Race, ethnicity, and nationality

The words race, ethnicity and nationality are often misunderstood or even used interchangeably. They mean very different things, however.

Race refers to physical features, ethnicity points to cultural background, and nationality is all about the country you are from. In countries like Japan, the three things are closely linked. But in a place like the U.S., where people come from many different places and backgrounds, they are completely separate.

Let's look at how I fit into them.


I have light-colored skin, which puts me in the Caucasian category, or White. The concept of race, however, based on the belief that physical appearance is related to a person's skills and character, has no scientific evidence. Studies show that there's no significant genetic difference between anyone in the world.

The importance of smartphones

Smartphones are everywhere. People use them in rich countries and poor countries. Sometimes very poor people have smartphones, even when they live in slums. I think that most people understand how important smartphones can be. For example, some taxi drivers would have less business without a smartphone. This is because they can find riders through an app and make more money than just looking for customers on the street.

Phones have changed a lot in the last 20 years. I remember when you could only make calls on cellphones. Now, you can take free classes from top universities. You can record a video, edit it and upload it to social media.  

There are many apps available—over 2.8 million are available for download on the Google Play Store. Apple's App store has more than 1.8 million. Some people use these apps a lot. Research shows that 20% of millennials open an app more than 50 times per day. In general, most people use 10 apps each day.

Wilson the tomato plant perseveres

When I was a kid, my father had a huge vegetable garden. He taught me how to plant and grow vegetables from seed to harvest. One year I decided to grow a tomato plant. I named it Wilson after a song I liked by Livingston Taylor.

Well, Wilson had a couple of serious accidents along the way. First, his pot fell off the shelf when he was a seedling and he crashed onto the floor. But I picked him up and put him in another pot, and he survived. Then our horses got loose in the garden, and one of them stepped on Wilson and squashed him flat! All that was left was a little stem. My dad was sure that was the end of the story. But I put stem-Wilson in a pot and he quickly grew back and returned to the garden. At the end of the summer, he gave us lots of big, healthy tomatoes.

A most interesting host

On a trip to Kathmandu, Nepal, my friend and I had a great conversation with an incredibly interesting AirBnB host. Over a few beers, he explained how he became a host after retiring from the national police force, where he was the Chief Superintendent.

Clearly captivated by this, my friend and I asked him to talk more about his past experiences. He talked about his time in Bosnia, Sudan and Iraq as part of a UN Peacekeeping force in the 1990s. Having grown up only knowing Baghdad as one of the most dangerous places on earth, I was fascinated by his recounting of the city as a safe cultural oasis back then.

Death Stranding video game

I don't play video games. I get addicted and spend too much time playing them! But a friend who is a gamer told me about a new game called Death Stranding, by video game designer Hideo Kojima. In this game, gamers help each other win. One player can build a bridge or road, then leave it there for other players to use. The point of the game is to bring a broken world back together. The reviews of the game are mixed—there are good and bad things about it—but I like the idea of a game based on working together rather than against each other. So many video games are about trying to beat other players. But, as my friend said, this is a different kind of game. You help each other out. The point is to connect people, both in the game and among gamers. I still won't play Death Stranding, or any other video game, but I'm glad to hear about one based on the value of working together.

Crossing the street in Vietnam

Crossing the street is very easy in most countries. You simply wait for the crosswalk light to turn green. The cars stop and let you walk safely to the other side.

However, in Hanoi, Vietnam, crossing the road is an adventure. There are few traffic lights, and the cars and motorbikes will never stop for you. You need to just walk into the street and the vehicles will go around you. It can be very scary, but that is the only way to cross the street in Vietnam. You have to trust the drivers not to hit you.

You get used to it very quickly and then laugh when you see tourists panic while crossing the street.

Personal: Looking back on 2020

This year has certainly been a rollercoaster. There were highs and lows, not to mention a lot of uncertainty—sometimes all you could do is throw your hands up and hope for the best. 

Looking back on 2020, there are a few things that changed. 

First, since restaurants were closed during lockdown, my approach to home cooking changed. Before COVID, I took an ad-hoc approach to meals. But with limited trips to the grocery store and fewer options for take-out dinner, I started planning and following recipes more carefully. The result was better meals with fewer headaches. That was one takeaway: prepare well and rely on experts to write the recipe. 

Secondly, I've started taking hygiene even more seriously. I wash my hands for longer (20 seconds at least) and I avoid touching things out in public—that includes buttons at pedestrian signals and packages at the supermarket. That's another takeaway: do simple things to avoid getting sick. 

Must traditions be traditional?

I’m from Canada, where Christmas is a big deal. The minute Halloween is finished, the Santa decorations go up in stores, Christmas songs start playing on the radio, and the fuss of holiday shopping starts in earnest. For me, one of the most nostalgic parts of Christmas is the food. I love a plate of roast turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce with some pumpkin pie, all with a frosty glass of eggnog to drink.