yu sheng, pen cai, and steamboat, Finnish drinks, and the board game Rummikub. I enjoyed myself tremendously throughout the evening, even if I was too full to indulge in the New Year goodies. It was exactly like the usual visiting I did back home.
The excursion with the language and culture class opened our eyes to unique architecture and monuments across the Helsinki city centre (plus, to digest some of the feast from the night before). Knowledgeable as always, Merja and Christina shared enthusiastically about landmarks such as the Helsinki Cathedral, notable figures like national author Aleksis Kivi, and the many Finnish companies that dotted the districts. Attending the Red Bull Crashed Ice event rounded the day off nicely. While we had to endure a perilous two-hour journey to the remote Serena Ski Resort – which involved multiple bus transfers and gut-feel treks through inches of snow in unfamiliar terrain – the twenty minutes spectating the extreme sport ice cross downhill was memorable. We barely knew the racers and the rules of the sport, but the high vertical drops and steep turns were as fascinating as they were thrilling.
The last time I was lost – trying to find a way from school to a hotel dinner – I found my best group of friends in the university. Two years ago when I was drained, frustrated, and lost in the Taiwanese jungles, I was thankfully with the best buddies you could find in the army.
Hosting a Singaporean dinner at my apartment was probably the highlight of the week. This reminded me most of home, because back in Singapore when we hosted family members and friends Mom and Dad would have been busy preparing the dishes, setting up the furniture, washing and cleaning up after everyone. Here, having control of the kitchen was comforting in a curious way. The dishes – a basic steamboat setup (with some dried scallops from Singapore, ha), ketchup prawns, onion omelette, spring rolls and sotong balls, along with rice – were comparatively simple, but the shopping, preparing, marinating, cooking, and feasting just brought everyone together. Making do with what we had, it was an enjoyable night.
And with a deck of playing cards on hand, why not a blackjack session?
Different things constantly remind me of home: the quiet bus and train rides, the complaints and gripes the locals have about Finland (expressed privately, nonetheless), and the complementary and simultaneous pride of their country. Very Finnish, and very Singaporean.
But just before I proudly proclaim that Helsinki now feels like home, the cold wind blows cruelly. The temperature drops. The snow falls. Snowfall is wonderfully glorious, though it brings a set of inconveniences: driving through a snowstorm is difficult and dangerous, floors and streets everywhere are slippery, and operators have to work and shovel around the clock to prevent further accumulation. At the same time children climbed and slid enthusiastically down little piles of snow, as eager tourists engaged in friendly snowball fights.
The days may be chilly, but the warmth of new friendships and interactions has made the one-month experience thus far a meaningful one. Kiinalainen uusi vuosi, hyvää uutta vuotta!
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