Sunday, May 16, 2010

Des Moines

This is the 2nd day at Des Moines, the capital city of IOWA state, United State of America. Des Moines is not a tourist area for local American as well as foreigners. It is in the mid west of USA, an agricultural region famous for oats and corns. But unexpectedly it is also the capital of insurance industry in USA.

Iowa is a American state located in the Midwestern United States, an area often referred to as the "American Heartland." It derives its name from the Ioway people, one of the many American Indian tribes that occupied the state at the time of European exploration. Iowa was a part of the French colony of New France. After the Louisiana Purchase, settlers laid the foundation for an agriculture-based economy in the heart of the Corn Belt. Iowa is often known as the "Food Capital of the World", but Iowa's economy, culture, and landscape are diverse. In the mid and late 20th century, Iowa's agricultural economy transitioned to a diversified economy of advanced manufacturing, processing, financial services, biotechnology, and green energy production.Iowa has been listed as one of the safest states in which to live. Des Moines is Iowa's capital and largest city.

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Des Moines was incorporated on September 22, 1851, as Fort Des Moines which was shortened to "Des Moines" in 1857. It is named after the Des Moines River, which may have been adapted from the French Rivière des Moines, literally meaning "River of the Monks."

Des Moines is located within the Polk County. The 2008 estimate was 424,778. It is also the county seat, as well as the capital city of Iowa State, and the largest city in the state. Polk County is one of the five counties that make up the Des Moines–West Des Moines Metropolitan Statistical Area, which consists of five central Iowa counties: Polk, Dallas, Warren, Madison, and Guthrie.

Des Moines River

Des Moines River is a tributary river of the Mississippi River, approximately 525 miles (845 km) long to its farther headwaters, in the upper Midwestern United States. The largest river flowing across the state of Iowa, it rises in southern Minnesota, and flows across Iowa from northwest to southeast, passing from the glaciated plains into the unglaciated hills near the city of Des Moines, which takes its name from the river. It forms a short portion of Iowa's border with Missouri in Lee County. The Great Flood of 1993 on the river and its tributary the Raccoon in the summer of 1993 forced the evacuation of much of the city of Des Moines and nearby communities. On June 13, 2008, officials issued a voluntary evacuation order for much of downtown and other areas bordering the Des Moines River. The river had reached flood stage in many locations, and Mayor Frank Cownie said the evacuations were an attempt "to err on the side of citizens and residents."

The Des Moines River serves as the marker for street names having the prefix "East" or not (and occasionally "West" when on the western side). This is especially important for streets running north-south. "1st Ave" would be on the west side of the river, E 1st Ave the eastern side and are thus completely different streets. Streets running east-west and which exist on both sides of the river typically have an "East" prefix if east of the river. There are some "West" prefixes for those on the other side of the river but this is less common. Perhaps more confusing, there are streets which lie on both sides of the river, such as Grand Ave, which is "E Grand Ave" east of the river but simply "Grand Ave" west of the river; yet "E University Ave" is officially named "W University Ave" when on the western side of the river. Unlike the north-south streets, it is possible to arrive at your destination by simply continuing east or west--depending on your final destination. The demarcation for "SE" and "SW" prefixes is a bit more ambiguous but would certainly refer to a street south of Grand Ave/E Grand Ave and either the western or eastern side of the river. For most part, "NW" refers to streets west of the river and "NE" east of it, but not always so. Additionally, there is no standard reference point for determining when a street gains a "NW" or "NE" prefix.

The five-county metropolitan area is ranked 91st in terms of population in the United States according to 2008 estimates with 556,230 residents according to United States Census Bureau. The city proper population was 198,682 at the 2000 census. At the 2005-2007 American Community Survey Estimates, the city's population was 82.2% White (75.6% non-Hispanic White alone), 9.5% Black or African American, 0.9% American Indian and Alaska Native, 4.2% Asian, 5.6% from some other race and 2.3% from two or more races. 10.2% of the total population were Hispanic or Latino of any race

Insurance Industry
Des Moines is a major center for the insurance industry and also has a sizable financial services and publishing business base. In fact, Des Moines was credited with the "number one spot for U.S. insurance companies" in a Business Wire article. Many insurance companies are headquartered in Des Moines, including the Principal Financial Group, Marsh (formerly KVI), EMC Insurance Group, Allied Insurance (now part of Nationwide), AmerUs Group (now part of Aviva), Holmes Murphy, and American Republic Insurance Company. Des Moines has been referred to as the "Hartford of the West" because of this. Principal is one of two Fortune 500 companies having headquarters in Iowa, ranking 273rd on the magazine's list in 2009. As a center of financial and insurance services, other major corporations headquartered outside of Iowa have established a presence in the Des Moines Metro area, including Wells Fargo, ING Group, and Electronic Data Systems.

The Meredith Corporation, a leading publishing and marketing company, is also based in Des Moines. Meredith publishes Better Homes and Gardens, one of the most widely circulated publications in the United States. Forbes Magazine called Des Moines the country’s best place for business and careers. Kiplinger's Personal Finance 2008 Best Cities List featured Des Moines as #9. Des Moines’ economy was among among the best-performing cities in the country during the first quarter of 2010, according to a report from the Brookings Institute.

Presidential election
Des Moines is an important city in United States presidential politics as the capital of Iowa, which is home to the Iowa caucuses. The Iowa caucuses have been the first major electoral event in nominating the President of the United States since 1972. Hence, many presidential candidates set up campaign headquarters in Des Moines. A 2007 article in The New York Times stated "if you have any desire to witness presidential candidates in the most close-up and intimate of settings, there is arguably no better place to go than Des Moines".

The skyscraper
Principal Financial Group's 45-story tower at 801 Grand (1991). 801 Grand, also known as The Principal Building, is a skyscraper located in Des Moines, Iowa. It is named after its street address, being located along Grand Avenue in the downtown area of the city between 8th & 9th Street (with High Street the northern border). Completed in 1991 and standing at 630 ft (192 m) it is currently the tallest building not only in Des Moines, but also in the state of Iowa.

(extract from wikipedia and wikitravel)

13-5-2010(Thursday) Hong Kong- Chicago-Des Moines International Airport

The flight continued from Singapore Changi Airport to Hong Kong Airport, where the plane wait for more than 2 hours to continue to Chicago. Hong Kong to Chicago is long flight, crossing the Pacific Ocean. The flight is actually a long flight from Hong Kong, over Tokyo, Japan and straight to the north beside the Russian land, sourth of Sterling Strait(if the name is correct), the strait between Alaska and Siberia. It was a turning curve from Siberia to North America, then it crossed the Pacific Ocean and finally over the American land mass from Canada to Chicago, no wonder it was a cold and long journey.

We have a more than 2 hr delay at the Chicago airport, the airline told us it was due to strong wind. It is normal, as Chicago was known as City of Winds. It was a long wait, and we met an insurance woman who was offering her help to phone Ben, informing that the flight will be delay. We also met a young college student from Des Moines, who reassure that it was normal for the flight delay. Just wait patiently for the resume of the flight. We finally departed at 7.45p.m. Ben and his friend Robby Patterson picked us up at De Moines International Airport(DSM) at Fleur Dr.

We are staying at a beautiful bungalow house owned by Mr Bruce and Beckey family. Mr Bruce introduced his family members to us. A beautiful family with strong bond based on Christian built up.

The night was unexpectedly cold, even the time now is early summer, the climate is still remain like late Spring. The turning of season is slow or is it because of the Great Lake effect?.

14-5-2010(Friday)Des Moines

First day at De Moines. Wake up late due to tiredness from jet lag

Visit to the university campus at University Ave, Des Moines, and meeting some friends. A small private university famous for actuarial science, with long history of establishment since 1881.

After 7pm. Tim Crane, the son of Mr Bruce took us to the Des Moines downtown, visited City Hall, and one of the art garden nearby. The art garden, the Pappajohn Sculpture Park was dedicated on September 27, 2009, located in Western Gateway Park from 10th to 15th Streets and between Grand Avenue and Locust Street. It showcases a collection of 24 world class sculptures valued at more than $40 million donated by Des Moines philanthropists John and Mary Pappajohn. Resting on 4.4 acres (2 ha) of green space, the sculpure park is designed as an outdoor art museum. Nearby is the beautifully restored and historic Temple for Performing Arts, reborn as a cultural center for the city. Next to the Temple is the 117,000-square-foot Central Library, with its ultramodern, freeform architecture and "organic" roof designed by renowned English architect David Chipperfield.

As it was late at night, the City Hall or State Capital Building was not open. However, it did not deny us from enjoying the view of the city from the hill. The day was still bright despite late night, we still can see the downtown from the garden at the Capital Hill. The Iowa State Capitol is the state capitol building of Iowa state. Housing the Iowa General Assembly, it is located in the state capital of Des Moines at East 9th Street and Grand Avenue. The building was constructed between 1871 and 1886.

The Iowa State Capitol is among the most beautiful state capitols in the country. Arising in the east and facing westward toward downtown, the capitol building with its 275-foot, 23-karat gold leafed dome towering above the city is a favorite of sightseers. Four smaller domes flank the main dome. The Capitol houses the governor's offices, legislature, and the old Supreme Court Chambers. The ornate interior also features a grand staircase, mural "Westward", five-story law library, scale model of the USS Iowa, and collection of first lady dolls. Guided tours are available. The Capitol grounds include a World War II memorial with sculpture and Wall of Memories. Other monuments include the 1894 Soldiers and Sailors Monument of the Civil War and memorials honoring those who served in the Spanish-American, Korean, and Vietnam Wars.

It is the only five-domed state capitol in the country. The building is brick with limestone from Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, Ohio, and Illinois. Iowa stone is the foundation for the many porticoes of the building. Both front and back porticoes have pediments supported by six Corinthian columns each. The dome of the capitol is gilded in tissue-paper thin sheets of pure 23-karat gold, with a protective layer sealing the gold from the elements, and the top of its finial peak is 275 feet (83.8 m) above the ground. From its opening in 1884 until 1924 it was the tallest building in Des Moines, and probably the tallest in Iowa.

The West Capitol Terrace provides a stunning entrance from the west to the state's grandest building, the State Capitol Building. With its picturesque views, the lush, 10 acre "people's park" at the foot of the Capitol complex includes a promenade and landscaped gardens, in addition to providing public space for rallies and special events. A granite map of Iowa depicting all 99 counties rests at the base of the terrace which has become a popular attraction for in-state visitors, many of whom can be seen walking over the map to find their home county.

Iowa's history lives on in the State of Iowa Historical Museum. This modern granite and glass structure at the foot of the State Capitol Building houses permanent and temporary exhibits exploring the people, places, events, and issues of Iowa's past. The showcase includes native wildlife, American Indian and pioneer artifacts, and political and military items. The Museum features a genealogy and Iowa history library, museum gift shop, and cafe.(ref: wikipedia)

Tim was such a nice young man with good manner, a shy, helpful and friendly person. He was our guide and driver in Des Moines. A tall young graduate with blond hair, dressed simple, and easy going.

Shopping at Walmart, the US supermarket chain we had heard so much. The location is 73rd Street, Windsor Heights, West Des Moines. Walmart is the world's largest retailer. In 2010 it was the world's largest public corporation by revenue, according to the Forbes Global 2000 for that year.

Went to one of the lake garden at De Moines...The Gray's Lake Park, the night view of the Des Moines city from the park is beautiful. Gray's Lake, as part of popular Gray's Lake Park, features a boat rental facility, fishing pier, floating boardwalks, and a park resource center. Located just south of the downtown, the centerpiece of the park is a lighted trail encircling the entire park. Kruidenier Trail bridge across Gray's Lake, was lighted with colorful light at night.

Night, still cold.

15-5-2010(Saturday)Des Moines

2nd day at De Moines, still cold, but with sunshine.

Watching garden birds at the garden, see some squirrels. Really enjoyed the morning and the fresh air, with birds and squirrels moving in the garden seeking for food.

Ben took his USA driving license, and passed.

Took Italian food at Olive Garden for lunch. Not familiar with the food ethic and manner, still prefer rice. But it is alright for me, but not wife who has allergy for milk related food.

At night, sharing with Mr Bruce on the life of mother-in-law, as he got the news from the other graduate's mother, that my mother in law have passed away recently. It was emotional moment during the sharing.

Mother in law has been to Iowa state in early 80s, during my brother in law's student days. But I do not know is it Iowa City or Ames, as she did not mentioned the city. She always mentioned Iowa, the place must be significant in her heart. We are now following her footsteps into Iowa state. Prior to her sickness, we had asked her to follow us to revisit Iowa. But she was not prepare for the long hours flight due to her old age. She is however willing to go again to her husband ancestral land, Dapu, China; another place that is dear to her heart, which is with shorter flying time from Malaysia. Even she has passed away days ago, by stepping foot into Iowa state, bought me memories of her...

May be we are bringing her wishes and blessing to Iowa....even she has no longer physically with us. We know she will be proud and happy.... we had good time with her....

A good cold night, but the moment with mother in law still linger in my mind, tears flowing out when think of her.....

16-5-2010 Des Moines(Sunday)

It was a graduation days for the newly graduated. An active days at Des Moines. A grand graduation ceremony, with many parents and friends coming , some all the way from oversea. The President David Maxwell give a presentation of good music at the graduation ceremony, a special and unique way. He picked up his Gibson Les Paul guitar and played a blues ballad with renowned saxophonist Dick Oatts, who had just accepted an honorary Doctor of Music degree from the University.

After the graduation ceremony, it was Malaysian students gathering for photo session. You can see their joy and sense of achievement.

Today is Sunday,we missed the church service, only managed to arrive for lunch at the Church Camp. The graduates are giving testimonies and end with photo session again for all church members who have graduated today.

A brief stop at the house of Asian Affairs Coordinator, Des Moines City Hall. A Taiwanese Chinese with her husband. All Asian graduates were invited and gathered at her house. A friendly and helpful lady, who cared for Asian students. It was food and photo again.

Another function at a fellow graduate's house, a celebration for graduation of the 3 family members. I am really full with food, and hospitality.

The day end with tiredness and feeling of goodness and joy. Anyway it is a happy day for all newly graduated. May they have good future and success in their new undertaking.

A night of good rest for us, as we shall be leaving the place, Des Moines tomorrow (17th May) to Chicago. It is still a cold night, but a good night.

Des Moines
Iowa State