Friday, March 24, 2006

Reflections on winter and ice climbing

I am so glad this week is over. Firstly, it is a relief because last week occured one swedish test and three job interviews which felt something akin to exam week at university. But mostly I am super excited because next week I am going to be ICE CLIMBING in Norway. Yippee, yah!

So it's one last blast of winter, one last winter sport to add to the list, before (hopefully) the kayaking season starts again.

In Stockholm there's still a lot of snow around, but it's starting to warm up so a lot of it has turned to ice which made walking to my job interviews (in horrid high heals) particually percarious. Of course many Swedish women are slaves to fashion and wear their high heals no matter if there's snow or ice around but then I'm not Swedish.

Looking through my photos tonight I realised there are few a stories about the winter here that I never got around to telling.

Firstly, winter, snow and ice happen here every year, so people have learnt over the years to adapt. When it snows here, daily life keeps happening. The cars have winter tyres with studs, and when it snows the footpaths and roads get regularly ploughed. There are people who clear the snow off the roofs of buildings preventing collapses like the one that happened earlier in the winter in Germany.

But not everything functions perfectly. When it snows our road becomes one way and the trains get delayed. And the people moan about the trains, because "it snowed last year and the same thing happened so why didn't they fix it for this year?"

It's how the families adapt that really makes me smile. Like when you see a child going to dagis (pre-school) by sled after it has snowed. Or skating along and next to you is a parent skating pushing a pushchair. I once watched a father taking his small son skating. He triped on the uneven ice, pushed the child off balance and then by some miracle he managed to lift his son up while he regained his footing and they continued skating.

Skating has been fun. Winter in Sweden to me, is going on a skating tour and having lunch on a "swiming and diving" platform in the middle of the ice. Of course you must have godis (sweets) and something hot to drink from the thermos.

Skating on "real ice" keeps you awake. It can be smooth or rough. It can look white, blue or black and makes me wonder what the different colours "mean". The first day I went out on the ice, a large group went through the ice near Uppsala and a couple of people even died so it's good to be careful. Generally it's pretty safe as long as you're carry spare clothes and isdubber which are handles with a spike which you can use to pull yourself out of the ice.

There's even down hill skiing here in Stockholm. The slopes are not long, but it's a good place to brush up the skills for the bigger fields. You always know you're not in NZ anymore because there's no scarey access road and no chains. There's also the cute red buildings and pine trees which marking out the runs.

Sometimes it's the little things can make you realise you've started to understand a place. Like two days after it has snowed, you know that someone will have walked even the smallest trails in the forest. Or wandering home late at night you notice that a street is empty and then you guess that tomorrow is "plough" day for that street, and you check and you're right.

Then with Spring (well March atleast) came the declarations of love next to the subway. These are trampled in the snow over the frozen lake and are very Swedish. Every one is neatly written and no-one has over-written someone else's message.

Yes winter here has certainly had its fun times. Of course it's definitely been about taking the good with the bad. I definitely ready for Summer! Bring on the ice climbing, bring on Spring for real, and bring on the kayaking!

Red eye reduction.

Even the crazy occassionally need some downtime. After hitting my head, the first thing I did was to pretend everything was normal. I didn’t go to doctor, I kept going to Swedish school and I even went skiing again! After a week I still looked like a freak and felt really tired. Only then did I realized that I really had done a spectacular job of hurting myself this time and so I decided to take it easy for a week.

Now, my face is pretty much healed. My eye is still red but it is only bruised. However, with my red eye I still attract a lot of stares on the subway and questions from people I meet. Perhaps I should wear sunglasses, but my only pair are covered in duck tape so I’m not sure they would help!

On the train people still stare at me quite a lot. The adults know they shouldn’t and try to hide it, but the kids usually just stare. For a couple of weeks I get to experience what a few permanently disfigured people experience their whole life.

I know a lot of people feel really uncomfortable when people stare at them, but it doesn’t bother me so much. I guess I assume people are just friendly and curious – I know I would stare at others more if it wasn’t “against the rules”. I also got used to people staring when I was in Asia.

In Asia, it’s not culturally impolite to stare and as a white person people really do tend to stare at you. In Nepal, I learnt to stare back at people. Sometimes it would take a full 10 seconds or more of staring and smiling at someone but then you would get a connection and they would smile back.

Actually is really amazing what you can say with your eyes alone. For instance have you ever wondered what happens if you do break the eye contact rules? One day in Stockholm before I hurt my eye, I was feeling a little lonely and crazy so I decided to find out. It was a pretty funny experience.

I was on the train about eight minutes from my station, and opposite me sat a young guy about the same age as me. So I looked at him and when he looked back at me I didn’t do what was expected – I just keep looking, and of course smiling. Well what happened? After a short time, it occurred to me that he thought I was “checking him out”. Opps, so that’s what happens if you break this rule. The last few minutes to my station were a little uncomfortable and I couldn’t get off that train fast enough!

So where ever you go in the world you can say a lot without even opening your mouth. The problem is that sometimes what you are saying with your eyes depends on where in the world you are. I’m really proud of the fact that in Nepal I left my western ways behind to really reach out and communicate with the local people.

One thing is for sure though, wherever in the world you end up, a friendly look and a smile can open doors. It’s definitely worth learning to let your eyes do the talking!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

It works better than Botox!

Sometimes life doesn't work out as planned.

My ski trip after my last post was one such example. I had decided to go somewhere new, and went to Norra Djurgarden. Unfortunately the ski tracks there are not so well prepared or well marked.

By the time I finally found the narrow track, I was impatient to get started and skied straight down the hill (down the uphill I think). I managed to stay upright for a long time which I was amazed about. Unfortunately this meant that when I saw the tree I didn't have much time to react. And when I hit the tree, I hit it really fast.

Of course, that night when I was watching TV, wondering what hit me, someone rung and asked to interview me the next day. Isn't that always how life works!

On the brightside things are now looking a bit better. I can once again see out of my left eye, and on Saturday, I had a wonderful couple of hours of skiing in the sunshine. So I still love skiing, but now I am a little more careful than before.

And like everything in life there's always a few things to learn from an experience like this.

  1. Using your face to protect your body is not a good idea.
  2. Even cross country skiing is dangerous. Invest in a helmet.
  3. People sometimes do look at you on the tunnelbanan. (Infact they sometime even offer to take you to the hospital!)
  4. As long as you smile it appears you can even make a good impression at a job interview even with a black eye!

Monday, March 06, 2006

Skiing is fantastic!

Life can be really tough when you'll living in a new place. For me the worst part is not having a "proper job". Before I went to Nepal I was actually offered a real job, and sometimes I regret not taking it. But then I remember what a growth experience Nepal was and I realise I made the right decision for me.

In my situation, sometimes the smallest actions of others can make a huge difference. For example, when a stranger asked me to help her check on a woman acting strangely in a car, I realised people here do care. Suddenly Stockholm stopped being a big, heartless city.

Sometimes a friend can make a huge difference without realising all that they have done for you. On Sunday when I feeling really low, my friend Lotta rang me up. She suggested we go for a walk or ski even though she couldn’t find a second pair of skis for me to borrow.

I was really excited because cross country skiing is my new addiction. I think it is just fantastic! After an hour of skiing I just can’t stop talking about it. I love it because it's got the right mix of requiring balance, technique, fitness and fear. It’s extremely aerobic, but it’s really fun, because you’re so busy trying to coordinate the legs, arms, skis and poles that you don’t think about how hard you are working. And then when you get to down hills it’s exhilarating. Cross country skis are very narrow so it’s a real challenge to stay upright as you go very fast, straight down the hills.

Sunday worked really well for me because Lotta watched me ski and then told me what I was doing wrong. Before then I had only been cross country skiing once, a month ago, and I had been so impatient to learn that I taught myself to ski on Friday night, alone, in the dark when it was -15 outside. So it was high time for some “professional” instruction.

She gave me two main pieces of information. First, I need to put my poles further back, and secondly she showed me how to get the arms and legs working together. Last night, Monday, I went out again on the lit tracks near my house. Well, skiing used to be super fun and now it’s twice as good again! Her advice has made all the difference! I now feel much more confident and I know what I am trying to do, even if I can’t do it every time.

The best bit of all, is that there’s fantastic snow in Stockholm at the moment and she’s lent me her skis for a whole week. This is great because it means I will get some exercise and exercise always makes me feel better. Skiing also makes me feel good about being here, in Stockholm, and it gives me something to do during the day when everyone else is working!

Today is great. It’s -10 and the sun is shinning. It’s a perfect day to go skiing so that’s what I will do. Everything else I need to do can wait for another time. Well everything except a special thank you for my friend!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A Scandinvian Winter and LoudMail

Today the calendar announced that Spring has arrived, but it hasn't reach us yet. We recieved 7cm of snow today , and the temperature is currently around -5 and getting colder.

For me the snow is a mixed blessing. I still feel excited when I walk to school with the snow falling around me and Stockholm is stunningly beautiful with all the snow around. On the other hand, I really want to try skating on the sea, but while snow lies over the ice this is not possible!

Many people in Stockholm, both Swedish and foreigners hate the cold and snow, but I love it. The cold, crisp air brings back memories of magical days climbing in the mountains back home. It's also about making the best of the cold. I've been down hill skiing, long distance skating and cross country skiing.

For Stockholmares, the winter is kind of a time to hibernate and gain energy for the long summer days. My friends have been very good to me and we have have had many fun days skiing and skating together. But it has still been extremely hard sometimes to cope with the loneliness I have felt. The cold outside is nothing compared to the cold and closedness I sometimes feel from people here. Don't get me wrong. People here are very nice, it's just that people aren't so outwardly friendly like they are in Nepal and New Zealand. They say that travel teaches you about yourself and this is very true for me. I really miss sharing a smile with anyone and everyone who walks past. I have realised that I need daily interaction with people to share positive energy and with and build a good feeling.

The winter has been a time to reflect and to ponder my future. I loved Nepal and it was very difficult for me to return "home" to Stockholm. The rhythms of the places are so different. Nepal is like one big friendly village while Stockholm is a sterile, annomous big city.

During that time, I have come to realise how much I want to paddle and see the world and touch people's lives. I want to travel and understand how people think and what makes them tick. I have a long term dream of being able to travel the world, kayaking, instructing and maybe doing a little programming work now and then. As part of that dream, I have in my spare time in Sweden developed a programme to help poorly sighted people to read their email which I am now selling through the internet.

The program is called LoudMail. I started developing it to help my Grandmother stay in touch with her family through email. She is legally blind, and now finds it very difficult to read. With LoudMail her computer will read the messages, and she'll be able to stay in touch with family such as myself who are spread through out the world. I really hope that it takes off because I would love to develop LoudMail further so it is better for my Grandmother and other people in her situation. For example, I'd love to teach the program to read the "forwarded message" header so she doesn't have to listen to a lot of computer generated crap.

So please lend me a hand if you can. Download my program and if you like it please spread the word or add a link to the sight. You'll put a smile on my face, and in Stockholm, in Winter, I could really do with that smile!

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