Category Archives: Arts and culture

Oulu – Lee Yu-hsuan´s lessons in heavy metal ethics

“I am ashamed of it”, she describes, retrospectively, about a scene in Oulu, Finland, where a grinning, hairy, face of a man approaches the face of a girl, her, not long pass her prime. For a flash of a second, it can be imagined that she will get spit on her face from him, such is the proximity of the two, and such is the brutality of the act. Yet, her eyes show only ecstatic acceptance, which is highlighted by the untamed make-up she wears. Her head twitches wildly, and her hair splits the air. He is sure to see right through her tantalized gaze and knows what it means: unapologetic synchronization – wild and primitive.

Really, Yu-hsuan, are you ashamed of it?

“Not really a fan of metal, before I went to Finland”, Taiwanese Lee Yu-hsuan, a former university student and a performer in the city of Oulu´s official, heavy metal themed commercial, starts her story. “I applied for four different programs in four different countries”. The year was 2010, and obviously there was an important and long-lasting choice to be made. “At that time, I really wanted to get out from the comfort zone, so of course Oulu was the top choice. None of my friends had a clue about there”.

How much of a danger zone did Oulu – known for its black winter days – turn out to be?

Oulu
“Ookko nää Oulusta, pelekääkkö nää polliisia?” Oulu can appear as a “danger zone”, especially for international students, but only for a short while as the policeman’s statue is also a reassuring figure in this university city.

Luckily, a complete castaway she was not. “When I was in Finland, I got a lot of help from the local people”, she remembers those times, adding that the living costs were affordable as well. And how about the studies then?

“The program was well designed, and it was also really international”, Yu-hsuan characterizes the University of Oulu´s Education and Globalization program. “I hope I didn’t give you the wrong impression: that I am pessimistic about Taiwan’s international status”, she is quick to realize, and continues: “the common experience is that the universities [in Taiwan] are not providing enough courses in English for international students”. “I just wanted to choose a different way”.

Oulu
Group photo of the education and globalization programme’s students.

And, indeed, a different way she chose; in Oulu “I got time to really think about me – what I want – without any social pressure”. Could it be at that point, when the metal music stepped into the otherwise more ordinary story?

“It was actually from a cocktail show in a local bar”, she starts to unravel the metallic mystery, and is sure to continue: “we wanted to celebrate this special moment, so my friends ordered some special cocktails for me, and the bartender accompanied the drinks with this type of music and fire”. It had caught her soon-to-become metal heart, though with peculiar modesty she points out that she is not a big fan of heavy metal, but finds it, nevertheless, interesting. However, there is a dash of typical Finnish downplaying to be sensed in her storytelling, which raises the question: what other habits did Yu-hsuan – from the land of the mid-day sun – pick up in the land of the midnight sun.

Oulu
Metal music fosters acceptance and inner thinking.

“Frankly, seeing all the LGBT -rights debate lately in Taiwan makes me recall the demonstration in Helsinki in October this year”, she changes the topic, referring to the equal marriage act that is called to be enacted in the Taiwanese legislative bodies, and of which the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender are head over heels in favour of, and who have taken it to the streets of Taipei. “I just don’t get it – I thought it would be easy to pass the law in Taiwan”, Yu-hsuan explains.

Apart from pressing political matters, surely, Taiwan is nothing like Finland, at least when it comes to metal music, and the tropical island nation must be a flat out Copacabana compared to kalevalaesque Oulu, right? Not quite. “Surprisingly, there is an up-coming metal music event happening in Hsinchu”, where a non-surprising selection of songs from Finnish household names – such as Nightwish, Stratovarius and Sonata Arctica – is played. “What makes Finnish people so into it”, she wonders aloud.

“Do you keep up with the Finnish tradition as a heavy drinker?”, she then asks out of the blue.

Oulu

Hopefully, the answer is no, but I must admit that all this talk about drinks and LGBT -rights made me wonder about one of my favorite clubs in Taipei. It is a place well known for its LGBT crowds during the occasional, “rainbowishly” themed nights – a rainbow in the dark, dare I say. And, frankly, you can’t go wrong with a club where one receives a free shot of whiskey for being a Finn, and another one for being a fan, a fan of of metal music that is, and where the bartender remembers to mention his favourite band being Stratovarius.

It seems to forever amaze me, what makes specifically the metal crowd so uniquely accepting and peace-loving. At least, for some reason, those who have spent a winter beyond the 60th parallel seem to not lack the courage.

And then, between us, there was a silence that was not awkward at all. It was rather synchronous, anticipating a faster pace to come, and, sure enough:

“Busy, busy!”, she commented her current life as a project manager for an art investment company Arttime, and then added: “looking forward to my dinner in Taipei tonight – we are doing coffee tasting”.

Metal music, human rights, craft beer, coffee tasting and silence. How awfully Finnish can life sometimes be..

PS. There are (at least) 9 more or less famous metal song names embedded in the article. Those who wish to prove themselves worthy, may have a go at finding and recognizing all of the names.

Text: Markku Väisänen