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  • James Tam

Beautiful North (4) Santa and Locusts Part (1) - Lapland

This X’mas, we were part of a locust cloud in Santa’s homeland, warmly welcomed by the cool Finns. Before getting into all that, first a few words and photos on Lapland. Santa’s home at Rovaniemi was an elfish shopping mall, kinda cute but not enough to raise goosebumps. Lining up for half an hour with my ten-year-old to take a picture with Father Christmas used up a lot of paternal love, but Santa surprised me. He was a gracious old man, appearing more regal than drunk, and perplexingly committed to being photographed all day with dumb tourists. He greeted us enthusiastically in Chinese: “Ho ho ho! Ni Hao Ma?” His felt slippers were ginormous, approximately three times my size — 130? Rovaniemi was worth a one-day visit. An hour and a half northward by bus was Levi, where everything, except the food, had a magical air.

Looking out the hotel window

Warm-up hut during the reindeer ride (Hut not made of ginger biscuits).

Street scene Levi (1)

Levi street scene (2) - the moon is also real.

The reindeer and husky rides were thrilling but freezing. The huskies, exactly like what their owner warned us during the intro dog-driving lesson, were no pets. They were “crazy” indeed, remarkably strong, and bewilderingly eager to pull sleighs. Impressive work ethics, really. Someone should hire them for corporate training. While being prepared for the ride, their barking at each other was deafening. Seeing half-frozen saliva frothing around their bared canines was a little unsettling, but they were quite gentle to humans. However, unpleasant things had happened to a few particularly stupid tourists before, so, remember to be respectful. The reindeers, with one-track minds, were easier to drive, and unquestionably goofy.

Aurora Borealis at -27C - Wow! Brrrr...

Observing Aurora Borealis flickering above a lake in -27C without losing a toe or ear was officially “well done”. Outside the hotel room, the sky shifted from dreamy dawn to protracted dusk around lunch time everyday, uninterrupted by dull daylight. To me, it was just as dazzling and surreal as the famed northern light. But it was common, and free, so most visitors weren’t sure if it deserved the same oohs and aahs.

Dawn? or Dusk?

This is sunset, I think

While in Levi, a friend sent a South China Morning Post article: Chinese tourists in Lapland have increased dramatically in the past few years. Oh no! Locusts! There were indeed plenty of Chinese tourists. Since the average Finn couldn’t tell a real Chinese from a Hong Kong counterfeit, I was part of a locust cloud — a term used by some Hongkongers to caricature mainland visitors.

But my locust experience was nothing like what I expected. More on that in part (2): [Link to Part (2) - Locusts]

Southern Finland (1)

Southern Finland (2)

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