Algis’ father, Mykolas Jurgelevicius was born in 1926 in Lithuania, one of the three Baltic States, at that time satellites of the USSR, now all members of the European Union. Little is known about his parents, except for the fact his mother, Mikalina came all the way from the Kamchatka peninsula, the far eastern tip or Russia, on the Pacific Ocean, a few hundred miles Northeast of Japan.
Like many youngsters of his generation he was drawn by force into the Soviet Army and fought against the Nazi troops during WWII. He was involved in combat in Berlin, but, later, never liked to talk about his war experience.
After the war, Mykolas was not particularly thrilled by the prospect of living under the Stalin regime, so he fled to Belgium where he became a refugee, a status he would kept for the rest of his life. Algis himself held the refugee status until he obtained the Belgian nationality at age 18.
Mykolas settled in the small city of Souvret, a few kilometers northeast of Charleroi, in the French speaking part of Belgium. Although he was trained woodworker, he took a job as a coal miner in the Perrier “mine 6” well. Later, he got married. His wife, Denise, born in 1929 was the daughter of a relatively well-to-do family, the Malien. They lived in Landelies, a charming residential suburb of Charleroi. Her father worked in an administrative managerial position for a large company manufacturing electric cables. Denise’s union with a foreigner, additionally a manual worker, was not viewed favorably by her bourgeois family. As they ostracized her, contacts were very scarce. Algis met his grand-mother Clémentine only once, for about one hour, when he was 6. He recollects Madame Malien as an elderly lady, complaining just about everything, especially the price of things. They had a mid-morning coffee in her comfortable home during which, she tendered him a 100 francs bill. Although he was behaving very respectfully, little Algis used the opportunity to assert his independent character, refusing the money and telling his grandma that this amount should be enough to cover their collation!
Denise had four children from a first marriage (Paul, Michel, Bernard and Suzanne). Mykolas readily accepted them and they soon considered him as their real father. Two other children, Mikalina (named after her grand-mother) and Algirdas (“Algis”) were born from her marriage with Mykolas. To take care of her large family, Denise abandoned her nursing career to become a full time housewife.
If the miners living conditions were very modest, there was none of the misery prevailing during the 19th century, as was well described by Emile Zola in his masterpiece Germinal. Yet, the same solidarity and even fraternity prevailed in the world of the coal miners of the sixties and seventies. There was no feeling of segregation or racism as all miners were actually immigrants themselves, coming from various parts of Eastern or Southern Europe and even from Northern Africa to seek a better life.
We often tend to think about mining areas as dull, grey and depressing, but the stereotype doesn’t hold for the Charleroi region. Although it resembles the “Plat Pays” sung by Jacques Brel, it is quite verdant. It is mostly a farming area paved with many fields, meadows and small woods. Only the protruding spoil tips, mine headframes and the “corons” (miners housing compounds) were there to remind you of its subterranean activities.
Algis grew up in a safe and nurturing environment. He attended primary school and was consistently among the top three in his class. Later, with a group of five close friends he started attending some free night workshops offered by the local school. Besides having lots of fun together, the small gang learnt some valuable trades such as wood or metal work. Yet, Algis real taste already went to electrical engineering. Outside school, the children also played soccer, but Algis preferred to train in long distance running. He also enjoyed a lot escalating the spoil tips.
During their early teenage years the gang started fixing and modifying old mopeds that they would race around the block. Algis remembers that someday they found an abandoned 125 cc Gilera a real treasure for kids their age as owning a 50 cc was already a luxury.
On the family side, as far as he can remember, Algis’ father and most of his siblings shared a common passion: motorcycling. Mykolas was racing in a club and the little crowd often travelled together, having a good time attending motorcycle races around the country as there were many racing tracks in Belgium at that time. As soon as they got there first job, both Bernard and Michel bought new 350 cc motorcycles. The clan started riding around to attend the so-called “concentrations” which were very popular in the seventies (basically rider gatherings where people showed their bikes, talked bikes, shared motorcycling stories, tips etc…). Mikalina was riding in the backseat of one her brothers’ bike and Young Algis in the other. He has heartwarming memories of these expeditions.
Later on Algis introduced Jacques, one of his friends and a biker too to his clan. Jacques joined in and eventually became Mikalina’s husband.
As Algis was still in his early teenage his father, was diagnosed with silicosis, a debilitating respiratory disease all too common among miners and was forced into early retirement. Yet, having a large family to support and being a very active person, he took jobs on construction sites.
One morning of 1974, driving to one of these construction sites, in the early morning, he lost his life in a car accident. From that point on, Algis two elder brothers who were working in the steel industry starting supported the family financially. To the day, Algis is still very grateful to them for providing to him during his schooling years. Unfortunately, one day of 1976, disaster stroke again, Bernard, one of Algis elder brothers, then 23, was hit by a car while he was riding his motorbike to work and didn’t survive the crash. Following the drama, the family unity was somewhat shattered and the siblings’ relationships were never the same again.
Algis eventually graduated, majoring in electromechanical engineering and started working at age 16. At the same time he attended night school learning electronics and logics. Three years later, a new degree in hand, he switched to a computer specialist job at Cockerill, a large metal industry conglomerate.
At age 18, to release his mother from part of her burden Algis left the family nest while still contributing part his earnings to support her. The rest of his disposable income and his spare time were largely absorbed by his passions, computers and motorcycle racing. He also starting roaming Europe on his motorcycle, making frequent trips abroad during the weekends.
By the early eighties Algis got noticed by the Bull engineers working the Cockerill site and was eventually offered to join the company in Brussels. Not only his dream job but also an educational opportunity since the company sent him to complete part time a computer system engineering degree at ULB (Université Libre de Bruxelles, a large private Belgian university founded in 1834). Three years later, having just earned his degree, in the midst of an industry downturn he was laid off. After taking an unexciting job at a re-insurance company, Algis joined the Etterbeek Hospital, near Brussels. There, he was involved in the development of medical imaging systems.
Three years later, he noticed an eye catching ad in a national newspaper, “La dernière Heure”. It said “Exchange your genius talents in computers for a six-month cruise in the Southern Seas”. Intrigued, he replied. Turned out the person who had posted the ad was a Chinese Medicine Doctor, actually a one of the former personal doctors of Mobutu Sese Seko, the omnipotent and notorious president of Zaire, today’s Democratic Republic of Congo. This doctor was having a boat built in a Taiwanese shipyard to be used to conduct a research project about “Computer Aided Iridology”, quite an endeavor! Algis would be paid to participate in the research project, and they would first sail to the Marquesas Islands close to Tahiti, then head back to the China Sea, next follow the coast bordering the Indian Ocean all the way down to South Africa where the doctor owned a property. The trip would last six to twelve months.
Very excited by the prospect, Algis quit his job, packed his belonging and headed to Taiwan. He spent about half a year, in Wu Ku, across from Danshui completing the electrical and computer installs of the “Tao Men”, a 56-foot sailboat. With time passing, he started having second thoughts about the serious and viability of the venture and eventually pulled out of the project, Then, started the next leg of his life… in Taiwan.