So, how was 2011 for you?

A decade ago around this time of the year I spent a balmy night soaking in a hot tub in San Marcos, California, surrounded by a group of international students from my college. It was just another one of those evenings spent chit chatting about school and the end of the semester, when suddenly Matt, our Brazilian friend, asked us all:

“So, how was 2001 for you?”

Huh?

Everyone was quiet for a little while, not knowing whether Matt really wanted a reply, or whether he was just getting ready to crack another one of his jokes. But it turned out he was asking it in all seriousness, and wanted a more profound answer than just “good”.

Now, I don’t remember what any of us said, but I do remember how this one little question changed the tone of the entire conversation. Instead of the usual blabber, we each started to really think about the past 12 months, the dreams and wishes we had, and whether they had come true. For many of us, they had. One of my big dreams had been to study in the US and that at least had come true.

In asking his surprise question, Matt made me start a tradition. At the end of each year I like to take a moment to think about the year that went by: what I learned, what types of things I encountered, who I met and how I changed as a person.

Back in 2004 I created a set of questions to measure my year. So I figured that today, the last day of 2011, is just the right time to answer those questions again. So here we go!

2011 QUESTIONNAIRE

1. What overall grade would you give 2011 on a scale
from 1-10? Why?

-Hmm. That’s a tough one. I guess I’d have to give it a 9, as it was a nicely balanced year: I spent about a third of it it New York, another third in Finland, and the final third traveling the world. I met lots of lovely new people, reconnected with old friends around the globe, experienced amazing things (such as a flight over the rainforest in Guyana to visit one of the world’s most impressive waterfalls), had really interesting work opportunities and found inner peace. Well, maybe not quite, but almost! Hah.

2. What would you say was the best thing about 2011?

-Discovering Kangoo Jumps, the exercise shoes that make you bounce like a kangaroo!

I first came across these funky shoes at a Kangoo aerobics class in New York in February. I instantly fell in love and bought a pair of my own through Mario The Trainer, the US guru of Kangoo Jumps.

The reason why I love Kangoos so much is that I can’t help but smile every time I put them on and start bouncing. If I’m already happy, Kangoo Jumps make that happiness feel ten-fold. And if I’m feeling down, Kangoos make me forget about my worries. All that matters in the world at that moment is that I’m bouncing like a kangaroo and having a great time! Who needs depression medication when you’ve got Kangoos?

Here you can watch me bounce around Helsinki Airport:

3. And the worst thing about 2011?

-My dad encountered some major health problems, so that was definitely the worst news of the year for me. Luckily he is fine now (knock on wood!). In terms of the worst thing that I experienced myself – it would have to be getting my two bottom wisdom teeth taken out in surgery a few weeks ago. I spent my Christmas in a lot of pain and am still not fully recovered. I wouldn’t recommend that ordeal for anyone! To serve as proof, take a look at my “human vs. hamster” photo, where you can see how swollen my jaw was afterwards compared to normal.

4. How was 2011 different from other years?

-Not really that different as it was yet another year spent writing, traveling, meeting people, learning new things and enjoying life. Career-wise it was a great year: I wrote 30 long or medium-length articles for various publications, served as an assistant in a journalistic book project, did fact-checking for the United Nations Association’s Global Agenda book and got selected as a Quality Hunter by Finnair out of 2,000 applicants. So I can’t complain! But oh, I did turn the big 3-0 this summer, the number I had been dreading for years! So that was something different. But I’m still here, still kicking and having fun, so I guess it wasn’t that bad after all. 🙂  They say 30 is the new 20, and I believe that wholeheartedly. 😉

5. What song characterizes 2011 for you?

Benjai’s Trini for sure! Bring on the carnival spirit!

6. What was the best party of 2011?

Carnival in Trinidad & Tobago! It was one week of non-stop partying, as I wrote in my old blog:

“My personal favorite was the Veil breakfast party, which started at 4 a.m. on Sunday morning and went on until noon the next day (yes, the Trinis do party 24/7 during carnival!). Not many parties are more fun than those where you dance outdoors to the beats of great Soca songs, and watch the sun rise out of the horizon. Finally at noon, sunburned and all partied-out, you get home and just crash. It’s then that you know that you’ve really made the most out of your carnival, like a true Trini.”

A big thank you to my Trini friends for showing me how the islanders party it up! You have to see it to believe it.

Besides the carnival partying, there were also some epic nights in New York, Havana, Guyana’s Georgetown, Warsaw and many other places.

7. Did 2011 bring any new favorites to you? Bands, movies, food, songs, cities…?

So many! I loved all the Soca songs from carnival and I still listen to many of them weekly. Aside from Benjai’s Trini song that I mentioned above, I also grew to like this year’s Carnival Road March winner, Machel Montano’s Advantage. In the beginning of the carnival week I wasn’t a big fan, but then by the end of the week I was singing along to the frantic tune with everyone.

After spending nearly a month in Cuba I was also converted into a huge fan of Reggaeton/Cubaton. This song was playing non-stop in Havana’s bars and streets and car radios.

Another Spanish-language favorite is “Tu Angelito” by Chino y Nacho. It brings back so many memories of my unforgettable month in Cuba, and always makes me feel like dancing. I think I was probably a Latina in my previous life (although the fact that I’m totally salsa-challenged would speak against that…).

8. Did you travel anywhere in 2011?

The question is more like where did I not travel to this year… I spent the first few months of the year home in New York, then took off on a tour of the Caribbean and Central America. During the 2.5 months I visited Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana, Jamaica, Cuba, Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. The schedule may seem a bit rushed, but I had visited the last three of those countries before as well and only passed by Mexico and Belize quickly. Then it was back to New York for a bit, before taking off to Finland for the summer.

In the end of the year I was selected as one of Finnair’s eight Quality Hunters, and thus spent the last few months of the year flying around the globe and blogging about it. I flew about 15 flights in seven weeks, so needless to say I was a little sick of planes and airports by the end of the project! Hah. During October and November, I visited India, Romania, Germany, the US, Japan, Poland and Holland. Thus for the month of December I decided to stay put in Finland and avoid all things related to traveling. But I’m over my travel exhaustion now and ready for new adventures in 2012!

9. Would you wish for 2012 to be anything like 2011?
-My routine answer to this question is, “In some ways.. but I hope it’s an improved version! :)”

10. So overall, how was 2011 for you?
-Unforgettable, fun-filled, busy, challenging, ever-changing and full of surprises. No two months were alike but each month I had at least a few moments when I thought , “I’m really happy right now.” So it’s safe to say it was a great year!

What about you guys? How was 2011 for you?

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It’s time to recharge those batteries!

Oopsie, it happened again. As I suspected, I got out of the habit of posting on a daily basis and the longer my writing break grew, the harder it was to get back to it. But no worries, I’m back! At least for now…

So what have I been up to lately? On the outside, it may look like I haven’t done much since the Quality Hunters project ended in the beginning of this month. After all, instead of zooming around the world I’ve now been staying put in Finland, only casually embarking on the two-hour journey between Helsinki (where most of friends live) and Turku (where my family lives). But as unexciting as that may sound, I have to say it’s been pretty nice staying in one time zone for the past three weeks! I’m finally over my two-month jet lag, yee-haw!

And yes it’s true, I definitely haven’t worked all that hard this month. About a week ago I finished writing two long-form articles for the upcoming issue of Expatrium (a magazine for Finnish expats that I regularly write for), but other than that I’ve deliberately been taking it easy this month. That’s because I suddenly realized I have worked non-stop since mid-May! That’s not healthy!

And yes, I realize that the photos above may already look like “a break” to some people, but that’s actually me in work-mode. The fact that I can work from anywhere (like from a Jamaican beach or a mountaintop in Guatemala) doesn’t mean that I never get stressed out or that I don’t work long hours. I definitely do. While I rarely count the actual work hours I put in per week, sometimes I think it must be twice what regular 9-to-5ers put in! Unlike most Monday-to-Friday folks, I am in work mode Monday to Sunday, from morning until the evening. Often times I’ll be walking down a street when a story idea hits me, or I’ll wake up in the morning with a draft of my next lede circling in my head. Sometimes I have to email editors at 4 a.m. just so I won’t forget to do it later. And this is in addition to spending hours per day doing research online and conducting interviews and writing pitches. And oh, writing articles, because they don’t write themselves!

And yes, my job is definitely super cool and fabulous, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I get to interview interesting people, eat awesome foods while doing food reviews, try out new hobbies and attend interesting travel fairs to scout for story ideas.

But despite how much fun my job is, I’ve decided to really take it easy for the month of December. It’s Christmas, people! Time to recharge those batteries and take care of stuff you have been neglecting all year (such as getting wisdom teeth removed! I’m currently in so much pain, ouch!).

And one such errand is obviously to get this blog up and running…please wish me luck with that! I’m hoping that Christmas laziness won’t entirely overtake me…

What about you guys, are you taking a break from work for Christmas (whether or not you celebrate it) or powering straight through to the new year? Either way, make sure to listen to your inner self and do what feels right to you! Merry Christmas!

Quality Hunters recap

Finnair just published this cool video yesterday thanking the Quality Hunters community for being so active online and for coming up witha whopping 288 ideas for how to improve air travel.

I was happy to spot myself in the video a couple of times too, and for once not looking totally ridiculous… 😛

Hope you enjoy the video and make sure to comment on the best ideas at http://www.qualityhunters2.com!

And the “best ideas” would obviously be mine…haha… such as the free magazine and book swap at Helsinki Airport.

And how about acknowledging milestone birthdays with a glass of bubbly or a box of chocolates?

And also, how about bringing a Hesburger to the airport, the all-around awesome Finnish hamburger chain? I’m tired of just having wine and caviar to choose from!

If you agree with me, don’t forget to hit “Like” on the ideas! Thanks guys! 🙂

(PS. Sanjoo‘s idea about “Meat-free Mondays” is not too shabby either, but it’s already winning anyway!)

A work in progress…

Hmm, I’m not really happy with how this blog looks so I’ll be making some changes pretty soon. Please don’t give up yet and do check in every now and then! I’ll hopefully be directing this link to a full blog instead of just a sidebar on my profile page. I’m currently on deadline for two articles, so this blog project will have to wait until next week. But please check back then and later too to keep up with my adventures! Thank you!

Welcome aboard!

Hey everyone!

Thanks for checking out my new site. Those of you that know me personally are surely very proud of me for FINALLY setting up a blog! I have been talking about this for about three years, or even longer. Sometimes it just takes me a little while to get the ball rolling, hah!

What helped me get motivated right now was that I’ve spent the past few months blogging for Finnair as one of their eight Quality Hunters. So I figured if I wanted to set up that blog, it was now or never! Otherwise I’ll soon get out of the habit of blogging again, and then it’ll be another three years until I finally get to it.

So let me tell you a little bit about myself: My name is Mirva Lempiainen, and I’m a freelance journalist focusing mostly on travel writing, though I do occasionally dabble into more serious international reporting and have written a fair number of cultural reports as well, including articles about fashion, theater, arts and design.

I’m originally from Finland but have lived most of the last decade in the US, New York City being home home base whenever I’m not out traveling the world. I have a master’s degree in journalism from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.

On this blog you’ll find tales from my travels (as of right now I’ve been to 52 countries), articles I’ve written, and stories behind those articles. So welcome aboard!

And since today is Finland’s 94th Independende Day, I’ll have to say to all the Finns out there: Hyvää itsenäisyyspäivää!