Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Andre's American Chronicles - June 2002

Somewhere over South Texas. Tuesday, February 19, 2002. Just before 5:00 PM. Central Time.

I woke up with the alarming realization that something is happening and I am not particularly fond of what is laying ahead. I knew instantly what is was.


If I have to go through one more of these airless pockets, or is it potholes in the sky, then I will have to quit flying forever. Like that’s going to happen! The plane hiccup violently again. Crashing through another cloud. These aren’t airless pockets, these pockets are charged up for action. We are entering seriously unstable airspace. Still 20 minutes of flying to Houston... and solid ground. Since take-off from Louisville and for the first 2 hours of the flight everything was normal, had a G&T, and fell asleep. The 50-odd-seater jet is getting increasingly unstable the closer we get to Houston.

"Houston, we have a problem!"

We are heading into what seems to be a massive thunderstorm. The plane crashed through a barrage of thick black clouds again. It takes another dip and it feels as if my whole torso separates from my pelvic section and move up to my throat. The tiny window next to me is streaked with rain. An airplane, especially such a smallish airplane, is not my preferred choice of location during a thunderstorm. Let me put it another way; I hate flying in airplanes that bounce around in space. At this moment I just love life more than death. OK!

“Ground control to Major Thom/Take your protein pills and put your helmet on.” David Bowie.

I wonder: “Is this the way Texas greets visitors?

George Bush Airport, Houston, TX. Same day. Some time later.
Once we got below the cloud cover, the plane stabilized a bit. Landing came soon afterwards and luckily eventless. It was no surprise that our departure to Monterrey was delayed. Waiting for the storm to pass. Luckily the delay was only 20 minutes. When we eventually boarded, Houston’s runway was a mess. Yes, only one runway was operational and I have counted 40–odd planes waiting to take-off. Those taking of in a westerly direction, like us, must wait for the storm to pass completely. Yeah, they pack you in on the runway, like clothes in an always-ready-to-go suitcase, so that they can ship you when there’s an opening in the clouds. I am heading for Mexico again.

Hello you-all (like a real Southerner already. Yeah! Right!)

2002 started and continued like 2001 ended…on the run…so much to do and so little time. Sometimes I can’t understand why it seems that I don’t get time to do things I want to do. And then when I look back a few months later and I realized how much was accomplished, I wonder how come I still have so much to do.

At work I’m chipping away at the mountainous task of implementing a new computer system, SAP’s R/3, to replace the majority of our current systems. The going is tough. I’m the MIS department manager, the day-to-day SAP project manager, and functional leader for the Business Warehouse & Change Management sub-projects. Additionally, I’m installing a temporary system for a new Microwave manufacturing operation in our Mexican plant, and we’re updating our HR systems. I feel I need to be everywhere, but I just can’t be everywhere. But I luv every minute of it. Well...most of the time.

Monica has also started to work at a national chain of realtors. But guess what? After a few days she is already bringing the frustration of working in a tough, very competitive environment home. Now it’s my time to listen. For years, periodically, she had to listen to me venting my work frustrations. So now we have two hyped-up individuals at home, not counting the boys in their teenage years. That's a complete different story by itself.

Post card picture of Monterrey with the famous hill Cerro de la Silla in the background.

Monterrey’s weather, today is 87°F/29°C, is actually very welcomed after 4 months of cold, cloudy and snowy days in Kentucky. Winter seems so long this year. Hopefully I can keep to my plan to do more things in and around the house in spring, rather than in summer, when the heat and the humidity makes outside work nearly impossible. The past two years there was so much to do I had no choice but to work in the heat. Garden projects for the year include paths leading to the garden and in the garden. I also wants to build a deck just off, but linked to the porch. The last part of the side fence must also still be completed. No extension of the actual garden space is envisaged for this year. I should also think about a portico for the front entrance to widen the steps, because the steps are a bit dangerous and someone has already fallen from the steps in the dark. Luckily no injury except a bruised ego.

Monterrey, Mexico. Friday, February 22, 2002. 7:03 AM. Central Time.
The sun is just poking its head above the horizon. I am sitting in the airport’s only restaurant, waiting for my flight back to the US, enjoying a pot of coffee, and a last cigarette or two. I’ll get to Louisville by 2:00 PM after a stopover at Houston. Then a 90-minute drive home. Best place to be on a Friday night. Home! Just kick back, relax, take a walk through the garden, sit for hours on the porch and talk to Monica, drink a few Brandy & Cokes, watch the sun go down. Why can't life always be simple? Our rocking chairs on the porch faces west. Best view to watch the sunset over the distant trees. I never seem to get tired of watch it. The colors in the sky are never the same. Blues, pinks, oranges, blacks, grays, reds, and yellows are always arranged differently from day to day.

Lift off, well, nearly, just minutes away. We are sitting on the tarmac, ready to go. Faraway on the horizon the blue-gray mountains lay silently, shrouded in a brown dustcover. Probably from last night’s strong wind that caused a dust storm just as I was heading out for dinner.

The GUYS on the edge of Chimney Rock. Bob, a friend of Giam, Myself, Giam & Lamar.

Here we go. Green and brown shrubs, dusty sandy dirt roads, and industrial warehouses near the airport are flying pass me as we are being lifted into the air. We turned north and the full expanse of the city of Monterrey; with its 3½ million inhabitants are unveiled to my eyes. Time to sit back and just take it all in.

Ten minutes after take-off breakfast arrived. It consist of fruit (tasteless green cantaloupe (melon), sweet watermelon (not bad…when last I had that?) and grapes), fresa (strawberry) yoghart, a delicious little orange muffin, and coffee. It should be enough to hold until dinnertime at home. It will have to. I don’t think I will have time to grab something to eat in Houston. Too little time between flights and I still have to clear customs as well.

After only 30 minutes into the flight, the vast expanse of the Mexican Gulf appears to the east. We flew pass Corpus Christi. All along the Texas coast, a thin strip of beach is separated from the mainland by interconnected lagoons. With so much water everywhere and the warm Gulf, high humidity is part of everyday life. Thanks, but no thanks.

Sitting on the side of the plane facing East, I am being baked like a potato, but my curiosity to learn more of the lay of the land overrules my desire to close the window shade for shade. Also, usually we cross the border into the USA inland at Laredo, TX, but today we are flying all along the coast. Thirty minutes to go and we start our slow descend to Houston. As we turn north, inland towards Houston, the water-world gives way to rectangular farms neatly laid out like a 'lappieskombers'. The landscape quilt in different shades of green, brown and gray is specked with shiny dams and interconnected dirt roads.

The family in front of Biltmore House. In the background notice the size if the people against the height of the front door.

The storm of Tuesday, when I passed through here en-route to Monterrey, has left the farmland soaked, and everywhere little lakes has formed, looking like a treasure chest as the sun reflects from the water. A wide river runs brown and to the brim towards the Gulf. Thousands and thousands of houses, neatly in rows, some with turquoise swimming pools, and some built around artificial lakes, came into view. Downtown Houston, with skyscrapers, looking like squared mountain peaks, flew past. This place is huge and stretch out as far as the eye can see. After all, it is the 4th largest city in the US and the oil capital of America.

Texas airspace. Friday, February 22, 2002. 12:30 PM. Central Time.
The switch over at Houston was nearly a problem. Initially many of the passengers on the flight, me included, could not find their luggage. What’s new! After 30 minutes we eventually found the luggage at a carousel on the other end of this huge luggage retrieval hall. Then I still had to clear customs, move from terminal D to B in a slow underground train, then again through security, which is tight and time consuming. And originally I only had 50 minutes between flights. In the end, luckily for me, the departure of my flight to Louisville was for some reason delayed by 30 minutes and I had just enough time to make the flight. I’m in the air now. On my way home. That is all that count.

Danville, Kentucky. Wednesday, February 27, 2002, 12:00 noon.
As the sun breaks through an opening in the clouds, the backyard appears calm, shining and crystal white from a “freshly fallen shroud of snow”. In stark contrast, the horizon is blue-black as the next wave of a snowstorm rolls towards us. I’m working from home today via the Internet due to a sore throat, and I will not be surprised if I get worse. The past two weeks I went from 87°F/29°C in Mexico to 32°F/0°C on Friday at home. It warmed up over the weekend to a Monday high of 60°F/15°C, but our high today is only 25°F/-2°C and with the gusty wind the wind-chill factor is down to 12°F/-10°C. My body is made for comfort, not for speed to adjust to frequent weather changes like these.

My vantage point from the kitchen table overlook the backyard and the fleeting moment of sunshine disappears as the weather god opens up its bag of snow again and let it drift down to earth, blown nearly horizontal by the wind. On the CD player George Benson and a couple of friends is freaking out quietly in the background. Back to the grind for me, I need to complete an article for our weekly newsletter at work about the SAP project. Deadline is 3 p.m. today.

Memorial Day Weekend. May 24 – 27, 2002

Monday May 27 was a holiday in the USA, and we went exploring again. This time it was Asheville, North Carolina. Asheville, surrounded by mountains and nature, specked with incredible vistas, an abundance of sulfur springs and the cool mountain climate, has been a popular tourist destination as soon as roads were built to this area. By 1850, Asheville was already famous as a health resort. Before that, long before that, in the early 1500‘s a Spanish army under Hernando de Soto already explored the area for gold. They came in contact with the Cherokee Indians who were already living in North Carolina and in the Great Smoky Mountains for ages. Enough history. We headed that way for the same reasons many others did before see something new.

We took the I-75 South, passed London, KY, drove through the Daniel Boone Forest where it is at its narrowest. At Corbin we skirted around Cumberland Lake and climbed into the high hills, the Cumberland Plateau of north-central Tennessee. At Knoxville we turned east onto the I-40, towards the Appalachian Mountain Range. More specifically, the Blue Ridge Mountains. Yes it’s the same one that John Denver sang about in Country Roads.

We passed US66, the turnoff towards Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Dollywood and the Great Smoky Mountains. Been there. Done that. After another half hour or so the road forked. The I-81 continues north to Virginia, Pennsylvania, and further north to New York. We stayed on the I-40, which turned southeast towards North Carolina. We crossed Douglas Lake and immediately started to climb into the Appalachians. Country & Western music country. Five hours after we left Danville we arrived at our hotel, just after 9:00 PM.

We decided to explore Chimney Rock Park on the Saturday and to go to Biltmore Estate the Sunday. The Monday morning we headed back to Danville again.

Chimney Rock as seen from the Opera Box, another rock formation a little higher up in the mountain.

Twenty-one miles outside of Asheville is Chimney Rock Park, named after the granite monolith high above the Hickory Nut Gorge. (Picture on the left)The day was already hot when we got to the park. To get to the top of Chimney Rock from the parking area one can either follow a trail or take an elevator. The owners of the park, which is in private hands, dug 90 feet horizontally into the granite mountain. From there they created a 26-story shaft to the top of the Chimney to install an elevator for people and goods to be transport to the top and back. As with most tourist attraction, you exit the elevator into the souvenir shop and restaurant. Buy, buy, and buy. After a short walk and a few steps, maybe a bit more than a few, we were at the top of Chimney Rock to take in the spectacular view of nature’s activities through the ages, of how the Rocky Broad River carved out the Hickory Nut Gorge. If you have seen the movie, 'The Last of the Mohicans' you will have a good impression of the nature here. It was just one of many movies through the years that were shot on location in the Asheville area. Many of the “Mohicans” scenes, especially the fighting scenes, were filmed on some of the trails.

Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure from the top of Chimney Rock.

The Appalachian Mountains range is the oldest mountains in the USA and one of the oldest in the world, is overlain by foreign rock material that was pushed on top of it about 250 million years ago, when all continents came together to form the super continent "Pangea." At the suture where Africa and North America "slammed" together, the Appalachians were raised to incredible heights. The mountains one see today are only eroded remnants of this old mountain chain.

After taking pictures and taking in the scenery, we decided to walk the Forest Stroll Trail (pictured on the right) to the bottom of Hickory Nut Falls before walking all the way down to the bus station. Hickory Nut Falls, where the Fall Creek River spills over the mountain edge, is one of the highest waterfalls east of the Mississippi River, and has a vertical drop of 404 feet. We were a bit disappointed with the tiny stream of the falls, but the walk all along the mountain’s edge was rather nice. Good to be out in real nature again. We were also pretty tired and hot by the time we got down to the bottom at the parking area. All of us are out of shape. Well, Monica and I certainly. I don’t think the kids were very tired, although Lamar’s chest was a bit wheezy. But then he gets wheezy just thinking about any physical activities.

Some people’s country chalet is the stuff other people dream about.

More than a century ago, shortly after the railroad to Asheville was completed, George Vanderbilt created his larger-than-life country retreat in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Biltmore Estate with its French Renaissance chateau on 125,000 acres is today the largest private residence in America. It consists of 250 rooms, of which the banquet hall is certainly the most impressive. The vast gardens on the estate was created by America’s father of landscape architecture, Frederick Law Olmsted, the same guy that layout New York’s Central Park. Biltmore was his last project before his death.

Biltmore. In the background are the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains. On the other side of the house, and to the left of the house are huge entertainment areas with breathtaking views over miles of forest and the mountain.

We arrived there the Sunday and strolled around until 12:15 PM, when it was our time to tour the house. The house is impressive, very detailed architectural work was done inside the house. The entrance hall and the adjoining winter garden room were impressive. So too was the 90 foot long Tapestry Gallery and library with its 18th-century Pellegrini canvas ceiling painting, The Chariot of Venice. In the basement there is a ten-pin bowling alley and an indoor swimming pool. These rooms were highly unusual for a house at the turn of the century. We also strolled through the conservatory, the Italian fountain area and the rose gardens. We would have liked to explore more of the gardens, but it was simply to hot in the sun. We decided to go the winery instead. The tour exit into a sampling hall, one gigantic bar. Remember the buy, buy, buy? Very good marketing. Monica and I went to sample some wines. Yes, Monica tasted some of the white wines, to my surprise. Maybe she was just thirsty. Nevertheless, I had a drinking partner, a fellow critic, and we both liked a rather nice wooded chardonnay, Biltmore Chateau Reserve, which reminded me a lot of the Chamonix’s Chardonnay from Franschhoek. Both shared a prominent hint of butterscotch and Limosine oak, a soft velvet wine.

The Biltmore banquet hall. The openings to the fireplaces are 7 feet high. (pictured to the right).

I bought a bottle of the chardonnay and two bottles of their Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, or Cabsav as the Australians call it. It was the first time I drank wine from North Carolina. It has an earthier flavor than most California wines. Napa & Sonoma wines are the exception. After our shopping (Monica bought a present for a friend of her, and I, as usual bought postcards) we went to sit in the open-air cafĂ© area to listen to a Latino band and enjoyed a beer and soft drinks. All in all it was a very enjoyable day at Biltmore, and a very enjoyable weekend in Asheville. Biltmore Estate was very impressive. I would have loved to spent more time in the gardens, but then we would not have had time to see the winery. The next morning after breakfast at The Waffle House we headed for home again. On the way home the car’s air-conditioner blocked up and leaked water on the floor of the passenger side. I tried to dry most the water at a gas station before we traveled the last 2 hours to Danville. This is the third time that some misfortune has happened to us while away on vacation. And water is always involved. Strange!

Georgian airspace near Atlanta, Monday, June 3, 2002.
When Monica woke me at 5:00 AM I was instantly awake and realized that I probably missed my 6:20 AM flight from Lexington to Atlanta. I was supposed to get up at 4 AM, but something must have gone wrong with the alarm clock. The easy way out! I can’t remember, but what probably happened was that the radio did start playing, my sub-conscious heard it, and I stretched out a hand and switched it off. My body was probably overruling my mind due to tiredness, wanting to sleep more. I still dressed as fast as possible and was on the road by 5:20 AM for the 45 minute ride to the airport. I did not think I would get on the plane because the security clearance usually takes 20 minutes or so. But I stayed optimistic and ignored speed limits. Maybe there will be a delay. As I drove through Harrodsburg I saw police have pulled another motorist of the road. Speed fines 5:30 in the morning? I opened up again after Harrodsburg.

I got to the airport at 6 AM, pleaded my case, jump the line for a boarding pass, got a lecture that I should be at the airport at least an hour before take-off for an international flight, said I’m sorry, ask the attendant to assist me in jumping the security line too, she did, and I was onboard the aircraft 6:10 AM. I admit I was very lucky. Or was it just a positive attitude that got me through. I will never know. Sometimes there is a thing at work called luck.

The flight to Atlanta takes just over an hour. Below me the I-75 snakes its way across the Georgian landscape as we make our approach to Hartsfield International airport. The sun shines brightly through a thin morning mist over Atlanta, America’s busiest airport and hub to anywhere in the world. I would have liked to use this hub to Japan or Korea for the Soccer World Cup. Unfortunately my connection is to Monterrey, Mexico, again. The system for the Microwave business is going live today, hence my trip to Mexico.

So far I have watched most of the World Cup games, either live or on tape. For those who don’t know, I’m talking about the soccer World Cup. It is very low key here in the US. Friday night I stayed up until 6:00 AM Saturday morning to first watch Argentina beat Nigeria and then watched South Africa played Paraguay. Because of the 13-hour time difference, most of the games are being broadcasted during the night from 2:00 AM onwards. I was very disappointed with England’s second half performance in their game against Sweden. These days I shout for any good soccer match, but I’ll be shouting for England, USA and South Africa. England is a young side, and the more they work together the better and stronger they may get, but it is not a great side at all. If they reach the quarterfinals they would have done well. But they must first make it through round one. And they might not! Fading in the second half might come back and hound them. Seeing South Africa’s fighting spirit against Paraguay I have high hopes for the Bafana Bafana. (Nickname for South Africa’s soccer team, which means The Boys.) I don’t think they will make it to the second round, but they may record their first World Cup victory, after seeing the Slovenia / Spain match. Not impressed with Slovenia. The USA is a mystery to me. Very up and down. They have a good team, many good players, but consistency is what they need. They can only do better than France ’98 when they ended last in the tournament. A month of intrigue, national pride, jubilation and sorrow, luck and destiny, shocks and surprises are laying ahead. No better tournament in the world than the World Cup. France’s lost against Senegal does not mean the end of the tournament for them. Remember, World Champions Argentina lost their first match in Italy 1990 and they went through to play in the final. Good stuff, dude.

Home. Tuesday, June 25, 2002. 11:45 PM. Eastern Time.
The house has quiet down. Outside a full moon is shining so brightly it seems even the birds are fooled into thinking that the day will break soon as listen to their chirping.

During April Monica changed from one real estate company to another here in town. She was unhappy about the inconsistent office policies at the initial firm, which is really a family business, so all policies are focused on improving the family wealth and not what is necessarily fair or business orientated for the other people working there, and moved to Coldwell Banker. She is much happier now. She has recorded two sales and has listed 2 houses already. She’s actually doing very well considering the short period she has been working and the fact that the real estate business is all about how well people know your name.

At work we are going through a very tough period. The past year the price of vacuum cleaners have dropped nearly 20%, mainly due to cheap imports from China. To stay competitive cutting cost has become crucial. The company is now offering voluntary layoffs/buyouts and it seems that many people will be taking the offer. This is causing major problems for the computer projects I’m involved with. Several of the main users and many others that need to be trained will be leaving. This will cause a major reorganization and it might even cause the temporary stopping of the SAP project. I hope things will not get that drastic. Time will tell.

IBM is assisting us in implementing our SAP project and the IBM project manager is a South African that used to work for SAP SA. He said when he was still in South Africa, he worked at Plessey/Tellumat during their QM module implementation.

Home. Wednesday, June 26, 2002. 2:15 PM. Eastern Time.
This week and next week is our yearly shutdown of the factory. So things are rather quiet at work, apart from the SAP project, which is still fully staffed. I’m also kicking off a project tomorrow to upgrade our HR/Payroll systems. So no quiet time in MIS. The barbeque with the South Africans went very well and it was great sharing experiences about leaving South Africa and adapting to America in Afrikaans.

Sunday morning I’ll be up early to enjoy the World Cup final. Hopefully they will broadcast the SA vs Argentina rugby match too. We were fortunate to see both SA / Wales games. Although SA won, there is a lot of hard work ahead if they want to be competitive with New Zealand or Australia. It’s a young team and their focus should be on the Rugby World Cup next year and not on this year’s ZANZAR series.

Well, time for me to go. I hope I have brighten you day just a little bit with all the news, views, and traveling stories. Next week I will have 3 days off from work, it's the 4th of July week. I have major projects scheduled at home and Monica and a lady friend is going to Boston and Massachusetts for the long weekend.

Signing off from Danville, Kentucky…Go well and may the genie be with you. Just be careful what you wish for…It might come true.

The Baobabs in Kentucky.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Andre's American Chronicles - June 2001

Sunday, August 26, 11:55 AM Central Time

The picture of Lake Michigan starts to breakup like pieces of a puzzle before it slowly dissolves in the clouds as the plane climbs westwards, away from Chicago towards Seattle, heading for cruising altitude of 37,000 feet.

"Sit back and relax, drinks will be served shortly, and then you can enjoy a complimentary lunch and our in-flight movie – Crocodile Dundee II." The captain informs me.

Times must be lean at United Air for showing us such an old movie. I started up my laptop, selected The Essentials from Bob Dylan, and let Bobby tell me his stories instead of listening to Paul Hogan’s stories.

Hello there.

Eight months have passed since I last wrote to say Merry Christmas, and it’s nearly that time of the year again. Time flies whether you have fun or not.

The loooong winter started as early as November and lasted until March. Luckily the winter was warmed by family members that visited us over Christmas and New Year, my brother-in-law and his wife, Leon and Rosanne. Unfortunate from them they came during the coldest November and December in the USA since 1895 or somewhere around there. During their visit we had higher than normal snowfalls, especially so early in winter. Spring was rather unusual with no rain in April and only a little in May, normally the rainy months. But the rain would come…in summer. One of the trips we took during their stay was to show them the Smoky Mountains and Gatlinburg in Tennessee.

During Spring break we drove south to Florida for a weeklong holiday and visited Disney World in Orlando. I looked forward to the drive through Tennessee, Georgia and then into Florida, to see what the southeastern part of the country looked like. But I was very disappointed with the scenery. The highway was flanked by trees most of the way. Only here and there could one catch a glimpse of the surrounding countryside. I guess to really see the landscape one has to travel on the state byways. But it was good to get away, and Disney World was not bad. Wouldn’t go back though. Been there, done that, once is enough.

Monica and I in the snowy backyard. (December 2000)

July and August saw floods, high levels of humidity and a bad mosquito population in Kentucky. The mosquitoes would even attack one on a morning stroll through the garden. (I thought mosquitoes only hunted during evenings.) Early evenings though, they were like Wild Dogs in the African sun, hunting in packs. They even tried to extract the juices of life from the cats. Now in late August, the humidity level has come down a bit, and some trees are slowly starting to drop their leaves. It seems we are heading for an early Fall/Autumn. What a bummer. Far too early for my liking.

Bobby is telling me a story of the Hurricane, while we slowly, at 845 km per hour, move westward. Far below, the green and clearly demarcated farms of Illinois and Iowa flash past in slow motion.

Left: Monica and I in Dallas, TX infront of Ripley's Believe It or Not (1998)

Believe it or not the kids have not yet returned to school after the summer break. This year their summer break lasted 3 months. 2 weeks longer than planned because of alterations at the school, which are not yet completed as planned. Which construction is ever on time? Luckily for Giam the usual boredom was lessoned by the fact that he worked for 2 months at a fast food outlet. Unluckily for me that had to go and pick him up late in the evenings. Lamar is satisfied with live as always. He has grown so tall, but still skinny, looking like a giraffe without the spots. His only problem seems to be how to handle the change in teenage hormones. That time of his life!

We crossed the Missouri River, the Badlands National Park, and are heading for the Continental divide in Montana. Apart from small patches of woolly clouds, the sky was pretty clear all the way.

On the home front I have spent most of my time in the garden. In the front I ripped out some Holly’s, dug through 1 inch of builders’ rubble to reclaim space for beds, turned the soil to 14 inches, and Monica planted an assortment of perennials, shrubs, and annuals to transform the front yard from a bleary evergreen environment to a sunny, flowery extravaganza. In the backyard I more than double the bed space from the previous year. I also installed paths throughout the garden. One of the paths was created from a ton of Kentucky sandstone rocks I dug up from a farm nearby. Some of these rocks contain fossils of sea life when Kentucky was still under water in pre-historic times. Getting the stones home, unloading them and laying the path nearly killed me. Or so it felt at the time. But the end result is very satisfying. The paths certainly give the garden more structure and a feeling of age.

A portion of the back garden showing the path of sandstone that contains fossils of prehistoric Kentucky.

From the air the green-yellow landscape suddenly change to rugged blue mountain peaks and dark valleys as we cross the majestic Rockies.

I have also continued to upgrade the fence around the backyard. In the process of removing some of the old posts I hurt my back a bit, but I have little time to rest. In September I have to remove all the annuals and in October I have to replant various plants because they have become much bigger than originally anticipated. I am holding thumbs that I will have enough time before the first frost of October arrives.

Our plane is banking sharply, changing direction from west to north and at the same time decreasing altitude as we start our approach to Sea-Tac airport (Seattle-Tacoma) from the south. Through my window Mt. Rainier dominates the valley south of Seattle and the snow-covered dome resembles an oversized vanilla ice cream cone in the green landscape. I have crossed the Rockies and was impressed enough to want to return there for more. I have been in the Smokey Mountains and enjoyed its misty attraction. But nothing prepared me for the view of a snow-covered volcano. Its dominance in a flat landscape is spectacular.

I am visiting Seattle to investigate the computer setup and general operations of a Service Parts business because my company will shortly start a new venture in that field. In October we will also kick-off a multi-million Dollar implementation with me as the project manager. In the mean time I will also still be responsible for normal operations of the IT department. No wonder Monica wants to make a life-size photo of me so that she can at least see me sometimes. And the real busy period is only starting.

Time to go. Time to close my laptop. Time for landing this bird and venture out and explore Seattle. My first trip to this part of the country.

Monday, August 27, 11:20 PM Pacific Time

Mt. Rainier from the plane.

After concluding our business at our Service Center in Seattle, the manager took us to a high point in the South of Seattle to see if we could get some picture of Mt. Rainier. It was a rather hazy late afternoon and the pictures I took is not worth publishing. Pity! Afterwards we had dinner at the Claim Jumpers restaurant, highly recommended if you ever get in Washington or Oregan states. Tomorrow morning we will be on the plane back east again.

Sunday, September 23, 6:25 PM Eastern Time

Fall. A time of mourning. Summer is drawing to a close. The signs are everywhere. It is dark by 8 pm and mornings have a cool crispness that was not there a month ago. The garden will die soon, well almost. But it is also a time of mourning due to the tragic events of September 11 in New York, Washington and Pittsburgh. The events made us realized just how much we have become Americans now. We felt deep pain, shock, empathy and most of all anger because of the attack on our way of life. Monica, especially, was deeply affected by it. It’s an impact that will be felt for a long time to come in this country. The economy was already heading towards a recession, and this event will sharpen the downward curve. Already the airline industry has announced layoffs of 70,000 jobs only days after the event. The tourist, hotel, entertainment and many other industries have also layoff thousands already. We will all feel it in insurance cost, and many other areas. More layoffs mean less spending, means more layoff in the retail industry. One big snowball. And if the USA go into a recession, it just a matter of time before the rest of the world also feel the affects.

Thursday, December 13, 10:25 PM Eastern Time

A thick mist is hugging the ground, while a continuous drizzle falls rhythmically on the tin roof of the porch. The house is quiet. Everyone has gone to bed. The night owl is at the kitchen table…again…and Keiko Matsui is making music in my ears.

John F. Kennedy Memorial. Dallas, TX (1998)

How pathetic it is that I write this newsletter over a period of so many months. Time, time, time…Excuses, excuses, excuses…Today was D-day for Monica. In the beginning of October she decided to tackle the world head-on. After a horrible year she decided to go back to school, professional school that is. She decided to get a certification in Real Estate. The kids are getting of our hands, I’m working normal hours and get home late, and she’s getting bored (she has always been a busy person, but not since we came to the USA.) And after all, there was still a lot of spark left to do something professional with the rest of her life. After a long search for what would best fit in with how she would like to spend her daily hours, what she might be good at (no use just doing it without trying to make a success of it), and what could pay reasonably (time is money), she decided on Real Estate.

She attended all the required classes (96 hours), and worked very hard at studying (first time since leaving high school, and we all know that was a loooonnng time ago.) Last night she was petrified, and we still had to go to a dinner in Lexington for a colleague of mine’s retirement. She couldn’t sleep and spent have the night up learning more.

But tonight we celebrated. Monica passed her examination for certification as a Real Estate Agent. By early evening, due to little sleep, being in a state of near nervous breakdown since yesterday because she and exams don’t go together, and one glass of flavored wine cooler before dinner, she fell asleep on the couch shortly after dinner. I don’t blame her, I’m so proud on her achievement. Not only did she had to get 75% to pass in the technical rules and terminology of the business, and the all the laws governing the business, but she did this all in English of course (Afrikaans is still our home language between me and her.) Now she must decide at which brokerage in town she wants to complete her internship. But she’ll do that early next year after she returned from South Africa.

Thursday, December 20, 11:25 PM Eastern Time

I promised myself that I would finish this newsletter before Christmas. And tonight is my D-day. Tomorrow will be the last working day for many and some get their email only at a work address. I thought I would complete it during my trip to Dallas this week, but I never got to it. I had the time on the airport and during the flights, but this month’s National Geographic magazine was just to interesting to put down. Excellent articles. Since September 11, security is now so tight at the airports, at Lexington airport I even had to remove my shoes and send them through the x-ray machine. That’s now apart from anything else that can be removed from your body and must be removed with being indecently exposed. At Atlanta, being the busiest airport in the US, they even used a small, probably chemically treated, sponge to rub the metal handles of my bag’s zippers to check for a reaction to explosives. Traces of explosives can be picked up like fingerprints. Three times this week my bags and I was thoroughly inspected. Not that anyone that flies should feel any safer against terrorism, because most luggage that gets into the plane’s hull are not x-rayed. Enough of that.

Tomorrow is also my last working day for the year. The factory is closed during the week of Christmas and I will take a few days off and just to hang around. The 26th, very early in the morning, 5:00 AM, I must take Monica to Lexington airport for her three-week vacation in South Africa, and warmer climate. Not that winter has arrived yet. Very strange weather this year. No snow yet this winter. Last year this time we had couple of inches of snow already. The eastern side of the country had record high temperatures so far. On a daily basis we are about 12 degrees higher than normal here in central Kentucky. It looks like this might be our first Christmas in the US without snow. We have been lucky that way. She will be going alone while I stay behind to look after the kids.

White Christmas or not, this newsletter must go night.

I wish you all many happy memories during this festive season and may 2002 be filled with many more happy days.

Cheers. The Baobabs in Kentucky.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Andre's American Chronicles - June 2000

Greetings to all

Thursday, January 13, 2000

A flimsy sun tries bravely to break through a thin layer of high clouds and low lying mist. The earth is frozen solidly from freezing-rain, and below 0 °C/32 °F temperatures the past 2 days, and the 1 to 4 inches of snow forecasted for tonight will not make matters any better.

What a difference a hemisphere make? From Cape Town to Kentucky in 24 hours

It felt like just a few moments ago that we, everyday, woke to near 30 °C/86 °F temperatures, and I could count the number of less-pleasant days on 1 finger. And the few drops of rain and gale force wind the day before Christmas were a God-sent to cool Cape Town for a bit. We returned to the US to experience the winter’s first storm in Kentucky. Morning temperatures are now around -15 °C/5 °F and the past few days our maximum has never reached zero °C/32 °F.

Return to the Rainbow Nation (the southern tip of Africa version)

WAOH!!! What a trip? We needed a vacation upon our return. They say those kind of vacations are good vacations. To all the people in South Africa that made our vacation one of our most memorable, a BIG, THANK YOU. Without you the vacation just would not have been such a joyful time. A special thanks to Jacques for his wheels.

The 18 days in South Africa were just too short. We never even had time to visit the beach or Kirstenbosch. But we got to visit the Waterfront (too commercial and too expensive as always) and with some family members, the Franschhoek and Stellenbosch wine route. Being a wine lover I loved these wine routes for not onbly the tastings but also the beauty of the lanscape. We started off with a breakfast at the Wimpy on the N1, and then on to Franchhoek. Our first stop was at Cape Chamonix. I really like their Chardonnays for its very woody and butter flavors. We spent some time in the dorp, browsing through goods from flea market vendors and then on to L'Ormarins, one of the Cape's most beautiful estates and one of the oldest (since 1694). From Franschhoek we took the R310 (Helshoogte Pass) past Boschendal and Pniel to Stellenbosch. With a roundabout way we got to Delheim Estate. Their tasting room with its spiderwebs and dungeon feeling is a must. Standing on the terrace of the restaurant, on a clear day, one can see Table Mountain. From there we drove through Stellenbosch to Middelvlei, back to the outskirts of town to Blaauklippen and Rust-en-Vrede. On our way back to Cape Town we stopped at Zevenwacht, bought a picnic basket and enjoyed a late lunch on the lawn in front of the manor house. I came back to the US with 4 cases of wine. Luckily customs gave me no problems because it was all for personal consumption. We are allowed to bring in two cases of wine per adult.

We took a car trip around Campsbay to the “Republic” of Houtbay, visited the Mariner's Wharf, bought Snoek for a braai that evening and ate fish and chips at Snoekies. On the day that we visited the Waterfront, we experienced a boat trip to Robben Island, although we did not go ashore, and on December 30th we went up Table Mountain with the aerial cableway to witness one of the millennium’s last sunsets. We ate far too much boerewors, biltong and food in general, but what the heck, you only live once. If you do it right, then once should be enough. But both Monica and I feel we had not spent enough time with friends or family, even though we were with family or friends everyday of the vacation. Some friends I did not get to see at all, especially the x-Plessey crowd, due to bad planning on my side. And I am still pinching myself for that. But in general it was an excellent trip. It was just so good to be there again, to experience good Afrikaner hospitality again, to listen to Afrikaans again, and to spend time with family and friends again.

The Land of the Rising Sun

Wednesday, March 8, 2000.
Just did some laundry and I am now eating in a Japanese restaurant on the 1st floor of the hotel where I’m staying during my visit to Osaka. Sitting at the bar, I’m watching the kitchen staff, visible through a glass partitioning, preparing food. I ordered chop-suey soup, shredded beef with peppers, rice with vegetables, and a bottle of red wine. Total cost, around 10,000 Yen/$100.

I feel very awkward here in Japan, because I rarely see any Westerners. Everywhere I go people stare at me as if I’m from Mars. Maybe it is just this area of Osaka where I’m staying. Now and then I here “Americano” and then I know I am being discussed. Whether I was from America of not, it seems they call anyone with European features Americano. But I’m not complaining. The people here are very friendly and offer to help where they can. If they can’t speak English they try to find someone who can speak some broken English.

But let me start at the beginning. On Friday, February 27, I left home for Osaka via Lexington and Detroit, to attend an Advance Management course at our overseas training center, affectionately known as “Hirakata Prison”, because of its location in Hirakata, a north-western suburb of Osaka. The training course was during the first week of my stay here. The second week I visited various factories and also our world head office to look at IT systems and just generally meet various people.

I arrived here the Saturday and was met by a Japanese colleague at the airport, who after a 90 minute ride of near non stop traffic jams, delivered me at my destination. The Sunday morning I met another American during breakfast who told me that he was going out to explore the city. I asked if I could tag along. He was to meet some Japanese colleagues from their mother division here, but he welcomed another English speaking person on the trip. Once at the train station we met another Panasonic employee from Britain, another course attendee, and he asked to tag along too. Why not? One big happy family, no idea where we are all going. We eventually ended up at Osaka Castle (pictured left) , which was originally built some 400-500 years ago, but demolished several times during different wars within Japan, and the last time by Allied forces during World War II. The castle was beautifully rebuilt, surrounded by gardens, very thick, high walls and finally by a moat. Now dry.

The business course was about strategic decision making and an indoctrination of Matsushita’s business philosophy. 25 persons attended the course from all over the world – USA, UK, Poland, Germany, Italy, France, Costa Rica, Mexico, Singapore and Malaysia. ‘n Lekker sak deurmekaar lekkers. A bag of mixed candy! The course was intense, with long hours (9 AM to 9 PM), and some lecturers difficult to understand (the English heavily coated with Japanese.) That did not leave much time for socializing with colleagues from other nations. The late night beer drinking in the lounge, around a vending machine, was restricted to 3 Brits, 3 Germans and me, talking about soccer, life and anything else that came to mind.

After the course ended the Friday afternoon I went to stay in the Osaka Plaza Hotel for a week. I am sure I was the only Westerner in the hotel, because I never saw another. The next day, Saturday, a Japanese colleague took me shopping. I would have like a sightseeing tour, but it was raining cats and dogs that day. So we went to a massive mall, 8 stories high, some of it underground, with so many tentacles in all directions an octopus would feel embarrassed that it was outdone for legs. Thereafter we browsed a 3-mile long narrow, covered “road” with shops on both sides. Lunch was at a restaurant where we had to grill our own beef, thinly sliced, with teriyaki sauce and with many side dishes. Very interesting concept! I indulged far too much on the teriyaki and suffered the next day. I didn’t do a lot of shopping. The only things reasonably priced in Japan are train tickets and food at small restaurants. The food in Japan, or the food I was exposed to, I have to admit, was excellent.

The next day, Sunday, was certainly the highlight of my trip. Two colleagues escorted me to Kyoto, an ancient city and capital of Japan for more than a thousand years, before the capital was moved to Tokyo. For a history buff like me, Kyoto was magnificent. We walk through ancient gardens and many narrow streets. First we visited Ninna-ji, also called the Omuro Palace (pictured right). I went into the temple, shoeless, beautifully decorated with massive wooded pillars, weaved cloth and what I presume was gold. From there we walked to Ryoan-ji, a world famous rock-and-gravel garden and then to Rokuon-ji, the Golden Pavilion. And finally on to, what I call the red temple, Kamowakeikazuchi-jinja (pictured left). This was quite a walk and along the many roads I met three geishas in traditional dress in a park. And had my picture taken with them. My colleagues were rather taken aback that I would be seen with these girls on a photo. My video and still camera was working overtime. It was a rather long walk back to the train station after all day’s walking and we were all rather tired and my feet were burning. A few blocks from the train station we stop to have an early dinner/late lunch, it was about 3:30 PM, at a quaint, very stylist, family-managed restaurant, which served some excellent dishes. The train trip back to Osaka took about an hour. Magnificent city! Well worth a return visit.

Service, in general, here in Japan is fantastic. Everywhere you go they want to provide the best. And no tips. “Japanese culture!” I was told. They see it as an insult to be tipped. In the USA and in SA the service is generally poor and a tip is seen as a given. No, let me correct myself, one is seen as stingy and rude if one doesn’t tip. No matter how bad the service. As if “…be glad I was here to serve you!” How vain!

One evening 2 colleagues took me to a Thai restaurant, serving a mixture of Korean, Thai and Japanese food in Japanese style. I should not be calling it a restaurant, but rather one of the thousands of tiny local bars. A classic “hole in a wall.” Eventually there were 10 customers and it was crowded. All sitting at a half moon counter, watching the proprietor and her daughter, preparing the food on the other side of the counter. It turned out the best evening of my whole trip. There we were 10 men, all regular customers except me. It was cozy, noisy, and full of the aroma of the different foods. In true Asian style, as many as 10 different types of food were offered in small quantities. There were lots of laughs and many misunderstandings. The electronic Japanese/English calculator worked overtime, but still did not eliminate misunderstandings. They offered me Sake and some weird smelling liquor that is drunk with hot water and a Japanese apricot in it. I had some sake, but refuse the liquor. I stuck to beer. In general, for fear of an upset stomach, I stayed away from weird drinks and big portions of raw fish, although I enjoyed a few portions of sushi.

Most of the time I loved the food here. Fish and rice seems to be the staple foods here. Fish of all sorts are consumed. Let me rather say seafood. Because everything from the sea is eaten here: from mackerel to swordfish, from lobster and all kinds of shellfishes, to jellyfish and octopus, and shrimps and prawns. Rice is eaten 3 times a day. At breakfast it is served with fish, green salad, and many other things. Real Japanese food taste and smell much different than the western version presented in the USA. And then there is Japanese tea. Unsweetened, without milk and mostly green in color. Tea is always served at the beginning of the meal. Much like water is served in the USA. I have always liked the green version served in the USA and I also like it in Japan. Never strong, rather weak, but just palatable. In general I developed a healthy respect for Japanese chefs and their food. It reflects a fine sense of taste and a good knowledge of what goes together. Also, the presentation of one dish at a time allows for experiencing individual taste and enjoyment without mixing of tastes and foods.

In summary, the Japanese are a very friendly and helpful nation. They dress very smartly. Men are almost always in suit and tie, and women dress very stylish. Many times food is presented lukewarm, but they drink their sake hot (same temperature as the stomach they say). They say yes to everything, but it only means, yes I’ve heard you, and don’t necessarily mean I agree with you or that it is acceptable. They drive their bicycles on the pavements (walkways), but possess great skills in hardly ever hitting pedestrians. Jaywalking is never seen, they all cross the street at pedestrian crossings. Traffic is a real problem. Trains run on time and are mostly crowded. The country is very clean and customer service is excellent. I have thoroughly enjoyed my trip here. A truly different world experience. This is the first and hopefully not my last trip to Japan.

Upon my return to the USA, Monica came to pick me up at the airport. I was totally bushed. The 20-hour trip was exhausting. But I was in for a surprise? At home colleagues and friends gave me a surprised 40th birthday party. The kind that you walk into a dark room and upon switching the light on you get the fright of your life as they all shout “SURPRISE!!!” Well, being a party animal…most of the time, I employed my second breath and enjoy the rest of the evening as best as I could, way into the wee hours of the morning.

My travels aren’t over yet. You’ll swear I’m a traveling salesman these days. We are in the process of opening another factory south of the border, in Mexico. During June I’ll be visiting Reynosa & Monterrey in Mexico, the first of probably many visits, to go and see how other American companies that ventured there, do business. It’s going to be one of my babies for the rest of this year. The plant must be operational by April 2001. But I rather go now, early spring, than in the middle of summer when 110 °F/43 °C is the norm.

In and Around Kentucky
Other Newsbits

April - June, 2000.
Recently I have been promoted and all of IT is now reporting to me. It also means a company car. Because Monica will be driving the car most of the time, and she really wanted a Mazda Miata (MX5), but a 2-seater sports car isn’t allowed as a company car, we settled on a silver colored Pontiac Grand Prix GT. We decided to sell our trusted Mercury, the one that got us over the Rocky Mountains at 15 miles per hour, and brought us all the way from the west coast to central Kentucky, and also to sell our Dodge Van. We are doing a lot of landscaping in our yard a truck has become very necessary. So for myself, I bought a Dodge Ram Pickup 1500 Quad Cab V8. A fire red one!

Two weeks ago our town was in uproar and the whole southwest portion of town, which includes our factory and the kids’ school, had to be evacuated due to a chemical fire in a cargo train’s box car. 650 tons of sulfur got in contact with water due to a leakage and caused a smoldering time bomb, ready to go off anytime. Luckily this didn’t happen and we went back to work the next day again.

Three days ago the Wild Turkey Distillery (makers of top class Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky) in Lawrenceburg (just down the road from us) lost one of its warehouses due to a fire. The bourbon ran into the Kentucky River, which runs through the distillery, and which feeds the water processing plant next door, resulting in a major water problem for the town. All water was cut off for 2 days. Wow, open the faucet and out come whisky & water, already mixed.

This is the last week of the school year for the kids. Two and a half months of summer vacation are lying ahead. During the vacation the boys and I will be roughing it for a long weekend. I promised them we would go primitive-camping near one of the many lakes in Kentucky or in the Daniel Boone forest. Sleep under the starts by night, exploring walking trails by day, and live on US Army rations. Giam can't wait, but how Lamar will cope it is still a mystery.

Well, it has taken some time writing this, and well over due in sending it. But with us being busy with “life”, kids, trying to create a garden from nothing, etc., time flies.

From Danville, Kentucky…Cheers.

André, Monica, kids & cats.