By Lynn Lau
The Star, Jan. 11, 2001
Tonje and her family were kind enough to let me spend my Christmas holidays with them, so I've been spending the past three weeks visiting Raudsand, Norway. Tonje's family, the Andersens, comprises her father Ola, her mother Marianne, her sister Stine, and her brother Even, all of whom made me feel very welcome.
Raudsand is an extremely quiet area, with the nearest town, Molde, being an hour's drive away. The fir trees and cabin houses form a very picturesque scene, looking very much like a movie scene or a winter postcard when covered in snow.
And it does snow a lot here. Every day, in fact. The snow makes it necessary to constantly clear the roads. It also compounds the hazard of the icy ground, which is extremely slippery and hard (as yours truly can attest to. Ouch).
Although her family can speak English, there are times when Tonje has to play translator for me, since I speak no Norwegian. During my stay, however I was able to pick up some words.
"Takk," for example, means thank you. I also learned by reading food labels and Christmas cards that "sukker" is sugar, "krydet ost med tradisjoner" is traditional spiced cheese, and "God Jul og Godt Nytt r" is Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. And thanks to an experience where I joined the whole family in trying to move Even's new bed to his room, I learned some Norwegian curse words. "See, you're learning the language already," Tonje joked.
Speaking of food labels, meat is a staple part of the Norwegian diet. Bread and potatoes also happen to be part of the daily fare. I was introduced to "grot," which is similar to porridge except it is made with milk instead of water. Eaten with sugar, spices, and/or butter, it is quite tasty. For vegetables, there are preserved cabbage, peas, and cucumber.
The days are short during winter. It gets light around 10am and grows dark by 4pm. "It's quite depressing," Tonje muses. "When we go to school in the morning, it's dark. When we come home in the afternoon, it's still dark." In the summer, the sun rises at 7am and doesn't set until 3am.
Over in Norway, Christmas is celebrated on the 24th instead of the 25th. We spent the day before ? the 23rd ? decorating the Christmas tree with little Norwegian flags, tinsel, and other traditional decorations. Afterwards we placed our presents underneath it to be opened the following day.
Dec. 2000 / Jan. 2001
Tonje and I, with a little help from Stine, also made our very first gingerbread house. The poor thing looked like it was melting from acid by the time we were done, but it was proudly displayed on the mantle, and the others gave obligatory "oohs" as they looked at it.
We woke up early on Christmas day (the 24th) to eat Christmas candy in front of the TV. Tonje and I watched "Cinderella and the Three Nuts," a 1970s Czech movie dubbed in Norwegian that is shown every year during Christmas.
Tonje had been telling me about the movie since before my visit, and as she promised, she translated every line to me as we were watching. We also poked fun at the prince, his friends, and even Askepott (Cinderella's Norwegian name).
Relatives came in and out of the house to both deliver and receive presents. A big pile soon grew under the tree, much to the children's delight. The family tradition is to open their presents after dinner, so Even as particularly eager to be done with dinner in order to unwrap his gifts. The process usually lasts until midnight, since everybody takes turns opening their presents, but this year we managed to finish in three years.
I received a lot of Norwegian souvenirs form Tonje's family and relatives, including hand-painted wooden signs to hang on my door. In return, I have them souvenirs form both Malaysia and Wisconsin, including Selangor pewter, a batik scarf, a porcelain cow to represent Wisconsin, and a toy version of my university's mascot.
The family is quite hi-tech, and they gave each other DVDs and even a mini-disc player! Naturally, for the next few days, everybody was watching the movies they had bought each other on DVD.
The experience was, and still is, enjoyable to me. I had been looking forward to this trip for weeks, and was both excited and nervous at the prospect of visiting a part of the world I had never been before. It was thus a great relief to arrive safely and stay with kind, gracious hosts such as the Andersens.
When people ask me what my New Year's resolution is, I never know what to tell them. I don't believe that resolutions, promises, and new experiences should be reserved only for New Year's. They can happen or be made any time of the year, and they should be. Why put off an experience or adventure until tomorrow when you can do it today?