Korea’s Coated Almond Craze

Annyeonhaseyo from Seoul. I am going cuckoo for South Korea’s latest craze, coated almonds!

There’s the standard bearer, honey butter almonds, but this almond flavor innovation continues way beyond that. There are cookies and cream almonds, wasabi almonds, dried seaweed-coated almonds, tteokbokki (spicy, saucy Korean rice cake-flavored) almonds, hot and spicy chicken flavored almonds and … wait for it, STARLIGHT PANG PANG ALMONDS.

Starlight Pang Pang is an electric blue ice cream with POP ROCKS inside, so these almonds are inside a blue, sugary coating and pop rocks so that after you get the crunch of the almond, you have the pop rocks exploding in your mouth.

I tried them all and these almonds are crunchy, they are creative, they are addictive. I tasted ’em at an E-Mart 24 convenience store (where they trial bowls of each flavor out) before dropping a bunch of money to buy bags and bags to bring back to the US as gifts.

And for my own snacking, let’s be honest.

Two Take Jake

This summer I reported and hosted a series of podcast episodes about travel for our life hack pod, Life Kit. Audio isn’t the most ideal medium for packing tips, so I flew up to New York to visualize the tips at the Away store with Away’s editorial director, Ally Betker. Huge thanks to Liz Gillis for shooting and putting this together with only two takes (because I had to get to the airport).

Enjoy the condensed version of the podcast episode, with this video…

Gifts I Received In Austin, An Incomplete List

These are the things my Austin friends gave me when I went back this week:

Never boring.

— Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller-branded bandanas (red and pink)
— 12 oz of green chile queso, HOT
— Two Longhorn candies
— Campaign button: “Consent to sex is not consent to pregnancy”

“I thought this was perfect for you,” said Friend Blake.

— One Topo Chico
— One P. Terry’s Veggie Burger and fries
— Two zines: “The Teeth of The Great British Bake-off,” featuring illustrations of every participant’s teeth, and “Sexy Patents,” a compilation of actual patents for crotchless underwear and such

Part of a zine by Chris Chang

Went back to ATX at the invitation of UT’s Moody School of Communications and the Annette Strauss Institute, which hosted press critic Jay Rosen and me for its annual Denius Symposium on News Integrity. Jay’s really good on the historical context of the industry and talking things out helped me sort through some of the thornier questions about the role of the press in these challenging times.

Austin. You were so gridlocked but still so … Austin. Toddy got a cocktail at an old firehouse-turned-bar-and-hostel, which releases 12 bees for every drink you order. I think that’s what the deal was?

Jimmy made us all eat endlessly at a new upscale Shanghai-style Chinese place on West Sixth. Melissa and I perused a badass new consignment boutique on South Lamar called Rags. I put down nearly a pound of brisket, the moist kind, and sausage, plus a bunch of Friend AmZam’s hearty sides when she showed up to dress a baked potato with … more brisket. The thought of running Town Lake’s hike and bike trail, like the good ol’ days, crossed my mind but I did not.

As usual, the first stop after leaving the airport

I ate P. Terry’s two days in a row. The second time it was on the house, thanks to Friend Todd (different from the aforementioned Todd) who has somehow gotten to lead the trifecta of iconic Texas fast food brands — Whataburger, Taco Cabana and now is CEO of P Terry’s. (What!? Crazy, right?!) I introduced him to my goddaughter Marion Cass, who picked up from school as a surprise, and Todd  introduced me to the actual Patrick Terry, who started my fave Austin burger chain in 2005.

Stopped by my NPR member station, KUT-Austin.

A great trip. I’m so grateful.

 

Seoul Much Fun, Seoul Little Time

Quiet Tuesday night Insadong

I am back in Seoul to speak at a conference on North Korea and not only is it a short visit, I’m losing a bunch of time from jet lag, so everything’s happening in hyper-speed.

Loose Notes:

— While delight is my overwhelming feeling, a sense of emotional constipation has returned, because I can’t properly communicate. There’s so much I want to know and understand and say and I just … can’t. I have really taken for granted how easy my life has become in California because I speak English in an English-speaking place.

— The trend food item right now is a twist on milk tea: “Black sugar pearl milk tea.” The “creme brûlée iced milk tea” is a second. They have existed before, I think, but are currently riding the Seoul trend wave. This means when I showed up at a coffee shop at 1pm trying to get one, the place was sold out. Incidentally, a black sugar milk tea has been my personal go-to drink back home in LA. The ones in Korea are not shaken before they’re served, so they look marbly. The creme brulée iced milk tea has a layer of creme brulée foam at the top of the drinks, which I didn’t try but they looked pretty sugary, rich and delicious.

— This happened, of course:

— I am struck by how quickly I felt unattractive from the abundant messages about how to improve my appearance. Including but not limited to: The ads for the same doe-eyed, V-line jawed women everywhere, the endless, looming multi-story cosmetic surgery centers, one of which unabashedly emblazoned itself with an English sign for “Cosmetic Laser Vaginal Surgery.” Racks and racks of products to make you sit straighter (posture corrector), your toes straighter (toe aligner), your breasts bigger (waterproof chicken cutlet-looking bras), your “problem areas” smoothed out (flesh-colored sticker patches). It goes on. I stopped in a great Garosugil clothing store and as it is with all those Gangnam boutiques, the clothes come in “free size” which means, “one size.” Free size isn’t free, it’s limiting.

Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

— A lot of our old friends have moved because they, too, were foreign correspondents or diplomats on three-year postings. But my Korean native friends still here have been taking me on a nonstop eating bonanza. For breakfast I’m making bulgogi and scrambled eggs, a twist on steak and eggs. Grandma Jin Ok’s #1 chicken cauldron soup? First stop after getting off the plane. Shabu shabu that you roll into Vietnamese wraps? Yes please!

The calm before.
Midway through the chop chop

— Reunited with Ju Hee, my Seoul hair stylist, and had her chop off 12 centimeters (we need to get on the metric system, people). Ivanka did it, so did Shiv Roy on Succession, and both those ladies are such great role models, amirite? JK I really just cut off my hair because September is the hottest month in LA, we live in a neighborhood close to the beach so we have no central AC, and my neck was hot. I do think Shiv Roy’s hair looks amazing

International SOS

We were somewhere near the town of Dingle, taking in these breathtaking sites and letting the girls slide down steep grass-covered boulders at a prehistoric fort on the edge of the land jutting into the Atlantic when I slipped, my right arm overextending back behind my head. I heard two cracks in my shoulder before ending my slide and losing my vision briefly because of the excruciating pain.

There was not a prettier place I could have dramatically dislocated my shoulder, requiring an ambulance ride and copious amounts of morphine. Eventually an x-ray revealed a full dislocation but not fracture, sparing me surgery and allowing the doctor, Tricia, to pop my shoulder back in while I was breathing in huge gulps of some sort of gas to “take the edge off.”

Before and after.

My right arm spent hours out of socket so I’m going to be recovering for several weeks. The health care I received was nothing but caring and thorough and considerate. The doctor even got me tea and toast after popping my arm back. Thank you, Ireland.

A limerick:

To Dingle town we herded the crew
To take in spectacular views
I slipped down a grass boulder
Dislocating my shoulder
Now it’s opiates for the black and blues

Day Two In the Ring of Kerry

The roads here and suuuuper narrow but we had to rent SUVs to fit all the humans. So I’m constantly driving too close to the curb on one side and oncoming traffic on the other. Throw in the harrowingly narrow alleys in town and it’s a wonder we are all in one piece.

Limerick:

Pet sheep and goats and rabbits
Driving though, still not a habit
Squeezed trucks through an alley
Almost entered death’s valley
Perhaps next trip we’ll all just cab it

My big highlight of the day was a farm in which you could really get up close and personal with pigs, goats, sheep, cattle, birds and so much more. An old barn was converted into an indoor playground and outside, as if the animals weren’t enough, there were playgrounds for kids everywhere.

Obligatory sheep selfie

Limericking in Ireland

A momma duck and her ducklings at Ross Castle.

Hello from an estate in Killarney, Ireland, on the island’s Eastern coast. Our family friends the Wan-Yau’s met up with us in Dublin as one of their stops during their epic monthlong traveling adventure around the world. Like us, they are repatriating after living in Asia for several years (Seoul then Singapore) and decided to travel as their furniture and belongings are shipped back to San Francisco.

This is our NINTH squad trip together since we met in 2015. Together our two families have traveled to Jeju Island, Cebu, Osaka, Okinawa, Sydney, Taipei, Bangkok, Danang/Hoi An and now, an Ireland road trip. Eva and their oldest, Jonah, met as toddlers in swim class and through those two we grownups became friends. Amazingly, Eva and Jonah are still super close and love spending time together. “I’m surprised they play together so well since they are both obviously Alphas,” Sarah remarked.

I’m going to try and remember each day with a limerick. Here’s yesterday’s (which was an epic travel day from LAX to DUB then caravaning to this lush farm in Ireland, where we are surrounded by rolling green hills, cows and sheep grazing, and clouds resting atop mountains in the distance. It is as green as you imagine.

Ten hours by plane, four by car
To Killarney we traveled far
The girls made a fuss,
Matt tried not to cuss,
Luna threw up, her forehead is marred.

And for today:

After jet leg and traveler’s rest
Yesterdays’s spirits we tried to best
In the town we explored a castle
The children were not too much hassle
Dined at home to avoid any stress.

I’ll try to keep going!

Commencement

Snapping the arena, flanked by the chancellor, a curator and the grad school dean.

Columbia, Missouri is vintage shops and cheese-laden appetizers and the state’s flagship university columns at dusk. It’s downtown streets no wider than a driveway. It’s ice cream shops with so many yarn dolls as decor that the ones that aren’t on display are “sleeping” in an extra fridge. It’s hair stylists from Utica.

I called Columbia home for only a blink of time, so few semesters that I really only remember the final one, and the summer that followed it which my tribe refers to as “the lost summer.” It was wedged in between a time of school responsibility and work responsibility. For that summer, there was neither. I never have spent a summer like that since.

You do get to go home again, and ideally it’s under the circumstances I went back this weekend, as a sage advice-giver type. The new dean, David Kurpius, asked me to be the commencement speaker for the Missouri School of Journalism’s May graduating Class of 2019.

My remarks focused on things I’ve learned in the 15 years since leaving Columbia. The main thrust of anything I talk about regarding my adult life is how accidentally lucky I’ve been; how timing and circumstance have collided to go right, without much planning at all.

Being back after so much time away meant a nostalgia tour of the things that I loved eating and doing, so, to review:

Booches ✔️
Toasted ravioli (many times) ✔️
Shakespeare’s ✔️
Lakota coffee ✔️
Tiger Stripe ice cream ✔️
Chokes ‘n cheese at Flatbranch ✔️
ΠΒΦ house ✔️
Drunkenly leaving wallet at Harpo’s ✔️

(Country Kitchen is closed, so, sadly, that couldn’t happen. Never did get drunk enough for Gumby’s Pokey Sticks, but thought about it.)

Liz and our happy place, Shakespeare’s Pizza

Friend Liz, who has a history of gamely going on random weekend trips, is also a Mizzou alum and a former Pi Phi, so she joined me in the trek to the middle of Missouri (and the arduous journey back home, which required extra nights in sad hotels and a lot of time sitting idly on tarmacs).

I can’t express how meaningful it was to be back in Missouri, and have Liz there to enjoy the old haunts together, to marvel at the newness of the student center and rec center (which is basically a five-star resort now), and to share the memories of yesteryear.

Speaking at Mizzou Arena, May 2019

I wouldn’t go back in time if you offered, because I did as I said in the speech and inhabited those moments fully when I lived them. But it’s nice to drop in on the past when you can, especially if it involves toasted ravioli.

Graduating at the Hearnes Center, May 2003

May is Mayhem

When I look back on 2019, I hope that things never get as chaotic as May, when everything I agreed to do back in, I dunno, the fall, converged in one month. We launched Future You with Elise Hu, my new video series for NPR, which was supposed to be ready earlier but as with many of these creative projects, a lot of twists and turns happen along the way.

 

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Plus there’s Mother’s Day, my two wedding anniversaries (legal and observed), end-of-school obligations, my brother’s birthday and my spouse’s birthday, which we had to skip over last weekend because, well, I couldn’t be around. Eventually we are going to have to find a day to celebrate “Matty’s Birthday, Observed” because there’s so much to do, there’s never enough tiiiiime … I sound like Jessie Spano in one of the most unforgettable episodes of Saved by the Bell, but it’s true.

Just after we started rolling out the first episode, I flew to New York where we do our annual meeting for the non-profit news org, Grist, where I’ve been a board member for many years. New York is so fun this time of year; it pulses with a kinetic energy, it smells of all the smells, there’s a sense that anything in the range of human experience can happen RIGHT NOW, on the very street corner on which you’re standing. It’s like being in Shanghai, where really, anything and everything could just pop off, right then.

One of my closest girlfriends in the whole world, Mari from Tokyo, happened to be in New York this month so we had a date night on Thursday featuring a lot of eating and drinking and meandering from one West Village place to another. This was the first time we’ve hung out OUTSIDE of Japan and just one of the best gal pal get togethers … she’s an actress and writer for whom all sorts of new projects are coming her way and I’m so proud. I love how New York is just full of possibility; it makes it magical.

I stuck around for more magic. And more reunion dates, and an Adam Driver/Keri Russell play and most importantly, for Friend Alex’s wedding. Friend Alex is my partner-in-jet-lag. Both of us were Asia correspondents at the same time (she for CNN, I for NPR) and so one of us was always up at some strange hour for rapid fire text banter. She taught me not to wash my hair for days, which ends up building great volume (you just have to use good dry shampoo to keep it from getting gross). And she’s the classiest, New Yorkiest of my girlfriends, so she threw the classiest, New Yorkiest of weddings overlooking Central Park, from one of those exclusive Upper East Side clubs that didn’t let women become members for most of its history. The affair was black tie and beautiful, and she wouldn’t have done it any other way.

Alex and Andrew, a modern wedding for a modern couple.

Foreign And Domestic

Last August. One last time between the window panes of our 35th floor high-rise, in Seoul.

I often get asked about how the girls are adjusting to living in the US, and whether they miss Korea. The answer is, they just hit the ground running/gliding. Already veterans of international travel, the girls don’t seem to need adjustment to new time zones or contexts like we grownups do. They didn’t experience the international move as major transition, but rather, as just one of the many new things in their young lives. For them, I don’t know whether a new country is internalized that much differently than a new school.

Isa (the three year old) misses her old teachers and said to me this week, “I will go back and say hi to Miss Hailey” as if it did not require a 12-hour flight to the other side of the world.

Eva, the eldest, is imprinted with some internationalism: She can hear the difference between Chinese, Korean and, of course, English. Today she said she needed “two green monies” because she experienced having currency that wasn’t all green. When we talk about what day of the week it is, she will note, “It’s Sunday afternoon here which means it’s Monday in Korea.”

Luna’s Korea references are all superficial: She sleeps with Kakao character pillows (Ryan the Lion and Apeach the peach) and her Pororo characters, Poby and Krong-Krong. But she and I have maintained the tradition in which only Koreans cut our hair.