Preparing For The Cross-Planet Move

The view from my packing position.

The view from my packing position.

So between the last time I blogged and tonight, I was in Cancun with the besties, many of whom were part of The Great Sucia Treinta Cumpleanos Extravaganza, in which Terp was briefly detained by Costa Rican authorities.

Maybe I will get to sharing the photos from that time (which was followed by a terrible bout of Montezuma’s revenge — what a crisis), but tonight I was just feeling reflective after a day of packing for 2015 Cross-Planet Move: Storage, Part A.

In order to move some clutter out of my house, I’ve decided just to call movers over tomorrow and take away as much nonsense as possible so the house can be shown for potential renters. We spent the day packing up mementos, books and a lot of things that were frankly already mostly packed from the last move and left untouched for the last three years.

Among the items, I found the “yearbook” my South Carolina TV news colleagues signed for me when I moved away in 2006. It’s filled with hilarious memories, some of which I’d forgotten. JL‘s was probably my favorite, and amazingly, all true:

All of this happened between 2005 and 2006. Because South Carolina.

All of this happened between 2005 and 2006. Because South Carolina.

Moving always makes me feel a little wistful. This is my seventh move since graduating from college, not counting this summer, when I helped move all my childhood things from a childhood home, and I seem to have more crap with each move. I love it when old mementos (like above) pop up but it all reminds me of something Chuck Klosterman wrote in Killing Yourself to Live:

“When you start thinking about what your life was like 10 years ago — and not in general terms, but in highly specific detail — it’s disturbing to realize how certain elements of your being are completely dead. They die long before you do. It’s astonishing to consider all the things from your past that used to happen all the time but (a) never happen anymore and (b) never even cross your mind.”

So it’s onward, with the 2015 version of me. I’m definitely less reckless than I used to be (but not so conscientious that I don’t get my purse stolen from my unlocked car as we saw two weeks ago).

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Everything I Know About Serial From Hearing Y’all Talk About It

Something crazy happened this fall. A serialized audio tale called Serial gripped the nation, becoming the most downloaded podcast in the history of podcasts. A spinoff of This American Life, Serial followed producer Sarah Koenig as she re-reported an old homicide case from Baltimore. Ever since it caught on with a certain set (read: people who I hang out with at bars), I was the fifth or seventh wheel in some-sort-of-Serial-conversation almost every day.

I have not heard a second of Serial.*

But since I sure do spend a lot of time at bars with you all, let met tell you about Serial based on never hearing it. All of us in the small club of Non-Serial Listeners should try this exercise:

Sometime around 15 years ago, a high school student named Adnan was dating a popular Asian-American student named Hae Min Lee (or something). He suspected she might have been cheating on her and may or may not have strangled her to death, put her body in a trunk, and got his marijuana dealer friend Jay to help him bury the body.

The Baltimore Police investigated and pinned the crime on Adnan, charging him with murder, which carries a sentence of life without parole. Adnan swears he’s innocent, though the details of where he was on the day Lee disappeared are hazy. All the details are retraced for us.

Jay-the-“friend” was critical to the prosecution’s case, as Jay testified that he helped bury the body and maybe something about picking up Adnan at a Best Buy. And there was some long chapter somewhere about whether there was a pay phone at the Best Buy back in the day.

The case goes to trial. But the first trial ends in a mistrial cause of something that went wrong with a juror maybe(?) and afterwards, the jurors polled indicated Adnan would have been acquitted.

High on this polling data of one jury in one space in time, the defense is confident going into the second trial. That doesn’t go so well. It might have to do with an attorney’s voice, which is difficult to listen to. There is debate about how sexist it is to complain about her voice. Adnan is convicted and sent to jail.

Koenig, in a jailhouse interview with Adnan (or several), finds him to be quite witty and charming. In the exploration of the case, the podcast casts doubt on whether Adnan actually committed the crime. Since the case hinged on Jay, they try to talk to him in the podcast but he proves elusive. Jay eventually gives and interview to The Intercept, but only after the podcast season concludes and apparently he’s kind of convincing in Adnan’s guilt. But of course he would be. Hrmmm.

The whole thing just DRAWS YOU IN on so many levels because it reveals how many variables are completely out of your control in the criminal justice system, the work that goes into shoe leather journalism and how our memories and perceptions deceive us. Just look at how unreliable eyewitness testimony can be. Koenig asks at one point, “What did you do last week?” AAAAHHHH NONE OF US CAN REMEMBER!

Oh, and then in the final episode or thereabouts, it is revealed that a serial killer was released from prison two weeks before Hae Min’s murder, and he later went on to rape and strangle to death an Asian American woman. This killer later committed suicide, so we can’t hear from him again.

The week-by-week Serial episodes spawn podcasts-about-the-podcast. Slate‘s is the most popular. Cocktail chatter about Serial can include questions like is it racist? (Insert something about the stereotypes of immigrant children.) Is this worth telling as a podcast? Isn’t every Law & Order episode an hourlong version of serial? What is the journalistic value of this? Why is Serial so effective?

This concludes your Serial introduction from someone who’s never heard Serial. Details are/were sketchy.

*I listen to one podcast. It is Andy Greenwald’s Hollywood Prospectus, from Grantland. I don’t even listen to it that regularly.

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2014 Year in Review: What Kind Of Year Has It Been?

“Of course, life will randomly go to hell every so often, too. Cold winds arrive and prick you: the rain falls down your neck: darkness comes.” -Annie Lamott

I spent much of 2014 just barely hanging on. (In the NorCal redwoods, May 2014)

I spent much of 2014 just barely hanging on. (In the NorCal redwoods, May 2014)

It’s hard to look back at 2014 without feeling completely paralyzed. A missing plane, never found. A plane being shot out of the sky. Another plane that went missing in the final days of the year. ISIS beheadings, Crimea, Gaza, Ebola, school shootings, campus rapes, lethal cops, our nation’s intractable problem with race. Ryan Gosling fathering a child with some woman.

For me, the year started with bringing home a flu strain from Asia, my nanny quitting at the height of a dramatic fight with us and a week later, suffering my first miscarriage. The nanny that replaced the first one wound up disappearing from our lives by August because she somehow was knocked up and needed to go tend to her own baby. Yep.

In the summer I went to Ferguson and got automatic rifles drawn on me by eight jumpy cops.

By October, I had finally moved desks as a gambit to change up my feng shui. A new beginning, I thought. On the very same day, the staff received an email — I read it at my new desk — that friend and mentor and the reason I came to work at NPR had been dismissed from his job by our new CEO. When I called my husband to commiserate, the first thing he said to me wasn’t empathetic but, “I hope you’re not crying at your desk right now.”

Then, two days before Christmas, after running into get a sandwich in the freezing rain, I returned to my car to find my purse and computer had been stolen sometime inside of four minutes. Merry Christmas, assholes.

That is the pessimistic take, of course. All our first-world “hard times” are nothing in the scheme of things. And there were moments of great love and delight this year, too. As I’ve done for 10 years now, here’s a Hu look back:

Favorite Discoveries on the Internet: Clickhole. The Passenger Shaming Instagram account.

We did not have a selfie stick for this. This is just Eric Schmidt's pure talent.

We did not have a selfie stick for this. This is just Eric Schmidt’s pure talent.

Favorite Selfie: The one Google Chairman Eric Schmidt took of us. He snapped a lot but I liked the one where I wasn’t paying attention.

New Experiences: Tear gas. Being in the crosshairs of cops. Jellyfish sting in Jamaica. Dangerous halluciongenic crisis in Jamaica. Couples crisis brought on by aforementioned dangerous drug trip. Aspen Institute. Doing a Planet Money podcast! Having a pregnant au pair. Speaking at the UN. Seaplane flight. Oculus Rift virtual reality experience. The miscarriages.

Randomness: Running into Obama in Denver. Getting lost in the briefing room. Hung out with a semi-famous actor-I-will-not name and watched him effectively bum some weed off strangers.

And in no particular order, this year I:

Flew 72,952 miles to four countries and 28 cities. Was gone from home 90 days this year, though it felt like way more.
Visited the Taiwanese News animation studio (a favorite from a previous Year in Review), told a story about it.
Took some creepy stalker photos of Sofia Coppola at a pool in Miami.
Moderated a panel on wearables at SXSW and did not wear Glass despite lobbying efforts by the Glass guy.
Got Taco Cabana delivered to my hotel room at the moment we needed it the most.
Partied with Scoot McNairy.
Got solar panels on our house.
Became buddies with a Hollywood funnyman named Alec Berg after interviewing him about his show, Silicon Valley. This led to a friend reunion with my high school pal from 9th grade, Scott Mechlowicz. Small universe.
Got retweeted by Martellus Bennett.
Survived longest winter in DC in maybe ever.
Taught a quarter at Northwestern.
Taught a semester at Georgetown.
Stayed at YMCA in the redwoods.
Attended four weddings. (Crissy, Alexis, Tim, Drew.)
Went on a hike in Aspen with Lance Armstrong’s nanny.
Parked wrong in San Francisco. Paid a $600 price for that mistake — the $440 base towing cost, plus the $150 citation.
Did a little talk with Eric Schmidt.
London!
Reconnected with my high school economics teacher, Mr. Coates.
Got a is-a-burrito-a-sandwich story on national air for more than five minutes.
Convinced my editor to get some online clothes styling with me (for a story, of course).
Covered #Ferguson. Dealt with difficult feelings afterward.
Lost my favorite boss. (Not from earth, just from work.)
Saw Seoul. Prepared to move there.

It wasn’t a bad year, entirely. I just had some of the hardest days and weeks of my life during the course of this year. It felt unrelentless at times. Tears were shed. Mistakes were made. But ultimately we survived. Here’s to a brighter, more peaceful 2015.

Previous Years in Review:
20132012 | 20112010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004

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Early Losses

My first miscarriage happened in January. I began to fear it just a day after learning I was pregnant. I went to the doctor and at six weeks, they saw a gestational sac on the ultrasound with nothing inside it. (There should have been an embryo there.) The next week, when they checked again, the sac had shrunk. I was diagnosed with a “missed miscarriage.” The remnants of fetus-that-never-was eventually left my womb on Chinese New Year.

My next miscarriage happened in late June, while I was on stage, speaking to a few hundred young people gathered for a Millennial convention in Chicago. (No, really, it is called Millennial Convention). I knew it was going to happen. Two weeks earlier, a scan showed a heart that beat too slow for a six week-old fetus. The clinical name for that is a “threatened abortion.” I read every study on heart rates at 90 bpm for tiny embryos, and science indicated that that pregnancy would be lost, too.

Clinically, they don’t diagnose you with recurrent pregnancy loss until you’ve suffered three consecutive miscarriages. That’s because the changes of miscarriage are so big (anywhere between 20 to 30 percent) that it’s entirely likely you lose two just due to random chance. As any betting person knows, it IS possible to roll two sevens in a row, even though it’s unlikely.

But I look for answers for a living. So I went and got tested — blood and hormone tests, chromosome tests, thyroid tests, and even a dye injected in my uterus to see whether my system had structural deficiencies. They all turned up exactly what my doctor suspected — nothing. System was sound, all my hormone levels in perfect ranges. My uterus is “beautiful,” the doc said. (Weirdest compliment, I know.)

I write about this because it’s part of my nature to share, but also because I don’t want anyone else who goes through pregnancy loss to feel ashamed about it. So many women suffer this sorrow silently, and don’t have to. The programmer Marco Arment reminded me powerfully in November, in writing about his wife’s 21-week pregnancy loss, that giving a voice to layered and varied and painful experiences frees us all.

I’m around if you, God forbid, go through something like this and want to talk. As Emily Bazelon wrote after miscarrying twins in 2003, “Shouldn’t we be talking openly about this much more often, so that we’re better prepared for the grief when it hits us?” I took some advice I read in that discussion: I came to think about my unborn babies as benevolent beings out there somewhere, tied to Matty and me, if only in memory.

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A Week In My Near Future

Some girls devouring street food in Myeongdong, a central shopping area.

Some girls devouring street food in Myeongdong, a central shopping area.

Back from Seoul. It was intense. I’m starting to get over uncompromising jet lag after taking two 14.5 hour, International date line-crossing flights inside five days. That meant I had only four days on the ground in Seoul to do a lot of preparation for moving there. I interviewed five candidates to be my translator/assistant, visited three preschools and saw 16, yes 16 different houses and apartments in Seoul. By the last day of house-hunting I really wanted to just pick something or throw in the towel.

A few observations:

Really going to like the heated seats on the Subway, which is also the cleanest subway system I’ve ever encountered. Don’t even get me started on how polite everyone is compared to the subhuman experiences in Shanghai, Beijing and being flabbergasted by the people who play their music without headphones on the DC Metro.

I have never seen so many post-op women just out and about in the city. I knew South Korea was some sort of cosmetic surgery capital but I didn’t expect to see it so obviously. It seemed like I couldn’t turn my head without seeing a gal with one of those skin-colored silicone nose covers protecting her face after a nose job. I told Matty about it and he says this is exactly what happens in the near-future predicted in The Hunger Games.

My mom met me in Seoul and while she had her own friend to hang out with while I did my work-related stuff, she did go on some of the househunting trips with me and we got to hang out together, just the two of us, which we hadn’t done in awhile. It made me really want to spend more time with my momma. I find a lot of the transitions coming up quite unnerving, but my mom makes me feel like I can handle anything.

And finally…

Someone I read a lot — Sean Bonner — recently wrote about how he missed his “old way” of blogging, in which he just spewed out whatever was on his mind into a post. We all tend to write about a single idea in each post now, which makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons, but maybe not for personal blogging. I miss the stream of consciousness blogging, too. I was reading my old blogger blog from my early twenties and remembered how much I enjoyed just writing whatever silliness was on my mind, without any particular connecting themes or organization.

Anyway that’s neither here nor there. Which is sort of my point in sharing it. I think I’m returning to posts devoid of any central points. Some more photos, below.

View from My Window: Seoul

Dawn in the megalopolis.

Dawn in the megalopolis.

Good morning from Seoul, where I’m on the aforementioned scouting trip. This is a look out my window from the 16th floor of the Westin Chosun, which is the heart of the city and right by the Seoul Finance Center, where I will later attempt to open up a bank account.

No one comes here without talking about the food and I’ve only had one meal so far at a Japanese place across the street (the weather is grim — wet, snowy and -5 Celsius) but let’s face it, it was better than anything “just across the street” in DC.

It Takes ID To Get ID: A Lesson in Opening an Office in Korea

Back when I covered Texas politics, the voter ID debate came up time and time again. Lawmakers eventually passed it in 2011, the legislative session I never finished covering. One of the complaints about a measure requiring voters to show ID and not just a voter registration card in order to cast a ballot was this: “It takes ID to get ID.”

Democrats argued that the measure disenfranchises seniors, minorities and the poor, like many of the Texans born to midwives, who might not have issued formal birth certificates. Or those who didn’t have a drivers license to start with and are now in their seventies and eighties. Being able to exist all your life without certain documentation, and then suddenly having to get it, would be too onerous a task for many voters, voter ID opponents argue.

This kind of hassle is really coming into full focus for me lately, in a totally unrelated situation. You may recall we are preparing to open the first ever NPR bureau in Seoul, South Korea. The paperwork hoops started with the gruff visa guy who wouldn’t grant me a visa for journalism activities until I had a business certificate. How does one obtain a business certificate? Your business must be registered with an address. How do I lease a place in order to have an address? I need a bank account. How do I start a bank account? I need a Korean alien registration card. How does one obtain an alien registration card? With a business license or visa.

You get it.

I leave for Seoul tomorrow, to try and resolve some of these issues in person. I’ll blog along the way. Wish me luck.

You Should Totally Waste Some Time Watching These Music Videos

I would like to assemble a panel of art critics who have never before been exposed to Go West’s ‘King of Wishful Thinking’ video to review this absurd and delightful artifact from 1980s humans. It really deserves far more attention than it’s gotten. I was reminded of it this morning by my friend Johnathan Woodward, who put it this way:

I sent it to friends Claire and Wes, who looped in Friend Mito.

CLAIRE: Oh my god what is this.
MITO: The keyboard guy at 1:01 and 1:43!!! SO GOOD.
[pause]
MITO: Oh I get it. Are those kitchen sinks being tossed in at the end?
WES: It would make a pretty good musicless music video, I think.
[pause]
WES: Wait, the Singin’ in the Rain one is better. Have you all seen it?

MITO: I love it. It’s even better than Phish Shreds:

WES: Ahh, I’ve never seen that before. I can’t stop laughing.

Credit: http://slugsolos.tumblr.com/

Credit: http://slugsolos.tumblr.com/

Saying A Proper Goodbye

Kinsey had to listen to a lot of speeches about him on Tuesday. (Photo by John Poole)

Kinsey had to listen to a lot of speeches about him on Tuesday. (Photo by John Poole)

We didn’t want it to happen, but it did. Our boss Kinsey, who headed all NPR’s content and technology, got re-organized out of a job a few weeks ago. There is a longish take on the situation (reported here) which includes elliptical language about a stunningly Game of Thrones-ey situation, involving decades-old fiefdoms and fights among NPR and its stations over the network’s direction.

Since it happened so abruptly, we didn’t have a lot of time to prepare the tribute. But I thought the best way to show him our appreciation was by making something, because in all the talk about his visionariness, the reason he was so effective because made visions reality.

The other thinking that went into this was that whatever we built, the best way to pay him tribute was to work as a team, to symbolize our continued support for one another and the ability to quickly organize ourselves. That team had to bring together the people who make stories and the people who make technology, ’cause that’s a huge part of Kinsey’s legacy — making sure that product and editorial were lifting each other up.

From the Infinite Kinsey branding page.

From the Infinite Kinsey branding page.

So in our break times and overnight and on weekends, we made Infinite Kinsey. Modeled on NPR One, a listening app that gives you segmented audio that follows you on any device, the Infinite Kinsey is an endless stream of audio tributes for Kinsey Wilson, about Kinsey Wilson. We collected more than sixty audio tributes in the span of a week. They came from NPR employees past and present, and from all corners of the country. Some audio messages were sent in from as far away as Hong Kong and the airport in Istanbul.

Since it was a product, it needed a launch. Tuesday night at a goodbye gathering, I got epically blasted and we unveiled the player to its single intended user. It has a branding page and even a product launch video, a parody that Friend Claire put together, with great help from a bunch of NPR folks who volunteered to do some really goofy video shoots with us.

Goodbyes are so so hard, especially the ones you never wanted to happen.

But it’s important to put closure on this chapter — not just for KW’s sake, but for those of us who will continue at NPR. With our parting gift to him, we will kinda get to follow Kinsey wherever he goes, a stream of voices telling him he’s rad.

Claire and Becky, manning the tech table for the Infinite Kinsey rollout.

Claire and Becky, manning the tech table for the Infinite Kinsey rollout.

I’ve Got Seoul But I’m Not A Soldier

It’s announcement time! I’m switching roles and becoming an international correspondent for NPR. That’s very cool. But what’s cooler is I get to open up a new Korea/Japan bureau for the company, based in Seoul. You know I like the beginnings of things.

For most of 2013, Friend Javaun and I would randomly yell “Annyeong” to each other from one floor to another at NPR headquarters, where the fourth floor overlooks the third. Never did I imagine that Annyeong could become a daily, non-ironic greeting.

I lived in Asia for a spell when I was 19 years old, with an all-male hip hop group that had just signed on with Warner Music Taiwan. The lead artist was an alum of a hot 1990’s Asian boy band called “L.A. Boyz” and my roommates were forming Machi, which went on to enjoy brief fame and a hit collaboration with Missy Elliott. The afternoon I went out for a movie with those boys in crowded shopping center was the only time I’ve ever experienced what it’s like to be chased by paparazzi and screaming teenage girls.

I think back on that time as a vortex. I know I lived those months in Taipei, but the experiences were so heightened and frenetic and strange that it still doesn’t feel real, even these 12 years later.

Now I live what is more akin to a “grownup” life. A real job. A spouse. A spawn. Two cats. My geriatric dog. And we’re about to uproot ourselves and charge into the Asian vortex, together.

We’re planning to move at the beginning of 2015. I don’t know what to do with our house yet. I am panicked about getting to see the final episodes of Mad Men without too much time delay. I worry about my 16-year-old dog surviving a cross-planet move. I am unsure of my own abilities to cover a place where I am illiterate.

But I’m also filled with excitement and wonder and gratitude for the chance to do this. I know how rare a privilege it is these days to get a chance to work overseas, supported by a large, well-funded news organization. As my friend and mentor Kinsey said, it’s invaluable experience that will change and shape our lives.

Whoa, right? We’re planting the NPR flag on an action-packed peninsula! Can you imagine the culture stories? This is the place where they just hosted a competition to see who could zone out the longest. C’mon, that is gold!

Onward, into the vortex.

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