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Doing the dive bar thing with my NPR brethren in LA. L to R: Kirk Siegler, Kelly McEvers, me, Nate Rott and David Greene

Home from 26 hours in DC, 36 hours in New York and 48 hours in LA. I needed to go home to the US for face-to-face work meetings about my “future,” since our time in Seoul is going to come to an end at one point or another. This trip did not include nearly enough sleep but it was rad because so many inspiring friends are in America! Our conversations over meals and drinks were the kind I like the most — the ones you need to make footnotes for so you can check back later. Here are some of the people from the week, and the links and culture they shared:

Friend Tim
Tim made five flight connections and took a sad bus in the snow — NEVER GIVING UP — in order to get to my Amsterdam nuptials, so, obviously, he’s a generous friend. Despite our close bond, we hadn’t seen each other in person since 2014, when I ran into him at Lambert St. Louis Airport after I almost got shot in Ferguson. Tim has moved to LA. He got there like, last week. So for my last night in America I went to Tim and his wife Rachel’s, where we sat amidst stacks of unopened boxes of their stuff to eat tacos and Salt and Straw ice cream. Tim and Rachel recommended the writer Mary Choi and her new YA novel, which is debuting this week. “She’s the voiciest writer I have ever known,” he said. When Tim was design director at WIRED he brought on Mary to do a column, which she rocked.

Friend Matt
Matt Thompson is a constant character in my life and on this blog because the man is a goddamned inspiration. We snuck in a meal together in DC before I had to go and he was most excited about this data viz on economic mobility from The New York Times, which so painfully and clearly illustrates what is happening to even wealthy black men in this country.

Girls Night: Kat/Pamela/Alex/Claire
Claire is the brain behind Elise Tries, my goofy East Asia-inspired video series. On the same day as we found out some great (embargoed) news about the series, I had plans for drinks and food with Claire and the other aforementioned girls, in New York. A Noreaster came in and lots of them didn’t have to go to work, so they came down to hang and catch up over takeout and wine. Among the recs: Alex recommends traveling with backpackers in Vietnam, which she just did after a grueling time at the Olympics. Kat can’t stop raving about Rachel Khong’s book Goodbye, Vitamin, which I ended up reading on the plane and love, love, loved.

Friend Alec
Alec is either a creative genius or a smug asshole, depending on whom you ask. The person who calls him a smug asshole is TJ Miller, who played “Erlich” on Friend Alec’s television show, Silicon Valley. It’s a long story. I met Alec before the show premiered in 2014, after HBO turned down my request to interview Mike Judge and offered Alec instead. True story – Friday was only the second time I’d ever hung out with Alec but he says he meets a lot of people who are dumb-dumbs on press tours so he was able to glean that I at least was not a dumb-dumb (low bar), and we’ve kept in touch ever since. I revealed I’ve been despairing about all the news and he recommended a twitter feed called @humanprogress, which is full of positive stats about how much more educated and well-fed and resourced the world is today than it was before. He also recommends his new show, Barry, which he created with Bill Hader. It came out this weekend on HBO. Obviously he’s biased, but non-Alec-affiliated people have given it positive reviews. Also, for the record, my take is that Alec is NOT an asshole!

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Farewell To My Right-Hand Woman

Trying to hike and conduct interview, with Haeryun, the last time I was eight months preggo.

The toughest thing about being a reporter in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language is that functionally, you’re a child. I work without a key tool for reporting — the ability to communicate. That makes my interpreter and assistants in Korea and Japan as important and arguably MORE important than me to tell compelling stories.

Out on the streets of Seoul with Haeryun during the anti-Park protests.

For the past two years (almost to the day), Haeryun has been my right-hand woman. On her first day, when I had only been off the plane from the US for about 10 hours, the US Ambassador to Seoul was stabbed in the face. So there was no easing into the job. Korea news has essentially been non-stop since then. (Perhaps you’ve read about the missile tests, lethal poisoning deaths and impeachments on my patch lately.) To put together coherent pieces for air, not only does Haeryun do critical backgrounding and research, she also broaches sources and lines up interviews and concurrently translates them as I conduct interviews, she also works on her own when I’m traveling and goes out in the field when I can’t.

She acts as my Korean-speaking proxy, making the important human connections with sources that allow us to tell stories for our English-speaking audiences. On top of that, Haeryun also makes sure things run: That our driver Mr. Kim always picks me up at the airport on time, and that our office water delivery comes reliably and that our Foreign Correspondents Club dues are paid, etc etc.

Haeryun is a woman of many talents, here she’s running audio for a video project during a crazy facial procedure.

This week, Haeryun starts a new journalism adventure! She is going to the site Korea Expose, where she will be an editor and help oversee their staff of hungry writers who are diving into stories about Korean society and culture. We are all really excited to see what they will do there.

But that means she is bidding farewell to NPR’s Seoul bureau, the foreign post which she was instrumental in helping found. Together we have binge-eaten in front of thousands of strangers, crashed a Korean wedding, gotten lost on Jeju Island with the worst navigation device ever issued, witnessed the sorry state of caged, endangered bears, consoled grieving moms, followed alongside Korea’s marching single moms, covered way too many missile tests to count and spent way too many hours at the Seoul Immigration Office to make sure I could legally stay in this bureaucracy-loving country.

Always a good sport, she gets dragged into my noraebang (karaoke) sessions.

She is also my friend (one of my closest Korean ones, at that), shares my endless appetite (so she’s always a reliable eating partner) and has always been there for my entire family. So we will continue to hang and see each other, of course. But it’s the end of a chapter, so I wanted to make sure to give her a little blogpost tribute to say goodbye and thank you.

And a funny footnote: Despite all our time together, I still can’t pronounce her name right. This scene from Sisters pretty much sums up me and Haeryun, anytime I try to say her name:

Anyway… None of the Korea stories would have been shaped and told without you, Haeryun! We love you and will miss you.

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This February 17th, A Chance to Give Thanks

Midway through our homemade version of the game Taboo, which featured disgraced politicians, sports stars and entertainers.

Midway through our homemade version of the game Taboo, which featured disgraced politicians, sports stars and entertainers.

Feeling too lazy and overwhelmed by a short month that included returning to work after maternity leave, two trips to Miami and the heartbreaking season finale of Downton Abbey, I barely wanted to celebrate my birthday this year. Too. Tired.

It’s a definite shift from the annual norm, since for all five of the birthdays I spent in Austin, my fellow February 17th-ers  and I would throw a massive “Three-Way”  birthday bash that got bigger and more drunken with each passing year. And last year was the unforgettable (and also libation-laden) birthday week in Costa Rica.

So this was the hangover birthday year, if you will.

But my spouse Stiles still managed to make the day quite lovely by inviting a few of my favorite people over to eat brisket and birthday cake. And play a competitive team game in which we all pitched in to provide the content. And watch “classic” YouTube videos together on our big TV. (Grape lady, anyone?)

While I’m overwhelmed by life this month, I also feel overwhelmed by gratitude. My friends and family members are adventure partners, life coaches and constant inspiration. So I want to take this birthday evening to say THANK YOU:

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The Texas Barbecue Baby Shower

I’m constantly awed by the generosity and kindess of my loved ones, but especially my gal pals, who are a group of gorgeous women who are constantly giving of their time and talent. It was in full display on Saturday, when I returned to Texas where eight of my girlfriends hosted an amazing, classy baby shower that did not involve cheesy games or awkward gift opening sessions and was so-well orchestrated that my pal Blake called it “a sight to behold, those eight women putting that shower together.” Another pal, Brett, joked, “It was like watching a group of Amish women put up a barn.”

How awesome are these hostesses? Let me count the ways: I learned Saturday that Melissa put together an idea board with the color themes and plans for decor (including some badass balloons she ordered from Etsy) so that all eight women could coordinate according to a general plan, Virginia had my fave chicken salad flown-in on dry ice from Shreveport, and knowing how much I love Texas BBQ, they arranged to get Franklin BBQ (best brisket in Central Texas) picked up for barbecue slider sandwiches. Laura made insane cake balls. Nisha opened up her perfect party home and headed up an “optional craft”. Crystal, knowing it has been torture for me to abstain from drinking, created “mocktails” so that no one else would be drinking, either. As a surprise treat, the girls got their geek baby-daddy’s data visualizations printed onto onesies.

Photographer Callie Richmond, who shot for us at The Texas Tribune, stopped in for photos. I’m so glad she did, because this baby shower was the shizz.

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