"To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom....Since our office is with moments, let us husband them."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, September 17, 2007

Living in a Hurricane

I'm back from my three day whirlwind trip, and at times it really felt like I was living in a hurricane, either with the weather or the schedule. I'm going to give a recap of all the events and my thoughts on them, which means this will be a lengthy post, so I'm planning on splitting it up with subheadings to make jumping around a little easier. Also, all the pictures assosciated with this trip have already been posted on webshots, so check those out, too. Alright, here you go.

The First Bus Ride
Everyone in my group had to meet at Frue Plads at 8:00 AM Thursday morning for our departure. My host dad was heading into town anyways so he gave me a lift, which was appreciated, as that meant I could avoid walking around with my little suitcase. We started things off excitingly with a lovely 6 hour bus ride from Copenhagen to Aarhus. I filled this time with a little studying, a fair amount of sleeping, and seeing a pretty cool film -- Dirty Pretty Things -- about black market organ donation.

ARoS (Aarhus Art Museun)

Our first stop was at ARoS, which is a relatively new art museum in Aarhus (Denmark's second largest city -- 300,000). Their collection focuses on modern art, but with a slight twist. It's the modern art of different time periods, all the way back to 19th and 18th centuries. The more modern pieces were really cool, and I enjoyed walking around -- and taking a few illegal photographs. I also too a few legal photographs of the piece called "Boy". If you haven't looked at those pictures yet, I highly suggest you do. When I was loading the pictures onto my computer, and the pictures of "Boy" popped up, I was actually startled at first. If you look, you'll see what I mean.

Den Gamle By
The next visit in Aarhus was to the Old Town -- Den Gamle By. This "town" is a collection of hundreds of buildings from across Denmark from the 15th-19th centuries that have all been moved to this central location. The point is to try and give a representation of what life in Denmark used to be, so they have people "working" in period dress doing things that would be normal in the time period. It was much like a Danish equivalent of Hale Farm and Village. A group of us wandered around for the hour or so we were there, poking our heads into the buildings, etc. It wasn't anything too exciting, but it was still nice to just be able to walk around.

Hostel in Aalborg
After another hour and a half on the bus we arrived in Aalborg, which is where our accommodations were located. Once we were off the bus we were told to divide ourselves up in groups of 4 for the rooms, but I wasn't paying very close attention and missed this instruction, which left me scrambling for a room as people were heading off. The rooms weren't actually rooms, but instead these little shacks (I of course have pictures if you want to see), with room to sleep 7, and a little table as well. My room had 5 people so there was in reality a fair amount of room. These shacks were positioned right on the water next to a marina, so we had a great view of whatever body of water it was. I do know that it led into the ocean. We were served dinner that night in the hostel, which was quite decent in reality, and then afterwards people headed back to their rooms to get ready for the evening.

A Night Out on Jomfru Ane Gade
The name of this street translates to Virgin Anne's street, but it is not a street for virgins. In fact, this street is known all around Scandinavia and Northern Europe for being the party street, as its entire length has bars and restaurants on both side of the street. Unfortunately/fortunately (all depends on one's outlook), we arrived around 9:00pm to Jomfru Ane Gade, and the typical Danish nightlife doesn't begin until 12:00am. A group of us walked around the "downtown" area for a little bit, and then went to some bars. However, we were tired and done by 12:00am and decided to walk back to the hostel. This meant we missed out on the real craziness of the street, but I think we were all fine with that.

Center for Sensory-Motor Interaction (SMI)
The next morning our academic visits began. Our first stop was at the Center for Sensory-Motor Interaction (SMI) at Aalborg University. Here they study human sensory-motor interaction at multiple levels looking for ways to improve life. Unfortunately, I wasn't quite as attentive as I wished I was, as all the presentations were quite interesting. The researchers there were doing a lot of different things with stimulating nerves to see how it affects the person in general and their brains. For example, one researcher is creating an implantable device that can be clamped around a nerve that will stimulate that nerve automatically in an effort to prevent people from having an overactive bladder. Another researcher is looking to see what reflex nerves are stimulated in response to a painful stimuli, as well as walking, in an attempt to see if electrical/painful stimulation of nerves can help people recover motor function after a stroke. It was really interesting to see this level of neurorehabilitation.

Boernehaven Oesterladen (Danish Kindergarten)
We ate our lunches at a Danish Kindergarten, which was quite the experience. Pretty much everyone on the bus was grumbling about this stop, but I think almost everyone enjoyed themselves at this stop. First, we ate our lunches in their little lunch room -- and at their little tables and chairs, too -- and then spent half an hour or so playing with the kids. A couple things to note about this situation. First, Danish children don't begin learning English until 3rd grade, and all these children were 3-6 years old. Second, most of us knew no Danish or very, very little. Third, Danish kindergarten is nothing like its US counterpart. This was 30 or so kids running around a yard doing whatever they want with very little direct supervision. There was no monitor walking around making sure everyone was behaving. Granted, there are qualified teachers (you have to get a 4 year degree from a university), but they play a hands-off role. They allow the kids to work things out themselves. This results in a little bit of chaos, although not really. The kids were really excited to have visitors, especially such strange ones from Germany (supposedly what they thought via translation), so they made sure to show off. There were kids climbing and trees, playing swords with sticks, swinging, running around, and of course, jumping in mud puddles. There is something comical about a platinum blonde haired boy with blue eyes, being completely brown due to being covered in mud.

Gandrup Laegehus (General Practitioner)
Our academic visits continued with a visit to a small town general practitioner (GP). We actually met with two GP's from the area and they filled us in on their work and the Danish healthcare system. Obviously, the Danish healthcare system is quite different than the American system as there is universal coverage for all citizens, but it also differs in how they practice medicine. This will be an issue I'm sure I'll go into more detail about later, but for now, here's a quick rundown as it applies to GP's. All Danish citizens need to see their GP before they can see any other doctor. The GP acts as a gatekeeper and handles all the primary care. If the GP thinks the issue is more serious, then they refer their patient out to a specialist. The Danish GP's love this system, and think it works. Surprisingly, with this set-up and such a high level of importance placed on the GP's, the state does not require people to have yearly check-ups. Some of the other interesting tidbits that the GP shared with us were that even though the government regulates all people's work weeks to be no more than 37.5 hours, GP's put in closer to 60 hours a week, which is still far less than their American counterparts. They also griped a little about the amount of money they get paid, but I feel like that is everyone. GP's are highly regulated by the government, and in fact, that's who pays them based on a capitation and fee for service setup, but GP's are still required to pay their staff, their equipment, and their facility fees (heating, electric, building additions, etc.). I thought, naively probably, that all of this would have also been covered by the government. The last interesting point I want to share is in regards to the medical malpractice system. This is something that I have no doubt the US should emulate. First, all doctors are required to pay a nominal (we weren't given hard numbers so its kind of hard to do a direct comparison, but I was repeatedly assured it wasn't much) insurance premium to a private insurer. This insurer has a contract with all the GP's and also provides their home, life, etc. insurance as well. More importantly, for patients that are unhappy with the level of care they have received they have two independent avenues for retribution. First, they can file a complaint with the government about the doctor. This is investigated, and if the complaint is valid the doctor can be reprimanded by the government at the level they deem appropriate. Second, they can file a complaint with another governmental agency that independently determines if patient had undo suffering. If this is the case, then the patient is reimbursed an amount that this commission decides, which is paid by the government -- not the doctors. A portion of all Dane's tax money goes into this pot. A lot of times patients receive funds from this agency and the government finds that the doctor did nothing wrong. It seems like a win-win situation. Doctor's aren't being unduly harassed by lawsuits, and patients can still receive compensation when things go wrong -- even if the doctor isn't to blame. Granted, in the states, there would be major controversy as where that money would come from, but as a general concept, I think this is the way to go.

A Danish Beach & Restaurant Raalingen
After the visit with the GP's we were done for the day, and headed for what one of our Danish trip leaders called the prettiest beach in Denmark. After spending 20 minutes or so there watching the waves and the rainbows (the weather was a little rough -- rain and wind), we walked for about 10 minutes to the restaurant where we ate dinner.

The restaurant was a really cool place. It is the oldest privately held estate, as it went into private hands in 1552, and its original construction dates back even earlier than that. We had an absolutely amazing meal there, made even better by the fact that DIS paid for it. We were also greatly helped by the fact that one of our trip leaders, Lars, grew up in this town and knows the owner. First, we were served the restaurant's signature microbrew, which was really good. Then we were left sitting, wondering if food would ever come as we were never given a menu. As an answer to our question grills soon came out to each of the 8 tables, and we were informed that we were going to be cooking our own food. Next, a dish of scalloped potatoes came, and stayed warm underneath the table grill. The first two courses of meat were wild pig and calf, which were excellent, although I think I preferred the calf. We then headed off for the salad bar to hold us over to the next courses. Before more meat could arrive though, Lars decided to order each table a bottle of wine either from his DIS money or himself -- we remain uncertain. The next two courses of meat, which were accompanied by more potatoes, were venison and antelope! Antelope is surprisingly tender and quite tasty, as it has a wild game flavor to it, much like venison. Needless to say, all of us pigged out that night, and had an absolutely unbelievable meal. By the time we got back to the hostel none of us wanted to go out, so we got together in one of shacks and played cards for the night. That night, though, was when the real hurricane conditions set it. It was incredibly windy the entire night. So much so, that a very audible howling could be heard throughout the night as the wind whistled through the masts of the ships in the nearby marina.

Skagen Art Museum
The next day we headed to our second art museum, this time in Skagen, which is at the northern tip of Jutland. Compared to the museum in Aarhus, this was nothing great, as it was all the same kind of paintings from painters all at the same time. I guess Skagen was quite the artists's colony in the late 19th century. Afterwards our leaders treated us again, this time to ice cream, and then it was off to get bikes.

The bikes were for a short bike ride to Grenen, which is the actual tip of Jutland. What we came to was the meeting of the North Sea with the Baltic Sea, which was quite a sight. I took a ton of pictures of this, because I just couldn't get over how cool the waves crashing together was. It was also interesting because as we were walking out to the actual point the tide was coming in, and it slowly enveloped the point, and most of our legs. Surprisingly, at least to me, the general landscpare reminded me a lot of the landscape along Lake Michigan by the sand dunes, because, that's pretty much what they had, sand dunes. Anyways, this was an absolutely amazing sight to see, and I suggest looking at my pictures, although I'm sure they don't do it justice.

The Ride Home
Grenen was the last stop on the study tour, so were now heading back to Copenhagen. Of course, this couldn't go smoothly, that just wouldn't make sense. The high winds that I mentioned we experienced the night before continued all day, and there was a decent concern that the ferry we were supposed to take, and the bridge that was the alternative route, would be both closed down. Luckily, the winds died down as we headed south and the day progressed, giving us safe passage, although the ferry did rock quite a bit.
The highlight of the trip back though was my first experience with the Danish cinema. We were shown the movie "After the Wedding", which was very good. I suggest renting it and watching with the English subtitles. It was a good thing that we made it back without too much trouble though, as people were ready to go home. A few of us were commenting how already Copenhagen seems like home after only 3 weeks, and laughed at this revelation.
Overall, it was a great trip, and from what I've heard from other people, better than others. So for that I'm happy. It was great to see a part of Denmark that most tourists never see, and for whatever reason made me feel like this is now my second home away from home (after Carleton, of course).

In other news, Marta is now at home. I've uploaded some pictures my Mom took of the new addition. From what I understand, Misty is slowly adjusting to life with a new puppy, but she is coping rather well. But man, Marta is cute! Now for the parting thought: who would have thought after getting ramshackled 34-7 by Pittsburgh last week, and trading away their starting quarterback for a 6th round pick, that the Browns would respond with a 51-45 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals?

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