Sunday, April 19, 2009

BTO: Living it up in a mile high city

Business Times - 18 Apr 2009

Living it up in a mile high city

Associate, Audit


'WELCOME to Denver, Colorado - A Mile High City' said the sign at Denver International Airport. The elevation is 5,280 feet, the peaks are capped with snow and yet this is a city that enjoys around 300 days of sunshine a year. Can you blame me for feeling a little light-headed?


I was here because my senior manager at KPMG LLP (Singapore), now a partner with the firm, encouraged me to consider an overseas assignment. With 87 office locations in the US alone, I was like a kid in a candy store. But Denver was to be my choice.


People fall in love with this city the first time they see it. It is as refined as it is laid-back, with a perfect blend of outdoor adventure and urban sophistication.


My transition from a tropical climate to that of a temperate one has been exciting, yet challenging. Having arrived during the cold season, my first four months saw freezing temperatures, cold winds, slick roads and snow.


I had to learn how to adapt to the local culture, but in so doing I have learnt how to be flexible in my life-choices. I am also lucky to have become acquainted with the relocation agent who, beyond helping me with my initial days in Denver, has also become a friend. Our friendship has evolved to become like that of a mother and son.


Every festive season, I have been invited to join her family celebrations, and this has so clearly shown me the warmth of the locals. For example, enjoying a traditional family dinner at Thanksgiving with them last year allowed me to celebrate the occasion while making me feel that I am not alone here, but in the company of family.


The family-oriented spirit of the traditional American culture I have encountered is a stark contrast to the high-drama US reports we often read about in the Singapore newspapers - which can range from Hollywood scandal to street violence.


Apart from experiencing the American culture, there have been other 'first in my lifetime' experiences. These have ranged from taking skiing classes alongside other novices in the Keystone Mountains of Colorado, to building a snowman at the Grand Canyon.


In the winter, even the daily commute to work can be an adventure, driving at cold temperatures of -21 degrees Celsius. On one occasion, not used to driving in snow, my car hit the 'black ice' and spun two swift rounds. It stopped barely an inch from the road barriers.


Last December, I went on a road trip with my fellow international assignees from Pittsburgh and Houston to cover most of western United States - from the muddy and sandy roads in Death Valley to the snow-covered and uphill surfaces in the Grand Canyon.


We also drove up one of the steepest slopes in San Francisco, Powell Street, which had an almost 90-degree incline. The cars were parked parallel yet so close to one another it was remarkable they could move later.


In Death Valley, we got lost as our Global Positioning System misdirected us. Driving in the desert for four hours from sunrise to noon, we got nowhere close to our destination of Scotty's Castle in Death Valley. With just half a tank of fuel left, no cell phone reception and no car around, we decided to return to the main road and seek help. After another two-hour drive, we saw another car which we flagged down and asked for directions. We made it to Scotty's Castle just before sunset.


The Grand Canyon at sunset was just spectacular, with the sky painted a riot of colour - as if visual glory had been given to the grandeur of Dvorak's New World Symphony.


My time in America will be best remembered as a journey; both the physical on the road, and the spiritual in the experiences I have had. I hope to continue my explorations in the time that I have left here.

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