Saturday, September 18, 2010


I've been planning to write a post on my Norwegian language class for a while now. You see, going to Norwegian class each time is like going to watch a comedy at the movies, only it's free here, and I'm learning something new. And this is way funnier... Let me explain.

I like our teacher. I couldn't ask for a better Norwegian teacher. His name is Frode, and he is fantastically enthusiastic about teaching Norwegian. He gave us his office number, and his email, and his home phone in case we couldn't reach him. He has high hopes for our class, only, sometimes I don't think we quite live up to these hopes of his. Of course, he doesn't have the heart to tell us this.

Our class members can be divided into a cast. The chorus (read: majority) would be made up of the Germans. Germans are known for being fast learners of Norwegian. The thing about the Norwegian language is that syntactically, it is very much like English. Sentences are constructed in the same way, but the advantage for native German speakers is that the Norwegian vocabulary shares a ridiculous number of German words. So these Germans usually find Norwegian relatively straight forward to learn, but not vice versa. Why? To begin, German has 4 cases. I still don't quite understand the deal with that. I also don't understand why Germans seem to have their main verb at the end of their sentences. Why would you do that??? It's like, every time they speak to each other, they hold back the most operative part of the sentence until the very end. So you find out all the main players, all the objects and props, all the prepositions and time setting and location and SURPRISE!! He got killed. But you didn't know that because I only said the verb at the very end...

Anyway, I digress (a tendency shared by my Norwegian class...). Quite simply, here's what makes me laugh:
  • The fact that it's so obvious when it's a German reading the text out loud. They pronounce Norwegian like they're speaking German. Throw in a few Ich's and Nicht's and Aber's and you could convince yourself it was German...
  • The fact that there's a girl in my class who still struggles with the concept of the infinitive. Ie. To live, but he lives. And Norwegian is simple in that. To make a verb the present tense, you just add an 'r', no matter who the subject. So it's I play, you play, he play, she play, we play, you all play, they play, it play. Bless that girl.
  • The fact that we'll be reading a text in Lesson 3 Chapter 4 and someone will ask a question about Lesson 1 Chapter 4, as if it were normal. I'm not sure of why there is this time delay.
  • We'll learn a new verb in class, and someone will innocently ask the teacher, (as if we'd never come across the verb yet), how to say that verb 30 min after we'd just learnt it.
  • Pronounciation. Possibly not as bad as someone in my Year 12 French class who kept on saying Jay (like Jaaayyyyson the bogan) when they meant Je. Je as in I. The most basic and important word in French. But yeah...Norwegian is a fairly melodious language, and yet some insist on reading it staccato.
  • Sometimes we still struggle with the concept of making nouns plural when so required. So people will go around saying things like 'I like to read book'. Similarly, because Norwegian places the word 'the' at the end of the noun (ie. en bil = a car; bilen = the car; biler = cars; bilene = the cars), people struggle with the concept of the definite article. So we go around saying 'During weekend, I read newspaper and eat grape (yeah...I eat one grape)'.
  • Norwegian has 2 tones. A flat tone, and the up-down tone. In Norwegian, gjenta = repeat. Jenta = the girl. Phonetically, they are both pronounced the same way. But gjenta is flat, and jenta goes down first, then up! Our teacher specifically sounds out the difference to us, then gets us to repeat after him individually. The difference in his voice was obvious. But out of our class of 20 something students, I did not hear one single person correctly differentiate the two words.
  • We were taught the past tense last Monday. On Wednesday, our teacher wanted us to write an essay in the past. He thought about it for a moment, paused pensively as he looked over at us with pity, then decided to keep it in the present tense until next week. He didn't have the heart to tell us why, but his eyes said it all.
You know, I LOVE my Norwegian class. I have so much fun there, even if we do seem to go through the same thing again and again. I also love the students in my class. We are a great bunch. We try very hard. We don't quite live up to our teacher's hopes (he had high hopes because of all the German speakers). But we have fun trying anyway.

Meanwhile, I really hope that the aforementioned student discovers what the Infinitive actually is, and when to use it and why it is different from the present tense (or past for that matter...).

Thursday, September 16, 2010

My first Norwegian delivery

So I just got back home from hospital where I delivered my first baby! And I'm still buzzing. And I want to sit and write this all down on paper because I don't want to wake up tomorrow morning when this feeling will be gone and my mind will be occupied with other mundane questions like why my Norwegian bank account still isn't working or why NAB decided to block my eftpos card or what 'Australian' food I'm going to cook on Monday for International Dinner.

Today was my first day on maternity ward. I showed up in the afternoon, upon which I was told that there was a lady in labour that moment. When the midwife asked her if I could observe, she said no. Bummer. Then I spent the next few hours brooding and waiting for people's cervixes to dilate. During this period, I also spent some time with a lovely couple who agreed to have me be present during the delivery. Somewhere in between then and their child's birth, I saw my first vaginal delivery by another couple. It was all pretty quick. I guess I've learnt all the theoretical mechanics of birth (ie. head being the limiting factor). But seeing those fontanelles in real life, that truly is something else. What I learnt today was that once the head's out (which can take a while), you have 10-15 seconds where the rest of the baby slips out like an eel.

So I'm going to put it out there. I have never cried watching a movie or reading a book, but today when the first baby came out, I may have felt a tear or two (tear as in liquid from the eye tear, not as in vaginal pelvic floor muscles tear ripping). It's hard to explain. I just felt so happy for them. Even though they were speaking a foreign language, happiness and joy is something that transcends all languages.

Then there was my actual delivery. This time I was gloved up and was helping the midwife with the lovely couple I got to know through the afternoon. And by the end of the shift, I had delivered my first baby. It was beautiful. And they were a beautiful couple (with a few other beautiful Norwegian children). When I first met them in the afternoon, we were strangers. By the time I left the hospital, I was officially in some Norwegian household's family photo album. It really felt like Christmas - you know that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you open the presents and all your family is home. Somewhere during the process of evacuating a baby from her womb, something happened. We all bonded. And I mean let's face it - try topping childbirth as a bonding exercise... By the end of the labour, they made me promise not to leave the hospital without taking photos with them!

I don't know. After a couple of births, it'll become the same and I might (like one of my fall asleep during the actual evacuation of baby. But for now, this was my first, and I'm going to savour it for as long as I can because medicine is supposed to give me these highs. No matter how many deliveries I chart in future, this will always be my first. And it was as best a first delivery as I could possibly wish for.

Lykke til, baby!
(Good luck, baby!)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Floored people

Sometimes things seem so perfect, especially from far afield. And upon closer inspection, you think you'd start to see the cracks, but nope, "it's still good!" Sort of like how you expect uncapped milk to go off after sitting in the fridge for a week, but it actually stays good. Actually I don't see the parallel anymore. I don't know how I came up with that analogy...Okay maybe I should scratch this post entirely.

But seriously. We are all flawed people, right? I guess we could be floored too. The way a uterus can prolapse to the floor. Okay, I really don't see this analogy either. But back to the flaw. Recently I wrote something about Perspective, and how it comes down to the way we choose different ways to view what is essentially the same thing. I guess sometimes we sugar coat our perception, see things through cellophane, and things seem perfect. But then invariably the veil lifts and you start to see the imperfections. Kind of like Asian hair and split ends. (Yep! If you look closely enough, Asian people do ACTUALLY have split ends too - and yes, this analogy makes sense - AND even makes reference to the 'veil' metaphor).

But my point here is, perhaps rather obscurely expressed, we are all probably a lot more flawed than we like to think, and certainly more than we like to share. But it's not so much a bad thing. Being flawed is okay. I just discovered yesterday that I've been going around saying "In future..." when in fact it should be "In the future...". How come no one has ever told me I've been making this fundamental grammatical error? How is it that as a native English speaker, the phrase "In the future" sounds strange to me? And yet I say "In the past" and "In past" sounds completely wrong to me?

Perhaps more seriously, I wonder if the wider community views medical illnesses as a flaw? I mean, nobody goes around wishing they had Diabetes, right? But do we view Diabetes as being a flaw? Or do we accept it simply as a medical illness? Does the same go for obesity? Because obviously being fat is their own fault, right? [read sarcasm, I think]. And what about mental illness? Do we view depression as a character flaw? And then there's neuroticism. We're all neurotic to some extent. We dissect laboriously, we over-analyze, we over-reflect, we mull over, we're paranoid, we think too much, we think too little, we run our heads in circles, we project into our faux-future, we come up with our self-lies. In that case, perhaps flaw should be spelt with a capital F.

So I guess next time we're quick to judge someone, it's important to remember that we're probably just as flawed, only in our own little way. Like how I'm being very abstract right now. That's flawed. It's flawing this post. I should write about something concrete, something solid. Like Vigeland's phallic sculptures. I guess they're solid and get the idea...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fjellvang - The epic trail

Following the excitement from last week's glacier hiking in Fjærland, an impromptu cabin trip was discussed and agreed upon during Norwegian class. And whilst booking the cabin proved quite the struggle (thank you Elise for searching online in Norwegian for me!), by Saturday morning we managed to A) Sign up as DNT members (Norwegian Trekking Association), B) Get the cabin key, C) Map out our route, D) Buy food for the trip.

The cabin was called Fjellvang, located in the Nordmarka area about 20 min North of Oslo by train. So on Saturday morning, 4 of us met up at the start of the trail at Sognsvann. Unfortunately, one member was feeling a bit worse for wear from the previous night, and so 3 of us set off on what would become the epic trek to Fjellvang. Let me start off by saying that it was an awesome hike! Nevertheless, we weren't without obstacles, including the following:

1) Our decision to take the harder/longer trail (it was more beautiful - more trees, less asphalt)
2) It started to RAIN 15min into the trek. It rained on and off (more on than off) for the remainder of the day, and poured heavily during the night.
3) Our tendency to overshoot corners. I guess we walked faster than we thought, and every time we saw a small trail, we told ourselves: Nah, this can't be the trail". It was. Several times.
4) Humidity - the fact that we were walking up hills in rain jackets meant that we were, essentially, hiking in a sauna.
5) Slippery rocks and boggy mud puddles. (refer to rain).

Here are some photos to prove the wetness of the hike (although Felix's camera probably has better quality photos - my camera sort of dies during extremes of weather).

Nevertheless, after 7 epic hours of walking, climbing, descending, climbing again, crossing railway tracks, getting excited about a cabin before realising it was the wrong cabin, we finally made our way to the right Fjellvang cabin at 5:30PM, followed by warm dinner and great music (A Heart is an Airport - think about it). The cabin was so koselig, even with a hearth (sort of). Water seemed to be an issue though, with no sink, no tap, no running water, no shower, a hole for a toilet, and water was to be fetched from a well. We were also unaware of the Norwegian sign that said water should be boiled before consumption. It was a great weekend, very Norwegian (despite the fact that none of us were Norwegian), and I definitely feel much fitter than when I left Melbourne. I can't wait for my next cabin trip!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


So this afternoon I was buying my groceries in between a lecture on vaginal pathology and Norwegian language class (naturally), and it dawned upon me that I have now spent over one month living here in Oslo. Strange thing is, it feels like it's been much longer. I think the exchange process tends to do that. Everything is so packed full during the first few weeks, with a mad scramble to fit in as many activities as possible. Which brings me to the issue of scheduling.

I need better time management. Back home in Melbourne, I was able to knuckle down and get the job done, no matter how boring the topic. Now week 4 into semester and I've still barely any clue as to what pre-eclampsia is. And don't even get me started on paediatric milestones. Whilst I'm assured by the pass-fail system here, it nevertheless worries me that I will have my share of paediatric and female patients in future, with baby/girl problems like meningitis and menorrhagia, and I wonder how on earth I will be able to sort through dyspareunia and dysmenorrhea systematically? In addition to this, my predilection for sleeping at bizarre, non-consistent times of the day has officially fucked up my body clock, and I now find myself nodding my head at least 10 times per lecture, irrespective of the topic/teacher. And I'm not talking about the kind of nodding you do when you agree with someone...

Anyway. More excitingly (see my point about lack of study?), I just returned from a 3 day tour to Fjærland, which is westward from Oslo. The trip was arranged through the university, and took us hiking up 1000m mountains and pristine glaciers. I could go on and on about how amazing the trip was, how beautiful the glaciers were etc. etc., but photos are so much better, right? So here are some below:

Meanwhile, my Norwegian is coming along steadily. My housemates have commented on how my norsk is improving, and I am now able to engage in conversations beyond stating my name, where I come from, and what I like to do. Ie. I can now say things like: 'because', and 'therefore', and 'vagina'. The last one perhaps isn't so useful. But seriously, when I'm sitting in outpatients at hospital, the consultations invariably fall back into Norwegian and yet I usually understand the gist of it. If there was a word count, perhaps I would be at the 15% mark, but you don't really need to understand all the words to figure out what they're saying. Meanwhile, I still need to learn German. Like now! I'm slightly annoyed at myself for being annoyed in the first place, and I don't know why I take it so personally, but I can't help but feel like my inability to speak German when practically everyone else here can is like a personal failure. Which is ridiculous! And crazy! I've never even been to the country before! But 3/6 of my housemates speak it as a native-tongue, and so do most people living in my student village (and the other student village too). I think I need to go back to Australia and listen to Australians speaking German, which will make me feel better about myself because most Australians speaking German (or trying to) sound like they're choking. I think Australia should make it mandatory for all primary schools to be bi-lingual. And none of that one-class-per-week shit. I'm talking about 2 days a week where everything is taught in the foreign language. Our ability as a nation to handle LOTEs is nothing short of disgraceful (if not contemptuous).

Anyway. Rant aside, here are some things I have planned ahead:
  1. Weekend cabin trip with friends (pending cabin availability...getting this cabin business has been quite the challenge)
  2. Weekend cabin trip with the medical students' society (pending reply from email-lady)
  3. Trip to Stavenger to see rock(s) (pending people)
  4. Trip to Stockholm (pending agreement of date)
  5. Trip to Bergen (not so much pending - this will probably happen)
  6. Trip to Helsinki (pending I discover what it is I intend to do in Helsinki)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Snakes and Ladders

If you click on Edit --> Transform on Adobe Photoshop, there's a tool called Perspective. It allows you to take an object and change its size from any side, relative to the opposite side. In effect, you change the viewer's perspective of how big the object is, when in fact it is the same thing.

Perspective is a funny thing like that. I think it's easy when you are feeling particularly strongly about something (upset, disappointed, jealous, stressed) to over-dramatize the significance, and work yourself into a circuitous mess. I mean, I don't wish to play down the importance of these things in our lives when they do occur, right at that moment. In fact, these obstacles we face usually seem kind of big. And annoying. And of course we'd rather they not exist. But I guess where I'm going with this post is Tough Shit, right? The poor kid in Cambodia who lost his legs from a land mine probably didn't want to lose his legs either. And the orphan in Africa who lost both her parents to genocide would've rather kept her parents. So I guess compared to these guys, our day-to-day speed bumps pale in comparison.

In the end we're all human beings, right, with our big picture ambitions as well as small-time goals. We fight little battles each day, sometimes with ourselves and once in a while we actually win. When things don't go our way, we throw our silent tantrums of the mind whilst the frontal lobe shuts mental padlocks on the exterior. We smile, cover a grimace, hold our breath and hope not for the best, but that we get what we want. They say that babies spend the first few years of life thinking that they are the centre of the universe, before they grow up and shed this egotistical mentality. But maybe we don't grow out of this 'I want what I want' attitude as we grow up, and simply get better at getting what we want without making it obvious anymore. More like a negotiation. Give and take.

But I digress. I think the point is that no matter how upset/disappointed/jealous/stressed we are about something, there's always worse. In fact a lot worse. And like how tragedy and misery come hand in hand, perspective should be coupled with the word adaptation. Because the moment we take a step back from the situation and gain some well needed perspective, we start to see ways in which we can adapt to the cards we've been dealt. Certainly, whilst I'm a believer of planning and organization, life really does come down to a series of mini triumphs and small setbacks that resembles, rather fittingly, a game of Snakes and Ladders. We play that game as a kid because we see the whole board: the start, the goal, the ladders as well as the snakes, and not just the snake swallowing our token when we reach square 99.

Having spent some time with the trauma department not so long ago, I've come across several shocking cases that demonstrate the extremes of what it means to be called human. Senseless knife attacks, fleeing the scene and leaving passengers to die, gun shot victims, people with spinal cord transections (ie. will not walk for life). It's all pretty sobering stuff that I try to carry with me no matter where I am or who I'm with. And whilst my everyday mini-obstacles still annoy me the way a stray eyelash does when caught beneath an eyelid, suddenly they don't seem so big or important anymore. I don't get exactly what I want, but I'm still alive. I can still walk, and see, and hear, and do whatever else it is that I wish to pursue.

And that's something to be grateful for.