Upon Arrival in Stockholm
In a classic chicken-or-the-egg conundrum, I ask myself: which came first — IKEA or Swedish simplicity?
Upon arrival in Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport, I couldn’t help but marvel over the modesty with which the environment presents itself. Everything here feels fresh: the modern, upbeat font that spells station names and utgång signs, wood and steel staircases juxtaposed with metallic escalators, and, upon leaving the quietude of the airport, the chilling, yet enticing, cool of fall air. The people, too, are very cool in their own ways. Public spaces lack the boisterous chatter that permeates transit points across the world. In its stead lies a comfortable silence, nestled amidst the aesthetic browns and blues and burgundies of winter wear and carefully constructed architecture. Stockholm is a good place to be, to stop, to think.
How great it is, to be in a land so detached from what I call my home. Yet Alain de Botton would argue that I may find elements of home in this foreign land. On the 583 bus headed for Märsta, I passed the time savouring my first glimpses of Sweden as they sped by. Everything seemed calm and controlled; even the grasses, which in the summertime might bicker and sway, seemed meek, pressed against the ground as cars rushed by on an immaculate road. The journey was an homage to subtlety and silence, both virtues enhancing the other in various forms, be it in the grayscale color scheme, the heavy sky, the evening voyage of a flock, then another, of birds. Here was a quietude I could never find in my own ‘home’, yet one I had sought for so long. At once I felt uneasy and at ease: uneasy because of the unfamiliarity of words and faces, at ease because the silence came so easily, as if practiced time and time again.
After the bus, we boarded a train to Stockholm’s Central Station, at which we disembarked and began our long and somewhat perilous journey to our hotel. I say perilous because, being the typical tropic dweller I am, believed that two thin layers of clothing would be enough to shield me from the bitter wind. After a lot of internal complaints, a loose shoe and very cold fingers, I finally fumbled my way through the dark city streets to where we would hole up for the night. There, I promptly discovered two interesting and, frankly, pleasant things: firstly, that Swedish concierges are lovely people, and secondly, a scene from ABBA—The Movie was filmed down the hall from our room. The receptionist, a self-proclaimed ABBA aficionado, told us that every self-respecting ABBA fan, on average, spends 3 hours minimum within the ABBA museum. (Needless to say, his record is 5.) Now my dad is itching to go and see the remnants of the band that dominated his first iPod, and although I do love ABBA’s music, I have my fingers crossed that we don’t spend 5, or more, hours there…
Although all of us were chock-full of plane food by the time we arrived, the mystery of a new land inevitably elicited in us a new hunger that couldn’t be left unappeased. My dad and I walked across a few streets looking for some form of nourishment, so we were clearly very excited to stumble upon a convenience store that had one of the most beautiful salad bars I have seen in my life. Perhaps my dad and I had a little too much fun with the options… at the end of our salad rampage, the total cost of our two bowls amounted to just above 143 Swedish krona. Currency conversion, unfortunately, did not relieve my startled self, as the krona and the HKD are pretty much the same in terms of numerical value. Oh well. A fine welcome to Sweden, I suppose.
Now, having eaten dinner and cleaned up for the night, I lie in the room, writing. Truth be told, I can’t help but fall prey to the heavy romanticism of this Swedish night. The bathroom looks typically Nordic, with whitewashed tiles, bright lights, cool marbled countertops, grids and — to my delight — heated towel racks (!). Outside, from the balcony, I can see a clock tower of sorts, standing idly as a criss-cross of roads pass by in front. A railway runs right through the hullaballoo, and every so often I can hear the rattling of a passing train. And when the trains aren’t passing, the Swedish quietude returns, bringing with it a soft whistling of winter air which, although cold, offers a reminder that there is a greater, incredibly vast world of possibilities that exist within this city, a city which I will discover over the next few days.