Recommended Links: A Trump-Free Edition

I put out a newsletter — called the Hu’s letter (groan) — that I’ve deliberately not promoted because I like that it’s small. It feels like I’m just writing to a handful of old friends. In it I share links that I found thought-provoking or just worthy of other people’s eyes, what I’ve written or said to other press, and pop culture ephemera I’m consuming in a given week. Sometimes I include product recommendations, but only if I’m feeling passionately about said products.

Almost 50 newsletters in, I’ve found that the search function in TinyLetter, a free newsletter platform, is terrible. I can never find OLD links I know I shared but want to re-read for whatever reason. So I’m going to put most of each latest newsletter’s links in list form, as a post, since the search function works much better on this here blog.

What I Read
That gif above says a lot about male entitlement in Korea.
This photo essay masterfully flips racial stereotypes.
Journalists drink too much and are bad at managing our emotions.
What ADHD is, and isn’t.
We all need to care about the 2020 Census.
How to respond to terrorism.
An awful attempt to shut down a reporter.
A compelling goodbye to NPR.
The U.S. maternal death rate is unacceptable.
People are helping pay off school lunch debt to stop lunch shaming.
Mark Zuckerberg, establishment man.
Even the Kardashian show has gotten sad.
A pet tortoise teaches us about mortality.
Leaked CIA travel tips.
Free the MILF.
This moving profile of Mr. Rogers, from the Esquire archives.
Someone visualized every color cardigan Mr. Rogers wore.

My Own Musings
Goodbye to my grandmother, an OG feminist trailblazer.
And quick thoughts on the emotional work of motherhood, with GOOD Magazine.

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On The Emotional Work Of Mommying

Talked with GOOD Magazine about motherhood’s emotional labor.

Goodbye To My Grandma Rock

(A Chinese translation of this is available below the English.)

My grandmother died early this morning, aged 94. She was so strong and full of grit that part of me believed she would never die.

When my mom called to tell me, she didn’t say grandma died, she said, “Grandma left.” As if grandma went out on an errand. But I knew what she meant.

My mother is 61 years old and a grandmother herself, four times over. But she said to me, her voice breaking, “It’s unimaginable navigating this world without a mother.”

Grandma lived in Taiwan, and I was born and raised in the U.S., so I didn’t really get to know her until I was a teenager and we traveled back and forth more often. My mom’s relationship with her mom is so deep that I remember sometime around first grade, feeling really envious of grandma. Who was this woman my mom loved so much? By the time I was old enough to understand, I only wanted to spend more time with Grandma Rock, the ultimate survivor. The kind of survivor that made me believe she’d never die.

Grandma’s surname is Shih, which literally translates to rock. And it’s fitting. She’s the oldest of six siblings, a well-known educator and later in life, one of Taiwan’s earliest female politicians.

She’s also two-times a war refugee — surviving the most devastating conflicts in recent Chinese history. When the Japanese invaded “Manchuria” in the Sino-Japanese War during WWII, she and her family were forced out of their home in Northeast China and migrated to central China. Decades later she had to flee again, many of her siblings in tow, during the brutal Chinese Civil War, when Mao’s communists defeated Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalists. She wound up in Taiwan until her death this morning.

She didn’t merely live. Grandma sucked the marrow out of life until the very end. She first worked as a teacher, but quickly became a principal and headmaster of the most elite women’s high schools in Taiwan. She was a working mom who never seemed to have any of our modern American angst about it. She had my aunt Linda, uncle Steve and her youngest, my momma, while also molding generations of young Taiwanese women at the schools she led. Those women have gone on to become artists and scientists and politicians and the brightest stars of Taiwan’s society. I remember visits to Taiwan and going out to eat with grandma in different cities. More often than not, we’d run into a former student who would recognize her and come by to say hello and thank you.

They recalled her being strict and exacting. I recall her being tough but warm, and how she found so many things delightful and humorous. She laughed with her whole body. One time when I was 12, we were in the backseat of a cab that was taking too long to get some place, and my externally sober grandma decided to show me her stupid human tricks to pass the time. Let’s just say she’s crazy flexible. She also showed me that you can do more than just roll your tongue in half — you can fold it three ways, like a flower. So now I too, can do this, if you ever want to see. (Apparently the ability to do this is genetic, so I guess grandma expected I’d be able to follow suit.)

While she expected excellence out of everyone, she reserved the toughest standards for herself. I have never seen her flub anything, especially when she spoke. When she came to my wedding in Amsterdam, she was 87 and still the sharpest one in the room. She spoke at the ceremony and at the reception in her native Mandarin Chinese. My friend Drew said afterward, “I couldn’t understand a word she said, but when Grandma speaks, we all know to shut up and listen!” She commanded the room like no one I’ve ever seen and probably will never see again.

The other thing I remember vividly about Grandma is her emphasis on (social and civic responsibility). She talked about it all the time. “Why’d you have three kids when you were so busy in your career?” .” “Hey, why’d you retire so late?” “.”

After she retired from her education career in Taichung — her final posting as principal was at a top all-girl’s high school there — my grandma continued breaking glass ceilings and served as one of the only women representatives to her political party’s national congress. “Why’d you get involved in the rough-and-tumble of politics when you could have just enjoyed yourself?” “.”

By the time she died, she was the matriarch of a huge extended family. She was a mother of three, grandmother to six and a great-grandmother to five. (Thanks to her side of the family, I have about 70 cousins and second cousins and we all kinda know each other.)

Despite her age, it was unexpected when I got the news of her passing because she had just come out of a scary gall bladder surgery a month ago and was doing really well. I video-chatted with her last week and she was looking and sounding great. She spent all day yesterday playing mahjong, which she has enjoyed in her final years, after she stopped all the international travel, yoga practice and ballroom dancing of her seventies and eighties.

My newborn Luna was going to meet her great-grandma Rock on Monday — we’ve had tickets to Taipei for weeks. We missed her by mere days. But grandma went in peace, at her home, and with my mom by her side. She knew the love of family, which is what she wished for us, especially after her own siblings were split up during China’s external and internal wars. She spoke about it often. So I’ll end this with what grandma said in her own words, from a speech she gave the family at a reunion in 2009:

“During China’s political turmoil our family was separated in an effort to flee to safety. Consequently, my siblings and I grew up during a very trying time where everyone was forced to fend for themselves. We lost contact with one another. Our biggest regret was not being able to enjoy the blessings of family warmth and sibling love.

Since we endured childhood loneliness without family, it is our wish that the future generations will see the value and enjoy the blessings of one another’s love and support. It is our hope the ties of our family love will be our legacy that is passed on to all future generations.”

With grandma and mom after I got hitched in Amsterdam, in 2010. She was 87!

You can read this in Chinese, after the jump.

Continue reading →

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Here Are My Favorite Links On Motherhood

To mark Valentine’s Day, I dug into my Evernote (where I obsessively save links of interest) and found all the reads I’d tagged with “love.” For this Mother’s Day, I dove back in and cobbled together memorable links on motherhood, a topic that teaches, inspires and challenges me every moment. While I never grew up imagining my wedding/getting married, I always knew instinctively I’d be a mom.

As I write this, I’m surrounded by the singing, stomp-running and occasional screaming of three girls under the age of five, all who call me momma. My love for them is the deepest deep, and becoming a mom made me love my own mother — and need her — even more than I always had. When I was nursing eldest daughter Eva that first week of her life, my mom would stand over me with a bowl of soup and actually feed me as I was feeding my own baby, since my hands weren’t free. To my mom, my 30 year-old body was still her responsibility to nourish, just as I was doing for Eva. I recall so vividly a magical symmetry in the three of us together in those early days of Eva’s life.

Not all of us have kids, but we all have moms, so these links are for everyone.

We’re not so different from our own moms. “Because I’m so attached to her, I’m less attached to my own ego.” The conundrum of combining being an artist and being a mother. Tina Fey’s prayer for her daughter. On being a foreign correspondent and a mother. There’s no real safety net for working mothers. The worrying puritanism of progressive parents. Mothers are keepers of bodies. Becoming a new father, slowly. Getting pregnant is neither punishment nor reward. The only baby book you’ll need. Advice new moms gave me before I became one. The toll of pregnancy on a woman’s body, in one comic. Celebrate nannies and the network of people who care for your child. We have to stop thinking of work-life balance as a woman’s problem. Friend Kat remembers her late mom, by literally walking in her shoes. Thoughts on my back-to-back miscarriages. The black magic of being a mom, even for a moment. “I asked myself, ‘What am I going to lose by having a child?’ And so far the answer is nothing.” Letting go gets even harder when the children grow up.

With Isabel, in Okinawa, last year.

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Harper’s Bazaar Junior

That time we were in Harper’s Bazaar.

To be honest, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as Harper’s Bazaar Junior, and I have some real reservations about haute couture for kids (because it’s really for the adults, isn’t it?). Anyway a writer reached out to me after finding me on Instagram and asked for some recommendations of places we like to take the kids to eat and play, in Seoul. Here’s my contribution, which features my go-to “Chicken Cauldron Place,” which as it turns out, has a real name.

 

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Bill O’Reilly Is A Poet

Bill O’Reilly’s “WE’LL DO IT LIVE” meltdown on the set of Inside Edition is a video that stands the test of time. For the past decade or so that it’s existed on YouTube, “Fuck it, we’ll do it live” has been one of my go to refrains at work (in television news, naturally) or in life (the phrase can apply to so many situations).

I have a friend at NPR who’s quite the amateur poet. He occasionally takes the beginnings of my actual emails to a giant work group and turns them into poems. They are inspired. And hilarious. On this occasion of Bill O’Reilly’s firing from Fox, said friend one-upped himself and realized O’Reilly’s famous “DO IT LIVE” rant is a poem in it of itself. Herewith:

THAT’S TOMORROW (AND THAT IS IT FOR US TODAY)

By Bill O’Reilly

thats tomorrow
and
that is it for us today
okay

I don’t know
whatever it is
its not right on the
teleprompter

I don’t know what it is
I’ve never seen that
okay

but I cant read it
theres no words on it
there’s no words there

to play us out
what does that mean

to play us out
I dont know what that means

to play us out
what does that mean

to end the show?
Alright

go go

and that is

thats tomorrow
and
that is it for us today
and we will leave you with a

I cant do it
we’ll do it live
we’ll do it live
we’ll do it live!

fuck it
do it live!

thats tomorrow
and
that is it for us today

Im bill oreilly
thanks again for watching
we’ll leave you with

sting and a cut

off his new album

take it away

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Toddler Isa took my phone and was looking at the home page, with all the app icons. When she spotted the Starbucks icon, she kept touching it saying “MOMMA! MOMMA!”

She has linked the Starbucks logo to me, in her mind, because I am always coming home with one of my iced green teas. Clearly I should cut back.

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Little Luna Lee Is Here

We brought the two-day old newborn home from the birthing center and I’m splayed out in my bed while smells of deliciousness waft into the bedroom from the kitchen, where my mom is here taking care of me and cooking up a storm. The baby’s bassinet has pictures taped on it, drawn in washable marker featuring hearts and palm trees and tulips, creations of her oldest sister to welcome Luna into the world.

Our littlest family member, Luna Lee, at six hours old.

Luna’s birth story started at 11 o’clock on Thursday night, when I was ready for bed. A contraction came, and then fairly quickly, another. I called my midwife and she said to go ahead and get to the birthing center, since third babies tend to come faster. We told our helper, Yani, to take care of the older girls in the morning and brought our stuff and checked in. I don’t remember the conversation we had in the car except that I kept having to pause whatever we were talking about in order to endure contractions.

At first check after getting to the clinic, I was only four centimeters, so we thought we were in for a long haul. But the contractions were surprisingly strong, and when I spent some time in the birthing pool, they got super strong and the baby felt low … almost to the point where I felt the urge to push.

At one point I had to institute a moratorium on jokes because in between contractions that were so strong I could hardly breathe, Matty checked his phone and goes, “Hey, did you know Don Rickles died?” [GROAN.]

Out of the tub and still in my purple bikini top like I was just a giant person on spring break or something, I asked the midwife, Selina, to check me again and suddenly I was 10cm dilated (which is to say, fully dilated), meaning the baby was already ready to make her entrance. Babies descend with each contraction, so the final half hour of labor is the hardest (at least it’s been true for my unmedicated births, which is all I know about).

Then came the dreaded “I-Feel-Like-I-Might-Die” part, or as the birthing educators call it, “The Transition“. My mom wasn’t here yet (she wouldn’t arrive until lunch time on Friday, and it was only 4a.m.), and I was terrified without her. Matty was there to “coach,” and so was Selina the midwife, and an intern named Daniel who my OBGYN had suggested attend my birth to see the experience from start to finish. I’m not sure what he was thinking, being there for such a crazy occasion while on his summer break from the University of Kentucky, but Daniel ended up being awesome to have there because he got an experience out of it, but we did, too. He took photos of Luna entering the world. (It’s all pretty ‘National Geographic’ so you won’t see it on this blog.)

Selina guided me along, making sure I didn’t push too hard or too soon, which prevents any down-there tears. But I could feel Luna coming like a powerful storm, and even though my face was buried in a pillow since I was screaming and I didn’t want to scare people, somehow miraculously I heard the voice of my OBGYN Dr. Chung, telling me the baby would be out soon. I guess he had made it to the birth from his home just in the nick of time, which is impressive.

Three pushes, and Luna came out surfing a wave, since Selina broke my water for me as she emerged. Luna cried out for a remarkably short amount of time — five seconds — then was suddenly quiet for a wipe down and time on my chest, which is what we do after birth to help regulate the baby’s temperature and help her feel secure. She stayed on my chest for an hour — for the final stage of delivery (pushing out her “condo,” the placenta), until the umbilical cord stopped pulsing and Matty could cut it, and through her first nursing.

Then homegirl got weighed and measured! She’s 8lbs, 6oz and 20.5 inches long. She’s sleeping and eating like a champ. You can find her blog at LunaLee.blog.

Skin to skin time right after Luna was born.

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A Behind-The-Story Story, From Laos

Diners on the Mekong, Vientiane.

Last September when I was in lush Laos following around Barack Obama during his last tour in Asia as president, I met a fellow foreign correspondent I had long admired — William Wan. William, who was back in DC after a long stint in Beijing, is a storyteller with a kind and gentle spirit, unlike some of the more rough and tumble “flungs,” as our shop calls us international reporters.

We were in Vientiane most of the time, staying at a rather gross hotel that had too many mirrors in the bedrooms and smelled of too much air freshener. After long reporting days, I avoided time at the hotel and tried to hang out along the mighty Mekong, instead. William, who knew my voice from his NPR listenership, asked to tag along for dinner on a Tuesday night.

Obama was scheduled to fly to the historic town of Luang Prabang the next morning. I had a flight to go along, but owing to just learning I was two months pregnant and feeling the sickness (and paranoia about Zika mosquitoes), I canceled my trip. Over our dinner of fried things, William waffled on going to Luang Prabang, too. Obama was simply going to do meet-and-greets with locals and talk to young Southeast Asians in a forum; the White House didn’t arrange travel so we were all arranging our flights unilaterally, William went back-and-forth about whether it would be worth it just to see a typical dog-and-pony show.

When we said goodbye that night he still hadn’t decided. But the next night, I ran into him late in the evening at our filing center in the mirrored hotel. He was the only one left. He explained he was puzzling over what to do with what he got that day. It turned out he did go to Luana Prabang, but instead of following the president, he stood in the lines of people waiting for the motorcade along the street. That’s how he ran into a young monk named Sengdao. William stayed with him for hours and turned this lovely piece. An excerpt of what happened:

“He kept a watchful eye on the street beside his temple for signs of the police and Obama’s motorcade.

All morning, he waited beside the temple walls.

Around 1 p.m. a Scottish couple wandered past him.

“Did you see Obama?” they asked Sengdao.

The president, it turned out, had taken a back road to the adjacent temple. The couple showed Sengdao pictures of the motorcade on their phones, and he looked on politely, hiding his disappointment.”

The story still came out well and it was one of those great examples of going out and finding people stories instead of following around a predictable politician. This week, an epilogue. Obama heard about the monk missing his motorcade and wrote him answers to questions about life that Sengdao was seeking. It turns out the president wrote him back just weeks after the Laos trip, but the letter only recently got to him. William followed up:

He has shown the actual letter to even fewer people because of how precious it feels. “It’s not a secret, but it feels very personal and private that he would choose to write something to me. I don’t want to ruin that feeling,” Sengdao said. He emailed me a copy of the letter, but asked that it not be posted in full online.

Obama encouraged Sengdao to keep pursuing his dreams and dedicate himself to improving his own life and the lives of others. “The letter is an answer to all my questions,” Sengdao said. “He is like me, someone who started from nothing. It makes me think I can do that as well.”

It’s worth reading both stories. I’m so touched and happy this happened. And way to go, William, for finding the humanity in these otherwise super-staged trips.

William, in our filing center in Laos, trying to figure out how to write his monk story.

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