Putanga – Life on the Road

Stories from my journeys around the world…

Archive for the ‘Norway’ Category

Happy Constitution Day, Norway!

Posted by Monica Johansen on May 17, 2011

May 17 in Norway

We are in May already, and today is an important day both in Singapore and in Norway. Singapore and many other Asian countries are celebrating Vesak Day, a Buddhist holiday sometimes informally called “Buddha’s Birthday”.  In Norway they are celebrating their national day or Constitution Day, and pretty much the entire nation dress up for a gigantic party in every city and town in the country. Many Norwegians prefer to wear the national costume, the “bunad”, and outfit based on traditional folk garments from the 18th and 19th centuries.

I don’t get to celebrate Vesak Day and the Norwegian Constitution Day this year because I am working in Australia. After finishing in Canberra I traveled to Sydney where I have spent the last 7 days, and today I will jump on a plane up to Brisbane for 10 days before I can head home to Asia. I am starting to get tired of living in a suitcase, but I guess the alternative – being stuck in one place for months and months – is not very appealing to me.

Anyway, I hope all my fellow Singaporeans and Norwegians enjoy the holiday! 🙂

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Posted in Asia, Europe, Miscellaneous, Norway, Singapore | Leave a Comment »

Happy National Day, Norway!

Posted by Monica Johansen on May 17, 2010

Today is a very important day for Norwegians around the world. May 17 is our constitution day, and the day where pretty much everyone in Norway – young and old – goes out to spend the day with their fellow citizens.

The children's parade in Oslo

The main events are the children’s parades, which are organized by schools in every city and town around the country. In the capital, Oslo, the parade passes by the royal castle where the king and queen greet the cheering participants, i.e. children, parents and teachers. The children’s parade in Oslo starts in the morning and ends around mid day. In the afternoon there is another parade that many people like to watch, the “russ” parade. The “russ” are all the teenagers who are about to finish the last year of high school, and around May 17 they dress up in red or blue jumpsuits depending on which school they graduate from.  The “russ’ parade is quite fun to watch because some of the teenagers put on funny costumes and there is always a competition on who as the most original outfit.

 Norwegians overseas sometimes organize their own little local parade where they often dress up in the national costume, the “bunad”. However, the “bunad” is designed for the cold Norwegian climate, which means that it is made of wool and other warm fabrics so that people are able to wear it outside without freezing to death. Hence, it is not really suitable for the hot and humid weather in Southeast Asia.

I am not going to celebrate here in Singapore because it is just another busy working day for me, but I hope all my fellow countrymen have a great national day!

Posted in Miscellaneous, Norway | Leave a Comment »

A Cold Experience

Posted by Monica Johansen on January 31, 2010

I have just spent a week in the freezing cold Northern Europe, visiting my old home towns London and Oslo. I arrived in the UK on Sunday evening, but I didn’t get to see a lot of fascinating London since I had two days of meetings in Reading on the schedule. Since I had come all the way to the UK I also decided to pay a visit to Oslo and see some of my old friends that I haven’t seen since I left Europe almost 3.5 years ago.

Drøbak

Hence, Tuesday evening I arrived in Norway and I was met by heavy snowfall and subzero temperatures. It was in fact quite a shock coming from the tropics to the extreme cold in Northern Europe, and the minute I came out of the airport the only thing on my mind was “what the hell was I thinking?” I knew it was going to be cold, and I was relatively well dressed, with long underpants, woolen cardigan and a thick winter jacket, but I was surprised by how the cold was penetrating all my layers. I am pretty sure that it was no colder than I used to experience when I lived there, but today I am simply not used to it anymore because my body is completely acclimatized to the hot and humid tropical weather.

The three days in Oslo were extremely hectic. There were so many people that I wanted to see, but time simply didn’t allow it, so I was prioritizing people who have been like a family to me. Besides, the cold and the snow made it very difficult to get around as much as I wanted to, and some of the visits I had planned had to be cancelled. However, I was much exited to see the little girl I am godmother to. She was born after I left Europe so I have never had a change to actually meet her, but she was an absolutely lovely 2-year old.

Unfortunately, I found it really hard to get around in Norway due to the low temperatures. I simply couldn’t walk around outside as I would like to because I was freezing too much, so I ended up being very dependent on people driving me. I must admit that I felt a bit imprisoned, which made me rather frustrated and depressed, and the experience did not encourage me to return any time soon. Snow is so incredibly unpractical, and the clothes you have to wear to keep warm are heavy and uncomfortable, so now I can’t really believe how I managed to survive all the years I lived in Oslo.

The Tryvann Tower

The UK was a little bit warmer than Oslo, as expected, and there was no snow that I had to struggle with. But the short stay in Reading made me realize that I have become too used to the fantastic service in Asia. I was in fact surprised when nobody came out and assisted me with my luggage when I arrived at my hotel on Sunday night, and I found most of the people working in the hotel to be relatively grumpy. But I was trying to remember that Asian hotel staff is particularly friendly and accommodating, and that it may not be quite the same in the rest of the world. I think the two years I have lived and worked in Asia have made me very spoiled.

Now I am heading south again, but instead of going back home to Singapore I have to fly directly to Delhi in India for a two weeks project. Luckily the schedule was decided before I left Singapore, so I have brought with me everything I need for the trip. I am looking very much forward to getting back to Asia.

Posted in Europe, Norway, Travel, United Kingdom | 3 Comments »

Happy Constitution Day, Norway!

Posted by Monica Johansen on May 17, 2009

I woke up this morning and realized two things. Firstly, it is the Norwegian Constitution Day, which probably is the most important day of the year for all Norwegians. If anyone has been visiting Norway – and Oslo in particular – on this day they will know what I mean. Secondly, Norway won the Eurovision Song Contest held in Moscow last night, and not only did we win but we completely outclassed the competition.

The Royal Castle in Oslo

The Royal Castle in Oslo

To give you some brief background, the year 1814 was a turning point in Norwegian history, where the Danish-Norwegian union was dissolved after almost 400 years. A Norwegian Constitution was developed by the national assembly at Eidsvoll and signed on May 17 1814, and the Danish prince Christian Frederik was selected to be the new King of Norway. In 1859, almost 50 years later, the famous Norwegian writer Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson and his cousin, the composer Rikard Nordraak, wrote the song that was going to become the Norwegian national anthem. The song opens with the line “Ja, vi elsker dette landet” which in English translates to “Yes, we love this country”, and I suppose it says everything about the Norwegian nationalism.

The way the Norwegians celebrate the National Day today can be traced back to another famous writer, Henrik Wergeland, who started the tradition with the children’s parade. In every Norwegian city, town and village all the school children will line up for a parade dressed up their finest clothes and carrying Norwegian flags. In the capital Oslo, the main street (Karl Johan Street) is completely blocked off by the police, and the parade is walking up the street and passing the Royal Castle where the king and the queen will waive and greet the children while the proud parents are watching the from the side. In other cities and towns the children will parade to a local monument or town hall, and the mayor will make a speech to the locals. In the afternoon schools have organized social and sports activities for kids and their parents, and most people are rather exhausted when the day is coming to an end.

Fjord on the Norwegian West Coast

Fjord on the Norwegian West Coast

May 17 is mainly a day for the children, but in the afternoon there is another parade in the cities that many are looking forward to, i.e. the student in their final year of high school, or so-called “russ”. These teenagers form a crazy parade of busses and other vehicles, equipped with huge stereos and filled with alcohol, and they are having the party of their lives. They typically dress up in their red or blue jumpsuits representing the education direction of their school, but many of them also dress up in all kinds of funny outfits to entertain the audience. It actually reminds me a little bit of the Mardi Gras parade in Sydney in February, although maybe not as vulgar.

Every year on May 1, the “russ” are starting their celebration and partying more or less constantly until May 17. Unfortunately, it also involves some negative incidents where the teenagers are fighting and bothering other people with loud music and unpleasant behavior, and the police are kept quite busy during the first two weeks of May. In addition, some students are forgetting all about their exams, and they need to retake the exams later because they failed. As we say in Norwegian, “when the beer goes in, the sense goes out”.

Frankly, when I lived in Norway I always tried to stay away from the city center on May 17. It was too much of a hassle to navigate through the chaos of crying children and their stressed parents, and I must admit that I really hate crowds. When I was at my final year in high school I didn’t even celebrate being a “russ” like most of my friends, for two main reasons. First of all, I didn’t drink alcohol (I still don’t), and hanging out with a bunch of drunken teenagers when you are sober is no fun at all. Secondly, I didn’t see a reason to celebrate since I knew that the coming years at University were going to be much harder than high school. Well, I guess I am too much of a pragmatic.

Southern coastal town, Arendal

Southern coastal town, Arendal

I suppose the Norwegians have more than one reason to celebrate today. The Eurovision Song Contest is one of the bigger events in Europe every spring, and it has become of these things everyone will bitch about but still will watch, almost like a soap opera. I think I stopped watching it when I was a teenager, and I have had no idea about the artists and songs unless Norway was in the final and the newspapers were writing about it. Now that I live in Asia I am even more dissociated from it, and in fact, this morning one of my friends from Sydney made me aware of the Norwegian victory in the contest, which is a bit funny. I probably wouldn’t have known otherwise.

So, how am I going to celebrate the National Day? I don’t have any plans actually, but I suppose I will be putting on some nice clothes, walk down to Clarke Quay, find a nice restaurant and have good meal in 30 degrees Celsius while watching the Singaporean sunset over the river. Not a bad way to spend the evening.

Once again, congratulations Norway! I miss your furrowed, weather-beaten mountain landscape very much and I hope to see you again soon. 🙂

Posted in Miscellaneous, Norway | 3 Comments »

The Norwegian who couldn’t ski

Posted by Monica Johansen on October 15, 2008

Sometimes I wonder where I am actually coming from…

On my way around the world I often get questions about Norwegians and skiing. The general opinion is that all Norwegians are fantastic skiers, and that it is simply something embedded in their genes. In most cases I suppose it is true, although perhaps not the genetic part. Norwegian kids are in fact kicked out in the snow with glass fiber boards on their feet from they are about 2 years of age, and naturally they become excellent skiers. If your choice is to die in the snow or ski back to the car, I think the choice is pretty simple.

Winter in Norway

Winter in Norway

I guess this has really been my main problem. When I grew up I wasn’t much of a physically aggressive and extrovert child. On the contrary, I loved drawing and painting, and I used to sit alone in my room for hours drawing people, animals and flowers on paper that my father had brought home from work. My most loved belonging was a box of pencils in 72 different colors, one of these art pencil boxes you have to pay a little fortune for. I suppose my parents didn’t have the heart to tear me away from my pencils and kick me out in the freezing cold snow. And of course, I don’t blame them at all.

Another problem is that I have always loved dry and hot weather, but snow is usually the complete opposite, i.e. cold and wet. When the temperatures sink below 15 degrees Celsius my body tend to stop functioning properly, and my cells are not able to generate enough heat to ensure that my internal body temperature stays at the required 37. This might well be a genetic malformation, and unfortunately, I don’t think it is treatable. Hence, I will have to except the fact that I am simply not constructed for living in cold climates.

My ex boyfriend in Australia actually had his own theory about Norway. He claimed that Norway in reality was a tropical island somewhere in the Pacific, with white sandy beaches and palm trees. I was the first Norwegian he had ever met, and based on my fear of cold weather he could not make sense of the stories about Nansen and Amundsen crossing the ice on polar expeditions. Before he met me he believed that Norwegians were the robust people from the north who loved ice and snow and could survive in the worst possible climate, but all of a sudden I crossed his path, and I guess I didn’t make a very good ambassador for my country.

Ingar and Henning in the mountains

Ingar and Henning in the mountains

When you grow up in a country like Norway, and you suck at skiing, you are struggling to find your place in the society. Because skiing is something Norwegians do as often as they can. Before Christmas they all look forward to the very first snow fall, despite the fact that it generates huge traffic problems and old people tend to slip, fall over and break their hips. In January and February, the two darkest and coldest months in Norway, when temperatures sometimes drop down to -25 degrees even in the low land, they spend every weekend looking for good skiing conditions. And every Easter, when the sun finally starts to warm up the air, the Norwegians drive up to the mountains to look for colder weather and more snow.

When I lived in Norway I used to love being out in the nature around spring time to smell the fresh air and see the very first flowers popping out. It was always a great time of the year when the forest tracks were snow free again, and you could walk in small lighter shoes rather than the thick water-proof boots you have to wear in the winter. But even then I would often see people on push bikes with a pair of ski on their back cycling up to the higher areas to look for the last little snow spot where they could glide for a few minutes. Frankly, I have always wondered what the hell is wrong with these people…

At school we used to have activity days a couple of times a year. In the summer we used to go hiking or ride bikes in the forest, and sometimes we did orientation exercises to learn how to use compasses or nature tracks where we learned about animals and plants, and I enjoyed it quite a lot since I have always loved the nature. But in the winter it was only one single activity – skiing. I used to hate the winter activity days, mainly because I didn’t have a pair of skis. Hence, my only options were to either borrow some old wooden ones that didn’t fit me at all and that were so worn out that it was practically impossible to glide on them, or I could go hiking with the teacher and some other poor kids who didn’t have parents with enough money to buy the equipment. I tried to borrow some old ones one year, but I quickly learned that no skis is better than bad skis, so later I always went hiking with the teacher. Until the school finally opened up for other winter activities, such as ice skating, and then my life improved drastically.

Sunrise

Sunrise

When I was around 16 years old I made a friend who loved skiing. She used to take me out to teach me how to ski, and I borrowed her mother’s pair of ski which was very modern and of good quality. For the first time I started to enjoy skiing a bit more than earlier, and as I grew up I slowly became better at it. Well, at least I was able to glide down gentle slopes without falling.

As I got older and started to date boys I realized that most people in Norway are in fact excellent skiers. Most of my ex boyfriends have been outdoors and sports freaks, and while I never had a problem with that during the summer I was always struggling in the winter. It is no fun when you always feel that you are slowing down your companion because you are not able to ski as fast him, or that you all of a sudden find yourself alone in the white forest because your boyfriend took off and forgot to check if you were right behind him and you were simply not able to keep up.

There is in fact only one single person that I have really enjoyed skiing with, and that is my friend Henning, which I used to work with when I was a developer. Henning didn’t seem to have the same competitive character as most other guys, and he was happy to let me go in front so I wouldn’t be left behind. He also didn’t mind toddling along in my slow speed, even if he could ski really fast if he wanted to. Skiing was simply so much more enjoyable when we could chat and take time to enjoy the nature rather than haste through the forest so fast that your throat gets sore from the heavy breathing in ice cold air.

My point to all this is that it can sometimes be difficult to feel that you fit in. The expectations to what it means to be Norwegian are sometimes a bit too high, and what are you supposed to do if you can’t meet these expectations? I truly appreciate many things about Norway, but I have never really felt Norwegian. The big question is, however, where on earth do really I belong?

I have no idea…

Posted in Europe, Miscellaneous, Norway | 1 Comment »