What I’m Reading: The Trying A Newsletter Edition

I’ve gotten really into a couple of email newsletters that people I like and admire put out — notably Ann Friedman‘s, Jamelle Bouie‘s and Sean Bonner‘s. Newsletters are all the rage these days and I’ve toyed with doing one myself so I’m trying it out. You can subscribe at this link, and I’ll cross post here on HeyElise if you prefer not to crowd your inbox further.

What I Wrote

I’m on leave so I’m not doing a ton of writing for work. That said, I hope you’ll enjoy one of my last NPR pieces before I had a baby, on hard-core Korean hikers and how hiking links Korean immigrants to their ancestral homeland. I also wrote a bunch of answers for Cup of Jo, the popular lifestyle blog, about motherhood in South Korea. And if you haven’t moseyed over there yet, I started a blog for two-week-old Isabel Rock, because it wasn’t going to be fair that her sister has a Tumblr and I didn’t do some sort of documenting for Isa.

What I Read

Korean Juliana Haahs on being shamed for her looks by her Korean family. Ann Friedman on how the Taylor Swift/Nicki Minaj Twitter tussle laid bare what happens when white people hear big picture critiques about system racism. Sheila Smith on the uproar in Japan over legislation that would allow the pacifist nation to better defend itself militarily. Andy Greenwald on why Masters of Sex is not as good this season. The Atlantic writers scathingly and deliciously diss True Detective each week and that’s my favorite thing to read after my viewings. Choice example:

“Why, why, why, does Pizzolatto keep making Frank say thinks like, “It’s like blue balls. In your heart”? Poor guy’s got enough to deal with without it sounding like he’s doing pornographic slam poetry.”

What I’m Still Reading

Book: Korea: The Impossible Country, by Daniel Tudor

The former Economist correspondent in Seoul explores the history, culture and ways of life here on the land I now call home. It’s been dragging in a few parts but I’m learning a lot of fascinating tidbits so I’m working my way through.

What I’m Watching

Rectify is a quiet and sometimes lyrical show on Sundance Channel that I only recently discovered. The first season is only six episodes and available on Netflix or Amazon Prime streaming, so it’s easy to get caught up. It’s worth the investment if you enjoy character driven stories and can handle a more plodding pace. Not sure? Read Matt Zoller Seitz’s review, which won’t give much away.

Also: I’m hate-watching True Detective, of course.

Recommended

The Instagram account of Chriselle Lim: Chriselle Lim is a stylist and video blogger that once worked with the famous YouTube tycoon, Michelle Phan. I’ll never have her glamour or togetherness so I lurk on her Instagram, instead. Also she has an adorable baby who is also already living a more stylish life than the rest of us.

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That Time We Had A Baby In South Korea

Early Thursday morning, I awoke suspecting something was … off. It was exactly a week before Hu-Stiles #2: Electric Boogaloo’s due date, and my inability to go back to sleep indicated maybe I was in labor. When actual contractions came on around 4am (just like with Eva), I called my mom, who wasn’t supposed to arrive from Taipei until Saturday, and told her I wanted her to get on a plane ASAP. Spouse Stiles started his husband-coaching and labor was ON, man. Contractions were getting moderate, but nothing I couldn’t handle while also getting Eva ready for school.

By about 8am, things were getting uncomfortable, and my Korean birthing center’s midwife wanted us to go ahead and go in because second babies tend to come faster (Teaser: This was NOT the case for me). We dropped Eva off at school along with my Dad, who is town for babysitting help, so he could take charge of picking her up later.

Now that we are home as a family of four, I can blog about the experience!

A Birth in Korea: Stray Observations

We chose Mediflower, a natural birthing center in Seoul’s Gangnam district, because I like things as un-medicalized as possible and Eva was born without any pain interventions to great results for mom/baby, so we wanted a repeat experience, if possible. Medical interventions during labor & delivery actually tend to be high in South Korea, which has a higher C-section rate than the U.S., even. So we really had to find a place that wasn’t going to take the control of the birth out of my hands.

That said, the experience wasn’t completely Western.

Take off your shoes. The center makes you take off your shoes, like any Korean home, upon entrance. They offer a wide array of slippers at the center entrance but each labor and delivery room had a slipper rack, too.

The slipper rack in our labor and delivery room.

The slipper rack in our labor and delivery room.

There’s an obsessive focus on meal time and meals. (This is not a complaint.) My midwife Suyeon, or “Su,” checked us in and immediately presented us a menu for lunch, even though I was already six centimeters dilated. If you’ve given birth in an American hospital, that is not a point they let you chow down, if they let you eat at all. You can choose Western style meals or the Korean meals, which feature lots of banchan and some sort of main soup, stew or noodle dish. My spouse Stiles chose Korean. I went with a cheeseburger, which I had to eat between contractions and just after laboring in the tub for awhile.

Lunchtime during labor! Cheeseburger between contractions.

Lunchtime during labor! Cheeseburger between contractions.

Koreans believe Miyeokguk is the elixir of life. At the hospital/birthing center, Miyeokguk is available at every meal. It is seaweed soup, and Korean moms who abide by the traditional “confinement month” or “sitting month” after having a baby basically have to eat this every day, nonstop, to help in recovery and to get milk flowing for baby. Seaweed is an alkaline food which helps with pH balance and it’s full of iodine, which the Koreans say you need for getting your lady parts healed. I like it well enough, but I can see how you could easily get sick of it.

As in any part of the world, labor and delivery is not a walk in the park. I just had to accept that this was going to be a long day, and that contractions get more painful and intense and the breaks in between them get shorter until you face the daunting part of pushing out a small human. At one point between contractions I tried bouncing on the ol’ ab ball and this started an impromptu singing of R. Kelly’s “Ignition Remix” (key part includes ‘Bounce bounce bounce bounce bounce bounce bounce’). This was fun until it got a contraction going again. I knew Matty was being especially forgiving while I was in labor because he usually doesn’t ever let me sing in front of him, ESPECIALLY not Ignition Remix.

The shorter rope can be lowered to your preference.

The shorter rope can be lowered to your preference.

The tub and rope setup was pretty handy. Every two rooms share a water birthing tub with these 50 Shades of Gray-looking ropes to hang onto. You can dim the lights and work your way through the contractions, or even deliver in the tub. I just used the tub to get through contractions and got in and out of it a few times during labor day. It felt nice but I wanted to move around too much to stay in there for baby.

My mom made it before the typhoon. Mom wasn’t scheduled to arrive until Saturday, but I didn’t think I could go through with the pain of delivering a baby naturally without my mom being with me for the birth. She got on one of the only flights from Taipei to Seoul left (and among the last before they started canceling them in anticipation of Typhoon Chanhom), and made it to the birthing center with TWENTY MINUTES to spare. I was pushing, despairing and at the ultimate nadir of the labor process by the time she got there. It’s pretty amazing that the baby took her sweet time and didn’t make her appearance until her Oma (grandma) was by my side.

After the hospital staff encouraged me to eat dinner (BECAUSE OF COURSE THEY DID), Isabel arrived at 7:12pm Thursday night at a healthy 8lbs, 4oz and 21 inches long. I shared a quick pic on social media, returned some emails and then went to bed for the night. Mom roomed-in with us so she did the overnight rocking and diaper changing when Isa fussed and I nursed the baby a few times while half-asleep.

Isabel made it! This is before she was even wiped off, so uh, sorry she looks kinda gross.

Isabel made it! This is before she was even wiped off, so uh, sorry she looks kinda gross.

The next morning I awoke to a living nightmare that was also hilarious. Remember how the water birthing tub is shared between two rooms? A laboring mom checked in next door while we were sleeping. I awoke Friday to the sound of what I thought was a slaughterhouse, but really, it was just the final moments of a water birth. Seriously, it was like the cows in Fast Food Nation. Mom and I started cracking up just hearing this ordeal because we really thought this woman was not going to survive, much less deliver a baby. I was flooded with memories of delivering Isa the night before and I shuddered at the thought. After a few really awkward and terrifying moments only HEARING what was behind door #2, we heard a baby crying. She did it!*

The lactation consultant was so pro that she seemed like a North Korean Olympics Coach. Before checking out, Isa got her first bath and I got a lactation consultation from an elite North Korean soldier. I mean, a South Korean lactation specialist. She was a bigger-framed lady, tough and stern and scary with her style. She could only coach me through a translator so we went through this elaborate dance of her jerking me around on the bed and squeezing my boobs and contorting the baby’s mouth and jaw to show me the ultimate positions for breast feeding. I was so bewildered that I’m not sure I got much out of it. But baby seems to be eating enough, so far. Her older sister loves her.

Eva and Isa's first photo together.

Eva and Isa’s first photo together.

Isa got two birth certificates, one in each language. Next week she must go to the U.S. Embassy to declare herself as a U.S. citizen born abroad and to get her passport. The photo will be good for five years, which is going to be pretty funny.

*My mom later tried to tell me, in the nicest way possible, that if I thought the woman-next-door sounded bleak, that I sounded way scarier while delivering Isabel. I hope that’s not true…

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Roger Gifs, Day 3: Jubilation On The Water

I’m not really sure what’s going on here. But it’s probably not the only one I am going to share from Roger’s stand-up rafting on some piranha pond.

Roger on some sort of standup raft in a pond.

Roger on some sort of standup raft in a pond.

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Roger Gifs, Day 2: Roger Wears Suits On Long Flights

For the latest in my series poking fun at my little brother (but also not-so-secretly being jealous at his lifestyle), I chose a clip of Roger flying to Indonesia with a camera crew in tow. He seems to lounge and sleep with his bespoke suit on. This seems crazy to us lay people, but it’s become a joke in our family that every time we pick up Roger at the airport, even if it’s a flight from Beijing to Washington, he comes off the plane in a suit.

Those noodles look good, actually.

Those noodles look good, actually.

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Introducing Roger Gifs!

Roger Gif 1: I am Roger

Roger Gif 1: I am Roger

The most random and unintentionally amusing person I know is my little brother, Roger Hu. He’s also an expat in East Asia, working as the CEO of a tech startup he founded in China, TeeKart. It’s like Open Table but for booking golf tee times.

TeeKart is partnered with golf resorts in China, Hong Kong and Indonesia, and for some reason he got asked to host a handful of marketing vids to introduce the Indonesian courses he works with. The videos are ridiculous.

THIS IS GREAT NEWS FOR ME, because now I am going to start making a series of “ROGER GIFS!” This is “Roger Gif 1: I am Roger.”

These are going to get more insane, I promise.

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Please Stay In Touch

We drove our Nissan up to my great-uncle’s and left it there in Potomac, Maryland, then took an Uber to the airport to make the great trek to South Korea. It was a trek indeed, as it included a false start: the first leg of our journey to San Francisco was canceled due to mechanical errors, plane de-icing taking too long, and timed-out pilots after we were forced to sit on the runway at Dulles for six hours. Pretty miserable. It didn’t make the next two days easy, in which we actually did fly to San Francisco and then on to Seoul’s Incheon Airport. But we are here now.

Since my life in Korea is largely for work, I’ll be blogging a lot at my new work-Tumblr, Elise Goes East. Please follow along and send me any suggestions. The posts will also be available on my public facing Facebook page. So those are two places you can easily reach me. Email or Kakao Talk (EliseHu00) are also methods.

I hope you come and visit.

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A Guide To My Washington D.C. Places, As I Depart

Private karaoke room goodbye at Wok 'n Roll. Yes, it's called Wok 'n Roll.

Private karaoke room goodbye at Wok ‘n Roll. Yes, it’s called Wok ‘n Roll.

While my memories of my last hometown, Austin, are vivid, my memories of DC are sort of soft focus. I think this is because I didn’t spend as much time just existing in DC — I originally took a job here that required nearly 50 percent travel — and I drank a lot, and, the nature of covering national news means you’re less a part of the community in the way you are when you’re coverage is “of and for” a more localized area.

But D.C. grew on me. Our daughter was born here, I worked among some of the smartest and most creative people I’ve ever met and feel this is the place I “grew up” and stopped feeling like a child that was just flitting about life. I enjoyed checking off some D.C. bucket list items like attending the Correspondent’s Dinner a couple of times, hosting a book party where people looked for their names in the index and spending summer nights at Nats games.

If there’s one common thread about DC no matter what your friend group, it’s that we’re always saying goodbye. D.C., as it’s well known, is full of people who aren’t from here and don’t stay here, so even in the short four years I’ve been here I’ve said goodbye again and again and again such that it’s reluctantly become muscle memory. I suppose it’s not so strange for me to leave, too, and I fully expect the place to be unrecognizable when I return.

Some places I’ll remember…

Favorite Place For A Stiff Post-Work Cocktail (Plus chicken wings!): Stan’s on Vermont Ave near 15th Street.

I said cocktail but they actually serve you a full tumbler of a hard liquor of your choice and it’s so full that your requested mixer comes in a separate glass. This will get you drunk in a hurry, and the basement location, the delightful hostess who remembers you and all your friends AND their famous chicken wings make this a great night, every time.

Favorite Lunch or Dinner Restaurant: Sushi Taro. Located conveniently need the Kazakstan Embassy, Sushi Taro became a go-to in my waning days of DC because I frankly prefer Japanese cuisine above the rest. Except for some Chinese dishes, of course. Like roasted duck.

Favorite Breakfast: District Taco, cause you can take a gal out of Austin but not the breakfast taco cravings out of the girl.

Favorite Happy Hour That No Longer Exists: Kushi. The service was meh and the food was only above mediocre but damn, we drank there so much. For a couple of years a group of us reliably met every Tuesday night with rotating hosts for the Tuesday Night Drinking Club and Matt Thompson almost always picked Kushi when it was his turn to host. It closed last fall because the owner hadn’t been paying rent. Oops.

Favorite Drinking Spot Before It Was Overrun By Millennials: The Passenger. It was like The Max for NPR, back in the old building. I remember so many summer nights spent sweating in that front booth cause the air circulation in there is horrid. But the craft cocktails were divine.

Best ‘Stuff White People Like’ Market: Union Market. This venue also hosts Crafty Bastards, which is also quite white.

Need A Random Weekend Walk? Meridian Hill Park has lots of space for picnicking and often has a drum circle going so you can enjoy that while on your walk. For more nature, my family and I like the National Arboretum. (The Arboretum is also excellent for Christmas card photos.)

Overhyped: Why do people love Sweetgreen? Why does everyone eagerly pay $12 for a salad and a drink?

Cheap Lunch: Harris Teeter will put a giant slice of pizza in their oven for you and sell it to you for $2.99. So I get two slices and it’s still cheaper than half a salad at Sweetgreen.

The Only Good Chinese In DC Proper: Panda Gourmet, which is the restaurant inside a Days Inn on an otherwise shady stretch of New York Avenue. It serves Szechuan and Shanxi cuisine (they are very different from one another), and we love anything on the menu that starts with ‘twice-cooked’. Also a big fan of their eggplant in garlic sauce and Shanxi noodles.

My Hair Guy: Carlos Perina of Corte Salon. Carlos is excellent with color, gives Eva free bang trims every three weeks and became one of my close friends over the last few years. He cut Clinton in the nineties and also gave Johnny Wright a station at his salon before Wright became Michelle Obama’s traveling hair guy.

Reliable Vietnamese Nail Ladies: Soleil 21 on Capitol Hill

Reliable Local Chains: Matchbox, Beau Thai, We The Pizza

Reliable Dim Sum: You have to drive a bit to Rockville but Far East knows what its doing. And it’s right next to a Wendy’s so if you are hungry for dessert afterward (which let’s face it sometimes I am) you can get a frosty.

Airports: Just don’t fly out of Dulles. People from DC would rather spend a night in Prince Georges County jail than fly out of Dulles.

Bar Trivia Options: Argonaut, if you like drilling down on subject specific questions. Nellie’s, for sports and just random fun questions plus cheap drinks (great for teams).

A Good DC Gift For A Friend: A bottle of Greenhat Gin. Or something kitschy from a local artist at Monroe Street Market.

Things to be Avoided: Driving on Rhode Island Avenue (anytime). Any carry-out that serves Chinese/Chicken Wings/Subs, of which there are many.

Annual DC Events That Should Make Your Calendar: Embassy Day. The High Heel Race. The Pride Parade. The AFI Film Festival in Silver Spring. Actually I don’t know that many ‘DC’ events because I only lived here about 60 to 70 percent of the last four years. But those are the ones I made it to and enjoyed.

T.S. Eliot says that you really only know a place after you left and came back, so I don’t claim to know DC at all. But again, it somehow crawled into my heart and became home, albeit only for a short time. See you next time, Washington.

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A Sendoff Song, Written From Lines In A Korean Phrasebook

Sample lyrics.

Sample lyrics.

We are (finally) leaving on Sunday to open the aforementioned NPR Seoul bureau. The absurdly talented Adam Cole decided to try and challenge himself to write a K-pop style ballad using only words from a beginner’s Korean phrasebook. The results made me cry with laughter … and delight. So, so overwhelmingly awesome. We need to make this a K-pop hit, y’all.

“We often get caught up in platforms rather than the most important tool for success, which is not a technological platform at all: it’s intellectual curiosity. It’s that persistent tug to want to know more, to ask questions, to seek answers. The best reporting comes from the best questions, and no matter what the platform, great journalists are asking them.”

my chat with Gigaverse about finding good work, my favorite platform on which to report and balancing parenthood and journalism

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The Best Advice I Got Last Year

One of the most pleasurable aspects of having brilliant coworkers is basking in the wisdom, knowledge and good-humored counsel of said colleagues. I am lucky to count among my people Shankar Vedantam, who, among many other things, is the social science correspondent for NPR and author of The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives.

It goes without saying that it’s pretty sweet to have this guy around when I’m in the middle of a professional or personal crisis and just need some sage advice.

Last year I was considering another job offer, since I had just hit my three-year-mark at NPR and three years was the longest professional association I’d ever had. I was feeling anxious to do something new, maybe just for the sake of the stretching and growing that comes with leaving your comfort zone. The role being offered was pretty great and something my 29-year-old self would have leaped at, but I was at the much-better-cooked age of 31 by then. I worried about the organization of the other place — was the leadership stable? Did it have a sustainable business?

Shankar said none of it mattered. What mattered most, he said, was passion and what we feel most passionate doing. Which gets to the best advice I got last year:

He said, we tend to make personal decisions with our hearts and work decisions with our minds, but it should actually be flipped.

It makes more sense, he said, to make work decisions based on emotion because so much of professional fulfillment — and success — flows from passion, and the other details (who owns a company, the board, etc) are out of our control. But interpersonal relationships are dependent on far more than passion, because of our children, homes, etc. So it’s better to make those decisions practically and not emotionally.

Shorter Shankar: Professional decisions? Heart. Personal decisions? Head.

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