Jun 11

Cycling in Denmark

My cycling trip to Rønde

My cycling trip to Rønde

Sorry for not updating for another long period of time. I was really busy with lab, and did some travelling in between. Basically, the Danish life and weather is so great and entertaining that you barely even need to stay on the Internet to have fun.

Denmark is one of the most cyclist-friendly country in the world. There are dedicated bike paths for cyclists on almost every major  road, and bike parking facilities can be found everywhere in populated urban and suburban areas alike. The suburban trains are equipped with bike holding facilities, making it possible for people to travel with their human-powered locomotive to other parts of the country without much hassle. Ironically, though, is that the intercity trains (IC and ICL) do not offer bike transport – which is an annoyance, to be true.

For starters, Denmark has around 10,000km of cycling routes. An average Dane cycles an average of 1.6km per day1, over his/her lifespan – yes, inclusive of the years when they are incapable of cycling.

Why cycle?

The sport of cycling unjustly suffers from unjustified fear2. Cycling itself carries a lot of benefits:

  • A Danish study in 2000 concluded that mortality rate decreases by 40% when people bicycle to work3
  • The mortality rate of cycling is lower than that of walking, per distance travelled.
  • Nine out of ten Danes own a bike4. Get a bike yourself or be socially awkward.
  • Instead of sharing the same road surface with a faster moving motor vehicles, Danish bike lanes are physically separated from roads by a curb, and they are sligthly raised above road level.

My experience

The very first thing I did after arriving in Denmark is to rent a bike from Studenterneshuset (eng: The Student’s House). Why cycle, you ask, when Denmark has a well-established network of urban/suburban transport? For my entire stay in Denmark – five months and counting – buses are never late. The only time my bus ran late was because after a snowstorm in February, and that’s pretty much it. The train rides are affordable and comfortable – youths and students who are holders of the DSB Wild Card get approximately 50% off train ticket prices. In addition, according to my personal experience of Interrailing in Europe, Denmark definitely wins, by a large margin, when it comes to comfort and punctuality.

I didn’t cycle much in winter because of the cold and the ice, but when the weather started warming up towards the end of March, I started cycling. Cycling in Denmark felt a lot safer than doing so in my home country Malaysia, probably because there are dedicated bike lanes in Denmark coupled with better road user awareness and responsible signalling by cyclists themselves. In Malaysia nobody gives a monkey about what happens around their car (please spare me the rhetorics that Malaysians are good drivers. They really are not) while in Singapore the battle between road users and cyclists for road space usage is still very much alive (and people usually think only the poor cycles in the island city).

I realized that cycling made me sensitive to even the slightest inclination of the road. A gentle slope is easily detectable when you’re a bike, so I grew to love routes that have the least elevation change. However, when I’m in the mood to be challenged, I’d take the bike on steeper roads. However, most cyclists in Aarhus will definitely be rewarded with a good workout whenever they travel downtown. The city center of Aarhus is built around a meandering river close to sea level elevation, while the rest of the suburban area lies in the hills rising behind the city core. Therefore, cycling to the Asian store in town to get my periodic fix of Asian food entails an intensive workout of cycling almost 75 meters up, back to my dorm.

I have clocked in almost 400km by simply cycling to and from my lab, and sometimes to town. I did make a cycling trip to Rønde, a quaint, picturesque little town to the northeast of Aarhus – it was almost 60km for the whole return trip, and my legs were sore the next morning, but the sights were simply too beautiful. Here are a few photos to show you. The photos are processed to look like scanned films.

In the middle of the road, underneath the blue Danish skies.

In the middle of the road, underneath the blue Danish skies.

Pylon and the sky.

Pylon and the sky.

My shoes, the hills, and the sky.

My shoes, the hills, and the sky.

  1. Danish Spaces
  2. Is Cycling Dangerous?
  3. Andersen et al. 2000. All-cause mortality associated with physical activity during leisure time, work, sports, and cycling to work. Arch Intern Med. 160(11): 1621-1628. Available online.
  4. Cycling Statistics from Denmark – Bicycles in Denmark

Apr 11

Learning Danish

Velkommen til IKEA - Welcome to IKEA

Velkommen til IKEA - Welcome to IKEA

Today I sat for my Danish level 1 exam. It wasn’t exceptionally hard – we had to pick a book, or a topic to present, and we were given photos to ask questions about. In short, our abilities to read and understand basic Danish; and to construct basic sentences and questions at the snap of the finger (sort of).

Rødgrød med fløde

This is the tongue twister that almost every single foreigner coming to Denmark are challenged with. It literally translats to “red berries with cream”. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Don’t be fooled – it’s a bastard when it comes to pronunciation. To get it correct, it took me two days to get it half right – and another month or so to really master how to roll your tongue when you hit the silent ‘d’.

And here is me trying to pronounce it correctly – nothing groundbreaking, but it’s not easy either.

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I was teased in the floor kitchen about how I couldn’t get it right. I’m not complaining – actually I find it a really good motivator to learn Danish and pronounce it properly, too. After that very night I told myself – I will learn Danish, and prove it to them that I can comprehend and speak basic Danish before I leave.

“Jeg hedder Terry.”

I signed up for Danish class that is to be conducted at Lærdansk, a language school located in town and it also helps with the integration of new immigrants into the local society by giving Danish lessons. As the status of a freshly-arrived foreigner, I had the privilege to take the lessons for free, so I thought why not just give it a try?

In the end, I have to admit it turned out to be more than just a try.

We had our first lesson on the 7th of February, which was about two months ago. Our teacher, Helle, came in, introduced herself in Danish. Of course none of us had any clue about what she was blabbering the moment she stepped into the class, except for a few German girls since their language is derived from the same roots as the Danish language.

Jeg hedder Helle. Hvad hedder du? She went through every single person in the class, making sure that we understood what she said. Immediately it became obvious that she isn’t going to budge – she isn’t going to speak English very often and we have to be really quick learners.

Danish isn’t an easy language – a quick search on Google reveals that it is one of the harder languages to learn. Just like how I find Mandarin very easy to learn, the Danes don’t find Danish challenging at all. Their tongue and lips seemed to move synchronously, churning out vowels that I have never ever heard before in my entire life. They have a few phonetic rules, like the silent ‘d’ in the case of ‘hedder’ (it’s pronounced as ‘heller’).

She scribbled on the blackboard, the screeching noise of the chalk sliced through the air. We’re petrified, horrified and stupefied – what’s going to happen? What should we do? Or more importantly, what on earth is going on?

My name is Helle. What is your name? She wrote in big, white letters on the board.

With her hands up in the air as if she’s conducting a choir, we all repeated after each sentence she said. She started to walk down the tables. She stopped in front of my seat. Beaming a big smile, she asked, Hvad hedder du? I replied, Jeg hedder Terry.

The learning curve

Staring to learn Danish isn’t easy – in the first few weeks we learned how to pronounce the vowels unique to the language properly. Vowels like “æ”, “å” and “ø” are totally unheard of, at least for me. To further complicate the issue, “e” and “i” sound almost identical to each other, too.

And then things got more interesting. With Helle cementing proper basics of Danish phonetics for us, we start to pick up new words by situation-based scenarios. For example, we would learn how to ask someone about his/her day, and then learn how to construct simple questions of such while addressing the subjective, objective and possessive pronouns at the same time.

I’m not even at the good part yet – for the second person pronoun, the Danish language has distinct words for describing singular and plural entities. For example, if I’m talking to you (you as a single person), I would ask “Hvad hedder du?“. If I’m asking for the names of multiple people I’m talking to at the same instance (you as a group of people, e.g. the whole class), I would say “Hvad hedder I?“.

Along the way people came and left – but there were more people leaving than people joining the group. It’s sad to see that my classmates lose interest in Danish because it’s too hard, or they realized it’s a commitment too huge to make. Our class size quickly dwindled from a strong 18 to only around 6 left – then the language school decided to combine our class with another to conserve teaching resources. We made new friends again, but the trend continued – up till the last day of school, only six of us showed up.

Just six.

The final lesson

On Monday we had our last lesson for Level 1 Danish. The day silently arrived, and lesson proceeded as usual. However, we were all quite sure that this will be the last time we’ll be seeing Helle, since most of us don’t have the intention to continue to Level 2 because of our short duration of stay here.

When Anka whipped out her camera, Helle was surprised. Why are we taking a group photo? She asked. We told her our intention to discontinue with the lesson. We were really lucky to have Helle as our teacher, but because of the extra commitment and time required for the second level and of the fact that most of us will leave Denmark in July, there’s simply no reason for us to continue taking the course after the Level 1 exams.

Her eyes went a little red, a sense of sadnesses flooded her face. I could see it. The girls were a little sad too, and the guys (actually it’s just David and I) were quiet.

We know we’ll miss her.

Group photo of our language class in Lærdansk

Group photo of our language class in Lærdansk

The exam

After two months, or almost 40 hours of lesson, we were finally ready for our exam. Helle taught a lot more than what we needed to prepare for the exam – nonetheless, I’m very grateful for that because at least now I could engage is (really) basic conversation with Danes, much to their amusement (and surprise). That ain’t too bad, I think!

Today I sat for my exam – it only lasted a good 5 minutes, a lot shorter than I expected. I picked a card and was told that I had to present a book (damn, I was nailing for the “introduce yourself” option because it’s easier). My heart started racing and suddenly I couldn’t think of any Danish word to say.

Undskyld, jeg er meget nervøs, I confessed. (“Sorry, I’m very nervous”)

Ja, det kan jeg forstå, the female examiner replied, with a calm smile on her face. (“Yes, I can understand that”) However, it isn’t helping much that the other examiner, who is responsible for grading me, is furiously scribbling away on her notepad. Blimey! Thank goodness I came back to my sense quickly, regained my composure and starting talking slowly and awkwardly in Danish. She asked me a few questions, I didn’t understand them all, but I gave her a few answers that made her nod in agreement. Whew.

And then she gave me a photo – it was a man and a woman in a science lab. Shit, a science lab?! All the while Helle had been training us with family photos, so we can ask regular questions like “how many kids will they have?”, “how old are they?” and stuff like that. In the science lab… what questions could I possibly ask? So I awkwardly tried to ask the name, age, marital status, place of residence of the two scientists. Well, at least I asked some questions!

After my exam on my way back to the dorm, I knew that I could probably pass the exam. The problem is that while I could read and speak some Danish, I couldn’t understand much – most probably because I’m not trained well at listening, and also because the Danes speak really fast (and they eat up some words in the process, too).

Continue reading →

Apr 11

Hej verden!

View of rural Denmark from the plane.

View of rural Denmark from the plane.

That’s Hello world! in Danish. I have decided to create a subdomain to chronicle my life in Denmark. Things will still go on as usual on the main site, but I felt that there should be a distinct, special place where my experiences in Denmark will belong to.


My first and last entry on Denmark on my main site can be found here.