Tag: stories

Turning Japanese

When visiting a foreign country for the first time, it is unlikely for an amateur traveller (and I lump myself in that group) to experience anything other than cliché. Therefore, with regards to our recent voyage to Japan: Kimonos! Sushi! Lanterns! Samurai! Zen! Bamboo! Temples! Technology! Tea! I didn’t see any ninjas, but that’s probably because I wasn’t supposed to see them. By definition, if you see one, it’s probably not really a ninja so much as some dude in a ski mask.

But though our days were filled with cliché, that isn’t to say that the experience wasn’t satisfying. Far from it. We delighted when we saw stone lanterns whether they were centuries old or newly carved, and the Japanese put them everywhere. In quantity. Where they don’t have room for stone lanterns, they hang paper ones. Tired of lanterns? Then it’s time to leave the country. For my part, I couldn’t get enough of them, as the hundreds of lantern photos on my camera are testament.

IMG_1679So we ate up the cliché buffet that Japan served us. Actually, mostly we ate Indian food because we’re not really fans of sushi and I don’t get turned on by seafood. Melina had a bit of “row” fish, which I assume was raw and not in fact a description of its alignment. Regardless, she wasn’t impressed by the indigenous fare and at the end of the trip raved more about the Indian butter chicken than the miso soup she’d had. Seriously, we found a couple of great restaurants serving foods from the subcontinent. And I don’t feel like I missed out on the whole “Japan” thing.

We also didn’t see a sumo wrestling match, bathe in an onsen, or climb Mount Fuji, but that isn’t to say that we somehow missed authentic Japan. We squeezed into subways during Tokyo rush hour. We wandered through markets where locals buy their sea weed. Ate shaved ice after visiting a temple on a hot day. Sat next to businessmen on the bullet train. Melina got to use a traditional Japanese squat toilet, and we both experienced the joys of the washlet. We even got locked in a Buddhist temple. It doesn’t get more real than that.

We also petted a dog. Watched cats. In a sudden downpour, we darted for the cover of storefront awnings because we didn’t have umbrellas. We ate at Subway, because sandwiches (tandoori chicken!) are easier than chopsticks. And it turns out that the Japanese do the same things. They eat McDonald’s and drink Starbucks just like we do. The differences are in the details, and while the details are everything, at the end of the day we share more than differ. That’s due in no small part to the fact that the Japanese people have done a marvelous job of appropriating good ideas from other places into their own milieu. It’s not always pretty, or neat, as Tokyo demonstrates. But it does work. American xenophobes could take a cue there.


I really enjoyed the confirmation of my suspicion that they’re fundamentally just like us. Things look different when written in kanji, of course, and Japanese television makes absolutely no sense, but at the end of the day the Japanese have the same wants, needs, hopes, and dreams that we do. They go to work and take walks in the park. They pray for their loved ones. They get bored so they divert themselves with cell phones. Hot weather makes us all sweat. Cute school kids petting deer make us all smile. Call it rock-and-roll or J-Pop, it’s the same thing. Play it loud.

Cultural commentary aside, the best part of the trip was not eating fresh bean-filled pastries or shopping for pens in a stationery store as big as my house, although those events do rank highly. The best part was traveling with Melina. We’ve been discovering the world together for 10 years, and its fair to say that we’ve gotten rather good at it. I look forward to seeing wherever the next decade takes us.

I took about 2000 photos during our trip. You can see a select few, if you’d like.

Steve Jobs Resigns, Jarrett Kupcinski Reflects

Steve Jobs has resigned as CEO of Apple Inc. today. That’s noteworthy for me because Mr. Jobs is one of my all-time heroes, although I didn’t always hold him in such high esteem.

My family’s first computer was an Apple IIc, purchased in 1985. It wasn’t my first computer experience (that honor goes to a Texas Instruments TRS-80), but it was transformative. I spent many hours on that machine, writing programs, playing games, writing school papers, and even making art. I learned about word processing, spreadsheets, databases, digital art, and desktop publishing. That was our family’s main computer until around 1991, when we upgraded to a Macintosh LCII. But that IIc still works as of this writing, and is in my brother’s keeping.

In those early days, I learned that Apple computer was founded by the two Steves. In fact, those were probably the first corporate personae that I knew of by name, and Wozniak was my favorite. How could he not be? He was a goofy nerdy guy who loved the Apple II’s, just like I did. He was Polish. He was the Woz. Supercool. Jobs was too… serious.

Fast forward to the year 2000. I was then teaching computer science, and a favorite part of the course covered the history of computers. I learned exactly how innovative and important Apple had been in the early days of the personal computer industry, and about Steve Jobs’ role in that innovation. He was serious, but I then recognized that was what made the Apple, and then the Macintosh, great. He was, apparently, also an asshole, but I was fine with that. My students just thought he was crazy. They probably thought I was crazy, too.

One year around this time, one of my students (no idea who) printed out a picture of Steve Jobs and drew devil horns on it. They cut this out and pasted it to the back of my inbox in the school office. It was, I’m certain, intended to be a malicious prank, but I saw it as high praise. I left that picture there for over a year. No other teachers got pictures of famous people pasted to the back of their mailboxes.

I currently use an Apple computer at work and at home. I own both an iPad and an iPhone, and the latter is rarely out of arm’s reach. I’ll admit that I’m a fan of Apple products, but that’s because they do what they do so well. And I recognize that while their success is the result of many individuals’ efforts, those efforts coalesced because of the vision of Steve Jobs. And my life would certainly be different if that vision was absent. Thank you, Mr. Jobs.

Sweet Home Chicago (Archive)

Edit: This post originally appeared on my Blogspot blog.

A Saturday Afternoon in Chicago

(Houston, Texas) We find ourselves back in El Swampo after a whirlwind tour of the Midwest. First to Lincoln, then to Chicago, and then home via St. Louis. Along the way we ventured through Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa, and Arkansas for a total of some 3500 miles, 88 gallons of diesel, 12 White Castle hamburgers, 7 cats, 3 boomerangs, and one misplaced purse. Not bad for only a week.

Our first stop was in Nebraska, where we spent a couple of days with my family. I wish I could tell of amazing feats of daring on the prairie involving corn and large agricultural implements, but really it was a quiet if quick couple of days. Most of Melina’s effort was extended to keeping Katu (the cat) out of her nose, while I played with my brother. One surprise of the visit was the quilt my mom made for our anniversary.

Although it was wonderful to see everyone, we had places to go, so we threw the bags back into the car (along with my mom) and sped off to Chicago. We took the scenic route through Iowa to stop off in Madison County, home of the famed covered bridges. They were neat, and it was encouraging to see that we don’t tear down everything of historical note in this country. If you’re driving I-80 across Iowa, I recommend stopping off to see the bridges. It’s not as though there’s anything else to do in the state. Except check your email. (See my previous post for details.)

As fun as it was being surrounded by so much corn, we pressed on. Our arrival in Chicago was heralded by a few days of gorgeous weather. We visited with Gram Nadr and the Stradal clan, and Melina really began to understand why I am the way I am. It was really great to see everyone after so long, although I remember them being bigger.

Also while in Chicago we did a bit of sightseeing. We ventured downtown to see the Art Institute and the Museum of Science and Industry. Both were incredible and we would love to go back and spend another whole day in each, as we really only saw a smidgen of what they had to offer. We were both really excited to see first-hand some of the awesome parts of the Art Institute’s collection, including Grant Wood’s American Gothic, Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, and of course Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on the Grande Jatte.

The Museum of Science and Industry offered a different fare. First we visited the U-505 Submarine exhibit, followed by the Game On video games exhibit. That was a blast. We spent a couple hours playing some of the 100+ games they had on exhibition. It was amazing to see how video games have evolved–and scary to think that I’ve grown up while it happened. I felt a bit odd when I realized that some of those Atari 2600 games are still etched into my brain. Ah, the happiness of a joystick with a big red button…

Of course, all of that worked up an appetite, so Melina got to try her first White Castle hamburger. Mmm… tasty!

Though we wanted to stay longer, our two days in Chicago flew by and we had to leave, as we had two days of travel just to get back to Texas before our tourist visas expired. We detoured slightly through St. Louis to see the Arch. Although we didn’t get to ride the tram to the top, we were taught how to throw a boomerang by a guy we met in the park, so it was well worthwhile. If you missed it the first time, you can check out the shortmovie of our parabolic adventure.

We didn’t see Graceland, but traveled on to Memphis where we stayed the night. We lost a purse in Little Rock, but found it again thanks to the guys and gals at Quiznos. Texarkana threw us for a loop, but we made it home safely. That’s our trip.

It’s good to be home.

Somewhere in Middle America… (Archive)

Edit: This post originally appeared on my Blogspot blog.

St. Louis Arch

(Arkansas, USA) Reporting to you LIVE from an undisclosed location west of Memphis. This is the return leg of our journey which took us through Nebraska and to Chicago. We’ve been living out of a suitcase now for seven days and I think both Melina and I are out of clean underwear. Yum.

I like that Internet access is becoming commonplace. Even the rest stops in Iowa have it. I mean, come on, Iowa, the state that “ranks first in the nation with corn and soybean production as well as in hog production from its 93,000 farms.” Gotta go check out the prices of my pork futures on e*trade.

Anyhow, since we’ve got this access, I might as well use it for those of you who like the instant gratification which the Internet provides. We are alive and well. On our trek today we took a bit of a detour to stop by the Arch in Saint Louis. It was a good break from the road and we even got to throw around a boomerang. More on the trip will be posted later, but here’s a taste of the wackiness we endured.


Reunion and Desert Communion (Archive)

Edit: This post originally appeared on my Blogspot blog.

Big Bend National Park

Melina and I just returned from our week-long journey to west Texas. First we stopped off in Del Rio (which I believe is Spanish for Cow Town) to attend Melina’s 10-year reunion. I got to meet lots of people whose names I don’t remember and whose faces I’ll hopefully forget, but Melina had fun being the social butterfly, which was the important thing. She was surprised at how fat everyone had become, but I guess that’s what 10 years do to people.

The real excitement began when we left the River City and headed to Big Bend National Park. Melina had never been, and I’d only been once, on a canoe trip with the Houston ICO down Boquillas Canyon some 5 years ago. We stayed in the Chisos Basin Campground for four nights. During the day we alternated between adventure and laziness. The two highlights of the trip (other than lots of napping) were our canoe trip into Santa Elena Canyon and our hike up Emory Peak.

We decided to take a canoe trip (Melina’s first!) offered by Big Bend River Tours. It was a guided trip, which was nice because it meant we (read Jarrett) could enjoy the trip and experience a bit more than if we were doing it all ourselves. We put in at the bottom of Santa Elena Canyon and paddled upstream to Fern Canyon. There we had lunch and made a little side hike up Fern Canyon to the springs and pools in the canyon. It’s really one of the best side hikes I’ve ever been on. That, and the fact that our guide, James, was a great guy made it a really fun trip for both Melina and me. In fact, now she wants to get a canoe! Yesss! (fist punched into air) After we explored the side canyon and took a little nap, we paddled back down to the takeout. Melina even got to have a go at piloting her own canoe, which she did rather well considering it was her first time.

The other trip highlight was our hike up Emory Peak, the highest point in the Park at 7825 feet. Yeah, it’s not a real mountain, but it’s a great hike through some really varied and lovely terrain. The last little bit is a 30 foot scramble up a rock face, and we were rewarded with some awesome views and lots of ladybugs. It was also a plus that we had the peak to ourselves while we were up there. After we got back to the car we started our trip back home, which included an overnight stay in Del Rio.

One other point of note was the Starlight Theater Restaurant in Terlingua. We went on our guide’s recommendation, and had a really great meal there. In fact, we tried to come back for lunch, but they’re only open for dinner.

Sadly, we saw no bears on this trip, despite the fact that I called to them both in English and Spanish (they are Mexican black bears after all).

Check out some other Big Bend pictures.