Let Your Heritage Lead You To Travel Destinations

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Copyright : Borislav Marinic

 

Though I thoroughly enjoy international travel for a multitude of reasons, the most meaningful trips I have taken have admittedly been the ones I took in an effort to learn about my ancestral roots.  The first time I went on a heritage trip was in September of 2014, exactly six months after I had ordered genotype testing through 23andme.  Despite the fact that I already pretty much knew the bulk of my heritage (Japanese and Hungarian), I was even more determined to visit Japan and Hungary after I received the test results.  It took me a full six years to visit Japan, but I was able to do so in March of this year, and made a point of visiting both prefectures which my grandparents were from.

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Copyright: ginasanders Budapest, castle hill and castle. city view

 

It turns out that my determination to visit my ancestral countries, occurred right at the beginning of the surge in heritage travel which has swept the globe.  One of the driving forces behind this boost in travel to ancestral lands has been the popularity of genetic testing kits such as the ones offered by 23andme. From personal experience, I can definitely tell you that a trip which is taken in an effort to learn about one’s heritage is definitely different from a trip which is taken for vacation purposes.

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Copyright : pitinan
Beautiful morning at Yasaka Pagoda and Sannen Zaka Street in summer, Kyoto, Japan. Yasaka Pagoda is the famous landmark and travel attraction of Kyoto.

 

Thanks to AirBnB, people can stay in dwellings which are more reflective of the culture which they are visiting, and thus more authentic and rich.  According to AirBnB, there has been a 500% increase since 2014 in travelers who use the AirBnB service to book accommodations and experiences.  Close to 80% of these trips are taken either with one travel partner or alone, which suggests that these treks are indeed meant to establish connection with mother cultures.

It’s no surprise that AirBnB and 23andme have joined forces and are offering services specific to heritage travel on their websites.  On 23andMe, customers who receive new ancestry reports, are now able to click through to their ancestral populations and find Airbnb Homes and Experiences in their countries of origin. Correspondingly,  Airbnb has dedicated pages which correspond with 23andMe’s genetic populations, making it a breeze for customers to book accommodations in the countries which emerge on their reports.

If you’re thinking of booking a heritage trip but are hesitant, take it from someone who has not only visited her two main countries of origin, but who has also visited the other countries (Italy, Greece, Germany, France) which had popped up on the genetic testing report, and just GO.

How To Interpret Genetic Ancestry Reports

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Copyright : Ioulia Bolchakova

 

If you’re curious about your genetic makeup, and you are considering obtaining a DNA kit, don’t be surprised if there are some inconsistencies, especially if you order kits from more than one company.  Variations in sample populations are quite common, resulting from closely related genetic populations which may be lumped into one broad category.

The first kit I ordered was from 23andme, and the results were consistent with what I expected to find on my report.  It confirmed that I was pretty much 50% (49.6%, to be precise) Japanese, and the other 50% was mostly Hungarian, 5.6% Greek, 2.3% Italian, and1.8% German and French.  Several years later, I ordered kits from Ancestry and MyHeritage, which only served to complicate the picture.  Ancestry’s report was the most simplified, with 50% Japanese, 45% Hungarian/Eastern European, and the remainder scattered among Italian, Greek, and English.  MyHeritage reported 46% Japanese, 36.8% Eastern European (no breakdown for Hungary specifically), and the remainder broadly European with no breakdown for Greece, Italy, Germany or France.  Once I sifted through all three reports simultaneously, I was able to interpret my genetic background, but I could definitely see how some people might be thrown off by a genetic report which was too general or broad.

Genealogy Strand Genes DNA Research Genealogist Word 3d Illustration

 

One important and confounding factor to consider is that we don’t express all 50% of the DNA we get from each parent, which skews the DNA analysis even further.  The best thing to do when interpreting a genetic analysis is to take it all with a grain of salt.  The science behind genetic analysis, while mostly accurate, also has a margin of error.

If you are trying to decide on a company to use for your genetic testing, it really depends on whether your primary objective is to uncover your genetic makeup for your family’s genealogy, obtain health information, or to connect with lost family and relatives.  For those more interested in genetic health markers, 23andme constantly expands its testing, so you will get regular reports as new genetic markers are added to the list.  Ancestry and MyHeritage are both fantastic for exploring your genealogical tree, and both offer multiple resources and archived records to members.

Genetic Ancestry Tests And The Rabbit Hole

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If you are considering ordering and completing one of those genetic ancestry tests (popular ones are 23andme, Ancestry, and MyHeritage, all of which I have now completed), be prepared for the possibility that you might be on the crest of a journey down into the rabbit hole.  I’ve heard far too many stories of people who made startling discoveries relating to their genetic background and genealogy which at times resulted in conflict within the family.  Mysteries may unfold which leave you with more questions than you may have ever had about your family members or your ethnic makeup.

If we consider the phrase, going down the rabbit hole, we can enter said rabbit hole without thinking that the journey will be as long or as confounding as it can be.  That’s how it was for me initially, and now I find myself searching more than ever before for the puzzle pieces which could solve the many mysteries my biological father left when he died. Although I knew the circumstances surrounding my conception were akin to a soap opera, I never in my wildest imagination expected my story to unfold the way it has.

Before I dive into my own story, and wiggle through the proverbial rabbit hole, I’m going to share this passage from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice In Wonderland”:

“In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.

The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well.

Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her and to wonder what was going to happen next. First, she tried to look down and make out what she was coming to, but it was too dark to see anything; then she looked at the sides of the well, and noticed that they were filled with cupboards and book-shelves; here and there she saw maps and pictures hung upon pegs. She took down a jar from one of the shelves as she passed; it was labelled `ORANGE MARMALADE’, but to her great disappointment it was empty: she did not like to drop the jar for fear of killing somebody, so managed to put it into one of the cupboards as she fell past it.

`Well!’ thought Alice to herself, `after such a fall as this, I shall think nothing of tumbling down stairs! How brave they’ll all think me at home! Why, I wouldn’t say anything about it, even if I fell off the top of the house!’ (Which was very likely true.)

Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end! `I wonder how many miles I’ve fallen by this time?’ she said aloud. `I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth. Let me see: that would be four thousand miles down, I think–‘ (for, you see, Alice had learnt several things of this sort in her lessons in the schoolroom, and though this was not a very good opportunity for showing off her knowledge, as there was no one to listen to her, still it was good practice to say it over) `–yes, that’s about the right distance–but then I wonder what Latitude or Longitude I’ve got to?’ (Alice had no idea what Latitude was, or Longitude either, but thought they were nice grand words to say.)”

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Copyright : Eugeniu Frimu

 

Thanks to 23andme, a half sister I had never known about contacted me at the end of January with the startling news that we were indeed siblings.  Three days after our initial contact, another half sister surfaced on the site, and we slid down the rabbit hole even farther.

It took some time for the other half sister to respond to our connection requests, but we three are all now in communication with each other.  I have met one half sister and was even able to help her celebrate her latest birthday in February.  The other half sister is lining up a visit so that we can all three see each other face to face and forge the bond we never got a chance to develop as children.

We also have a half brother whom we are trying to locate, but there are numerous barriers, including the fact that we don’t know his name or birthdate, are unaware of which country he currently resides in, and the fact that he evidently is the type of person who would not welcome the news that he has three half sisters.  I have known about this half brother since our father’s death in 1997, but he never signed up for genetic testing analysis, which means we don’t have the convenience of a genetic testing service to do make the connection for us.

We want to find out more about our family tree, but it will be difficult at best to ferret out such information because I have limited knowledge of our father’s mother tongue (Hungarian), and I have no idea who would be privy to such information.  Our father’s place of death is also a mystery, which also means that it will be challenging to discover where he was interred.

Curiouser and curiouser, indeed.

Finally Going to Japan

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copyright : Sasin Tipchai

 

Next week I will be in Japan for two weeks, and though it hasn’t quite sunken in yet, I will finally see the country which is responsible for 50% of my DNA makeup and many of the  sensibilities and habits which were instilled in me when I was little.

For over 50 years, my desire to visit Japan was coupled with remorse over even wanting to visit without my mother, since she has never once visited the country from which her parents came.  Even more guilt-inducing was thinking about how in the world I could believe that my diluted, half-Japanese self had any right to visit Japan if my mother never got a chance.   For those of you who are wondering why I am not taking my mother on this trip, she is 87 years old, wheelchair-bound, incontinent, and actually refuses to take any trips anywhere due to her weary, broken state.  I know that she will live vicariously through me, as I retell the stories and experiences which I am about to create on this journey to the motherland.

Over the course of 14 days, I will visit Sapporo, Sendai, Kyoto/Osaka, Nara, Nagoya, Hiroshima, Fukuoka (the prefecture which my grandfather was from), Kumamoto (the prefecture my grandmother was from), Okayama, and Tokyo.  Most of my destinations within the land of the rising sun will be reached via Shinkansen, also known as the bullet train.

Because samurai blood runs deep on my grandfather’s side (we are also ultimately descended from the Imperial Family of Japan), I look forward to seeing the older architecture in some areas, and also plan to visit the cemetery in Fukuoka where some of my ancestors are buried.  But what I look forward to more than anything else while I am in Japan is the FOOD.

Many Japanese foods, like chawanmushi, mochi, takuan, sukiyaki, agedashi, ramen, sashimi, anpan, and manju, are my comfort foods, and since I will have all types of Japanese cuisine available to me to sample for two weeks, I have a feeling my taste buds will be very happy.  I also absolutely adore seafood (perhaps I was a cat in a past life), and will probably be eating it every single day while out there, which is why I will also continue to take chlorella daily to control the mercury levels in my body.

Once I return home, I look forward to creating a blog post in which I discuss my adventures in Japan.  It will truly be a blessing to visit the exquisitely beautiful country within which my family’s roots sit.

Multi-Ethnic

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Copyright : ariwasabi

It’s pretty rare these days to encounter someone who is comprised of a single ethnic line. With the popularity of DNA analysis kits, most of us have found out that we are multi-ethnic.

Though it is obvious that I am of mixed heritage, I went through most of my life assuming that my paternal lineage was 100% eastern European. DNA summaries from both 23andme and Ancestry.com told me otherwise. I found out that though my paternal bloodline is mostly Hungarian, with a touch of Balkan, I also have a bit of Italian, German and French in my DNA. My mother’s side is 100% Japanese, which I definitely expected.

There are people like me whose multi-ethnicity is obvious, where you can look at them and see that something is different. Our faces are dead giveaways. I still get a kick out of the fact that some people tell me they don’t see any Asian features, while other people know upon first glance that I have Asian blood. After all, I am more Japanese (50%) than anything else. The epicanthic fold which is so characteristic of Asian eyes is something I possess, and because of it, I can never pencil in a fully lined eye shape. It’s a constant reminder of my Japanese heritage.

Me and my epicanthic folds from my Japanese lineage

Ethnic blending is not only more commonplace, but it is also celebrated more than ever before. What is puzzling is that our need to categorize can often stand in the way of making a pure, empiric assessment of someone who is multiethnic. Jamin Halberstadt speaks of “processing fluency” in multiethnic faces, but his research only examined blended faces created from two individuals, one Chinese and one Caucasian. He states that “racial ambiguity” can render a face less attractive if the viewer must suddenly categorize a blended face into one race.

How do multiethnic individuals identify with their surroundings, and how do they define themselves racially? It turns out there are differences which depend on the particular ethnic mix. As someone who struggles with checking off one ethnicity box on surveys, when push comes to shove, I categorize myself as Asian since 1. I have more Asian blood than any other, and 2. My primary parent, my mother, is Japanese and colored my upbringing with the nuances that a second generation Japanese-American from Hawaii naturally possessed. I can also tell you that by identifying with my Japanese-ness, I was teased and bullied by my very Caucasian classmates who only saw that I was different from them, and therefore, somehow inferior. I almost had to make sure I could blend in at least somewhat just to survive.

According to the Multiracial in America by Parker, et al, I guess I was behaving appropriately:

“…experiences and attitudes differ significantly depending on the races that make up their background and how the world sees them. For example, multiracial adults with a black background—69% of whom say most people would view them as black or African American—have a set of experiences, attitudes and social interactions that are much more closely aligned with the black community. A different pattern emerges among multiracial Asian adults; biracial white and Asian adults feel more closely connected to whites than to Asians.”

Regardless of how I and many other multiracial individuals have been forced to identify with one ethnic community, I am very proud of my Japanese heritage, and will always defend it, especially when someone is quick to fling disparaging comments my way simply because I’m not “pure”. The segment of the global population which is considered pure is growing smaller and smaller, and ethnic blending is accelerating whether people like it or not!

Antibiotic Resistance

antibiotic resistance

I cringe every single time I hear people say that they stopped taking an antibiotic after a day or two because they felt better. Those of you who are not trained in medicine, who flippantly decide that you won’t continue to take an antibiotic because you “feel much better”, should be aware that by engaging in this habit, you are making the issue of antibiotic resistance even worse.

Bacteria are quite crafty, because they constantly find ways to neutralize or block the effects of antibiotics. Most of the time, they acquire genetic mutations from the bacteria which have become resistant. So even if some of the more susceptible bacteria die, even one resistant bacterium can multiply rapidly and thus replace all the bacteria which were killed. Those new bacteria also have the same resistance which the original stubborn bacterium has. This is how things can get pretty ugly pretty quickly in the face of bacterial resistance.
it is a virus
Antibiotic resistance can occur even when patients follow instructions and take the full course of antibiotic therapy, but the chances are far greater when patients miss doses or stop taking the medication because a smaller proportion of the bacteria are killed or inhibited. Another situation in which antibiotic resistance can run rampant is when antibiotics are taken for viral infections such as the common cold. Specific antibiotics are used for specific types and strains of bacteria, and are not one-size-fits-all medications. Yet people continue to foolishly turn to an antibiotic (usually one which was prescribed for a bacterial infection, and which was abandoned before the full course was taken) when they have symptoms which they believe to be from a bacterial source. I have even heard friends freely admit that they took their child’s or spouse’s leftover antibiotic in hopes that it would make them feel better.

Please don’t be one of those people who contributes to antibiotic resistance by being irresponsible about antibiotic use!