My 52 Books of 2017: A Data-Driven Look Back

It suppose it was fortuitous that the year I decided to read 52 books was also a year the news was an epic dumpster fire. I needed the escape from reading news alerts.

But reading MORE than I already do was tricky, when a huge chunk of my job is simply reading, writing, and then reading out loud. But Friend Nicole Zhu, who inspired me to do this challenge, made a convincing case:

“Even for people who already read 109312 tweets and articles every day, reading books builds a different set of habits and has its own set of rewards. You learn so much more without the distraction of notifications or the temptation to Pocket or bookmark something to read later.”

Hated:
Hausfrau. I HAAAAAATED this book. So annoying that it indirectly made me annoyed with Switzerland.

Breakdown of What I Read:

Before my data journalist spouse Stiles would dataviz my reading for me, he asked me to list some hypotheses that the visualizations would either prove or disprove.

My hypotheses: I read a lot of women authors, mostly fiction, many memoirs and I feel like I read a lot more in the first months of the year than the final months. Here’s what the data show…

Reading Pace

Damn, I was surprised to see how many books I polished off before or in the same month Baby Luna was born. Being unable to drink and not staying out late in the lead up to Luna really gave me a lot of extra reading time. After I got back to my usual shenanigans, my book reading really slowed down.

How I Read ‘Em

I read the same way I work, which is in intervals. (Sometimes I will work my ass off for a week and never sleep and party every night and then fly home, lose my voice, become practically catatonic and move no farther than to the fridge and back.) So when I read books I’ll often read in bursts of intensity, devouring a few in a few days and then take a month to finish the next one.

I leaned on my closest pals for recommendations and read with a far-flung friend, so I had someone to snark about the reading with. Reading books together keeps me accountable in the way you HAVE to exercise if you agree to meet up to train for a marathon. Except, unlike running together, you don’t get to see REAL, LIVE NUTRIA.

I watched a lot less television (but managed to make time for Handmaid’s Tale and Big Little Lies and am glad for it).

I read in transit and in “in between” moments. I read on planes a lot. I read at bus stops and on the bus. In the back of cabs. In waiting rooms, restaurants while waiting on friends, at home as procrastination from work.

I switched my habit of reading periodicals before bed (namely, New York Magazine from back to front because the Approval Matrix is on the back page) to reading books before bed, instead.

Onward

Will try to read a lot this year but I don’t anticipate fitting in 52. Leave a comment here (or elsewhere) if you have recommendations!

Tags: , , , ,

Resolutions for 2018

The fake shrimp tempura that I sent Harper in the mail, after the international
journey to Chicago.

Last year my key resolution was to read 52 books before 2017 was out and by golly, I did it. So I’m gonna get ambitious and write down a LIST of resolutions this time. Let’s check back on these at the end of the year:

Hire a financial planner
I’ve had an accountant for a few years (hi Richard!) but no financial planner, because even though I am 35-years old and a slumlord two times over, I still have my bestie Sudeep hop into my TD Ameritrade account every once in awhile and just make sure my money is still there. He and my accountant both agree this is not a grown-up way to handle finances.

Start a book club on Slack so we don’t have to meet in real life
It’s not that I have a huge issue with the real-life book clubs of which I’ve been a part, it’s that I don’t like any structured socializing, including meetup groups, Bible studies, mommy yoga, etc. So, I want to start a Slack for my cleverest, book-loving friends to tackle a different book every month and have a running Slack conversation about it. And if you don’t read that month’s book, whatever, it’s your loss. The rest of us will be snarking on Slack about it. Hit me up if you want to do this.

Stop drinking as much flavored tea and drink more water
I don’t know that this will happen because spending $4 on a sweetened green ice tea at Starbucks almost every day is the kind of time, money and energy waste that has been written into my routine since I was 16 years old. But whatever, this is my intention list and I’m leaving this in.

Get an accurate bra measurement
I have fears that my boobs are going the way of my great-grandmother’s after she breastfed seven, SEVEN children. I realize bra technology can’t really solve for this, but either way it’s good for every woman to know what bra size she actually wears.

Write handwritten letters and cards to people for no reason
This is a perennial resolution. Last year I did a twist on it, which was “send rando packages.” It was all working out well until the unfortunate melted wax that Friend Harper received, so I’m going back to letters and cards.

Blog at least five times a month
This is my version of the clichéd “write an hour a day” resolution because there’s no way that I DON’T write an hour a day as a function of my job. But I have been trying to get back to non-work blogging as a discipline, and to have the written record of the absurdity or outrage or gratitude of the moment.

See more movies at the theatre
This is one of my favorite things to do, period, especially at Alamo Drafthouse. But in South Korea I have barely gone to the movies and I’m lesser for it. Please note this is a resolution that I’m gonna be better at keeping after we repatriate.

Other intentions:

Keep my credit card balance at zero
Spend more time in Texas
Wean Baby Luna from nursing
Have no more children

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

It’s A Dog Eat Dog Year

I am a ball of anxiety as 2018 gets underway. We are headed into the Year of the Dog, which is my zodiac year. Chinese superstition governs that you have to be very careful during your “本命年” because you’re more likely to have bad luck or accidents. You’re supposed to avoid negative people and life transitions like getting married or starting a business during the year.

There are countermeasures, like a lot of wearing-of-red. I think.

The last time this came up, when I was 24, was actually awesome! It was the year I miraculously got a dream job to cover the state capitol in Texas, which let me move out of South Carolina and reunite with my surly long-distance boyfriend. It also led to friendships that have endured and some of the most fun, most memorable reporting years of my life. TBH I wouldn’t be here, posting this from my sweetass employer-provided high-rise overlooking Seoul but for that key life change during my zodiac year.

But this time around I happen to be scheduled for unemployment by summer, because my contract will end. Where will I live? What will I do for a living? There are many factors that make a gal feel … unsettled.

I need to go see my mom for an egg rolling.

Tags: , , , ,

On Liz Plank’s Pod… To Talk Gender Issues

Spoke with Vox’s Liz Plank about the boxes women in my region are forced to fit into and the consequences and questions that flow from that. Thanks Liz and producers, for having me on!

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Squad in Sydney

Harbour

From previous posts you may recall the Wan-Yau’s of Burlingame, California and now of Singapore, Singapore. We have gone on six squad holidays together now. The latest one, to Australia to ring in the new year, was the first to include Luna. We would have squeezed in a lot more in 2017 had Sarah Wan not faced unexpected family tragedy. But because of said tragedy we decided it was key to start the new year fresh, in the summertime because warmth > subzero temperatures.

After a freezing and quiet Christmas in Seoul we took the 10-hour flight down under, where the sun was out and everyone was sweaty, which was exactly what I was going for. The only notable stumble during the nine days down there happened at the beginning, when I was confronted with the reality that my family is too large for a standard SUV and I had to drop an additional thousand dollars at Hertz to upgrade to a giant seven-seater. (But before this happened I engaged in an irritated, aggressive-aggressive complaining to Matty about his inability to adequately squeeze all our stuff plus car seats into the regular-sized SUV. This happened out in the parking lot as he wore the baby in the front, sweat soaked through his dark blue polo shirt in the back and he was feeding hash browns to the older girls by stuffing them into their mouths. “YOU’RE WELCOME TO TRY IT IF YOU WANT,” he yell-whispered, of the luggage. How did we wind up with so many children!?!)

The rest of the vaca was a mix of beach time, pool time, green spaces and amusements for the children, afternoon cocktails, book reading, kid feeding and dominated by consumption of Tim Tams (original, dark chocolate and mint are my faves) and Australian avocados, which are a mystifying six dollars each. Joe also grilled out a lot for all of us in our lovely backyard high atop a hill where you could see Balmoral Beach, which is on the harbour. (Please note the harbour with a u — don’t want to make the mistake of leaving it out, y’know). One morning we gave Luna a leftover Australian beef rib and she chomped on it like a CHAMP even though she only has two teeth.

A final note, just because I can’t let this go: Why and how did passengers who used the lavatory on the Airbus 380 we flew home on decide that the toilet seat cover dispenser was the trash can?! When I went to this loo, I stood there staring at all the dirty paper towels stuffed into the cover dispenser for an inordinately long time as Isa giggled at herself in the mirror.

Oh, also, our Airbnb hosts had a bunny, “Hops,” and we got to feed him all week. He was adorable, except when he got out of his hutch and the dads had to set up an elaborate fort/trap to catch him so he could return to his little home.

Jess, Jonah, Eva. Isabel follows the beat of her own drummer so she’s always off doing something different.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2017 Year in Review: “Provocations”

True story: I would have posted this before the end of 2017 had my computer not died on the last day of the year. I guess 2017 wanted to get in one final disappointment. Don’t let the door hit ya!

Awaiting a Trump press conference in Tokyo at Akasaka Palace, during his first trip to Asia as president.

“We worry, all along, that we are being buffeted about by forces beyond our control, because we are. The world is wheels within wheels within wheels, but so are we. Everything is under control, and nothing makes sense.”

-Todd Van der Werff, on 2017

To ignore the unsettled feeling brought on by the changes to America and the world under the least popular American president since modern polling began would be irresponsible, but I also find it infuriating and exhausting to think too hard about it. For example, I cannot bring myself to look at starving polar bear photos even though philosophically I think we all should.

This year I tried to focus on individual objectives and tasks in order to keep my sanity. Like trying to teach the girls how to live with kindness and consideration of other people. (A work in progress, as they aren’t even that nice to one another!) At work, I’m trying to do some good with the pretty significant microphone that we have to shine a light on ourselves and our times and to agitate for improvements to my organization (e.g., to try and make it more inclusive). To say I haven’t been in and out of ennui would be a lie. I was unable to consume alcohol for all of Q1 and finally I started doing so with abandon as soon as Baby Luna was out of me. There was a lot of catching up to do.

That the final two months of the year brought down so many sexual predators/misogynists and Alabama elected the guy who prosecuted the KKK instead of the guy banned from the mall represents some cautious hope that a corrective for these misshapen times will eventually come. And the year wasn’t all bad. The Houston Astros won the World Series, the aggressively exuberant baby Luna is here and Matt Lauer is gone from the airwaves. Reliable year-enders that I cherish, such as The Hater’s Guide to the Williams Sonoma catalog, still showed up.

Firsts: Getting lost in a go-kart on the streets of Tokyo. Being with Donald Trump in person. (And Melania.) Making wax food. IUD! Fareed Zakaria GPS. Potty Training boot camp (NOT FOR ME, I was the drill sergeant, okay?!). And a first (and last) — co-hosting All Things Considered with the man the myth and the legend, Robert Siegel, before he retires.

Recurring Themes: North Korea. Russia. Being frightened to see news alerts in the morning.

New Person: Little Luna Lee, our third human child, who weighed 8 pounds 6 oz., or as they measure it in Korea, 3.9 kg. The heaviest crotch nugget yet, and I whined about it heartily in her final weeks of incubation.

ahhhhhhh!!!

Favorite Selfie: On the streets with crowds of South Korean, with crack assistant Jihye the moment South Korea’s president, Park Geun-hye, was formally removed from office after being impeached by a constitutional court. (She’s now in jail on a slew of charges.)

Most Unintentionally Famous Friend: Bob Kelly, aka “BBC Dad,” after his hip-hoppity kids made the best ever appearance in this BBC interview, followed up by his stealthy-smooth wife, who came to yank them out

New Friend of the Year: Alex Field, who is Hong Kong-based but spent so much time in Seoul for various North Korea-related news that she started working out regularly with my pilates instructor. Women need women friends and she’s become a close one, as we whine about our jetlag together following our trans-Pacific journeys and commiserate by text — and in person — over being overworked.

The Year of the … Hobonichi Techo: I tried going fully analog for my calendar and diary like the Japanese do, and it was awesome. The Hobonichi Techo was bullet journaling before bullet journals, and the pages, after writing in them, take on this delicious crinkled quality that’s oh so satisfying. I didn’t write a journal entry each day, so it’s largely full of to-dos and footnotes from phone calls that help me look back, and monthly calendars that show my travels and meetings.

Most Satisfying Habit: Monthly calls with Matt. After we went my first year in Seoul without talking on the phone, MThomps put recurring calls on both our calendars, dates which we got really serious about keeping no matter the hour or where we were. (He was often running, so our phone calls followed a  bouncing up and down kind of rhythm.)

Close Calls: When Matty had to bribe his way into Indonesia just in time to make it for Isa’s 2nd birthday.

New Places: Indonesia, Guam, Hokkaido, Australia

This year I…

Had third baby and she is the bomb
Read 52 books, most of them fiction and the vast majority by badass women authors
Became a member of the Council on Foreign Relations
Found out I’m Wikipedia-cited on the topic of “asian fetishes,” yikes
Kpop dance class #humiliation
Got in trouble with standards editor for saying “awesomer” on the air, but “y’all” was cleared
Got sketched at a wedding by a random stranger (literally sketched, not a play on words)
Got a bandaid nearly applied to me by a stranger on the Tokyo subway
Launched Elise Tries, an irreverent travel video series
Started sleeping two rooms away from my phones because news alerts were anxiety-inducing
Showed up in a stock image
Showed up in an online textbook
Showed up in Austin to surprise my goddaughter
Lost my grandma, my hero, a rock
Ran successful potty training boot camp, training Isa in two days
Accidentally injured my cat Caesar out of negligence
Drove a go kart around the streets of Tokyo
Drove into oncoming traffic in Hokkaido
Threw a bunch of ceramics at walls in a “rage room” with my brother
Room-mommed for my two year-old, who started preschool
Co-Hosted All Things Considered
Sent a lot of random packages (my fave was melted wax that Friend Harper received, long story)
Spent July 4th covering an ICBM test
Spent Labor Day weekend covering a nuclear test
Spent too many weekend mornings covering other missile launches
Dressed family up as sushi for Halloween
Popped in on lots of podcasts: Sweet and Sour FM. It’s Been a Minute. Divided States of Women. Lots of Up First.
Logged 59,861 miles to go to six countries and one US territory, and spent 78 days away from home, a much more homebound year this year thanks to Baby Luna.

Previous Years in Review:

2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010
2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004

Tags: , , , ,

Choke

Luna is crawling around, so we have to really watch out for small items on the floor that she might try and grab and sneak into her mouth. Today after a quick breastfeed for her afternoon snack, Luna went about her normal business of crawling around the floor under the supervision of our helper Yani. All of a sudden her laugh turned into a panicked throat-clearing/hacking noise. I looked over at her and she looked like she’d just seen a ghost and her eyes said “SOMEONE HELP ME.”

Yani looked similarly panicked so I called upon that crazy time I spent in the English countryside last fall and just smacked her really hard in the back of her chest (harder than I thought I would need to, as my former Royal Marine instructed) and she instantly puked up the contents of her tiny tummy. I searched the beige puddle of puke (this is the kind of thing that does not phase you once you’ve been a mom to numerous dogs, cats and/or humans), and found a small square of Scotch tape that she must have eaten and accidentally gotten lodged in her throat.

Crisis averted, Luna instantly returned to smiling and laughing. So uh, THANKS, my British hazardous environment training instructors! Really glad I wasn’t called upon to deal with a “sucking chest wound” though, which I vaguely remember learning something about in the same course but really not enough to do anything about should someone have one.

Tags: , , , , , ,

The other night while waiting in line for fried foods at a holiday party, I chatted with a stranger lined up in front of me. Later I introduced myself and it turned out she had been wanting to meet me FOR MONTHS, as in, she goes, “Me and my husband were talking about how we were bound to eventually meet you just this morning!” At that point I was humiliated that our first conversation was about how much I was looking forward to all the fried food at the buffet. But if you know me, that’s pretty much the extent of all my “authentic” conversations with my friends anyway.

Tags: , , , ,

Temporary Duty Yonder

Reported to duty.

The military term for a long stint elsewhere is TDY, which the armed forces like to joke stands for “Temporary Duty Yonder.” I’m not even sure what it really stands for, TBH. There I go with the acronyms again!

I went to Washington for most of November, coming off a blistering week-and-a-half reporting in advance of — and during —President Trump’s epic trip to Asia. (Nothing substantive was really achieved for the US but he commanded a lot of attention and resources in the region.) Thankfully, our afternoon program, All Things Considered, sent me a producer for the Asia trip — Becky — and we reported at a breakneck pace while sneaking in delicious meals. From the Tokyo leg, I came to Seoul for one day with Trump and covered a bunch of right-wing Koreans who welcomed him, then grabbed my baby and a suitcase and got on a plane to Washington. Then, Becky and I had to re-live Wednesday, November 8 due to the time difference. The first Wednesday November 8 was already exhausting; you can imagine having to do it again, but in Washington. I ended my second Wednesday November 8th with my former editor, Uri, at the “sad Hilton Garden Inn” bar, which is really, really sad. But I enjoy the kitsch of it.

I have spent too much time writing about the sad Hilton Garden Inn bar.

During said time in America, this what I remember: I interviewed the surgeon general, the former FCC Chairman, the head of Canada’s only HIV/AIDS treatment hospital, David Brooks, EJ Dionne, NPR’s East Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton three separate times about the fall of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, NPR’s media correspondent David Folkenflik about more sexual harassment trouble at NPR, author Megan Hunter about her dystopian novella, comedian Hari Kondabolu about what’s wrong with The Simpson’s character Apu, my friend Megan Garber about why women don’t speak up about sexual harassment, wrote and put into the world longer-length pieces about the meaning of statues in the ongoing Korea-Japan conflict and the decline of the golf industry in Japan, and narrated as my cohost Ari put leftover Thanksgiving stuffing into a waffle iron.

The panel! Richard Haass, Ian Bremmer, me and Fareed

I ate dinner and drank cocktails with so many old friends because I tried to do a different dinner reunion each night. This made for meaningful conversations and catchups and meetings of new family members (babies and children, natch).

CNN also flew me up to New York one Sunday morning to do Fareed Zakaria’s show from the actual set, which was fun because I missed my Council on Foreign Relations orientation and I got to apologize to the CFR president about it in person (he was fine so long as I paid my dues) and before I went home Friend Kat came to meet up for about 20 minutes before I trained it back to DC.

There was other stuff, too, but this blog is full of contemporaneous (and therefore incomplete) accounts.

Notes of extreme gratitude go to:

  • Sudeep and Hun. My friend Hun gathered up baby things so that Luna would have a car seat and bouncer and Bumbo seat and pack n’ play while she was with me during TDY. Then she dropped off said stuff at Sudeep’s, who then pre-furnished my AirBnB with the baby items so that they were there and waiting for us when we arrived. How amazing are these people!?

I got to be the guest of honor at Marcus and Maggie’s amazing table

    • Marcus, who, upon learning I’d be coming to town, decided to host a dinner at his home for me and my friends. WHAT?! His house is decked out in fabulous modern Chinese art from his stints in Hong Kong and Shanghai, and every piece had an incredible story. His wife Maggie made paella in those glorious cast-iron skillets that are actually meant-for-paella, and the dinner included my work spouse for life, Matt, singing us some numbers from his New York Times-themed musical that is in the works. (I am not joking.) This night was really fantastic.

 

    • David, who was in Seoul with me with the President and invited me over to Thanksgiving at his house when he found out I’d be without my family this year. Luna, her helper Yani and I joined in and it ended up being just like the Thanksgivings in my own Asian-American family: loud, lots of code-switching, food and taking pictures of food.

 

  • Robert Siegel, Kelly McEvers, Ari Shapiro and the whole staff at All Things Considered, which let me guest host on their program during some of the hardest weeks to be at NPR headquarters, because there’s sexual harassment stories hitting our own workplace in a widely public way. The co-hosts were exceedingly patient with me not knowing my ass from my elbow or a “line” from a “nipper”, which are shorthand terms for things that hosts say on the air. What a huge privilege to get to say “It’s All Things Considered from NPR News, I’m Elise Hu” for several days in a row. I will never, ever forget it.

    In the host chair with Ari, who is pretty much a perfect human

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Halloween Sushi

Still not as good as the Silence of the Lambs year.

This year, because I’ve previously dressed up Eva as my favorite food (hot dog), our family theme was my favorite cuisine. The girls were tuna nigiri, a California roll, a smaller soy sauce. Spouse wore a shirt that said, “No sushi, no life” and a headband that says, “Fighting,” because I thought it was funny, okay?

This is my 14th Halloween with Matty. We had just started dating before Halloween 2004 and for a costume party, we did an Ari and Uzi Tenenbaum get up in those classic red Adidas tracksuits. Took second place in the contest, as we were beat out by whoever dressed up as “Swing States” that year. (Back when there actually WERE swing states. THAT’s how long we’ve been together!)

One of the funniest running jokes of those early years was Friend Sudeep always too cheap to get a costume and he’d wrap himself in toilet paper to dress up as a mummy.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Load more