Self Perspective

Chronicles of an American professor in Finland

This blog was meant to convey my experiences so that my wanderings, blunderings, and explorations might help others who elect to travel this same path.

To be sure, being a Fulbright Scholar was one of the high points of my academic career.  I met some incredible people who I believe will be lifelong friends and had many incredible experiences of which I would not have had, were it not for the Fulbright.

I continue to be surprised why so many of my fellow academic colleagues elect not to apply.  It is not because they are not qualified since many are superbly qualified.  I hear many reasons why they cannot apply, but, the cynic in me thinks it is simply not wanting to put out the effort or to leave a very comfortable routine.

Granted, applying for the Fulbright is a giant pain to put together; requiring a tremendous amount of time, effort and coordination of spouse, university, home, pets, friends, and work, but it is so worth it.   The only sacrifice that I consider that I made was having to leave my pets for four months.

When I first heard about the Fulbright experience, it was not even on my radar.  But, once it was, I was on a mission.  For me, nothing was going to stop me from overcoming any obstacle.  Of course, having a supportive and proactive wife who shares your passion is absolutely necessary.

For those who have the burning desire to make it work; that any short-term pain will be more than made up by the long-term Fulbright experience, I know you’ll figure out how to overcome any obstacle.  I passionately encourage you to apply as I’m positive the Fulbright will be a highpoint for you too and well worth the effort.  Just do it!

I will leave this blog with enthusiastic encouragement to apply to be a Fulbright Scholar, to travel often and far, and to occasionally, purposefully, make yourself uncomfortable; for how else can you grow?

If anyone has any questions regarding the Fulbright; applying, logistics, anything; I would be happy to try to answer.  Just send the question (or comment) to jtself@cpp.edu

 

What a dummy.  I didn’t know that Budapest was the merging of the city of Buda and the city of Pest, each separated from each other by the Danube River.  This actually happened several years ago, like in 1873.  I had always read that Budapest was one of the world’s most beautiful cities, but I was skeptical, mainly because of the sheer size of the city.  How could a capital city of almost 2 million people be all that beautiful?

Believe it.  It can be and it is.

Beautiful.  Really beautiful.

P1000980 (2) P1010245 P1010187 P1010016 P1010010 P1000979 (2)

P1010091

Going to the bathroom will cost you!

Ruin Pubs

One of the surprises of Budapest was the “Ruin Pubs”.  But wait, what the heck is a ruin pub?  They are a bar or really a collection of bars in a well, let’s just say an interesting location.  Basically, exactly what the name “ruin” implies, a type of place that enjoys a low rent.  The decor is well, decor is too strong a word.  Decor implies some kind of intent.  This is a collection of whatever happened to be donated or picked up.  But, they are fun, not at all dangerous or threatening, just kind of eclectic and kind of 60’s grunge.  If you were wondering where you could go to relive the wonder years of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, this is your place.  For us, it was fun, just not where we would go for an evening out.  But it was great to stop in, have a beer, and admire the decor and the people.

P1010267  P1010265

Random Restaurant 

I just loved the name of this restaurant.  So bold.   So in your face.  So chef-like.  I know it is not pronounced that way, but great name nonetheless.  My vote for restaurant name of the year.  I also voted for the old Chevrolet Nova too.  Remember that one?  Means No Go in Spanish.  Both classics.

P1010025

P1010022

The Shoes on the River Danube Memorial

On the Pest side of the Danube is this memorial to commemorate the Jews who were forced to take off their shoes at the river’s edge just before they were shot, so that their bodies would fall into the Danube during WWII.  A powerful, grim reminder of the horrors of WWII.

P1010153_edited-1

Great Market Hall (Central Market Hall)

This is a huge, indoor market that has 3 stories.  This is a must see for Budapest with locals doing day to day shopping mingled with tourists.  You can buy chess sets to trinkets to clothes and anything in between.  If you like shopping, you will love this and plan to spend a couple of hours.  Great fun.  I had no idea that paprika came in so many varieties and packaging. And I did not know (one more thing!) that Budapest was known for its paprika.  I do now.

P1010089 P1010075 P1010055 P1010065 P1010062 P1010045 P1010042

Opera

Deb and I went to see the opera Coppelia at the Hungarian State Opera House in Budapest.  We were able to obtain great seats because of the concierge at the Kempinski.  This reminded me of one of the reasons why you stay at very good hotels and that is the concierge.  This is a good opportunity to mention the international concierge association Les Clefs d’Or.

The Concierge

I have found in a very unscientific sampling, that the very best concierges seem to belong to an international association called Les Clefs d’Or (keys of gold) and pronounced “lay clay door”.  Their membership will be very evident by the crossed keys that they wear on their lapel.  Anyway, worth mentioning this very fine organization of professionals.  Be sure to look for the crossed keys.

Needless to say the concierge at the Kempinski was terrific and a member of the Les Clefs d’Or.

P1010014P1010256

Back to the opera

The Hungarian State Opera House is a beautiful venue: traditional, splendid and magnificent.  This, to me, is what an opera house should look like.  Even though I usually like contemporary design over traditional, the Hugnarian State Opera House is the gold standard.  Full disclosure: I have limited opera experience, having only been to operas in San Francisco and Santa Fe, so keep in mind this is from a guy who loves college football and cheeseburgers.  Just so you have some perspective.

P1010244

P1010214 P1010211

Restaurants, Food and more food

P1010276

P1010031 P1000976

P1010248 P1010030 P1000999P1010001 P1000976 P1000975 P1000974 P1010184 P1010248

Don’t know Tallinn, Estonia?   Have you heard of Skype?  Started in Tallinn, Estonia.  In fact, Tallinn is one of the most wired cities in the world.  My wife, Deb, was amazed and found herself continuously checking for WiFi.  She always had a strong signal everywhere inside and outside.  (Interesting experiment, but got to be fairly annoying–reminded me of the old cell phone commercial– “Can you hear me now?”).

I was invited to give a workshop/presentation on “Becoming a better restaurant manager” in conjunction with EHTE (Estonian School of Hotel and Tourism Management and Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences in Helsinki, Finland.

Deb and I took the Tallink ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn which takes about 2 hours.  This is a huge ferry that also takes trucks, cars and oh, yes, people.  No hassles, no problems.

As is typical in Helsinki, we just hopped on a tram and it dropped us off right at the port in Helsinki.  After living in Los Angeles and Marin County in the San Francisco Bay area, this is such a luxury not to have to take the car, fight traffic, find a place to park, pay for parking and the list goes on.  In fact, we have not driven a car in 4 months since we have been in Helsinki.  This is not because we don’t love cars, because we are both car people, but not having to worry about traffic delays, accidents and idiots on the freeway is quite wonderful.  Especially when the public transportation is so convenient, inexpensive, safe, on-time, and goes where you need to go.  (Sorry, I’ll stop now, butitISgreat).  We spent the entire time on the ferry chatting with the other keynote Kalle, who spoke on team building.

Tallinn, Estonia

If you’ve never been to Tallinn, Estonia, you are missing out.  Tallinn is about 50 miles (80 kilometers) South of Helsinki right across the Gulf of Finland.  Very easy to add to your trip if you are visiting Helsinki, Stockholm or St. Petersburg, Russia.

Tallinn is a beautiful city that is both quaint and modern at the same time.  Tallinn’s Old Town is also a United Nations World Heritage site.  Old town is just a short walk from the Palace Hotel that Deb and I stayed in (highly recommended, by the way) and where my presentation was.

WP_20141128_008WP_20141128_009

Great shops, great restaurants, excellent people watching.

WP_20141129_043 WP_20141129_040 WP_20141129_024 WP_20141129_058 WP_20141129_056 WP_20141129_018 2014 11 29_0222_edited-12014 11 29_01872014 11 29_0170

The presentation “Becoming a better restaurant manager”

I gave a 3 hour workshop and I believe it went very well.  The workshop had 47 attendees who were engaged and seemed to enjoy and, I hope, they took away some good things that will help in their daily jobs as restaurant managers. After the presentation, Deb and I enjoyed adult beverages with Pirkko, a colleague who had attended to talk briefly about Haaga-Helia University.

WP_20141129_0022014 11 29_0244_edited-1

Foodie stuff

By the way, need to try Glogi…a great warm drink for the holidays.  No, it is not grog.

2014 11 29_0208 2014 11 29_0411 2014 11 29_0409WP_20141128_028

Getting to Russia can be a challenge with its horribly complicated, time consuming and expensive visa requirements.  But, Russia does offer one way that is painless and that way is to go by ferry.  No visa required.  The only caveat is that it is only good for 72 hours. Good enough. Deb and I figured that since we were in Helsinki and we were soooo close to St. Petersburg, why not go?  The Hermitage with its 3 million pieces of art in one gigantic, beautiful building and the culture and the architechture, and, of course, the borscht.  Maybe all that would offset helping Mr. Putin’s economy. We figured that visiting at the end of November with its weather and with all of the uhhhh, how shall I say this, Russia’s attempts at world tranquility would mean fewer tourists making it a bit cheaper and easier to travel. The plan was to leave on a Saturday evening, sleep on the ferry, wake up to St. Petersburg in the morning of Sunday.  Leave our luggage at the hotel, wander Nevsky Prospect Avenue sampling cafes and shops, then go to the Mariinsky to see the Lohengrin opera.  Spend the night at the hotel, then the next day go to the Hermitage and spend the day exploring the Hermitage, then off to the ferry in the evening for the return trip.  It was a plan.  Just not a great plan.  It had one tiny problem.  The Hermitage is closed on Mondays.  So we had to get from the ferry to the hotel, get to the Hermitage, see the Hermitage, have dinner and go to the opera.  All in one day.  Such fun.  Leisurely day.  Not.

St. Peterline Ferry from Helsinki to St. Petersburg

So we booked two tickets on the St. Peterline ferry from Helsinki to St. Petersburg, Russia.  This is an overnight ferry with many choices of staterooms.  From the windowless ones that sleep 2 to 6 with private bathroom, on up to rooms with windows for 2, to luxury staterooms.  We chose second from the bottom as far as price, the room for 2 with a window and a private bathroom with shower. The room turned out to be fine.  Totally fine.  Small, yes, but good enough.  Private bathroom and shower is always a good thing and appreciated.  No free WiFi, but can purchase by the hour. The ferry itself is big with multiple bars, entertainment, and ala carte and buffet restaurants.  We did make one mistake and that was to purchase 2 prepaid drink tickets for 12 Euros each that give you 15€ of value.  The mistake is that no one tells you that drink tickets have to be used at one sitting.  You cannot get a drink before dinner, then get one during dinner or after dinner on the same drink ticket even if it has not been all used.  Oh no.  If you move, you lose.  Ticket gone.  With the drinks very reasonable at around 4 Euros each, it was just not possible to spend 30 € at one sitting without seriously regretting it.  By the way, I tried a gin martini and I am still puzzled over what the drink really was.  Some not-quite-clear liquid in a glass that was vaguely sweet.  Maybe martini means mai tai in Russian.  Anyway, it was gawdawful.  Lesson learned: buy drinks individually (and not order a martini).  We ate dinner at one of the ala carte restauants and it was fine.  And we ate dinner coming back the other way at the buffet restaurant.  Buffet is definitely the way to go.  Food was good, reasonable and wide assortment. Once you dock, there is a shuttle that takes you into St. Petersburg.   St. Peterline calls this shuttle a “city tour”.  I call this a shuttle into St. Petersburg.  No tour.  No talking.  No smiles.  Self service on loading luggage.  You load your own luggage into the shuttle.  Driver opens trunk.  Driver points where you should put the luggage.  At least he opened the trunk door. But, except for the relatively minor annoyances above, the ferry was great.  I would definitely recommend.  2014 11 25_0070 2014 11 25_0068 2014 11 25_0077 2014 11 25_0076 The Four Seasons Hotel

Deb and I decided to splurge on the Four Seasons Hotel since it was way off season and the ruble is at a really good rate.  We are getting a bit jaded with luxury hotels because they rarely live up to the expectations that they create.  However, The Four Seasons was the exception and met or exceeded all our expectations.  Excellent in all respects.  The Food and Beverage Director even had a hand written note welcoming us.  Small things and first impressions are important.  2014 11 25_0006 Even the employees who opened the door always greeted us warmly (no pun), the front desk was knowlegeable and efficient and the concierge staff were all excellent.  Beautiful room and the hotel is perfectly located also.  It is a new hotel that took 8 years to build and remodel to open.  Well worth the effort.  Higly recommend.  One nice touch is the TV in the mirror in the bathroom.  I mean you wouldn’t want to miss an episode of The Real Housewives of Moscow, would you? 2014 11 25_0083 The Hermitage We lucked out when we got there.  No lines.  Can you believe it?  The first impression is one of pure size and wealth.  Huge.  Magnificent.  Vast.  Opulent.  Overwhelming.  Then double that.  We had to hurry a bit since we had such a limited time.  The museum would need weeks to do it justice.  Deb had heard of the Hermitage cats and we did actually see one outside.  It looked very much well taken care of.  2014 11 25_0091 Interesting story about them if you look it up.  The Hermitage definitely lived up to our expectations.  The only negative were the women employees in the Hermitage who were consistently gruff and rude.  We later heard that they are known as the “women of the Hermitage” who have the reputation of being rude and gruff.  Apparently deservedly.  They are consistent, I will say that much for them. 2014 11 25_0089 2014 11 25_0085 Mariinsky Theater We had bought tickets on the internet for two tickets at the Mariinsky Theater to see and hear Wagner’s Lohengrin opera.  This is an amazing theater and an amazing performance.  Magnificent opera, magnificent venue.  Seemingly a cast of thousands.  This was an epic experience that I will not soon forget.  Highly recommended.  Note to friends (both of you): I told you I could get some culture. 2014 11 25_0127 2014 11 25_0119 2014 11 25_0117 2014 11 25_0112 2014 11 25_0108 One caveat. Taxis in Russia (at least in St. Petersburg) are not metered.  Best to get your hotel to call for you and pre negotiate price.  Heard several war stories of tourists who did not do this. Nevsky Prospect Avenue We thoroughly enjoying exploring Nevsky Prospect.  This is a very large, wide and grand avenue that, I believe, is the main business street in St. Petersburg.  The usual luxury brands were there of course, but so were independent shops and cafes that are really the soul of any city.  This is great prowling if you’re willing to walk a bunch even though it was COLD.  Like mucho cold.  Colder than Finland cold.  The shops were interesting and the restaurants were good.  Consistently good. 2014 11 25_0096 2014 11 25_0048 2014 11 25_0028 2014 11 25_0023 2014 11 25_0020 2014 11 25_0014 For foodies and friends of foodies The food in Russia, at least the restaurants that we went into, were consistently good.  Actually very good.  Since it was so cold (really cold), after we had spent hours walking up and down the Nevsky Prospect avenue, we decided to stay close to the hotel, rather than walk more.  Both the Tandoori Nights and the GastroBar were very good as were the other restaurants. 2014 11 25_0039 2014 11 25_0017 2014 11 25_0008 2014 11 25_0007 2014 11 25_0105 2014 11 25_0104 2014 11 25_0034

I am grateful for being at Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences for my Fulbright.  The faculty and administration have been wonderful to me.  And just as important as having great colleagues, is the encouragement to make the most of my time in Finland.  As an example of that is they have made it possible to accept invitations to lecture at other universities in Finland.  So I was able  to present at Jyväskylä University of Applied Sciences in Jyväskylä and at Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences in Seinäjoki.  Both are around a 3 hour train ride North and Northwest of Helsinki.

Let’s talk trains

The trains in Finland are fantastic.  On time, every time.  Clean, modern, fast, well lit and free WiFi and did I mention that they are on time?  Plus you get to ride with Finns, which is a major plus.  In my experience, Finns are some of the world’s most considerate people.   I have never heard loud cell phone calls or seen kids running up and down the ailes.  Quiet and respectful.  What a pleasure.  The other side of that is that you are probably not going to meet your new BFF either because Finns typically are not as open and immediately friendly as Americans tend to be: so if you are expecting to just chat with the person next to you the entire trip, might not happen.  Just enjoy the luxury of being able to relax, work, read or sleep in quiet.  Or write a blog.

IMG_0218

Jyväskylä University of Applied Sciences (www.jamk.fi/en/Home/)

The city of Jyvaskyla has about 130,000 residents and is in the middle of the lake country of Finland.  In fact, I was told that there were over 300 lakes in the city.  The Alvar Aalto Museum is here as well as many buildings by him.

Jyvaskyla University of Applied Sciences was founded in 1863 and has about 8,000 students.  I was invited to do a presentation on my research “Why Restaurants Fail”.

P1000939P1000928P1000937

Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences (www.seamk.fi/en/About-us/Faculties/School-of-Food-and-Agriculture)

IMG_0574

University of Seinäjoki campus at sunup

I enjoyed my 30 hours in Seinäjoki.  Kirta met me at the train station, escorted me to the Sokos Hotel and then a gourmet dinner with Kirta and Riikka.

Seinajoki food Seinajoki food 2

Everyone I met were genuinely warm. Kirta and later Riikka gave me a tour of the city and the university.  Very modern, great facilities with the emphasis on students.  I had lunch with several faculty members, the dean and a visiting professor from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.  Excellent experience.

IMG_0598

Seinajoki lecture_edited-1Seinajoki lecture 2

My soapbox

University students seem to be pretty much the same the world over: fairly shy and no clue as to what they are going to do when they graduate.  I think we, university professors and academic programs everywhere, must do a much better job of getting them focused as early as possible so that they will have a fighting chance to land a decent job, one that they actually want.  It is all about preparation and choices.  The more prepared you are, the more choices.  Isn’t life better with choices?

This lack of emphasis on job focus seems to be universal and odd to me.  Why is it that everyone wants high graduation rates, but don’t seem to care what happens to the graduates after graduation?

We are doing a major disservice to our students to allow them to live in a bubble that is all about graduation, not the quality of the graduate.  The underlying message to students is just graduate.  It will all work out.  You’ll definitely get that dream job…never mind that you don’t even know what job you want or that the graduate proably has no chance at their *dream* job.  AND there is a that slight annoyance called competition.  When unprepared graduates compete with prepared graduates, there is no contest, no competition.  There is a huge lack of understanding of the gap in expectations: the company that is hiring wants the best graduates, not the mediocre and certainly not the below average.  Yet, our students (the world over, evidently) seem to think that just getting the degree means you have a good chance.  The reality is that they do not have a chance.  Definitely no chance.   Or they will wind up in a job that they had to take because they had no options.  What are the chances that they will quit or get fired?

Can you say “hello, underemployed or unemployed”?

I can.  I see it every day.  And now I see it everywhere.

I have been very fortunate in having great colleagues here at Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences.  I have been included in many events, big and small, important and trivial, but all very special to me.

Just last Tuesday, I was invited to go with 4 others to a “treatment” of supercold.  Which in Finland is truly bloody super cold.  Like 110 degrees below zero Celsius for 3 minutes.  That is MINUS 110 degrees Celsius.  Which is MINUS 166 Fahrenheit.

What?  Are you nuts?  Go voluntarily into minus 166 degrees Fahrenheit?

Naturally, I said yes. http://www.haikko.fi/en/spa-and-treatments/super-cold–110degc.php

I mean it sounded good at the time.  Didn’t I have to defend the honor of the entire United States?  I mean I couldn’t be the wussy that I wanted to be, could I?  Oh no.  I mean hell no.  So I went.

Temperature just before we went in

So we all piled into Ari’s car and went to the spa for the “treatment” in Porvoo, Finland, just about 30 minutes out of Helsinki.  http://www.haikko.fi/en/home.php

We stripped down to swim trunks, and put on the provided felt booties, stocking hat, and gloves.  Then walked into a compartment (definitely not a room) that was zero degrees centigrade; Door closes.

Then went into another compartment that was at minus 67.  Door closes.

Then walked through that into yet another compartment that was minus 110 degrees Celsius.

Now we’re getting there.

The room was totally fogged up, a bit intimidating.  They advised us to put our gloved hands over our mouths and noses to help.  We did.  We could hear a voice checking on us after one minute….two minutes.  Then, three minutes.  It was over.  Thank-gawd-almighty-free-at-last.

During the three minutes we hopped and jumped up and down and listened to Ari sing for 3 minutes to get through it.

Terrible voice.  But Ari sung with great velocity, spirit and humor.  And, the time went quickly.  Thank you Ari.

After thinking about this, it was 166 degrees below zero and 176 degrees above zero.  That would be over 340 degrees temperature swing.  Are all Finns crazy or just MY Finnish friends?  That is the question.

P1000817

Thankfully, I’m in the back

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to a dinner for male faculty only.  This is an annual event put on to combat the feminine invasion at the university.  No females, no rabbit food, only red meat, red wine and lots of testosterone. YEAH!

Great house.  And of course, in Finland, shoes must come off.

Shoes off

Shoes off

IMG_0411_edited-1

Who is who?

Champagne, finger food and conversation before the meal.

The chef, who is also a wine expert, prepared the entire meal.

IMG_0420_edited-1

Meet Jouko, chef and wine extraordinaire

Who says guys can’t set a nice table?

IMG_0408

Dinner was ready.  We all sat down to a multiple course meal, but it did have some rabbit food, which the chef proclaimed was necessary for balance.  I think he’s right.

IMG_0431_edited-1

IMG_0430_edited-1 IMG_0433_edited-1 IMG_0434_edited-1 IMG_0423_edited-1

It was really a special time with a special bunch of great guys.  Thanks for including me.

End of the first term, so Deb and I went to Berlin for 3 nights and 3 days.  My overall impression is that Berlin is big.  Really big.  Very spread out.  Walkable only in the area that you are in.  But the good news is that it has great public transit and it is much cheaper than Helsinki or any of the Scandinavian countries.  Probably by 30% or so.

But Tegel Airport is small.  Really small.  I am amazed that Tegel Airport is the major airport of Berlin, especially since Berlin is the capital of Germany.  Berlin has a new airport being built, but it is anyone’s guess when it will be completed.  I have read somewhere around 2019.  The current airport, Tegel airport, is the very same airport where the Berlin Airlift took place during the cold war back in 1948.  So Tegel Airport has earned its right to be worn, tired and small.  But, maybe I am over-reacting since I was recently in the airports of Dubai and Stockholm, which are all very modern, spacious and comfortable with great design (and free WiFi).  This may make Berlin Airport appear worse because of the contrast between them.  But, nah, I don’t think so.  Tegel airport is tired and small.  Final answer.

Did you know that Berlin is on a swamp?  I didn’t.  And, did you know that Berl means swamp?  I didn’t either.   But, these pipes,  which are all over Berlin, carry water away so that Berlin doesn’t look like Venice.  Who knew?

P1000812

And did you know that in Berlin (and maybe all of Germany) retail shops can only be open 8 Sundays per year (with 2 of the 8 Sundays must be in December prior to Christmas) to benefit employees. We found this out by planning to shop on Sunday.  Wrong.

Live Escape room 

Deb and I had heard of live escape games in Berlin…has anyone heard of these?  I understand they started in Hungary, then spread to Berlin and other cities.  We went to Exit Berlin and played Toxic Kitchen.  The idea is that you are placed in a room and you have 60 minutes to find out how to stop a bad guy from poisoning the water supply.  You have to solve riddles and puzzles and put them all together with teams of between 2 and 7.  We got into it and it was great fun.  They will also help with tips.  But alas and alack, we weren’t able to stop the bad guy. But, we were REALLY close.  Kind of.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  Do NOT call us if your city is in trouble.   http://exit-game.de/engl/

Festival of Lights

We were lucky enough to be in Berlin when their Festival of Lights was going on.  Somehow they shine colored lights on buildings throughout Berlin.  Amazing.

P1000788P1000782 P1000787

Foodie stuff

Naturally, we had to do two foodie things…we had to eat a curry wurst and we had to go to a biergarten.

Challenge Accepted.  Mission accomplished.

The curry wurst was great.  Fries with mayo and sausage with curry powder.  Does it get any better?

P1000751

Well, the only thing better would be to go to a biergarten.  So we did.  The bier garten was very, very busy, with open seating and a fun atmosphere.  Great beer and great pretzels.  The boiled, pale sausages were ok, however, mustard solves many problems.  My fault, many other sausages that I could have chosen.  Next time.

P1000760

Happy camper

P1000759

Pretzel and mustard with boiled sausages

Speaking of food, we went to a great restaurant on our first night called Marjellchen.  Terrific atmosphere, service and food.

P1000648

Sausage, ham and sausage with potatoes. YUM!

P1000645

Full beet soup cup…happy!

P1000646

Empty beet soup cup. Sad

P1000647

Vegie plate in Germany. A rare sight.

P1000650

Posing

P1000644

Deb and her beet soup

I found the food to be perfect.  Deb found the food to be meat and potatoes.

I was puzzled.  What’s the problem with the food?  Great food.

Berlin Philharmonic

We went to the Berlin Philharmonic Symphony (Berliner Philharmonie).  This was terrific and it was just a few blocks away from our hotel (Hotel Mandala).  Since we got tickets only one day before, we got chorus tickets, which is behind the orchestra.  We both thought the seats were terrific, because you see the conductor’s interaction with the musicians, which, of course, is normally completely lost to the audience since his back is to them.  This could be rationalization too.

Walking tour

We went on a walking tour of Berlin…first one that Deb and I have ever been on.  It was great.  Saw and learned a great deal more than we could ever have done on our own.  Definitely will not be our last.  Barry, from Insider Tours was terrific.  Barry was candid and informative with humor.  Just perfect.  http://www.insidertour.com/

Berlin was terrific as was our guide, Barry.  From trivial to the major stuff, it was all there.

Trivia-Berlin has the largest hydraulic rotating sign that is atop a building.  Who knew?

Largest rotating hydraulic sign on top of building

Largest rotating hydraulic sign on top of building

Another piece of trivia (you know you love it) is the British Embassy building.  When the building was going to be built, all buildings had to look the same.  The Brits did not like nor want to look the same.  Afterall, they are not the same.  They read the law very, very closely and noticed a loophole that this only applied to the first level.  So, by leaving the first floor traditional (boring), they were able to add a bit more flair to the second level.  This is even cooler when seen in person.

British Embassy in Berlin

British Embassy in Berlin

This year marks the 25th year of the falling of the Berlin wall.  Signs of this are all over the city, even in shopping malls.  This is a big deal and Germany does a great job in making sure that no one forgets what happened during the 1930’s and 1940’s.  It appears that they have moved on from guilt to a responsibility that no one forgets what can happen.  Excellent job, Germany.

P1000795

Inside mall

Inside mall

Inside mall

The Berlin Wall is amazing.  There are pieces all over the city.  Here is a long stretch of it.

Berlin wall

Berlin wall

Here is a road where the Berlin wall used to run…The bricks are where the wall used to be.

Bricks show where Berlin wall used to be

Bricks show where Berlin wall used to be

We went to see Checkpoint Charlie and the Brandenburg Gate.  Checkpoint Charlie is a tourist zoo, possibly avoid except that it is a Berlin must see, but the Brandenburg Gate is loaded with history and is definitely worth seeing.

Brandenburg gate

Brandenburg gate

We next visited the square (Bebelplatz) where the infamous Nazi book burning took place in 1933 to get rid of anything written that was “un German”.  It is now a symbolic place that is a hole with a clear window where shelves can be seen symbolizing the importance of books and learning.    Nearby, there is a plaque with a sentence by Heinrich Heine, written in 1820 that says: “where books are burned, in the end people will burn”.  Powerful stuff.

P1000712

We visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which is a very unique memorial.  It is 2,711 concrete pillars that you can enter from all four sides.

P1000679

Jewish memorial

Jewish memorial

On the way to the hotel, we met three kind of strange guys who insisted we sit and talk.  So I had an impromptu meeting and talked about a few things with the boys.

John holding forth

John holding forth

We also saw the cousin of TJ Maxx, TK Maxx…who knew?

TK Maxx?

TK Maxx?

Finally, random pictures:

 

Busy week.  From Monday through Wednesday, I had a conference in Dubai, one of the emirates in the UAE for EuroCHRIE, the European branch of International CHRIE, the association for hospitality educators in higher education.  Then, on Friday and Saturday, we had to be in Turku, Finland to speak at a Fulbright function.

On Sunday, October 5, Deb and I flew SAS from Helsinki to Stockholm.   After a 4 hour layover, we flew Emirates Airlines to Dubai for the annual EuroCHRIE conference.  Since I was in Europe anyway, my dean graciously gave the go-ahead for me to attend.

I had read that Emirates Airlines was the best seat in economy of all of the airlines. After this experience, in my opinion, it deserves the best title, in economy anyway.  Excellent food with real silverware, great seats with plenty of space with (gasp!) free wine and great service.  All in economy.  Highly recommend.  Sounded like a Brit pilot.

Dubai airport is huge, clean, and modern (ultramodern, to be more precise).  The word huge does not do it justice.  It is really, really huge.  Ginormously huge.  It is the second busiest airport in the world now, but it is truly built to be the biggest, with room to spare.  Unbelievably big and efficient.  The good news is that if you are from the US (and several other countries), no visa is required.

Dubai itself is well…Dubai is complicated. First, the glitz.  Dubai is over-the-top-Las Vegas-meets-Disney slammed, coated, dunked and sprayed with 24 carat gold.  If some gold is good, then lots and lots of gold must be better.  I’m sure if you look up ostentatious, a picture of Dubai comes up.  The show of wealth is obvious and everywhere.  There was even an ATM that dispenses gold. Yes.  You read that correctly.

And that is when I start to have a problem.  Take a look at my commentary about Dubai towards the end of this post…

The conference itself was great.  it was hosted by the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management.  They did a terrific job of hosting and coordinating this complex event.  Their students were some of the most engaged that I have experienced in the world.  Congratulations on a really fine institution that has assembled a truly world class organization.  I met some incredible people who I hope will be lifelong friends and colleagues.  The keynote speakers were incredible, offering insight into the future of hospitality from industry and educational perspectives.  And to have the EuroCHRIE logo on the Burg Al Arab truly shows their influence.

Deb and I stayed at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel in Dubai, right across from the Burj Al Arab which are both owned by the Jumeirah Group.

Each room in the Jumeirah Beach Hotel has a view of the Burj Al Arab and the view is indeed magnificent.

Overall, we enjoyed our stay at the conference hotel, the Jumeirah Beach Hotel.

Burj Al Arab Afternoon tea at the Sahn Eddar restaurant

While so close to the Burj Al Arab, which some say is the best hotel in the world and the world’s only 7 star hotel, we did want to see the inside.  To do this,you cannot simply walk in.  Oh, no.  You must have the golden ticket, namely a dinner, tea, bar or room reservation.  This must be shown to the guard before you even get close to the Burj Al Arab or you will receive a big adios at the gate.  Since we did not want to mortgage the house for a room or a dinner, we did the next best thing; we opted for afternoon tea.  So, with a 1:00 PM afternoon tea reservation in hand we went forth.

The afternoon tea is a 7 course affair, beginning with a glass of champagne.  The entire experience took over 3 hours.  You cannot arrive earlier than 30 minutes before your reservation, but you can stay as long as you want.  We had reservations in the lobby restaurant, the Sahn Eddar, since we could not get reservations in the Skybar, unfortunately.  Still, very, very nice.  While waiting for our reservation time, I did talk to a very nice front desk manager from Germany, who arranged for a guide to take us to view a suite on the 27th floor, which is the highest floor.  This was not merely a suite.  This was a big suite.  A really big, opulent suite on two floors.  We were presented with a guide, who was very nice and spoke quite good English.


Exploring Dubai

Because of my conference, I was limited in my free time, but Deb was free to explore.  She has absolutely no problem with exploring anything, anywhere and once again, she was a great scout and a great sport by retracing her path and going again to show me what she had discovered.  We went to the gold souk (shop), which is a walkway that has gold shops on both sides.  It is mind boggling the number and variety of gold goodies that you can buy, ranging from very tasteful to tasteless, but all gold.

We went to the Burg Kalifa, which is the tallest building in the world and right next to it is the Dancing fountain.  Really amazing.  Both definitely worth seeing.

We went to the Dubai Mall, which, not surprisingly, is the largest mall in the world.  It has all of the obligatory high-end shops like Bulgari, but it also has normal shops catering to more normal paychecks.   What surprised Deb and I was the number of totally covered women that we saw.   The mall is big (the biggest), but other than that, only a see once, not a must see again.

—–Dubai commentary with some thoughts and reflections thrown in—–

  • First and perhaps the over-riding image of Dubai is that it is composed of 90% expats, mostly from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India.  That figure is mind boggling.  Imagine living in a place with only 10% being residents and everyone else foreigners.  I cannot think of anywhere else in the world where the number of expats is so extreme.  We used to have a house in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and we thought that its 10% expat population was on the high side.  Not anymore.  Interesting question–Is there any other place in the world with this kind of expat percentage?
  • The number of expats is easily explained because they are the worker bees in Dubai.  They do basically everything because as a generalization, the residents of Dubai (Emirati) do not work.  Nor do they want to work.  Nor do they want to get educated.  Evidently, many, if not most, do not want to bother with going to a university, because well, why bother since you are wealthy anyway?  And this is with a completely paid-for education anywhere in the world.  To me, not valuing education could lead to serious negative consequences in the future.
  • But the most troubling aspect for me is that I get the impression (from talking with the taxi drivers, servers, shopkeepers, etc)  that the residents of Dubai do not respect the workers.  I even read an editorial in the Gulf News lecturing the residents that they should not feel like they are just giving their employees money; that they are paying their employees for work done and that that they deserve the money because they have earned the money.  Evidently, that is a tough concept to grasp since the residents of Dubai only grudgingly give them their paychecks because of the lack of respect of those that must or like to work.  I sincerely believe that this deterioration of values could lead to serious consequences for future generations, if left unchecked.  I find that Finland has the absolute opposite value of work than Dubai since the culture of Finland is that any and all work is valued and respected.
  • The residents can have up to 4 wives.  I can just barely handle (Bad word–Definitely bad word.) one wife.  I cannot even imagine 4.  I don’t care how much money you have.  I would love to know how well this works.  Anyone out there care to comment?
  • Obviously, the work and the education aspects are very troubling.  I would love to hear comments regarding these observations.  Maybe I have completely misread the whole thing.

On to Turku, Finland

American Voices –Fulbright and University of Turku

After 4 days in Dubai, Deb and I flew to Stockholm on Emirates Airlines, then SAS Airlines to Turku, Finland for a very neat program arranged by the Finland Fulbright Center with the University of Turku.  In this program each of the Fulbright Scholars spoke for 15 minutes on a subject that is American…could be scholarly or not, just something that you think that the students in Finland might like to know about the United States.  Naturally, mine was on American College Football and the uniqueness of it when compared to Finland or Europe, for that matter.  They don’t have marching bands, tailgating, cheerleaders and well…American Football.  Other topics were about Zombies, New Joisey, Seattle Hipsters (where the young go to retire), American memes, and many more.  I think the Finnish students really enjoyed the talks.

Categories…nice and tidy…

University

Students seem to be more stylish in what they wear; they seem much more put together.  Thoughtful about how they look as compared to the students at home that seem to throw something on.  Maybe it is just the scarves and other accessories, but they do seem more stlish.  I mentioned this to a Russian student and she said that I should see the female students in Russia…it looks like a fashion show every day.

Students do not buy textbooks, the university library buys the books for the students to check out.  Nice.  In the US, textbooks are a big factor in the overall costs of education.  I’m sure publishers (and authors) love this concept.  Not.

The university does not calculate the student’s GPA…if a student wants or needs it, the student calculates it.  Interesting.  I am going to have to find out why the university does not do it.

My keyboard has 3 more keys (at least)…the Å, Ä, and Å plus the £ and €.  Slows me down, but getting faster.

Life

All guys have to go into the military or public service between 6 months and a year between 18 and 28.  Females do not.  I think it is a great idea, personally.  I think the draft is a great vehicle for not only maturing purposes, but also to have the general public care, really care about what the military gets involved in.  When parents see their kids going off to war, they tend to question much more the wisdom (or lack of) in getting involved.

Shoes come off in a Finland home.  Unless told specifically by the host that it is not necessary, shoes come off.  I wonder if this is an old tradition and if it is because of the weather here.  Another question.

Work

Quite different.  Double time for working Sundays.  Extra pay for evenings and Saturdays.  Totally unheard of in the US.

Most students who work in restaurants tell me that they have 10 tables in their station.  Amazing.  Is good service possible with 10 tables?  I will pay more attention when going out.

Me

Going to Dubai this Sunday for a conference.  Never been there.  Looks like Las Vegas mixed with New York mixed with Disneyland.  On steroids.   Will report back.

Have a reservation for afternoon tea in the Burg al Arab.  This should be very interesting.  Very, very much looking forward to seeing this from the inside.   Unfortunately, not staying there, but being able to be up close and personal should be fantastic.  http://www.jumeirah.com/en/hotels-resorts/dubai/burj-al-arab/

All the American Fulbrighters have been invited to give a 15 minute talk on some part of America that they would like to talk about in Turku, Finland at the university there.  This is not academic, although it could be.  Some of the topics have included Barbie dolls, Philly Cheese Sandwiches and “Montana: is that in Canada?”  Mine, of course, will be on American college football, concentrating on the social parts that make it such an incredible experience for fans, especially fans going to the stadium–tailgating, food, marching bands, cheerleaders, electric atmosphere, mascots, and of course, football.

First impressions and post first impressions:

  • Everyone speaks English.

Not quite true, but close.  For example, I went to get a haircut and the lady there only spoke Finnish.  Without any English, I think the haircut went surprisingly well.  I mean, with only hand motions, I think she understood, “just a trim, part on the left.”  I’ll admit, it wasn’t exactly like I thought it was going to be.  I’ve included a picture of my new look.  Kind of edgy.  haircut-27For the most part, especially where any tourists would go, English is fluent and the mood is very friendly.  Of course, regardless of how short your stay is, it is always a good idea to learn at least a few words of Finnish, such as the very important word, Kiitos (thank you), pronounced KEY toss, (toss is like Toess) with the emphasis on the first syllable.

  • Helsinki is clean, grafitti free, low crime, no homeless people begging on the street.

Now that we have been here a little over a month, we can report that Helsinki is clean, grafitti free (with just a few exceptions), and with low crime, where crime is defined as mostly pickpockets in the obvious places.  Homeless people begging for money can be seen now and then.  I understand they are mostly from Bulgaria (Gypsies), usually older women who are part of some kind of organized something, who get dropped off and then get picked up after their shift.  In my limited experience here, they are passive and seen only occasionally.  Definitely not a problem, like it is back in San Francisco.

  • Public transportation is clean, grafetti free, on time, never-have-to-wait-long to be picked up.

All still true and maybe even agree even more so.  Wonderful.  Great.  Impressive.  Easy.  So far, I have only traveled on trams and trains, no metro or busses, but the trams and trains go everywhere I need, go often, quickly and do it efficiently and safely.  The drivers seem to be mostly women and they will actually wait to pick someone up who is trying to board (gasp!), instead of gleefully pulling away, which is the case, unfortunately in the US quite often.

  • Taxes.  High.  Very high.

Well, maybe not as high as commonly perceived.  It’s all about value, isn’t it?  The highest is right at 50%, with midlevel professionals at around 30% and lower at 18%.  Free daycare.  Free healthcare.  Great transportation.  Free education.  The list goes on.

  • Saunas.  Finns love their saunas.

Nothing changed here, that’s for sure.  They are crazy for them.  They LOVE  them.  They are passionate about them.  There is a sauna in every apartment building, every house, and most hotels.    So far, I have been 3 times and I am a believer. What?  You don’t think that stripping down butt nekid and roasting at 180 degrees Fahrenheit isn’t fun?  Well, it is.  Not only fun, but relaxing and invigorating at the same time.  Weird, I know. The history and the etiquette of the sauna is quite interesting too.  The sauna in the old days (pre 1930 or so) was the most hygienic place in the house.  It was basically a place to get clean.  Women had their babies there.  Today, it is still extremely clean.  You shower before you go into the sauna and shower after you get out of the sauna.  Women and men always go separately.  Nothing sexual about the sauna.  No swearing, no loud talking, no singing, no whistling.  Calm.  Mellow.  Talk low.  Time for contemplating that navel that you never seem to have time for.

  • Prices seem high.

Holy crap, batman.  The prices are HIGH.  Oh yes.  Nothing changed here.  Although, now I understand a little more about the why.  Groceries are high because there are basically only 2 grocery chains here in Finland. (actually 3, I think there is a small Swedish one too).  And the prices seem all the same too.  Can you say no competition?  I have no idea why there is no competition and why the Finnish government would not encourage competition.  Anybody know?  Phamaceuticals are even worse, since there is only one pharmacy chain.  AND there is no other place to get pharmacy products, even aspirin, except at the pharmacy.  Don’t even think about getting or cold medicine at a grocery store,  corner market or at a kioski.  Forgetaboutit.  Again, why?  Anybody?  Anybody?  Of course, the fallback is that prices in Norway are higher.

  • Students.  Seem the same as my US students.

Yep.  The same.  The good, the bad and the could-you-repeat-the-question.  I do like and enjoy my Finnish students plus the exchange students from all over the world that are here.  My school at Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences really cares about internationalizing their student body, their courses, and the experiences of their students and faculty.  Great and refreshing to see and especially to be a part of.

  • Differences in the university.  Not too many.

Much more than I thought at first.  One thing is that can you believe that at the undergraduate level, the university interviews live and in person, every single applicant in person at the school?  Even international students!  I couldn’t believe it!  First, applicants fill out an application and write essay.  Then, if they pass those filters, they must show up for an interview.  In person.  Amazing.  It is a very effective way to weed out applicants who look incredible on paper but have faked some parts of their application or their English or Finnish is not what was represented on the application.  Effective, but time consuming.  Let’s just go with effective.

  • Complicated relationship with Russia.

Yep, complicated relationship, but it is clearer now.  Finland shares around 1400 kilometers of common boundary with Russia.  Finland gets their fuel for heating from Russia.  Finland gets lots of tourists from Russia.  Lots of trade with Russia.  But, Finland is very West.  Totally west.  Also has very rough, tough WWII history with Russia.  This not changed.  Complicated.  If anyone is a WWII buff, Finland’s Winter War and the Continuation War are incredible reading.  Finland did itself proud in both.  Finland is not a member of NATO, but not really sure why.  Seems like a good idea to me.

%d bloggers like this: