September 25, 2005

Same same but different

party_backs.jpg Do you think you've seen this picture before? I have the same feeling, but I'm not recycling the photos this time. We had another Finland-themed party last night. Kaj's colleagues & all 3 "Giulianos" came over, but unfortunately the 3 are not in the picture, because we remembered to take out the camera only when Luca said "enough" and demanded to sleep in his own bed. Gary promised to send more pics (he left for Vietnam today, poor soul), so I will update this story when I get them.

This time we had some real rye bread and smoked Rudolf! People apparently wisened up after last time - the Finlandia vodka bottle is still half full.. :) This time we also didn't have any casualties, nobody throwing up in a taxi... :)


A nice coincidence (nicely continuing from my previous post) - towards the end of the evening the stories took a spooky turn. It is really amazing to hear that almost everyone has experienced some supernatural encounters in their lives.. Now look at this spooky picture - an innocent baby and these evil twins lurking over him with a beer can! If poor Luca would have opened his eyes at that moment, I'm sure he'd be traumatised for life. :) Kaj says that he's completely unmoved by the local spooky stories, but when I hear Sean telling about a little green guy squatting under a banana plant that he saw next to his grandparents house as a child, my arm hairs stand!

Anyway, this was fun, among not so fun things that I was wanting to write for a long time are 3 recently publicised police cases somehow disturbing my life. I am not directly related to any these cases, I'm only concerned. Only as much as any human being should be... :(

1) One filmmaker has been having tea with police for making a film "Leijonakaupunki Rebel" about the oposition leader that is currently bankrupt and facing defamation suits. His movie is illegal according to Film Act that bans any movie "made by any person and directed towards any political end in Leijonakaupunki".

2) People have been complaining about authorities not opening one MRT station, as they were forced to walk significant distance to other stations to catch a train. The reason for keeeping it closed was not sufficient amount of people who'd be taking the train from this station. To gently & jokingly remind about the issue, somebody put up carton cut-outs of white elephants (white elephant may symbolise a useless object) on the day when a minister visited the area. The minister laughed it off, somebody made a call to police hotline (or so the press claims). The case is currently under investigation as it is against the Public Entertainment and Meetings Act (under this act, besides being not allowed to carry banners, people are not allowed gather publicly in groups of more than 4 people).

3) 3 "bloggers" were charged under Sedition Act for racist remarks online. These are the first cases when somebody was charged for expressing their opinions online. The racist comments were directed against Malay-Muslims and posted in some pet-related forums (in response to somebody complaining about taxi drivers allowing to take dogs inside - some Muslims can't come in contact with dogs saliva because of their religion). The guys, 17, 24 and 27 years old face up to 3 years in jail. Btw, they are all called "bloggers", although some of them were posting comments in online forums. Some people say that this may be done on purpose to make a clear association between "bloggers" and "criminals" and to give an idea that blogging is a dangerous pursuit.

Posted by gkligyte at 03:56 PM | Comments (1)

September 19, 2005

Believe it or not

Last weekend both of us were a bit sick. It is really scary to run fever right now in Leijonakaupunki, as there're already over 9500 dengue fever cases & 8 deaths since the beginning of the year. The more I read about it, the less I'd like to contract it... However, I woke up this morning feeling exceptionally healthy.. No choice, lah, got to go to work, lah..


As we both felt dizzy and weak yesterday, we decided to see The Brothers Grimm movie. Wow, it was scary from the minute one! It got me thinking about how forest is perceived and represented in the movie. This was a German forest - evil, haunted and cursed. Surprisingly, forest is perceived as a holy peaceful place that gives shelter and feeds people both in Lithuania and Finland. Lithuanian classic literature has several pieces describing the beauty of forest, basically worshiping it. Finnish literature, I don't really know, but I believe so.. Even these days a common Finn has a very special (and positive) relationship, some kind of symbiosis with forest :) Anyway, in the Middle ages Lithuanians still had temples in the forest and worshiped trees. German crusaders, christians, that came to Lithuania were cutting down holy oak woods and in general thought that forest is evil. How and why? There's some written evidence in chronicles about crusaders claiming that Lithuanian forests were full of spirits and demons. Maybe they were right? Were the Germans bringing the modernity, aiming to control the nature, kill and drive the spirits away till they turned back, fought and did evil things?


It is interesting to think about how forest/jungle is perceived in here. In general it is something to be fought against and controlled (Leijonakaupunki excells really well in this), but the old beliefs and habits still prevail. I was surprised to learn that Leijonakaupunki youngsters are taught in the army (yes yes, the powerful and efficient Leijonakaupunki army) to excuse themselves and ask forest spirits for forgiveness when they need to pee in the forest. They also don't have night shifts on Thursday nights, because it is a bad day for Muslims (or the night when Muslim demons are roaming free or smth like that). There's a lot of stories, what happens when soldiers are sent to do something in the forest on Thursday night. For example, one of the soldier's intestines could be found in his rucksack, people disappearing, etc. All this was told to me by my colleague, a big guy, he said the intestine story happened the year before he joined the army.. You want to believe this? Or not?


Several weeks ago I went to a storytelling event where people retold ancient tales from the region. One of the stories was about native Orang Asli people that still live in the jungle in Malaysia. They're know for being badly integrated into the modern society & still very much living according to the rhythm of forest and nature. The story was about the first shaman of Orang Asli people. He learned how to control the spirits of the forest (called "bes" that is strangely the same word in Russian for a "devil"!) & he could negotiate with them not to harm his people. My colleague made an unexpeted connection with the real case of 3 young boys (1 from Leijonakaupunki) getting lost in a very touristy & well explored area of forest in Fraser Hill that happened few months ago. Somehow the children strayed away from the path and went missing for about a week. They were found safe and healthy by an Orang Asli man. My colleague told me that one of the explanations she heard from the people was that the boys did something wrong in the forest and the spirits lead them away from the path. These stories are always similar - familiar places start looking strange all of a sudden & you seem to be walking round and round (and possibly find a ginger bread house ir a bear's cottage or smth similar). When it is time to go home, you find yourself just few steps away from the road or home or some familiar place. So the explanation goes that you get trapped in alternative reality and forest spirits deliberately keep confusing you, till somehow you break through. The story of the 3 boys is that one Orang Asli man went out to the forest "to find the boys". He actually asked the spirits to help him look for them them & it didn't take him longer than few hours to find them stranded 7km from the familiar road (although helicopters & volunteer teams were brushing the forest for a week!). Want to believe this? Or not?


Spirits and ghosts seem to be everywhere around us in the modern Leijonakaupunki. For example, one should never change the seats in the cinema, even if they're unoccupied, because some of the seats are given to the invisible ghosts (but they're still there, sitting and trying to enjoy the movie! of course, they get furious when someone sits on their lap!), also the first row is almost always reserved to the ancestors & spirits. My colleague sayed that some people are born with an invisible veil on their eyes. If they have the veil, they see many things not visible for others, they can glance to the alternative realities, see ghosts and spirits. The same big guy, my colleague said that there were 5 other poeple living in his childhood house. His grandmother saw all of them, he saw only 4. He said that whenever he saw these people, they used to get very scared of him as well... Apparently he has a veil on his eyes.. Want to believe this? Or not?

Posted by gkligyte at 08:56 PM | Comments (0)

September 17, 2005

Hor weekend already, liao!


This is the Changi beach and it is on the other side of the country from where we live. Not far from where I work. Sometimes it seems weird that we may go for a walk, lunch or dinner somewhere on the oposite side of the country. In reality, the whole island is some 60 km wide, so its not such a big deal to go from one side to the other for dinner.. :) My colleagues drive to Malaysia for lunch! Well that is already slightly weird, I think...


I wouldn't swim here (look at all the oil tankers that are passing by).. I'm sure its perfectly fine and safe, but I think that the sandy shore is artificial (can't be sure, but it looks so from the shape of it in the map)


However, Changi beach is a very relaxed place (compared to other places where one could spend a Saturday afternoon in Leijonakaupunki, e.g. Orchard rd. or some shopping mall). It was nice to see people fishing, just hanging out, putting up tents, etc. Sometimes its difficult to imagine that just a few decades ago Leijonakaupunki was a sleepy island full of kampongs (Malay for a village) in the jungle where tigers were roaming free.. :) From time to time you get a glimpse of what it must have been like (nice!), but mostly its covered - in asphalt, glass and steel. Here's a link to video archive of cleaning up of the Leijonakaupunki river. Very interesting if you've seen what it looks now with all the bars, clubs, restaurants and expensive hotels around... And here's William Gibsons's impressions of the place when he visited it in 1993 (yes yes, the same guy who wrote "Neuromancer")...


We went to Changi Village for a beer/dinner with Giuliano, Jo & Luca last weekend. Luca is already 1 month old and you can see that his parents are very liberal - making him used to spending time in bars already.. :) Charlie's Corner is a definite "place of interest" here - it imports beers from all around the world (you can find even Lapin Kulta, although they're not enlightened to import Shvyturys yet. Btw, I heard that you can find it in Alko these days.. If you haven't tried yet, go for it! Shvyturio Extra is the best!!! It is the most popular Lithuanian beer and Kaj can confirm with his whole heart that it is very good!!!) It is kind of funny, when you think about it - Giuliano (he's my remote colleague :) emailed me after he found this blog. And this wouldn't have happened anymore now, after I have put it under password... So I wouldn't even know him or Jo and Luca... Life would definitely be worse.. :)


Last week we also had mooncake screening with my colleagues, watching British comedies "Little Britain" and "The Office". The semester is over, the marking is done and we're getting much more relaxed finally! If you've been following my blog from the beginning, there's something about mooncakes from last year already. Last time (ha ha.. wait for explanation of "last time") I associated mooncakes with the Hungry Ghost festival, I think. But now I think that there's no connection. Mooncakes are related to Mid-autumn festival (is there anything else, but mooncakes about this festival?) and they're very elaborated pieces of pastry stuffed with lotus paste. Often they have a full salted duck egg yolk (perfectly round and intact baked inside, don't ask me how they put it in there!). Salim our ex-manager (in yellow shirt) will be leaving our school in couple of weeks.. :(


Now the explanation for "last time". "Last time" may mean anything related to the past in local English. It could stand for - "it used to", "earlier", "before", could mean just one or many occassions, when that particular thing happened (e.g. "last time when I was in university, I used to be very slim..", "last time I told him a week ago...", etc) I adopted it fully & it may embarrasing sometimes.. :)

All my attempts to speak some Singlish fail quite badly (although my English grammar is deteriorating fast.. Kaj is complaining already :).. I especially humble down when i read the Rockson Tan's blog. Waah.. Sounds just like some of my students. He's my new favorite, sorry Molly Meek! :) Some sample text for you:
"I also never go and say this Airframe guy blog no good, why he come here and disturb me? He is lucky I am now not like last time is a young punk, small small thing also want to fight. Now I am more self control because I got blog to write my feeling."

Posted by gkligyte at 06:34 PM | Comments (0)

September 10, 2005

Service culture?


I have a new routine! Every Saturday I go to Tekka Market to buy vegetables for the whole week. Giuliano told me about "Victor's stall", "the only stall with music" in the market run by a funny & friendly "ah beng"-like guy. I went there few weeks ago and immediately became a devoted/faithful/loyal/weekly customer. Its not only vegetables that are fresher at his stall, not even the music that they play.. I think it is much more about service that you get there. These people are extremely friendly and although they're super busy, they notice you looking puzzled and ask if they could help. They seem to know their customers names, are very efficient and you always feel taken-care-of. And all this without making you feel watched, pushed or intimidated. This is an art and sensibility that only few people in the service industry really have...


Service culture is something that is discussed very much in the local media right now. Leijonakaupunki realized that they need to improve on the service culture in order to become a world-class city, a prime tourist destination with the x-factor. I personally don't mind "silent treatment" in shops, or coffeeshop staff asking "what you want?" - we had something like that in Finland, but what really gets on my nerves are sales girls that follow after you frantically folding clothes that you just touched & trying to lead you away from the stuff that you're interested constantly offering smth on the other side of the shop.

Last weekend we had an interesting encounter at one supermarket. The cashier looked at our shopping cart and said: "cheese, ah?". "yes,cheese" we mumbled. "only two items, ah?", "yes", we wondered if she's disappointed. She started keying in the prices & muttering "goat cheese with ash.. ash.. ash.." glancing at us occassionally.. "Hmm.." we thought.. Then she cheerfully handed us the change and when I turned back to look at her, she seemed to be still seeking eye contact with us.. "How weird" I thought... And then it downed on me that it must be an attempt to improve service standards and that there were instructions given to her by the managers - to try to engage customers into conversation.. This encounter was really surrreal..


One thing that still surprises me is lack of bureaucracy in here. Everything is implemented straight from government/ministers' mouth to reality. The national day rally delivered by PM was only few weeks ago and this was when the need to improve service culture was officially mentioned for the first time. Right now media is buzzing about it and I'm sure sales staff are already trained how to serve properly all around the country. The efficiency is especially visible, whenever you have to encounter official bodies, such as Ministry of Manpower (these kind of places are notoriously slow everywhere else). For example, Kaj just transfered his employment pass to the new passport. It took him one visit and some half an hour to get it done. Imagine doing something similar in Finland... :( This immediate efficiency of Leijonakaupunki is smth really "potentially missable" in the future...

Coming back to the service culture in Leijonakaupunki - looking for the reasons, why the standards are so low, some people pointed out that nice customers get good service, but nasty people get back what they deserved.. :) So lets sit back and wait for the call to improve customers' behaviour and customers' culture.. he he...

Posted by gkligyte at 11:50 AM | Comments (0)

September 07, 2005

The Secret History

Welcome to the new stage in my blog life. The secret life. Share the user name and password with whoever is outside of Leijonakaupunki.. But if you're here, please keep it to yourself... Last few days were terribly stressfull, because I desperately tried to take my blog down. One of my students discovered my blog & linked it from her website. Then Yong, my colleague, stumbled upon it. He said straight away that I should be more careful, because the word will spread.. I freaked out, took everything down, and sat couple of days biting my nails.. Thanks to Pekka its up again!!! Pekka, you're the man!!! If I get sacked, at least I should collect my Christmas bonus... The Leijonakaupunki economy is growing nicely, so people expect triple 13th month pay.. Yipiii!

saltibarsciai.jpg nostalgic_nida.jpg

Otherwise I'm growing all homesick here. Started cooking Lithuanian saltibarsciai, the pink soup, its great in this climate! Last night I had a dream that I was in Europe (maybe it was Finland) and it hit me that the soil is black, not red. I was almost crying, kissing the ground and stuff.. :) When I woke up, I was astonished that the dream was so rational & realistic. The soil is red in here indeed.. Never thought about it in my conscious awake life.. :)


And life indeed seems to be very bright and colourful in LT and in FI.. Looking through the old pics from previous summers, its difficult to imagine that it can be sometimes cloudy & horrible in there too... Please, tell me, reasure me that it was worth coming here.. :)

Posted by gkligyte at 10:16 PM | Comments (2)

September 01, 2005

The Great Leap Forward


As soon as we crossed the border of Leijonakaupunki to Malaysia last Friday, we couldn't stop grinning.. What was it? The smell of freedom, fun, leisure in the air? How can one get so relaxed and happy in 5 minutes?!? It has been a real rats race for me last week. The semester is almost over and the students are freaking out about submitting their projects. Everybody was so desperately seaking my help that I've been staying till 9:30pm in school.. Its getting better now, but half of our students contracted eye conjuctivitus (some kind of red eye viral disease), as they were not sleeping, using the same computers and rubbing their eyes.. :) I'm washing my hands often these days...


also_diving.jpg Anyway, last weekend was amazing, as we woke up to the birds singing, not the machines drilling in the construction site. Pulau Sibu is some 3-4hours away from Leijonakaupunki & is a pretty fantastic place to spend a weekend. We slept most of the time, but I managed to go diving on Sunday. I don't understand why we didn't dive since last Christmass, as its so beautiful down there, under water! Kaj had an ear infection again, so he couldn't come with me.. We stayed in a British owned resort that was flooded with British. As we came to the Sibu island together with 2 families all the way from Leijonakaupunki, we ended up being "friendly" to each other. The diffficult part was trying to avoid the British drinking system of buying rounds.. Such a different concept from Finnish parties where you write your name with a marker on a beer can once you put them into the fridge (and you bring only as many as you're planning to drink yourself, God forbid, not to share with anyone!). I don't get these British people - if you ever expect to get your money's worth, you'd be dead drunk half way through the round... Still it was very nice to feel that people notice, consider you and show a lot of courteousness - ice cream for everyone in the bus, not only the children or your family.. I regret to admit that I've turned quite a bit kiasu (me first, you after) myself...


Besides nice things, there are also a lot of changes happening at work (en muista kerroinko mina etta meidan paras pomo oli heittety pois.. Nepamenu ar rasiau, kad musu geriausias bosas buvo ismestas..). My well seasoned colleague called these changes the Great Leap Forward.

Go on, read what happened afterwards... Kaikki nama muutokset tekivat mun paatoksen irtisanoa tammikuusa ja lahtea Leijonakaupungista aika helpon.. Ensi vuona aloitetaan "blokki-opetus". Se tarkoita etta kaikki luennot ja projektit puristetaan ronalan.jpg4 viikon ajalle. Ja niin 4 viikoisia 4 blokkia semesterissa. Siis joka paiva vaan 3Dopetusta ja sitten 4 viikon paasta joka paiva vaan piirtamista ja niin pois pain.. Ala kysy miksi ja mita hoytya tasta... Ja mita tapahtuu jos opiskelija tai opettaja (!) sairastuu.. Tai mita tapahtuu opiskelijoiden projekteille? Ja onko taa systemi perustettu jonkun pedagogikaan... Kaikki jotka kysyivat on jo poissa koulusta.. Kaikki hyvat paatevat ja alykat ihmiset on jo heitetty pois... "Shut up and follow" - siita meista odotetaan..

Visi nauji pokyciai darbe man labai padejo apsispresti ir iseiti is darbo sausio menesi. Kitais metais pradesime taip vadinamas "studijas blokais".. Visos paskaitos ir projektai bus sugrusti i 4 savaiciu 4 blokus per semestra. Taigi 4ias savaites studentai kasdien mokysis pvz vien tik 3D, kitas 4ias savaites, tik paisys, etc.. Neklauskite, kodel ta reikia daryti ir kokia is to nauda.. Ir kas nutiks, jei studentas susirgs pvz savaite, o jeigu destytojas susirgs?!? Ir ar sita sistema pagrista kokia nors pedagogika. Visi, kurie klause, jau isspirti is musu mokyklos.. Visi patyre, protingi jau ismesti. "Uzsikimsk ir sek is paskos", sito jie is musu laukia..

Today I met our new boss, her handshake was firm. We had a farewell party for Salim, our best manager, last Tuesday... Lisaa lahtiaisia tulossa... Maaliskuussa.. :) Bus ir daugiau atsisveikinimo vakareliu... Kovo menesi... :)

Posted by gkligyte at 09:56 PM | Comments (0)