1. Swedish Characters
The Kingdom Of Sweden
Yes, Sweden is a kingdom,
and like the English, the Swedes love their royal family. But that�s
about all I want to say about them, because I didn�t get to meet any
of them or their luxurious palaces. But I did get to learn a little
about their country �
Sweden borders with more
countries than any other country I know, that is, if you still consider
countries only a few kilometres across the Baltic Sea as �bordering
countries�. So on either side of Sweden is Norway and Finland, then
a short boat trip across the Baltic will get you to Denmark, Germany,
Poland, Russia (yes!), Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia � 9 countries
Their blue flag with the
yellow cross has become very well recognized internationally due to
their amazing success stories: Abba, Bjorn Borg, Volvo and Saab. This
is quite an achievement considering their small population of only
9 million people (1.8 million living in the Stockholm District) in
a country only slightly larger in size than California.
And they like to be individual.
Even though they�ve been members of the European Union for many years,
they�ve still rejected the euro currency, preferring to keep their
Swedish Krona instead.
But the thing that really
stood out for me was this �
Whereas Finland is the land
of lakes (56,000 of them!), Sweden is the land of islands, with tens
of thousands of them alone in the Stockholm Archipelago, a popular
destination for tourists during summer. In fact, the heart of Sweden�s
capital city, Stockholm, (at the junction where Lake Malaren joins
the Baltic Sea), is built on 13 islands.
Bo Of Branno
Viktor, my LETS host in
Goteborg (Gothenburg) had arranged a trip to Branno Island with Melina,
a LETS researcher from Italy, her boyfriend Eli, and Eli�s parents,
Aldo and Marina, who�d only just arrived to Goteborg the day before.
But they were late getting to the port, and missed the ferry by only
a minute or two. Viktor and I got on board because it would be another
2 hours before the next ferry, and we had an important person waiting
to meet us.
Bo Ljungqvist (pronounced
Bor Lioongvist) is a very lean man, about 58 years old, and looks
like a hermit. But he�s an ideologist concerned about world problems
� trying to solve problems which are called �normality�.
Bo lives on Branno, an island
inhabited by only 800 people, which is only a short 10 minute ferry
ride from Goteborg, Sweden�s second largest city situated on the east
coast. Up to 3 years ago, this island was out-of-bounds to foreigners
because of �sensitive military issues�. And this coming from a country
which has not been in a war for nearly 2 centuries! Though their historically
neutral military status had to change recently when they joined the
Anyway, Bo has lived on
Branno for 30 years, and relishes his natural lifestyle. First of
all, cars aren�t allowed on the island, so he walks or bike�s his
way around. And his house is an ecological project which he works
Bo was a Human Ecology university
lecturer for 15 years and he�s put much of this expertise into practice.
He has a large glasshouse butting on to the back of his house, and
apart from providing an endless supply of fresh vegetables, it also
helps keep the heat and cold from getting into the house. I admired
the tomatoes as soon as I saw them.
�Help yourself,� he said.
The tomato was delicious!
Above the glasshouse, Bo
had covered the entire wall with solar panels. You could see his handy-work
everywhere. In fact, you could even see his workshop � in the lounge
�Most people don�t like
that I have my workbench in here, but I can�t be without my tools,�
... one of the most interesting LETS characters I've met.
We sat outside in his overgrown
and naturally wild yard, eating homemade tomato and lemon marmalade
on bread. And he kept bringing out the hot coffee. He was enjoying
the hot Swedish summer, and was only in a pair of black shorts, which
contrasted heavily with the long white hair on his chest and head,
though many years of smoking had given him a nicotine-stained beard.
I smiled as he wandered
from the table to wash his hands in a nearby bucket which still had
rain water in it. And I followed suit shortly afterwards. A lush green
reed plant, over 2 metres tall, grew nearby.
�I didn�t think it would
do so well,� he said, �but it�s growing beautifully. It�s wild you
Our conversation was constantly
being interrupted by the crowing of a neighbour�s rooster.
�I thought roosters only
crowed in the mornings,� I said, and I made a gesture implying that
I�d like to shoot it.
Then as I turned, I saw
a wire enclosure only metres away from me with a lone black rooster
in it. �Oops!� I said, �Didn�t know it was your rooster.�
�He crows all the time�,
Bo said. �The other rooster you hear is across the street, and has
5 hens. So mine is probably just jealous. I should get him a hen,
A visit to the bathroom
was an ecological experience.
�As long as you sit down,
everything will go in the right place,� he said.
On close inspection I found
that a metal �funnel� was positioned to catch the urine and direct
it into a different container to that of the �heavy� stuff. So in
this way he was able to recycle the human waste most efficiently.
By the end of the day we
had quite a gathering in Bo�s backyard, with a couple of neighbours
joining us for a chat over coffee.
But the day�s classic line
went to Eli�s mum, Marina, after I mentioned that in China I insisted
on being photographed with a large toad and snake before I ate them.
She couldn�t pass up the
opportunity, and with a big smile, she said, �Then it�s dangerous
to be photographed with you!�
�How would you like to see
an organic Thai farm?� Viktor asked me.
�Why? Don�t they have Swedish
farms here,� I replied, trying to make a point that I much prefer
to see what the locals are doing rather than the foreigners.
But I�m glad he ignored
Viktor and his very talented
girlfriend, Helena, (she�s an artist who�ll be putting on her first
art exhibition in a few weeks), picked me up in a co-operative car
(Viktor is a member) and we drove north for about an hour.
Once we got to the farm,
we all got out of the car and began looking for a sign of life. Viktor
found Thip (pronounced Tip) in a nearby greenhouse which was like
a sauna inside.
Thip is a tall, thin Asian
lady and the owner of the property. She describes herself as being
from Borneo although she was born in Thailand and has a Chinese mother.
Thip married a Swede and has been in Sweden for 30 years, but she�d
been on her own for the last 3 years. In that time she�s built an
amazing reputation with some elite restaurants in the area and sends
her diverse range of organic vegetables to Goteborg, Stockholm and
even overseas to Germany!
And rather than specializing
in one type of farming as is most common all over the world, Thip�s
success comes from her large range of vegetables. She grows about
180 types of vegetables including 80 types of lettuce! All organically
�I love gardening,� she
said, and obviously refused to accept the term farming. �You must
enjoy what you do.�
�How many people work here,�
I asked, trying to avoid the �farm� word.
�Only me and one other person,
� she said.
We looked around and commented
on the absence of farm equipment.
�I have machines,� she said,
�but I don�t use them. They�re too noisy.�
�What do you think of my
garden,� Thip asked me.
�It�s very artistic,� I
said. �You�ve mixed the colours beautifully so it�s like a painting.�
She smiled approvingly and
walked us over to her plants.
�I came to buy some vegetables,�
Viktor told her.
�I�m sorry,� Thip said,
�but I can�t sell you any. My mother always told me that you when
you get visitors, you must give them something in appreciation for
visiting. You are visiting me today, so what would you like to have?�
She then walked us past
many of her gardens and picked a lovely variety of lettuces, cucumbers,
squash and spinach for us. Then she took them to an outside bench
where she hosed them off and packed them into a plastic bag for us.
It was already past 3pm,
and we had to be back in Goteborg for my LETS presentation before
6pm, so we soon departed and headed further north towards our original
destination � the big island. But we ran out of time and didn�t get
there! And we got hungry. And, boy, did those cucumbers come in handy!
I�ve seen entertainers on
trains before. These musicians get on a train and start playing their
music, and as they play, their assistant walks through the carriage
collecting donations. Then when the train stops, they get out of the
train and into the next carriage.
But in Stockholm it went
a little differently. A little dark man (looked Arabic) walked into
my carriage and began playing a beautiful Italian melody on his piano
accordion. But after a few bars, he stepped up the tempo unbelievably,
as if he was in a hurry to go to the toilet, or something. But the
reason became obvious as soon as he finished his tune. He then paced
up and down the carriage, collecting donations by himself. And the
train came to a halt just after he�d approached everyone. I guess
his assistant was sick that day or he didn�t want to share the profits
I broke one of my rules
on this night. Usually I like to order the local beer when I�m travelling,
but when I walked into this Irish Pub in the Old Town of Stockholm
(Gamla Stan), and the local beers were the same price as the more
expensive Guinness (at least that�s the case in Australia) I couldn�t
resist asking for a large glass of the black stuff. In fact, it had
been a hot and tiring day, so I followed it up with one of its cousins,
a cold glass of golden Kilkenny.
There was a Darts Competition
playing on TV, but after a short while one of the drinkers asked for
the remote so he could change the channel. After checking out his
options, he finally settled on a program about the Loch Ness Monster,
and to cut a long story short � the program came to the conclusion
that the Loch Ness Monster couldn�t possibly exist.
But after the program had
been going on for nearly an hour (I�m a slow drinker), a disgruntled
guy came storming out of the drinking area in the rear of the pub
and began abusing the guy who�d changed the program.
�This is not a Discovery
Channel pub. It�s a Sports Channel pub. Who said you could change
the fuckin� channel!�
And he was livid!
Needless to say, the channel
went back to the Darts Competition within moments. There were 3 championships
being played. One had finished before the channel got switched across
to the Loch Ness documentary, and the second one was now only half
way through, with the scores tied at 5 games each.
Three games later, this
same guy came marching back into the main bar asking for the channel
to be switched back to the Discovery Channel because �nothing much
was happening in the Darts Competition�! But he was only joking of
course. He immediately joined the guy he�d abused only minutes earlier,
and after buying him a drink, began to tell him how Phil Taylor, in
the last Darts Event, was going to annihilate his opponent.
�This guy is a fuckin� machine!
Nobody�s beaten him in the last 12 years! This guy is unstoppable.
This guy is just unstoppable!�
And on and on he went, saying
the same old lines again and again, �This guy is just unstoppable�.
And when I saw the odds
on each competitor, I knew he was right. Phil Taylor was at 8 to 15
on, and his opponent was at 500 to 1. And the result? Phil breezed
through the match in less time than it takes to scull a beer! He won
10 to nil.
And even though I�d been
in the pub for over 2 hours, as I walked outside, I still noticed
a stagger in my step � and after only 2 beers!
Sometimes you just end up
in the right place at the right time. I left Goteborg at 9.00am and
arrived in Stockholm just before 2.00pm. And at 3.00pm the Gay Pride
Festival was going to take place.
By the time I got there,
the crowds had swollen to 5 or 6 deep on either side of the road,
and getting a decent view from the back rows was never going to be
easy in probably the country with the tallest population in the world!
Nevertheless, I did manage to get to see the floats and take some
hit-and-miss photos by holding the camera way above my head and hoping
it was pointed at the right angle before I took my photos.
Some of the more interesting
sights were: the topless women; the cross-dressers; the transvestites;
the Proud Parents Of Gays group; the Gay Police group; the Gay Doctors
group; the Gay Priests group; the Gay Sports People group; the Marilyn
Monroe look-alike army; the young children accompanying their gay
parents; the black guy who was groping himself leaving very little
to the imagination regarding the contents inside his jeans; the float
of 20 lesbians advertising for sperm donors!
And the smallest cab in
the world � the Smart Cab, which was a 2-seater Smart Car with only
one seat available for passengers!
article is taken from the ebook,
400-Day LETS Odyssey
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