Computers Rising

So… today in some weird way… my google password suddenly did not work on my work laptop. And my Windows settings on my home laptop are changed…

My desktop was updated to my work laptop background. An image that I am 100% certain does not even exist on my home laptop up to a few minutes ago.

I’m very confused. Something is connecting my work and personal life into the cloud. Not sure what program even caused this to happen…

 On Edit: Turns out I accidently activated my personal OneDrive account (came with Win10) on my work computer, and now my work pc is taking over my home pc. Fixed by turning off syncing in OneDrive settings.

“But What If We’re Wrong”

So I thought I’d do a book review for once… Those who don’t know me might not really have a lot of feelings about that statement, but those that do, probably just fell off their chair reading this.

I just finished “But What If We’re Wrong” by Chuck Klosterman. What is so remarkable about this event of me finishing a book? Well, first off, I have read exactly 2 books since I left college 8.5 years ago. The first was a Dutch book that I got from a friend when I moved to the USA. It was a description of a road trip the author made, replicating a historic road trip from an American author some decades before. It was interesting for me to see how the Dutch author had such a hugely different view on what the US is as a country and society, than I have. Interestingly enough, the America he described seems to have submerged and voted Donald J Trump into the White House. (Those that now think I am referring to racist, America filled with bigots and deplorables, you’ve got it wrong, you have no understanding of America whatsoever).

Anyhow. Not only was reading my latest book a fairly rare happening, it was also the very first book I ever voluntary bought. In fact, I took the time to find it in a book store (yes Chuck, I beat those odds), . I actually had to visit four stores before I saw it , almost by accident, in a shop on Bradley Airport. One might contribute the finding of this book to divine intervention of some sorts, since I was supposed to fly out of Boston, not Bradley, but as any traveler knows; things change. Additionally it was the very first English book ever, as far as I remember, I read. I hope Chuck (I may call you Chuck, right… I mean, after all you are my closest literally friend I have had in a long time!), appreciates the significance of this event. By the way, you may thank Trevor Noah for me buying the book. Get the daily show to host you, and them talk about us being wrong about gravity. That’s pretty much all you need to do to get me hooked and trick me into reading a book about (American) sports and music (kinda). I’m writing this on Delta flight 0074 going to Amsterdam, and just noticed they have the movie “Citizen Kaine” available. So now I am forced to watch that movie and actually get what you were referring to.

The subtitle of the book reads “thinking about the present as if it were the past”, which is kind of appropriate since I like to think about the future as if it were the present. When thinking about that present I unfortunately do need to bring two factual errors in the book to mind. The chapter on democracy and freedom fails to acknowledge that there in fact is already something called a functional dictatorship. It is called Singapore (to name the best example), and is doing quite well according to standards we value presently. The second is about your underestimated fear for a nuclear attack (or is it a fear for statistics that make reality too real to accept?). If considering that somehow terrorists did get their hands on a nuclear device, I do agree they will try to use it. But this will not be in the USA. We’re protected sufficiently to stop that from happening. Nothing would be lamer for a terrorist group to get their hands on a nuclear device to then be caught by the TSA at JFK airport. It will much rather be somewhere in the middle east, or Africa. My bets are on Africa, since that would be the most improbably thing to happen looking at it from the present past.

I have to mention, Chuck, that one of the most difficult parts of the book is the tile being up-side-down. You’re doing it wrong. It made me physically ill several times just looking at it, requiring me to turn the book around. It makes you wonder, does it not, why we would create a simulation where people get upset by book covers printed the “wrong” way. How would that help us gain knowledge about the universe? Who knows… perhaps we will find out in some distant future.

I do realize this blog posts will make absolutely no sense to anyone who has not read the book. But there is a simple solution to that. Read it! Or not, it really does not matter to me, since I’m probably wrong about everything I understood from the book anyhow. Although I do not think Chuck aimed for me to learn anything from the book, rather he probably wants me to think about stuff. Well, Chuck, just to let you know. If I ever meet you, I will buy you a beer and we will discuss the world of today as if it were the past. Maybe by that time, hedgehogs do live in Ohio thanks to global factors you refused to discuss (but could not stop yourself from mentioning). To your defense, I’m sure they are smart and love apples, so there really was no way you could know… Have you considered the possibility that you actually DID see a hedgehog, and everyone telling you otherwise is just wrong about this well documented fact? (After all, I read in a book somewhere that you saw a hedgehog, and we all know books are never wrong!). Anyhow, since I lack the possession of a book case, I am forced to give the book to my brother and his girlfriend. I’m interested to learn what they think about it, since it has some distinctive American flavors, that I am not sure how they translate into a normal non-US minded person. I will keep you posted, or not. We really do not know what the future brings.

“But What If We’re Wrong”
Chuck Klosterman
Blue Rider Press; 2016.

 Ps: I forgot to deliver the book to my brother.

Orlando, FL

A quick trip to Orlando Florida, just because I can. Decided to visit Orlando for 2 days, needed a quick trip for my miles (I know for those who are not traveling all the time, this sounds totally ridiculous, but trust me, this is going to save me hours in check-in and makes travel for work a lot more comfortable for 2017.

Perfect start in a plane packed with children, with an upgrade to 1st class. Always nice, even if only an hour long flight. I left Atlanta with ice on my car windows, I got off the plane in Orlando around 68F (18C). Ticking off another state from my travel map, and fairly certain I will be back. Decided to check out Sea World. Wanted to see the Killer Whales in action before they stop having shows, due to haters who dislike people enjoying experiences they could typically not have. Travel tip for  people visiting Sea World: During the last weeks of the year you can buy a “fun pass” at the same price of a normal ticket that allows you access to the park for the next year (this year even 18 months). So basically during the holidays you can visit every day, for the price of 1 day. Also good to know, is that literally everything is in the Christmas spirit. My mind can only handle so much Christmas songs a year, and I got well past that mark this year. The lines were not that bad, and I could visit every attraction I wished and see every show I wanted (actually saw the Killer Whales twice, once in a “normal show” and once in the “Christmas” show).

The second, and last, day I went to Universal Studio’s. Didn’t really know yet which park to visit (there are 2 parks, and they are building a 3rd one next to the others as we speak). From my friends I heard the 4D experiences are awesome, so I chose “Adventure Island” seeing Spider Man and Jurassic Park were in that park. It’s pretty expensive, but an amazing experience! Visiting the park alone, I was able to do all the rides I wanted to do, even with as many people in the park as there were. Even did Spider Man and the Tower of Doom twice! Without a doubt, “Kong” is the greatest attraction around. very much worth the wait. Talking about wait times. Universal has this very interesting concept of “single rider” lines. These are used to fill rides with just 1 seat left. In some cases (like with “Kong”) they take probably as much time as the “normal” lines, but certain times you win a LOT of time. Especially when waiting times are rather short (<30min), the single rider queue was very interesting reducing times to ~10-15 min. Not the same amount of fun when you are in  a group, but when you travel alone, a perfect alternative as fast as the (expensive) “preferred” lines.

I’ll be back to Orlando. It’s a crazy expensive, but Oh so much fun!

Thanksgiving 2016

The Most American of holidays: Thanksgiving & Black Friday!

(Yes, I know Canada, you have Thanksgiving as well… but let’s face it, you are just the 51st state of the USA in many ways).

Some days off, dinner with friends, The President performing his most important job. All joking aside, I do home that President Trump next year only pardons 1 Turkey and gives the other one a “You’re Fried“, statement. Just because, you know, he can. As every year, the Cowboys play the Redskins (Think about it for a second). And Black Friday has resulted again in a number of shootings and deaths. It is good to know America is still the same.

I thought about going shopping, but just the idea of having to go through the masses makes me ill. Plus, I did a bunch of game shopping this week with Targets’ 20% off deal. Checking the prices today on Black Friday, it seems I made a good deal, since most games are now NOT on sale any more. Only select items have huge discounts. Everything else is normal price. For those who are interested I can advise the following website: https://blackfriday.com/ ; and all of your Turkey related issues can be covered by calling the Turkey Hot Line: http://www.butterball.com/turkey-talk-line. If you are lucky, you got Stephen Colbert on the phone this year.

It all began in 1981 when six home economists worked the phones that holiday season to answer 11,000 turkey-cooking questions. Since then the Turkey Talk-Line has grown in both the number of calls answered and experts responding.

I took the liberty of making some changes to my blog. I updated the name. Although I meant nothing with the original title: “Niggy in the USA”, it seems my American friends cannot get used to it. So I changed it, to the very original “Living in the USA”, Although it should probably state “Working in the USA”, as I am not a resident here.

I also added a new page for Games. Since I am very much into board and card games these days.

Elections 2016

Finally, it is over! After 18 months of primaries, attack ad’s and incorrect polls, America has elected a new president. Donald Trump will be the new president, to everyone’s surprise. Well, not everyone. Michael Moore predicted this, several months ago. (And to my credit, so did I. Ask anyone who wanted to hear it the past year).

Before getting into the details and results, let’s all take a moment and acknowledge how awesome it is to live in the country that invented modern Democracy. 240 years later, American democracy still stands. Sure it has its problems and challenges, but it works. There has not been large scale rigging of elections as some have predicted, there has not been foreign nations hacking the process as some feared (“The country’s outdated, offline voting machines could actually save the election from cyber attacks, say experts at a Congressional hearing.”).

Anyhow, the people have spoken and they clearly want change. There are many reports that claim the same people that wanted change in 2008 by voting Obama, voted for Trump this time. For some weird reason, the media does not quite understand that logic. It’s really not that difficult to understand. People all over the world are fed up with politicians only working for themselves, so they will vote for anyone who is not deemed a ‘typical’ politician. In 2008 this was Obama, In 2016 it is Trump. The ‘Rust Belt’ states are in constant state of decline economically and people are scared. There is nothing more to it. This was not a vote against Clinton (she actually won the popular vote), but a vote against politics. Exactly the same as what happened in Greece, the Brexit vote, The Philippines, and what is likely to happen in the Netherlands and France in the next year as well. Politics is a slow changing system, but eventually they will change. Like it or not.

That brings us to Trump. There is some very interesting things going on with Trump. First of all, he is now the leader of the Republican Party but he’s not really a republican (he supported Hillary Clinton in 2008 when running against Obama).  He has never ran for any political office, so literally has no clue what is going to happen. In fact, he is the very first President ever to never hold a political or high military seat. There were times where you had to win a war for independence, or defeat the Nazi’s to become president. Today, you need to win Twitter.
Second, he has claimed the past year that things are wrong in Washington, and he wants to clean it up (the same message Senator Sanders was spreading during his primary campaign), much to the dislike of the establishment (at both parties).
Third, for the first time in over 200 years, a European will live in the White House. Melania Trump is only the second non native born american to live in the White House. How can that not be exciting, just to think about!

So what is going to happen? Nobody knows. But I wish I was there. I’m actually very excited about this. I did not really feel anything for one candidate or the other, and as a work-visa immigrant I cannot vote, so did not really bother to care too much… And while some of the cabinet shortlist picks are extremely scary (Ben Carson on education and Sarah Palin as Interior Secretary; are you fucking kidding me?), overall this is very exciting to me. Why? I do not know. But roughing up the establishment from the inside, has always been an appealing concept to me. Now what would I do if I were Trump, and it is my first day in office? You’ve got a party that does not really want you there (Republicans), and another party that really does not want you there (Democrats). If Trump wants to succeed he will need to give Republicans what they want, but if he goes to far, they will just walk over him. Democrats will probably go against him in all fury, but he will probably need their support to get some of his less conservative proposals through. How can president Trump appeal to (part of) Democrats, and keep Republicans in check? It is up to him and his staff, but my suggestion is to ask Bernie Sanders to head a commission to clean up Washington politics. This was a topic for both of their campaigns, and I cannot see why Sanders would not accept this, if he believed Trump was serious on it. Trump has run his campaign as a bulldozer, I believe the only way for his administration to succeed is to keep acting as a bulldozer on some key topics. Keep everyone in check, while doing good for the American people. Internationally, renewed relations with Russia will probably help end the war in Syria. It will be very interesting to see if the Trump administration will support NATO ally Turkey, or rather the Kurdish forces who’ve been doing all the dirty work. In the end, all will be fine. Personally, I still have a backup country or 28 (27?) to go back to, should the USA turn into the same hellhole as the capital of my country.

4th of July – Trip to Denver Colorado / Rocky Mountains

Ever since I moved to the USA, I have promised my friend and former colleague (now customer) Dexter (not real name) to visit him in Colorado. Living in Denver, I refer to him as “the mountain man”, which -so I learned- is not 100% correct.

Denver is an interesting city. Being at the altitude it is, it makes you breath differently. I thought I was just going to make a fool out of myself just asking the question, but turns out I was not going crazy; Denver does make you breath differently.

We visited the arts festival, lots of weird and/or creepy things. Was very nice, and makes me want to visit more of these things here in Atlanta area (my walls are still very blank). July 4th weekend, decided to go and search for “South Park” Colorado.

IMG_0266

I’m a huge fan of the show, and discovered that South Park is not a real city, it is a region of plains within the mountains. Funny how we could see the snow on the mountains, even in summer, just like in the show.

 

 

 

IMG_0297We hiked the “Colorado trail” to a point higher than any mountain in Europe. (See picture above). And found several Colorado state flowers still in bloom (which apparently surprised my guides). Very pretty and a great way to celebrate the 4th of July.

We ended my short trip to Colorado with a visit to the Colorado history museum. Learned there is still one tribe of Indians, we learned that Colorado once closed its border from the other US states (exactly what happens in Europe now), we learned that the Americans once migrated and overtook the Mexicans, we learned about the deportation of Japanese Americans during World War II. We learned a lot about today, by reading about history of Colorado. At times, scaryly accurate to today. And, last but not least, we learned that Casa Bonita (from the South Park episode) is a real place.

Thank you for a great experience!

 

Niagara Falls

One of the benefits of traveling for work, is that sometimes you decide to stay a little longer and discover amazing places.

Last week, I was flying to Massachusetts for a client, but plane ticket prices were insanely expensive. The cheapest ticket I found was flying into Boston, MA and flying out of Buffalo, NY. That seemed like a short drive on the map (if you scroll out really far)… I decided to see what was around Buffalo, and found “Niagara Falls” on the map. For some reason I have been hiking a lot the past months and I tend to be intrigued by waterfalls. So Niagara falls kind of fitted naturally in the list. Additionally, I’ve always wanted to see the falls ever since Bellewaerde park built the “Niagara” attraction many years ago (I had a season pass for many years as a kid and teenager). The attraction is built with Canada as its theme, and since it had been a while since I was in Canada (6 years), I decided to go to the Canadian side to see the falls. I also found a great deal on the Marriott on the Falls hotel, which had awesome pictures. Many (very superficial) reasons to go there.

The drive from Boston to Niagara Falls was long, but likable. The landscape of Massachusetts and New York state is very pretty. The mountains, the views, and a really nice long highway. I found an extreme conservative radio station praising the British for voting on Brexit. The stupidity of the radio host was only surpassed by their callers leaving an opinion. Ignorance was the rule, intelligent conversations non-existent. It was funny for a out an hour, but then got scary and I had to find another radio station.

Getting closer to Canada I found a nice radio station (great music). I only noticed it was a Canadian one when there was a commercial about the government of Ontario spending more money on doctors and hospitals. Then the weather was talking about weird “Celsius” temperatures. I found myself recalculating Celsius to Fahrenheit… that put a smile on my face. I only realize how ‘Americanized’ I am, once I go near (or over) the border. I just enjoyed the music and the (very un-american) news and radio-host stories the last couple of hours driving to the falls.  Crossing the “Rainbow bridge”, connecting the USA and Canada, I realized this was the first time I stopped at a boarder with an actual customs checkpoint. Kinda cool to think about, especially the day after England and Wales decided to leave Europe, where borders are scares.

I had two days, two nights scheduled to be at Niagara Falls, Canada. I had asked some friends if they wanted to join me, but nobody was able or willing to join. I wondered if I would have enough to do for two full days. I mean, what could there possibly be to do. It’s just a lot of water falling to a lower point, right?  On my way there, I kind of felt I perhaps made a mistake booking two days at the falls, instead of visiting Buffalo a day. Boy, was I wrong… I was setup for one of the best weekends ever!

Checking into the hotel, I got a free upgrade to a “Falls view” room. Amazing view walking into my room. Just stunning. I had already heard the waterfalls from the parking lot, but actually seeing them was unbelievably cool. The noise of the falls is so loud, that it actually trumps the air conditioning machine noise. Really impressive. I booked a 5 hour (five hours?!?) tour for Saturday with all kinds of activities. I was a tourist without a plan, or idea of what to do, so I did not really know -nor cared- what those activities would be. I got a free ticket to visit the “daredevil” museum, so did that while it was still open. It is a small museum, but really cool. People are crazy, that is all you can say after visiting it. I remember reading a comic book (“Karl May – Duel with Niagara Falls“) back as a kid about one of these people. Coincidentally, as these things go), last week the new episode of “Another Period” also featured the first person ever in recorded history to go over the falls (also a woman). I was starting to get really hungry from the long drive, and decided to find a restaurant. Found what looked like a really nice Italian restaurant to eat, only problem was that I could not find the door to get in. The restaurant turned out to be part of the Casino (there are two casino’s in Niagara Falls). Got an amazing dinner, with a great view (not talking about the falls here). I had never been in a real casino before. Since I had nothing else to do, I decided to kind of hang around and figure out what this was all about. Hundreds of slot machines (I really do not get it). The poker tables were very busy, and a bit too intimidating for me (needed at least 1,500 CAD to join, and although the people in England just helped my weekend get 10% cheaper overnight, that was still too much in my opinion). I decided to watch people play some blackjack variant game, and once I (thought) to understand the game (a bit), I decided to get myself some colorful paper out of an ATM. All in all a very good experience. Played a few hours and then went to bed, after all I had a 5-hour activity to join the next day.

Saturday, was up fairly early and walked down to the falls. The walk down was pretty, going through a park with lots of city wildlife. Then noticed there were actually 2 falls. The smaller “American” falls (~900 years old) and the Canadian “Horseshoe Falls” (the ‘original’ falls and ~12,000 years old, or just a few years, depending how you look at it). Looking at the Horseshoe falls, the “Niagara” attraction in Bellewaerde made a whole lot of sense. It is basically mimicking the shape of a horseshoe and dumping a boat into the water, creating a massive displacement of water. Well, exactly like the real Niagara falls (without boat), but smaller. Went to visit the “Niagara White Water Rapids (Category 6; basically meaning you will die if you go in them as a normal person). Crazy stuff. A waterway with 6 meter high (18 foot) waves, created by simply the sheer volume of water being pushed from the falls to lake Ontario. I have pictures and video’s, but they do not do justice to the magnificent view.

Walked back to my hotel to start the tour, almost missed my bus because I’m a tourist and do not care about time. The five hour tour featured a tour on the boat going really close to the falls (a must-do!), a walk -behind- the falls and standing right next to the Horseshoe falls. You cannot imagine how beautiful, and humbling, it is to stand next to a literal sea of water just falling into the deep at a rate of over a million liter a minute. Just insane! Nia-gara means Gods of Thunder in waters, or something like that, according to the movies. Wikipedia does not agree, but I’m all for it. IMG_0204 IMG_0239 IMG_0240

I could go on about the beauty of the falls for another thousand words. But the point of this post is that no matter what your situation is (single, couple, family), there is a lot to do for you at Niagara Falls, Canada. And I encourage you to go see it. It is beyond believe. Additionally, at the rate the Canadian government is adding new attractions, this place will just keep on expanding in the next years. You go for the falls, and they are by far the coolest thing I have ever seen, but there is so much more to do than just that. Niagara Falls should be on your agenda of places to visit. Period.

The story of a Belgian in America: Company Blog Post

We’ve published 4 blog posts about my expat experience the past weeks. Please follow the following links to read the 4 posts.

I’ve had generally very good feedback on these, and many LinkedIn requests. However, I’ve also had some remarks that I’m not very positive about the USA in my writing. I’m sorry to say, but the people who understood that from the blog post, completely missed the point. The blog was not meant as a glorification of America. It is about the experience, the transformation, of a person moving abroad and integrating/assimilating into the “foreign” society. It is not meant to be about America, it is meant to be about the expat, the person. Things you experience, things that are different, roadblocks, etc. Immigrants are a different breed. It is something people that never lived abroad for an extended period of time will never understand. I’m not asking for understanding or (dis)approval. My intention is to give people who are willing to take the jump, an idea what to expect. Do not give up while waiting for your visa, do not stop your life while waiting. Pay attention on remuneration, comparing is difficult, it is OK to miss things, but don’t get homesick. Understand you will change as a person in every way possible and understand the people around you will most likely not understand. Just like Steve Jobs was nervous every time he had to go on stage to show the latest Apple product, so does the expat feel nervous every time he/she ends up in a new situation. And just like Jobs, the expat will come out of the situation stronger and a step closer to perfection. But, and this is a big but, it is not for everyone. You need to be the type of person who wants to be nervous about things, who wants to be put out of your comfort zone. THAT is the point of this 4-series blog post.

Enjoy!

1) How it all started
2) The paperwork struggle
3) Discover the people, discover yourself
4) Atlanta is Home

 

Snow

When snow hits the Atlanta region, things get ugly. Georgians are petrified by the idea of snow, especially those that experienced the 2014 snow apocalypse. It was comically compared with the Walking dead season 1, which was located in Atlanta as well. Click here to see…
Office close at 11 AM, Schools close sooner or do not open at all, libraries close the doors, bars shut down at 11 PM and everyone hits the highway at the same time making Georgia-400 become an even larger parking lot than it already is on a normal snow-free day. So while the east coast is actually hit pretty bad with snow, Atlanta acts as if it is in crisis due to the weather. It still strikes me as hilarious.

My company is going to post a 4-part blog on the company website about my experiences moving to the USA. I will post the full article here as well once it is published (over the course of the next months).

Enjoy the weekend, and keep warm. :-)

Random information

Random thoughts and experiences form the past months…

  • Recruiting is the most difficult and time-consuming thing ever. It sucks. I’m currently at 20h+ to recruit and hire 1 person. I am so looking forward to doing normal consulting tasks on a project again! (no offence, dear team-mates and new hires!).
  • Texas does not require you to send back your license plates. Finally something to put on the wall of my Atlanta apartment.
  • US Banks have no interest in me, I’ve asked for mortgage information at 2 banks and they both have failed to get back to me within 2 weeks. BOOOOOO banks! BOOOO!
  • A new colleague joined us from Belgian HQ. It is funny to see them go through all the same things I had to go through, and see how they avoid my traps, and fall into new ones along the way. Moving to another country is never going to be easy!
  • The Belgian consulate general in Atlanta are very friendly people. Parking is expensive, so next time I should probably take MARTA instead of driving. Only took me 32 months to actually register with the consulate… ooops!
  • Chicago is a great city. I just wish it would not be freezing cold 9 months a year, and it would actually be a place worth living.
  • 6 months in Atlanta (wtf? already?), and I still miss Texas. I’ve had 1 hot day here this summer and the temperature was never high enough to force me into the pool. I miss texting my friends and being at the bar 30 min later. I miss Sunday Monk-day and watching the hot shows with others. people in Dallas are much friendlier and more open than here in the suburban South. Plus, Dallas only had traffic jams on special days and during rush hour. Atlanta has traffic congestion all the time. It’s like living in Brussels with closing hours for bars. I’m still happy I moved, though. I’m much more involved in company affairs and working with the team is so much better in the office, compared to working from home.
  • I should really write more, because I kind of enjoy reading my own thoughts again.

Visit to the motherland 2015

I have been postponing this trip a very long time, but I now I did not have a choice… my visit to Belgium was a mandatory one. I could either go to New York, get myself registered with the Belgian consulate (which is located in NY for Texas), or I could go to Belgium and renew my passport with the Province, or so I thought…  I made it into a family trip, covering my passport renewal and two family reunions. Just because I can.

I did not visit Belgium for over a year. It was interesting to see the differences: new roads, windmills, buildings,.. people driving much slower than I remembered. It was kind of interesting to see all the new faces in our office. Many of which had never seen me before, and could not figure out how this weirdo that comes in at 11 am (I had appointments in the morning) , seems to know so many of their colleagues. Funny. We had good food, visited most of my friends (not all unfortunately, sorry guys!), drove over 1,000 miles in 2 weeks crossing the country. My company gave me a company car for 2 weeks (thank you Delaware Consulting!) and I must admit this is probably what I miss most here in America: a shift-stick car. Driving manual feels so much better than driving automatic, and driving an Audi -just like the one I drove before I moved- is just an unbeatable feeling. Relaxed driving over the highways at ~120 KM/H, keeping right. Waiting at the red light, just feeling awesome in my car.

My main priority was to renew my passport. So first Monday I drive to Brugge to find the Provincial service who is supposed to do this for me. I’m there, and it turns out that they changed the law a few months before, and now I must be registered in the consulate in the land I am living, to be able to get my passport renewed in Belgium. That kind of sucked, since the whole point for me was to renew this, without needing to register in NY. I do not care about registering as such, it;s just that with a move planned to Georgia within 2 months, I does not make a lot of sense for me to register in NY and then move all that stuff to Atlanta. Anyhow, after the civil servant told me that “You do not pay taxes here, so I do not need to help you”, and made it clear that he was not going to do anything without the NY embassy giving me permission to get my passport in Belgium, I felt a bit depressed.  He said that without permission he had no idea where I lived (which is false, since he had my US address displayed on the computer screen and I gave him my US drivers license showing the same address). So, I drove to Kortrijk, to the office to meet with some colleagues. Then called the NY embassy during their opening hours to get everything resolved. They were very helpful and all went very smooth. 3 days later, the provincial services had confirmation that I could go renew my passport.  Conclusion: Belgian abroad: you must register with the Belgian government in order to renew your passport.

Lots of other things going on during my visit, just life. But one little anecdote I do want to share with you: In Antwerp, I was visiting a friend. I arrived around noon, and did not have lunch yet, so I figured I should order some food with my beer… ask the waiter/bartender/owner (still not sure) if the kitchen is still open (it was after 1:30 pm after all, and this is Belgium…). His answer: “Maybe”. At this point, I think he is just joking, so I figure to just play along and ask him: “Ok, when do you think you will know for sure?”. “In 20 minutes”, he answers. I’m not sure how I looked at that point, but I’m pretty sure there is no emoticon to capture the sight. 30 minutes later, I ask the waiter again and he answers that he will check. At this point, I do not feel like fooling around, so I just order a pasta. He looks at me, and asks “are you sure?”, and I confirm. At this point, the guy turns around, and instead of walking into the kitchen disappears outside of the bar, onto the street. I’m not sure at this point what to think, but since nobody else seems to actually work in the bar, I decide to just stay and drink my beer, see what happens. About 15 minutes later, the waiter returns with a bunch of pasta boxes under this arms. French food, indeed…

Moving to Atlanta

It’s time to move. I’m getting closer to my team and move to the Atlanta, GA region. Over two years ago, that was the original plan, but I ended up making a detour to Dallas, TX. I’ll be back Texas!

Prices are high, quality is low, traffic is crazy, winters are cold, crime is everywhere and the office is in the suburbs where a pub has not been invented yet. It is only after spending 3 weekends visiting over 20 leasing offices in the Atlanta region, that I realize what a great place I currently have in Dallas. I’m sure I will like Atlanta as well, but it requires a mindset change. I’m getting there, but not there quite yet.

Interesting things I noted… Leasing offices are a LOT nicer and honest when a “couple” is looking for an apartment. When one of my (female) coworkers joined my apartment hunt, there was an actual change I noted on the leasing office side. Very weird, but it opens the door for some social experiments that I would love to conduct (would we get the same prices, rooms,…?), but I’ll leave that to people with even more time on their hands.
Second weird thing is that all “luxury” apartment complexes in Atlanta have washer and dryers in the apartment. Some of then actually refuse to take them out, which means I would have to sell mine. Now I find this really weird, but I would be able to get over it should they actually put nice stuff in the apartments. But they do not. I will never accept a top-load washer to be categorized as “luxury”, no matter how expensive that thing is. They are NOT as hygienic as the front load washers and I do not understand why anyone would ever buy one of those, other than to save money. Having furniture and equipment adds an additional dimension into moving, that I never considered before: You need to find a new place that fits your furniture. Last time I moved to Dallas, this was not an issue as I moved with 2 suitcases. Any apartment could fit that. My colleagues are already making fun of me for having so much trouble finding a place I like. They say “I’m difficult and picky”, well that does define me… kinda. Choosing a place to live is an important decision, not to be taking lightly. I do not make big decisions lightly.

Moving cross states is insanely expensive. The last quote I got was $ 6,000. That makes no sense as I would be better off selling all my stuff and buying it new in Georgia (that would solve my washer/dryer problem too). Not sure how that will turn out… I should probably sign a lease first and get that part over with :-)

 

Holiday Season

 

Year end, the time when families come together and celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to celebrate ‘the american way’ with two families accepting me into their homes and treating me as family. I’m sad to announce I am leaving Texas and move to Georgia, to be closer to the office, and that sadness is largely due to the wonderful Texans I have met the past 2 years.

We celebrated Christmas by introducing the Flemish tradition of “Lukken” (a type of Belgian butter waffle) and Cointreau, to my American family. A Belgian family tradition they seemed to enjoy. Thank you for the wonderful times!

christmas2014

Uber vs. Taxi

Uber vs Taxi. It is a fight that is happening in all major US cities and many European cities as well. Here’s a story from my personal experience. Just throwing it out there…

When travelling for work, it makes sense (financially) to take a cab/Uber to the airport if I’m staying for longer than 8 days. From experience I know I pay around 150 USD (including tips, 2-way) for being driven, and parking at DFW costs 20 USD/day. So 8 is the ‘tipping’ point for me in deciding to drive myself or take a cab/Uber.

This time, I was out for 2 weeks, so I decided to not drive myself. Usually I use a cab driving to the airport, but this time I somehow forgot to reserve a car, so I ended up using my Uber app. usually Uber drivers are very nice and you have great conversations with them. This guy… not so much. He had his radio really loud on some Muslim praying channel in Arabic or some Middle East language. I do not like people forcing me to take part in their religious (or other) believes, but I figured I would survive the 30 min trip. Uber apparently has fixed fees driving to the Airport, and I ended up paying 75 USD (For a ‘Black Car’, the classic Uber). Which is the second highest fare I ever paid going to the airport from my apartment. Goodbye myth of Uber being cheaper than cabs!

On my return, I decided to get a cab, because that is what you do getting out of the airport. The driver and airport guy were joking about something about the tire… which made me not feel comfortable. Unfortunately nobody else was waiting for a cab, and since this is ‘first come, first serve’ I had no choice. The cab driver ended up being a Kurd, thanking the Belgian government for their involvement against ISIS. “Your accent is from Europe, no? What part?”. Not a lot of good words for the Turkish government. “Oh I need to get gas, I will stop meter”… (OK… could you not get gas before picking people up at the airport?… whatever). We continue and when I get at my apartment I pay with my Wells Fargo visa card. “Ooh Wells Fargo, they lost me lots of money! I not trust them!”. (Ok… weird, but whatever). Then he adds some bullshit about that he needs my phone number as a prove of ID otherwise they are not paying him. I’m already thinking to put a fake number on that paper (because that is just plain weird), but I’m tired and before I know it I have my real number on there. He gives me his card in case I need a reservation in the future, and urges me to contact my government “to do more for the Kurds”. It is late, and I am already just happy that I’m home.

Waking up this morning, I think about all the things that happened and start searching the internet to check why on earth they need a phone number. The reason is simple: to commit credit card fraud in your name.  Yup, that shit again. I called the guy (from his card that he gave me), it is voice mail. I tell him that I want him to remove the number from the paper. (I’m not sure if he is the one going to scam me, or if it is his boss that is basically abusing him to scam me), and that I want him to send me the name of the person asking for that information, so that I can go to the police. Let’s see if I ever get anything back. In mean time, I have blocked my card again. And Wells is going to send me a new one in 10 days.

So all in all, even though Uber being cheaper is a complete myth (we figured that out in New York last weekend as well), at least it is safe. You do not need to worry about credit card fraud, these cars are tracked all the time and that makes it so much safer. You can give your driver a bad rating if they decide to get gas while they are driving you, etc. The main argument taxi services have against Uber, is their price (“unfair competition”); but that seems a myth. So why are we still having this discussion? Uber is a perfect addition to the market, and should in the end raise the standards of cabs. I feel like it is much easier to become a taxi driver, than an Uber driver, given the quality of drivers I have had. Even though Uber is not always perfect, on average it ranks a lot higher in my opinion.

Additionally, Uber can be used anywhere. No language skills needed (only a working internet connection on your phone).  If you are interested in using Uber, you can get a free trip up to $30 by using the following link (I will get the same as well, thank you for that) https://www.uber.com/invite/4ddz9

 

Yawn…

I know I write a lot about credit cards in this blog… It is one of those things that keeps surprising me… apologies for bringing this up again!

I’ve been travelling so much for work (and holidays) the past months, that I have come into issues with my credit card limits. Staying in hotels, rental cars, airfares, restaurants,… it adds up. My employer is really good at reimbursing expenses; I’m usually the one who takes too much time to expense all my notes in time. Anyhow, I’ve never really had issues paying off my credit card balance. Just like back in Belgium, I use my credit cards as an extension of my checking account, rather than as a loan. Since I’m using a very high percentage of my credit card limits, constantly (20%-80%), this has a negative impact on my credit history. So I thought, lets give the bank a call and let them raise my limits. Shouldn’t be that hard, right? After all, I do have 100% on-time payments.

Oh boy. I almost forget what I joke this is. Somehow they always make you feel like a criminal when you apply for a card, or raise of limit as was the case now. It’s just the way they talk. I explained the situation, but that of course did not matter. Answered some questions and the computer came back with a slight raise in limit (less than 20% of what I asked for). Whatever.

So now this is finished, the bank tries to sell me all kinds of other stuff. Apparently the ‘personal loan’ is an all-time favorite. “You can get really low rates”. I tried to be nice and explain to the lady at the other end of the phone, that I do not need a loan, I need limit to pay for travel costs. I have the money, I need a way to spend it. She did no sound like she understood what I meant.

A little ‘fait diverse’, without much consequences. I just thought that I had crossed the magical ‘Credit History’ line and I would just be able to get what I asked for (especially, since I do not feel like I’m asking for something I could not afford). I keep forgetting, the system does not care about what I can afford, it cares about what I used to pay off. But in a country where even the President’s credit card gets refused, what did I expect? :)

http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/17/politics/obama-credit-card/ 

Never a dull day

Lots of things happening in the USofA. Media and people are going crazy over Ebola, midterm elections coming up next month so lots of political hilarity to be found there and fights with terrorists in the middle east. All in all, great times for shows like the “Daily Show” and “Colbert Report”. I was very disappointed, however, in both shows during the whole Scotland Independence Referendum. Sure, they mentioned it, but when the President gave support to the English prime minister, neither show even covered that. I felt it was a very bad move for the president to give support to the English. I get it, the UK is America’s greatest ally, but still the best move would have been to just shut up about the subject. Or if something had to be said, it should have been support for the democratic process. The US did gain its independence from the British, after all. It is kind of sad to deny other regions the same.

Anyhow… I’ve been travelling a lot for work the past months and with weather being as weird as it was, I got to experience some interesting things. There is always the ‘normal’ delays, of course, but we also had a direct flight from Atlanta to Dallas landing in Austin to refuel. Last time I checked, Austin is not on the way to Dallas… Another flight from Dallas to Altanta, ended up flying west instead of east (see photo). That was kind of weird. The new American Airline planes have GPS tracking with interactive maps, so all the frequent flyers were playing around with the new screens, taking pictures and joking around. This is obviously something that does not happen often.

Flying west instead of east.

Flying west instead of east.

I also visited the doctor, and just had to take this picture…

Ebola protection masks at the doctors office in AtlantaEbola protection masks at the doctors office in Atlanta

:)

Welcome to the USA!

August 2014, my brother and friends are visiting the USA for the first time. My brother came over a few days early to visit me in Dallas and experience the ‘Cowboy way of life’. His main goal in Texas was to find an outfit and dress up like a hillbilly, similar to the ‘Cletus’ character from ‘The Simpsons’.  The search for the jeans overall and cowboy hat was an adventure on itself. We’ve visited several ‘Western Wear’ shops where people would look at us, shaking their head in disbelieve. ‘It is summer’, was the most common answer. ‘Nobody wears that in summer’. We finally found a store in Louisville that actually had the overalls in stock and we also found a great cowboy hat. We did all kind of ‘Texan’ activities, such as buying ammo (In Walmart, ammo is stored in the aisle next to the children toys… cliche confirmed), going to the shooting range with my American friend, visiting the Stockyards cattle drive, the Stockyards Rodeo, eating steak and having Texan BBQ. And although he did not actually wear the overall anywhere (a bit too hot), it were good times. After a few days of Dallas and Fort Worth, we took the plane to New York where we would meet two mutual friends from Belgium.

Originally the plan was to stay at an apartment in Jersey City that we rented through AirBnB. Unfortunately, they cancelled 2 days before we arrived due to ‘boiler problems’. We were forced to get a new spot asap, and basically did not have a choice of where we wanted to stay. We ended up booking something else through AirBnB in Brooklyn, which seemed looking at the map as not too distant from Manhattan. We turned out to be really bad at reading maps… We arrived at two different airports. My brother and I ended up in EWR (close to the original Jersey City location) and our friends ended up on JFK. Although they landed over an hour before us, and they were closer to the new location, we still ended up arriving first in Brooklyn. The cabdriver was not happy to cross NY and get into Brooklyn at all. When he saw the neighborhood we were getting into, he was even less pleased. And so were we… We spend almost 2 hours in traffic before we got to our destination. Our friends ended up waiting for almost 4 hours in immigration (JFK is the worst airport to enter the USA, if possible, always choose another!) and once they get a cab, the driver had no clue where to drive, and asked them several times if they were sure about the address. Living in the USA for some time now, I understood this neighborhood was not the best, to say the least, but for people trying to enjoy their holidays coming from Belgium, this place was worse than their worst nightmares. We had 2 studios. The first one was quite reasonably OK, something you would expect to find when backpacking through poor countries, but certainly not to our standards. The second studio was just plain really bad, and not a place you would want to stay at all. Dirty mattress, etc. We decided to make the best of it, and go out for dinner, since we’ve all had a long day of travel already. But it was obvious nobody was very happy with the place we got into.

It was getting dark, and we did not feel very comfortable walking 5 blocks to the nearest subway station, so I decided to introduce my friends to ‘Uber’. Uber is actually illegal in Belgium, so they were very surprised how good, safe, fast and cheap the app really is. We get into the Uber car, and the driver just looks at us and asks: “What are four white boys doing in a neighborhood like this?”. The tone was set and the driver recommended us to either get out of that place or at least use Uber to get out and in every time. Which we kind of already realized those were our two options. It was actually a really fun ride. “I was not planning to pick anyone up around here”, the driver said, “but I got your request and I noticed you had 5 stars… so I thought, well let’s go take a look”. “Nobody around here has 5 starts”, he said. I did not realize the Uber drivers also rated their passengers, but it was a pleasant surprise to hear I have the highest rating. He explained to us that we were not in the very worst part of town, but pretty near to it. ‘They are trying to clean it up”, he said. We were not sure what that actually meant at that point. Just being around there only a few hours, we had noticed at least 3 drug deals. The driver dropped us off at Little Italy, where one of my friends who recently moved to New York joined us for dinner. Making some jokes about ‘All Belgians being the same’ and discussing the place we ended up in a bad part of Brooklyn. Walking to the subway after dinner – we wanted to go see Times Square- faces and conversations were still a bit dark and gloomy. However, the second we walked out of the subway and saw Times Square, all of our faces lighted up and my friends were skipping around like little girls. ‘WTF is this?!”, “This is awesome”, “I feel so small”, “Daaaaaaaaaaaaaamn!”. We had a few drinks and decided to Uber it back ‘home’. This driver was a bit confused about where we were going… “Are you sure that is where you want to go?”. The drive made it clear what the first driver meant with ‘they are cleaning it up’: This was a Saturday night and there were at least 2 cops on every intersection. I’ve never seen that many police officers, and I live in Texas… Once we got into our Neigherbood, it was actually quiet and there were no flashing lights or anything. The Uber driver waited for us to get in the house, before taking off to his next customers. My friends thought that was weird, and it enforced their believe we should get out of there. It had been a long day, and we went to sleep.

We woke up the next day, and all was fine. Sun was out, people were quietly walking the street, and there was this general feeling of confusion in our group. “Was this now a bad place to be, or not”, we slept OK, but in the end we decided we could not stay there. The mattress and bathrooms were just not good enough and some of us were scared they would catch some kind of diseases. In the end, when you are on holiday you should feel comfortable. The Uber drive also cost us a decent amount, and we just wanted to be closer to the city as was the original plan. So we decided to move out. I booked one of the Courtyard Marriotts downtown and we moved out. We called the owners to let them know we would be leaving and ask if we could get a partial refund. I’m not sure how exactly that worked out,  all I know is that at some point they called us racists. We wanted to leave there because it is a black neighborhood was their assumption. Oh well. The whole experience lead to my brother and friends cancelling their AirBnB scheduled for their trip to LA the next week. “Not this again”, was their general feeling. AirBnB actually got back to my brother about it, but I do not know how that ended and if we were given any type of refund. All I know is that if you want to be comfortable, do not get anything through AirBnB. I’m sure it works really well for people on a low budget or backpacking, but for us this is just not the type of service we expect. In fact, since the Marriott gave us a huge room with 2 queen beds and a coach, and the most expensive day of the week (Saturday) was already gone, the price of the hotel room was quite reasonable and we felt really stupid to even have tried the AirBnB service.

After that, New York was awesome. We did all kinds of touristy stuff and just enjoyed the whole city. It was amazing. ‘Top of the Rock’ (going up the Rockefeller building), gives you an insane view over the city. It was the first time in my life I was actually scared in an elevator. it just keeps on going up! Biking through Central Park,… Cherry on the cake was the Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon”. It is anti-religious, very politically incorrect and awesome. Not only the performance itself is absolutely brilliant, the reactions of the public is worth it too! Half the public (including myself) loves the whole show, while the other half seems to feel uncomfortable, and perplexed. To see how some people cope with it is hilarious in itself.  Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez (you know the first two as the creators of South Park), really did a great thing here. If you have a chance, go see it! Book your tickets well in advance, though. They are sold out every day for many days in advance.

After five days New York, we traveled south to Washington DC. The original plan was to take the train, but when checking we realized it would cost us 600 USD and we could not take luggage, which is kind of a showstopper. No worries, we decided to rent a car and just drive there. Stopping whenever we felt like it, and so we did. I was a bit disappointed on our road trip, the scenery between New York and Washington is mostly just forest. A bit boring. We did stop at an authentic diner and had great burgers. I had to explain my friends the concept of tipping again, again and again. Which was funny.

Washington is a great city. We were only there for one and a half days, and I think we all felt we should have stayed longer. Basically we did the National Mall the entire day, and did not even take the time to wander around every park. Washington is certainly a great place to visit. My friends and brother ended up flying to Vegas after that. I had to drive back north, to Philadelphia, for work. And so ended our holiday in the USA together. They visited Vegas, the Grand Canyon and LA without me. They tell me they loved their visit to the USA and it looks like they would not object coming back later!

I believe we made a really good choice of visiting different places. My brother visited Dallas, New York, Washington, Las Vegas, The Grand Canyon National Park and Los Angeles in about three weeks. This was a very diverse road trip and they’ve seen the different faces this great country has. And honestly, I was just happy to see my friends without needing to fly all the way back to rainy Belgium! :)

 

Visit from the Momma

After living in the USA for about 18 months, my Mom, aunt, sister and her boyfriend visited me. I took some days off to join them in New York. and after that they flew to Dallas, TX. What an amazing place New York is! it was my first time there and is was simply awesome. I used my Marriott reward points to stay at the Fairfields Inn New York – Time Square Manhattan. The hotel has a bar on the rooftop ‘Skybar’ which is apparently the place to be. As a hotel guest I could go up for free and skipping the lines. It was a pretty amazing sight and if I was not supposed to be up really early to meet with my family again, I would have spend many hours up there that Saturday evening! Its a great hotel, but prices are pretty insane too on Saturday evenings in summer. (Thank you reward points!),

My family visited most of the ‘typical’ tourist attractions already, so I ended up visiting only the 9/11 museum (really interesting and -forgive my words- kinda cool to visit), a bus tour and the 9/11 memorial. They are still building parts of the freedom tower and surroundings, but the monument is done really well. It is touching, extremely powerful and peaceful. It is really well done and a fitting way to remember the deaths and events of 9/11 2001.
Also went to see the musical ‘Chicago’ which is the longest running musical on Broadway (like 20 years or so). My family was very disappointed about it, it was better than what I expected. They had seen ‘Book of Mormon’ a few days before (before I joined them), so I guess they were just too overwhelmed by the South Park people to love a 20 year old production.

Lots of updates in the map (see ‘my places’).

We flew back to Dallas, basically because my mom wanted to see my apartment. They had enough of visiting museums, so I took them to some ‘American’ places that I know: Pei Wei (‘Oh my god, this is so good and cheap for fast food!’), The Cheescake Factory (‘I thought this was a fake name used in the Big Bang Theory!’), Jakes Hamburgers (‘This meat is soooooo good!!!’), Sammy’s BBQ (‘These people are so friendly and this meat is so good and cheap!!!’). Took them to ‘TopGolf’, which was really fun and did a little tour around Highland Park, Dallas to see scenery. They enjoyed their holiday and I enjoyed the company.

My family does not realize it, they enjoyed some time at my apartment pool, but they in fact visited Dallas at a historic day. It was only 65F in July, the coldest day ever recorded in Texas in July. It was raining, a horrible day. But we enjoyed playing cards together. I felt bad for them to be in Texas during the worst day ever, but they seemed to enjoy it anyway.

Waiting for my Brother and friends to join me in Dallas/USA, in August! It will be fun again, and it saves me a long trip to Belgium to see people.

 

 

FIFA World Cup 2014

It is happening!!!

Next Tuesday Belgium plays the USA in the FIFA World Cup Round 2.

All present!

On edit: Belgium WON 2-1 and advances to the quarter finals to beat Argentina on Saturday July 5th 11AM CST.

Great game by both teams! Tim Howard is an amazing goalkeeper and makes a good chance to be Goalie of the tournament. 16 (!!!) saves, a world cup record. Or as CNN puts it here:

It was an epic battle. Team USA goalie Tim Howard on one hand. The entire Belgian team on the other.

‘neuf said.

Philadelphia, PA

Last weekend, I visited Philadelphia. The birthplace of America and capital before Washington. Philly is the weirdest place. It’s not that I did not like my Saturday in Philadelphia, but it kind of left me with an unsatisfied feeling… Like something is missing. I had my Philly cheese steak. I saw the Liberty Bell, seen the Rocky Balboa statue and the steps of the Art museum. I guess… The places I visited today did not really teach me much I did not yet know. But it made it clear to me, as the tours made it clear to Americans too, that the USA is a country still under construction. While the many exhibits mostly focus on slavery and racism, the huge stain on American history, I could not help noticing the impact, or lack there of, on the rest of the world. While America, “We The People”, applauds itself on the remarkable journey the country has taken since the revolution, and arguably before that already, I believe Americans give themselves too much credit for having impact on, or even changing the world… Mandela did not visit the Liberty Bell as a symbol of freedom for black Africans in South Africa, the pictures of that event are actually pretty cynically located in the room next to the Liberty Bell story for African Americans. Neither did Reagan himself ‘tear down that wall’, as the footage in the Constitution Center seems to imply. The American statement of Independence and constitution are among the best written political work in the history of mankind. Work that should be copied to so many other countries, and in many ways has! So why is it so difficult for America to uphold these values domestically and abroad (in the works of foreign diplomacy/policy)? It is a divide that is seen all over American history. All sides believe and respect America, but both groups see a very different America. Examples are the rough days after the independence wars, followed by the civil war, over world war one and world war two on until today with Democrats and Republicans fighting over large and smaller topics. The hopeful thing is that, in its history, America always came back stronger after each challenge.

On Sunday I visited Eastern State Penitentiary, Another great example of the American Dream to bring justice and healing to the world. Even though its best intentions were violated at the very beginning, and the results were disastrous with inmates going insane, the good intentions are always there. Eastern State Penitentiary is a great building and has a lot of history, and stories to tell. Everything I missed on Saturday going through the Liberty Bell Museum and the ‘National Constitution Center’ was there. I spent 4 hours walking around and looking at stuff. Certainly worth a visit if you go to Philadelphia!

Big Bend National Park

This Memorial Day weekend we took the trip from Dallas, TX to the far South of the state; to the Big Bend National Park. An 10 hour drive, including some gas & food stops, through the heart of Texas oil country and through largest Texas wind farm. 380 miles straight on highway I-20. Its the type of road trip I really like.

The Big Bend National Park is an amazing place. Desert land, mountains, cliffs, valleys, some rivers (including the Rio Grande, the boarder with Mexico), sand, rocks,… On top of that, plants and wildlife are amazing. Cactus in the wild. It is still something amazing for me. But the cherry on the cake is without doubt the wild snakes we saw (and a crazy Texan pulling the Rattlesnake out of a hole, and his teenage son playing with it using a stick (WTF?!), the wild Black Bear passing by our car (I lack webspace to load the really cool video I made) and the Vultures, eating the roadkill rabbits in the morning. Certainly worth a visit!

Tip for immigrants: Having just your US drivers license/ID with you is apparently not sufficient. Going to Big Bend national park, chances are nearly 100% for you to be stopped by the US boarder patrol on your way out. You will need your official ID’s (passports, I-94,…) to show them. I speak from experience, they did not like the fact I only had my Texas drivers license with me. “This shows me you are allowed to drive in Texas, but it does not prove you are allowed to be here”, the officer told me.

I was taken apart and had to read a paragraph of the law that basically said that the officer in charge could fine me up to 100 USD, put me in jail for up to 30 days and even deport me if he wanted to. Thankfully I got off with a warning, and have now printed my I-94 and take it with me at all times. Just so you all know…

Going to the Dentist in the USA (Part II)

I went back to the dentist to take care of the cavities they found during my last visit. It was kind of scary, because the last time I had cavities done was 16 years ago. Four need to be done, but the dentist only wanted to do two due to lack of time and it would be too hard for me to do all four at once. Ok, whatever.
It was kind of funny that they put my music on the radio. All in all, given the circumstances, it was a pretty good experience. I even got a greeting card from the dentist to welcome me as a new customer/patient. Only in America…

Click here for the first post

Going to the dentist in the USA…

Aaaah, May 1st. A national holiday in all socialist loving countries such as Belgium, France, Russia and North Korea. Funny enough, it actually commemorates something that happened in the USA, in Chicago (although, what happened was not funny to those it happened to! – See wiki link at end of this post). A holiday in Belgium means that, if you are working with Belgians on a daily basis as I do, no work will come form over the Atlantic and you have a nice quiet day (but not a day off!). So I decided to work from home these 2 days and schedule a dental appointment. Here is my story.

In the USA, healthcare is connected with your job, your employee health care plan. Step 1 into finding a dentist is to go to your healthcare provider website and find a dentist that accepts your dental plan. In Belgium, you just go to the dentist, nobody thinks about checking ‘coverage’ first. I needed a ‘normal’ cleaning and checkup, so I choose to find a ‘general’ dentist.

Found one walking distance, so called to schedule an appointment. First thing they ask is my coverage ID number, which I give. We schedule an appointment and I return back to work.
5 minutes later, they call me back that the number I gave is not valid. I apologize, say this is the first time I use a dentist in the US, and promise to check with my provider. I call to my provider and they figure it out pretty fast, give me my number and I’m good to go. There is no such thing as a ‘works from the first time’ for immigrants :-) .

Anyhow, my actual appointment… Usually this takes about half an hour in Belgium. You get a teeth cleaning using some kind of sand and water brush and the dentist checks for cavities. Everything is done by 1 person, the dentist. My visit to the dentist here, was quit amazing. First there is the secretary desk. 2 people working there, then there is the dental assistant who first checks your blood pressure (wtf?), then cleans your teeth (no brushes, very time consuming). You also do not have a cup with water to spit and rinse. In America, they suck the fluids out of your mouth with a machine! This took about half an hour. Then they moved me into another room. Walking through the building, it looks like a factory where patients are treated ‘en mass’. Then I get into a special room where an assistant takes 18 (!) X-ray pictures of my teeth. Apparently they do this every 5 years, and ‘only’ 4 pictures every 6 months with the check up. For a Belgian this is insane. X-rays are pretty dangerous toys. Of course, the X-ray is very powerful in finding cavities and discovered 4 of them. I only had 1 filling when I was 13 years old, none for the past 14 years and now 4. Danm X-ray :-) .

Now the funny thing is that, In Belgium I pay 48 EUR (65 USD) for this checkup. Here in the US, my dental check up (including X-rays) was free. All covered by the dental plan. Pretty amazing.
Now the fillings will cost me 554 USD, of which 330 USD is covered by the insurance. I have no clue how much this costs back in Belgium. Fun-fact: there is also a ‘regular’ price listed (understand: for the non-insured): this i 980 USD for the same thing. Almost double!

Another experience. And I will be back in a few weeks for my fillings.

Oh yes…
Want more info on May 1st labor day? See Wikipedia