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Serious about fun
by Asa Butcher
Issue 12
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Are you lonely? Do you need a partner with whom you can play your favourite sport? Have you thought about trying Tai Chi but didn't want to go alone? Are you searching for a night at the opera with a culturally enlightened individual? Do you know how to smile? If you answered 'yes' to any of these, then the Jolly Dragon will be of interest.

"Jolly Dragon is a sports, social, event and activity organisation that aims to give people more for their free time and their disposable cash," well, that is what their website explains. However, a three-hour chat with its founder Paul James left my mind reeling from the brilliance of his simple idea. "It is a federation of fun, a playground for adults and if you can smile you can become connected with some of the coolest people in Helsinki," declares Paul, "plus it is free."

Launched in January 2005, Jolly Dragon has grown in stature via word-of-mouth, flyers, and the website, "I thought of the idea one night while sat in Molly Malone's - an Irish bar in Helsinki - and my friend asked when we should start, so I said now. We invited a group of strangers that had just entered the bar to join the Jolly Dragon's social evening and they agreed. Later that night, one of the strangers asked when everybody else was arriving, so I replied later…I meant six months later, but I did tell the truth."

Paul, an Irish bachelor living in Helsinki, is one of the most amiable guys I have ever met and you feel completely at ease in his company. Over the course of our conversation, I discovered a great deal about his family, life and work, which all felt quite natural to hear. When I asked him his birthplace, he explained the danger of answering that question while growing up on the border between Northern Ireland and Eire, so now he always answers, 'Jolly Dragon!'

"The project works in a very simple way: Approximately ten percent of the members are those people that like to organise things, such as parties, sporting events and general get-togethers. The people on the Jolly Dragon invitation list are handpicked, so it is full of fun and cool people. Secondly, people who come to events without knowing the host very well also tend to be very social people," observes Paul, an engineer turned social engineer.

Naturally, the events need participants and that is where the ninety percent brings balance to the system, "What is your favourite hobby? Find it on the list and invite Jolly Dragon members to share your sport or activity, challenge us to try something new, a break from the routine," says Paul. "If you intend to use a commercial venue, then it's usually very easy to get some discount and we can help with that."

Instructions on how to make your first invite and details about how to participate in somebody else's activity are clearly explained on their website and the whole process is free to use. There are over seventy activities listed on their web pages and that is only restricted by how involved its members want to become, "It's up to each member to make it work and to spread the word," explains Paul.

In addition to sporting activities, Paul arranges a number of weekly social events, including the 'Weekly Welcome', 'Friday Social', 'Hangover Hangout' and 'Bar Babble', all of which are open to everybody and the details of which can be found on their site. Everybody is welcome to join and participate because Jolly Dragon does not care about your age, gender, nationality or sexual orientation.

Paul's enthusiasm remains as infectious as his personality and he has already found contacts in a number of cities across the globe that want to found their own Jolly Dragon chapter, so get involved while this project is in its infancy and you'll be able to say you were one of the first to be 'Serious about fun!'

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