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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

12th Stop - Brussels

So I’m driving to Brussels and I’m looking at the odometer: 188,800 km. Cool, soon it’ll be 188,888 which means a lot of 8’s, which are incidentally harbingers of good luck in China. I was so excited, I even took pictures. After my experience in Brussels, I’m now convinced that you have to be Chinese in order to get the luck because mine seems to have had run out!

Everything started out well, I found David’s apartment with little trouble. I met David, a former English assistant from Skerries, Ireland, a few years back through our mutual friend, Erik. David is now working in communications for a political grouping in Brussels, but also recently finished studying filmmaking and directed a short documentary on mirrors and people’s relationship with them. Thanks David for giving me a copy; I’ll put you in touch with Katelijne and Manus! David’s roommate, Rose, also from Ireland, was recently promoted to editor-in-chief of an agricultural magazine that reports on the CAP policy. Great! I’m sure Katelijne would love to meet you for her next documentary!

David introduced me to his boyfriend, Mario, and we had a cocktail before going out for dinner. Mario is from Portugal and is working as a legislative assistant for an MEP. Despite his recent promotion, Mario is looking to change fields and start translating! What a great idea, did you know that translation is one of the top ten most promising professions for the next decade? Good luck Mario!

On Monday, I met up with my former host father, Claude, from when I was an exchange student in Belgium. We went to lunch and had a very interesting discussion. Claude has a great job. He oversees Solvay’s involvement as the main partner in the Solar Impulse project. Solar Impulse will be the first airplane to make a round-the-world flight using only solar power. Claude explained how important it is for a project to have a vision that others can believe in. This dream of Bertrand Piccard, to fly around the world without using any fossil fuels, has motivated a team of sponsors, engineers, physicists, computer scientists, and more for over 6 years. Claude gave me some promotional material and I would like to cite Bertrand Piccard:

“If an aircraft is able to fly day and night without fuel, propelled only by solar energy, let no one claim that it is impossible to do the same thing for motor vehicles, heating and air-conditioning systems, and computers. This project voices our conviction that a pioneering spirit with political vision can together change society and bring about an end to fossil fuel dependency.”

It’s amazing but true; the constraints imposed by such a challenge (without going into the details) have required all of these people to literally “invent the future” or find new solutions to reduce weight, increase efficiencies, improve materials and more. Several applications from this project are already finding their way into different industries.

Claude also told me how at a certain point they had to stop thinking, researching, and inventing and start building. This meant that they had to go with what was available at the time when they started building the prototype. Some would say to him, “But today we can find even lighter, more efficient batteries.” Sure, but if we are constantly waiting for the next breakthrough, we’ll never get anywhere. A word to the wise about project management, especially if you are a perfectionist. Nothing will ever be perfect, so know when to draw the line and start doing.

Later that evening, I met up with Mario, David, Eva, another legislative assistant from Denmark, and two JCI members from the English-speaking JCI Brussels chapter, Laurent and his business partner, for dinner. They recently created an on-line retail company called Zack Brand It. After dinner, Laurent and his partner went home and the rest of us went to a café terrace for a nice cool Belgian beer. This is where my luck started to take a turn for the worse.

Brazil had just won a play-off game and there was a little too much commotion in the streets. The smell of caipirinha was getting thicker and the samba louder. After paying and before getting up to leave, someone managed to steal my handbag with my wallet, telephone, and a metal encased notepad and card stocker with pen that Melda from Izmir gave me in Denmark :-(

We went straight to the police and file a report. I also managed to cancel most of my credit cards. What a bummer! Thanks Mario and David for going with me to the police station and consoling me. Despite the frustration and hardship this was and will continue to impose, I did learn some valuable lessons that I’d like to share with you:

  1. Don’t keep all of your credit cards in one place. There were at least two of them I rarely use and should have kept them in a my suitcase.
  2. Murses (man purses) get stolen just as easily as purses. Unfortunately, we don’t have the years of accumulated experience that women have with stolen purses. Keep it on or attach it to a chair if you are sitting in a public place.
  3. Don’t take your car registration and insurance papers with you when you go out, unless you really need to. Great, five more countries to get through with my car and no driver’s license, proof of insurance, or registration papers.
  4. Copy important phone numbers into your smartphone asap and synchronize with your computer. How am I going to get in touch with my Indian friend's family in Calcutta now?
  5. Friends are a godsend in times of need. David and Mario both offered to help me out with some cash until I got new cards or could withdraw cash from my bank. David ended up lending me €100 so I could get to London with no problems. A few days later when I asked him for his bank details to wire him the money he told me to use it to buy some bednets. Thanks David for this donation and thanks again for helping me out in my time of need.

I spent most of the following day on the phone with insurance companies, my bank, telephone company, etc. In the evening, we all went out to a Portuguese restaurant to watch the the World Cup game between Portugal and Spain. I was reassured when Mario told me that our fried steak, french fries, fried egg, and rice dinner was typical Portuguese junk food. I couldn’t imagine having the same on a daily basis! Sorry Mario that Portugal let us down; if it’s any consolation, I’m sure Spain is going to go on to win this World Cup (the advantage of not keeping your blog to up-to-date is that you can make fairly accurate predictions about the future ;-).

We went out for another drink to talk more about translation and filmmaking, then said our good-byes as I would be leaving extra early to catch my ferry to England. Thanks again David and Rose for hosting me, that’s three bednets, on top of David’s donation. It was a pleasure meeting you Mario and best of luck if and when you decide to start pursuing a translation career. Thanks to Claude for lunch and a most interesting conversation about goals, visions, and project management. Best of luck with the Solar Impulse project, it is very inspiring and I for one will be following your progress closely.

Next stop: London!

1 comment:

  1. I'm now following the Solar Impulse project on Facebook, really fascinating project.

    Well done for the prediction, you're just as good as Paul le poulpe ;-)



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