Around the world in 125 days
Finland is a Scandinavian country but interestingly enough they speak a language that is completely different from all the neighboring countries (Russia, Norway, Sweden and Denmark). Finland is also a very modern country. In a way, it's rather amazing that these Scandinavian countries do so well, based on companies like Nokia, Volvo, Ikea, etc. At least this is what I am aware of that creates revenue for them in the world market. They certainly do not have a lot of other natural resources, such as oil, to make them wealthy. That to me is a good indication that it is the culture and mentality of the people that determines how well they live. A lot of so-called 'poor' countries probably have more oil revenue than these Scandinian countries, but due to corruption and over-population, those countries stay poor.
Often I felt sorry whenever I heard about Third-World families living in poverty and barely finding enough to eat. That is, sorry until I found out these families had five or more children. That would of course explain why they are so poor. If I had seven children, I could be poor too. Hate to say this, but the suffering those people have is often self-inflicted and it is not fair that other people have to bail them out. To me, having so many children is an indulgence more than anything else. If I have seven cars and could not look after them, would somebody send me money? Of course not. All these people are doing is just making everyone else more poor. One thing poor people are definitely good at is making more poor people; unfortunately, in fact, way better than the rich people's ability to make more rich people.
After Russia, we headed over to Finland. But we were stuck at the border for a while because of a visa problem. It was not caused by one of the passengers this time. Instead, our driver was having trouble entering Finland using his Yugoslavian passport even though he had been to Finland many times before. He was forced to apply for a 'last minute' visa.
Helsinki is so far north that it is rather chilly even in the middle of Summer. For the first time we dug out the jackets and tried to keep warm. Our Swedish friend told us that 15 degrees Celsius is considered a 'heat wave' in Scandinavia. The heart of this city, where all visitors should go, is called Senate Square which are surrounded by three beautiful neo-classical buildings, including a white tall cathedral, the Government Palace, and the University. The imposing Cathedral sits on top of a big platform that requires you to do some climbing to get on it. One strange thing about this often-photographed landmark is it does not appear to have a name. So it is simply called the Cathedral on the Senate Square or Helsinki Cathedral. Hard to believe people would build a beautiful church like this and did not bother to give it a name. The church was nice inside but it was no match in comparison to those in Russia.
Not far from the square is the tree-lined Esplanade Park where they stage concerts and other events. It is like a very mini version of New York's Central Park. While wandering in the park, it occurred to us maybe we should try having reindeer meat for lunch. You know after all Finland is famous for reindeer. So we went to various eating places around the park to see if anybody served reindeer meat. Not surprisingly, we did not have much luck. It is almost like trying to find kangaroo meat in an average Australian restaurant or moose meat in an average Canadan restaurant. Just because the country has the wild animals, it does not necessarily mean the meat will be commonly available. At the end, we did come across one place offering reindeer meat but it was too late as we had already gave up and lunched somewhere else.
Nearby is the the Harbour which was full of sailboats getting ready for a yacht race. The sailors were busy loading supplies onto their boats. There was a yellow sign describing their voyage. Next we visited an outdoor open market right next to the harbor and also an Orthodox church called Uspenski Cathedral on top of a small hill.
For the rest of the afternoon we headed over to their shopping area to check out the scene. As expected, streets are clean and middle-class Finns are clearly doing well. The stores are stocked with all the good stuff that you find in other modern cities. Later that evening, we got on a ferry and were on our way to Sweden.
© Dave Cheng 2000