Friday, December 23, 2005

Tot Ziens, Belgie, Au Revior

Time sure goes quickly, I finally left Belgium today, back to the US, ending a nearly 2 month stay in Brussels. While flying back, this ranks up there with my longest time out of the country... #1: 9 weeks in Taiwan, #2: 7 weeks in Belgium, and #3: 4 weeks all over Austral/Asia.

This was my first time working overseas , and it has really inspired me.. I worked hard (maybe more so than in the US.. because I felt I needed to justify my time there), but I also took time to enjoy it (leaving almost every weekend to someplace new)

It's hard to believe (for those who know me), but I was really nervous about going over, even though I really looked forward to the assignment. In the end, you form these great friendships with people there, and that's what really makes the difference, I think, between an 'OK' versus a fantastic experience.

So, goodbye Belgium. I'll miss your tri-lingual signs, gastronomy, the little cars, and the wonderful people!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Yay! I was able to upgrade my return flight from Brussels to the US using my frequent flyer miles to business class! Seat 2J, here I come! My company doesn't let me fly business class, but this is the best way to utlize those extra miles.

Here's the wierd part: normally you'd think business class would be completely full, since I'm only a few days away from departure. I looked at the seatmap, and out of 34 seats, there's only 11 seats sold/occupied! Wonder what's going to happen on flight day.. will they start upgrading people for free?

In another note, I finally received my Belgian work permit.. just in time for me to leave my assignment. I guess slow government is true all around the world. I applied for it in early November (after undergoing this strange Belgian medical certification saying I'm capable of working), but the application got lost in the mail since I wrote the wrong post code, so I re-applied. At least now I have a work permit that lasts for the next year.. I look like a convict on the picture.. I'll have to post a scan sometime..

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Sinterklaas Day

Our office celebrated Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) day on December 6th.. we even got Neuhaus choclate figurines (best in Belgium) on each of our desks, a cart full of candy, and a boquet of even more candy.

Sinterklaas as almost as important as Christmas day. The story is that Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) and his assistant Zwarte Piet (Black Peter) go around visiting the children, the bad children are taken away, and the good children receive gifts. So, kids in Belgium typically get their gifts on 6 Dec. In the past, that was the only day they got gifts, as Christmas was more for family activities, and gifts from the younger people to their parents. But now, with the differences in celebrating Christmas, most kids get gifts on both Sinterklaas and on Christmas.

The Sinterklaas tradition will seem strange to Americans.. it's about St. Nicholas, who apparently was a Spainard, and his assistant Zwarte Piet, who was an African dressed in 16th century costume. This scene is often re-enacted for the kids near the Christmas markets.. but here's the wierd part. Zwarte Piet, an African, is typically played by a caucasian guy with black makeup and an afro wig. I was really shocked to see this, because it would be so politically incorrect in the US. Apparently it's the custom with some historical background, as Zwarte Piet is supposed to be a freed slave who was a follower of St. Nicholas. More info on Black Pete and St. Nicholas

Either way, it was really festive at the office with the choclates (and too much sugar for one person!)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Coolest Parking Lot Ever

So, continuing on my barber shop story.. the local mall where I got my haircut: Woluwe Shopping Centre has a super-cool parking lot. In front of each row, there's a screen showing the number of parking spots available.. AND there are lights above each slot: red for used, green for free, and blue for handicapped!

No more driving around looking for a good spot, just glance at each row and look for the lights. Isn't that a brilliant idea?

Too bad you actually have to pay for parking... =(

Monday, December 05, 2005

Best Haircut Ever!

So I needed a haircut, and went to the local mall after work, following a barbershop suggestion from another expat at work. It wasn't a women's salon or anything, just a "Barber Monsieur" It was the best haircut ever! (well, maybe women are used to this kind of service, but it was a first for me) Usually my haircuts are the very practical type: go in, get hair cut, get out. This was a total surprise... and I probably looked a bit confused, because I didn't know what step was going to be next...

1. They give you a full cover (including separate sleeves) to keep the hair off your clothes, and then a neckpad that keeps hair out of your collar

2. Hair get's cut

3. Shampoo: this was almost like a scalp massage! Plus, it's practical, gets all the short pieces of hair out

4. Complimentary Drink of your choice after your shampoo. Guy next to me had a beer. I took a sparkling water...

5. Facial massage, with a warm towel. I was half expecting a shave at this point, but nope.

6. Hairdryer & final styling.

It was a really good haircut! And you feel relaxed afterwards too! Funny thing happened while she was cutting.. my hair is pretty coarse, and while she was cutting it, a piece flew into her eye and really caused some trouble (almost as if it was a piece of sand!).. she said "wow, your hair is really hard!"

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Belgian News - Three dead in a car accident near NATO in Evere

Was driving to work today and traffic was really slow near NATO. Looked over to see the worst car accident I've ever seen.. it was a single car accident that happened earlier that morning. The police were still there cleaning the scene, and the news photographers were just arriving.

The car was completely split into two, one half was lying next to a tree, covered with tarp, the top of the tree was completely shaved off, and the other half of the car was on the other side of the highway.

Must have been travelling at a really high speed for this to happen... this section of road isn't even highway, it's the spot where the local road "becomes" the A201, which feeds into Brussels. On my way back home, I saw the police had completely removed the tree from the area, probably too many bad reminders of a horrible accident.