Thursday, 3 September 2015

The quest for a home: the Lund edition - part 1

Huh, Lund? What game is that? Surprise: it's not a game (although we can pretend it is), but a real town in the physical land of Sweden (gasp). I moved there some weeks ago to study archaeology for a semester. As some people have asked what I've been up to, I thought it might be fun to report on this blog every now and then. I briefly considered making a separate blog for my Sweden adventures, but that's a lot of work and I'm pretty sure one would suffer over the other.

So if you only want to read about gaming on this blog, move on to the next post. If you're curious at my "real life exploration" adventures in Sweden, though, do read further! I apologize in advance for any obscure gaming references I might make that are probably lost on the non-gamers.

Alternative titles for this blog post that I considered are Real life exploration in Southern Sweden or A Quick Guide: How to get Exhausted and Sick in Just 7 Days.


The character we are playing is a female Caucasian with dark blonde hair. She is slightly taller than most women, with an average body type and wears her long hair in a braid. It appears she has a permanent hair stylist contract, for at some days she wears her hair in a different fashion. Her inventory contains some clothes, study material, a laptop and a moderate amount of local currency (kronor).

The base of operation is a small room in Östra Torn, Lund, south-west Sweden. You are told you are allowed to live here for two weeks. The objective is to find a place to rent for five months; challenge mode is to find a place where your boyfriend can live as well. Gameplay is mostly non-violent: although violence is theoretically possible, it is not recommended. You are encouraged to achieve your goals through social interaction. During a two week session, various side quests are offered at the university that will introduce you to life in Sweden. You are advised not to skip these if it is your first time studying abroad.

We are playing on nightmare mode difficulty with two permanent debuffs: 1) "student city with huge housing shortage" and 2) "chronic illness" with the description "greatly reduces the maximum amount and regeneration speed of your character's energy bar".

The following is an excerpt from the avatar's diary during the first week of gameplay.

Nothing beats some old fashioned exploring with a physical map!

Day 1: Scouting

The day starts off with a surprise debuff called "severe stomach cramps". While my host is busy fixing the wireless internet with the help of Conrad over the phone, I need to run upstairs every 10 minutes and lie down on my back until the cramps tune down a bit. I'm a bit worried that my host will think I'm weird!

Around noon I fall asleep for an hour. When I wake up I feel a little bit better the debuff has disappeared and I decide to stop slacking and explore the neighbourhood.

I take out the map and start looking up some of the university buildings. My eyes fall upon a small park next to the mathematics centre. I conclude that Lund's mathematicians are, just like everywhere else, selected for their strength with numbers and not for their ability to come up with original names.

Names of the landmarks of Lunds mathematics centrum: Sjön ("the Lake") and Ön ("the Island").
Source: Google Maps

When I start cycling I'm blown away by the environment. These people don't just live in a quiet quarter, they live in a park! There are no large roads, just cycle paths: all cars in the area are parked together at one spot hidden away somewhere. As I get closer to the centre, I'm amazed at the amount of green, the quietness and feeling of space: it's so different from busy and touristic Amsterdam. I grew up in a small town with a lot of nature, so I immediately feel at home.

First gathering node detected: plums!

One thing that is different, and which reminds me I'm in a foreign country immediately, is the neatly mowed grass everywhere. In the Netherlands, the roadsides are usually overgrown with wild plants: the municipality doesn't spend that much tax money on maintenance. I must admit that I do miss the weed a bit. This park almost looks too neat. Luckily they went overboard with the trees with many different species, of which a lot bear fruit.

I'm pleasantly surprised to find it only takes 10 minutes of cycling to get to the main university building: In Amsterdam it has always taken me at least 30 minutes, no matter where I lived. On the way back I do some grocery shopping MLG gathering at the ICA. I'm excited to find they have tunnbröd and färskost med kantarellsmak (I'm super addicted to these whenever I'm in Sweden!). I also take some pictures of the chocolate bananas they sell just so I can tease Conrad (they're his favourite sweets and they don't sell them in the Netherlands) - yes, I pretend to be nice here on this blog, but I am, in fact, a very mean person!

I barely have eaten something with the stomach and all and feel very weak and tired, but somehow manage to work on university related stuff until 11 pm.

AF-borgen, the crime scene of Arrival Day's lottery

Day 2: Housing lottery at Arrival Day

A bit confusing since I arrived Sunday evening, but Arrival Day is what they call the first university day for international students here in Lund. At 9 am in the morning there's a lottery for students without housing I want to attend.

I'm in time and take a seat in a room with circa 75 other international students waiting in line to pull a straw. Half an hour later it's my turn; I get lot 97 - ouch (I think). At 10 am a list is created. My number 97 miraculously turns out to give me number 33 on the list, but there are only 30 houses available. Because it is possible that some people will not accept the housing offered to them, I have to wait until it's my turn to see how it goes. This is one of the most stressful things I've done. What if there's only one apartment left but it's so small that there's no place for Conrad? Do I accept it so I can stay in Lund? Or is it better to gamble that I can stay in Östra Torn for a little bit longer and stay high up on the waiting list?

The hours creep by while the students go up in pairs to the table to look at what houses are available and sign a contract. We chat a bit amongst each other while waiting. A nice American girl that I talked to before leaves the room as she ended up with number 87. I feel sorry for her. Another drama unfolds when three friends that came to Lund together have to split up: two manage to find a room in the same corridor, but the third is left with no housing at all. It's really weird to sit in this room chatting to fellow students that are competing for the same houses. Everyone is stressed out; some people don't even have a place to stay tonight. This event is climbing the ranks of least favourite activities fast.

Around 1 pm number 32 (!) signs the last housing contract. While I did not get a room, I am now number 1 on the waiting list. I am told that, in case any houses will become available, it will be during the course of September the earliest.

I'm very tired of all the waiting, the many people and the noise around me, but there's more stuff to be done, such as officially checking in at the university (queue of half an hour). When I get to the stand where they sell the Swedish books I feel dizzy and nauseous, but when the people at the desk find out I'm admitted to the advanced course, conversation changes to Swedish. I somehow manage to mutter enough Swedish for them to not throw me out of the course immediately. Although the building is full with chatting international students standing in various queues, I decide I've done enough for today and head back home.

My legs hurt so much that I don't really want to be standing on them at all. I also seem to somehow have deserved the "exhausted" debuff, but I manage to keep myself busy with chores until 11 pm (preparing dinner, calling my doctor, Skyping about renting out my apartment in Amsterdam, making an advertisement, preparing things for tomorrow etc).

Day 3: Patrick the policeman, Swedish lesson and a visitation

I still have the "exhausted" debuff, but this is no time to slack, because I have to go to a general information meeting in Kårhuset, the not so very exciting-looking building depicted above. Here we get educated on the Swedish law by "Patrick the policeman" (I am not making this up, he was introduced to me as such!). Patrick the policeman tells us the fee for riding through a red light is 1500 SEK (160 euro); an amount that would make the Dutch police instantly rich if they would enforce it in Amsterdam for just one day. He also told us there's a fee of 500 SEK (53 euro) when cycling in the dark with only one light, but "as in Sweden we are nice, we'll give you a discount if you miss both lights! It's just 750 SEK for two lights, so if you want to break the law, better go all the way!" He also offers "free stays at the police station" for students without housing; the only thing they have to do is to get drunk enough to pass out on the street.

Armed with this knowledge it was time for my first Swedish lesson, which was a bit of a disappointment, in all fairness. There are over 40 students, all cramped together in a small classroom and all having very different levels of Swedish. It only starts getting fun when we get to practice our Swedish on each other. I have a lively conversation with the Chinese girl that sits next to me. But when we have to put away our books at the end of the lesson and write an assignment in Swedish she cheats by secretly looking up words in her books underneath the table all the time (lame).

Since the lesson itself is not very interesting to talk about, I'll let you watch my favourite Swedish language video instead (warning: it does contain some British swearing):

Mastering Swedish: Homonyms (Source)

But that was not all: after the Swedish lesson it was time to visit an apartment for rent. It was in Stångby, a small town to the north of Lund, and luckily the Indian guy on the phone wanted to pick me up by car because of my "exhausted" debuff. 

The Indian guy turns out to be from Iran and introduces the middle-aged woman with a baby in the back of the car as his husband. I think he is making a joke and reply with: "ah, and you must be her wife then!" It is only later that I find out that his English really is so bad that he doesn't know the difference between husband and wife - oops. We speak a mix of English and Swedish and I'm really glad that I can, in fact, understand some Swedish, otherwise it would've been very hard to communicate.

The apartment is in a cellar; luckily there are two tiny windows so it's not all dark. The carpet is old, the furniture cheap, but they ask a fair price and there is enough space for both Conrad and me. When I tell them I would like to rent the place, they tell me that another couple is coming to look in the weekend. They assure me that "the most important thing for us is that we get along with our tenants, and it really feels good with you, so it's 99% certain that it's going to be you". 

We shall see.


Because this post is getting really long, I'll talk about the rest in a sequel post. For the gamers that surely have fallen asleep by now: you can earn a griffon by finding the two Guild Wars 2 references and post them in the comments below!

For others that are on my blog for the first time: I get super happy from reading your thoughts below. You don't need to sign in or anything and you can write in Dutch, English, Swedish... whatever floats your boat. I hope the post wasn't too confusing because of the gamer perspective.

What will happen when I keep ignoring the "exhausted" debuff? Will I get to spend the rest of my exchange student period in a cellar (and become a Swedish vampire)? Or will I not find any housing at all and will I get thrown onto the streets after my two weeks in Östra Torn are over (and start drinking so Patrick the policeman will pick me up)? Find out soon in part 2.


  1. I for one enjoyed this post very much. I will go even further and say, don't worry too much about keeping things separate. Your writing is good enough that I think you could write about watching paint dry and it would still entertain people.

    You have my deepest respects for playing a hard game like that in nightmare mode.

    As for mathematicians not giving good names for places my pet theory is that they save all the good names for their own work so nobody outside their circle will get what they are talking about so they can pretty much like a secret cult in plain sight! /puts on the tinfoil hat

    Also, I am jealous of how long you take to get to university. Back when I went to mine it took like an hour and a half to get there (probably longer but my brain is suppressing the memories). Oh, it was in crowded bus and subway too. To be fair, 30 of those minutes were walking from the subway to the university. I could probably save about 20 minutes or more if I took another crowded bus but I preferred to walk. :p

    Patrick the policeman sounds like a nice guy!

    The phrases of that video sounds like completely bonkers though.

    I will pass the part about getting the Guild Wars 2 references. The only one I can get is the gathering node. But that is like shooting the side of a barn. It's been too long since I played that game. /sigh

    Looking forward for the next part! :)

    1. Aww, thank you for the kind words! Everyone is so supportive in the comments; I think that will make it easier to finish the next part and not feel odd about it. The gamer perspective thing was also something I wasn't sure about, but I'm glad to hear it did work out.

      Oh, and I detest crowded buses, too (especially since I can't stand for very long, and nobody will notice because I look healthy and then I end up sitting on the floor getting a lot of weird looks), so I'm totally with you on the walking (or cycling, in my case). There's also a bus going to the university, but I think it will take just as long as with the bicycle, if not longer, because it takes 5 minutes to get to the bus stop and then another 5 to walk from the bus to the university building... I feel very fortunate as well that the university is so close!

      The idea behind the video (apart from laughing at a Brit trying to pronounce Swedish) is that some Swedish words get a totally different meaning if you pronounce them differently - not sure if you noticed that. Although they did go out of the way to make the sentences even more ridiculous than necessary, I had a good laugh listening to them.

      The gathering node was intended as a general gaming reference, although I guess you can interpret it is a GW2 specific reference as well. Shintar found the first GW2 reference (see below) and the second one (since I don't think anyone is going to guess it at this point) was the mention of the permanent hair stylist contract - if only I would really have one (in-game, that is)!

      Time to get your arse back in Guild Wars 2! (J/k) ;)

    2. I didn't notice that about the video. I guess Swedish is another language that would be dangerous for me to try speaking since I am terrible at pronunciation in any language (yes, even my native one!)

      Yeah, I figured that was probably a more generic reference but I couldn't remember if Guild Wars 2 had plums or not. Plus it was the closest thing I could think of from the game. I didn't even know there was such a thing as permanent hair stylist contract! That goes to show how long I haven't played it.

      The picture also threw me off. I knew it was the picture of a real life place and I thought the girl might have been a character from a game that you inserted there. But then I looked at the dress and thought "Nah! That dress looks too good to be from a MMO! Must be a real life picture too!". I should have known better. :p

      And despite your joking I do intent to check out Guild Wars 2 before the end of month as long as no other problems happen *knocks on wood*. Maybe that way I can settle my feelings with it once and for all!

  2. Thanks for the (long) update. Worth the read.

    (No, seriously. I know I just posted something that sounds suspiciously like spam.)

    Anyway, all I ask is that you don't make any mention of ABBA while you're in Sweden. I don't need any earworms tomorrow morning, thank-you-very-much.

    1. It's funny how everyone associates Sweden with ABBA all the time (hey, you started it!). I myself have this (very different) musical association (start at 1:13):

    2. Well, thankfully Aqua is Danish, so when people in the US think Sweden ABBA comes to the top. (We can thank Disco for that.)

      But that's an awesome piece! Thanks for sharing that.

  3. Life in a foreign country is always exciting, sounds like you're off to a particularly adventurous start!

    I initially thought that the top picture might be based on a GW2 screenshot, but I don't think they have bins in Tyria... :P

    1. Typical that a SWTOR player is the first to detect one of the GW2 references! I like using a top picture that covers the topic of my blog post in some (probably illogical and obscure) way, so for this one it had to be one that reflected both the gaming and the physical world. This 'in between' picture was the best I could come up with. The idea is that you cannot tell whether it's a photo or a screenshot at the first glance. But yes, if you want to de-mystify it, it's a garden just around the corner here in Lund and my GW2 character, that looks a lot like me.

      I had one friend of me that thought it was just a picture of me in a garden at first, which I thought was absolutely awesome! I guess it also has to do with expectations: she was expecting a photo, you a screenshot.

      I think the bin is actually a fence (click to zoom in), but it testifies of your attention for detail (and probably also of your experience with virtual environments) that you noticed it was something that would not have been included in a gaming world. It is also slightly bending over to the side, where I would expect game developers to either put it upright or more obviously slanting. Another hint may have been the bicycle behind it - not a common occurrence in the fantasy & sci-fi games I play.

      Interesting, I had not thought about it like this yet!

    2. Ooh, thanks for the clarification, I was actually still wondering about the person in the picture, because even after I had decided that it was a photograph, it still didn't quite add up. Based on the things you've told us about yourself, I wouldn't expect you to go for walks in the park in a long and super frilly-looking dress like someone in GW2 would wear... but I thought that maybe you would? That makes so much more sense. :D

  4. I loved this. A travelogue written in gamer terms. Your adventures so far seem as grand as those in any game world. The apartment and landlord seem pretty sketchy but obviously housing isn't going to be ideal. I always lived in dorms in college, but had friends who were in apts and shared houses. Their experiences were always so weird compared to mine. Looking forward to your next adventure.

  5. I must thank you for sharing your adventures on foreign lands, and narrating them as a game! Loved it! I also want to thank you for making me remember my first weeks in Today (Tokyo, Japan) when I landed there to study as well. And lastly: PLEASE KEEP ON WRITING MORE ABOUT IT!!! Yes! writing a separate blog would be too much work, but just keep on writing here :D I'm sure no one will fall asleep!

  6. Oh I loved this blog post, it was very well written :) and much fun to read. By having the story in gamer terms it somehow does seem quite adventurous, but I know the exhausting buff most be terrible. And you manage to do quite a lot of things, I am impressed! Hopefully the buff will show up less after the first days. The housing problems seem to be hopeful, so that is really good. I hope that you many more nice adventures (without the exhaustion buff) and I look forward to hear the rest of your adventures :D.

    The second GW2 reference is that about the gathering node, however that is kinda off general to all MMO's, so I am not sure. Then I looked at the first map and for a moment I thought that the general quest in GW2 were stars and that you find your own quest area's on the map. However then I realised that they are hearths in GW2 and not stars. Now I am not sure what the reference can be.

    Ps. Väsen is really nice :D

    1. Yay, I'm so happy you liked it! Still having the exhausted debuff about 80% of the time, but I've done some fun things now as well. This first week was just really no fun for me, so it was hard to figure out a way to write about it without it sounding whiney.

      The gathering node was indeed a general gaming reference; I've revealed the correct one in reply to Rakuno's comment. Next time I'll make them a bit easier!

      Oh, and I totally should have done GW2 hearts on the map instead of the stars, what a missed chance... that would've been perfect!


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