Ah, To Be a Tourist.

There is something heavenly about being a tourist.  Indeed, I live for the opportunity to delight in discovery and enjoy the wonder of wandering.  This trip is particularly exciting, as we will be able to explore a proper concrete jungle together, which we have yet to do.  As with any holiday, I’m looking forward to immersing myself in the city’s culture, allowing its rhythm to pace our journey, and hoping its whispers lead us to hidden treasures.

But I am still sick.  [S] became ill on Sunday.  Russell followed suit at the beginning of the week.  And I ended up getting hit by a hybrid flu-cold that has lingered since mid-week.  Not to worry, I travel armed with an abundance of throat lozenges and decongestants.  Indeed, as overly prepared as I am for contingencies, my husband is equal to the task.  We learned this evening that each of us has exceeded our 10 kg baggage allowance.  (Yes, Jetstar, we know you are a discount carrier and your add-on fees prove it.)  We’ll pay for our transgressions at the airport.  Literally.

Regardless, we will have a week filled with adventures.  No doubt the first being checking in at Naha with Jetstar.  To make this trip even more interesting, within the past 24 hours, [S] has begun laying down in public places.  I’m not certain why and the reason is irrelevant.  It is as if I can hear your been there, done that laughter.  It’s not funny.  It began Friday while we were at the Exchange.  And it continued today when we went to the mall.  Obviously, I have no reason to expect it to stop by tomorrow.  It is par for the course considering she celebrates her second birthday in two months.  I get it.  But it doesn’t make parenting any easier.  Especially when she refuses to sit in a stroller.

IMG_4240I won’t be posting while on holiday.  Indeed, I expect to be too tired from carrying [S] throughout Tokyo to do much of anything in the evenings other than sip a glass of this or that.  But I promise to share some of our adventures upon my return.


Moving Past the Rhetoric

“I have served in the Senate longer than anybody who is here,” said Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the senior Democrat on the judiciary committee, who was first elected in 1974. “I have never once, never once, whether the Democrats have been in control or the Republicans, whether there is a Democratic president or a Republican president, seen this total abrogation of their duties.”

Supreme Court Fight Won’t Die, No Matter How Hard Republicans Try, The New York Times (Feb. 25, 2016).

Senate Republicans hold a press conference.  Senate Democrats hold a press conference.  As I was taught long ago, talk is cheap.  There is no need for posturing.  Until POTUS nominates a Supreme Court justice, the Senate has no responsibility to act.  But after a nomination has been made, the Senate must get to work.  That is their Constitutional responsibility.  And that is what they are paid to do.


Discovering Lake Titicaca

New Year’s Day 2012.  I remember it well.  Upon awaking we decided to quell our Champagne-induced fuzziness with a carb-heavy meal.  The restaurant?  Sin Fronteras Cafe, a restaurant specializing in “Mex Latin Cuisine.”  The dish?  Lomo saltado.  For the uninitiated, lomo saltado is a classic Peruvian stir-fry dish made with marinated beef, onions, tomatoes and fried potatoes, frequently served over rice.  It is hearty.  It is rich.  It is a plate of goodness.

Fast forward four years to New Year’s day 2016, my husband and I are arguing over directions to Lake Titicaca, a Peruvian restaurant, in Okinawa City, Okinawa, Japan.  Eventually, we found it shuttered for New Year’s day, Japan’s most widely celebrated holiday.  Last weekend, we made our way back to Lake Titicaca for a late lunch and I am in heaven.


Russell ordered arroz con pollo, roasted chicken served over a pesto rice, and an Inca Kola.  His dish was well seasoned and tasty.  And who can resist the bright yellow sweet fizzy beverage?

IMG_4108As for my lomo saltado, it was perfect.  The meat was tender.  The french fries, well seasoned.  (Yes, french fries incorporated into a dish.  Life doesn’t get much better than that, friends.)  And the rice, Japanese.

IMG_4110Lake Titicaca, like many Okinawan restaurants, offers both western style seating and traditional Japanese seating.  And judging by the customers that day, most patrons are Japanese.

IMG_4103As I paid our $18 bill, I spoke to our server, the only employee other than the cook.  I thanked her for the meal in Japanese, or at least tried to, saying, gochisōsama.  In English, I told her that the meal was very good and asked if the owners are Peruvian.  “Ah, yes, my Mother is Peruvian.”  As she spoke in Japanese, her Mother, the cook, turned to look at me and smiled.  “A good friend of mine is Peruvian.  I attended her wedding outside of Cuzco.”  Nods and smiles ended our brief conversation.

Although Russell and I have vowed to try new restaurants, rather than retread places where we have already eaten, I’ll make an exception for Lake Titicaca’s lomo saltado any day.


The Price of Freedom

Many, including myself, are watching the showdown between Apple and the FBI with intense curiosity.  The questions presented by the clash of the titan tech company and federal law enforcement are significant and many.  Does Apple have a moral duty to assist law enforcement?  What are the limits of a court order?  Do end product users ever have an absolute right to privacy?  Does creating a backdoor to break or circumvent encryption create an inherently defective product?

While legal maneuvering created this particular set of facts, the battle that has captured the public’s interest pits lofty notions of privacy and individual freedom against unpredictable (and potentially uncontrollable) government intrusion and oversight.  An unfair fight, at least as the issues are framed by the tech community.  To be fair, U.S. citizens have reason to be wary–and leery–of their government given the NSA’s not-too-distant monitoring of U.S. citizen data (a.k.a. domestic spying) and the unprecedented closed court system permitting FISA courts to issue FISA warrants.

Yes, I read Apple executive Tim Cook’s letter to customers explaining why the company opposes the FBI’s demand to unlock the iPhone belonging to the San Bernadino shooter.  My initial reaction?  To laud Mr. Cook’s reasonable and rational analyses of why Apple should stand firm in its resolve to defy a federal court order.  But initial reactions frequently lack careful consideration of the issues, especially when framed in an emotionally charged manner.  Indeed, this fight is not new.  Rather, the issue at hand has been asked for hundreds of years:  When is it permissible for the government to search and/or seize a citizen’s private property?

For me, the issue is simple.  I call it the safe deposit box theory.  Even today, people who want to secure valuable items, be it jewelry, cash, weapons, or documents, oftentimes rely upon a safe deposit box located at a local financial institution.  They are private.  No one is present when one opens the box.  No one knows what, if anything, is inside the box.  And no one knows when something is removed from the box.  And they are secure.  They often are located inside of a bank.  One must have a key to access the box.  And, sometimes, one must show identity to access to the box.  In movies, such boxes are used to store weapons, fake passports, cash from ill gotten gains, and documents that could be used to blackmail others.  Now let’s turn to reality.

While the contents of the box are secure and private, they are not immune from the law.  Upon a proper showing of evidence, a judge may issue a court order for the contents of the box to be searched and/or seized.  My theory goes one step further.  Should our society permit citizens to have a box–of any shape or size–that is protected from any form of search and/or seizure?  I considered a small black box.  I considered a large white box.  I considered those secreting away polonium, enriched uranium, or anthrax.  Does privacy trump the safety of our citizenry?  And then I considered my iPhone.  The analysis is identical.  I am not afraid of having my iPhone seized and searched.  Investigators would find far too many photos of my family and mundane WhatsApp conversations with close friends.  But, then again, I haven’t planned a mass shooting, coordinated a bombing or planned a murder using my phone.

I imagine that enterprising criminals are flocking to the iOS platform given Mr. Cook’s hard line stance.  While I am in favor of bright line tests, this is one I cannot support.  Today, technology is our greatest asset in preventing, solving and understanding many crimes.  And we already have safeguards to protect our liberties:  the warrant (or court order) process.  Yes, we need to ensure that that process is sound, reasonable and Constitutional, but that is a different conversation than the present one.  In the end, I don’t think Mr. Cook’s remarks will stand.  A cottage industry to break encryption was born the moment Mr. Cook published his letter to customers defending the company’s position.  That alone speaks volumes of the liberties and freedoms enjoyed by our citizenry.

No box should be unbreakable.

Japan Love

When we first began touring various sites of interest in Japan, we noticed children, with parents in tow, standing in lines awaiting their turn at small stands.  After witnessing similar lines at numerous locations, we took a closer look and discovered the cause of excitement:  a stamp rally.  Whether one is viewing underwater creatures at the world famous Okinanwa Churaumi Aquarium or exploring the historical grounds of Shuri Castle, there is a stamp rally ready to be undertaken.  Indeed, even in the middle of Gyokusendo Cave, located under Okinawa World, sits a stamp rally stand.

So what is it?  Upon entering various attractions there is a special piece of paper that provides spaces for children to stamp points of interest along the way.  Each stamp is unique and provides a design related to the site.  Sometimes, upon completion, there are prizes to be won.  But many collect the stamps as a keepsake of the day.  And, no, stamp rallies are not just for points of interest.  In Okinawa there are soba stamp rallies, where stamps are provided for eating at various soba (noodle) restaurants and stands.  There are also curry stamp rallies and train station stamp rallies.  Yes, really.

This weekend, we stumbled upon Kurashiki Dam (more on that visit later).  Much to my surprise, a stamp rally station sat inside the educational center.




It is a fun, free way to remember a visit, no matter what one may doing.  One more reason to love Japan.

Sakura (Cherry Blossoms)


Cherry blossom festivals occur throughout all regions of Japan, with Okinawa to be the first prefecture to welcome the budding pink trees.  The calendar provided us with a standard two-week window to get a glimpse of the trees and we were fortunate to have chosen correctly.  We visited Mt. Yae on the last weekend in January, the weather cool, but sunny.  The following weekend, the weekend of the cherry blossom festival, was windy, raining and cold (in the 50s).

Cherry Blossom Festival-Mt Yaedake 30Jan16 (135)For some reason, our GPS directs us to destinations via the most obscure routes possible, or so it seems.  Indeed, as we headed up the mountain, we saw one or two other cars going down the mountain, which did not bode well.  As anyone who has walked the grounds of the Tidal Basin during cherry blossom season knows, viewing these delicate trees can be sport while walking among hundreds, if not thousands, of people.

Cherry Blossom Festival-Mt Yaedake 30Jan16 (97)As we drove, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the weather had pushed back the anticipated bloom dates or whether we were headed in the wrong direction (a frequent concern).  But as we continued, we rounded a corner near a restaurant at the top of the mountain and then began seeing more activity.  A few kilometers later we reached a small grassy parking area with one spot available.  On the corner sat a young woman selling homemade cherry ice cream and straight ahead was the main road lined with cars and cherry trees.

Cherry Blossom Festival-Mt Yaedake 30Jan16 (127)As we passed the ice cream stand, I inquired which direction we should walk.  The woman directed us up the mountain and so we went.  We were rewarded with a series of stunning views of the cherry tree lined road.  While most were viewing the blossoms by car, we joined those walking along the sides of the road snapping photos as we dodged vehicles.  While we met a handful of Americans during the day, most people enjoying the springing buds were Japanese.

Cherry Blossom Festival-Mt Yaedake 30Jan16 (118)
Walking down Mount Yae.

We made it to a summit where a large field boasted a shrine atop of a hill and stands offering bags of oranges, festival food, and ice cream welcomed us.  After a bite to eat, we headed back down the mountain to our vehicle.  It was a great day.  There is something to be said about viewing cherry blossoms in Japan.