Year away

A year ago I packed my stuff in boxes and showed them to my dad’s tiny attic, piled all that I thought necessary in my old backpack, and left for a trip that was intended to be 2 months of yoga in Bali, then a bit of Vietnam and back home. A year later I did not do yoga but instead started surfing, ended up going to Cambodia too, and have been living and working in melbourne for 8 months, and a myriad of unexpected things have happened.

New skills learned: Surfing, driving a scooter, scuba diving, selecting cacao beans for chocolate production, letting go of things, proper headstands, knife skills, how to survive alone in tight situations (ie you’re not allowed to enter a foreign country and you find that out at the airport, or how to escape a motor vehicle accident situation in another…or how to change the scuba diving BCD vest in pitch black darkness in the middle of the sea)

Gili Trawangan, Christmas with friends.
Gili Trawangan, Christmas with friends.

Appreciation for things: Sunshine and warmth, fresh fruit pretty much straight from the trees, sea and marine life, nature, bicycles, people’s help, good company, trial periods at yoga studios and gyms, exercising, work, having the opportunity to do basically whatever, learning new and growing. New friends!

Bali style breakfast by the pool.
Bali style breakfast by the pool.

Best foods: Crate cafe breakfasts, Gado Gado and fresh mangos in Bali, tuna steak at Christmas dinner in Gili, rice paper rolls in Vietnam, the delicious meals at Hariharalaya in Cambodia. Smashed avo and poached eggs at Organica cafe in melbourne, Hummus from South melbourne market. Drinkwise: Fresh coconut water and coffee coffee coffee.

All the (vegan) rolls.
All the (vegan) rolls.

Accommodation: 3 Bungalows in Bali, one private villa. One month in the same hostel in Canggu. Hostel in Vietnam, one night in a “family stay” in the mekong Delta, and another one in a border town hotel. 4 hostels in Cambodia, one night in a bus, 10 nights on a retreat. (Luckily) I’ve only spent time in 1 hostel in Australia, and times of homelessness I was able to rely on the help of 5 friends.

Pretty much deserted island in Cambodia
Pretty much deserted island in Cambodia.

Love life: I learned that the Finnish word for love, rakkaus, apparently sounds like “crack house”. Fair enough. I’ve had more action this past year than ever before, mostly because I’ve been open-minded and just gone out. I have definitely learnt more than I thought I would have, and even though I got sick of dating and lost my faith in finding “the one” (or even someone I could imagine spending a whole weekend with), I am now closer than ever to realizing my feelings and where I stand in life. Winning!

I made someone popcorn for their flight.
I made someone popcorn for their flight.

Dealing with health: Eating probiotics, eating local. 2 Doctor visits, one dentist. In Cambodia I got bitten by a mosquito in the eyelid on the day I was supposed to go on a scuba diving trip to a remote island. Early trip and waking up the only doctor of the hospital to get cream I didn’t end up using, luckily that was nothing more serious. In melbourne I went to a GP to see if I have sinus infection (I didn’t), and had my wisdom tooth pulled.

Holidaying in Byron Bay.
Holidaying in Byron Bay.

Public holidays: I have pretty much skipped every holiday; Christmas I spent on a beach having a barbecue, New Years I was at another beach, Easter I only hid eggs for my housemates but that was it…I have enjoyed the Queen’s Birthday, and I understand why Anzac day exists, but having a public holiday for football and horse races is a bit strange to me. Nevertheless, I’ll take any reason to have a special day!

Halloween pumpkin at work.
Halloween pumpkin at work.

In the last year I have had more experiences I would never have had if I had stayed home, and going out of my comfort zone has proven worth it and beyond. I can’t wait to see what the next 12 months will bring along! And in the sad poor pictures front, by the end of the month things will look brighter and I will be able to write my hometown with a capital letter again! YAY!

I love love love that animal suit.
I love love love that animal suit.
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Half year

Exactly 6 months ago I was packing my life in boxes, laughing at the Helsinki rain that was almost constant, waiting eagerly to get to Bali. I said countless goodbyes and “see you next year”, thinking I’d quickly visit California and be back home in February. Little did I now, half year later friends are asking me if I am coming back. I am in Sydney, packing my (hand)back to go on a road trip! These past 4 days in Sydney have been as gloomy (weather-wise) as I would’ve expected maybe in Finland, but not in Bondi beach! Life is weird; I definitely would not have expected half of the things I’ve experienced, seen, opportunities and people who have just come up. This definitely happen for a reason, and going with the flow is the best way of making sure you get the most out of things.

Surfing-grown biceps scuba diving in Gili Trawangan, Christmas 2014
Surfing-grown biceps scuba diving in Gili Trawangan, Christmas 2014

 

Bali: surfing, scooter driving, farm visits, scuba diving, fresh fruits.
Vietnam: People and hassle, cacao, river trip, fresh spring rolls.
Cambodia: Scuba diving, meditation and yoga, poor people and begging children.
Australia: Work, people, culture, conversations, future. Things just keep on coming up, there’s no way I’d go work in a farm for 3 months because there is so much happening right here, right now.

Tourist thingy, check.
Tourist thingy, check.

 

I still have one protein bar in my backpack that I brought with me from Finland. I think I’ll keep it, as a memory of my trip; when I left Helsinki, I think I had like 10 of those bars with me. Let’s see if one makes it back to where it left from.

Saigon

I arrived in Ho Chi Minh on Friday evening after a lot of hassle in several countries, not having eaten or drunk anything since the morning. Needless to say, I was in a bit of a shock, coming from the Island of Gods to a city with a population twice as much as Finland’s. On my first night in Saigon, I just went to walk around the (backpacker) district 1, were my hostel was conveniently located, found myself some good fresh spring rolls and read the Lonely Planet to locate myself.

Great coffee and bananas for breakfast.
Great coffee and bananas for breakfast.
Bright post office, where people mainly just take pictures. Apparently they do handle mail too.
Bright post office, where people mainly just take pictures. Apparently they do handle mail too.

On my first whole day, I went to see the sights: the colonial bright yellow post office and the famous Notre Dame church. In the afternoon I decided to join a French guy from the hostel to see the famous and popular Cu Chi tunnels, where brave people of Vietnam suffered and survived during the war. The tunnels were interesting enough, and we even had a veteran as our tour guide, but the group of 80 people was a bit too much to handle. I skipped the possibility of shooting all the real guns, but did manage to crouch 40 meter way 6m underground to get the war feeling: Not pleasant.

In the evening I went to enjoy dinner at the same place we had lunch: the magnificent Saigon Vegan restaurant, cheap and amazing food from fresh ingredients! I went there 3 times in 2 days, and if I had stayed longer, I would have definitely gone more.

Fresh spring rolls for lunch and dinner, can't complain.
Fresh spring rolls for lunch and dinner, can’t complain.

Market life.
Market life.

The second day I started walking around, trying to find Chinatown with no success. All the areas I went to seemed to look more or less the same, but I did roam through some interesting and very local markets. I visited the war museum, which made me want to puke and cry a bit, showcasing pictures of the war and of mutilated people and all that. Pretty one-sided approach to the whole subject, but it was interesting to see anyway. In the afternoon some kids stopped me to practice English, which was pretty interesting since I hardly understood a word they were saying. In the evening I had dinner with another French guy at the same vegan restaurant. Om nom.

 

Beans beans beans.
Beans beans beans.
Bars from heaven.
Bars from heaven.

On the third day I woke up early morning to wait to be picked up to a cacao farm: the plans changed a bit so instead of 7 we left at 9 to visit Marou chocolate factory outside of town. After the visit we went to Mekong area, to Treasure Island by ferry to select cacao beans for Marou’s Treasure Bar. It was so much fun, and we got 300kg of top notch cacao beans. We enjoyed dinner back in HCMC, spectacular Vietnamese cuisine country-style from local ingredients, shared at the table. This magnificent meal of several small dishes cost around 12€ per person, my most expensive meal in Vietnam. I took a motorbike taxi home, and booked a Mekong Delta tour for the next day at 10.30 pm. The best thing about big cities: they never sleep.

Ending and beginning

A year ago I was sitting home, watching outside to the darkness and shivering at the idea of going outdoors to the damp coldness. I decided that no matter what, next year I would not spend the winter in Finland. As I watched the New Year’s fireworks on a beach few nights ago, I was happy I made that promise to myself to change the circumstances that made me unhappy.

One of my favorite spots in Helsinki, Sandro. Many happy times (and food comas)!
One of my favorite spots in Helsinki, Sandro. Many happy times (and food comas)!

 

Two months ago I came to Bali, not having a clear idea of what was ahead of me; perhaps I was thinking of going to do yoga in Ubud, chill, enjoy the sun, learn how to be alone truly enjoying it, and be merry. Well, I did go to Ubud, only to find out that it was not the place I really wanted to spend my time. Luckily I had been thinking of Canggu, and the small, rapidly growing surfer town was more my spot. After a while I got anxious about what I was “supposed” to do in terms of being a backpacker – go and see as much of Bali as possible. I would prefer to continue my travels as it has been so far: staying put in one good place rather than spending days on different means of transportations, waiting, crammed, carrying the backpack with me everywhere, just to do it all over again after a few days. So I stayed. I met people, some of them for a longer, some for shorter time, I overcame my self-doubts regarding driving and the ocean, I allowed myself just to be (some day with more success, some with more anxiousness), go eat out at least twice a day, and to just enjoy the flow of time.

Livin' on the edge.
Livin’ on the edge.

 

When thinking of where to spend the end of 2014 and the first day of 2015, I had a few options. Despite my growth during this trip and otherwise, I am still struggling with indecisiveness, so making the simple decision of “where to be” cost a bit too many brain cells. I decided to do what I felt like doing, to go back to Canggu. I was staying in a different hostel (not as good as the previous one), and didn’t know but a few people around. At the end, I ended up going to the same villa where I spent my birthday, having a barbecue with the local men, then continuing to the same beach bar where I spent countless happy hours and just regular (yet also happy) hours. I managed to get one more surf session and to eat one more time at my favorite cafe, go for one more drive around the hoods, and to have witty company with someone with puppy dog eyes. All the fun made leaving a bit harder. And the fact that despite ordering 2 taxis for 7 am, none came. Luckily we figured that out, not that good service from Blue Bird taxi, though!

Ain't too bad for a Christmas.
Ain’t too bad for a Christmas.

I am now at the airport, where the wifi is better than anywhere else! Too bad I don’t have time to upload more pictures. Next 3 hours will be on the plane to Singapore, and there to Ho Chi Minh. Hopefully the lack of sleep from the past 3 nights will keep me occupied. We’ll see how the big city life is after all this relaxation and small town entertainments! Happy New Year, friends! I have a feeling its going to be the best so far.

Whole lotta food love

No idea where the name comes from
No idea where the name comes from!

Lucky to be working in the food industry, I was able to visit Asia’s largest Food & drink, hotel, restaurant & food service exhibition HOFEX, held in the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition center this week. During the first 3 days, the expo had 38,297 buyers – not quite the same caliber as any expo in Finland!
If Natural Expo West/East in the States (or any other natural/organic expo for that matter) would be my Heaven, HOFEX probably is something right outside Heaven’s gates. Exhibitors in 3 floors, from so many different cultures, presenting what they perceive as the best from their country. (Scandinavia was not represented at all, though at least I saw one oven door manufactured in Sweden!) Unfortunately for me, European Fine Meats were well presented. On the other hand, the only producer of quinoa products was from Holland – Go Europe!

Scottish lard
Premium Scottish lard

Besides the culinary presentations, panels and other cookings, there was barista championships and the more visually intriguing flairtending competition as well as some rather fancy culinary competitions. And of course some the cool kitchen equipment was tested on-site – I saw some pretty cool sushi making machines as well as veggie spiralers, among others.

Food is art and I was definitely taking picture of the cupcakes
Food is art and I was definitely taking picture of the cupcakes

The thing I like most about this kind of events (besides all the nibbles), is to talk to interesting people who possibly share same interests and have passion about their work (hopefully). In general, I was maybe a bit surprised how many pig legs there was, and so much ice cream! It seemed like pretty much all of the European countries were focusing on meat, alcohol and possibly some cheese. Food traditions rather than trends…

Not your regular cuppa joe
Not your regular cuppa joe

Speaking of trends, the extensive coffee and tea sections were rather seducing. I got to try my first ice drip coffee, which was surprisingly soft – I tried the same Vietnamese beans as hot dripper coffee, and the flavor was much more intense. The coffee had been dripping for 2 days until ready to drink. In Hong Kong, single origin beans and more love-requiring brewing methods are definitely a hit – when Hong Kongers don’t drink bubble tea or milk tea, they at least value their coffee! About beans…the only single origin bean is not coffee, anymore.

Pure, single origin chocolates from Vietnam, from 72% to 82% cacao
Pure, single origin chocolates from Vietnam, from 72% to 82% cacao

I admit being a “bit” of a snob when it comes to certain things. Chocolate just happens to be one of those things that I will rather not put in my body, if it’s low quality. Some chocolove-talk in HOFEX got me an invitation to taste these amazing single-origin chocolates from different villages in Vietnam. Though I do prefer raw chocolate to processed ones, these sweeties were pretty impressive: the only ingredients used are the specific cacao beans and sugar.

Simplicity at its' best
Simplicity at its’ best

When it comes to processed chocolate, these ones were top notch. From cool packaging design to the origins of the bean, Marou has got it figured out. Lucky me, I still have their event invitation which was a chocolate bar. Plus I got a goodie bag with their special golden chocolate, which cannot be bought anywhere. What a dilemma – I don’t want to eat it, but how can one resist the temptation?

Oh, expos, how I love you. If I ever get to go to Fancy Food Show or Expo West, I’ll be happy for months in advance! I hope the next time won’t be too far away from now.