Top Chef Owen

Owen’s presentation

Owen is finishing the Middle Years Programme of the International Baccalaureate this year. All grade 10 students need to do a Personal Project (PP). The project is something students are passionate about and they should put in about 40 hours of work over the school year.

Owen is passionate about cooking. He watched a lot of cooking competition shows. Nadia is also really good in the kitchen and I think these two things inspired him to enjoy cooking. I give his meals a hearty 5-stars and it is nice to have two gourmet chefs in the Kralovec house. Owen’s project was to build a website with simple recipes teenagers can do.

Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity and Love

I read Dani Shapiro’s latest book about her discovery that her father was not her biological father. Through the DNA testing, she found out that she was not 100% Ashkenazi Jew as she thought. Her father turned out to be a sperm donor. She tells the story of how she found her biological father and why her parents kept it a secret.

This book appealed to me because I am adopted and am looking into my DNA ancestry recently. I can relate to much of what she goes through, although my story differs significantly. My adopted parents always told me I was adopted. My biological father was not a sperm donor in an institutional setting. Like Shapiro, I made contact with a biological parent and like her, I see the affects of heredity versus the setting and manner of my childhood.

She writes, “…felt, to me, like my native country. I had never lived in this country. I had never spoken its language of become steeped in its customs. I had no passport or record of citizenship. Still, I had been shaped by my country of origin all of my life,”

Discovering my half of my biological family was similar. It helped me understand why I was different in temperament than the rest of my family. I am an extrovert, quick to laugh, and abhor routines, while they were quiet and loved routines. It was quite a shock to the author. Many of her books are memoirs and focus on her growing up and I think she found out why. She is blond and looks “WASPY” while being raised in a Jewish family. Her mother sounded mentally ill and the experience had a big impact on her. At least from what I can perceive, I am not as traumatized from the experience as her.

As Shapiro experienced, finding your biological family later in life is such a good experience. It has helped me learn my complete story. I feel sorry for children of anonymous sperm donors who may never find their father. Although, with advances in genetic testing, that will be changing. As more people get tested, the database will eventually match donors with their offspring. Most donors didn’t think the technology would be able to do this so quickly.

The story also made me think about shame. Shapiro’s parents were ashamed that they were not able to have children and had to resort to a shady or unorthodox clinic to conceive. Eventually, the truth was discovered by their daughter. It would be easy for her to judge them, especially looking back at the past from the world of today. However, I felt in her book, she tries to understand them. We are all human and make mistakes. I’ve made my share of them and Shapiro probably has too. I like how she is going forward with her relationship with her biological father and his family. It also must be embarrassing for him to be discovered by an child from a sperm donor clinic. He handles it with dignity and focuses on the most important thing, the relationship he can have with a daughter.

It was an uplifting book and gave me perspective on my own life.

My DNA Ancestry: Poland / Russia / Slovakia / Ukraine

The strongest match for my ancestry was Poland

I was an early participant in the 23 & Me genetic testing database. A big reason for me doing it was because I was adopted and I wanted to know my ethnic ancestry. Recently, the company improved their ancestry section, giving users more precise regions of where their DNA originated from. Previously, I knew I was 100% European from the early ancestry reports from 23 & Me. There were percentages of broad areas, like Eastern Europe, Northern Europe, but no countries. As genetic testing has grown more popular, they now have over 5 million people in their database. Using algorithms with customers in the database that know their origins, they match users to specific places. I think they will get even more accurate as the science improves. I would also guess that their European DNA database is larger than other parts of the world because white Americans are probably a big percentage of their users.

The ancestry report most “highly likely” match was Poland. They even get down to the state level. The two voivodeships (states) in Poland surround Krakow (Lesser Poland Voivodeship) and the border with Ukraine (Podkarpakie Voivodeship) were the strongest matches for me in Poland. We spent New Year holiday in Krakow in 2014, but at the time I didn’t know I had ancestors from there.

I was surprised to learn that my DNA “likely” matched in three oblasts (states) in Russia. One outside of Moscow, another in the southwest of Russia near the city formerly called Stalingrad, now Volgograd, and Samara Oblast, on the border with Kazhakstan. I am guessing it may be from my father’s side of the family.

Tver Oblast was one of the three areas of Russia that matched my DNA

The other two “likely matches” were the western Ukraine oblast of Lviv and the Kosice region of Slovakia. My biological mother’s family still makes pierogi and celebrates their Slovakian heritage. There were many Slavic immigrants to the Appalachian mountains in Eastern Pennsylvania where my biological parents are from.


Besides the big 80% Eastern European part, 11% was Spanish/Portuguese and 9% Austrian. My wife Nadia also did 23 & Me and it zeroed in on Santa Cruz, Bolivia. We both sent samples into the rival company, and so I will be curious to see if it matches with the 23 & Me findings.

Weekend Journal: February 1-3, 2019

Ocean and I head to school on Saturday morning

It was my first “free” weekend in 2019 and it was so pleasing to have two days with nothing fixed on my calendar! Friday night Nadia and I attended a fundraiser for Tokyo Emergency Lifeline Japan (TELL Japan). It was held at the Garden Place Soshuen, a gorgeous estate in the hills of Ashiya, overlooking the port of Kobe. It used to be a zaibatsu (Japanese tycoon during the Emperor’s reign – pre WW II) estate. It was converted to a restaurant and events center. The building is like out of the James Bond film, “You Only Live Twice”, in the Ryokan style. We had a lot of laughs with friends! There is a gorgeous bar and we all had a drink to finish off the night.

It was so nice to wake up on Saturday and help Ocean get ready for her dress rehearsal. She is playing a part in Shrek: The Musical, the school play. I love making her breakfast and helping her with her speech and preparations for the day. We cycled over to the school. After doing some errands and checking on the other events at school, I cycled to the travel agency, located near the Juso Station. I paid for our upcoming flights. I will be travelling a lot this spring.

Garden Place Bar

After a luxurious nap, I went to play football with Owen. On one of the passes I caught, it jammed my finger and I damaged a ligament in a finger. The doctor diagnosed “mallet finger” and I have to wear a brace for 8 weeks and go through physical therapy. It is not painful, just a nuisance. The ligament was damaged on the last knuckle and I cannot straighten my ring finger on my right hand. The brace keeps it straight while it heals.

Video at the hospital

Sunday I spent most of the afternoon working on an assignment for my doctoral studies and organizing my home office.

Unwatched Pot: Do we know enough about marijuana?

Image courtesy of WBUR, a Boston NPR Station

I’ve been thinking about marijuana since my home state of Michigan legalized its use in November. I read Malcolm Gladwell’s piece in the January 14, 2019 issue of New Yorker.

I am ambivalent about legalizing it. The state criminal justice system spends a lot of money prosecuting marijuana crimes, mostly for possession arrests. The majority of people arrested are poor African Americans. After listening to Season 3 of Serial on the impact of the criminal justice system on the poor of Cleveland, Ohio, I feel it is a good idea to eliminate marijuana as a crime, especially with the poor. I think it is good that this is no longer the case and hopefully the government will treat it as a health issue and not a crime.

I am concerned, however, that with the legalization, that more people will be using marijuana. 10 US states have legalized recreational use and there are only three states that prohibit any use. I think that is the last thing Michigan, and America needs. A drug that anecdotally encourages people to be less active, eat more and decrease motivation, will not be good for a country already suffering from this.

Gladwell points out that there are not any long-term, large studies on the effects of marijuana use. Some studies show marijuana use increases incidents of mental illness, especially schizophrenia and perhaps even violent behavior. I know this sounds like the 1936 documentary, Reefer Madness, but I don’t think we know enough about it. As it becomes more mainstream, like cigarettes and alcohol, I believe we will see more research findings.

Gladwell mentions e-cigarettes and how they are being handled by governments as a comparison to marijuana. He wrote that e-cigarettes are 95% less harmful than regular cigarettes, but in many ways, it is more difficult to buy them. Educators are seeing increased use of e-cigarettes by teenagers and this is a concern.

I will be curious to see how we view marijuana use over time. We are embarking on a large-scale experiment on the effects on our society. I wonder how we will feel 20 years from now.

Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps that tell you everything you need to know about Global Politics by Tim Marshall (book review)

I love maps! I was always fascinated with following the contours of coastlines, mountains, highways and imagining what it was like in those near and faraway places. That is part of the reason I chose an internationally mobile career. So when I saw this book in the Berlin airport, it immediately drew my attention.

I am thoroughly enjoyed British author Tim Marshall’s book. I contemplate his takes on parts of the world and it allows me to fall asleep. The book is not boring, it just gives the reader lots to think about. He is a former foreign correspondent for the BBC and Guardian and he really knows the 10 regions he features in the book. He focuses on how the landscape and geography drive government foreign policy. It is a course on global politics, history, culture through the lens of geography. Below are Marshall’s takes on the different regions and my insights.

Middle East: This part of the world is dominated by desert and Islam. It is an area of conflict of varying levels. I think the big battle for control and influence are the Saudis and Persians, which also mirrors the split of Islam between the traditionalist Sunnis (85%) and Shia (15%). I didn’t realize that Iran was so big, and is larger than UK, France and Germany combined with 78 million people.

It didn’t help that France and the UK drew up nations (Sykes-Picot lines) after taking control of the region from the Ottomans. The idea of nation-states is foreign here and most of the countries, examples include Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, etc. bring together cultures and peoples that have an active dislike for each other. Israel is just a small part of the conflict that takes place in the region and the most important stories are taking place elsewhere in the region.

I wonder what the place would look like if after WWI, they kept the “vilayet” system of the Ottomans, which was based on the traditional tribal territories of the region.

India & Pakistan: This area is surrounded by ocean and a ring of mountains. The big conflict here in my opinion, is India and China. Yes, India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons and are enemies, but long-term, I never really thought of India being a rival to China. However, Marshall made me consider that perhaps with a larger and younger population, that this century, they will reach a level of economy that could counteract Chinese hegemony. I also gained a better understanding of the Pakistan and Afghanistan border region and why US forces had such a difficult time controlling it.

USA: Marshall is optimistic about America and thinks with becoming self-sufficient in fossil fuels, a population that is not aging, a huge military and 17 of the top 20 research universities there, that America will be a global force for a long time. He also pointed out how fast the US grew, from the last colony of Georgia in 1732 to Alaska in 1867, the country grew at a tremendous rate.

Western Europe: The region was blessed with a good climate, soils and navigable river so it was natural for it to develop to a high economic standard. The European Union has been good and kept the peace which is a region that has experienced many wars over the centuries. He is concerned that a breakup of the EU, could bring back those bad times.

Africa: Three times the size of the USA, Africa has been hindered by rivers with waterfalls, malaria, no natural harbors and a huge desert in the north. All these factors slowed the growth of the economy. The concept of nation-states imposed by European colonial powers also hurts Africa even today. It was interesting to read the economic competition of the several power centers on the continent. These include Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa. Marshall also predicts a war between Egypt and Ethiopia over water.

Japan & Korea: They along with the USA will always be close as common “enemies” of China and North Korea. Japan’s future is in doubt due to an aging population, which on pace to fall under 100 million by 2050 and under 50 million by 2100. Korea is a small, flat peninsula that was invaded by Mongols, Chinese and Japanese.

Latin America will never reach the economic strength of the USA due to geography. Most of the people live on the coast, no infrastructure in the interior, and it is remote from most population centers (London is closer to NYC than Buenos Aires).

The Foreign Enclave of Yokohama – Yamate

The Japanese Akusa 2 Cruiseship in the Port of Yokohama

In most major cities in North America, there are ethnic neighborhoods that reflect the history of immigration. In Japan, it is rare because, for such a long time, the country was completely closed to the outside world. Even in modern times, they take in very few migrants and the amount of foreigners residing in Japan is very small compared to other countries. That is what makes the top of the bluff overlooking Yokohama Bay unusual. Yokohoma was one of the first ports opened to foreigners after Perry’s black ships ended the Tokugawa blockade of Japan. The Western expatriate workers in the port settled in Yamate, the neighborhood atop the bluff. The Chinese immigrants settled in the swampy lowlands. See Thursday’s post on Chinatown.

Walking around Yamate is like leaving Japan. The architecture is Western and the big trees and historic buildings, make it feel European. I visited the old British athletic club, where tennis was introduced to Japan. It is now the Tennis Museum of Japan. An appropriate pilgrimage on Australian Open finals weekend. They still have lots of courts.

The Japan Tennis Museum

Erected by the foreign and Japanese subscribers to the honored memory of the pioneers who laid the foundations of Yokohama as a port of trade nearly 70 years ago. Also in sympathetic remembrance of the foreigners, both known and unknown, who lost their lives in the Great Kanto Earthquake of September 1, 1923. and of other foreign residents whose names are not recorded in the surviving archives of the cemetery. May they rest in peace, until the day breaks and the shadows flee away.

Yamate Foreign Cemetary Memorial

The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 was horribly destructive. Over 150,000 people died. Many from fire, as it the 4-minute shaking took place at lunchtime, and back in those days, many people cooked over fire. Yokohama was absolutely destroyed. It was horrible to read about the vigilante gangs that murdered Koreans because of unfounded rumors of poisoning wells and looting stores. In the chaos that follows and earthquake and the unstable minds of people who suffer something like that, I can see why things like that happen. Officials eventually restored order. It must have been a powerful quake because even the expensive homes on the bluff were destroyed and many foreigners died.

A former silk merchant residence near the Yamate Cemetery

One good thing to come out of the quake was Yamashita Park. The waterfront was reclaimed with the rubble from the earthquake and a Scottish guy, convinced the government to make it a park. It really is a beautiful spot and one of the few tourist friendly port areas in Japan. I went for my daily exercise in the park to take in the sea views and see the ships. They converted the old warehouses (made obsolete with the invention of the container) into shops and restaurants. The whole area is just a nice place to spend an afternoon!

The view from the end of Osanbashi Pier

I would love to go back in time and be there at the beginnings of the foreigners coming to Yokohama. It must have been even more distinct place than Japan of today. I also was thinking a lot about the Great Kanto Earthquake. I wonder when the next big one will come to Tokyo.