Friday, 18 January 2008

Vegan Beijing

Vegan Beijing is looking better and better these days. The most important development in that is the newly started Vegan Social Club. We have a vegan dinner every Thursday in a nice restaurant and also the vegan brunches on Sundays have become a nearly regular event. And the number of people keeps going up, our record is 28 people and a cat (the cat wasn't vegan, and actually not all the people were either, but at least interested) during a Sunday brunch, and yesterday we had more than 15 people at the dinner also, thanks to a group of Swedes joining us. It's awesome meeting so many compassionate and kind people at once! And each of course have their own interesting tales. Many are amazing chefs also, this picture is from the Mexican vegan brunch by Pat, not a great picture but certainly great food!

Otherwise I've been highly engaged in the moving issue, the office has moved to a faraway suburb without decent public transport and I don't know if I should move after it and be isolated from the world or move somewhere else and be isolated from the workplace. It doesn't help matters that Chinese housing agents are some of the most difficult to deal with people. If you ever look for housing here, do not expect service, expect to be abused, then you're prepared in roughly the correct way. Anyhow, it snowed yesterday. Beautiful. :-)

Monday, 7 January 2008

The Home of Santa

Happy 2008 to everyone! So, Christmas break and holiday to Finland. Finland is the best place for Christmas, or at least it is for me. The home of Santa Claus. I was feeling like him once again on the way over with the huge suitcase full of gifts. It always feels a little odd returning to Finland and hearing the familiar language everywhere. We headed almost straight to my father's kesämökki / summer cottage in Kihniö, a little town about 120 km from Tampere. I was saddened to see there was no snow and weather reports were saying there wouldn't be any, but fortunately it did snow a little so we didn't have a completely non-white Christmas. We went off to find a Christmas tree, and walking with the ax made me think whether plants can feel pain or not... hope not.

The Finnish Christmas celebration usually focuses on Christmas Eve (24th), but some of my siblings were coming only on the 25th so we delayed some things a little. At noon they announce peace for Christmas, after which they play the most militant song in Finland, quite grotesque actually. Around then people eat rice porridge with plum sauce. The porridge is made with milk but soya or oat milk works fine. After that, well, if you're all set otherwise, decorate the tree!

In the evening there's the Christmas dinner. This has three special casseroles only made at Christmas time: potato, swede, and carrot. The two latter mentioned ones are often vegan even in the traditional recipes (although some put cream in the swede casserole), the potato one has milk but again, soya or oat milk works fine. With those they generally eat ham. One of my sisters made a wonderful ham replacement from cold smoked tofu. Then there's a special Christmas bread (which is vegan) and salads or various other things... different families have different habits. The sweet section has Christmas tarts which have plum in them (vegan unless applied with egg for colour) and ginger biscuits (some are vegan, most have egg). And you drink glögi or glögg in Swedish... fruit juice with certain spices, heated up and often sharpened with wine or spirits. Much like mulled wine.

After that Santa comes, but as there was no-one of suitable age this time around, Santa passed us by and just left gifts under the tree. We didn't even open them before the others arrived on the 25th. The others included the main reason for getting over to Finland this time: the newborn baby of my brother. He takes after his father, just six weeks old and he could already speak a little bit of Arabic and Finnish, albeit only the word "no" in both languages. Pretty negative, then. :-P

The gifts were too many as usual, and after that it tends to be time for various kinds of games. Someone always gets games, and Christmas is the perfect time for playing them. One of the games was Scrabble, which is pretty interesting in Finnish because you can make all sorts of crazy words by combining them. Some of the creations were totally hilarious. The rules exclude conjugation forms as then it'd be one form after another, endlessly. Outside games are certainly in too, unfortunately this time there wasn't enough snow for regular winter games but being outside in the fresh air is good enough. Ah, and sauna, almost forgot that!

Roll over to New Year Eve then, as you may or may not know I turned vegan with my new year resolution of 1996 and hence it was a time to celebrate 12 years as a vegan. My tradition, albeit a relatively new tradition, is to celebrate with a meal in a vegan restaurant on New Year Eve. Last year it was the Millenium in San Francisco, this time it was Veganissimo in Tampere. The foods were amazing, the restaurant was far better than expected! The price level was rather normal for Finland, and actually ended up a lot cheaper than the meal at the Millenium despite more eaters this time.

All the photos are here, including nice photos of a lake, such as the here. Happy New Year!