Saturday, April 28, 2012

Hyvää Pääsiäisiä

Happy Late Easter! We had a long weekend, and just before the break I took my fifth period tests. So I got Thursday and Friday off with that, and Monday off as well, which was nice. Kauhajoki right now is still in a bit of a winter phase - there's the occasional light snow - but spring is just starting to pop up!

This is what the field looked like in the morning after a night snowstorm. In the afternoon, there was no snow! 

I took a day trip to Vaasa with a few of my friends, and we went shopping. Which was fun, even if I didn't buy much. My legs got a workout, at the very least. Vaasa (or Vasa, the Swedish name) is one of Finland's biggest cities (around 60,000 people in the main city). The city is bilingual, with almost a third of the population having Swedish as their first language. A bit of history: Vaasa was the capitol of the White side during the Finnish civil war, in 1918. Helsinki was the base of the Red side. As the reign of the Russian czar fell, the Finns used the chance to escape Russian rule. But the country was divided, particularly between the wealthy upper class and the industrial working class. The rift caused a short but terrible divide between the new country, lasting from January until May. Most still know what side their family was on. The Whites promoted capitalism, and were assisted by Germany, whereas the Reds wanted socialism and were assisted by the newly formed Russia. Long story made short, the Whites won the war, and now on display in Vaasa's city square is a statue of a White soldier holding the heart of the nation, over the defeated Red man. Finnish history is really quite captivating if you look into it! 

The main shopping mall we went to, it's quite big inside. Also, notice the yellow truck in the background. Yes, that is what you think it is - it's a Spongebob van. 

To get to Vaasa it takes an hour and a half bus from Kauhajoki to Seinäjoki, then another hour by train to Vaasa. But the sunset was worth it. 

And now onto Easter. Ha. Many go to church on Easter, although my family did not. It's more or less celebrated similarly to the US, visiting family and friends, lamb as the traditional meat, and decorating eggs. But Finland has mämmi. Similarly to salmiakki (salted black licorice) it is something that is not seen much outside of Finland, and is a love-it-or-hate-it type of food. Or so I've been told. Mämmi is a pudding dessert  made of rye flour and malt. (Personally, I think it's fine, and it tastes a bit like raisins. But beware that opinions may vary!) It has an intimidating and slightly unfortunate look to it. Luckily, it is consumed with sugar and cream, or vanilla sauce, which makes it a decently good treat.

Did I forget to mention on the Saturday before Easter Sunday the Finns also have Halloween? Well, not exactly, but pretty similar. It involves more sticks and sightly less candy. It is held during the day and it really is practiced only by children (and exchange students), parents, and older siblings who help out. There are more crones as well. And money. Anyways, you decorate pajunkissa (pussy willow) branches beforehand, with feathers, painted hollow eggs, glitter (lots of it) and the like. You then dress up (the traditional design is that of a crone, or a witch, but anything goes) go around to the houses of those you know (particularly grandparents) offering them the sticks you have made in exchange for candy (usually chocolate of some sort) or small change ( I managed to get 5 euros!) . Instead of saying trick or treat, you say these lines of poetry:

Virvon, varvon, 
tuoreeks, terveeks, 
tulevaks vuodeks.
Vitsa sulle,
Palkka mulle.

I virvon, I varvon*
As fresh, as healthy,
For the next year.
A stick for you,
A treat for me.

*It's a play on words, basically think something like I trick, I treat, except with made-up words.

Bonfires are a very common tradition at Easter as well. Finnish tongue twister! 

Kokko, kokoo kokoon koko kokko! - Koko kokkoko? - Koko kokko.

Kokko (a surname), gather up the whole bonfire! - The entire bonfire? -
 The entire bonfire.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Vanhojen Tanssit

There is one dance (structured ballroom dancing) in the three years of the Finnish lukio. It's known as the Vanhojen Tanssit, or the "Old People's Dance." This is because it is held just after the third years leave the school for a period of studying for their matriculation exams (the exams include graduating the lukio as well as getting into universities). As the second year students were the new seniors, the original tradition was to dress up in your parents' or grandparents' old clothes, and to act as, well, an old person. But somewhere along the way, girls started dressing up as princesses, in all their finery. Instead of a joke to dress up in fancy old clothes, they took the incentive to make it formal and as a way to assert themselves as the new heads of the school. Of course, this doesn't work quite as well when you still have lipstick smears left over from the third years scribbling all over your face (long story, I'll explain down below)*, but that's besides the point (Although I still had a visible light pink heart on my cheek, though it more or less disappeared under makeup).

*The day before the dance, the third years leave the school, vandalizing lower underclassmen/women's faces with lipstick, dressing up in flamboyant costumes, singing and play acting, and generally enjoying themselves. They make their departure on the back of open trucks, going around to  nearby schools to throw out candy. (Remember that this takes place in mid-February, possibly the coldest time of the year. Average temperatures are in the -20 to -30 degrees Celsius range, if not colder. 0 to -25 degrees Fahrenheit or so.) It's usual for them to then go on a cruise to Sweden, Russia, or Estonia, or a class trip of some sorts.

In my lukio, there is more girls than boys,which means two things happen: first, many girls start asking for dance partners more than a year in advance, and second, boys from the first and (less commonly) third year are asked out, as well as students in the ammatti koulu (vocational school) in order to have a date. One of my friends, Bence (first year), graciously asked me to dance back in September. There is three other exchange students at my school ( Anna, a German girl, Kai Mook, a Thai girl, and Götz, a German boy), and Götz was asked out on the first day of school! Due to the lack of boys* it's not uncommon to have girl-girl pairs, especially during dance practice. Oh, and speaking of dance practice, during the fourth period (it lasted from the start of school after winter break until mid February. I'm in the start of my sixth period now) the second year gym class consisted of only this. We all had practice every Monday in the gym, until the week before in which we had practice everyday, excluding Friday (the day of the dance). During Thursday afternoon, some students stayed after classes to decorate the gym. Although the lukio does have a gym, we used the elementary gym because it's new and quite a bit bigger. It's the one the professional basketball team uses as well.

*This is flexible, as it really just depends on the school, as it can be a gender-flipped issue or not come into play at all. There are also different ways to remedy the situation, and fellow exchange student blogger Christina choose not to look for a partner at all because Navy boys filled in for girls without dance partners. 

I got up early, six or so, to go to the beauty parlor. My host mom Päivi got me the reservation at the last minute, which I am very grateful for. Competition is fierce among the girls, similar to the issue of dance partners. After finishing up my hair, at around 7:30 or so (the appointment started at 6:45), I went home and did my makeup. By the time I finished up and got dressed for the day, it was almost 8:30 and time to go to school. Over my dress I wore  a big dress coat (from Päivi), a silvery scarf I bought to look cool, and high heels borrowed from Bence's mother. ( I have dress shoes, but they're flat.) I actually wore snow boots unless I was inside, due to the the snow and general wetness outside.

This picture was taken just before heading out to school. 

We met for practice just before nine. Everyone was fancied up, the girls in their dresses* and the boys in their suits. Most of the boys came out before the girls, who were busy with last minute makeup checks. It was the first time anyone had been in their dancing clothes, so everyone got good remarks on their attire. So well, we did our dress rehearsal. It was the second or third time we had the live orchestra there, so we were finally getting used to that instead of the CD music, which was good.

*Like many other things involved with the only dance in lukio, most girls are in-advance with purchasing or renting dresses as well. The average price for a Vanhojen Tanssit is somewhere in between 100 - 400 Euros (200 - 600 plus US dollars). Luckily I had bought a dress that fit this need a few years ago thrift shopping. I has by far the shortest dress among everyone, but it wasn't an issue. I was told that this meant the audience used my legs as a visual for the girls' leg movements. All I can hope is that I did a decent job of it.

Our first showing was at 11:30, and we presented to the elementary, middle, and high schools - both the lukio and the ammattikoulu. I was happy because all my first year friends were there, and Iida was the one who took most of the pictures in this blog.  And while I'm at it, here's the list of the dances:

1. Avaustanssi - Opening Dance

2. Pompadour - (the dance, not the hairstyle)

3. Mignon - (again, the dance, not other references)

4. Cicapo - A Spanish Dance

5. Wengerka 

6. Pas D'Espagne

7. Short Cake - An American Dance

8. Wieninvalssi - The Vienna Waltz

Extra: We also had our own dance, Which took place right before the Wieninvalssi. It was... definitely not closely related to ballroom dancing. Here's a link :

This was the only clip of our dance I could find, but you can get your fill of Vanhojen Tanssit by clicking on other school's videos! :)

After this everyone hung out for a bit, walking (or driving) over to a food school where lunch was. Except for Bence and me, and three other couples, along with our teachers. Instead, we went over to an elderly nursing home and performed a few of our dances for them. It was a bit odd to suddenly be in a new position while dancing, but it was fun to help out. I was told that they don't get too many visitors, so they really look forward to events like these. Really, it's a shame. When we were asked to volunteer, there was 40 couples there, but so few volunteered. Ah well.

After that we got a ride over to the cooking school (this is also where my host mom Päivi works as a teacher!). It was a very fancy, nice lunch, and all the teachers were invited too, so really, only the first years were left at the lukio. The students prepared it and brought us each course, ending with coffee and the like. My only regret is that I didn't really know anyone else who sat at the table (aside from Bence, most of the other students were older or from the ammatti koulu) so it was rather quiet. Also, the fact that I forgot my snow boots back in the auditorium. Because it is not fun walking around in borrowed high heels with a foot of snow on the ground. But I did find five euros in my pocket, which was a happy occurrence. Päivi was working that day, but she came by to see how we were doing, which was sweet of her.

We walked across the street to the camera shop, where it seems everyone had gone to get pictures. So of course Bence and I got some too!  We took a picture together and (I took) an individual one, and they turned out pretty well. The owner and store photographer was happy because usually the store tends to be in not so much of a rush, and because of the Vanhojen Tanssit he got to take lots of glamour shots of everyone. From there Bence's father took us back to the school, where I picked up my things I had left earlier. Päivi then drove me back home, and I hug out for a couple hours in my dress, eating dinner and lounging around.

Here's a bit about Bence:
He has dual citizenship, Finnish and Hungarian. He speaks at least three languages fluently (Finnish, Hungarian, English, and possibly Swedish- he says he isn't, but he's not bad at it) and has studied at least five (above mentioned, plus Japanese plus possible others). His parents came from Hungary to Finland, and he has four siblings - one older brother, and a younger sister and brother. Bence is a good student, and all around nice guy.He's good at drawing, writing, and video games. And he's really tall. At least in comparison to me. But then again, most of my friends are. That's all. Back to the main text.

At six in the evening we had our second performance, for all the parents, friends, relatives, neighbors, etc. Everyone was a bit more confident, and all went well. It was a bit bittersweet, what with it already being over and all. I keep feeling like it should have lasted longer. Especially after all the practice we went through to learn all the dances. The day itself was a wonderful experience. I only wish it could have lasted longer (and without the pain in my feet).

I am definitely glad I was able to participate in this event. I love dancing, so it was a really nice opportunity to learns some new steps as well as to hang out with my friends. Although we do have more dances in the US, they are much more like parties, and I don't believe most high schools require any kind of dance practice at all. It may be more formal, but you feel so proud that the outcome is totally worth all the work you put into learning everything.

Take notice of the live orchestra! 

Everyone all lined (queued) up! 

During our own dance, we decided that our dance teachers should join in on the fun as well. 
To the song "I'm sexy and I know it".

Ida looking like a princess, along with Götz (the only boy exchange student currently at our school). She's my closest second year friend, so I really wanted to show her off. We went to the after party together, which (for us, at least) consisted of eating chocolate, dancing, and talking. It was fun. <3
Anna looking fabulous. :) Anna's date was her host brother, who attends the kauppa oppilas (business school).
She and I, as well as Kai Mook, are attending a week-long hair dressing course.This is because we are having a vaihto viikko (exchange week) where many students go traveling (ex: Germany, Sweden, and France) while the students who don't go take an extra class of their choosing.  

Last minute prep in the dressing room ( the girl pictured, Anna Lotta, is a former exchange student who went to California last year) 

Kai Mook looking cute in her pink dress. :)
Before she left from Thailand, she was specifically told by AFS (another exchange program) to purchase a dress for this dance. It was quite long, and she kept worrying that she was going to fall over in it. She managed not to.
Her partner was a first year, Miska, who will be going on exchange to Australia through Rotary this autumn.