Friday, May 21, 2010


1. After a tiring day of travel on board ANA and nearly 3 hrs of transit at Narita Airport, we finally landed at Chicago's O Hare Airport at 8 am on 14 May 2010. It was May but still chilly. Li Hoon and I were looking forward to seeing our youngest boy, Weiping, and to attend his graduation ceremony and thereafter to take a month long driving holiday with him before he starts work with Towers Watson in Chicago in early July. Weiping was there to pick us up at the airport with his proud possession, a newly purchased 2 year old Hyundai Elantra. It was a easy 2 hrs drive to Madison, Wisconsin.

2. The graduation ceremony was held on 15 May in a packed Khol Center, with graduating students on the stadium
floor and the parents filling up the tiered seating. Here's the happy parents with the boy.

3. At Madison, we stayed in a charming B&B called Arbor House, a beautifully conserved building dating all the way back to 1853, near to the University's Arboretum. At and around the Arboretum there were people fishing, walking, jogging and cycling. Cycling lanes and tracks are well provided here in Madison, making cycling popular and safe, something we can learn in Singapore. We enjoyed our morning walks around the lake. Wild flowers were just as lovely.

4. The visit to the Madison Saturday Farmers Market around Capitol Square was one of the highlights of our stay at Madison. Around the Square, the pedestrian walks were packed with stalls and people. It was clearly a Saturday outings for families here in Madison - young and old, parents with their little kids. I just loved the many very colourful flower stalls.

5. At 10 am 18 May we set off on our driving holiday. Here we are at Arbor House before we departed.

6. In this month long 4000 miles driving holiday, we plan to visit the Custer State Park (to see Mt Rushmore), Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park and Rocky Mountains National Park before we head back to Madison to help Weiping make his shift to Chicago.

7. Our first destination, Custer State Park, was more than 700 miles away. As we would only travel in the day, we decided to make 2 night stops - St Paul in Minnesota and Pierre in South Dakota.

8. We got to St Paul comfortably by about 5 pm. After checking into Ramada Inn we have more than enough time to take a stroll in the Mall of America, the largest shopping mall in the USA, with more than 2.4 mil sq ft of space and 900 shops. It is big enough to have a theme park in the middle. I last visited this mall a few years ago, as part of STB study trip to the USA.

9. Out of St Paul, along Highway 14 to Pierre, there were unending corn fields on both sides of the road, stretching far out to the horizons. I had not seen so much corn fields in my life. At this time of the year, the corns had been harvested. The scenery reminded me of Michael Pollen's book, the Omnivorous Dilemma. Along a stretch we were surprised to see many wind mills - must be hundreds of them. Glad to see that there is a serious attempt to harness clean energy.

10. With a population of about 780 thousands people, South Dakota is one of the most sparsely populated state of the USA. Along Highway 14, we passed through big and small towns, mostly small. Before entry into each town, a signboard would display the size of its population. We found it hard to believe when we saw "Cottonwood, Pop 12".

11. Pierre is a lovely small town, the capital of South Dakota. After checking into Day Inn, we took a stroll along the banks of Missouri. Its clean and green. Beautiful environment.

12. After Pierre, we continued our journey the next day along Highway 14 towards Rapid City. The ground has become more undulating and corn fields have given way to cattle grazing fields. As we approached Wall, we started to see numerous signboards on both sides of the road advertising Wall Drug Store. We told ourselves, "since they are so determined, we will stop by to have a look and maybe have lunch there".

13. Located at the junction of Highway 14 and Highway 90, the Wall Drug Store looked a fairly successful business enterprise. It had shops catering to needs of tourists and a cafe with 530 seats. During peak season, it could handle up to 20 000 customers a day. Its early history however paled in comparison, according to the brochure on the Drug Store. When Dorothy and Ted Hustead bought the drug store in 1931, it was in the middle of nowhere. For the first 4-5 years, business was poor but faith kept them going and they refused to give up. Travelers would pass by but hardly anyone dropped in. Until one day, when Dorothy came up with an idea of how to get those travelers to come into their store. She recognized that the travelers, after the long travel, were thirsty and what they badly needed was ice cold water. They decided to put up signs on the highway telling people to come for free ice water. It worked and business took off.

14. To me, this is an inspiring story. It tells us not to give up easily when faced with difficulties. Don't be afraid to try different solutions. There is nothing to lose. One of them may just work.

15. We reached Custer at 1.30 pm and managed to check into the B&B that we had booked beforehand - Custer Mansion. Pat and Bob, the husband and wife team, run this place. A very hospitable couple, they had us settled down very quickly into our rooms, and guided us on what to see and do in the area. Already, we started to feel that maybe a couple of days was not enough.

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