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

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

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

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

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

Breakdown of What I Read:

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

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

Reading Pace

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

How I Read ‘Em

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

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

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

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

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

Onward

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

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Resolutions for 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other intentions:

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

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Squad in Sydney

Harbour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2017 Year in Review: “Provocations”

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

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

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

-Todd Van der Werff, on 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

ahhhhhhh!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Places: Indonesia, Guam, Hokkaido, Australia

This year I…

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

Previous Years in Review:

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

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My Dude OBGYNs, In Vignettes

Yesterday I listened to a podcast episode about pelvic health, inspired by the uneasy experiences some women have had with their gynecologists. They advocated and featured nurse-midwives, who tend to be more feminist, holistic and just badass ladies. As someone who birthed all three children with midwives, I totally agree they are awesome. Midwives should be considered as a go-to option for regular exams whether you want/have children or not. But I’m also quite cool with my dude OBGYNS.

Three of my dude lady-part docs stand out in particular, mainly because I shared some unconventional experiences with them. The experiences are not graphic, they’re just … unique.

Dr. Katz

While on a semester-long break from the University of Missouri, I went to live in Houston with my mom, who was diplomating down there at the time. To occupy myself, I took a rather irregular schedule of classes at U of H and trained for a marathon. I also decided to work a side job as the front-desk check-in girl at the 24 Hour Fitness at San Felipe and Voss, mainly just to get a free gym membership.* What I remember about that time in my life is eating a lot of Whataburger (same intersection) and working alongside a few real roided-out sales guys who liked to guess womens’ weight when they came in.

Every morning, a genial, portly, tan, white-haired guy checked in to ride the recumbent bicycle for a good 45 minutes before maybe lifting some weights, showering and going to work. Since he was a regular, we began chatting and eventually I learned he was a well-known lady doc in H-town. As I had grown up in Dallas, I didn’t have a gynecologist in Houston. So I decided, hey, Dr. Katz is cool, I’ll make an appointment! And that’s how he became my practitioner as well as a gym buddy with whom I’d ride recumbent bikes on occasion. He’s stuck in my memory because we spent the morning of September 11 together. After a marathon training run at Memorial Park, I went to the gym to cool down by riding the bike while watching TV with Dr. Katz. That’s when we saw the plane hit the first tower.


Dr. Hugh

My two years as a reporter in upstate South Carolina (the foothills of Appalachia) felt far more like foreign correspondence than being out here in East Asia. I was exposed to more absurd, utterly unfamiliar situations than I was able to fully appreciate at the time.

This place was the buckle of the Bible belt, home to Bob Jones University (where women are still not allowed to wear pants) and the only place I’ve ever witnessed a KKK cross burning. While in Spartanburg, I went to a family physician for birth control, which should be noncontroversial, but Dr. Sanctimonious told me he was proud of the fact that he did not prescribe birth control because he didn’t believe in it, his faith guided him and la la la la. This surprised me but not that much, and instead of reporting him I just found an actual OBGYN, whose first name was Hugh. I’ll call him Dr. Hugh. He spoke softly and also had white hair, but unlike Katz, was thin and wiry. He was very sweet, like a southern Mr. Rogers.

I started seeing him during a time I was single. I remember this because right after the pelvic exam, while I was still in those gyno table stirrups, he whirled around and ASKED ME IF I WAS SINGLE, as he had a young medical resident that he really wanted to introduce me to. (To this day, I still wonder what it is that he saw down there that made him think, I should play matchmaker!) Two weeks later, when the hospital sent me my pap smear results, Dr. Hugh had handwritten a message on it. It said something like, “Turns out the resident I told you about is actually engaged! So sorry.”


Dr. Chung

Dr. Chung helped deliver Isa and Luna, our two girls born in South Korea. He’s a Korean who speaks pretty good English, as he caters to a lot of Western clients and is an advocate of natural birth, which is rare and perhaps considered a little hippie-ish among South Koreans. He is so chill that he barely examined me throughout my two pregnancies here. But he has a knack for saying and doing things that would definitely be considered inappropriate in Western medical settings. Like when I ran into him six weeks after birthing Luna in the packed waiting room of his practice and he started in on how smoothly my birth went. In front of everyone, he goes, “When she came out, didn’t it feel like an orgasm to you? It’s orgasmic, right?” I stood in silence for a few beats, trying not to acknowledge the roomful of people around us, and said something about how it certainly was a relief to deliver a healthy baby. (BUT THE ANSWER IS NO.)

A few weeks later, my assistant and I were nervously sitting at one of those processing windows at the Seoul Immigration Office, where I was applying for an Alien Registration Card for Luna. The issue at the immigration office is even though its clients are not Korean, the staff there barely speak any English. And it’s bureaucracy-laden. So between the lack of language and the layers of paperwork, I almost always get rejected there the first time I try to apply for registration or renewal. It was going to happen again, when Dr. Chung saved me! The rather stern lady at our window was going over our papers and noticed Luna’s birth certificate from the birthing clinic and immediately softened.

“Oh, I also gave birth at the same center,” she told us. “Wow,” I said. “Did you have Dr. Chung? He’s great, right? Very chill.”

“And very handsome,” she says, with no expression.** (Assistant Jihye had to translate this, with a chuckle.) The immigration officer approved Luna’s registration.


In conclusion, I barely know these guys but in some ways they know me quite well. And I’m grateful for each for taking good care of me, being a friend to the extent a doctor is a friend, and for the, uh, memories.

*This was my second job at a gym. In high school I did a stint as the smoothie girl at the Q Fitness Club in Plano, where I would get $20 tips for making $3 smoothies, so, clearly I was led to believe working at gyms was lucrative.

** Dr. Chung himself once told me he was considered very good-looking in Korea, which was helped by his height. I’m gonna say he’s about 6’2″.

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We Live in Public

The ‘We Live in Public’ premiere at SXSW. PC: Frank Gruber

Almost a decade ago, at the SXSW film fest, I saw a documentary about a man ahead of his time called We Live in Public. He rigged cameras all over his house and live-streamed his life with his girlfriend, a prophecy of the privacy-rejecting times to come. The film unsettled me back then, and raised a lot of serious questions about the implications of living under a construct like this. Now his avant garde art experiment is reality, especially in China, where people are making $100,000 a month live streaming their most mundane moments.

One of the primary concerns I have about all of us living in a mediated reality (one in which you are aware of an audience gaze) is how it affects identity formation. That is, during adolescence, when developmental science indicates people are quite literally forming their own identities, establishing who they are as adults who are separate from their parents, today’s adolescents are also forming their public identities (on Instagram or what not) at the same time. These two selves may be completely dissonant, and neither is even fully “formed” yet. What a mindfuck!

The summer between 9th and 10th grade, a group of cheerleaders from my high school decided to pose for a group picture topless except for belts they fastened around their chests. They took the film for developing at Eckerd (you see, children, back in those days we would get our film rolls developed at a 24-hour pharmacy). Another high school student worked at the Eckerd photo corner, saw the shot when reviewing the final photos and scanned it. This was 1998, so the photo was passed around as email attachments, and everyone who was anyone saw this photo, but it eventually stopped being a thing. Can you imagine if this had happened in the age of social media?

Had I paid more attention in philosophy classes, I would probably know this problem is as old as time, and it’s just expressing itself in a different way now. But I do think about it a lot because my daughters are post-millennials, and damn, what a world. Even given the minor professional obligations I have to be “in public,” I’m constantly unsure how much/what to share in public spaces. Suffice to say it will not be anything involving topless belt photos.

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Cone of Shame and Other Blunders

Caesar’s in a cone of shame for a week. But I should be wearing it.

Caesar is in a cone because of my neglect. I am in charge of trimming the kitties fingernails and I have done so on the regular, for the past 13 years, in which our cat ownership has ranged from two to, at one point, five cats (one was a foster kitten, Miguel, for whom we found a “forever home.”) After Luna was born and I had to go back to work, I guess I just forgot about Caesar’s nails and yesterday when I tried to trim them, I discovered that several of them were ingrown, that is, they got so long that they GREW INTO his paw pads. Needless to say, I felt so horrible that I flipped out. The vet said we could come in right away, but I was cycling through crippling guilt so Matty had to be the one to take Caesar and receive the poor parenting lecture, which was then relayed to me. Caesar seems to be okay now and mainly relieved that someone finally remembered him.


Eddie Rodriguez, Memorable Running Buddy

Speaking of kittens, I’ve been really missing my old Austin running buddy, Eddie, lately. We used to have these rather insane experiences because we trained at five in the morning and you see some weird stuff at twilight. The scariest incident was catching a glimpse of a NUTRIA on Lavaca Street in downtown Austin and then watching it disappear down a sewer. That image still haunts me. Or there was the time we were speeding up the stairs of a bridge over Town Lake (I’m gonna keep calling it Town Lake, mmmkay?) and we were confronted with giant human feces on the steps. It was really, shockingly large. I suppose it could have come from a mastiff or something, but Eddie and I are convinced that dump was of the human variety.

Our most insane running adventure was the time we were on one of our final training runs before the San Antonio marathon and had to log 20 miles. Nothing memorable happened until we had only four miles to go and we heard the distinct sound of kittens crying from inside some bushes. We stopped to see what was going on, found kittens clearly in distress and no sign of a momma cat, so we somehow lured the kittens to us and withstood clawing to pick them up. We then held them against our bodies — he had two, I had one — and ran, bouncing up and down, WITH CLAWING KITTENS IN OUR ARMS for three miles. I took them home, we called Austin Pets Alive and got them fostered until they were adopted. That was dramatic, man.

I haven’t been to Austin since those four hours I stopped there for Hannah’s baby shower, so when I get back there again, Eddie and I are going on a reunion run for the ages. I hope we do not see nutria.


No Alarms (and No Surprises) Please

OK Computer turned 20. I am really enjoying all the tributes. The New York Times breakdown is the most thorough, but I also liked that NPR dug into its archives for the interview with Radiohead when it came out. During my quarterly existential dread, I play ‘No Surprises‘ in a loop and that’s how spouse Stiles knows that it’s time for my quarterly existential dread. I THINK I’m a cheerful person, but then again, my favorite song is ‘No Surprises’ so maybe I’m actually catatonic. “This is my final fit…”

Today Isabel broke our Obama bobblehead, which I feel like is a really sad metaphor. She ran around the house yelling, “BROKEN, BROKEN!” at the top of her lungs.

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The #HyoJam Nuptials At The British Embassy

I love a good wedding and I try to blog about them afterward, emphasis on try. There are some years where we attend so many weddings that I end up without the clearheadedness (cough sobriety cough) to remember to do so. Since I am of reasonably clear mind right now, a few thoughts about this one:

1.) It was a perfect day weatherwise and pollution-wise in Seoul for James and Hyojin (#hyojam) to get married. They’re both English-language journalists in Korea with a lot of international study and work in their backgrounds, so this afforded an opportunity for 200 of their loving family, wisecracking friends and whip-smart coworkers from all corners of the globe to witness their union AND party together on the lawn of the British Ambassador’s residence (which is on the same compound as the Embassy). “This just proves how far you all will come for free booze,” James quipped.

2.) Given James and Hyojin’s vocations, their wedding meant 90% of all the primarily English-speaking people who cover or research North Korea for a living were in the same place. “Thank you to Kim Jong Un for not conducting a nuclear test,” James said, in remarks at the reception. “Because had he done so, half of you wouldn’t be here.” (Tis true.)

3.) Four-year-old Eva went as my date because Matty has a well-documented history of preferring stand-ins for events that require heavy-socializing. Eva got to wear her Korean hanbok, which is what Koreans traditionally wear to weddings. She loved getting dressed up but was not great about sitting still during the ceremony. Thank god my assistant and friend Jihye came to sit with us and entertained Eva with Snapchat face filters during the ceremony’s second-half.

4.) In the time before we headed to the reception on the Embassy compound and after the ceremony, it got super hot and Eva wanted shade. So we found a bench near a tree and sat down. That’s when a random Korean dude came up and asked me to sit still because he wanted to sketch me in profile. My friend Nat, who was in town from D.C., witnessed the whole exchange and said it would make for a great story: “Oh hey remember that time we were sitting outside the Anglican church on the diplomatic compound when a sketchy dude came up and wanted to sketch you Titanic-style?” The drawing only took two minutes and was … all right, I guess?

5.) Mainly this wedding rocked. There was all kinds of free boozing super-interesting guests, owing to the foreign correspondenting and diplomat-sourcing of James and Hyojin. James, for example, is a British national who studied in China and can speak Korean, English and Mandarin, which is an eclectic mix of expertise that can describe much of the crowd assembled.

6.) Some people run in the Las Vegas party circuit, some in the Hollywood party crowd, mine is the diplomatic/journalist/North Korea specialist crowd. It is decidedly wonky and heavy-drinking. Sometime last night at the wedding after-party and after several shots, I wandered to four different clusters of people milling about around on the patio, drinking and smoking. I kid you not, all FOUR groups were talking about sanctions and the ineffectiveness of the sanctions on North Korea, albeit taking different angles in their chatter. I mean, WTF.

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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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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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