Thursday, September 21, 2006

Back in Australia!

After several flights and airports, missing a number of inflight meals and potential video viewing (thanks temazepam!), I'm finally back in Brisbane.

Okay…[Veevek sighs and focuses on breathing out], here is the massive post that people are waiting for. Sorry for the delay – I just needed to get caught up on sleep, food and seeing people. :)

Alright. Here’s goes. I must warn you that this post really is long. Get yourself a glass of beer, wine, spirit, or a cup of coffee. You may want to put a pillow next your computer so that you can rest your head and take in these words or you can just turn off the computer and go straight to bed from reading such boring drivel. :)

So, the night before me leaving on my journey, Veevek goes to the annual Med Revue, which was entitled “Medicine at a Glance: A Guide to Clinical Hilarity”. It was the last night of their string of performances, which meant that there would be some sort of after party. Not only that, that night was also the night when the Indian Student Association hosted Club Masti. My friends Anita, Milan and Rohit (from Calgary) were in town and were going to this Bollywood extravaganza, so it would be the last time that I would see them until I head back to Calgary for Christmas. After Med Revue finished, I headed straight to Club Masti – had some fun dancing moments with Anita, Milan and Rohit. Around 11pm, I get this text message “get your ass heqd now” - I hoped into a taxi and headed to Chic Boutique and was welcomed by many, each brandishing a glass of alcohol for me to drink. Keeping an eye on the time (because I was flying out at 8:30am the next day), I was trying to pace myself and make sure that I can get home, get some decent amount of sleep and be at the airport in due time. Well, still having kept an eye of the time, I got home way too late, didn’t get much sleep and wasn’t at the airport in time to make my flight. Yes, I missed my flight from Brisbane to Sydney and, subsequently, I missed my connecting flight to Hong Kong. Fortunately, the nice people at QANTAS ticketing put me on the next flight to Sydney/Hong Kong (my flights to London and Paris were still okay) without any charge to me.

(Fast forward to a point in time after take off from Kingsford Smith International – Sydney) Veevek was seated next to a young Chinese woman who spoken very little English (and I mean very little). She was surrounded by her girlfriends. After getting our first meal (more accurately described as a snack) I ate ravenously because I really didn’t eat much before I left Brisbane. I took a quite kip and when I woke up, I found heaps of cheese and crackers, bowls of salad, the tiny chocolate bars all littered on my tray! We exchanged looks and she said to me with her eyes wide-open “eat, eat”. HAHAHAHA. She probably thought that I was some refugee or poor starving person. I did look tired but not to the point of being emaciated. The flight attendant took notice of all this extra bits of airline food on my plate and asked me where I got it from. I told her that it was the lady beside me who gathered all the bits of food from her friends and put them on my plate. She gave me this look of “sure, sure. Next you are going to tell me that the drink trolley just fell into your mouth.” When the next meal came, the same thing happened! But this time I was wide awake. She gathered all the bits of bread, dessert (basically anything that wasn’t Asian-based food) and put them all on my plate. And this time, the same flight attendant witnessed what just happened. She gave me this look of “what the hell just happened?!” and then gave me two bottles of the Cabernet Sauvignon that she held in her hand and she said, “you are going to need this”.

Hong Kong – what a beautiful city to fly into (at least I think so). The airport is right beside the water, you can see the electric glow from Kowloon, the Junks that are littered on top of the water and the haziness of general Asian urban living. I can’t wait to spend some time in Hong Kong (outside the airport) when I’m there at the end of the year on my way back to Calgary.

Now, I’m on my long haul flight from Hong Kong to London (13 hours). And it was a very full flight – no empty spaces anywhere. Fortunately, I was sitting beside a university student from Cincinnati, Ohio who was doing a joint degree in medicine and law. K and I got along really well from the moment we sat next to each other. In fact, we got along so well that we decided to celebrate the time together with drinking (what else will university students do on an international flight?!). When the drinks came around, we asked the flight attendant to get us two vodka cranberries – each. It wasn’t a problem, in fact, all of our drink requests were fulfilled. At dinner, we were able to take each of the wines that they were giving for dinner! We also watched a movie called The Wild and it was too similar to Madagascar (and it wasn’t as good because there were no penguins in this movie) and then we fell asleep (passed out) for the majority of the flight. When we awoke, we were almost approaching Heathrow and got stuck in the holding pattern. We were offered morning tea, and what did we drink? Vodka orange juice. Good god, my liver had taken such a beating from the time that I left Australia.

Heathrow was a mad house! All the new security measures meant longer queues, longer waiting times for everything, frustrated airport staff and passengers and the like. I had a 4-hour layover and it took me 3 hours to clear security. Craziness. Finally, I was en route to Paris, the first stop in this destination around Europe.

-- Paris --

Paris was absolutely fantastic! I met up with an ex-girlfriend, Elodie. We both found it odd to see each other in the beginning – as neither one of us believed that I’d be in Paris with her. The last time that we did see each other was in May of 2003. We got back to her flat (tiny, 24 metres square) and headed out to see bits and pieces of the city. We walked around in the Latin Quarter and saw Notre Dame, Pantheon, outside of the Louvre, and Le Concorde. We had dinner at this quaint restaurant and had real French food without having to pay such exorbitant prices that you would pay elsewhere in the world for it. Oh, and the wine! The wine was cheap and fantastic. I definitely found a place that I could be for a while. After dinner, we met up with one of her best friends, Ben, for drinks. We were out in an area of Paris called Le Marais, which is the Jewish quarter and quite funky and trendy.

Elodie blending in with her surroundings.

Notre Dame Cathedral

The next morning, Elodie made breakfast (more so, she arranged breakfast). I was absolutely blown away! Fresh fruits (bananas, I had so many bananas because bananas in Australia are so expensive due to the fact that Cyclone Larry wiped out 90% of the banana crop), all kinds of cheeses, jams for the cheese, fresh baguette and croissants. I couldn’t stop eating – I was in heaven.

We took a lovely walk around her flat (the area is called Ourcq) and came across this fantastic museum (insert museum photo). We then made our way down to an area called Barbes, which is a very African area of Paris. There were all these street markets, most of which were illegal. I saw a whole street become a prayer area for Muslim men. In fact, it did remind me of some episodic moments whilst I was living in Kenya. Well, Elodie used to live in this area. She told me that this area is one of the most dangerous in all of Paris.

Not only did she used to live here, but the Sacre Couer (Mont Marte) located here as well. Most people would recognise this church as the same church that was in Amelie.

She also took me to the grocery store that was in the movie as well. It was awesome to do this miniature tour from Amelie. We then headed down from the hill and Elodie took me to see where the Moulin Rouge is (not very impressive) and we did some shopping. That evening, I met two more of Elodie’s friends, Jean Gabriel and Charlene. I remember her telling me all about them when she came to Calgary in 2002. It was incredible to meet her friends because I was able to see her in her element, as she was able to see me in mine whilst she was in Calgary.

We made savoury crepes for dinner and had sweet crepes for dessert. The savoury crepes were spinach, brie, and some other cheese. It was so decadent, I couldn’t even finish it. Mmmm…

The next day we decided to go see a ‘real’ museum and headed down to the Musee D’Orsey. This is a fantastic museum of European art. This museum often gets overlooked because everyone wants to go to Louvre. Here are some wonderful paintings that I was able to get photos of:

After the Musee, Elodie, myself and a friend of hers, Adrien, went towards the Eiffel Tower because I was meeting up with Vinay and Bhavisha there. We waited for quite some time but then I finally met up with them! It was so nice to see them. I couldn’t believe how much weight Bhavisha lost and how much taller Vinay got. He even got his braces removed. Here are some photos from that night:

After the Eiffel Tower, I thought that it would be nice to spend some more time with my family, so I went to stay with them. Apparently, I have relatives that live in Paris! WOO-HOO! They live outside of Paris in a town called Sannois, which is about a 20 min train ride to the centre of Paris. It was nice to be speaking Gujarati again. It was quite strange to see Gujarati people who would speak better French than English. The next day, I took Vinay and Bhavisha into Paris because we all wanted to see the Louvre and Vijaykaks and Ashakaki weren’t that interested. I told Elodie that I would be in touch with her so that she could meet up with us but none of us had a mobile phone. And I made the mistake of thinking that there would be pay phones in Paris that would accept coins. Nevertheless, we walked around seeing Notre Dame, the Louvre. We did get caught in this massive (and I mean massive) rain storm. I can’t remember the last time that I’ve seen rain drops that big before. We thought about having lunch somewhere but then opted for the more French options of having crepes. In some of the touristy parts of Paris (sometimes it’s quite difficult to tell those areas apart), crepes are sold everywhere and it’s hard to pick out those little fellas that are struggle to keep their business open. Fortunately, we were able to find this little crack in the wall that was selling only crepes. Vinay got nutella avec coco, I got nutella avec banane et grand marnier, and Bhavisha got nutella avec banane. The last time that I’ve had more than a spoonful of nutella was at least 10 years ago. The crepe maker put at least 2 cups of nutella on each crepe. Eating them warm just made the experience so much better…mmm…I’m craving a crepe right now!

We had to be home by a certain time for dinner and so that we could out again with the family. We took the train back to the station that we got on (Francoville). The ride from the house to the station took less than 5 minutes, so we thought that we would walk in the general direction of the house. We walked about 2 kilometres and thought that we should head back. We head back and nowhere was there a payphone in sight. I even asked this storekeeper if he had a phone that I could use and he told me that his phone was broken. He even told me that his mobile wasn’t working either. Bullshit. To make matters worse, it was Sunday, which meant that nothing apart from a few things are open. We walked around, talked to people to see if they could give us directions but that was of no avail. A nice guy gave us a phone card that we could use at a payphone. So, we have the means to make a phone call…but there were no phones around! Argh. At this time, I could tell that Vinay and Bhavisha were getting just a tiny bit worried. Bhavisha had a brainwave and saw a pizzeria and thought, “hey! They deliver! Maybe we can give him the address of the place that we are staying at and they could drop the pizza and us off!” Better yet, this would be a place that would have to have a working phone. We called the house and our relative came and picked us up. We got home and had a quick bite to eat before heading off to Mont Marte to see the Sacre Couer at night. It was quite nice to see the place and walk around. I left my cousins and relatives there and took the metro back to Elodie’s place. My relatives warned me to be extra cautious on the train at that time of night, but hakuna wasi wasi.

The next day was my last day was my last day in Paris. Alas, Elodie had to go into work but that wasn’t until late morning. We went to a cafĂ© for coffee and croissants. We said our “a la prochaine”. It was sad to leave Paris. I can’t wait when my travels will take me to France again. From Gare du Nord, I took the Eurostar to London’s Waterloo station. However, the train took almost 5 hours to get there because there was some delay in the Channel Tunnel.

-- London --

I was greeted by my good friend Sara at her local tube station (the nearest major one is Earl’s Court). It was so great to see her again. The last time we saw each other was in New York. She took me back to her place, where we drank a bottle of wine before going out to a nice place for dinner. We decided to have a big night because the next day was my 27th birthday! The conversation kept flowing from one topic to the next. Having such a quality in friends really is the best because it would just suck if most of the time people were silent and had their fingers up their noses. After dinner, we headed to this dodgy Mexicanesque bar that had salsa dancing on. A few drinks later, it was time to head back to Sara’s place. The next morning, we met in town and had lunch in a park. It was nice to be in London again, to feel the vibes and knowing full well that this is place that I have called home because of my family that live there. Nothing beats that particular feeling. I left for Luton Airport to get on a plane for Stockholm. It was the first time that I’ve ever celebrated the actual date of my birthday in two different countries!

-- Sweden --

I arrived in Sweden on the night of my birthday. I was picked up by a very familiar face, Tobias, J’s younger brother. It was great to see him again, especially since the last time I saw him was in 2004 when he was on exchange to Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. On the car ride back to his parents’ house, we caught up in our respective lives and shared some thoughts about the wedding that is only a few days away. We finally arrived to Uppsala and was had a very warm greeting by H and J. They were working on some last minute things for the family bbq that was on the Friday before the wedding. It was so nice to see them again! We all had a few glasses of wine and called it a night.

The next morning, I saw J’s parents and gave them these massive hugs! Her dad can give a proper bear hug. We had a quick breakfast before some of us headed up to Bodahagen, which is their summer house. We had to pick up some things from there for the bbq that was on Friday. It was now the early afternoon and H and I headed down to Stockholm to get some last minute things done like pick up his wedding ring, the suit and little things here and there. It was so nice to spend the day with Hasit – yeah, I would have liked to have done it under other circumstances as he was so focussed on the wedding.

The next day was a day that was spent at the J’s parent’s house trying to get things organised for the bbq and the wedding. I met J’s sister, Malin, for the first time that day and we hit it off so well! We worked on seating arrangements for the reception and talked about different ideas of weddings and what some of the expectations would be, etc. It was nice to have a relax day – not having to worry about travelling to the next destination. I could have as many cups of tea, chocolate cake and other nibbles without having a huge hole in my wallet. :) This was also the night where I met James, H’s best man. H, James and I went out for drinks before James and I booked into our hotel room, which was not the same hotel that the others were staying at. However, it worked out for the best because H & J were at this hotel and we had a few things to organise for their room and all. James is a great guy! Even though this was the first time that I met him, by the end of our time in Sweden, it seemed as if I’ve known James for years. I love it when people can connect like that.

The next day, the cousins from the UK had flown over and H and I met up with Mum and Dad, Vijaykaka, Ashakaki, Bhavisha, Vinay, and James (H’s best man). We took the train down to Stockholm. It was great to see them everyone again. It was the first time that I met James but we hit it off so well, by the time we parted, it felt as if we’ve known each other for years. We strolled around Stockholm and saw all the pretty things like Gamla Stan and the main town. Our time in Stockholm was quite limited because we had to back in Uppsala for the bbq. We headed back to the bbq and all these cousins started to pour in – the hugs and kisses were given and introductions were made. J’s parents really did make sure that everything was looked after. Many preparations went into the bbq because my entire family is vegetarian, which can make a bbq quite tricky. Fortunately, all the food prepared were items that H & J have had/made. In fact, they had made a memento of a cookbook for all the things that were served. The food was all vegetarian (for the exception of a smoked salmon dish), different kinds of Swedish breads and cheese, desserts that would make any full person have an empty stomach again, enough alcoholic/non-alcoholic drinks to make someone happy but not too inebriated, and to top it all off the evening weather was perfect. Alas, I don’t have any photos from the bbq but I will post them when I get them.

So, the first major meeting of the families was extremely successful. In fact, people are still talking about it today. :)

The next day, J’s mum had arranged for a guided historical tour of Uppsala. Whilst H & J had their own things to do on the day of the wedding, I was in charge of rounding up the Thankeys/Modhas and heading out. We had this extremely tall man (6’10) named Tim (he’s not so tiny) who gave us this fascinating tour of Uppsala, starting from the cathedral (the tallest cathedral in all of Scandinavia and the builder was inspired by the Notre Dame in Paris) and ending up at Uppsala University. The wedding started later on that afternoon at 4pm.

The wedding – my god. I may be a bit biased, but it was the best wedding/reception I’ve even been to. The amount of attention to detail that H & J paid was insurmountable and it definitely paid off. Every person that was there would say the same thing. Some of the example of the detail:
- Having traditional Swedish music (and singers) start off the wedding (and sing two songs in between moments at the ceremony)
- J’s aunt (who is a judge) officiate the ceremony and giving a reading from one of Tagore’s work, “Unending Love”
- Having a champagne break between the wedding and reception
- Every guest having their own personalised menu
- Seating arrangements done so that every man and woman is pair up, pre-existing couples were not seated together, and made sure that people that would get along well/have similar interests were in the same area
- A different type of wine with every course

Here are some photos from the wedding:

This is J's brother (Tobias) and sister (Malin). They were the toastmasters for the evening.

Our version of "Snow White and the Seven [single] Dwarves"

Throughout the sit down portion of the night, there were speeches. All of them were crowd pleasers (including my dad’s!). I gave a speech about when our family first met J. I was pretty tipsy at that point (there was an empty bottle of wine in front of me at my spot on the table) but I came across eloquent, classy and memorable. After the sit down portion, the tables were cleared and moved so that the dancing area could be established. Now that the sun had set and people were under the stars, the garden was littered with candles, making the ambiance even more intimate for all the guests that were present. There was an open bar, which meant that there were a few of us (if not all) that were a buzzing to a new high. That night, two families joined and it was celebrated with style and great pomp. H & J’s first dance was to Frank Sinatra’s “Under my skin”. There was a healthy mix of English and Indian songs, which was an excellent fusion upon the dance floor. The party lasted till about 1am, whereby we had to clear the gardens. Those of us that were still up for going out, we went to this little club called Orange. I didn’t get back to my hotel room until 6:30am.

The next day was a day to chill – H & J had their own plans and meeting up with the two sets of parents for dinner. Some of the cousins had flights to catch back to the UK. However, a few of us decided to go down to Stockholm and spend a couple of nights there. Jigna, Minesh, Kajal, Dipal, and I went in the mid afternoon, after saying our goodbyes to people. Most of the key people at the wedding will be coming to the UK for an Indian joint reception for H & J and Yogesh & Priya. We checked ourselves into a hostel on one of the 14 islands that make up Stockholm. Unlike the nights leading up to this one, we had a quiet night gorging ourselves at a nearby restaurant, so that the night’s sleep could be blissful. We got up the next morning early enough to catch the complimentary breakfast. We also took the opportunity to make little sandwiches so that we don’t have to worry about spending money for lunch (as Sweden is quite expensive, even the Brits thought that!). We met up N, one of H’s friend’s who was staying in Stockholm for an extra week before going back to work for NATO in Brussels. We walked around Gamla Stan and making sure that we can soak up as much of it we can whilst being there.

After that, we took a 2 hour boat tour of Stockholm, which was quite interesting…for the most part. Much of the tour was listening to different types of Swedish hits, including ABBA. We all had such a fantastic time together that it times like these that really make me wish that I was closer to family. That being said, I’ve cultivated another family in Australia, and I don’t think that I could bear to stand the thought of being too far from them either. Argh.

That evening, we went to a pizzeria (yeah, it’s not very Swedish but when you’re travelling with a group of vegetarians, pizza is the easiest meal option) and decided to make our way to this bar that we’ve heard about called the ICEBAR. It is a bar that was created by Absolut and as the name suggests, it is completely made out of ice and kept at a temperature of -5 degrees Centigrade. We went to the hotel that hosted this bar and found out that there needs to be a reservation and that not all of us would be able to go at the reserved time, which was 11:15pm. The entrance was 150 Kr (which is approximately $20) and that included the first drink. Every subsequent drink was 85 Kr. We hung around the area, did some shopping, more laughing, and a couple of drinks at a place called the Light Bar. And for kicks (because we could) Kajal and I did a small Bollywood dance number along one of the main pedestrian streets in Stockholm. We went back to ICEBAR and got ushered into the bar with the heavy duty silver parkas and gloves. We went inside and it was pretty cool for the first 5 minutes and then the novelty wore off. We got photos taken with the hot barmaid and then left without having a drink. When we left we also realised that we didn’t pay the entrance fee! We went across the street to back to the Light Bar and had a few drinks before going home. Our bus to the airport left at 7:20 and we made our way to the airport. On the way to the airport, I was thinking aloud and I said, “I wonder if I need my confirmation because I never received one from RyanAir for my flight from Stockholm to London”. I didn’t think anything of it. We all checked in, except for me because my name wasn’t on the list of passengers. I was like, ‘wtf? You sure?’ I reiterated that no confirmation was sent to me. I went to the information desk and found out that my flight was YESTERDAY! Fuck. The lady at the counter told me that the flight is overbooked and I will have to wait 10 minutes prior to closing the gate to see whether I can buy a ticket and get on this flight. I told them all the necessary details and bullshit like “I’ve to get on this flight because I won’t have anywhere to stay in Sweden, I’m broke, I’m going to my brother’s reception, etc”. I felt like shit…it was the first time ever that I’ve done this – completely get the wrong date of when I’m supposed to fly out. I guess there is a first time for everything. I started thinking of a contingent plan but nothing was coming out of my head. My cousins reassured me that I will be on this flight and everything will be fine. 10 minutes go by (which almost felt like an eternity), and I was told that there is room on the flight! Now, keep in mind that I had booked this ticket in early May and paid only 7 Euros for it. Guess how much I had to pay? 150 GBP! That blew my budget for the UK and some of Finland. Well, at least I was making it back to the UK with my cousins.

-- UK --

We arrived into Leicester (the home of the majority of my relatives in the UK) and greeted with some great food and the chance to take a hot shower. The first night was a chill night to get some sleep. We also met up with some other cousins and went bowling. The last time I was in the UK was in early September of 2003 when my grandmother’s health was not so good. This time the family reunion is of a much happier note. I couldn’t believe that H & J were married. Then again, they were pretty much living common-law in Ottawa; the marriage was an official formality. The next few days leading up to the Indian reception, was spent catching up on sleep, eating good meals (how I love Indian food), and being in the company of family. I really am lucky to have such a close connection with my cousins. Jigna and I had several conversations about medicine (she’s an RMO and thinking of doing surgery, specially head & neck). We have similar goals in life and it was so nice to have an honest reflection of thought and ideas. Minesh – a man who will give everything for his family and still be the coolest cat on the planet. I’ve never met anyone who gives so much and expects so little in return. He was definitely a host with the most, in terms of driving, paying for drinks, and providing more laughs than I could conjure up in a single day. Then there’s Kajal, a pre-reg pharmacist, who really has become herself in the last few years. When I was working in London, I was staying with Kajal and her family. We spent a lot of time together talking about family relations, where she sees herself in all of it and what she wants for herself. My last night in the UK, I slept over at Kajal’s place in Birmingham. I made her, her flatmate and flatmate’s boyfriend, dinner. We didn’t have much cousin-time but we had enough to know that the other was really living their life.

The Indian reception was awesome! It wasn’t like the Swedish one but then again, I don’t think that anything Indian can come close to something Swedish. HAHA. Well, first off there were 525 people in attendance. I was told that at least 1000 invitations went out. I met up with family members that I hadn’t seen in a few years, like my Madhumasi (masi = mum’s sister) and family from my mother’s side. Oh, and the reception wasn’t only for my brother and J, it was also for my cousin Yogesh and Priyabhabhi. The food was great, a self-service buffet of Chinese, Indian and Italian. Indian sweets and fruit were absolutely tasty, including a very tall chocolate fountain. Considering the amount of people that were there and the very short attention span that a very large group of Indian people have, speeches were kept to a minimum (I was quite impressed). I gave a short speech on the two brothers and wishing them very happy and successful marriages. The dance floor ripped up and we were there for the rest of the night!

The next few days after the reception were down time for everyone. Sure there were still family dinners but nothing too grandiose. The cousins went out on the town to do some shopping and to chill. Some of the family members had to go back to their respective cities/countries. I still stayed with Jigna and Minesh for a few days before I had to leave for Finland. I spent an entire afternoon with Mum and Dad on my second last day there. It was nice to spend some quality time with just those two. The conversations that we hard were quite intense, all focussed on the issue of married, cultural unity and my life plans. Now that Yogesh and Priyabhabhi and H & J are married, I’m the next one (on both my mother’s and father’s side) to be getting married (if you are thinking chronologically, not taking into account whether I’ve a girlfriend). Let’s just say that there is a lot of a food for thought, some of which I’ve taken to heart and some of which, I will let destiny take over. I left for Birmingham after I saw Mum and Dad, and spent time with Kajal. I flew out the next morning…

-- Finland –

I left the UK with a heavy heart because I don’t know when the next time that I will be seeing my cousins and family again. At least I will see Mum/Dad and Bhavisha/Vinay at Christmas. However, my relationship with my cousins, which I think is quite strong, thrives on distance to keep us close. When we get together after a long time of not seeing each other, it seems as if we’ve never been part. Regardless, I flew to Helsinki via Copenhagen from Birmingham. I arrived into Helsinki (well, Vantaa to be exact) and took the Finn Air bus from the airport to a stop close to the Olympic Stadium Youth Hostel. So, why was Helsinki a destination of this trip? Well, for those of you that have seen “Little Britain” you will get the joke. But seriously, Helsinki was the location of the 17th International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) World Congress. I walked to the hostel and met up with many other students. I finally met a few students who I’ve been in touch with over email for the past 1.5 years. It was so great to put a face to the name or to put the face with the photos from previous IPPNW international activities. I saw one familiar face that I’ve met before, which was Mahyar’s. I met him last year when I was in Adelaide visiting Ruth.

This is Thomas from Stockholm; he is one of those persons that I've been in touch with over the past 1.5 years over email about the NWIP

This is Wenjing and she is also from Stockholm. I told her that she looks kinda like the old movie stars like Za Za Gabor and she thought I said that she looks like a whore. HAHA.

This is Inga, she is a medical student from Germany. She was one of the NWIP coordinators from 2004 to 2006.

I did want to put up pictures of Martina and Camilla (Hej Hej!) but unfortunately Martina didn't like her pictures and I don't have one of Camilla! (hint hint ladies)

The next day was the opening ceremonies for the students’ meeting and was filled with many different workshops and chances to meet new and exciting people. I naturally gravitated towards the Swedes and Germans but also included some students from Israel, United States, Denmark, and Australia.


The 2nd day of the student meetings was intense because that’s when the majority of the workshops were being held. I, along with 5 other students, ran a Nuclear Weapons Inheritance Project (NWIP) workshop on the crash course of nuclear weapons. An interactive session on bringing students up to speed on what the nuclear situation is around the world, some of the treaties behind the arms, medical effects and the economic costs of nuclear weapons. It was a good practice run for a similar workshop that we had to do for the ‘doctors’ at the World Congress. That evening, the students went to a City Reception, which was held at Helsinki City Hall. The spread of food and the wine was fantastic! After eating and drinking plenty, there was International Night for the students, which was at this ‘club’ in some apartment building near the industrial area. International Night is a night where the different student delegations bring food and drinks from their country and most give a presentation/dance/skit, etc that reflects something about their country. As a part of the Australian delegation, we didn’t have anything prepared. But when we go to the next IPPNW World Congress in Delhi, we will definitely have something prepared. The drinking and eating continued well into the night, not to mention dancing and just being able enjoying the company of new friends.

Jakob (Germany), Lena (Germany), Wenjing (Sweden), Misha (Australia), Rosemary (New Zealand), Catherine (New Zealand), ME, Ruth (Australia): this is the group that did the workshop on crash course of nuclear weapons.

The next day was the official start of the 17th IPPNW World Congress. The first plenary session was fantastic, with speakers being the Mayor of Hiroshima, a very emphatic and energetic speaker and some other noteworthy speakers. There was always something happening that suited the fancy of everyone that was there. Indeed, there were a couple of plenary sessions that just seemed to drag on but we entertained ourselves, like me putting on Wenjing’s earrings. HA. That evening was the Government Reception, which was even more fantastic than the previous night’s reception. Food and drinks were provided and this was yet another round to see how well one’s liver can cope. Not only that but many discussions on future student activities were discussed not to mention what sort of things we would expect from the 18th IPPNW World Congress, which will be held in Delhi, India. Those of us that were involved or would like to be involved in the NWIP went back to the hostel early to sort through some administrative stuff such as coordination and activities planning meetings. After that, a large group of us heading to a local bar near the hostel to have a few drinks and once again to further solidify the bonds that we have laid down within one another.

This is a photo for the Helsinki Cathedral that lies close to the main harbour. Looks more like a government building than anything else.

At the Student Farewell party, there were a few things that went on. First and foremost, it was the best spread of food all week. There wasn’t an open bar but that didn’t stop us from having a few drinks. My throat was so shitty that I had hot tea with lemon, honey and some whiskey. :)

That was also the evening where all these Finnish riot police were out on the main street heading towards an area that was adjacent to where we were at. It was absolutely an amazing sight to see about 100 police officers in full riot gear and barking dogs.

It was also the night where we found out who the new coordinators for the NWIP were. There were seven people that expressed interests and three were selected. Jakob from Germany, Wenjing from Sweden and ME! This is the first time since the creation of NWIP that a non-European is one of the coordinators. The previous coordinators (Camilla, Inga and Martina) left huge shoes to fill and I really do hope that the three of us can continue the momentum that those women left for us to carry. It will be an exciting year as there is a delegation planned to Iran in October. There are plans for having delegations to France, Israel, China/Japan, India/Pakistan and North/South Koreas.

Me, Jakob and Wenjing - the new NWIP Coordinators for 2006 - 2008.

After the party finished, most of us headed out to explore Helsinki’s nightlife. Considering that there was such a large group of us and most of were students, the likelihood of us getting into a club and paying a cover charge was slim. We ended up at this bar with a minimum age entrance of 24! It was obvious that the bouncers were selective in who they were letting in. It seems like that age restriction didn’t apply to women. Those that didn’t get in went to the bar that was near the hostel. Meanwhile the rest of us stayed on the main floor of the bar (there was a nightclub downstairs but you had to pay 7 Euros to get in) and after more drinks, we created our own little dance floor. Me being the ‘responsible’ one kept my eye on the time because we had to be back at the hostel before 3am or else we would be locked out (there is a lock out from 3am to 7am). We made it back in the nick of time!

The last day of the conference was a bit sad because it signalled the fact the conference was over but also the fact that my 4-week sojourn was coming to an end. However, there was much work to be done. There were still a few things that Jakob, Wenjing, Camilla, Inga, Martina, and I had to go over in terms of the handover between the two sets of coordinators.

The night before some of us were leaving for Estonia, the remaining students we had dinner at an Indian restaurant and then we heading out to a bar down the street and had some drinks before calling it a night.

-- Estonia --

What a beautiful little country! On the very last day of my stay in Finland, Mahyar, Dana, Lauren, Misha, Misha’s dad, and I decided to take a day trip to Tallinn, Estonia. It was absolutely fantastic! We left on the first ferry (8am) and came back on the 14h00 ferry so that Lauren, Mahyar and I could make our flights. The ferry took 1.5 hours and it was awesome because we were all able to catch up on some much needed sleep. We only had about 4 hours to see stuff, and like most tourists come to Estonia, we went straight to the Old Town. The Old Town is still a working place, many embassies, residences and local shops are there. However, there is a very large tourist base, and the types of businesses (souvenirs, restaurants, bars, and cafes) reflects this.

This is Dana (one of the few non-medical students at the conference, she's did International Relations) is from Germany. She's wearing a typical woolen Estonian hat and holiding a little wooden viking.

This is me in Old Town, overlooking the beautiful backdrop in Tallinn.

This is one of the main Russian Orthodox church in Tallinn - there was no photography allowed in side but it was absolutely beautiful.

All in all, this was a trip that was indeed extremely memorable. The people that I connected with, the times spent laughing with family, seeing my brother getting married are all things that I would do all over again, knowing full well how much I’m paying for it right now. I’m quite behind with med school but I reckon that that is how the cookie crumbles. The next 7 weeks will be filled with uber studying and making sure that my mind doesn’t wander about the next trip that I’ve planned.

So, thank you for reading all of this (or even a portion of it). I hope that you were able to relive the memories from this journey, I know that I certainly have.

PS - Ahura maza Ahura maza, Ahu maza, Ahu maza, Anyti anahita ata vahu, Anyti anahita ata vahu