Thursday, October 30, 2008

Orange Days of Giving

Every August, ING Direct US organizes the annual Orange Days of Giving. On this day, almost all the workers from one location (East Coast, West Coast, and Midwest) do something different: instead of working at the bank, we were building houses, painting schools, and fixing a school's playground (for example, by painting a map of the United States on the ground). We finished this day of hard work with a nice party on Wilmington's riverfront. Work hard, play hard! Pictures of this day are at the bottom of this message.

You might be wondering: how does ING Direct US do this, with the current market situation where many banks don't even survive? Thanks to wise decisions in the past: our mortgages were never sold to investors, like many mortgage lenders did. Because we lended out our 'own' money, and because we want to help the financial situation of Americans by encouraging them to save more money, a conservative approach was used while originating mortgages. This means that customers need to find a house that fits their needs, yet is appropriate to their financial situation. If they do this, we will offer them a very competitive interest rate. This standpoint in the current market, combined with genius marketing and a customer friendly approach, made ING Direct US a strong survivor of the current crisis. Below is a video of our CEO, Arkadi Kuhlmann, where he explains why this strategy is chosen. His book is very good by the way! Moreover, here is a news article about ING Direct US!.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Howdy y´all !

Last week I visited the second largest state of the US: Texas. This state is bigger than France, but also less populated - 24 million residents in Texas, versus 64 million in France. My uncle & aunt live half an hour south of Dallas, where I entered a completely different world: instead of large cities, a lot of traffic and working, I was chilling in between dogs, horses and turkeys. The fact that it´s another world became clear the very first minute, when a little snake blew into their pool!

After two days of relaxing, enjoying the 80-degree weather, and driving around in enourmous pick-up trucks, me and my aunt&uncle drove to Texas' capital Austin on Monday. Dallas - Austin is a three-hour drive, and Austin is the liberal centre in conservative Texas. During the day, we visited the State Capitol and the Texas State History Museum (about the history of this once independent state, and about the time where it was part of Mexico - ironic because of all the current issues with Mexicans in the South!). At nighttime however, it became clear what this city is all about: it´s the ‘live music capital’ of the US – Sixth street is a street filled with live music bars, and even on a Monday night there´s live music everywhere!

On Tuesday we visited the largest urban bat-location in the world: about 1.5 million bats spend their summer underneath a bridge in Austin! 18 inch holes make this the perfect location for them. Unfortunately, these flying rats had already taken off to Mexico to look for more heat. After visiting Mount Bonnell (spectacular views) and the Oasis (a restaurant near a lake, that fits 1.800 people - yes, everything is bigger in Texas!), we drove back to the ranch near Dallas.

Texas wouldn´t be Texas, if residents didn´t walk around with their ´protection´. The residents love the second amendment, and nearly everyone carries a gun with them. While I don´t completely agree with this reasoning, it is a lot of fun to legally shoot outside-doors (don´t worry - only on cans!). My cousin showed me his 9mm glock and sniper rifle, and after we found some empty cans and bought ammo (for sale in many regular grocery stores), we shot on a piece of wood and some empty cans. Another American experience for me!

On Wednesday morning, it started raining - something unique for hot Texas, so it was time to get back to the East Coast. Here are some pictures from the Lonely Star State.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Bruce Springsteen in Philly

Last Saturday, I joined about 100.000 people in Philadelphia for Bruce Springsteen's open-air concert on a crowded Benjamin Franklin Parkway. This concert, organized within one week, had the intention to show support for Obama and encourage people to register to vote in PA. Here's a video and some pictures (this time, I didn't take them myself!)


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

American Football

September and October are the best months for many Americans: the Baseball season ends (and finally gets a little exciting, after 162 games), while American Football and Hockey start. In a city like Philadelphia (known for its passionate sport fans), you just can´t ignore it: on one day everyone in the city wears red-white shirts to support the Phillies, the next day they´ll wear orange and black for the Flyers, and if the Eagles play, the city totally turns green.

Last Sunday I got the opportunity to visit an Eagles game. By now, I´ve been pulled into sports completely, so I was more than happy to go!!

The fun starts a few hours before the game, when people start Tailgating: fans park their SUVs on a huge parking lot, open their trunk, get a barbeque and the fun begins. Many of them don´t even have a ticket - they´ll just hang out and listen to the radio!

Once you walk into the stadium you´ll be completely overwhelmed - 70.000 people are cheering for the team. After the anthem the players walk onto the field, supported by cheerleaders and loud firework. Our seats were in between many die-hard fans, who listened to the radio during the game and created some great entertainment in the breaks!

A few weeks ago, I visited a sport that is not that popular - but it was fun to see (again, thanks to tailgating): Polo! Although I didn´t have high expectations, it was a lot of fun... Especially to see how horses are being transported (see the last picture!) :)