Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Uh oh, went on a flight to Munich and back today. Got back, and realized I don't have my US keys anymore! I keep my SecureID token on that keychain, and without it, I can't login to work remotely. (as well as not having my US car and house keys!)

Gotta call the airport to see if they have a Lost & Found... =(

Update: Found out I left my memory stick (and keys) plugged into the computer at work! Whew..

Monday, November 28, 2005

I've been waiting for my GPS unit for my car these past few weeks... (Garmin Quest, onsale at Costco for $300!). It arrived in Belgium on the 18th, but nothing arrived in the office.

Just found out today that it's stuck in customs because they're trying to determine its value and whether taxes need to be applied or not. =( Can't believe that nobody at the Belgian post bothered to call me to ask about it.. only found out through the mailroom at work, after pestering them about my package over the past week!

Hope I get it soon.. I've been driving without a GPS, but would be nice to finally have one and a chance to use it before I leave back home!

Weds = week 4 here! Time goes fast!

Monday, November 21, 2005

A Truly Belgian Meal: Steamed Mussels in White Wine

  1. Celery: $0.49
  2. 250 mL White Wine: $1.25
  3. 1 kg North Sea Mussels: $3.59

Yum! Best part:I made it myself! This would cost $20 in a restaurant!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Ever since I've been travelling on my own, I've always relied on guide books, word of mouth, or the Internet to plan my trips. However, this time, I didn't have a tour book, suggestions, internet information, or even a map!

So, on Saturday morning, armed with just my little car and my camera, and uncompletely unplanned, I set off for Rotterdam in the Netherlands. And I made it! Without getting lost, nothing. It was really liberating to travel without any plans, guides, schedule! You feel like you're really discovering things anew, by yourself.

It's amazing how small Belgium is, it took me 1:30 to drive to Rotterdam (2nd largest city in the Netherlands). I figured out some signs for the 'Park and Ride', parked for free outside the city, and took the trains in. Almost every major city in Europe has a tourist info office, and while walking around in Rotterdam, I found it. From here, I got all the information on where to go, what to see.

Amazingly, I stayed the whole day, and it was 8:30pm when I decided whether to stay or go home. I didn't make it to the museum area yet, so I decided to scout out a hotel. (note: I had nothing on me, no toothbrush, change of clothes, nothing. Just my camera). There was the NH for 80euros, some "grand central hotel" for 60 euros (which I checked out, but was really shady: the door next to my potential room was busted in, carpet was really old, otherwise really shady), or, the elite Westin for 160 euros. (if it was like anything like the Kuala Lumpur Hilton, maybe I would have considered it.)

Rotterdam is an interesting architectural city, since most of it was bombed out in WWII. It's all very modern, as if it was a model city for IKEA. Check out the cube houses on the left.. imagine not having any straight (90 degree) walls in your house...

I think I figured out why I like the Netherlands so much. One reason is because of this: (satay!) Great indonesian / Malaysian food here due to the former Dutch colonies. Another reason is, I think it looks like Wooster.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Autobahn

Just came back from a business trip to Germany.. my co-worker let me drive his Volvo wagon on the Autobahn! There's no limits on the Autobahn (in certain sections). So, I took the car up to 100 mph (160 kph), and occassionally up to 125 mph (200 kph)! Wow! It was so effortless for that car... I think my Honda would be shaking apart at that speed. It's interesting to see the BMW's or the Mercedes, zooming on the leftmost lane, flashing their lights WAY in advance to let you know they're overtaking. I'd be going around 90 mph (140 kph), and these guys would just blow by.

Unfortunately, there's only short sections of the Autobahn that you can do this, mainly because of congestion, construction, or limited speed areas to 100-120 kph (~60mph). Either way, it's a great feeling, even though I only hit 200 kph for 10 seconds before having to slow back down.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Wow! Remember hearing about Mac on x86? Supposedly, it wasn't going to run on standard x86 platforms... well, some developer images leaked out, and it works on standard PC's.

I-Hacked.com Taking Advantage Of Technology - Building the $200 OSx86 Mac:

Friday, November 11, 2005

European Habits

Most people who move to a different country often notice the "different" things first, making comparisons to their home country. In the beginning, it's fun, but after a while it gets old hearing about the things that are different.

Here are my observations:

Greetings - Its so nice to hear greetings every day: everybody says "hello" or "dag" or "bonjour" when people enter the office for the day. Walking into a restaurant, you'll always hear "bonsoir", and before eating "bon appetite". It's so... polite, in a nice way!

Taking responsibility for their actions, meaning no lawsuits! What an amazing concept. We had a major celebration at work for an important milestone, and they pulled out chocolate and chapangne! Can you imagine drinking champagne on company time and company property? Even better, every first Friday of the month is happy hour, on the company. I asked "What happens if you get drunk and crash your car?". Response: "too bad, its your fault". I think the lawsuit-happy culture in the US really drives up the price of everything, forcing companies to put labels on cans of peanuts saying "Danger - may contain nuts"

Holidays are taken seriously. Today was Armstice Day, the end of WWI. So, I went to the mall. Closed. Grocery store, also closed. The office... locked up! I'm liking the office part, but it's hard to imagine a holiday in the US where all the stores are closed!

Eating habits - We went to a nice Italian place, and I ordered pizza. A co-worker later said: "I forgot Americans eat differently... there's a lot of time spent switching utensils". Apparently, Europeans will eat with the knife in the right, and fork in the left.. and you keep these utensils in those hands while you're eating! I told her I was being polite by actually cutting the pizza (switching utensils, then putting down the knife).. and that if I were in the US, I'd just cut and use my hands!

GPS units are popular here. I guess when your streets were planned hundreds of years ago, and are laid out "willy-nilly", then you'd want a GPS to help get around town. I can't wait for mine to arrive next week! Maybe I can finally figure out how to drive in and out of Brussels.

Ok, goal for this weekend is to be a tourist and buy a guidebook for the area. Hope I can figure out how to get to the bookstore!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


Thought I'd include some pictures (courtesy of Google Earth) of my area, including my apartment, NATO HQ, and the EHQ office. As you can see, my drive brings me in front of NATO every day... the first time I came to Brussels, George Bush was visiting NATO, and this main road running in front of NATO HQ and the office was completely shut down! You can see it's a major road for the area.

For those of you who are interested in exact co-ordinates for plugging into Google Earth:

  • Apartment (50 deg 51' 47.97" N, 4 deg 24'47.87" E)
  • NATO (50 deg 52' 36.30" N, 4 deg 25'16.66" E)
  • EHQ (50 deg 53' 08.28" N, 4 deg 27'05.56" E)

Monday, November 07, 2005

Things I miss and don't miss

After failing miserably to cook rice the old fashioned way (boiling water) today, I realized I really missed the convienence of my rice cooker. This made me think of other things I'm miss or don't miss:

Things I Miss:

  • rice cooker
  • an iron with a built-in steamer
  • a TV with more than 3 English TV chanels
  • my own washer and dryer
  • diverse restaurant choices
  • a gas stove (my stove here is a cermic type... the time-constant on changing the temperature is nearly forever! large heat intertia in the ceramic...)
  • my collection of spices and sauces
  • Hanging out with friends (my crowd here is still fun to be with, but they're a bit older)

(hm... noticing a trend here..)

Things I don't miss:

  • My commute to work (it's even closer here!)
  • fast food (although a spicy chicken sandwich sounds nice right now)
  • Grocery store selection
  • Minnesota weather (it's unusually warm here)
  • Complacency (every day is an adventure here)
  • Yardwork!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Driving and grocery shopping

Just these everyday things can give you culture shock... since figuring out signs can be tricky if it's only French or Dutch, or even just figuring out how to operate the vegetable weigh station. But it's a great way to "dive in" to the culture and learn how to integrate oneself into the community.


Yesterday, I tried driving into Brussels, by myself, and without a GPS system, only an old fashioned paper map. Amazingly, I made it into the center of the city (near Grand Place)! You really get a sense of scale of how close things are in Europe when driving... although I live in another "city" (Evere), it's really just down the road from Brussels... in fact, when driving in, I didn't even go on a highway.. more like a large boulevard. But along the way, you "pass" through several towns, which really don't feel like separate towns since there's no clear visible border between towns.

At least in Belgium, highways are not marked with North/South directions.. they simply give the name of a city that the road is going towards, which is frustrating if you don't know where these cities are at! So, it was fairly easy to go to Brussels, just follow the signs that say Brussels. Coming back, on the other hand, was much more difficult... since Evere is a small town, it's not often displayed on the signs. (I'll try to take a pic later). So, luckily, I know I'm close to the airport, so I just followed those signs. Also very popular here are roundabouts.. small ones for small streets, and big 3-lane roundabouts in the larger streets in Brussels. Those are kinda scary, and hard to get into since you often have 5-7 streets feeding into one roundabout and a ton of traffic heading all over the place. In fact, it reminds me of Asian traffic patterns in the roundabout... lanes are just a suggestion, people are going all over the place, and you have to make eye contact with all the cars near you, in order to signal your intentions. Streets, as expected, are not straight, so this can add to the confusion!


There are 3 main grocery store chains I've found so far, GB, Delhaize, and Carrefour... GB and Delhaize reminds me of the old-style small American grocery stores that I remember from Wooster... 3-4 aisles, small and cramped. Carrefour is a bit more like a Wal-Mart SuperCenter (note that I didn't call it a SuperTarget... you'll know why) You have all sorts of other goods (clothing, household items) as well as food. On Sat, I went to the local Carrefour for groceries.. the selection of breads, wine/beer, and meats clearly is superior to any grocery store I've seen in the US! The whole back of the store is dedicated to breads and pastries! This is great since I really like pastries, and it enables me to indulge in eating pastries every day for breakfast. As for meats, they have the standard chicken, pork, beef, but also a nice selection of fresh fish and shellfish, veal, lamb, and some other animals I haven't figured out yet. (duck maybe? need to find out). Plus the cuts can be a bit different... I must have looked so confused at the Carrefour... you generally have to weigh and tag your produce by yourself, but I was doing this with the califlower, which you don't need to do, which I only figured out after a lady (initially speaking to me in French) said "per piece". Doh!

I think enviromental conservation is high on the minds of Europeans, as most people bring their own bags to the store, and since I didn't have one, I had to pay 1 euro to buy a big plastic bag. Reminds me of the Aldi's in Wooster, or Buehler's incentive system where they give you .05 for bringing your own bag.

The reason I was going to Brussels Center was actually to buy some Chinese groceries at the "chinatown" area near the Bourseplein. I was looking for rice at the Carrefour, but I couldn't find anything that wasn't instant rice. Amazingly, there is a number of Asian grocery stores available (on par with Cleveland), so I could pick up a few items. This is the one downside of only knowing how to cook pasta or Chinese/Asian dishes. I offerred one of my Dutch co-workers to teach him and his wife how to cook stir-fry if they'll teach me some Dutch dishes. We'll see ....

I want to sign up for language classes so I can figure out instructions on food boxes... I bought a box of fresh pasta, but had to use Babelfish to help me translate how to cook it! I'm leaning towards French now, we'll see if other expats at the office have any suggestions. What do you all think? Wonder if I can setup a poll with this blog?

Friday, November 04, 2005

Living in Brussels

My first blog post:

As you may or may not know, I've temporarily moved from St. Paul to Brussels, Belgium for a project at work. It's the first time I've re-located overseas (my time in Taiwan didn't quite count since I was with family), and it's quite exciting.

So, it's been two full days now after I first arrived in Brussels, and I've decided to try out this blogging thing to chronicle my experience. I arrived on Weds morning, luckily was able to upgrade my ticket to business class (woo hoo!) It really does make a difference.. after we took off, I had a nice dinner , slept, and the next thing I know, we're being served breakfast 1 hr before arrival. I didn't even notice that I slept for 5 hrs! Upon arrival into Brussels, the taxi driver provided by my company would only take me to the office, so I'm lucky that I slept, otherwise I would have been terribly jetlagged.

My company had a car ready for me: either an automatic VW Golf without GPS, or a manual Audi A6 wagon with GPS. Wish I could have taken the Audi, but I never learned to drive stick, despite the fact that I'll need manual driving skills if I ever want to be on the Amazing Race.

Oh well, maybe first I'll figure out how Belgian driving works before I try to figure out how to drive stick.

I have an apartment in Evere, a "commune" (as they call suburbs) of Brussels. It's really close to NATO HQ, the airport, and about a 10 min drive from the office. Belgium is a divided country, there are two official languages, Flemish and French. Areas in the north near Flanders have signage in Flemish (a Dutch dialect), and in the south, it's in French. I've heard that the French speaking part are very proud of their language... even though some speak Flemish, they refuse to speak it, forcing the other party to speak French. Brussels is supposed to be both officially Flemish and French speaking, so you get these funky signs in both languages (Grand Place / Groete Markt, for example) . This historical divide is still quite strong, as you have neighborhoods divided by language. In my case, I think I live in a French-speaking neighborhood... which probably means I should learn some French (although learning Dutch sounded appealing to me.. I like the sound of Dutch, and it's kinda between German and English)

My apartment is OK, it's pretty basic, but I think it's meant for ex-pats who are spending most of the time in the office. The hardest part has been the kitchen.. One thing I've grown to appreciate is how one gets used to their own kitchen. But since my stay here is so short, it doesn't make sense for me to buy all the kitchen tools or sauces that I normally use... so, guess that means no curries until I get back to MN. Plus, the fridge is the size of my dorm fridge at CWRU!

A few oddities:

1. There's no place in the shower to put your soap or shampoo! So, right now my soap is balancing on top of the faucet and the shampoo is on the floor. Kinda makes things tricky since the soap keeps falling down to the floor. =(

2. The door doesn't lock behind you, you have to lock it manually with a key... even on the INSIDE! Just hope that I can find the keys if I need to get out in an emergency!

3. I can't figure out how the thermostat works! I mean, right now it's off, but the temperature is like 80 degrees inside! So, my solution to that is to use the windows! (again, much like CWRU).

So, stay tuned: tomorrow's post will be about: grocery shopping or driving!