So Much Taiwan. So Much Awesome.

When I was 20, I spent six months in a vortex. (Not a polar vortex.) It jumbled me up and made me see the world and relationships and food in a whole different (and more appreciative) way. That vortex was one of the world’s best food cities and just an endlessly fun, urban place — Taipei. Friendships from the vortex lasted, so any time I’m back — even if many of us have children now — we make it out to see each other, reuniting over bowls of Taiwan’s religion (beef noodle soup), partying it up in the smoke-filled clubs and lounges (no smoking ban), and wandering the gritty alleys which are naturally full of food vendors selling buns and soups and Taiwan’s second most popular religion, bubble tea. The only key Taipei activity that we didn’t do this trip was karaoke until 5am and then hit the all-you-can-eat congee bars, but I’ve done enough of that for a lifetime. And with Mandopop stars, naturally.

After five years in Holland, my parents just moved to Taipei. Mom bought a place up near Tamsui, which is a beach town with a boardwalk where women sing karaoke covers of Alanis Morrisette’s mid-nineties hits. So we spent Christmas and rang in the New Year with lots of family — many of my forty or so cousins made the trek for a big family reunion trip. Hadn’t been back since the halcyon days of 2011, before I went to NPR and the CEO quit two days after I started. (Correlation is not causation.)

Getting there and back is the worst. Let’s just get that out of the way. It’s a 14 hour flight plus another three hours after a layover in Tokyo. Or it’s broken up differently and also horrendous. The plane goes from fresh and full of promise to a filthy, lived in, farted-in trash tube. (The flight back, which included our toddler, head colds and an inhuman experience at Dulles in which the agriculture cops busted us for bringing back grapes in Eva’s food bag and not declaring it, was hands down one of my most difficult days.)

Instead of family photos, I’ll show you some of the atmospherics that make Taipei so much fun for us. Like WHITEMEN toothpaste, guardian of tooth:

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Taiwanese signs are accompanied by great images. I love the bump on the armless woman:

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And hey, don’t fail at speaking:

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My cousin got my grandma 3D printed. She said her fake head fell off after a recent earthquake and one of her aides found the head had jumped and landed on a table. She rushed her 3D-printed self to a jeweler to get her head re-attached. You can’t even tell it was missing:

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What the F. Doctor Drill ‘N Fill is the scariest toy I’ve ever seen:

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This traffic warning guy had moving arms. Amazing:

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Why was there a baby with a scary perm on the side of a building? These are the mysteries one encounters when one can’t read Chinese.

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And I discovered a great new party game/app through my old roommate (Joe) and his buddy Mike (at right, with phone on his head). Don’t know the name of it, but it’s the electronic version of the board game Taboo or Catchphrase, where your team has to give you clues for the item shown on your forehead, without actually saying the item. Great fun. Let me know if you know what the app is called.

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Y’all know how important I think Taiwanese news animations are. So naturally I set up a visit for an upcoming piece. And naturally I found a bunch of motion capture actors just sitting around in leotards, waiting for an assignment:

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Thanks for the memories (again), Taiwan. I’m a huge fan.

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2013: Work It, Make It, Do It

Testing out Snowshoe Mountain Resort's new zipline just cause, why not?

Testing out Snowshoe Mountain Resort’s new zipline just cause, why not?

Free from pregnancy and sobriety, I treated 2013 like I was coming out of a cannon, constantly in motion and catching up for all the alcohol I didn’t get to consume last year. It wound up being a great year for drinking since we went through sorry, sorry times in Washington — our creeping surveillance state came into sharp focus thanks to Edward Snowden, we went into the previously-unthinkable sequestration budget cuts early in the year and the utter intractability of our leaders climaxed in a government shutdown by August. The story of the year was HealthCare.gov’s disaster of a rollout, which became my primary work focus for the final months of 2013.

My travel was a little limited to short trips or taking Baby Eva with me, since I breastfed until this fall. But this was the first year I felt like I was arriving home when my flights descended toward Washington.

Professionally the entire NPR team moved into gleaming new headquarters and I found a new home covering the intersection of technology, culture and policy, a coverage area my bosses at NPR slid me into when I pressed for a beat that would allow me to spend lots of time in the field. And that I did — exploring and telling stories from all over: a bossless office in Michigan, a wholesale Asian grocery store in Houston, conducted interviews from atop a Utah peak overlooking four states, tried out the new zipline at Snowshoe Mountain Resort, went without WiFi and cell service for days, for a story about the National Radio Quiet Zone, slept in a safari-themed motel room (real mosquito net and everything!), cooked in a modern-day San Francisco commune, caught up with former National Spelling Bee champs, put my toddler on national air and told lots and lots of stories about the problems with government IT procurement. You know how much I love my job. 

Triumphs: Grew my first a vegetable garden, mainly full of cucumbers and lots of herbs to share with coworkers. Used soil from my new compost bin. TSA Pre-check. Making Fantasy Football semi’s in both my leagues, but my editor Uri somehow beat us all, in his first fantasy season ever. Winning celebrity death pool, again. Actually getting to drink through the nearly week-long party in DC for the White House Correspondent’s Dinner. The baby  grew into a lively, rambunctious Mandarin-speaking toddler.

Noteworthy Discoveries: George W. Bush’s work as a portrait artist, ABC’s Scandal, Scandal viewing parties, reading on my iPad instead of actual paper books (I don’t know why I held out so long), Huckleberry vodka

Great Disappointments: Death of Google Reader. Driving over my iPhone. Saying goodbye to my brother-from-another Dave Wright, who moved to San Francisco. Not seeing my parents and brother enough, since they are on too different continents.

New Experiences: Turkey (the country, not the meat). Croatia. Judging an Air Sex competition. Speaking at Harvard. Driving the tech blog at work. The Lactation Station. Narrowly avoiding having to pump in a bathroom at Tao nightclub in Vegas. Learning all about electromagnetic sensitivity and magnetic levitation.

Favorite Moment: When Eva started walking around in the kitchen all by herself while she was listening to herself on All Things Considered, her national radio debut. Dinnertime with four families together at a mountain estate in Colorado, with massive meals prepared by my favorite chef, Jimmy.

New Friend of the Year: Rebekah Monson, my new lady bro. She is always game to gorge on fried things with me, talk about big ideas, crack wise about the latest in low-brow pop culture and cuss a lot. Basically I have found my kindred spirit.

Memorable “Celebrity” Encounters: Interviewing super pop music producer Dr. Luke, leaving it to him to record himself in his studio. Gave a homie to Robert Siegel, my new homie. He was gracious to help me make my first Instagram video when the feature rolled out in the summer. Got coffee for the band, The National, as they played for about 60 of us in our new building. Joked with Tony Goldwyn (President Fitzgerald Grant III) about whether he would let me into a party after the Correspondent’s Dinner. And that party where Pete Cashmore tried to take a selfie of us.

Most Random New Text Message Buddy: Rapper Chingo Bling, who got me in touch with Bun B, and G-Dash, who texted GuU, who called to try and set me up with Paul Wall. Yep.

Dude's got a nice jawline. (With Pete Cashmore in May.)

Dude’s got a nice jawline. (With Pete Cashmore in May.)

Recurring Themes: Top knots (partly because my hair was falling out post-baby), gifs, Miami (4X), Homies, race and talking about raceMichaelManess! (I pronounce it as one word), data-driven baby (used an app to track all of Eva’s sleeping/eating/pooping for her first year) and, oddly, ski resorts. Somehow I visited four ski resorts this summer, in four different states.

Travel Log: 57,995 miles, 7 countries, 29 cities for me. 25,485 of those flight miles with baby Eva.

Previous Years in Review:
2012 | 20112010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004

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“The best thing about the kind of job I have is that I’m always partially doing what I enjoy, even when I’m working, and the worst thing is that I’m always partially working, even when I’m doing what I enjoy … As long as you’re happy and you’re not burning yourself out, you’d be a fool not to realize that it’s a very fortunate way to live.” -my NPR colleague Linda Holmes, who writes about pop culture

Impromptu Collisions in San Francisco

One of the co-living homes I'm featuring in an upcoming NPR story.

One of the co-living homes I’m featuring in an upcoming NPR story.

Most of my favorite collisions with people come with less than an hour’s notice. That kept happening in San Francisco — a mark of my similarly last-minute friends, and maybe the ethos of the Bay area. I shall award my trip various arbitrary points, below:

+500 This view (from previous post) will never get old.

+60 The purpose of the trip was reporting for our upcoming Bay Area theme week and to attend the TED Women conference. Both went really well.

Why were our TED badges the size of our faces? (With Guy Raz.)

Why were our TED badges the size of our faces? (With Guy Raz.)

+50 When I landed at SFO on Wednesday, I saw on Foursquare that fellow Texas Tribune original gangsta H.O. Maycotte was in San Fran, too. Thank you, Foursquare, for the “people nearby” filter. We met for lunch 30 minutes later in the Ferry Building, right on the water.

Raina's sweet boy.

Raina’s sweet boy.

+ 20 Gal pal Raina and I ran into each other in the lobby of the Jazz Center where the conference was happening. She’s a new mom of a seven-week-old, and her darling, delicious baby was with her. I got to babysit so she had a minute to go to the bathroom. I mainly just stared at him and took pictures.

+75 Impromptu lunch with another gal pal from the Knight Foundation super-friends circuit, Kara Oehler! My producer on the communal living story, Cindy, happened to be Kara’s mentor from more than a decade ago. Kara also used to babysit Cindy’s kids. We three were able to do a delicious lunch at a french cafe in Lower Haight. Love those gals.

+35 Sneaking in some real bonding time with my digital news coworker Dana, who I’ve worked with for years but never spent any social time with. She invited me to join her at TED Women in the first place. We had a swell time getting beers together on opening night.

+ 10 I met interior designer Elizabeth “Beth” Martin while she was freshening up all the fresh flowers in Friend Matt’s condo. She offered a flower arranging tip since I asked — Don’t be too matchy. Soft flowers like peonies and roses should absolutely be paired with woodsy choices.

The amazing Japanese toilet that both excited and confounded me.

The amazing Japanese toilet that both excited and confounded me.

+1,600  Japanese toilets. Thank you, Mr. Toto, wherever you are, for your seat warming, automatic lid-raising technology.

-400 I was too scared to try any of the rear or front washes, and don’t even know what it is that oscillates or pulsates, but I dig having all the options.

Best night of the week was with brother-from-another-mother, Dave. I found him in the Twitter cafeteria.

Best night of the week was with brother-from-another-mother, Dave. I found him in the Twitter cafeteria.

+100 I dropped in on Twitter HQ with 30 minutes notice and didn’t text my brother-from-another-mother Dave to tell him I was in his building until I was actually sititng in “The Perch,” er, Twitter’s cafeteria. That resulted in a quick lunch room gab fest until we met up again for happy hour, during which Dave introduced me and my pal and colleague, host Guy Raz to The Hot Spot, a divey dive dive bar that serves a smooth shot and a beer with a scratch-off ticket. Guy actually won another ticket, only to lose on his second try. Maybe it’s a trap?

-25 Due to too many shot-beer-scratcher combos, we ended up drinking and eating at a random bowling place in the Mission (after first attempting and bailing on a sketchy food place that smelled of urine) and stayed out too late for me to watch Scandal on Matt’s new 4K TV.

Matt was kind enough to update his new TV for Scandal, but none of us made it home in time to watch it.

Matt was kind enough to update his new TV for Scandal, but none of us made it home in time to watch it.

+5 The television is now updated.

My best friend from high school in Plano, Texas, Erin, is 9 months pregnant. So excited.

My best friend from high school in Plano, Texas, Erin, is 9 months pregnant. So excited.

No points, just saying: There were white dudes everywhere. The ratio of men to women seemed to really favor women, at least everywhere I was at. I felt outnumbered by groups of men at breakfast, at bars, everywhere except the TED conference for women.

+500 Reunion with my bestie best best friend from high school, Erin Baudo, four weeks before her due date. I’m so psyched for her little bruiser.

+30 Erin let me nurse my hangover with breakfast at the Zynga cafeteria, where she works.

+50 The three-man NPR tech reporting team — Steve Henn, Laura Sydell and myself — got together in person in one place for the first time. We hung out at member station KQED and got some delicious coffee.

+30 A nice afternoon walk with Code for America’s Catherine Bracy.

+45 Sneaking away during TED lunch hour to shop in Hayes Valley with my pal Tina. Stopped in Chantal Guillion to sample their signature French macarons, had them shipped to a girlfriend in Texas. Should get there Monday.

+24 Pre-gaming one evening with a new friend from the 2013 collection — another Matt — Matt Wilson.

-10 Having to squeeze in so much in four days felt a little too intense.

 +5000 Seeing my favorite toddler this morning after being away from her for almost a week. Swoon.

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Happy 15th Birthday, Saidee

My momma's beagle.

My momma’s beagle.

For all my Texas pride, Saidee’s the only member of the Hu family that is a living, breathing Texas native. She was born in Grand Prairie, the runt of the litter. I remember her dog father being a show dog named “Copper Mountain Cody” — all the official AKC show dogs in her lineage were named by the street they called home.

I was a junior in high school at the time and, knowing I’d be leaving home for college the next year, scoured the classifieds to find a puppy daughter for my dog-loving mom. We hadn’t had a dog in our house since the unfortunate and painful hit-and-run death of my cocker spaniel, when I was 12.

My best friend Erin helped me choose Saidee — we drove out to Grand Prairie in my red Jeep Cherokee and visited the litter, which included three boisterous boys and one girl who seemed to struggle getting to feed as much as her brothers. She also had more brown in her coloring and an identifiable spot, so I picked her out and called dibs until she was old enough to come home. I snuck her into the house in my coat pocket — it was Christmas-time, 15 years ago — and presented her to my mom later that night.

We all fell in love. Saidee lived with my parents until my mom was transferred abroad, at which point she lived with my brother Roger and his then-girlfriend Tracy, in Tucson. She moved in with me and Matty in 2007 and has been with us ever since. In her 15 years, she’s lived in four states, survived a cancer scare, ran away and returned at least five times*, moved across the country by plane and car half a dozen times, explored the nation’s monuments, trekked through the Appalachian mountains, eaten everything that she shouldn’t have, put up with a total of four cats and now, a toddler.

When I got Saidee, I was a girl. Now I have a little girl of my own. We truly grew up together. I don’t mean this to diminish parenting a human in any way, but so much of my confidence as a momma came from learning how to really relate with Saidee and meet her needs over these past 15 years.

Now that she’s 15, she spends most of her days sleeping, has gone deaf in both her ears and is vision impaired, too. But she’s still spirited and spry — getting hyper and running around in circles when we come home, rolling around on her back for belly rubs, tirelessly rearranging herself in bed in order to snag the perfect spot, which somehow always seems to take up a lot more space than her 23 lb body would let on.

Happy Birthday, Saidee. I love you.

*In the most ridiculous Saidee runaway story, Saidee ran away to the home of another Asian-American woman in St. Louis, where she was living at the time. The woman renamed her “DuDu Peng” for the days they were together. I only know this because she took Saidee to the vet for her lifelong affliction with skin allergies, and got a prescription. My dad only tracked down Saidee because he was out at an intersection putting up Lost signs and across the street, his friend spotted “Found” signs showing Saidee/Dudu’s image.

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Thanksgiving 2013

I’m always thankful for family, and mine is particularly badass partly because it’s huge and includes a lot of foodies and eaters. So Thanksgiving with my extended family in Maryland always involves a lot of serious eating but it’s really more like a giant face-stuffing scrum than it is a “lunch” or a “dinner.” Part of the reason is because we have about 30 family members plus kids involved each year, so we don’t sit around one giant table, and we eat in phases starting at the lunch hour but powering on through til dinner. It generally includes our hyper-physical four-year-old cousin Luc beating and wailing on Stiles for a good chunk of time, and Cousin Clarence reliably brings Turducken — the Louisiana favorite involving a chicken inside a duck inside a turkey. (Note: My cousins the Ho brothers enjoy some cult fame in a tiny corner of the Star Wars and kung fu choreography-loving internet for their 2002 fight video, Art of the Saber. True story.)

Our meat selections felt endless — Suk, my cousin’s wife Diem’s sister’s husband — got himself a smoker and making brisket has become a new hobby of his. So on top of two fried turkeys, the Turducken, a ham and endless sides, we had two choices of brisket — spicy and sweet. Our pals Audrey and Patrick have spent so much time flying back and forth to family this year that they stayed in town for Turkey Day, so they joined us at the Maryland festival of meat, armed with Audrey’s signature brussel sprout salad, which disappeared quickly. Gobble, gobble.

Audrey brought her specialty from her Texas momma's recipe — brussel sprout salad.

Audrey brought her specialty from her Texas momma’s recipe — brussel sprout salad.

The turducken (foreground) and one of our turkeys.

The turducken (foreground) and one of our turkeys.

Cousin Cary goofing off with toddler Eva.

Cousin Cary goofing off with toddler Eva.

Part of our feast included a counter of Asian food — Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean to represent all the Asian types in our family. So Eva dutifully ate from chopsticks.

Part of our feast included a counter of Asian food — Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean to represent all the Asian types in our family. So Eva dutifully ate from chopsticks.

One side of the kitchen was just for sides.

One side of the kitchen was just for sides.

With the newlywed Texas pals Patrick and Audrey, who we brought along.

With the newlywed Texas pals Patrick and Audrey, who we brought along.

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A New Theme

Last week I learned WordPress now has photo and quote post types, like Tumblr does. The post types are a huge draw for me as a sometimes-Tumblr user, but I am partial to WordPress for all the flexibility it offers. So I loaded up a new theme so that I can take advantage of post types, and I hope to be testing them out with random photos, quotes and multimedia posts in the coming weeks. Things could be glitchy for a bit, but nothing on the scale of HealthCare.gov’s disaster, which has basically consumed my past two months.

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