This site contains the archives of my travel blogs from 2010-2016.

I'm now blogging via Medium. For other life updates, including opportunities or requests to collaborate, visit my personal website.




Saturday, December 29, 2012

What would your life be like if you did this every morning?


A Template For 2013 Goals & Planning


As the pace of life on this planet seems to increase every year, planning becomes that much more important to ensuring that life doesn't speed away and leave your hopes and dreams in the dust. 
In the midst of all your holiday festivities and get-togethers with family & friends, find an hour to sit down and think about all you're thankful for this year, the people who've been most influential in your life and the most memorable moments you've had. Think about the accomplishments you're most proud of and the projects which made the most of your passions.

Once you're in awe of everything you've done this year and feeling good about the wonderful people in your life, use this template to jot down some of the things you hope to do, see and learn in 2013.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Real Deal


     "I wonder why anyone would hesitate to be generous with their writing."

I find myself inspired by this quote, and by the article (linked above) in which Godin first articulates this.  Can you think of a time when you tried to commercialize, generalize, refocus or reconfigure something you do or create for fun, with the intention of making it more palatable for a target audience?  Did it work?  Did you end up happy with your end product, or disappointed that it had become diluted, unfocused, or uninspired?

Monday, December 24, 2012

2012 in Review

Merry Christmas! Joyeux Noël! С Рождеством! Hyvää Joulua! 

Dear Friends,
This has been an incredible year - full of joy, adventures around the globe, and memories for a lifetime. I have treasured the opportunities to work with you, serve with you, laugh with you, and to write to you and share with you via NJW.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Snow Legs

It started snowing Wednesday night and hasn't stopped since. And just like that, winter was upon us.

On Thursday morning at 7am I slipped and slid my way down the street in the dark to my work just three blocks away.  In just 2-4 inches of snow I was hesitant and nervous about falling and the walk which normally takes 10 minutes took double the time.

But this morning I stepped out my front door into two feet of snow, and realized that I had found my snow legs! Now I'm trekking through 2-4 FEET of snow like a pro again. I've collected some of the photos floating around my Facebook feed so you can see what's it like here on the ground!  I hear they're calling this blizzard 'Antti'.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Are you doing what YOU really want, or simply what's expected of you?

Earlier this semester I asked one of the strategy program directors if he could recommend someone who's worked in a variety of positions and different size companies around strategy development. Strategy is an intimidatingly broad field and it's a challenge to even speculate where one might fit best in the strategy 'careerscape'.  In the email, I told my director I'd be interested in sitting down to chat with someone about the practicalities and day-to-day activities of their work in various positions.

My question prompted a dialogue which turned into the idea behind what will become a series of roundtable discussions with alumni from our program and other professionals we invite. The first roundtable was yesterday, when we welcomed nine strategy students and three alumni to the Aalto Design Factory for a two-hour conversation.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Birthday Pulahdus

I just celebrated my first birthday.
In Finland, that is.

The 23-year milestone called for something radical, so I took to the beach in southern Helsinki and - having successfully convinced only one other person (my cousin & roommate, Maya) to join me - splashed around in the waves for a quick dip. Or, as we say in Finnish: pulahdus!

It was a high of 5 degrees Celsius today (41 F) and something like 7 degrees in the water.  We took beach towels, sunglasses and tanning lotion to accessorize our bikini ensembles, but ended up getting too cold to care about those.  It was windy and the weather channel's "Feel's Like" estimate was 3 degrees.  So it was a quick in and quick out birthday swim, but the kite surfers in full neoprene bodysuits wanted photos with us and kept telling us "what brave girls" we are.

Overall a chilly experience but definitely worth the memories!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Bamboo Heaven

This "Green Village" in Bali hosts one of the most incredible spaces I can imagine living in.  The more I learn about bamboo, the more I love it! DesignBoom did a great blog post on this community. Be sure click & scroll through all the photos. The sunny disposition of the place is magnetic.

Don't be surprised if my next trip takes me to Bali... ;)

I think we'll be seeing a rather sunny theme emerge here on the NJW blog as it grows darker and darker every day in Finland! 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Trail to Monjo

Photos of the Day: The trail from Pema Chholing to Monjo winds down the mountain to the Dudh Koshi ("Milk River") below, passing through Tok-Tok, and up, over and around several peaks on the way. Along the way you'll descend from 2900m at the monastery to 2600m at the river, and back up to almost 3100m by the time you get to Monjo. At Sherpa speed you can make it in an hour and a half.  A very peaceful walk!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Autumn in Helsinki: a photo recap


It's been a fun autumn! Moving to Helsinki,
getting settled in a new school & with new friends,
enjoying a new climate!  It's a sort of gloomy
Saturday afternoon here, now, so the perfect time
to pull a few months' worth of photos off my camera!

Here are some illustrations of daily life in Helsinki:

The TUAS building (Dept of Industrial Engineering & Mgmt)
 where most of my courses are held. 

Monday, November 05, 2012

Shirah Learns Finnish - Episode 3


Shirah Learns Finnish - Episode 3 from shirah-eden on Vimeo.
I received my first piece of mail in Finnish! The television bureau is seeking a tv license fee. You'll hear my first try at reading full sentences and learn some new vocabulary...

Thursday, November 01, 2012

I have this sudden sense that my real adult life is starting. Here. Now. I feel grounded in a place I can really call home - that I can make my home; a place that I can take ownership of, put down roots. And I have peace about committing to stay here for a good, long while. Like years. Maybe a decade. Maybe more.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

"Losing Daylight"

I just got a marketing email from this artist who's releasing his newest EP: "Losing Daylight".

Story of my life.
How appropriate, I thought....this pretty much sums up what's going on up here in the now-frigid north.  I looked out the window yesterday afternoon and was afraid my lecture had run way overtime.  It was dusk - almost dark already. But nope, I looked at the clock and it was.... 3.45 pm.  My nighttime Finnish course ended at 8.30 and it seemed like the middle of the night!!

So, here's to promoting a young artist &
                    appreciating the wonder of hemispheric differences :)

And all you who are closer to the equator - enjoy that daylight!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Articles of Note


I seem to be finding all sorts of fascinating articles this weekend.
Maybe you'll find something here that piques your interest...

1. Innovator of the Year Awards 2012 
Would you have guessed that Mary-Kate & Ashley Olson are among the winners? These are some hard-working gals.
To sum up their current fashion design philosophy:
"We like the mentality of the way men dress—a few investment pieces that you can wear all the time and build upon."
Read the full story about their company, The Row, in this interesting article in WSJ.

2. Already -24 Celsius in Lapland! (Northern Finland)

A fascinating review of Bob Dietrick & Lew Goldfarb's book Bulls, Bears, and the Ballot Box. The review is written by a reporter who espouses to be a big fan of Milton Friedman's economic theory.

As Dwight Eisenhower said in a New Yorker interview
“I despise people who go to the gutter on either the right or the left and hurl rocks at those in the center.”

I have to copy/paste the closing remarks of this article, as I know they're going to stir up some opinions:

The book covers only Presidents Hoover through W. Bush.  But as we near this election I asked Mr. Goldfarb his view on the incumbent Democrat’s first 4 years.  His response:
  • “Obama at this time would rank on par with Reagan
  • Corporate profits have risen under Obama more than any other president
  • The stock market has soared 14.72%/year under Obama, second only to Clinton — which should be a big deal since 2/3 of people (not just the upper class) have a 401K or similar investment vehicle dependent upon corporate profits and stock market performance”
As to the challenging Republican party’s platform, Mr. Goldfarb commented:
  • “The platform is the inverse of what has actually worked to stimulate economic growth
  • The recommended platform tax policy is bad for velocity, and will stagnate the economy
  • Repealing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) will have a negative economic impact because it will force non-wealthy individuals to spend a higher percentage of income on health care rather than expansionary products and services
  • Economic disaster happens in America when wealth is concentrated at the top, and we are at an all time high for wealth concentration.  There is nothing in the platform which addresses this issue.”
There are a lot of reasons to select the party for which you wish to vote.  There is more to America than the economy.  But, if you think like the Democrats did in 1992 and “it’s about the economy” then you owe it to yourself to read this book.  It may challenge your conventional wisdom as it presents – like Joe Friday said – “just the facts.” 

Weirdest Dream Ever

I'm sitting at my kitchen table, working on my laptop.  I click a link that takes me to my own blog, at which point I cringe. "The pan got too hot and the cheese has started to sweat!" I yell. Then I reach into my computer screen, peel the webpage off (which has apparently become a 3D object), and start to dab the cheese grease with a paper towel.  After a few minutes I plaster the webpage back onto the screen. Throughout the rest of the day I visit the page a few more times and stare in disappointment as I observe the permanent grease stains marring the "paper".

analysis: I have an obsession with cheese, and I'm feeling guilty about it. Maybe I've been working in my kitchen too much - food & technology have merged in mind. All the time I'm spending on this product development project for a touchscreen disinfectant also played a role...3D webpages??

Now I'm thinking about the cheesy open-faced cheddar/mozzarella-tuna-n-tomato melts my mom used to make on french bread when I was a kid, and I want one sooooooo bad!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Shirah Learns Finnish - Episode 2


Shirah Learns Finnish - Episode 2 from shirah-eden on Vimeo.
See what I learned on my first day of class & hear about my first-day-of-snow catastrophe.

Friday, October 26, 2012

What makes an experience FORMATIVE?

Why do I think about my time in some countries almost every day, but completely forget others I've visited when summarizing my travels for a new acquaintance?

Why can I recall whole paragraphs of text from a design book, but have no recollection of even the topic of my 3-hour lecture on Friday?

What makes some experiences so formative, while others - even what could be rather major life events - just pass by us, seemingly unnoticed? 

I've pondered this from time to time throughout the past few years.  The conclusion I've come to is that it's about taking ownership of the situation, the moment, the material, or the skill. It's about being active instead of passive. It seems self-centered, but if you really want to learn, relate new information back to yourself. Draw connections from the outside world to your own thoughts, feelings, well-being, or interests. 

I know these aren't new concepts. They are theories that are presented each year to thousands of students around the globe. I sat in classrooms and learned them myself at one point not so long ago. But it always behooves me to reflect on this from time to time. 

My most recent reminder was just last night. It was the third day of my intense study session leading up to today's Advanced Strategic Management exam. My brain was becoming a bit fatigued, but I wanted to learn more.  I wanted to rekindle that spark that puts my mind into full gear and gets me really excited about learning everything possible about a topic.  Then it hit me.  Even after days of drawing tons of pretty little diagrams and charts and mind maps, why should I expect to be able to memorize a labyrinth of impersonal lists and bullet points?  "Why am I learning this, again?" I asked myself.
Oh yeah, because I'm going to be the best entrepreneurial strategist in Helsinki. How could I forget?  

I knew that the key to internalizing my notes would be to make the information relevant. If I want to be able to use these frameworks later, I have to be able to use them now.  In two seconds I'd thought up my solution and fully committed. For the rest of the duration of my studies, I'm going to work through each course as if it's a consulting project for a specific company. The companies I choose will be those owned and run by my friends and family, in industries that I'm familiar with or want to learn more about. Each course will yield a strategy and implementation plan for the chosen company.  I'll send the resulting materials to my contacts at each company and solicit feedback. I'll encourage them to use and build on my work if they like the direction I took. Not only will this method dramatically increase my learning curve and retention rate, but I'll graduate with 
- proof that I can apply frameworks & theories, 
- a professional portfolio, 
- and experience working with potential clients. 

If you're interested in seeing me do a project on your company, I'm open to suggestions.
Get in touch!

Thursday, October 25, 2012


An acquaintance just posted this on Facebook. It's the funniest thing I've read in a while - had to share!

The European Commission has just announced an agreement whereby English will be the official language of the European Union rather than German, which was the other possibility. As part of the negotiations, the British Government conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a 5-year phase-in plan that would become known as "Euro-English". In the first year, "s" will replace the soft "c". Sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump with joy. The hard "c" will be dropped in favour of "k". This should klear up konfusion, and keyboards kan have one less letter. There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year when the troublesome "ph" will be replaced with "f". This will make words like fotograf 20% shorter. In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible. Governments will enkourage the removal of double letters which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling. Also, al wil agre that the horibl mes of the silent "e" in the languag is disgrasful and it should go away. By the 4th yer people wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing "th" with "z" and "w" with "v". During ze fifz yer, ze unesesary "o" kan be dropd from vords kontaining "ou" and after ziz fifz yer, ve vil hav a reil sensibl riten styl. Zer vil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi tu understand ech oza. Ze drem of a united urop vil finali kum tru. Und efter ze fifz yer, ve vil al be speking German like zey vunted in ze forst plas.

Don't worry, it's a joke. Read the original post online at The Brussels Journal.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Shirah Learns Finnish - Episode 1


Shirah Learns Finnish - episode 1 from shirah-eden on Vimeo.
So, I moved to Finland for grad school almost 2 months ago. I don't speak any Finnish. But that's going to change.
Tomorrow marks my first day of Finnish class, and I'm planning to make a weekly video on my progress.

**There are some mistakes in the spelling of the Finnish words in the subtitles:
"läävän" should be "läävään"
"moika" should be "moikka"

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Redefining Wealth

Pema Chholing Monastery, 500 years old
Today marks two months since I laced up my boots and walked out of the monastery for the last time.  As the older monks tied kata prayer scarves around my neck and backpack, the tears were already threatening to slide down my cheeks. Even now, my heart overflows with emotion at the mere mention of Nepal.

Never has it been so difficult for me to leave a home, landscape and community. And, since my first trip overseas to Belgium, I've never been so drastically changed by an experience. It was only last night that I realized this, while standing over the stove, cooking what has become my standard dinner and also a comfort food: boiled white rice with steamed vegetables.  With my busy and unpredictable student lifestyle I find it handy to keep various frozen veggies on hand for those nights when I get home after the grocery stores have closed. Last night was one of those nights.

After putting on the rice, I grabbed the veggies I'd left out to thaw and poured them into the wok pan. I realized I didn't have quite enough to feed my roommate and the guest I'd spontaneously invited as well, so I went back to the freezer to grab another bag of mixed vegetables. I started to pour those into the wok when suddenly I was overcome with emotion -- thankfulness, reminiscence, nostalgia, but mostly thankfulness washed over me.  The sight of all those brightly colored vegetables filling my pot to the brim evoked an inner cry of, "Look how rich I am!  I can afford to eat as many vegetables as I want!!  I can pull them out of my freezer any time I want!"  It wasn't my roommates' protein shake, nor the croissants or chocolates. It was vegetables. 

Have you ever longed for vegetables? Coveted a few leaves of boiled spinach? Hoped for a few slices of carrot? Wished that a tomato might magically materialize in the kitchen, or that there was enough cabbage for everyone to have a salad instead of a hint of cabbage flavor in its boiled broth? My three months at Pema Chholing changed something fundamental in the way I see the world. My idea of wealth and luxury will never be the same. My sense of enough and needs will forever be on a slightly different scale.  Vegetables will always remind me how blessed I am.

Ani, a nun who lives up the hill, proudly shows off her kitchen. One of the oldest and toughest women I've ever met.

During a festival week someone brought us a basket of giant vegetables.
We were all excited, especially little Pemba.

Homemade yak butter - a real luxury!

My little boys: Pasang, Tashi, Nima

Monday, October 08, 2012

Nepal Trip Reflection

Here's a PDF of the document I submitted as my final reflection on the time I spent volunteering at Pema Chholing Monastery in Nepal's Solukhumbu region in the Himalayas this summer.

This week I met four Nepali students in a Product Development Project course I'm taking at the Aalto Design Factory in our school of technology.  After talking with them I was thinking in Nepali the rest of the day and all the memories of my home there were again so fresh in my mind. It's hard to believe that it's been just over a month already since I left Nepal.  How my life has changed!

FOY.shirah Lumos Trip Final Report - Nepal 2012

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Motivate Yourself 10 Times a Day

I was in a super-happy mood when my mom & dad presented me with a new laptop (I mean, really, who wouldn't be?). So the first time I turned it on and created my user account, I chose a new password that I knew I would easily remember:


What I didn't realize was
(a) how many times a day I'd have to retype my password to access my laptop,
(b) how exclamation marks inherently create urgency and excitement,
(c) how much I internalize the words that I think or type,
(d) how much this internalization can affect my mood and subconscious, and
(e) how motivating it would be to internally repeat an encouraging, motivating phrase throughout my day.

Try it!! Change your password(s) to some phrase that compliments or inspires you. Make sure to include your own name so that you & your subconscious remember that those words are for you! I'll give some examples for my brothers and sister:


You'll find that it's not only good for your mood & motivation, but it'll be easier to remember your passwords, and by using more symbols and such you're actually making your password more secure. Give it a try!

*P.S. I'm obviously changing my password, now that I've spilled it to the world. So don't even try to hack me.
Man, the things I sacrifice for this blog. ;)

Monday, September 17, 2012

U.S. Constitution Day

Today, Sept. 17, 2012, marks the 225th anniversary of the signing of our Constitution at the Philadelphia (Constitution) Convention in 1787. The best way to honor the day might be to read it.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Helsinki Design District

I'm loving that I live right in the heart of the Helsinki Design District!
Check out this short video highlighting some of the cool people and stuff around here :)

Open Helsinki: Embedding Design in Life. from WDC Helsinki 2012 on Vimeo.
We are open. For us, openness equals transparency, curiosity, global responsibility and innovation. We believe that design can create happiness.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Design Thinking

Ever since I took a serious interest in the origin, principles, and process of design thinking, I've started to look at products in new ways. What used to be simple short-lived frustrations -- with the way an object doesn't work ideally in a way I'd like to use it, for example -- have blossomed into full-blown grievances, often accompanied by a conviction that, with just a little time and effort, I could come up with a much more appealing product.

(Okay, maybe the umbrella isn't
entirely at fault in this case.)
Take, for example, umbrellas. Is the inside of an umbrella not the most uncomfortable place to be? Especially for women, whose hair inevitably becomes tangled in the spokes every time. How many times have you been poked in the eye (or ear or face) by an umbrella user walking with or by you? How many times have you pinched, sliced, bent, or scratched your fingers while opening an umbrella? For me, every time. What a horrible experience!  What drives us to use a product that we know will invoke cursing or weeping with every use?

Which is why, when I look outside and see rain, I automatically run an internal risk analysis: Injury by umbrella vs. flat, wet, mop-like hairstyle for the rest of the day. Usually I opt for freedom from dangerous, encumbering umbrellas and design my outfit around a hat, scarf or hood.

Now, if I were an umbrella manufacturer, hearing a customer (or rather, potential customer) testimonial like this would be a sign of complete and utter failure on my part. Clearly, a pretty new pattern or more ergonomic handle isn't going to win this customer over; the umbrella would have to be completely overhauled before such a person even considers a new purchase.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Welcome to Aalto University

While this isn't quite how I thought the first week at Finland's elite business school would go, I'm shirking off my preconceived notions and going with the flow.  I ended up making some great friends this week with both Finnish and other foreign master's students, and quite a lot of friends in bachelor programs as well, since the two are usually combined into one 5-year program in which some master's courses can be taken before the bachelor is even completed. Also, since the Strategy program is a joint program between the School of Business and the School of Engineering, we have the unique opportunity to take any course offered at either campus (regardless of whether it counts toward our degree), which allows us to network, study alongside, and get to know students in both schools.

I've come to learn that the student union and student guilds are to be taken seriously.

daily walk by the sea

sunset over the harbor

Friday, August 31, 2012

Scheduling a date with the washing machine

It's completely logical but still kind of funny to me that Finnish apartment buildings have a datebook for the laundry machines in their basements.  Each family signs the book for when they plan to launder their clothes that week, and this helps ensure that the machines are free when they saunter into the basement loaded down with bags of soiled garments.

It makes sense, doesn't it? I was disappointed several times during my undergrad housing days, when I'd sort my laundry and haul it all into the clubhouse laundry room, only to get there and remember that Saturday at noon was peak laundering hour.

Even so...how silly will I sound when I have to turn down a spontaneous coffee date with this excuse: "Sorry, I have an appointment with a washing machine."

Thursday, August 30, 2012

4 Countries in 2 Weeks!

Today is my first day of business school in Helsinki!
Don't gasp too loudly - I know the last time you heard from me, about two weeks ago, I was kicking around in Kathmandu.  A lot's happened since then...

I successfully retrieved my new ID card/residency permit from the Finnish Embassy the day after I arrived back in Kathmandu. I'd budgeted an entire two weeks to accomplish this task because the unpredictabilities of transportation and life in general are such that it was a legitimate concern that there would be 5+ consecutive strike days preventing me from getting to the Embassy during the two hour permit pickup time slot. So my unexpectedly quick pickup left me with a whole two weeks to burn!

While waiting for my Sherpa friend Pasang to also arrive in the capital, I met a friendly British musician in a cafe and we really hit it off. He drives an overland vehicle for a unique company in the UK - Madventure.Travel - and was in the middle of a SEVEN MONTH LONG camping trip, driving from London to Sydney, Australia (putting the truck on a ferry at times, obviously). When they came to the Tibetan border, it was closed, so the travelers continued on plane to Beijing to finish their trip on public transportation, and Adam was stuck in Nepal trying to sort out all the visas he needed to get home.

Well, to make a long story short, he had to leave Kathmandu the next day to take the truck to Sauraha, in the Chitwan National Forest and jungle of southern Nepal, and he invited me to ride down with him for free. My friend Pasang arrived just in time, and the two of us set off with Adam for the 6-hour drive to Sauraha.
The truck was HUGE!

On the way we learned a lot about Adam's travels and his experiences in Nepal. We also saw a local bus that had fallen off the cliff-side road when the driver fell asleep. It happened just 3 days before we got there. Forty Nepali people had died in the accident, and there were a few guys using a homemade winch system to try to retrieve the wreckage. 

We ended up spending three days and a total of $45/person for accommodation in a luxury resort, good food, self-guided safari, camel riding, and elephant riding! It was an awesome, spontaneous jungle adventure, and I'm so glad I went because after living in the mountains, this was a whole new side of Nepal I'd never seen.

Behind me is a RHINOCEROS bathing in the river! 

Clouds coming in for the daily afternoon monsoon rains.

It was super hot and incredibly humid, but I quickly learned that
jungle waters tend to be infested with crocodiles. It was the
running, yelling, and waving of hands by the locals that clued
me in. So I only swam once.

The jungle sunsets were incredible!

My favorite time of day was watching the elephants come down to the river
for a drink in the evenings.

I have so many more pictures to share of our time in Chitwan. These will come soon.

To quickly bring you up to date: I left Nepal the weekend before last, spent 12 hours exploring Dubai during a long layover, and then spent a week with my family in Oregon before getting back on a plane to Helsinki.  Since arriving here on Tuesday night, I've signed a lease for my new downtown apartment and have been running around getting a Finnish social security number, opening a bank account, looking for a job, getting my mobile phone in working order -- all those things you have to do when moving to a new country. Helsinki is even better than I remember it. I'm so happy to be here and have no doubt that I've landed in exactly the right master's program for me!

During our evening walk to the marina - 5 minutes from our apartment -
with my cousin Maya

We're hatching!  These are our favorite egg chairs at a lovely
little cafe on the marina.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Weekend in Thamel

Upon arriving at the RCDP hostel in Kalanki last Tuesday, I was given a dal bhaat lunch, introduced to several new volunteers, and then told that not only was the hostel already full, but five new people were arriving from the airport that night, so the program was going to take me to the nicest tourist neighborhood in Kathmandu - called Thamel - and put me up in a hotel there for the duration of my last ten days in Nepal.

Despite my waning funds, I was happy to fore go the cockroaches and dal bhaat meals in Kalanki (since, after all, I've been living on dal bhaat for three months now) and venture out to make friends, use wifi, and feed myself in Thamel. I realized that my standards have changed when I became outraged with one fruit vendor who tried to sell me seven bananas for 150 rupees (USD $1.74). I haggled him down to 50 rupees (USD $0.58) and still felt ripped off. Oh no, I thought, walking away - how am I going to handle the move to Helsinki next week? The thought of paying 8 Euro (USD $9.83) for a relatively cheap lunch in Helsinki gave me goosebumps.

I've been enjoying my time in Thamel.  The weather here in Kathmandu Valley is much warmer than up in the Himalayas. Whereas it averaged 50-70 F at Pema Chholing, it's upwards of 85 F in the humid capital. The non-existent Nepali constitution, which was supposed to have been written and approved back in May by whatever chaotic group of people now constitutes the governing body, never was. So the strikes continue, and continue to thwart the plans of my fellow volunteers who'd like to move around the city. Public transportation doesn't run during the strikes, and if you're lucky enough to find a taxi driver who'll risk it, you'll pay upwards of 5-10 times the normal fare. Fortunately, since my trip to the Finnish Embassy last Wednesday (I'm now officially a resident of the EU!), I haven't needed to leave Thamel.

I've spent my days here wonderfully... taking my morning café au lait (oh, how I've missed coffee!) in breezy rooftop cafes high above the hustle and bustle of morning traffic; catching up on work, emails, and research while enjoying the company of fellow travelers (it seems that everyone who comes to Nepal is interesting - after all, people don't come here from the West for the comforts of a luxurious vacation; it's neat to explore the different motives that bring others to this beautiful yet impoverished land). I spend the late afternoons and evenings wandering the streets around Thamel, browsing stores full of trinkets I like to inspect but don't want to buy, trying on hats and saris and traditional shoes because it's fun to dress up and the vendors have fun with me too, and people watching.

I woke up this morning with a deep, throaty cough and my body racked in pain. I've been told it's a throat infection - something that many people get from the pollution on the streets - and it feels exceptionally strange to be hacking up a lung in the middle of summer. This is the type of cough I'd expect to fight in the dead of winter, or a long, drizzly spring. Not when traipsing around in flip flops and sun dresses.

In Nepal, life in Thamel is the polar opposite of life at Pema Chholing. Yet I'm happy here. After travels in 30 countries, experiencing both the perks of life as a US diplomat and the lows of Nepali outhouses; organic home-cooked meals from Trader Joes and a 3-month pure rice diet, the beautiful ocean views from a ritzy apartment and a $1 per night mattress-on-the-floor hotel....I'm starting to think that there's nowhere I won't be happy.

I don't think it's completely sunk in that this will be my last week in Nepal, and yet on some level I know it: I've been collecting my photo souvenirs - the best kind - they don't cost anything, won't be a hassle to stuff in a bag, and won't incur any additional luggage fees.  I'll post them, print them, gift them, and look at them whenever I need to relive Nepal...
shopping in Thamel with my friend Daniel, from Russia

the ultimate Nepali haunted house
does this outfit make me look like I smoke marijauna?
i was offered hashish by street vendors seven times that day.
view from a rickshaw
cocktails at Pub Maya with the British blokes
breakfast for 170 rupees (USD $1.97) - and comes with coffee!
hat shopping
i want this graffiti put on a t-shirt!
purple sari?....
...or blue sari?
handmade fabric
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