Pyeongchang Winter Olympics: Cheers and Jeers

Covering curling with my friend Jonathan Cheng of the WSJ, who is now OBSESSED with curling.

It’s the final day of the Winter Games in Pyeongchang and Gangneung. Covering these games was crazy intense, the whole way through. I can’t reflect really well without hindsight, so instead, here’s a round of cheers and jeers.

Cheers

The sports. What I love about the Winter Olympics is how utterly death-defying all of the events are, maybe with the exception of curling. But for basically every other event (skeleton, anyone?), a mere mortal would DIE trying it. I am exactly the kind of person who cannot maintain my cool when watching things like figure skating jumps. I cringe and audibly react with an “OH OWWWWW” when someone falls on the ice.

Curling. There’s something so magical about the perfect stones and the special shoes (one glides, the other doesn’t) and the terminology like “hog line” and “hammer.” I have come to really enjoy going to see curling more than anything else. The best night of curling happened with WSJ’s curling aficionado and sportswriter Jim Chairsumi happened to come have dinner with us and came with me to catch some curling. He gave the play-by-play and context, making the whole experience that much better. Thanks, Jim!

The Garlic Girls, aka Team Kim. The breakout sensation of these Games are four girls from the sticks, a garlic-producing town called Uiseong, which charmed the nation with their improbable victories in curling over the world’s best. Friend Jon (from the WSJ) and I accidentally stumbled on these women when we went to curling with the aforementioned Jim. They were mesmerizing to watch, and interesting off the ice, too. They have nicknames based on their favorite foods (“Steak” is my fave), a skip who is stone-faced, which inspired hella memes, and an excellent curling strategist. That they made it to the gold medal game at all was in the face of 50-1 odds. Rock stars, pun intended.

USA Women’s Hockey Team Beating Archrival Canada was the most exciting hockey game I’ve ever attended and maybe the greatest Olympics hockey game ever, according to veteran sportswriter Christine Brennan. It was sort of a fluke that I wound up covering it, meaning not only did I get to enjoy it, I got to file my first (and probably only) hockey results piece ever.

Reunions. The last time I was in the same place as Nigel Robertson I was 24 years old and he bought me a Wonder Woman shirt for my birthday that year. We have celebrated one another’s successes from afar for years and his energy is infectious. NIGEL is at the Olympics. So is Friend Juliet, who I haven’t seen since we moved away from Washington, Friend Alex, who I haven’t seen since the Nieman thing in Boston in 2013, and so many coworkers who I really never even worked with before, like our sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Getting to laugh with these folks makes the Olympics really special.

Jeers

Overheated buses. We constantly go from standing in subzero temperatures in a fierce (sometimes as fast as 50mph winds) to buses heated like they’re in the inside of a Korean sauna. One time my colleague Bill got into a bus that was actually heated just the right temperature and he decided to ride it to wherever it took him just to stay on the bus and not get stuck on a different one.

Wind. Wind gusts reached Cat3 hurricane speeds, destroying pop-up food stalls, security screening posts and wreaking havoc on the alpine schedule. For those of us who had to walk around in the wind, the big problem was trying not to be picked up by a strong gust. Also debris. I ended up having to irrigate my eyes numerous times after specks of gravel flew up into my peepers.

Food that tastes like despair. I feel it’s a travesty that the food in the concessions and tents here is so bad, given that there are such culinary delights across the rest of the country. Breakfast is sad, concessions which consist of “nachos without cheese” or “sandwich” (no details about what’s in it) taste of despair. Even things you can’t screw up, like fried mandu, aren’t served with condiments, so you can’t adjust anything. No hot sauce or soy sauce for you! Outrage.

The schedule. It is nonstop grinding-it-out, around the clock, since we work our daytime, and then by nighttime we begin working America’s daytime. The result is my alter ego comes out. Her name is Denise and she is a bitch. Denise has been making regular appearances in recent days, being all sorts of grumpy, uncompromising and picking fights. My mom thinks I’ve gone temporarily insane and told me I should not make any decisions right now, to which I responded by hanging up on her. Blame Denise, she’s horrendous.

Media Village Housekeeping. The apartments didn’t have do not disturb doorhangers so I’d often be awakened by or disturbed by the loud electronic voice of the teched-out apartment bell, which yelled, “YOU HAVE A CALL. YOU HAVE A CALL.” The other issue is that they bring you fresh towels every day, but never put them in the bathroom. So you’d come out of the shower or finish handwashing and have to trudge over to the bed to dry off. Because of language barriers, this situation could not change. I end my Olympics tenure supremely annoyed by this. Or is it Denise being annoyed? Hard to tell.

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First Dinner & Second Dinner, Exposed!

I grew up reading The Dallas Morning News, so it’s very weird to be the subject of a story in it. But Byron Harris is the reporter on it, and Byron is a living legend. So you know I wasn’t ever gonna say no to anything he wanted to do.

Settlers of Seoul Podcast

This week I sat down with Arius Derr of a local podcast called Settlers of Seoul to talk about A LOT OF STUFF. Things I never thought about before, like the cryptocurrency Dogecoin. We did about an hour together, so I think this is officially the longest amount of time I’ve ever spent answering questions about myself. It was super fun, despite my being stumped a lot. Show notes are here.

Thanks, Arius!

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On Liz Plank’s Pod… To Talk Gender Issues

Spoke with Vox’s Liz Plank about the boxes women in my region are forced to fit into and the consequences and questions that flow from that. Thanks Liz and producers, for having me on!

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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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Temporary Duty Yonder

Reported to duty.

The military term for a long stint elsewhere is TDY, which the armed forces like to joke stands for “Temporary Duty Yonder.” I’m not even sure what it really stands for, TBH. There I go with the acronyms again!

I went to Washington for most of November, coming off a blistering week-and-a-half reporting in advance of — and during —President Trump’s epic trip to Asia. (Nothing substantive was really achieved for the US but he commanded a lot of attention and resources in the region.) Thankfully, our afternoon program, All Things Considered, sent me a producer for the Asia trip — Becky — and we reported at a breakneck pace while sneaking in delicious meals. From the Tokyo leg, I came to Seoul for one day with Trump and covered a bunch of right-wing Koreans who welcomed him, then grabbed my baby and a suitcase and got on a plane to Washington. Then, Becky and I had to re-live Wednesday, November 8 due to the time difference. The first Wednesday November 8 was already exhausting; you can imagine having to do it again, but in Washington. I ended my second Wednesday November 8th with my former editor, Uri, at the “sad Hilton Garden Inn” bar, which is really, really sad. But I enjoy the kitsch of it.

I have spent too much time writing about the sad Hilton Garden Inn bar.

During said time in America, this what I remember: I interviewed the surgeon general, the former FCC Chairman, the head of Canada’s only HIV/AIDS treatment hospital, David Brooks, EJ Dionne, NPR’s East Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton three separate times about the fall of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, NPR’s media correspondent David Folkenflik about more sexual harassment trouble at NPR, author Megan Hunter about her dystopian novella, comedian Hari Kondabolu about what’s wrong with The Simpson’s character Apu, my friend Megan Garber about why women don’t speak up about sexual harassment, wrote and put into the world longer-length pieces about the meaning of statues in the ongoing Korea-Japan conflict and the decline of the golf industry in Japan, and narrated as my cohost Ari put leftover Thanksgiving stuffing into a waffle iron.

The panel! Richard Haass, Ian Bremmer, me and Fareed

I ate dinner and drank cocktails with so many old friends because I tried to do a different dinner reunion each night. This made for meaningful conversations and catchups and meetings of new family members (babies and children, natch).

CNN also flew me up to New York one Sunday morning to do Fareed Zakaria’s show from the actual set, which was fun because I missed my Council on Foreign Relations orientation and I got to apologize to the CFR president about it in person (he was fine so long as I paid my dues) and before I went home Friend Kat came to meet up for about 20 minutes before I trained it back to DC.

There was other stuff, too, but this blog is full of contemporaneous (and therefore incomplete) accounts.

Notes of extreme gratitude go to:

  • Sudeep and Hun. My friend Hun gathered up baby things so that Luna would have a car seat and bouncer and Bumbo seat and pack n’ play while she was with me during TDY. Then she dropped off said stuff at Sudeep’s, who then pre-furnished my AirBnB with the baby items so that they were there and waiting for us when we arrived. How amazing are these people!?

I got to be the guest of honor at Marcus and Maggie’s amazing table

    • Marcus, who, upon learning I’d be coming to town, decided to host a dinner at his home for me and my friends. WHAT?! His house is decked out in fabulous modern Chinese art from his stints in Hong Kong and Shanghai, and every piece had an incredible story. His wife Maggie made paella in those glorious cast-iron skillets that are actually meant-for-paella, and the dinner included my work spouse for life, Matt, singing us some numbers from his New York Times-themed musical that is in the works. (I am not joking.) This night was really fantastic.

 

    • David, who was in Seoul with me with the President and invited me over to Thanksgiving at his house when he found out I’d be without my family this year. Luna, her helper Yani and I joined in and it ended up being just like the Thanksgivings in my own Asian-American family: loud, lots of code-switching, food and taking pictures of food.

 

  • Robert Siegel, Kelly McEvers, Ari Shapiro and the whole staff at All Things Considered, which let me guest host on their program during some of the hardest weeks to be at NPR headquarters, because there’s sexual harassment stories hitting our own workplace in a widely public way. The co-hosts were exceedingly patient with me not knowing my ass from my elbow or a “line” from a “nipper”, which are shorthand terms for things that hosts say on the air. What a huge privilege to get to say “It’s All Things Considered from NPR News, I’m Elise Hu” for several days in a row. I will never, ever forget it.

    In the host chair with Ari, who is pretty much a perfect human

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Guam, Or “The Target Zone”

On a Wednesday a couple of weeks ago, North Korean state media announced it was examining a plan to bracket the U.S. territory of Guam (land mass the size of Columbus, Ohio) with four simultaneous missiles. Our president responded by saying something about unleashing “fire and fury” and then tweeted some other overheated rhetoric, so for a few days Guam was the center of the news universe.

On the Wednesday night of the announcement, I decided I needed to get to Guam right away. But I am nursing Luna 100 percent, as in, her only sustenance is from me. And Guam would be an open-ended trip, which meant I did not have enough of my pumped, stored milk ready for her. So Luna needed to come, which meant her dad needed to come to take care of her while I worked, which meant we’d have to tote along the other two girls, too. Suddenly all five Hu-Stileses needed to be on a plane to Guam. The plan came together after the girls had already gone to bed for the night, so on Thursday morning we woke the girls early to announce their bags had been packed and we were “going on a holiday, to a beach”! (Not factually untrue, for them.)

Interviewing the Guam governor, Eddie Calvo.

I LOVED GUAM! I mean, I slept four hours a night for several nights because there were so many shows to report for and so many stories to put together on tight deadlines. But Guam was delightful. It’s shabby — there are some real rundown places and parts of it and it has a small-town USA feel with pool halls and gambling joints. But I prefer that to a completely antiseptic resort area. I thought a lot of the tropical setting mixed with Americana — we were greeted with a giant Home Depot and K-mart when we drove out of the airport in our rental car. I also got to know the folks at Guam Public Radio (total staff = 4) and they were the most generous colleagues to work with for a few days.

In the end, North Korea decided it would not launch toward Guam, at least not for now.

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What Does A ‘Crazier’ Fox News Even Mean?

This news, or news or rumors, immediately made me think of Big Red Son*, a non-fiction David Foster Wallace piece about the Adult Video News Awards, which are like the Oscars for porn. Stay with me.

Wallace’s style is heavy with footnotes. (Someone once admitted to me she DIDN’T READ THE FOOTNOTES, which I found shocking because well, they are the best.) Despite reading this essay collection nine years, four cats and three children ago, one of the footnotes in Big Red Son never left me. It was about how porn defined itself by being subversive, and the more acceptable it became, the more depraved it would have to get in order to keep its status.

When I saw the headlines about a possibly “crazier” version of Fox News, my mind jumped right to that old footnote:

“Respectability creates a paradox. The more acceptable in modern culture it becomes, the farther porn will have to go in order to preserve the sense of unacceptability that’s so essential to its appeal. As should be evidence, the industry’s already gone pretty far … it’s not hard to see where porn is eventually going to have to go in order to retain its edge of disrepute.”

I’m pretty worried that since we’re in an age when Nazis are up for debate, where would a “crazier” Fox News even go with its discourse? You know what, don’t answer that question.

*The piece is found in Consider the Lobster and Other Essays, a collection I recommend wholeheartedly.

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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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