Temporary Duty Yonder

Reported to duty.

The military term for a long stint elsewhere is TDY, which the armed forces like to joke stands for “Temporary Duty Yonder.” I’m not even sure what it really stands for, TBH. There I go with the acronyms again!

I went to Washington for most of November, coming off a blistering week-and-a-half reporting in advance of — and during —President Trump’s epic trip to Asia. (Nothing substantive was really achieved for the US but he commanded a lot of attention and resources in the region.) Thankfully, our afternoon program, All Things Considered, sent me a producer for the Asia trip — Becky — and we reported at a breakneck pace while sneaking in delicious meals. From the Tokyo leg, I came to Seoul for one day with Trump and covered a bunch of right-wing Koreans who welcomed him, then grabbed my baby and a suitcase and got on a plane to Washington. Then, Becky and I had to re-live Wednesday, November 8 due to the time difference. The first Wednesday November 8 was already exhausting; you can imagine having to do it again, but in Washington. I ended my second Wednesday November 8th with my former editor, Uri, at the “sad Hilton Garden Inn” bar, which is really, really sad. But I enjoy the kitsch of it.

I have spent too much time writing about the sad Hilton Garden Inn bar.

During said time in America, this what I remember: I interviewed the surgeon general, the former FCC Chairman, the head of Canada’s only HIV/AIDS treatment hospital, David Brooks, EJ Dionne, NPR’s East Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton three separate times about the fall of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, NPR’s media correspondent David Folkenflik about more sexual harassment trouble at NPR, author Megan Hunter about her dystopian novella, comedian Hari Kondabolu about what’s wrong with The Simpson’s character Apu, my friend Megan Garber about why women don’t speak up about sexual harassment, wrote and put into the world longer-length pieces about the meaning of statues in the ongoing Korea-Japan conflict and the decline of the golf industry in Japan, and narrated as my cohost Ari put leftover Thanksgiving stuffing into a waffle iron.

The panel! Richard Haass, Ian Bremmer, me and Fareed

I ate dinner and drank cocktails with so many old friends because I tried to do a different dinner reunion each night. This made for meaningful conversations and catchups and meetings of new family members (babies and children, natch).

CNN also flew me up to New York one Sunday morning to do Fareed Zakaria’s show from the actual set, which was fun because I missed my Council on Foreign Relations orientation and I got to apologize to the CFR president about it in person (he was fine so long as I paid my dues) and before I went home Friend Kat came to meet up for about 20 minutes before I trained it back to DC.

There was other stuff, too, but this blog is full of contemporaneous (and therefore incomplete) accounts.

Notes of extreme gratitude go to:

  • Sudeep and Hun. My friend Hun gathered up baby things so that Luna would have a car seat and bouncer and Bumbo seat and pack n’ play while she was with me during TDY. Then she dropped off said stuff at Sudeep’s, who then pre-furnished my AirBnB with the baby items so that they were there and waiting for us when we arrived. How amazing are these people!?

I got to be the guest of honor at Marcus and Maggie’s amazing table

    • Marcus, who, upon learning I’d be coming to town, decided to host a dinner at his home for me and my friends. WHAT?! His house is decked out in fabulous modern Chinese art from his stints in Hong Kong and Shanghai, and every piece had an incredible story. His wife Maggie made paella in those glorious cast-iron skillets that are actually meant-for-paella, and the dinner included my work spouse for life, Matt, singing us some numbers from his New York Times-themed musical that is in the works. (I am not joking.) This night was really fantastic.

 

    • David, who was in Seoul with me with the President and invited me over to Thanksgiving at his house when he found out I’d be without my family this year. Luna, her helper Yani and I joined in and it ended up being just like the Thanksgivings in my own Asian-American family: loud, lots of code-switching, food and taking pictures of food.

 

  • Robert Siegel, Kelly McEvers, Ari Shapiro and the whole staff at All Things Considered, which let me guest host on their program during some of the hardest weeks to be at NPR headquarters, because there’s sexual harassment stories hitting our own workplace in a widely public way. The co-hosts were exceedingly patient with me not knowing my ass from my elbow or a “line” from a “nipper”, which are shorthand terms for things that hosts say on the air. What a huge privilege to get to say “It’s All Things Considered from NPR News, I’m Elise Hu” for several days in a row. I will never, ever forget it.

    In the host chair with Ari, who is pretty much a perfect human

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How An Earthquake Got Me Out of A Conference Call

Waiting around after our building evacuation.

Here I was, going into the 51st minute of a conference call about charter schools, when I started feeling a tremor beneath me. At first I thought it was just some effect of the footlong chili cheese dog from lunch, but when the slight tremor turned into a steadier rocking, I looked over at my colleague Ken, who was so panicked that he slammed down his receiver and took off. “Don’t use the elevator,” he said, as he rushed out the door. I took the time to say goodbye to my conference call-mates, find my cell phone and camera, and then went down stairs.

Outside, we were a hapless group of journos standing in the middle of downtown DC, awaiting instructions on what to do next and trying to stand close enough to the building to stay connected to wifi. I found All Things Considered host Robert Siegel reading his Blackberry and learning we were indeed in an earthquake, it measured 5.8 on the Richter scale and centered in Mineral, Virginia, which was about 100 miles southwest of us. And it was he and the rest of the ATC staff that was let back in the building first, since they had an earthquake to consider in time for the broadcast.

ATC Host Robert Siegel was also evacuated.

This fairly-significant quake reminded me of the “best” quake memory I have. It was Easter 2002, and I was with mom in a department store in downtown Taipei, awaiting a dance performance from the Chinese hip-hop boy band I was living with at the time. But all of a sudden there was a rumble, and we were all rushed out into the streets. My journal from that time:

“on Sunday, minutes before Ed and Kenny were going to dance at FNAC (an electroncis store), an earthquake struck, and weeny Kenny blew out of the building….well, everyone else did too, i guess, but anyway, the point is i never got to watch the boys perform. oh well, i guess i get the privilege of seeing them do headstands and funky stretches around the house all the time.”

The whole roommate crew plus my mom found one another near National Taiwan University later that day, and ate a bunch of mango shaved ice. It was awesome. So today, after the earthquake, I immediately craved ice, which, like other great Asian food, can’t be found in DC’s Chinatown.

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