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Off to the land of Nokia and saunas

Passenger 22A, sitting by the window, on board the “Flying Dutchman,” Boeing 737 KLM flight KL 1169 bound for Helsinki, Finland.

Crew plied passengers with generous food and drinks — not at all bad for the economy section of the trip. To date, there is still no budget airline plying the Amsterdam-Helsinki route so travellers have to make do with established lines like KLM, which nevertheless have instituted a discounted system for those who book their flights early.

The Big Freeze beneath my wings.

From more than 30,000 feet up in the sky, you look out the window and see that wide expanse of Scandinavia in the mid-afternoon freezing over with snow.

More ice — or is it snow — and at first I thought what I was looking at was a wide swath of the sea frozen over. But then the captain announced over the PA system that we’re now passing over Sweden and will soon be in Helsinki in 40 minutes.

He also said the weather’s fine as far as the Finns are concerned: an average of minus 15 degrees centigrade during the day and minus 22 degrees centigrade at night. That made the eight degrees centigrade we get in Amsterdam on any day seem like child’s play.

A touchdown that was a little on the rough side of things on one of the runways of the newly-refurbished Helsinki International Airport. And throbbing pain on my left temple from the sudden change in cabin pressure! It happens to me every now and then on airplane trips.

At least, it wasn’t half as bad as what it used to be. Tell you what, the most enjoyable flights I’ve ever had were ones I’ve taken on old Philippine Air Force C-130 Hercules transport behemoths while working as a journalist. Absolutely painless. A joy like no other. Standing-room only for the most part, and for airconditioning you can actually see small jets of freon spewing down every now and then from the ceiling . You have to shout to be able to converse with the other passengers.

From out of the cold, I step into the comfortable warmth of this bus and what do I hear? Olivia Newton-John singing about Xanadu (a mythical place of immortality immortalized by the poet Samuel Taylor Coledrige in a poem).

Finnair operates a fleet of buses that’ll take you from the international airport to the center of the city. Platform no. 10 — that’s where you wait for the bus. And there’s always one every 20 minutes, at 5.20 euros a head. Yep, that’s a lady there on the wheel. The Finns are an egalitarian lot, you can say that.

Dormitory life.

Room no. 19, bunk no. 6 at the Stadion Hostel.

That’s my relatively comfortable spot, at a cheap 16 euros a night. Call that economic determination.

Heating’s not that good, I’ve been told by the Romanian guy named Danny occupying a bunk across mine, especially in the early morning. Danny’s out here in freezing Helsinki in search of a job.

The lay of things.

This being a roomfull of men, you can right away see the patent disorder. My bunk (lower deck of the rearmost double-decker to your left) sits right next to the large three-panel glass window. Reminds me of some youth and student camps I’ve attended.

Japan is everywhere.

That’s a young Japanese student named Sammy from Tokyo on my right. It’s his third and last night at the dormitory.

Finland was his last stop in his itinerary that has likewise taken him to Sweden, Norway and Denmark. He proudly showed me a tourist’s map where he had traced his winter-break travels all over Scandinavia on Eurorail, for under 150 dollars.

He also happily displayed to me some of his prized finds from a second-hand shop at the city center, like a nice designer suit he bought for only 3 euros. Sammy’s one of several Japanese students billeted at the hostel — moneyed and rearing for adventure. He’ll soon be part of Japan, Inc : he’s on his last year studying English at a university in Tokyo. He said in April, he’ll be working as a salesman for a Japanese company that imports tires from China, Korea and the United States. His father is in the real estate business.

DAY TWO

Me, Myself and My Camera

Before the Helsinki Cathedral

A 90-minute lunch break from the conference takes me to a walking tour of the heart of Helsinki. The city is even smaller than Amsterdam; locals say you can actually cover Helsinki in one day — but perhaps, not under -30 centigrade temperatures!

It was so cold I was afraid my nose would freeze and break into pieces. To take pictures, I often had to remove a glove from one hand; a few minutes of exposure to the cold and pulsing pain would shoot through the bared hand.

This conference is worth all the trouble: the reigning gods of international law — many of them, anyway — are all here. The Finnish scholar Martti Koskenniemi, of course, is the center of attraction. He chaired the International Law Commission’s Study Group on the Fragmentation of International Law, and the landmark report it just released is the subject of the conference. Didn’t know Mr. Koskenniemi is a good friend of my professor in constitutional law at dear old UP Law, Dean Pangalangan. They worked together at the Asian Development Bank administrative tribunal. In one of the sessions, I had the gumption to actually make a comment when I should have just shut my big mouth. I nearly died of embarrassment when I realized how stupid my remark sounded to the other delegates. It was just that I was coming from a philosophical position that, I am pretty sure, is totally alien to everyone else there. On second thought, maybe it wasn’t that bad at all: at least, I tried to propound my own take on the issue at hand and it mattered not whether the others agreed with me.

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Written by Romel

February 21, 2007 at 7:02 pm

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