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January 19, 2011     Times
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January 19, 2011

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14 By Scott Tate Not too long ago there was a push to not sweat the small stuff. Don't worry about the little things we were told because they won't matter 5 years or even 2 days from now. Good advice if taken in the right perspec- tive. We were taught to watch the pennies and the dollars would take care of themselves. So, don't sweat those small things but be dang sure to know about them. Pay attention to detail. It's what separates the good from the great, the average from the successful. It was the crinkle in the socks of his players that the late basketball coach John Wooden sweated that trans- formed him from his humble begin- nings as a Midwestern farm boy into a name synonymous with success. A U.S. passport will get you access to Switzerland. A passport with a -visa is required for Afghanistan. Not paying attention m which visa gets stamped gives you an all expense paid aerial tour of Afghanistan. My employer had experimented with visas and I had been the test project. Last fall I had been on vacation and had returned to Afghanistan and the wrong visa got stamped.-The end result was I couldn't leave Afghani- stan through the commercial airport at Kabul. The only way out was to fly out of Kabul on a military flight to Bagram and catch a commerc/ttl fligtit from Bagram to Dubai. The catch is neither of the flights is direct. Kabul to Bagram is normally a 30 minute flight directly. If your luck is running tow, you get to make stops in Sharana, Shank and Jalala- bad before arriving in Bagram and the 30 minute flight stretches into 3 hours. Known as the ring route it is the military version of riding a small school bus.., airplane style. Bagram to Dubai has its own nuances. The two hour flight to Dubai doubles in time. Before get- ting to Dubai, an aerial tour of southern Afghanistan with a stop in Kandahar is included: Afghanistan is brown and dreary throughout this time of year. Lack of paying attention at the passport station in Kabul last year provided me with the experience to be confi- dent about what Afghanistan looks like in the winter. With much hesitation, I agreed with my wife to spend Christmas in Switzerland. I had grown up know- ing the snow and cold of Midwest- ern winters and it was traditional that any Christmas vacation spent away from home would be in warm weather. Like Afghanistan, Switzerland is a landlocked mountainous region. mostly comprised of rural areas. Rugged terrain makes up the major- ity of both countries. Tillable area for agricultural production is a scarce resource in both countries Mt. Pulaski Times Along The Silk Road Vol. 12 - 14-JAN-11 and makes food an expensive com- modity that is dependent upon imports from others. Both have unique histories. Switzerland has a long history of neutrality. It hosted both the Axis and Allied powers of World War II. Afghanistan hosts the Taliban and NATO forces in the current world- wide conflict against terrorism. The similarities between the two countries pale in comparison to their differences. Switzerland hosts one of the highest per capita GDP's in the world along with the some of the highest ranked quality of life in the cities of Zurich and Geneva. Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries of the world, offers as its biggest and best city Kabul. The quality of life offered here is non- existent. Survival is a daily struggle. Dried septic tank waste is burned for warmth filling the air with a throat burning stench. During daylight hours the translu- cence of the sky is a bizarre blend between the blue haze of the smoke and the dust and other pollution that transforms the higher elevations :of the sky into an overcast sky of brown and yellow. The surroundings in Kabul seem to be viewed through yeUow tinted sunglasses while that of Zurich is represented like one through clear glass and a clean air quality usually not indicative of a metropolis. Switzerland has trains, Christian- ity, lakes and regular precipitation. Afghanistan has no transportation infrastructure, little water resources and beliefs founded in Islam. Neat stacks of firewood are seen at the houses in Switzerland. Trees are almost unseen in Afghanistan. Trash and manure take the place of firewood in Afghanistan. In the cities and small towns of Switzerland, steeples of churches /re .evident and their bells toll every quarter hour. Afghanistan has mosques and the times of day are marked by one of the five daily prayers emitting from the loud speakers of the prayer towers. Meat is an expensive item in both countries and not necessarily a staple on either of their menus. Horse steaks are the most prized delicacy on a typical Swiss menu. Horse steaks are optional in Afghan- istan after lamb and goat. . Swiss fondue is excellent and yes, the Swiss cheese is far superi.'or to what we .eat in the States. Like the rest of Europe, trains in Switzerland are prevalent and travel by train is common. It's an easy and efficient way to see a lot of the Country in a small amount of time. From the comfort of the train seat, the towns and landscape pass by while sipping cappuccino from the dining car. A two hour ride takes us from the Zurich airport to the base of the Alps at the small town of Interlaken. Switzerland is quite beautiful and pictures don't do it justice. Forests that cover the mountains have fir trees with the darkness associated with the Black Forest in Germany. The lakes contain crystal clear water that captures a unique blue reflec- tion from the transparent skies and surrounding granite mountains. The small towns are reminiscent of the stereotypical Swiss villages, yards are neat, streets are litter free. A trip to Jungfraujoch, the highest point in Europe in the Swiss Alps, is a must. It is only accessible by a train that a visionary in the early 1900s devoted over 16 years of his life to build. The trip from Interlaken to the top is a 3 hour journey with stops along the way to become acclimated to the increasing elevation with mag- nificent views of the Alps. France and Italy can be seen from the "Top of Europe". On the day of our visit, visibility was limited from the high winds and blowing snow that pushed the wind chill down to 45 degrees below zero. Complete with over 70 waterfalls that were in the throes of freezing, this region is advertised to be one of the most beautiful in the Alps. On the way down we stopped in the resort town of Luaterbrunnen. Skiers riding the train can depart the train and be right at the slopes. Sled- ders and skiers abound so much that one whole train car is designated to haul the equipment and leave room in the passenger cars for people. A novel attraction in Luaterbrunnen is the bar that resembles a giant teepee. Complete with a buffalo head and Indian decorations, the opened door wigwam is so warm you forget you are 10,000 feet high in the Alps. As Afghanistan teeters with China gaining control of its mineral resources, the Swiss are in a similar struggle with the Japanese with its tourism industry. The Swiss natives of Interlaken compete with Japa- nese shop owners who have moved in trying to take advantage of the lucrative tourism venue. So extreme is the Japanese discrimination to the locals that one shop owner told us that most of the Japanese refuse to let locals make any purchases in their stores. How strange and frus- trating to be discriminated against by foreigners in your own country. Known for their Swiss chalet style cuckoo clocks, these are actually made in Germany. With so many sizes and types to choose from, it is an education to wander the stores and learn fi:om the clerks about the varied cuckoo clocks. Ironically enough, the largest indoor cuckoo clock in the world resides n a clock shop within an hour from my home January 22, 2011 in Georgia. Going to Switzerland is like buying a horse. Buying a horse is the cheapest part of owning one. It's the upkeep that makes equine ownership expensive. The same can be said of a trip to Switzerland. The ticket to get there is a small donation compared to the overall trip cost. Last minute train travel and restau- rants are expensive. We learn that eating out is so expensive that the typical local only ventures out once or twice a year. Quite different than the typical American that eats out 4- 5 times per week. Then there is the international airpoi't in Zurich. Like many major international cities, Zurich's airport is the epitome of the lavishness expected in a country that is the common residing place for the bank accounts of the wealthy. One of the attractions is the "Tower of Wine" at the airport hotel. Around three stories tall, the illuminated tower is a giant wine rackwith the wine stored relative to price. The higher it is, the more expensive. Order a bottle and a motorized winch transports a female acrobatic waitress up the tower via cable attachment to retrieve your wine. With its shops and attractions, the luxury of the Zurich airport is only magnified when compared with its counterpart in Kabul where the military guards the entrance and searches every vehicle for bombs and guns prior to entry. Thirty years ago the Swiss didn't pay attention to the new quartz technology and the flood of cheap accurate watches produced in the Far East. Without paying attention to detail, Switzerland almost lost its main industry. Introduction of the Swatch watch saved this Swiss industry from collapse and allowed it to regain the largest share of the watch market. Is it the availability of water that makes Switzerland more sophis- ticated and progressed versus Afghanistan? Have the Christian beliefs and its stance towards neutrality given Switzerland an advantage over the Islamic beliefs, the infighting of its people and the many wars in Afghanistan? Did the lack of paying attention to small things allow the Japanese to take ownership in Switzerland and reduce the quality of life of its native people? The comparisons between coun- tries are unlimited and full of argu- ment with a multitude of answers. Let's hope that Swiss watches and Afghani rugs remain owned and.. known by the countries from which they originated. The lessons learned by other countries are worthy of notice. As Americans we owe it to our- selves to be paying attention.