One Belt, One Road, and the Hutongs of Beijing

HutongWe thought we would try something different on this trip to Beijing. Rather than a western-style hotel we chose a small hotel in a traditional hutong. It was an experience I’ll never forget.

A hutong is an ancient alley dating back to the dynastic period of Beijing’s history. The word hutong is apparently derived from Mongolian, coined first during the Yuan Dynasty when Mongolian leader Kublai Khan controlled all of what is much of China, Korea, and parts of eastern Russian today. And alleys they are; narrow lanes with walls on both sides. Periodically you encounter a door, which leads to a central courtyard surrounded by tiny rooms in which various families live. These siheyuans line the hutong. Most of these siheyuans serve the poorer classes and lack toilets, which in modern times have been installed at points along the hutong and shared by all.

Our hutong hotel was on the upscale side, having been renovated to provide a larger than usual central courtyard and modern rooms (each with its own bathroom). Still, the rooms were tiny and the bathrooms were tinier. Late at night the locals just in from the outlying farms (in town to sell goods, perhaps) would arrive, their loud voices and arguments easily heard through the thin walls. Early morning risers added to the din, making sleeping an adventure.

For some reason we decided it would be a good idea to seek out our hotel in the darkened night of 10 pm. Ru’s sister met us at the nearby Ping’Anli Subway station and guided us to the hutong with her GPS. Without her we never would have found it, and the hutong entrance looked exactly like the kind of dark alley I would never (ever) have wandered down at night. After checking out the room she figured we were good for one night before changing our minds. We stayed five days, which shocked everyone, including us.

Hutong Beijing

The One Belt, One Road Summit fell in the middle of our 10 days in Beijing. Proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping, the One Belt, One Road initiative (OBOR for short) is a development project (call it a trade agreement) seeking cooperation between Eurasian countries. In town for the big meeting was Russian President Vladimir Putin and another 30 or so world leaders (nope, not the USA). Whenever bigwigs are in town the Chinese government shuts down factories and limits car driving in order to cleanse the normally thickly polluted air. We had beautiful clear blue sky for the entirety of our visit, a rarity. A few days after the OBOR meetings were over, the air had already started to get hazy again. It didn’t help that we had high 90 degree F temperatures for every day except two – and those two surpassed 100 degrees F.

After five days we decided that we had experienced enough of hutong life and got a room in a western hotel not far from the Beijing Book Building, a huge structure that makes the local Barnes and Noble stores look tiny. Down the road was Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, which was closed while the OBOR spouses toured. But that is a story for another time.

For those who want to experience a hutong without actually having to live in one, there are plenty of tours for foreigners offered by people roaming the usual tourist traps. One of the wider ones near the Bell and Drum Towers is called Nanluoguxiang and has been turned into a shopping street, but don’t mistake it for a real hutong. Wander off one of the side alleys to get a better flavor. Plan your walk to end up at Houhai, a beautiful lakefront road lined with plentiful bars and restaurants, all with live music.

Much more on Beijing and other travels on this page, so feel free to click around.

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David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, scheduled for release July 31, 2017. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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Drum Tower of Beijing – Ancient Time Keeper

I recently visited the famous Drum Tower (鼓楼, Gulou) in Beijing, China. I was surprised to learn that it was also a clock, or at least a timekeeper. The tower, which faces its Bell Tower counterpart, was originally built when Kublai Khan was Emperor of China during the Yuan Dynasty (13th century). Originally used as a musical center, it later became a way for the reigning government to announce the time. The two towers maintained this official role up until 1924, when western style clockwork was adopted to keep time.

Beijing Drum Tower

Climbing the long, steep stairway to the top gets you into the main room, one side of which holds a line of humongous drums. The one remaining original drum (of 25) sits to one side, its calfskin head slashed during the Eight Power Allied Forces’ invasion in 1900. We’re here to see the demonstration of the drums. While we wait we take in the panoramic view of Beijing from the outside walkway high above the streets.

Beijing Drum Tower

We also check out the displays of ancient timekeeping equipment. With our modern astronomically-linked smart phones and digital watches, it is interesting to see that much of time was monitored through the burning of incense and candles. Others used water or metal balls.

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In one timepiece called a Bronze Kelou, time is measured by the flow of water through four copper clepsydras. A mechanical device would trigger the attached God of Cymbals to strike his cymbals together eight times for each quarter hour. Another timepiece called a Beilou contained several metal balls that would roll along copper pipe in a 2 meter tall cabinet. A ball would clang a cymbal every 24 seconds, thus it would take 14.4 minutes (an ancient quarter) for 36 metal balls to complete a cycle. It would take 24 hours for 3,600 metal balls to complete rolling, which gave relatively accurate time measurement.

It’s time. Four drummers march in and line up in front of the huge drums. They pound with such brute force it’s hard to imagine the drum heads lasting for very long. After only a few minutes you start to realize the power and strength of the drummers. Check out the video below.

After the demonstration we slowly descend the stairs, which somehow seem steeper going down than going up. This won’t be the last stairs – the even taller Bell Tower is next!

Meanwhile, check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, scheduled for release in summer 2017. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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If It’s Tuesday – Networking, Networking, Networking

Brussels, Belgium, TuesdayNetworking is your best friend!

In real estate they say “location, location, location.”

When moving to another country they say “network, network, network.”

In the continuing saga of my three-year long working life in Brussels (based on the movie, If It’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium), one of my first concerns was the fact that I would not know anyone. How would I find a place to live? How would I deal with the foreign language? Buying groceries? The foreboding bureaucracy?

Who could I call on to help? After much thought and a whole lot of asking around, this is what I came up with to give me a hand as I prepared my international adventure.

1) The company office in Brussels: The obvious first stop was the European office of the company I worked for at the time. After all, company business was the reason I was getting this opportunity. I had met a few of my soon-to-be office mates when I attended a conference the year before, so had high hopes that they would be dragging me along to pubs and parties. That didn’t quite work out the way I anticipated (most had families and the requisite attention to those families), but they became a great resource for me.

2) Ex-Pat connections: No, these are not people who are no longer Patriot fans, but expatriates, who are people who live outside their native countries. Because Brussels is the capital of the European Union, there are networks of Americans (and Canadians and Aussies and Brits, etc) living and working in the city. While in the end I spent less time with native-English speakers than with other expats, it was nice to be able to sit in an Irish pub occasionally and hear mostly English-ish. A useful website to help locate expats is expat.com. [More below the photo]

Brussels, Belgium, Tuesday

3) Friends who have friends: Because of the global nature of many businesses these days, I’ve had a chance to meet people who work for multinational companies, international government agencies, and nongovernmental organizations. These groups were a great help in linking me with colleagues and friends in Brussels in particular or in Europe in general. Added to my own European friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, I started off this venture in pretty good shape. Or at least that’s what I thought.

4) Colleagues who have lived there: The firm I worked for had several partners who temporarily relocated from the Washington, DC to the Brussels office. Each of them in succession stayed only one year (I was there for three) and lived in a company-rented apartment (I needed to find and pay for my own apartment), but their experiences did give them wonderful insights, which they happily passed along to me.

5) Scientific organizations: I belong to, and have been active in, two major international scientific organizations. Both have European divisions, and the Executive Directors have helped introduce me to key folks in Europe. I had also been president of the regional chapters of both organizations, which helped my build a network of contacts, many of whom offered advice and strategies. [Others were simply envious of my opportunity and promptly invited themselves to stay with me at their earliest convenience.]

6) Social media: You guys! The assistance, support, and insights I received from online connections was invaluable. At the time I was active on a now-defunct posting and comment site called Gather, and the online friendships I had built all offered amazing support and suggestions. That site is gone but a large number of the people I formerly interacted with on Gather are now active connections on Facebook. I felt truly privileged to have “met” so many people who were willing to offer their experiences, travels, and passions to this project.

[Click and scroll for more in the If It’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium series. More coming soon.]

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David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, scheduled for release in summer 2017. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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Walking a Fine Line at the Korean DMZ

Korean DMZRecently, while North Korea was firing test missiles into the surrounding sea and China/South Korea tensions were heightened due to the THAAD controversy, I took a walk along the fine line that is the DMZ – the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea.

The area near the DMZ is anything but demilitarized, with armed guards stand at close firing distance from each other. Indeed, shortly after my visit South Korean soldiers fired upon what appeared to be North Korean drone flying over the border. Razor-wire fences line the road and river as you approach the DMZ, ostensibly to keep out invading forces, but in practice more to keep out spies and refugees floating down the river from the northern side of the border. The DMZ itself is a buffer zone, a strip of land extending 2 kilometers north and south of the border. Less than an hour from Seoul, we were able to get inside of the South Korean limits of the DMZ and go right up to the border itself.

Korean DMZ

Our first stop was at Imjingak Tourist Resort, which was a weird combination of remnants from the war (shot up rusty steam locomotive engine, Freedom Bridge, monuments, etc.) and carnival rides and miniature golf course. It was designed as a sort of consolation to those who couldn’t return to their hometowns, friends, and families because of the split between North and South Korea.

From there we went to the “3rd tunnel of aggression,” one of four tunnels the North Koreans had built as potential attack routes. To reach this point we needed to go through a South Korean military checkpoint where soldiers checked our passports individually before we ran a gauntlet of zigzagged barriers, spiked blockades, and even more razor wire. On the way back out of the DMZ more soldiers checked our passports again to make sure we hadn’t left anyone behind.

Korean DMZAfter seeing a video explaining the “3rd tunnel” and walking through a small museum, we donned hard hats for hike into the tunnel system. A long, steep access passage high enough to walk comfortably brought us steeply downward (358 meters long, 3 meters diameter, 11 degree angle) to a point where it intersected with the original tunnel of aggression. This “3rd tunnel” was very narrow (two people could barely squeeze sideways) with low ceilings (our hard hats dinged the ceiling routinely). Totaling 1,625 meters long, the 2 meter high and 2 meter wide tunnel sits 73 meters below the surface. About 1,200 meters of it is on the North Korean side of the demarcation (border) line, with 435 meters inside South Korea. We could walk hunched over about 265 meters, at which point a series of blockade walls keeps the two countries separated. Anthracite coal was painted on the walls and ceilings as a ruse; if discovered they could claim it was just a coal mine. Not a particularly credible feint given there is no coal in the region and the tunnel is cut through solid granite. While four tunnels have been discovered to date, it’s possible more exist. Photography was banned in the tunnels and everything but our clothes were required to be left in above ground lockers, so the photo above will have to suffice.

Korean DMZ

North (left) and South (right) Korean flags at DMZ

Our next stop was the Dora Observatory where we could see North Korea and its “propaganda village” and town and flag. Large binoculars give you a close up view. Both the North Koreans and South Koreans have placed their national flags on the tallest flag poles I’ve ever seen, dueling each other for psychological dominance while music plays over high-volume loudspeakers. The village looks like any other town from a distance, but the area just beyond the DMZ is flooded with thousands of artillery pieces. Experts believe about 60% of North Korea’s total artillery are positioned within a few kilometers of the DMZ. This is why it is so dangerous to American allies – any aggressive act by the US would within minutes result in thousands of shells raining down on Seoul, the capital and home to about half of South Korea’s 50 million citizens. In case you missed that, an attack on North Korea would immediately result in the deaths of up to 25 million South Koreans. Not a particularly strong bargaining position.

Korean DMZ

 

From there we went to the Dorasan Station, a Metro Subway Station that was built inside the DMZ just short of the North Korean border in the hopes that some day there would be a reuniting of the two countries (or at least a working relationship). Trains come this far only once a day. Here we put two inked stamps that look like passport visas onto the brochure for the DMZ (we were careful not to stamp our passports since 1) they aren’t official, and 2) we were headed to Beijing next. As it was, China only allowed me a one-entry, 30-day visa on this trip because we were going to South Korea first.

The DMZ offered a unique experience that gave me new insights into the conflict and the difficulties of resolving the issue even today. Critically, while an armistice was agreed to in 1953, no peace treaty was ever signed and the North and South are still technically at war. [Interestingly, after my return to the US I went to a lecture by Alan Alda, who played Hawkeye Pierce in M*A*S*H, set in Korea during the Korean war]

One other shocking experience occurred on this trip: on the way back to Seoul we saw a huge full size cruise ship high on the hill overlooking the road. But that is a story for another day.

Meanwhile, check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, scheduled for release in summer 2017. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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A Little Bit of Jagalchi Fish Market, Busan, South Korea

Like fish? You better if you travel to Busan, South Korea. And the place to be is the Jagalchi Fish Market, the biggest fish market in all of Korea. When I say big, I mean huge. Do not miss it.

Busan (as it has been named officially since 2000 to avoid the unpleasant sound of its original name, Pusan) is South Korea’s second biggest city, weighing in at about 3.6 million people. Sitting on the southeast coastline, Busan is know for its grand beaches, mountainous parks, ancient temples, and, of course, an aquarium.

One of Busan’s biggest attractions is the fish market. Located in the Nampo-dong neighborhood along the waterfront, the rather surprising main building takes up several floors behind a wall of glass. The first floor is lined with row after row of fresh seafood, much of it still alive and waiting to be chosen for tonight’s dinner. The second floor has a restaurant and a dried fish market. Upper floors hold an exhibition room, another restaurant and seafood buffets, and oddly enough, a guesthouse and sky park.

Jagalchi Fish Market, Busan, South Korea

But to me the much more interesting part of the fish market is the one outdoors. Stretching down a narrow lane from the front doors of the building are hundreds of small vendors selling every kind of seafood you can imagine. Some of it is mobile like this octopus (above) that almost made a getaway before being snagged up by the vendor and returned to his not-so-private temporary swimming pool.

Not to be outdone, each vendor tries to lure you into their stand by hyping their specialties – live hagfish, clams, sea cucumbers, whelk, mackerel, pompano, belt fish, skate, lobster, several species of crabs, and some things that I still can’t identify despite my old marine biology training.

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If you don’t want live fish, or those freshly departed, you can find every variety of dried fish and squid to gnaw on. A few stalls sell precooked fish as well. Hungry now? Many of the outdoor stalls have mini-restaurants tucked in behind their display tables where they will be happy to whip up a freshly cooked (and killed) morsel of your choice on the ubiquitous compressed coal open stoves. Don’t know what to order? Choose the pre-made variety dishes for a delicious hot pot. Don’t forget the vegetables (you can buy those here too).

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You can get to Jagalchi by taking Line 1 of the Busan subway system to Jagalchi station. Take Exit 10 and head for the waterfront.

There is so much more to see in the Busan. Stay tuned.

David J. Kent is an avid science traveler and the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is scheduled for release in summer 2017.

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A Visit to the Bergen Aquarium

On the far west coast of Norway is the city of Bergen, home of the Akvariet i Bergen, the Bergen Aquarium. The aquarium is surprisingly good, and definitely worth the visit.

Most people arrive in Bergen at the end of a long train line extending through the mountains and fjords from Oslo, but you can also arrive by ship or its well-traveled airport. After arrival you’ll want to take the funicular up Mount Floyen for a bird’s eye view.

Bergen, Norway

Though seemingly small, Bergen actually is a fair sized city of over 275,000 people, so you might want to take a taxi or bike out to the end of the Nordnes peninsula, though it is walkable on a nice day. Your first site upon entering the aquarium is an open air seal show and some of the nicest Gentoo penguins you’re ever going to meet.

The aquarium has the usual array of tropical fish and seaside habitats. What makes it unique is its displays of North Sea and coldwater species. I was particularly drawn to the wolffish, whose huge teeth and massive jaws are perfect for its normal diet of hardshell molluscs (whelks,  cockles), sea clams, crustaceans, and echinoderms (like starfish and sea urchins). Wolffish also carry a natural antifreeze to keep their flood flowing in their frigid environment.

Bergen, Norway Aqarium

At less than 30-feet long, Bergen has the shortest underwater tunnel I’ve ever seen in a public aquarium. A quick glimpse at the handful of sharks, rays, and tropicals and you’re done. They make up for it by having an extensive collection of Nile crocodiles, caiman, and iguanas.

While I admit my expectations were low, I found the Bergen Aquarium to far exceed what I had anticipated. The aquarium was considered the largest and most modern aquarium in northern Europe when it opened in 1960. That may or may not still be true depending on what you count as northern Europe, but this is certainly the most northern aquarium I’ve visited (followed closely behind by the Stockholm Aquarium, which I saw on the same trip).

Either way, the Bergen Aquarium is worth seeing. I recommend doing what I did and take the scenic train/boat/train from Oslo through the mountains and fjords.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is scheduled for release in summer 2017.

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If It’s Tuesday – Whose Stuff is This, Anyway?

In the continuing saga relating my three-year long working life in Brussels (based on the movie, If It’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium), just getting there was a chore. I’ve mentioned the bureaucratic process I had to go through before they would let me move, but when the actual move got closer I realized that all my townhouse stuff was in no way going to fit into whatever apartment I might find in Brussels. This revelation led me to wonder:

Whose stuff is this anyway?

Stuff

I blame all of my stuff on my parents (which is some sort of Freudian thing I’m sure).  My mother was one of 9 children, and my dad was one of 12 children. They were both born during hard times into blue collar families (assuming that a 2-acre subsistence farm serving 14 people even rises to the level of blue collar). Growing up in families the size of small Midwestern towns led to the tendency to hoard everything passing their way. And in positive proof that clutter is hereditary, I followed suit…or at least it seems that way at this moment as my eyes scan the mountain of stuff on which I have to make “keep” or “go” decisions.

Keeping in mind that I have a decent sized 3 bedroom townhouse full of “American male” furniture (i.e., big) that likely won’t fit into the tiny European-sized apartments, it seems that my first step is to separate stuff into several categories:

1)     Stuff that I should have thrown out ages ago (old magazines, holey clothes, and anything left behind by old girlfriends)

2)     Stuff that can be donated to charity or given away to friends (perfectly good clothes from the back of the closet that “I know I will fit into again some day”)

3)     Stuff that can be freecycled or sold on eBay or Craigslist (books, records, chachkas)

4)     Stuff that I want to keep but can’t take with me due to lack of room and so will likely have to put into storage (king size bed set with dressers and side tables, couches, my Abraham Lincoln book collection)

5)     Stuff that my company will ship to Europe for me (some furniture, some books, PhD stuff, and of course all my work stuff)

The hard part is deciding what fits into the first category – stuff to be thrown out.  It’s hard for me to throw out things because I see it as wasteful…surely someone can find a good use for each (seemingly) precious item.

So how do I let go of all my “valuable” stuff?  I addressed this problem in a recent post called “The Minimalist” on my writing blog, Hot White Snow. I’ll have more on how to deal with stuff in later posts.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is scheduled for release in summer 2017.

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[Daily Post]

The Magnificent Short Voyage of the Swedish Warship Vasa

A beautiful, calm, sunny day in 1628 greeted the Swedish warship Vasa as it made its maiden launch into Stockholm harbor. About three-quarters of a mile later, it promptly sunk, not to be seen again for 333 years.

Vasa Museum

But you can see it in all its glory at the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, and over 25 million people have done so since 1990. The ship was rediscovered, mostly intact, in 1961 and now stands fully rigged. You can view the ship from every angle and multiple levels to see the 64 cannons and intricately carved bowsprit and ornately decorated stern transom. Traces of pigments have allowed restorers to approximate the original color scheme of the ship, which as you can see, was rather unlike the battleship grey of today’s ships.

Vasa stern

It turns out all these heavy wood sculptures and cannons made the unfortunate ship a wee bit top heavy. All went well with the launch, with the ship being towed out to the southern edge of Stockholm harbor, where Captain Söfring Hansson ordered the setting of four sails. With the gun ports open to fire a salute as they gloriously departed in front of a crowd of giddy admirers, a sudden gust of wind filled the sails and rolled the ship onto its port side. Those open gun ports magnificently allowed thousands of gallons of water to fill the hold, and in minutes 30 souls joined the ship at the bottom of the harbor, a mere few hundred feet from shore.

While the ship itself is impressive (you’ll experience one of those “Wow!” moments as soon as you enter the main hall), the Vasa Museum does much more. Along the perimeter are cut-away models of the ship showing life on board (as it would have been had it stayed afloat longer), examples of the science used in the preservation and restoration processes, and original artifacts. One of the coolest, though also the spookiest, were displays of the skeletons of lost sailors and modern anthropological recreations of sailor’s faces.

There is so much more to see at the Vasa Museum (you can even hold your special event there), so check out the Vasa Museum website for more information.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is scheduled for release in summer 2017.

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Moving to Belgium – The Process

A while ago I had the opportunity to move to Belgium for three years, specifically, to Brussels. I wrote an introduction to the topic and called it “If it’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium,” based on an old movie by that name (see the link for more). My intent was to write a series of posts, and then, not ironically, traveling got in the way and I never really got the series started. Until now.

The Atomium, Brussels, Belgium

The Atomium

 

The process of getting ready to move and work overseas for an extended time was an adventure in itself. So if you’re planning on working in Europe (and other places), the following is what you’ll have to go through. Oh, and while doing all of this I had to continue working on my projects, including many very early morning conference calls with European colleagues and clients.

Luckily, my company at the time sent me a checklist of things to do for the work component. This list doesn’t count all the things I need to do to offload a lot of my home stuff or arrange to rent my house.

  1. Obtain moving quote and submit to Administrator: It was good to know my [now former] firm was paying to ship my stuff to Brussels. Unfortunately, since most of it wouldn’t fit into a European-sized apartment, I had to get rid of half my belongings.
  2. Make flight arrangements for arrival in Brussels: Prior to actually moving there I had to make a trip over to find an apartment.
  3. Set up European bank account: So I can do direct deposit and automatic bank transfers. Interestingly, my rent and utilities were included in those automatic payments. I rarely saw actual cash. Money went in and out of my accounts for major recurring income and bills, and my debit card was used for nearly everything else. I also had to keep my US account open and work out logistics of accepting rent/paying mortgage, etc. (I rented my house out to tenants while I was away).
  4. Provide information for my work permit, including:
    a) Medical certificate (filled out by a doctor and officially notarized by the Belgian Embassy):  I’m not sure why the Belgian Embassy had to stamp my form since they didn’t actually check to make sure the doctor wasn’t lying.
    b) Copy of all pages of passport: Not just the name and address page, but every page. Is someone really going to look at all of the stamps from places I’ve been? Not that it mattered because many of the visa stamps are already unreadable on the page, so photocopy just made everything completely illegible.
    c) Copy of diploma(s): Which degrees wasn’t specified, so I assumed it meant high school, BA, MS, and PhD to date. I guess this was to verify that I was qualified to work for the company that I’m already working for. [As it turned out, it also was to get some sort of special tax status for highly skilled workers, much like the H-1B visas in the US.]
    d) Copy of resume: Ditto verification…come on people, my firm was already paying me to work for them and all I’m doing is transferring between offices. I was pretty sure they checked my credentials. In any case, my then-26 page CV went on record.
    e) Nationwide criminal history record (FBI Identification Record): This was the real kicker. I can understand (sort of) that the Belgians don’t want some criminal moving there, though it seems to me that since the law firm I worked for didn’t have any concerns than it should be good enough for them. The real problem here is that it supposedly takes 16-18 WEEKS for the FBI to run a background check on me, and only after I provide them with my original fingerprints. Well, first off, where do I get my fingerprints taken? Can I walk into a police station, say something like “Book ‘im Dano” and they take a full set for me? Second, if it takes 16-18 weeks for them to do a background check on me (who was born and raised and lived all but 3 months of my life here in the US), what does this say about the FBI’s ability to do background checks for potential terrorists or even for people buying handguns? In any case, they got it done in exactly 17 weeks.

So if you’re planning to work overseas, plan well ahead of time. Other countries and continents may be different, but I doubt you’ll get into China, for example, faster than into Belgium, home of the EU and friend to the USA (well, at that time, at least; no guarantees about the current “friendship” situation).

I’ll have more on the “If it’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium” series, including tons of traveling to other European countries during my stay.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is scheduled for release in summer 2017.

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2017 Travel Preview

The thing about traveling is that travel plans change. They changed a lot last year, with anticipated trips to Machu Picchu, China, and Michigan being bumped. Now here we are a third of the way through January 2017 and travel plans are nearly non-existent, in part because of the lingering uncertainties from 2016.

Two trips are /more-or-less committed, if not actually planned. October should bring us to Australia/New Zealand in a tour being arranged by Sherry Kumar (who organized the Serbia/Montenegro/Croatia trip where we got to meet Tesla royalty). We are thinking of going a week early so we can drive down to the 12 Apostles and side-trip to Uluru (aka, Ayer’s Rock). More imminent is a trip to China this spring to replace the visit postponed from last fall. The (albeit, still incredibly tentative) plan is to see South Korea either on the way there or back.

Beyond that plans are still in the “thinking about” stage. They include the twice bumped Machu Picchu, but that seems unlikely this year given time constraints. This month I will participate in a special Abraham Lincoln event at the Hill Center. At some point I’ll start making “day” trips to Lincoln-related sites such as the USS Monitor Center at Marine Mariner’s Park in Newport News, Virginia (where the Monitor ironclad is displayed and preserved); the Tredegar Iron Works site near Richmond; and the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Maryland. I’ll also need to visit the confederate submarine Hunley and Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina as I continue research for my upcoming Lincoln book.

Other possible trips include a Michigan writer’s retreat, Mt. Rushmore, a 4th of July road trip to New England, and maybe, just maybe, Cuba. I’ll definitely be going to Gettysburg in November for the annual Lincoln Forum.

Of course, I’m always open to last minute changes, so feel free to provide suggestions (and plane tickets).

Meanwhile, my Lincoln: The Man Who Save America book is in the final stages of design before going to the printer for a July 2017 release. I’m back working on my other Abraham Lincoln book, which hopefully will see the light of day in 2018. Oh, and I’m working on another Lincoln-related project that I hope to announce soon. Stay tuned!

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book is on Abraham Lincoln, due out in 2017.

Follow me by subscribing by email on the home page.  And feel free to “Like” my Facebook author’s page and connect on LinkedIn.  Share with your friends using the buttons below.

[Photo credit: David J. Kent, Erfurt, Germany, 2008]