Day 1 in Växjö, Sweden

Our flight left Bangkok at midnight on Friday. The kids did remarkably well. Only while we were waiting to board did Mei-mei give in to sleep. I carried her on board. It turned out that we were upgraded to “premium economy” which meant that we were on an older plane, upstairs in what used to be business class before business class got really nice. It worked well with the kids and both of them got a full 8 hours of sleep. The flight was about 12 hours so it was just after 6 am when we landed.

I must admit that Copenhagen came as a bit of a shock to the system after 3 weeks in Southeast Asia. Walking into the quiet of the silent crowd, the cold and sleek Scandinavian aesthetic of the airport felt sterile and bare after the technicolor of Thailand and the ornateness of China. The airport seemed of such diminutive size after Bankgkok and Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and even Singapore which is actually slightly more to Western scale than the other places. The people did NOT seem diminutive, however, and being surrounded by so many tall Europeans, my first thought fell along the lines of something like, “What empty and silent planet have I landed on and who are all these hairy de-pigmented giants?”

We still did not have our residency permits for Sweden and I was a bit nervous about passport control even though I knew perfectly well that I could enter the country without a visa and be there for 90 days without trouble. All the same, I was worried that the officer might ask what we were doing in Denmark and I didn’t want to lie. No worries. The controller didn’t even scan our passports. Just looked at the photos, gave us each a smile and stamped us in.

After we collected our bags we headed into the basement for the regional train to Växjö. The fact that we were able to cross the border, get our bags and take the amazing brief walk (about 4 minutes) to the train station without any confusion and within the short time between our landing and the first train departure thereafter confirmed my impressions of the small-ness of it all but also spoke to the efficiency of things.

The train was right there and set to leave in 2 minutes so we hopped on and decided to buy tickets on board. We took our seats as the train departed and waited for the conductor to come through. Moments after leaving the airport we were in Central Copenhagen and not so long after we were already in Sweden, stopping at the Malmö station.

But then we began to run in to a bit of trouble. In June they changed the procedures and stopped selling tickets on the train. The conductor told us we could get off at the next station and buy tickets for the next train (which wasn’t for another 90 minutes) or we could pay the fine. Jason, who had not slept well on the plane and had no interest in waiting for the next train, seemed to shock the conductor a bit when he asked her what the fine was, how much the regular fare was and calculated that the difference between the two was a small enough sum that he would rather pay the fine. So, she wrote us a couple of tickets (violations, not train tickets, mind you) that we would need to pay at the train station within the next 30 days. We settled in for what remained of our 90 minute train ride.

Then, the last stop before Växjö it was announced that the train would not be continuing on after all and that we would disembark and take buses to our final destination. In a confusing scenario that felt positively un-Swedish to us, we were left standing outside of the Alvesta train station with 30 other people waiting for a bus to Växjö that never arrived. After about an hour we called a cab and paid a relatively steep fare to get to our apartment. Given all the additional fees and fares, we spent quite a bit of money getting from Växjö to Copnehagen. One thing we have already learned about the iron cage of rationality and the gilded cage of bureaucracy in Sweden, however, is that you can’t take the rules lying down. Jason went down to the train station a couple of days later and they agreed to reimburse us for the cab fare. They sent our tickets off to some office somewhere for a decision regarding whether or not they will be forgiven on account of the failures of the train. We expect that we will pay very little or nothing at all in the end.

I was having some misgivings after the train fiasco. Where had I dragged my family? But then we arrived at our apartment. Our apartment is a furnished 3 bedroom on the second floor of an owner-occupied house in Väster (which means West). The owners are the friends of a friend. They have 4 daughters, the youngest are 11 and 13 and they had put special effort into the kids’ bedroom including their own old kid furniture, wall hangings, toys, games and puzzles. The kids were instantly at home. The kitchen is small but it is brand new and bright. The 3rd bedroom was already set up as an office for 2 people. Our bedroom opens on to a west-facing balcony. The combination living and formal dining room included a sofa, a pull-out love seat, an extendable table, wall storage that makes me want to shop for knick knacks to fill it with, and even a small television. Nearly perfect.

We spent the rest of the day walking around to get the lay of the land. Our neighbors/landlords took us in their car for a first big grocery shopping trip. That evening we walking into the centrum to find a pizza place that Jason had been talking about since we visited Växjö last February. The falafelrulle (falafel wrap) was quite nice.
Within hours of our arrival we had achieved a level of domestic comfort that we never achieved in China. Next on the agenda was navigating encounters with the institutions necessary to our lives here: school, the university and, most importantly, the immigration office…
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