My Morning Routine Doesn’t Exist

I am continuing my quest to keep up this blog by picking random writing prompts from this list.

This is my morning routine, as of the past few months: Wake up around 6am to the sound of Baby Isabel murmuring and cooing in her crib. She never cries when she wakes up, she just says some stuff like, “Nnnnhn, breh, muhh, arrehh” and occasionally, “Mamamamamamamama.”

She sleeps behind us in a walk-in closet, because we’re space-limited and her sister Eva hasn’t warmed to the idea of letter her sister share a room with her yet. Anyway.

After I let Isa make her noises for a good 10 minutes so that I can slowly wake up, I or Matty go get her, and then I plant her face on my boob for feeding. She gulps down one boob, then switches to the other all while both of us are half asleep. Then I pass her off to Matty, who will burp and return her to her crib for anywhere between 10 minutes to an hour. The reason the timing is not exact is because Isa is consistently awakened later in the morning by her own poop (cause who wants to sleep with poop on their ass) or her sister. Each morning, once the sun is brightly shining, we hear the thud-thud-thud-thud-thud of three-year-old Eva, whose footsteps slow as they approach the master bedroom. She creeps in quietly wearing a mischievous grin, and knowing full well that we’re going to tell her not to wake her sister. (She always ends up somehow waking her sister.)

Then Matty does Eva’s morning get-ready-for-school routine, Isabel gets handed off to our helper, Yani, and I go back to sleep. At least I try. This is only somewhat successful depending on whether Eva decides she only wants me to do her hair before school in the morning, and what I find in my email. If I get some sort of email that wakes my brain, I’m up for the day. If neither a hair nor email incident happens, I sleep until about 9:30am.

It sounds hellish but I keep thinking that someday I will miss this routine.

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On My First Female Role Model Besides My Mom

Last night I fell down a rabbit hole on Medium (usually it’s Wikipedia) and found a list of writing prompts that friend-of-a-friend Nicole Zhu used in order to keep up a daily habit of writing. Between sometimes writing here on this blog but mostly posting on my work Tumblr and a mandate to write for my day job, I don’t think the world needs more of my words. But I felt inspired by the prompts and realized I don’t sit down and reflect as often as I used to, because the explosion of social platforms means I do my sharing in pieces, in snapshots or Snapchats rather than wordier reflections. 

Anyway. I have kept up this blog and its previous incarnations for all these years, so I might as well take some of the prompts and give them a whirl every once in a while, eh? It’s certainly something to do when I am avoiding doing other tedious things, like paying the bills or whatever. [Clears throat.] With that, here’s a musing on female role models.


Let’s get this part of out of the way: My most influential role model, female or not, is my mom. My mom is pure love. She makes me feel safe always. “Listen to me and you can’t go wrong,” my mom says, confident in her wisdom. And she’s right. She is unapologetic about who she is, realistic about the world and her confidence gives me confidence. We laugh about inappropriate topics, since she shares a subversive, macabre humor. We cry together because we wear our hearts on our sleeves (unapologetically). We never want to stop exploring, a value she instilled in me long ago. She told me as a child, “Never live your life for someone else’s gaze,” a lesson that shaped me. She also explained to me when I was quite young the quiet cruelties of being a person of color in a pasty white St. Louis suburb, making it easier for me when I did feel different.

It took awhile before I found other female role models. I grew up surrounded by boys. My only sibling is a brother. My childhood memories of Roger are of our forceful physical fights (I learned how to always go for his nuts when kicking or punching), building homegrown skateboarding ramps on our driveway and buying Fun Dip in between innings at his little league baseball games. My entire neighborhood peer group was also made up of boys; in the four houses closest to mine were each kids in my grade, and all those kids were boys: Ryan, Craig, Tommy and Craig. We waited for the bus together each morning. After school, thanks to huge fenceless yards, we stayed outside playing until dark almost every night. We built forts, played Ghost in the Graveyard and Kick the Can, or wandered to the neighborhood creek where the rocks were jagged and the water could start rushing dangerously quickly when it rained.

Jenny! (Using her current Facebook profile photo, so that I know this is a Jenny-approved photo.)

Jenny! (Using her current Facebook profile photo, so that I know this is a Jenny-approved photo.)

So my closest female relationships didn’t really come together until 5th or 6th grade, when I formed a bond with a fellow subversive — Jes Ingram. I remember going to Jes’ house to play Sim City (which might have been V1), sleepovers watching/reciting Ace Ventura Pet Detective word-for-word and hanging out around her house with her older sister, Jenny. I think she was my first female role model besides my mom. Jenny never passed on words of wisdom in the way moms do, but instead led by example. Jenny was class president and much-admired and beautiful but effortlessly so. Unlike the other popular girls who spent a lot of time primping for boys or to pickup boys at the mall (yes my middle school friends did that back then), Jenny was ‘whatever’ about her place in the preteen hierarchy, and even cooler for it. She seemed to have deep, authentic friendships, which in 7th grade felt sorta hard to come by. But mainly I looked up to Jenny because I find being bored pretty much anathema to existence, and Jenny was never boring. She has so much personality that it oozes from her like the cheese of a four-cheese grilled cheese sandwich. Jenny’s Personality and her personality are innate and not replicable, but for acolytes like me, thankfully she read a lot of books and watched a lot of movies and listened to a lot of music, so at least through all that time with the Ingram’s I got to be inculcated with her cultural influences. (And her sister Jes’s, of course, who I will always trust implicitly.)

I’ve seen a lot of movies in which young protagonists are somehow let down by their role models in the end. But some 20 years after first looking up to Jenny, I can report that she has only exceeded my stratospheric assessment of her.

Last year, Jenny learned she had breast cancer. She’s sadly not my first friend to fight cancer at a young age, but she’s fought it with the most humor and moxie. (Because, of course.) A few days ago, she lost her boobies, as she decided that getting a double mastectomy was the best way to prevent a recurrence. She’s been chronicling her journey on her blog, appropriately titled “Check Those Titties.” Reading it regularly has reminded me of many things (to check my titties, for one), but also how exceptional she is. And that maybe I should reflect and write about these personal memories, because it’s a way to thank people like her, to whom I’m eternally grateful.

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One Night In Beijing

I kind of dread going to Beijing these days because my brother Roger (who lives there) always makes it sound so dystopian. But my one-night trip was actually quite lovely. Even though I was there less than 24 hours, I was able to:

a) See my brother’s new office headquarters. He’s the founder of a tech startup in Beijing and they just moved from the tech district (by Tsinghua University) to center city. It was great seeing rows of developers working hard, just as I’ve seen in numerous American tech offices. Only twist was all these guys were employed by my scrappy little bro. Weird! (Also cool.)

b) Have drinks and dinner with Kinsey, a VIP on my “personal board of directors,” people to whom I go when seeking life advice or a centering when I feel off course. Kinsey also happens to be one of the biggest brains and most overprogrammed people I know, so getting any catch-up time with him is a delight. In Beijing, we continued our tradition of hanging out together only in cities where neither of us live and work, because that’s the only time he has time. Roger came along for dinner, and I love it when people from various parts of my life connect, so that was lovely.

The Gourd Pedicab. (There were several of these hanging from the vehicle. They were not lights, just gourds.)

The Gourd Pedicab. (There were several of these hanging from the vehicle. They were not lights, just gourds.)

c) Night-capped in a whiskey bar in the alleys of Beijing’s traditional hutongs with my Beijing-dwelling friend from Washington, Ben Dooley, who some of my pals may know from an inside joke as “Sad Eyes.”* Roger and I took a sketchy and too-risky-for-my-age pedicab ride in a pedicab adorned with hanging gourds (no idea why) to get there, and it was already past 10pm when we arrived. But the three of us sat talking and joking around, having a great time. Ben loved Roger’s jacket, and now Roger will take Ben to meet his tailor. EVERYONE IS CONNECTING, THIS IS WONDERFUL.

d) The best part came at the end of my trip: a forty minute cab ride to the airport and the driver astoundingly chatted me up (they usually aren’t chatty or are down right assholes). He asked about my family, told me about the context of China in the pre-Mao 1940s when my grandpa was sent to study abroad in the U.S. on a government scholarship, demonstrated nuanced understanding of the complex China-North Korea relationship, waxed philosophical about how we come into the world with nothing and leave with nothing, so just to make the most memories we can, and talked about U.S. politics a bit. His take on Trump? “His popularity makes it clear that Americans don’t have equal access to education and information.” ZING!

*The “Sad Eyes” story is one of my favorite and funniest stories of my five years in Washington. Someday I will have to relay it on this here blog.

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My baby daughter Isabel has a bottomless appetite, it seems. Hard to know for sure since she only started eating solid foods two months ago. She prefers to feed herself, double-fisting crackers or fruit (strawberries are her favorite, though she’s recently gotten into Asian pears). That she only has two bottom teeth doesn’t deter her. A common occurrence lately is she’ll feed herself out at restaurant, and then half an hour later I’ll notice her taking some food from her fist and shoving it into her mouth. She will have had clung to that french fry or pretzel stick long past meal time, saving it for later, to eat in the cab. Perhaps it’s a primal survival hack.

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Three-Way Birthdays To Remember

My last night in Austin was in February 2011, a week before our birthday. The karaoke goodbye at Do512 HQ was thrown in part by John and April, so this was our de facto final three-way party.

My last night in Austin was in February 2011, a week before our birthday. The karaoke goodbye at Do512 HQ was thrown in part by John and April, so this was our de facto final three-way party.

There is no annual gathering that’s more special to me than the now-defunct “Three-Way Birthday” parties of my Austin years. For five years in my twenties, I celebrated my birthday with two other Texas politcal reporters who also were born on February 17th — my besties April Castro and John Moritz. We are the dancing-on-bartops together (April) and buy-homes-from-one-another (I bought John’s house) kind of close friends. Our friendship was born out of many inside jokes, lunches at the Texas Chili Parlor (which makes a CHEESEBURGER SALAD), drinks at the Stephen F. Austin hotel, and long nights at the Texas Capitol, staking out one politician or another, or listening to the endless chubbing of lawmakers stalling votes or adding amendments to amendments to the budget bill. And, of course, our annual birthday ritual fueled memories for always.

I suppose I moved away first, so maybe it’s all my fault, but now we are in three different countries. John remains in Austin, Texas, but I weirdly live in South Korea and April recently relocated to Canada. I think of them often, and miss them often, but never as much as I do on our birthday. (This just reminded me: One year, a Texas lawmaker who was ALSO born on February 17 did one of those honorary resolutions on the House floor to recognize us for our birthday, probably just because it was also his day, but anyway, it was pretty amusing.)

I met April in a committee room at the Texas Capitol, and John on my first day on the beat as a Texas political reporter. We quickly learned we shared a birthday. This is a snap from our very first joint birthday party, in 2007.

I met April in a committee room at the Texas Capitol, and John on my first day on the beat as a Texas political reporter. We quickly learned we shared a birthday. This is a snap from our very first joint birthday party, in 2007.

The 2008 party is memorable because it didn’t happen, and we can blame Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for that. We were political reporters, and Obama and Clinton were locked in such a tight battle at that point because Obama hoped to lock up the nomination in Texas/Ohio, that we were working nonstop. On the night of our party, Obama held a rally in downtown Austin in which something like 30,000 people showed up. We had to cancel the party at the last minute because we had to cover the rally.

The invite to a party that didn't happen. When we made the invite campaign-themed, we didn't know that the Obama campaign would be the reason our party got canceled.

The invite to a party that didn’t happen. When we made the invite campaign-themed, we didn’t know that the Obama campaign would be the reason our party got canceled.

Every year for the big party we'd send out invitations in which we'd combine our three ages. In 2009, we turned 112.

Every year for the big party, we’d send out invitations in which we’d combine our three ages. In 2009, we turned 112.

In 2010, we threw our swankiest party, at a bungalow that's part of Hotel St. Cecelia. After years of throwing "three-way's," we actually had a bed at our party venue.

In 2010, we threw our swankiest party, at a bungalow that’s part of Hotel St. Cecelia. After years of throwing “three-way’s,” we actually had a bed at our party venue.

Happiest of birthdays to my partners-in-mischief and fellow February 17thers. I miss you and treasure our shared birthday memories.

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Occasionally I go to “rubber chicken dinners,” as they’re called in Washington. (Rarely is rubber chicken actually served, the food is often quite good.) They are awards shows or chamber of commerce anniversary events or whatever, where you’re seated at tables of eight or ten, like at a wedding, and much like weddings, they’re often at expensive hotels. I went to one last night where I was seated next to the New Zealand ambassador to Korea, and on the other side of her, the Netherlands ambassador to Korea. The Dutch guy was fun; we ninjaed out together before the program was over, saying “We have small children,” as an excuse. “Sure you have,” he said with a grin.

The New Zealand ambassador and I discovered we share the same Korean teacher, who is a saint, we both conceded. But it turns out the ambassador was previously posted in Xian, Shanghai, Beijing and Taipei, so her spoken Mandarin is quite excellent. She even whipped out some Shanghainese, a dialect hard to find outside Shanghai. (Though my dad and sister pride themselves on keeping up their Shanghainese with one another.)

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I had a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese for dinner. The whole box, because that’s the appropriate serving size for my appetite. I threw in some chunks of lightly fried tofu for protein. Our housekeeper and cook is off on Sundays, so this is the only day of the week I’m left to fend for myself like this, which explains my orange powder and tofu concoction. But three hours later I was starving. I really wanted something saltier for a snack before my nightly Haagen Daaz ice cream bar, which I eat as I do my nightly pumping for Baby Isa’s strategic milk reserve. I called Matty, who was out tonight, and he was passing by a Taco Bell. I told him “crunchy tacos” and did not specify a number. He came home with three tacos, instead of two. His knowing that my 10pm taco snack should consist of three tacos and not two was the best Valentine’s gift I’ve gotten in years.

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“My overuse of Twitter was part of a larger set of issues I have. I have a deep hunger for information, distraction, and activity. If I slow down my stimulation or creation, I start to feel useless and confused. Throughout my life, I’ve usually satiated that hunger with cultural consumption and work, but Twitter gave me the chance to feed it more efficiently — and even more unhealthily.”

Annie Lowrey, on quitting Twitter. I feel this.

Acculturation

noun ac·cul·tur·a·tion \ə-ˌkəl-chə-ˈrā-shən, a-\

1:  cultural modification of an individual, group, or people by adapting to or borrowing traits from another culture; also:  a merging of cultures as a result of prolonged contact


I’m back in Korea after a harried two weeks in the states. We hadn’t gone “home” to DC in nearly 10 months, so I was highly conscious when I returned, like a little baby that had just entered the world, already in progress. DC felt incredibly small and quiet. The nation’s capital is always unusually quiet during the holidays, as its denizens flood out to their real homes or on vacation. And it is geographically small — something like only eight miles across. But after being in Asian megalopolises for most of 2015, DC felt like Tulsa. The streets were narrow and the sidewalks were wide, rather than the other way around.

Here are the other reverse culture shock observations:

  1. Everyone speaks English! I chatted up anyone who would talk to me and resumed saying hello to random people on the street. They always responded when I said “Happy Holidays” or “How ya doing?” So great.
  2. Damn, there are a lot of breakfast cereals and yogurts to choose from. The number of kids cartoon-themed yogurts alone floored me.
  3. I can get drinks larger than eight ounces?!
  4. Why does my alcoholic beverage cost three times my lunch?
  5. There are so many countdowns simultaneously splashed across the screen on domestic CNN. I can’t keep track of what they are counting down to. Is Armageddon nigh?
  6. The internet feels slow, but at least I’m not censored from visiting North Korean news sites.
  7. The clothes dryers are marvelous. I hadn’t properly dried my clothes in so long that I did a load of laundry every day just to take advantage of the quick dry cycle and how efficiently it dried my clothes, which came out so soft and fluffy.
  8. Why don’t any of the escalators work on DC Metro?
  9. So many women walk around in yoga pants. You never see a Korean woman walking around publicly in yoga pants.
  10. Stores are open before 10am. This revolutionized our time in DC because we were with our tots, which meant we could actually take them out of the house HOURS before we can in Korea.
  11. Spacial awareness: While shopping at grocery store Harris Teeter, I was pushing my cart and came within a six foot radius of another woman, who promptly apologized because we’d come so close. In Korea, you can be blatantly stepped on or, in our toddler’s case, mauled, and the other party doesn’t even notice.

Now that I’m back in Korea, I’m feeling a little sad because I’d just gotten used to being in America again, and then we left. It was fortifying to see so many of my bestest pals, even though our visits were compressed into a short time window. I don’t want to go back and forth too much, however, because the cultural whiplash — not to mention jet lag — might wipe me out.

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2015 Year in Review: This Asian Life

Hanging out at a cat cafe, Seoul.

Hanging out at a cat cafe, Seoul.

“This Asian Life” was one rejected names for my East Asia Tumblr, which ultimately got a pretty straightforward name, Elise Goes East! But lucky for me, the name still hung around my head long enough to return as a headline for my annual year-in-review post.

Between the globe irreversibly warming, mass gun deaths at a regular clip and the tumultuous rise of ISIS, it can feel like the human race is on the brink. But I have to stay hopeful, partly out of my constitution and partly because this year we brought another tiny human into the world and I want it to be a safe enough, survivable place for her.

In my little universe, there has been plenty of discovery and joy, and for that I’m endlessly grateful.

New Experiences: Moving to South Korea. Living in South Korea. Eating live octopus. Stranger in a strange land syndrome. Having a baby in a foreign country. Reporting through an interpreter almost exclusively. Ear infection. Getting abandoned in a cab without explanation. Crashing a wedding and going unnoticed. Eating 4,000 calories in front of an audience of thousands, who gave feedback the whole time. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Osaka, Japan. Osaka’s karaoke bars. Cat cafe.

Most Mindblowingly Awesome Gift: My friend and coworker, the shockingly talented Adam Cole, wrote and performed me a K-pop style goodbye song using common Korean phrases he taught himself in a day. This will be on the “best list” of my life, not just of the year.

Difficult Loss: Saying goodbye to my dog, Saidee.

Most Unexpected Mail: The last season of Mad Men on DVD, sent from LA by Mad Men creator and head honcho Matt Weiner. When he wrote me asking for my address, I thought it was a joke, until those DVDs arrived in the mail from his assistant.

Beverages of Choice: Gong Cha’s black tea iced bubble tea with full ice, 30% sweetness. Grapefruit soju. So much grapefruit soju.

Regrets: Never learned a signature karaoke song in Korean. Not counting kids books I read only three books beginning-to-end in 2015. This is by far my all-time low. Next year I’m taking the advice here on how to read more.

Product Discoveries: Okonomiyaki, “essence” for skincare, enoki mushrooms, pilates socks, Laneige water bank sleeping mask, Tony Moly Eye Cooling Stick

Things I miss about my American life: Snickers ice cream bars, the NFL, chatting it up with strangers, being understood when I ask questions, uncensored Internet, driving (on occasion), wasting time during the work day by walking to Starbucks with my coworkers, going to the office, being able to get food that’s not automatically spicy, Life cereal whenever I want it

Notable New Pal: Chris Holmes, who is Paul McCartney’s DJ. I met Chris in a classic living abroad/traveling a lot situation —  when you happen to be in the same place as an old friend. In this instance, I was in Tokyo at the same time as pal Harper, who was there with his dad to see Chris play in the Paul McCartney show in Tokyo. Not only did I get to hang with Harper and dad, we met Chris and his wife, Melinda, and when the McCartney tour came to Seoul, Chris hooked me up with VVIP tickets at the last minute. See? This is why you should say yes to everything.

Favorite Selfie: Isabel nailing me in the face a few days after I tried the “rice ball baby face” meme on her.

Items Muled to Seoul By American Friends: Hidden Valley Ranch, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Advil Liquigels, Almay Eye Makeup Remover Pads, Loreal Voluminous Mascara in Blackest Black, Lawry’s Taco Seasoning, my Graf & Lantz tote bag, baby shoes, Clean and Clear Foaming Face Wash, Degree deodorant, Purpose face wash, Robitussin Cough and Cold, Zinc throat spray.

And in no particular order, this year I:

Traveled 168,895 miles, visited seven countries and spent 54 days away from home (DC and then Seoul). It is more mileage but a lot more time at home than last year. I’m still exclusively breastfeeding little Isa, so she has to fly with me everywhere since I’m her food source. Pumping is an occasional option, but, since I am a known pump-hater, it is a last resort.
Kicked off 2015 in Mexico with some of my best pals and whiskey water
Said goodbye to Washington, D.C.
Got the best sendoff song of ever
Moved into my first-ever high-rise
Started learning Korean
Took a few MOOCs
Fried a few appliances due to international voltage differences
Learned about PM2.5 and started checking it every day
Played Korean drinking games with my company’s CEO
Started learning Korean, made little progress
Made a bunch of new expat friends, and
Entertained a lot of guests who visited from the states
Spent a lot more time with my mom/dad/brother, thanks to being newly Asia-based
Witnessed a line for a Taco Bell opening
Got the angriest listener voicemail
Let a stranger sleep on my shoulder on the Tokyo subway, which I learned is a Japan thing
Reflected upon my Korea experience with many blogs and magazines
Ate a giant cheeseburger in between contractions, during the birth of my new baby
Visited Jeju Island, a super weird place
Got a 10-year visa to China, but had to sign an MOU promising I wouldn’t commit acts of journalism when I’m there
Started life-logging again, this time with FitBit
Had a weird meeting at the North Korean embassy in Japan
Interviewed a Taiwanese presidential candidate
Witnessed a dog groomed into a square
Pissed off PSY’s lawyer
Found an uncannily spot-on Texas-themed bar in Tokyo
Covered ASEAN.
Spoke at my grandfather’s alma mater, in Beijing.
Got bronchitis after a trip to Beijing
Started a newsletter with a punny name.
Survived a 14-hour flight with a cranky husband, highly verbal three-year-old and a nursing baby. Then made it through their jet lag.

I think we can call it a year now. Goodbye, 2015.

Previous Years in Review:
201420132012 | 20112010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004

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