A Seattle Sojourn

Our plane after we got dropped off on the dock of John's farm.

Our plane after we got dropped off on the dock of John’s farm.

I just got back from a week in the Pacific Northwest, where I went to communion with clean air and great friends. For the Grist board retreat, board member John Vechey hosted us (and Grist leadership staff) on his 160-acre farm on Orcas Island, one of the San Juan Islands just a short seaplane lift from Seattle. There, we met about the future of Grist and the future of the planet, but we also laughed a lot and ate ridiculously delicious meals and stayed in bucolic bungalows and drank Moscow Mules that John made at his bar.

The board members who made it to Orcas this time around.

The board members who made it to Orcas this time around.

But I didn’t want to fly all the way to the Seattle area and not spend time in Seattle proper. So I got a couple of days at the end in which one of my oldest pals, Brad, met up with me for a ramble around downtown and chowder on Alki Island. Thanks to social media, I was also able to squeeze in some meals with old pals who saw on Facebook that I was in town — Robert, from the KVUE days, and Celinda, from the Texas Capitol days. It meant a lot to get so much catchup time “in real life.”

Social media makes us more connected but also more hands off about the KIND of connection we’re doing. I think it’s really important to try and get together in the same physical space and explore a place as much as possible. As the temperatures dropped and a light rain fell to make it quintessentially Seattle, Brad and I walked through Pike Place Market and all the artisans selling weird wood art and through the newish Sculpture Park, where we discovered a stunning piece that only looked like a huge warhead or phallus from the back. So you gotta see it from the front. I also snuck in some super-speed shopping for “American things” at Target, so Eva and Isa both got a serious haul when I came home.

The "proof we were there" shot.

The “proof we were there” shot.

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Acculturation

noun ac·cul·tur·a·tion \ə-ˌkəl-chə-ˈrā-shən, a-\

1:  cultural modification of an individual, group, or people by adapting to or borrowing traits from another culture; also:  a merging of cultures as a result of prolonged contact


I’m back in Korea after a harried two weeks in the states. We hadn’t gone “home” to DC in nearly 10 months, so I was highly conscious when I returned, like a little baby that had just entered the world, already in progress. DC felt incredibly small and quiet. The nation’s capital is always unusually quiet during the holidays, as its denizens flood out to their real homes or on vacation. And it is geographically small — something like only eight miles across. But after being in Asian megalopolises for most of 2015, DC felt like Tulsa. The streets were narrow and the sidewalks were wide, rather than the other way around.

Here are the other reverse culture shock observations:

  1. Everyone speaks English! I chatted up anyone who would talk to me and resumed saying hello to random people on the street. They always responded when I said “Happy Holidays” or “How ya doing?” So great.
  2. Damn, there are a lot of breakfast cereals and yogurts to choose from. The number of kids cartoon-themed yogurts alone floored me.
  3. I can get drinks larger than eight ounces?!
  4. Why does my alcoholic beverage cost three times my lunch?
  5. There are so many countdowns simultaneously splashed across the screen on domestic CNN. I can’t keep track of what they are counting down to. Is Armageddon nigh?
  6. The internet feels slow, but at least I’m not censored from visiting North Korean news sites.
  7. The clothes dryers are marvelous. I hadn’t properly dried my clothes in so long that I did a load of laundry every day just to take advantage of the quick dry cycle and how efficiently it dried my clothes, which came out so soft and fluffy.
  8. Why don’t any of the escalators work on DC Metro?
  9. So many women walk around in yoga pants. You never see a Korean woman walking around publicly in yoga pants.
  10. Stores are open before 10am. This revolutionized our time in DC because we were with our tots, which meant we could actually take them out of the house HOURS before we can in Korea.
  11. Spacial awareness: While shopping at grocery store Harris Teeter, I was pushing my cart and came within a six foot radius of another woman, who promptly apologized because we’d come so close. In Korea, you can be blatantly stepped on or, in our toddler’s case, mauled, and the other party doesn’t even notice.

Now that I’m back in Korea, I’m feeling a little sad because I’d just gotten used to being in America again, and then we left. It was fortifying to see so many of my bestest pals, even though our visits were compressed into a short time window. I don’t want to go back and forth too much, however, because the cultural whiplash — not to mention jet lag — might wipe me out.

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Jeju Island: A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Do Again

An offering on my breakfast buffet. Jeju Island, I'll be back.

An offering on my breakfast buffet. Jeju Island, I’ll be back.

Right now it’s Tuesday morning and my infant daughter is off in slumberland, freeing me up to write about Jeju Island, which the Koreans say is the “Hawaii of Korea.” There ARE some things it has in common with Hawaii, like natural beauty and parts of the island so untouched that four way intersections have no stop signs or traffic lights, leaving you to your own devices.

Go team.

Go team.

I saw a UFO themed restaurant. I saw a waterfall without water falling. I saw a beach where everyone took off their shoes and lined them up on the boardwalk before stepping onto the sand. I tried a burger concoction that was a foot tall. I smelled fresh Jeju black pork on the barbecue grill, before quickly eating that, too. I visited a three-story Hello Kitty museum made complete with a Hello Kitty family portrait. I passed horses milling about near the highway. I went to a completely empty theme park the size and scale a large city zoo. The place called itself ‘Psyche World’ until it changed its name to something equally puzzling: Ecopia. There was a butterfly exhibit with only three butterflies. There was a giant castle displaying a jewel museum with likely fake but famous jewels, like that blue one from Titanic that the old lady dropped into the ocean in the end. There was the promise of the ‘CSI EXPERIENCE: JEJU.’ There was an empty concert park with futuristic white seating in the grass, next to a display of two crocodiles. There was vastness in the emptiness. Store clerks and ticket punchers appeared when we walked past, but if you went back five minutes later, they were gone.

This giant playground was empty so I found the single plastic lawn chair on the grounds and plopped down to breastfeed Isa.

This giant playground was empty so I found the single plastic lawn chair on the grounds and plopped down to breastfeed Isa.

I have learned that if you travel with the kind of friends who will agree to go to a weird place like Jeju Island with you on a week’s notice, you will undoubtedly have a great time, despite feeling like you’re in a vortex. They are the Yau family, who are also American expats in Seoul who also arrived here in March. Who also happen to have a preschooler and an infant. When it came to kid supplies like diapers, water bottles and sunscreen, as Joe Yau said, “There’s so many built in redundancies this way.

The island is a place frequented by Chinese travelers. So many that  he rich ones are now scooping up thousands of square meters of the island itself.

The people who don’t frequent Jeju island are people who speak English. The eight of us spent the four day weekend speaking ‘hand Korean,’ which is generally just wildly gesticulating and getting responses we couldn’t understand, until the point the Korean speakers simply throw their arms into a giant X formation, which is the loudest silent rejection I’ve come to know in Korea. Since the GPS navigator was similarly in Korean only, a hotel employee had to come out to our car each morning and program in a destination for us and we crossed our fingers we’d wind up somewhere discernable. Considering many streets don’t even have names down there, it was a wonder we had a navigation device at all.

Here’s the thing. To me, vacation explorations are not just respites from routine but a chance to make yourself purposely uncomfortable or weirded out a little. It’s in those situations you learn and grow and laugh. There is so much laughter in the absurdity of a place like Jeju Island. We survived. Neigh, we thrived.

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View from My Window: Seoul

Dawn in the megalopolis.

Dawn in the megalopolis.

Good morning from Seoul, where I’m on the aforementioned scouting trip. This is a look out my window from the 16th floor of the Westin Chosun, which is the heart of the city and right by the Seoul Finance Center, where I will later attempt to open up a bank account.

No one comes here without talking about the food and I’ve only had one meal so far at a Japanese place across the street (the weather is grim — wet, snowy and -5 Celsius) but let’s face it, it was better than anything “just across the street” in DC.

Quick Jaunt to London Town

If you're thinking, ew, you put your shoe by your fish plank, I'd remind you that I was already committed to eating greasy fried fish off a piece of butcher paper.

If you’re thinking, ew, you put your shoe by your fish plank, I’d remind you that I was already committed to eating greasy fried fish off a piece of butcher paper.

Back from four days in London. Too bad I only hung in England and didn’t get over to Wales, cause my real obsession this year has been on the Welshmen Michael Sheen and Matthew Rhys. Sheen is the star of Masters of Sex, which I somehow worked into my talk at a London Wearables and UX Design conference on Tuesday. This is what mad crushes do to a person. And I am crushing all the time.

I didn’t have a lot of time to sightsee and I hit a lot of the touristy things before. Notably, the time I went to London at age 18 with six of my best pals from high school. I still feel horrible about our folly of indiscriminate youth while there: Clearly under the influence, we got on the tube and started chanting USA! USA! USA! to a crowd of irritated Brits. I am so, so, so sorry, England.

This time in London, I: enjoyed drinks and much catching up with my rival for 8th grade student council president, Billy Simpson, who now lives in London. Wandered the British Museum. Took a walk around Bloomsbury and Covent Gardens. Ate a fried fish plank as big as my size 9 shoe. Stopped by to see the Government Digital Service office, a cabinet level agency in the UK that’s revolutionizing government there by making it “digital by default.” Lunched and toured the BBC HQ with the intrepid Ari Shapiro, my colleague at NPR and our London correspondent. Met one of my Twitter pals in person and talked over drinks. Went the wrong way on a bus one morning, almost missing my talk at the wearables event. Made it just in the nick of time. Got purposely lost in a lovely bookstore called Foyles. Drank lots of iced tea with too little ice, because the Brits think we Americans are crazy to be so fixated on ice. Never got rained on. Really enjoyed myself.

Thanks, London, and sorry again about that embarrassing USA chanting incident so many years ago.

 

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Heartbreak Tally

Awarding of arbitrary points for things that happened today:

My emergency #NED jersey didn't help, I guess.

My emergency #NED jersey didn’t help, I guess.

+ 15 Got into Uber and the driver asks me if I’m headed to watch the game. I say yes. He offers to sell me his last remaining Team Netherlands jersey from his trunk. It’s Van Persie and it’s $40. The kismet drove me to make the purchase.

– 100 After 120 minutes of soccer without a score, the match ends in a penalty kick shootout, in which the Dutch lose after our first kicker gets his shot blocked. Gonna take a while to recover. Still no world championship trophy for the Dutch team, a longtime European football stalwart.

+ 10 Having my old friend and Denver Post sports columnist Ben Hochman to watch the game with me.

– 75 Ryan Gosling is apparently having a baby with Eva Mendes, which links them together for life. Crest. Fallen.

+ 90 All Things Considered aired my five-minute+ rumination on whether a burrito is a sandwich, an idea inspired by Noah Veltman’s five minute lightning talk on a side-passion of his, at the Knight/MIT Civic Media conference last month.

TOTAL: -70

Had I not lost Ryan Gosling, the chance to go through sandwich taxonomy on national air and get myself a Netherlands jersey in the nick of time would have ended this day on the positive side of the ledger.

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Chicago, Cambridge: A June Travel Blur

The Tumblr-sponsored green room at MCON14. There's our pal Azita in the middle, and at left is record exec Todd Moscowitz. Pizzas just cause.

The Tumblr-sponsored green room at MCON14. Pizzas just cause.

Between my day job and teaching our master’s program journalism class at Georgetown, somehow I squeezed in a few trips. Was delighted to moderate the final on-stage chat at the Millennial Impact Conference in Chicago, in which Warby Parker and Harry’s co-founder Jeff Raider and I joked around about beards. We followed that up in Tumblr’s green room, in which we made a shitty gif.

Goofing off with Jeff Raider after closing out #MCON14.

Goofing off with Jeff Raider after closing out #MCON14.

When I tried to go home from Chicago, your standard incompetence at O’Hare (which they called “weather” — a huge affront to actual weather situations) led to the cancelation of my flight home. So I stayed an extra night in Chicago, in a lovely boutique hotel called the Ivy. My only beef with it was the mattresses there rest on these dark wood bed frames that jut out to stab your ankles when you’re not careful. I am pretty banged up from my bed.

Spent one night at home before flying to Cambridge for the Knight/MIT Center for Civic Media’s annual Civic Media Conference. That conference is always special because of the sheer brain power and wit that gets squeezed into an overly-air conditioned room. And it’s a reunion, of sorts, for a lot of the Knight family of friends and advisers.

This year I also got a story out of it, when Friend Noah laid out the complexities of a legal debate over whether a burrito qualifies as a sandwich. Seriously.

All of this was punctuated with you sending me Yo’s at random times. Thanks, yo.

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That Time We Consumed 4,000 Calories In Under 30 Minutes

Empanadas to celebrate Baby Dillon, coming July 2014.

Empanadas to celebrate Baby Dillon, coming July 2014.

Pretty amazing. I made a game time decision to get to Austin last Saturday to attend the baby shower for Friend Hannah (of Hannah and Jed). It’s her first baby and I co-hosted along with the Austin gal pals, so I thought I should definitely be there. But after being in New York for the week, it was going to be a tough turnaround, and indeed it was. Now I have a cold.

But damn I love a deadline. Knowing I only had about five hours in town, total, I made sure Justin picked me up and we went straight to P Terry’s (best fast burger in Austin) and dashed through the drive-thru for cheeseburgers. Scarfed ’em down on the way to El Azteca ($6.95 enchilada plate with rice/beans plus tea and a sherbert) and killed that combo meal along with my beloved flour tortillas. Had a barbecue place been across the street, we would have made the trifecta of gluttony happen, but we overdid it on chips. Still pretty proud of ourselves nonetheless.

And this should probably go without saying but, the Hannah shower was lovely — Nurse Sara hosted it at she and Andy Brown’s home, in their backyard garden. The ladies put together an event worthy of a thousand Pinterest pins.

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Into The Woods

Tim endured SIX layovers when going home from my wedding in Amsterdam, so there was no way I would miss his nuptials, no matter where it happened.

Tim endured SIX layovers when going home from my wedding in Amsterdam, so there was no way I would miss his nuptials, no matter where it happened.

Went into the Santa Cruz mountains the glorious Northern California redwood trees for the Tim Leong-Rachel Swaby nuptials-slash-YMCA-camp. We didn’t have to kill our own food. There were pretty nice little cabins shared among groups of 14 of us, just like Girl Scout camp. We had flushing toilets, but not two-ply toilet paper. These are some things that happened:

First I spent a night in SF hanging with my friend Chris. We came back to the apartment kind of drunk and promptly parked on the street. The next morning the car was gone. Guess what the minimum tow rate in SF is? $476. And on top of that, there are about $160 parking tickets to pay. So…somehow my one bad parking mistake cost more than my roundtrip airfare to San Francisco.

After getting out to the camp, we wandered into the “town” of Boulder Creek, CA and met some anti-government guys trying to get us to sign a petition against more gun restrictions. Had we signed, we could have gotten a “I don’t call 911” t-shirt with a giant AK-47 on it. We passed. But that night, one of our bunkmates was wearing the shirt.

Justin and I tried to go on a hike. The trail was awfully rocky and steep. The sign at its entrance told us it was named the Nit Trail, but upon turning back because of the rough terrain, we pulled away a leaf to realize the sign actually said “Not a Trail.”

Patrick Terpstra, yes, that guy, officiated the ceremony. He did a brilliant, funny, heartfelt job despite my utter disbelief anyone would choose him to officiate a wedding ceremony. After the bridal party exited, he ended his emceeing by saying, “Okay we’re good then.”

During a walk along the Embarcadero, I got some sage life advice from the appropriately-named Om, a lovely and generous human being who is now a venture capitalist but always a journalist at heart.

Capped off the weekend back in SF, where I took a nice long shower all by myself in a boutique hotel. The photos. Click on any image to begin the gallery:

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Bounce Bounce Bounce Bounced To Miami For My Birthday

Michael and Chris have become two of my closest compadres in my thirties, so I feel so lucky to have spent my b-day with them.

Michael and Chris have become two of my closest compadres in my thirties, so I feel so lucky to have spent my b-day with them.

My semi-annual trip to Miami for my side-hustle collided with my birthday weekend. Just like I like it, absurdity ensued.

I’m really fortunate to have a crew of brilliant and hilarious friends down in the 3-0-5, so Friend Chris organized a whole day/night featuring my favorite activities: beachtime, sunshine, pooltime, delicious cocktails, celebrity sightings, Justin, meat and cheese, Korean liquor, the 90’s and private karaoke. These are some things that happened:

Just seeing the glowing orb they call the sun was pretty amazing.

Just seeing the glowing orb they call the sun was pretty amazing.

Justin, my partner-in-crime, came down for the shenanigans and while we were catching up at Starbucks, Jesse Something, The Bachelor circa 2004, walked in. He’s still on TV as an ESPN commentator, and he paused at the sugar/cream station and kept looking at me as if he either knew me or was waiting for me to realize who he was, but it took me too long. Wah-wah. I didn’t get to invite him to my birthday party.

After getting drunk on the beach thanks to a pitcher of some refreshing vodka concoction, we decided to do some poolside time at Soho House even though the water was flooded with children. I looked left and BAM! Spotted Sofia Coppola reading a magazine just a few chairs down from us. I was too chicken to say anything to her, so Justin and I took weird surreptitious photos. Then we noticed her husband — the lead singer of Phoenix — and her daughters, playing in the water. We avoided taking sketchy photos of the kids.

The Coors Light ladies gave us free bead medallions which I will treasure forever.

The Coors Light ladies gave us free bead medallions which I will treasure forever.

Tim Elfrink (who just won a Polk Award, woot) lives in Miami, and our mutual Mizzou friend Nick was also in Florida escaping DC’s wintry gloom, so they joined in on festivities. We started at a divey pool bar with excellent cheesesteaks and $5 drinks.

We got some ridiculous Coors swag and posed with the beer girls. Then we had to drink some free Coors Light.

Tucked away in our private-karaoke room by midnight, these are some of the selections performed by the group to celebrate the 1990’s, my halcyon days of youth:

“Birdhouse in your Soul” They Might Be Giants
“Spiderwebs” No Doubt
“Always be my Baby” Mariah Carey
“The Sign” Ace of Base
“Livin’ La Vida Loca” Ricky Martin
“Man in the Mirror” Michael Jackson
“Callin’ Baton Rouge” Garth Brooks
“Unpretty” TLC
“Too Close” Next
“Mmmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” Crash Test Dummies
“Thong Song” Cisco

So much fun.

So much fun.

Despite four attempts by different people, the song system was unable to choose R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix)” which is infinitely superior to what kept coming up — just plain ol’ “Ignition.”

Karaoke participants — on four separate occasions — chose R. Kelly’s “Ignition,” which is an inferior song that is most definitely not the catchy, viral “Ignition Remix” of 2003. Then I came home and discovered Jimmy Fallon had sang it for us.

While squished on our leather karaoke room couch for 12, pal Michael and I went through two and a half bottles of soju on our own. I think Justin enjoyed his own bottle on the other side of our karaoke coffee table. He nursed a hangover for two days, since we started drinking some kind of refreshing vodka stuff around 3pm that afternoon.

Rebekah Monson is my favorite new friend of 2013. We killed it on some Garth Brooks together.

Rebekah Monson is my favorite new friend of 2013. We killed it on some Garth Brooks together.

There is something involving 3am sandwiches at some famous place on South Beach, but I don’t remember it clearly except that Justin awoke the next morning with two of those sandwiches in bed with him.

On the actual night of the birthday, Michael Maness took me out to a smokey dive bar where he got to control the jukebox. Yes, there was David Allan Coe. And yes, we did stop to eat 1am Cuban sandwiches on the street. Happy birthday, indeed.

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