Thailand Trip

Morgan flew to Thailand for his GM project the week before Bremen Freimarkt. The same project is being rolled out in the ZF plant in Rayong, Thailand at the same time as the Brazil project (with start of production a few months later).

It was a quick trip mainly to meet the local team and investigate the differences between the Brazil and Thailand locations for the eventual equipment installation. Thailand is a wonderful place to visit with great weather, an amazing hotel and a completely new culture. The hotel was located in Pattaya which is a tourist destination so the joke in the department is that working on projects in Thailand is more vacation than work. From Google – Pattaya is a town on Thailand’s eastern Gulf coast known for a wild nightlife scene that attracts international visitors, weekenders from Bangkok and expats. Unfortunately with such a quick trip only during the week it was not much of a vacation but hopefully a later trip can include a weekend.

Days were filled with lots of meetings and planning with the local team but nights were more relaxed with swimming in the hotel pool and enjoying the Thai food. The hotel was directly on the beach so it was nice to walk around and see the area. The first night I was able to catch the F1 race in one of the local bars where I learnt that there are quite a lot of lady-boy bartenders in Thailand. I would have never guessed that with their given appearance. My bartender mentioned that she moved in from Bangkok earlier that year and was a roomate to some of the other bartenders. She pointed out her roommate and openly told me that she just had the operation to become a true lady-boy and I really could not tell the difference from across the bar. I stupidly asked if she was also a lady-boy and she stated “nope – all real here”. Sort of makes you wonder what is what in Thailand. Glad I am married and do not have to worry about that sort of thing.

One of the coolest things in Thailand was seeing elephants walking along the road on the way to and from the ZF plant. Unfortunately I was never ready with the camera but maybe one day Katie and I can travel to Thailand and get to ride them.

Katie’s Birthday

So today was Katie’s birthday. It was actually pretty cold for an August day – especially compared to our normal South Carolina standards for August. We celebrated at a local restaurant that specializes in Crepes (savory and sweet). I surprised Katie with tickets to Paris in December along with a little spending money for shopping in Paris.

Happy birthday Katie!


First Trip to Brazil

Soon after Mathias left to go off to College for his first semester at Vanderbilt (super proud of him), Morgan also hopped on a plane and traveled to Brazil for his new project in Sorocaba with GM building the front corner modules for a light duty truck (GMI700). It is a long flight to Brazil from Germany but well worth it for the extremely friendly people, good food (lots of all-you-can-eat) and delicious Caipirinhas (Cachaça, Limes, and lots of sugar).

After arriving from our almost 12 hour flight, the first thing that we were presented was the insane traffic in Sao Paulo. The local motorcycle riders take their lives into their hands to avoid the traffic by whizzing between the cars. Just on the ride to the plant from the Airport (which takes you directly through Sao Paulo) we saw 3 accidents. Our driver mentioned that on average 2-3 motorcycle riders die every day in Sao Paulo. Most of the rich residents of the area avoid the traffic completely by using helicopters. Sao Paulo has one of the highest densities of heli-pads in the world.

Being right after the loss of Brazil to Germany we tried to not mention the World Cup. Some of my German colleagues could not help it though and the Brazilians took it with grace. Since we were south of the Equator it was rather cold and rainy (which just added more traffic).

One of the best parts of the trip was the churrascaria which is the Brazilian barbecue. It is rodizio style so you eat until you can’t fit any more – except for maybe some papaya creme.

Overall we didn’t get to see much of Sorocaba and Sao Paulo due to long work days and lots of meetings. Hopefully there will be time on future trips to explore the area.

It was the first of many trips to come over the next year.

China Trip – Shenyang to Beijing Train

Saturday I woke up a little late since I set my alarm for weekdays only by accident. It was actually quite nice to get some rest since I was quite tired during the week getting over the jet lag. After breakfast I took the taxi to the Shenyang North Train Station. The train station is quite large and is the stop for the high speed trains for Shenyang to Beijing. Trying to buy a ticket was interesting with the language barrier but after a lot of pointing I got my ticket for the train. I had gotten there a lot earlier than I needed since the first open train was not for another 2 hours. After getting through security (a x-ray machine with no one looking for anything, a metal detector that was going off for 100% of the passengers and security mainly looking for suspicious people) I sat down to read for a bit. At one point a small boy walked past me and looked at me wide eyed like he was seeing a foreigner for the first time. It was rather cute.

The train ride was rather long and was 30 minutes longer than expected. It ended up being a 4.5 hour train ride I guess due to the high amount of smog and limited visibility (possibly causing the train to have to travel slower). Unfortunately the ticket counter did not understand me when I had requested 1st class (only 50 RMB more for a lot more room) but it was not that bad. A lot of people staring when I boarded the train and started walking down the aisle. I was seated in a middle seat at first but a couple was trying to sit together so I switched seats with the man. His seat ticket was for another car back on the aisle next to a nice couple with a new born baby. The scenery on the way down was filled with a lot of smog, farm land, and a lot of dilapidated houses and buildings. However, there were also a lot of pretty views of mountains and the country side. I am sure even nicer if one could see it through the terrible smog.

The arrival into Beijing Central Rail Station was cool getting to see a lot more of Beijing from the train. The smog in Beijing was even worse not allowing you to see the top of buildings that you were looking up at. I got off the train and the large amount of smog had immediate effects, making my eyes and lungs hurt.  I found the taxi stand with a long line of 100+ people waiting but it also gave me a chance to take some pictures of the rail station and stretch my legs after sitting for so long. The line moved slowly and we were all constantly being barraged by illegal taxi drivers wanting to over charge and fill out their cars. After an hour wait I was able to get a taxi to the hotel. The drive to the hotel was not too bad other than the taxi driver not knowing where the hotel was (mainly since it is a little further away from the city center). Beijing is surrounded by 5 rings that are the main roads. The hotel was on the outside of the 5th ring since it is closer to the ZF plant which is right across the street from the BBAC/Mercedes joint venture. We ended up finding it OK and after a long day I ate a quick dinner in the hotel and relaxed in the hotel room the rest of the night.

China Trip – Beijing Sight Seeing

After waking up on Sunday I hopped in a taxi and headed to the center of Beijing. The taxi driver tried to trick me and take a super long route all the way to the north of the city before heading into the center which doubled the fare but I caught on so I only paid what the fare should have been since I knew from the previous day. I got dropped off near Tiananmen Square which unfortunately was shut down due to the newly appointed Chinese President holding political meetings in the area. The smog was rather bad which put a downer on the day and made it rather difficult to take good pictures. After walking around the shopping area to the south of Tiananmen Square I walked back up towards the imperial palace. On the way I passed at least a dozen security checkpoints where I had to show my passport due to the political meetings.

The imperial palace was huge! After walking through what I thought was the main area I came out of a small gate to the large main gate to the central palace. There were tourists everywhere. I ended up walking through the center of the palace, straight north. After checking out the palace I walked across the street to the Qingxiu Tea Garden which has a great view of the palace.

I ended up walking around a bit more and exploring, I could not find anyone that could point me in the right direction for other places to see so I headed back to the hotel. Mainly because I was exhausted. The map for Beijing looks simple and small but the scale is much bigger than expected when walking around.

China Trip – Shenyang

Katie and I took the train to Dusseldorf this past weekend to start our travels. After checking Katie into the local Holiday Inn (she was flying on Sunday and I was flying on Saturday) we ventured out into the rain and found a great little restaurant attached to a local horse training facility. The food was great. After we took a taxi back to the hotel (to keep from getting soaked again) and I continued on to the airport to catch my flight. The first flight was quick to Copenhagen. It was super cold getting off the plane and onto the transfer bus. I am very glad we are not up there permanently during the winter. The layover was a little longer than expected but was still OK since we actually originally would have been rather tight on the connection. The next flight was 9 hours to Beijing. The food was good and interestingly I sat next to a German who lived near Charleston, SC for 7 years working for a steel manufacturer. It was great talking to someone about South Carolina for a little bit. We arrived in Beijing a little after noon (cutting 40 minutes off the flight!). My next flight was a short hopper to Shenyang but of course was in a different terminal 5 minutes away so I had to completely recheck everything.

The arrival into Shenyang was easy except for the fact that the ATM at the airport was broken. This was rather interesting trying to get a taxi driver to understand that he had to bring me by an ATM if he wanted to get paid! Luckily pointing at my ATM card he finally understood. The ride was immediately interesting with the realization that there are no rules for driving in China! Included was my taxi driver driving 3 lanes over into oncoming traffic, not staying in any lanes, honking constantly so that we would not get hit by other drivers, avoiding rickshaw size potholes, etc.

I have noticed over the week that driving in China is taking your life into your own hands. Chinese drivers have absolutely no fear, combine all the “a-hole” driving techniques (cutting people off, honking constantly, not staying in one lane/riding the line, pushing people out of the way, stop in the middle of the street to talk to someone they know, running red lights, tailgating, etc.). I am sure the number of accidents is the reason why so many cars are being sold in China. Luckily I made it to the hotel in one piece!  On the way in we passed a crazy amount of high dollar stores (Prada, etc.) and car dealerships (including a Bentley, Maserati,  Ferrari dealership). The city is in a constant stage of development and new buildings are going up everywhere. I thought we were in the city center at one point due to all the high rise buildings but we were no where close! It almost feels like I am in the movie Inception where Leonardo (Dom) is in his dream landscape that he put together with Marion Cotillard (Mal) since so many of the tall high-rise apartment buildings are copies of each other and are in groups of 5 – 10 in the same block

Sunday night after checking in and getting settled I grabbed dinner in the hotel (really good Chinese food) and then went to bed. Monday was another “interesting” taxi trip to the BBA/BMW joint venture plant where our axle systems plant LAS2 is located. The trip took about 45 minutes in insane traffic. The traffic itself was not that bad… Just the drivers like mentioned above! After being dropped off at the wrong place, I was able to finally find the correct entrance to the plant and found our ZF area. The day was quickly filled with project work and meeting people. Everyone has been very friendly and nice.

That night, after returning to the hotel, I decided to venture out a little bit. After walking around the area I found a restaurant that had a lot of traffic in and out so I figured it must be a good place to eat. However, I quickly realized that I was the only foreigner that had ever gone there because people were taking pictures and their mouths were wide open in amazement when they saw me. The food was extremely authentic and I am not really sure what I ate (may be the reason for my stomach being off today). After giving up on the questionable food I ate some fruit and returned to the hotel hoping I would not wake up regretting my food decisions.

I woke up Tuesday feeling OK and started my day with a good Chinese/American breakfast (fried rice, rice noodles, bacon and an egg). Tuesday was another full day of project work back at LAS2 with a more familiar dinner at an Italian restaurant at the hotel. It started snowing at lunch so everywhere was blanketed in snow. The ride home was very interesting with combining normally bad driving with the winter element. However, what was also interesting was the number of people out clearing the roads of snow. On many main roads there was a worker shoveling snow from the street every 50 meters. They had most sidewalks cleared as well.

Wednesday, I moved over to LAS1 which is another ZF plant a little closer to the hotel to start the torque procedure training. The training started at 9:30 and I found myself lecturing to 1 German Manager and 20+ ZF Chinese Engineers and Managers. The first day of training was very successful. However, something I ate (possibly the McDonald’s for lunch, started to not agree with me in the afternoon which made it difficult. After finishing up, the Shenyang Quality Manager (over LAS1, LAS2 and future LAS3 plants) invited me to join him and his girlfriend for Peking duck at a local restaurant. I had a great time and the food was delicious.

Today was another training day that went well. I ate lunch in the canteen which was actually pretty good. It consisted of typical Chinese dishes. Tonight, since I was still not feeling too great, I stayed in and read most of the night. I have not had another chance to venture out yet to explore other than walking around the other night. I hope that during my next trip here I will have more time. I am also hoping that I will have some time on Sunday to explore in Beijing.

Port Elizabeth

Port Elizabeth, SA was really nice. It is a town on the southern  coast in a large bay with nice beaches and beautiful views. We arrived Thursday morning after a short flight from Joburg. The place we stayed at is actually a b&b with a great pool and breakfast cooked to order. After checking in we headed to Jendamark, our machine supplier for my project, which is located in the industrial district of PE. After finishing up our project review meetings, we headed back to the b&b and then Ryan from Jendamark picked us up to grab dinner. We went to a great steak restaurant with a perfect view of the beach and ocean. The steak was amazing and very cheap compared to the states. After dinner we went back to the hotel and took a dip in the cold pool.

The next day we returned to Jendamark for more meetings and a site tour. Jendamark also builds catalytic converter machines which were very impressive. Since we finished a little early returned to the b&b and got changed for the beach. After a walk over to a small market we hopped in the Indian Ocean for a swim and some attempts at body surfing. Once again the water was quite cold but it was refreshing with the sun out. He water is cooler since much of it is coming from the Atlantic as well as being quite far south. After a shower, we went out to Cuban restaurant/bar on the beachfront. Once again I got a steak since the prices are so great. It was also a place that you could order a hooka (not sure on spelling) which came with a round of weak fruity shots. After dinner we went back for some much needed rest for our early flight today.

Dubai and South Africa

Monday morning Katie and I registered our new address and new car at the city building. After we grabbed a great breakfast at the Remarque hotel. Katie dropped me off at the main train station where I took the train to Dusseldorf airport. The train ride was nice and was pretty quick with only one transfer in Duisburg. I arrived at the airport and after a quick check-in I went to the Emirates lounge for some snacks and free internet. Afterwards, I headed down to the gate where I found the flight was going to be delayed about 20 minutes due to a security sweep that had to be redone on the plane we were to board. The flight to Dubai was relatively fast with good food and super comfortable seats (ones that lay completely flat with a huge TV screen). Landing in Dubai at night was really cool but the takeoff was even better since the pilot flew us around the Burj Khalifa (worlds tallest building I believe that was in the latest Mission Impossible movie). Dubai airport was really nice with a lot of high dollar shopping areas. Grabbed a shower, food and some beers in the lounge and worked a little while waiting for my next flight (4.5 hours later). I even got to talk to Katie via Skype which made it a lot better. On the way to the gate I stopped by the Starbucks to see if they had any gift cards that I could get for Marcel, my brother-in-law, since he collects them. Unfortunately they did not have any.

The flight to Johannesburg was also rather quick since I was able to sleep most of the time. Upon landing I cleared customs quickly (had to stand in front of a thermal scanner to ensure I did not have yellow fever). My boss’s flight landed about 10 minutes after mine (even though he left Germany about 5 hours later but booked earlier so he got a better flight via Air France). We picked up the rental car and headed on our way to the Green Haven Guest House in North Pretoria. The weather is great down here and it feels like a land based St. Thomas (similar foliage, weather/humidity, driving on the left side of the road, etc.)

The Green Haven Guest House is a great place to stay with awesome staff that really make you feel at home. Four huge German Shephards guard the house all day long but are super friendly when approached slowly (I was told that running around the hotel would probably not be the best idea). An armed guard out front also helped to feel very safe (even though at no point have we felt unsafe).

After a quick shower and getting our things together, Henning and I headed to the ZF Rosslyn plant. We worked there for the rest of the day on project topics and then headed back to the hotel. We dropped off our things and headed back to Pretoria where we drove around a bit (Henning was a great tour guide since he has been here a couple times) and visited the Union Buildings which have a great view of the city. Afterwards we headed to downtown Pretoria and grabbed some food.

Wednesday was filled with more project work at the ZF plant and afterwards we headed to the Voortrekker monument ( Unfortunately it was closed but we got to see it from the gate. A great monument to the Voortrekker (Dutch) colonists.

Today we got up early and flew down to Port Elizabeth.

Training Trip – Day 14

Today I had a good breakfast and then attended mass at the main Catholic Cathedral St. Petrus in Osnabrück. It is a magnificent church. I got some odd looks since I went in my sport coat and not in a heavy winter coat. I will make sure not to make that mistake again since thinking back on it I probably looked like I was going to church dressed like it was early summer.

Training trip – Day 13

This morning only after a few hours of sleep I met up with Derick, his girlfriend and another friend from the Netherlands. We drove over to Bad Iburg to meet with some other co-workers at a really cool restaurant called the Waldwirtschaft-Malepartus out in the woods with an amazing view of the countryside. After a nice lunch we went back into town and toured the castle. The castle was incredible and had multiple churches since it was the seat of the Bishop for a long time. I am looking forward to learning German so that Katie and I can go again (this time knowing German so that I know what the tour guide is saying). Luckily I had a coworker help translate.

Training Trip – Day 12

Tonight was the Chassis Systems Business Unit Christmas party. We met at the Bahnhof (main train station) and started with some Glühwein to stay warm. After a short walk in the rain we made it to the main event avenue, the Portugese club here in Osnabrück. It was a lot of fun with good food and plenty of beer. It was a good chance to meet others in the group that I had not met yet. After the party almost the entire group moved over to a bar down the street. This was at about 1:00 am already. After hanging out there for an hour we moved to Club Alando. Very cool place with tons of different rooms and DJ’s. After dancing for a couple of hours I made my way back to the hotel exhausted and ready for bed.

Training Trip – Day 8, 9, 10 and 11

This week was more training at work and a couple of visits to the Weinachtsmarkt. It snowed a good bit and was pretty cold but at least the snow made everything look pretty. The food at the work canteen is still delicious and I am starting to get the hang of how everything works. Just need to master the language now. Walks daily after lunch made it nice to get outside and enjoy the fresh air.

Visited a German Mexican restaurant and I think it will be good enough to hold us over while we are living here. Interesting eating a taco with a knife and fork. Tried it with an Alster which is a close to non-alcoholic drink that is comprised of Pilsner beer and lemon soda (short for Alsterwasser). The Germans are very strict about drinking and driving.

Training Trip – Day 7

Today I visited Philip’s parents in Bad Iburg with Philip and his girlfriend. The town of Bad Iburg is beatiful with an old castle near the city center. Philip’s parents were very nice and even had a Nikolaus present for me! Nikoluas day is on the 6th of December and is for children to get a treat from St. Nikolaus (Santa). Children will clean their boots and put them outside of their door. If they are good Nikolaus will give them candy but if they were naughty they will only receive sticks.

The visit comprised of coffee, delicious homemade holiday cookies and even homemade stollen. After the visit we dropped off Philip’s girlfriend so she could return home via carpool. We went back to Philip’s flat and ordered pizza and watched Tatort (a long standing crime investigation TV show here in Germany). It was actually really good and luckily I had Philip to fill me in when I didn’t understand what was going on. It is a two part show so I will need to watch the other part next Sunday.

Training Trip – Day 6

Today I slept in and then went downstairs for an easy breakfast. I still cannot get over how good the bread is here. After breakfast I hopped in the car and drove all over Osnabrück to try and figure out where everything is. Found a really pretty old house on the side of the hill overlooking all of Osnabrück. Drove by the main Bahn station (train station) as well as the VW plant. Unfortunately I found out that I missed the football match (soccer) today in Osnabrück which was against Saarbrucken. Osnabrück won the match and I saw that they are actually very good (leading their league). Definitely planning on attending some matches when they come up again.

Came back to the hotel and Skype’d with Katie and Holden after a cat nap. Watched some How I Met Your Mother in German and then walked over to a Chinese restaurant that is about a block away from the hotel. Grabbed a 6 pack of Becks and watched The Avengers.

Web Article about Weihnachtsmarkt in Osnabrück

This was the google translation so it is a little rough but gives you a good idea of what the Weihnachtsmarkt is.

“Accompanied by the scent of freshly roasted almonds, the historic Christmas market in Osnabrück occurs from 26 November to 22 December 2012 daily from 12 to 21 clock a leisurely stroll through the market and Domvorplatz. For four weeks, visitors can convince themselves that the Osnabrück Christmas Market is one of the finest in the country, according to a survey of the NDR and a study of the World on Sunday announced. 
Surrounded by the historic setting of the Old Town in Osnabrueck and the mood lighting that the Christmas market add a special flair, are located here, many stalls that offer visitors loving crafts, various Christmas goodies and lots of ideas for new gift ideas. 
them the energy to every day waiting by 16 clock of St. Nicholas, a on the Advent Calendar to open another door. So the days pass until Christmas Eve very quickly. Also to admire is the greatest Christmas music box in the world, whose life-size figures since 1999 to turn on the Christmas market to the music of 25 different Christmas carols. A few meters away, visitors can expect a further attraction. Of over 6 feet tall, fully functional Nutcracker 
on all four Saturdays there is the possibility to 20 clock to stroll through the shops of the center of Osnabrück, in order to get gifts for your loved ones. For a subsequent leisurely stroll through the Christmas market are again in the pedestrian zone two packet buses that provide plenty of space for your Christmas shopping.”


Training Trip – Day 4 & 5

Yesterday I had line balancing training all morning and then started meeting with the other departments in the afternoon. Very interesting jobs and it always amazes me at how much goes into building a car. Met with Project Controlling and the Prototype departments. Dinner was at the hotel which consisted of duck, red cabbage, cranberries and apricots that were inside of a dumpling type potato roll.

Today, Friday, was a lot of reading through the numerous directives and standards that our group uses. In addition there was a couple of hours of compliance training to make sure that our trade secrets don’t get out (so don’t expect to read any on here =) ). Tonight I met with Philip at his house along with his girlfriend and her sister and husband. We walked downtown and continued the festivities at Weinachtsmarkt again. A lot of drinking and great conversation. It was a good time for me to really start trying to speak German as much as I could. Got back late around 2am and I am pretty sure after all the sugary drinks I will have a hangover in the morning.


Training Trip – Day 3

Today was another good day at work. It snowed a good bit over night so the car was covered when I woke up. Lunch was good with a pork cutlet, fried egg, skillet potatoes and onions with a pickle. Started my training program which includes meeting with all of the relevant project departments and discussing how they interface with our group.

After work I went to Weinachtsmarkt with Philip and Daniel (another co-worker that I knew from the BMW F25 launch and is the same team as me at work). Tonight I rode the bus so that I could have some more types of drinks. We tried 4/5 of the typical Weinachtsmarkt drinks. Glühwein, schokolade with baileys, another drink that they drip melted sugar into and white Glühwein. All were very good and perfect for the cold nights. While we were there it started snowing which was also very pretty.