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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Slideshow: 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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