Tuesday, May 05, 2015

On an 'Onsite Vacation' in Sweden

It was a difficult exercise to take decision on whether or not to accept an onsite job offer to Sweden. Though the offer was with a relocation package for my entire family, there were many factors to be considered. It took around 2 months to finally decide, "yes.. let's go". Then we spent some time to prepare for the journey. It was always confusion whether it is a right move in life and is it the right time for it, especially a movement with the family.

An unexpected; yet wonderful frame captured from Lund, Sweden
It was the first international journey (Sep 2014) for my wife and children (5years and 1.5 years). I was going on a contract job at Ericsson in Lund. My friend Faisal also moved recently to Lund, Sweden on another job offer and it motivated us with a feeling that we have at least one close family to interact with. The main motives for relocation from Bangalore to Sweden were the last 9+ years of life in Bangalore itself. Personally I thought of experiencing a peaceful life in terms of public life; international professional experience, get out of traffic chaos, better social culture, get a feel of European work culture, learn more about Europe etc.

Finally with lots of planning and preparations, we landed Copenhagen airport, Denmark. It was a landing in a completely new place with family! Like most of the person reaching on onsite does, I converted the euro currency available with me to Danish Krona (DKK) and Swedish Krona (SEK). Europe is costly for foods and it took some effort for me to convince my son who wants some bread items, which he thought will be cheaper like in India. Finally we took some sandwich which cost 20DKK per piece. Europe is costly for buying any ready to consume food products from outside and one of the reasons for it is labour cost. We then hired a taxi to Lund, which is 50 Kms away from Copenhagen airport. Our car driver was an Arab origin and migrated to Denmark more than 10 years back, but we can’t expect them to speak English. I tried to ask him some things connecting simple English words like month, coming, job etc, but he couldn't make out those. Once we paid the taxi bill, we understood that we made our first mistake. There is an under ocean passage to cross from Denmark to Sweden and the toll in that road is considerably high. We should have taken the train service available from the airport itself to the city of Lund. But I didn't think about much of it since I have 6 luggage bags. I used to collect maximum information before going on trips, but I somehow missed this part, which cost me 12000 rupees equivalent Danish currency for half an hour journey.

Hanoon on the beach side
Journey is always a teacher, especially travelling to a new place, which educate you with many interesting surprises and knowledge, which we can surely benefit in the entire life.

Most of  the social institutions and public interaction systems/facilities are fully automated in sweden. Our Hotel Finn too is not different from it. It has an automatic checkin system where you have to give the booking number and scan your passport to finally automatically issue the room card from the machine. Here in Sweden, every single door access is automated and entry is controlled through a smart card or PIN number through keypad, this is true for houses, apartments or commercial buildings. Because of the food expenses, people opt for hotels with kitchen facility. Our hotel was at Dalbyvagen, which is 4 Kms away from Lund central station.

Another unexpected frame near the beach

Climate was a little cold, though it was summer time. Evenings and nights are colder and windy too. Some days there were rain too. On some days it was able to feel all kinds of climate in a single day. Misty early morning, sunny morning, cloudy noon, drizzling evening time and chilly nights. During september, the duration of day changes by 2 hours, which is unusual for Asia. The geographical location of Sweden caused this and round the year the duration and climate varies abruptly from minimum to maximum in extremes. Only thing is temperature won't go high since the country is near to north pole. In general all environmental parameters swings a lot across the day, across the month and through out the year.

Let me disclose the climax of the entire story. Though we thought of staying at Sweden for minimum 2 years, my contract was terminated in two weeks, as Ericsson shut down their modem group, where I was hired for. I had started looking for rental houses and was about decided upon, as the stay in hotel was arranged for only 2 weeks. But just after the two weeks, this unexpected news came and everything was unpredictable. My company was giving hope  that they will find out some other job some where in Europe or Sweden, which finally didn't happen. So we stayed for two weeks at Hotel Finn and returned back to India.

But the one month spent at Sweden was awesome, it was one of the best times in my life&that too with family. Experienced a lot of things, learned many things and I would say I was able to get a feel of what all I was planning to explore for. Let me share some things that I experienced in that one month,

1. Cool Life: Life here is peaceful. Everything is ordered and all happens as expected. There is no concept of being hurry or missing something, rather life is balanced in all aspects. I would say, you can enjoy your life as you appreciate what you are doing in each moment. The main reason why this is possible is, both person, public and the government are in tune to have a balanced environment around you. I am sure you will appreciate below items too.

Benz, MAN& Volvo buses on the roads

2. Smooth Public Life: There is no chaos in public. Even youngsters have a public sense and they make noises only inside hotels. Government has provided almost everything  for smooth public life like; bus system, cycle tracks, clear sign boards, automated toilets, strict traffic& parking rules, normalized house rents& hotel bills, lots of food chains, support for mother and family, medical support etc

It's not road -- Note the demarcation lines for cycles and walk in the foot path

3. Traffic and Transit system: Almost everyone in Lund will have a "jojo" card, which will be recharged monthly and rate rate depends on the areas you want to cover. There is a good frequency of buses across the various parts of Lund and buses strictly follows the timing. Most of the time, if you are late by half minute, you will miss the bus. The smart card need to be placed on the machine inside bus and with in one month you can have as many number of trips with in the allowed area. The frequency of buses decreases during night and the time table revises for winter time. The same card is valid for trains too for the area covered by your card.

4. Clean city: As per reports, 99% of the waste in this country gets recycled! You can feel it every where. Garbage is managed well so that you won't see any waste disposed any where. I have roamed around Lund and Malmo and even some outskirts, but I haven't seen any garbage on the road and some where inside some layouts.

And it is a fact that Norway ships tons of waste to Sweden to fuel the waste to energy plants in Sweden! Many places we can see there are automated systems to accept bottles and pay back 1 Krona to 3 Kronas based on the size of bottles. I have seen people coming with big cover of bottles, get money in a bill and use it for shopping.

5. Importance for Swedish language: Sweden is one of the European countries who promote English language. But their first preference is Swedish. We could see Swedish every where. All the labels on the food packets& bottles are completely in Swedish, there is absolutely no scope for english here. All place names on bus displays were in swedish. I went one of the primary schools to look for admission for my kid and out of 10 teachers available, only one teacher understand& talk English, and that too not fluently. In swedish schools (non international), english is not taught for the initial  years or so. one day I went to one library and I was surprised to see that, medical students were referring their medical books in swedish language. In the entire 3 storey library, there was only one or two shelves for english books, which is less than 1% ! Another unexpected thing was, the word church itself is not used across the country, the swedish word "kyrka" is used instead.

Steps are provided with ramps for prams
6. Family Life and benefits: Government support family& children. Mother gets paid for feeding the baby and child gets food allowance. There is high preference for children, women and elder people. We will lots of prams around and many of them will be double seater. And we lots of children and elder people in public. Inside buses there are ties and space for keeping prams. Elder people carry a wheeled baskets their own. Volvo buses tilt down to a side to allow prams, elder people to get in. In Stockholm, if you are carrying a child, you don't have to pay for ticket.

Attachable Baby box -- usually attached to cycle
7. Automated: It is almost 100% automated every where. I had mentioned about the door and other access systems. But the one I was really surprised was the way the book returns in the library was automated. One has to pace the book one by one in a conveyor belt and the system automatically detects the bar code and segregate based on the subject and direct it to the proper tray, which finally when filled can be taken and moved to a single shelf based on the subject. The effort of finding where to put back each book is completely eliminated in the process. Even the windows were automated that, based on the sun light and temperature, the ventilation is adjusted in the room.





Electric car charging point
Paid Bottle Collector
Automated library
Ads with detachable contact chits

Indoor plants every where

Inside one kids school

Lift with doors on each side. Both open in 0th& first floors, Selectively for other floors


Lund Islamic Cultural Centre with Mosque
8. Apples that you can collect by your hand under the apple tree: There are apples trees across Lund. There will minimum two/three apples trees if the it is a individual house. If you enter housing layouts, you will find lots of apple trees around and lots of apples that you can collect from roads itself. We could see both green and red apples in Lund. Some times we took permission from house owners and collected them under the tree inside the house compound.

Hanoon busy collecting 'real' apples

Pram is loaded with apples collected under the apple tree - frankly, we had tried apple curry

Stolen or lost the key so taken the possible!
9. Work culture: Culture in Sweden is generous, inclusive and attractive & for the same reason in work place too. Every individual is respected in work place and every one feel proud and recognized, be it a full time employee, part time employee or contractor. All of these people work together and there are very few items that are hidden from a contractor. I joined the modem team as a contractor and in the first week itself there was a detailed discussion on the history& road map ahead. This usually won't happen in Indian IT industry even if the association of a contractor is for a long period. Work places were more open and there was no cubes, and in my case, my manager's manager was sitting next to me. The desk were adjustable in vertical position also and my non technical manager used to work in standing position, she sits in chair only during meetings. For every team, there used to be a technical manager and a non-technical manager.My non technical manager used to have back to back one-on-ones through the days with all people in the team. Weekly team meet for a non technical team bonding meeting over tea/coffee, which they call 'Fika' in Swedish. Lunches were always exciting for me, since people open a lot than in India. Your managers, who are mostly Swedish or Europeans opens their heart and share a lot on their culture, personal life etc. One of the team member was working in the team as a contractor for more than 4 years.

10. Ethnic groups: There are many foreigners across Lund and Malmo. Students from various European and middle east countries study at Lund University & Malmo is inhabited by many people who migrated from various middle east countries. Middle east people cater many small shops called "Falafil" which serve various non vegetarian roles and other special food items. We can see many women as bus drivers with and without scarfs too.

Busy weekend market
11. Beaches: Malmo forms the boundary of Sweden and has various beaches. Beaches are clean and the surrounded by lawn. They are well maintained and proper arrangements are made with wooden planks towards the beach. People gather and bring food items, but every one takes care about cleaning their space.

We didn't see any worship, but every one contributed to this beautiful piece - and no one toppled it

Hanoon with my friend's son Idin




Wooden walk way on the beach side




12. Self Sufficient: We Indian's have a feeling that US&UK has the power and they control the full world in every aspect. With this not so well thought notion, we have compromised all the aspects of our life to the western culture and even the government follow& mostly depend and adapt to policies of US, may be it's our food habits, the style of life, the range of products that we use etc. Whatever may be the reasons, European countries have the pride and confidence to stay away from this and form their on path on all aspects. I couldn't see much ads or shops of any of the well known US brands there in Sweden, rather they have their own or Nordic based brands for almost everything like,

Volvo -- cars, buses& trucks
IKEA -- Office& furniture
Electrolux -- Electrical items
Ericsson -- VLSI, cellular service etc
H&M -- Clothing
Nordea, Swedbank -- Banks
Tetra Pak -- Food packaging& processing
Tele2 -- Mobile Service
TrueCaller -- mobile phone community for mobiles
RUSTA -- Retail

Putting things in another way, you won't see the well known (reference: to us)& expected brands like Nike, Lee, Woodland etc any where in the shops. Sweden has proven that, another eco system is possible, with which yourself can benefit and progress in long run, than being a colony for other countries. When will we Indians start thinking in these lines?

Ericsson Lund Office without walls around - have seen walls only for Cemetery in Lund
The most beautiful flower I saw in life -- It is really glittering

Malmo Central Railway station

Garbage collection area outside apartments -- that trolley in picture is a normal seen there
13. Hotels and Super markets: You get restaurants of all cousins in Malmo. Lund being comparatively smaller, you get limited options, but manageable. But in both the places you will find lots of falafel shops where rolls and other middle east snacks are available. The good part is the rates across the hotels are normalized; even if you eat from a road side falafel shop or thai restaurant or take a Swedish meal or Italian pasta, the rates will be similar. There is nothing like, because the shop is inside a mall or in the central location, so that you have to pay some thing extra. And very notably, we can drink water from any where in Lund/Malmo, even from public taps. small hotels etc. Government has ensured the quality of water.

One of the frequently visited Cafe in Malmo - Famous for middle east food items

Hanoon - In best mood, expressing his feelings



14. Cycling: Sweden give a notable importance to cycling. There are cycle ways on both sides of the road. Around markets we can see big parking slots for cycles. There are people who carry fold-able cycles also. Adding to our surprise, between Lund and the Capital city (Stockholm), the distance is 650+ Km, but you can ride a bicycle across these cities! If you search on google maps, you will get the route details.

Cycles every where - This is the parking slots for cycles in Lund railway station

Better space utilization - movable book shelves, use the steering to get the space to move in


Inside the Lund library
Trolley with automatically sorted books

Malmo Mosque

One person collecting Gaza fund outside the mosque

Hanoon's vehicle during our trip

Yes.. it is Jelly fish


Lund Cathedral

Depended on this packet -- spent some time find this cheap one
Our Eid celebration at Faizal bai's house -- He is loving& helpful

Bus time schedule in every bus stop


Space for keeping prams


Vegetables and flowers inside a garden -- Well maintained




There are many other striking facts that I wanted to share, but to avoid getting this post still longer, let me list some of them - valuing&trusting each other in the public life, simple but elegant home ideas, social security etc.

Anyway, it was really an awesome one month stay and more over a nice learning experience with all kinds of practical scenarios which helped me to appreciate a sample of European culture. It has surely influenced me and family and hope to inculcate the perceived good manners from the public life into our personality& we thank Almighty for an unexpected chance to experience it.


12 comments:

Muhammed Shihabudeen Labba said...

Feels like, made a trip to Sweden.
Good writing.

Write the next post with more photos with description and less text, so that we can see those places with out even spend anything :-p

Riyas bin Ahammed said...

Awesome....
Its not one month feels one year experience. expecting more travel posts...

Niyaz Zubair said...

;)

shameer manalil said...

Nicely put note niyaz.The value of a place gets multiplied when valuable people visit there.you have given a value addition to Sweden through your short stint. This note stands as a testimonial for the same

ബാവ ™ said...

Kalakki mone...
Looks really interesting..you should travel a lot

ASLAM said...

Good writing, expecting its version 2.0 from faisal sb...

Shabeer Kodiyathur said...

Really nice .Niyazka you have observed almost all faces of a traveler.and successful in reflecting those face in your write up .really good and written in simple English. expecting more from you

This type of write up will help others if they have a plan of visit. i have seen many people visited different places .but it is very rare to read such a wonderful observation.
Rather than an enjoyment sense to observe things is really appreciable.

Shajeer K said...

I really liked it . It is a good reference of Sweden for me.. Please continue .. I wish I could also write something ...

East River Club said...

Well Done , Photos are telling more stories.

Expecting more and more

All the best

Niyaz Zubair said...

Thanks everyone, for all the responses. For me journey is some thing that I try always keep on to my heart and I realize that after each one, I appreciate my creator much better. There is much to explore in this world!

I still missed to document down my other two favourite journeys -- Shimoga trip with Riyas bai& Sadakphu (WB, Himalayas) trek with my cousin Naseem, now I don't remember all the details of those getaways I had in past.


@shajeer: Please write down, as you travel across multiple countries.

Sabu Shefeeq said...

Excellent article Niyas!
Thanks for taking us to Sweden Free of charge. This is a inspiration for all.
Best Wishes

muhammad tv said...

ഞങ്ങളെ കൊതിപ്പിക്കുമാറ് ഒരു യാത്രാ വിവരണം ലളിതമായ
ഭാഷയില്‍ അവതരിപ്പിക്കുമ്പോള്‍ നല്ല ഭംഗി അനുഭവപ്പെടുന്നു.
അലക്ഷ്യമായ ഏതോ ഒരു മുഹൂര്‍ത്തത്തില്‍ ഒരിക്കലും സാധ്യമാകില്ല എന്നുറപ്പുണ്ടെങ്കിലും ഈന്തപ്പനയില്‍ നിന്നും പാകമായ ഈത്തപ്പഴം
പറച്ചെടുത്ത് തിന്നണമെന്ന വെറുതെ ഒരു മോഹം മനസ്സില്‍ !.അറിയാതെ
നെടുവീര്‍പ്പിലൊരു പ്രാര്‍ത്ഥന രൂപപ്പെട്ടു.വര്‍ഷങ്ങള്‍ക്കു ശേഷം ദുബായ്,
ജുമൈറാ കടല്‍ തീരത്ത് ഈന്തപ്പനയുടെ പഴുത്ത് പാകമായ നിറകുലയില്‍ നിന്നും
മധുരമുള്ള ഈത്തപ്പഴം അടര്‍ത്തിയെടുക്കുമ്പോള്‍ മനസ്സ് മന്ത്രിച്ചു ദൈവമേ...
അങ്ങ് ഉദാരന്‍...സര്‍വ്വ ശക്തന്‍ നിനക്കാണല്ലോ സതുതി.
മനോഹരമായ ആപ്പിള്‍...അത് കായ്ക്കുന്ന മരച്ചുവട്ടിലെ പുല്‍പ്പരപ്പില്‍
വീണുകിടക്കുന്ന ആ കാഴ്ച്ച...!ആദിപിതാവായ അങ്ങയെ കുറ്റം പറയാനാകില്ല..
വിലക്കിയിട്ടും അങ്ങയോടതെടുത്തുപോയെങ്കില്‍...അത്രയും വശ്യത തീര്‍ച്ചയായുംഅതിനുണ്ടായിരുന്നു എന്ന് ഞങ്ങളിപ്പോളറിയുന്നു.
സ്വീഡനില്‍ പോയ ഒരനുഭൂതി വായനക്കാര്‍ക്ക് നല്‍കും വിധം,അല്ലെങ്കില്‍ എന്നെങ്കിലുമൊരിക്കല്‍ അവിടം സന്ദര്‍ശിക്കണമെന്ന മോഹം മനസ്സില്‍ അങ്കുരിപ്പിക്കുമാറ് മിതമായ ഭാഷയില്‍
അവതരിപ്പിച്ച യാത്രാ വിവരണം ഭാവനയുടെ പാരമ്യതയിലെത്തിക്കുന്ന ചിത്രങ്ങള്‍കൂടിയാവുമ്പോള്‍ തീര്‍ച്ചയായും അമേസിങ്ങ്!
ആള്‍ത്തിരക്കും,ആധുനിക വേഷ വിധാനങ്ങളിലുള്ള പുതു തലമുറയും (ന്യൂജന്‍ ) അവരുടെ
ആഘോഷക്കൂട്ടായ്മകളും ഒപ്പിയെടുക്കാമായിരുന്നു എന്ന ഒരു തോന്നല്‍! ഒരു പക്ഷേമനോഹരമായ ടീനേജ് ഭാവങ്ങള്‍ പ്രസ്ഥാന വ്രിത്തത്തിനപ്പുറമാണെന്ന തോന്നല്‍ കാരണമോ അല്ലെങ്കില്‍ അത്തരം ദ്രിശ്യങ്ങള്‍ അങ്ങ് സ്വീഡനില്‍ ഇല്ലാതിരുന്നത്കൊണ്ടാകുമോ പരാമര്‍ശിക്കാതിരുന്നത്?
ബ്രിട്ടന്‍റെയും,അമേരിക്കയുടെയും സ്വാധീന വലയത്തിനപ്പുറം ,അവരുടെ ഭാഷയുടെയും ബ്രാന്‍റിന്‍റെയും അടിമത്തത്തില്‍ നിന്നും മോചനം നേടിയ
രാജ്യങ്ങളും ഭൂലോകത്ത് ഭംഗിയായി നിലനില്‍ക്കുന്നു എന്ന യാധാര്‍ത്ഥ്യം കണ്ടെത്തിയ സൂക്ഷ്മ നിരീക്ഷണം ഈ യാത്രാ വിവരരണത്തെ മഹത്തരമാക്കിയിരിക്കുന്നു എന്ന് പറയാതിരിക്കാന്‍ നിര്‍വ്വാഹമില്ല.
മുഹമ്മദ് കുനിങ്ങാട്