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Text: Pasi Pekkola • Photography: Aki Roukala

When I lived in China people often asked me about my hometown. It felt a bit obscure to talk about this small Finnish city to someone who is used to living amongst millions of other people. How could there be anything worth mentioning?

But it did not take too long for me to understand how exotic Lahti can sound. I would try to explain how pine trees smell in the forest, and what it feels like to sit alone at the pier when the lake is smooth as glass. My Chinese friends would listen in awe. My hometown was for them a fairytale; something they had never heard of or tried to even imagine.

What never failed to amuse my friends was the fact that our biggest lake, the Lake Vesijärvi, literally translates to “water lake”. The place names in China were imaginative, inspired by dragons and folklore. Compared to that “water lake” was quite different.


I left my hometown as soon as I graduated from high school. I was eager to experience the world. I wanted to experience adventures and explore bigger cities. First, I moved to Helsinki and after that to China. The world swallowed me as whole, almost like a small spring roll.

China was busy and lively, and often quite loud. Every morning I would open an app from my phone that would tell me today’s pollution levels, and I would plan my day accordingly. Can I take my toddler out for a nap during a stroll at the park? Should I grab a face mask for my commute? Through a curtain of pollution everything seemed gray and diluted. The colors were less vibrant from what I remembered.

Looking out from my window I could not see the nearest building across from mine on the worst days. Schools would be shut down. People would be instructed to stay put at their homes. One time in Peking we broke the world record because of how bad the pollution was. I would get nose bleeds from all the dust that entered my lungs and nose. I could taste smoke and sulfate.


Years later I moved back to Lahti. I headed straight to one of my favorite spots: a small island nearby the city center. I sat down to admire the view. The city of Lahti was right there across the lake from the spot I sat in. My hometown looked both familiar and strange. The colors were not as vibrant back then. And what was this silence? Listening to the water ripples, watching the swans swim, feeling the fresh wind blowing – I took in all the beauty my hometown could offer.

I thought about my friends back in China. How their forests were trees perched between skyscrapers, and how their lakes were artificially lit up pools of water. I remembered one dinner I had with them. My close friend put his hand on my shoulder and told me that sometimes we take the longest route to find something that was right there all along.

He was right. It only took me a trip across continents to see what type of a place I had grown up in. Nowadays I have no trouble describing my hometown. There are far too many good things about Lahti that are worth mentioning.

Pasi Pekkola is a writer born in Lahti who spent years in China before moving back to his hometown to pursue writing full-time.