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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Halloween Sushi

Still not as good as the Silence of the Lambs year.

This year, because I’ve previously dressed up Eva as my favorite food (hot dog), our family theme was my favorite cuisine. The girls were tuna nigiri, a California roll, a smaller soy sauce. Spouse wore a shirt that said, “No sushi, no life” and a headband that says, “Fighting,” because I thought it was funny, okay?

This is my 14th Halloween with Matty. We had just started dating before Halloween 2004 and for a costume party, we did an Ari and Uzi Tenenbaum get up in those classic red Adidas tracksuits. Took second place in the contest, as we were beat out by whoever dressed up as “Swing States” that year. (Back when there actually WERE swing states. THAT’s how long we’ve been together!)

One of the funniest running jokes of those early years was Friend Sudeep always too cheap to get a costume and he’d wrap himself in toilet paper to dress up as a mummy.

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AAJA 2013: Baby in the Big Apple

Eva and Momma time in the hotel room.

Eva and Momma time in the hotel room.

Just back from a really fun and satisfying time in New York for this year’s Asian American Journalists Association annual convention. I’ve been part of AAJA since I was in 10th grade, thanks to a reporter for The Dallas Morning News who called to interview me about a student council project, I think. Whatever it was, I mentioned after the interview I wanted to be a journalist one day and she immediately encouraged me to join the organization. Since then, AAJA has been responsible for making connections that have shaped my life.

In 2002, AAJA hosted its national convention in Dallas, and that’s where I met Sudeep, who became my best friend and is responsible for introducing me to my husband Stiles. Stiles is not Asian-American by blood but often identifies with my peeps, so he joined AAJA in 2008 and has since been a much more involved member than me. He consistently reminds me to renew my membership, he has attended more AAJA conventions than I have in recent years, and he speaks on more AAJA panels than I do. He trumped me in New York, speaking on three panels to my one. I’m so proud of him!

This year, the programming really kicked things up a notch with fab workshops and thoughtful panelists. I loved seeing writer (and Twitter user) Jay Caspian Kang totally go anti-Twitter at a conference where social media networking was predictably de rigeur. Kang called Twitter a “circle jerk” and said he thinks less of people who tweet all day, saying it undermines your seriousness as a writer. That argument is for a whole different post — bottom line, exposure to unexpected points of view makes these confabs more interesting.

I regret not getting to spend more time with old friends, since that’s what is always so great about attending the annual AAJA confab. It feels like family. But I was a little time and resource constrained because of my actual family. The traveling baby, Eva, came with us (she’s a journalism convention pro now). She got to try some halal truck food, visit FAO Schwarz, have lunch with my old friend Tim, get overwhelmed by the lights and the tourists in Times Square, go shopping on Fifth Ave and take lots of her usual naps. She also enjoyed exploring the hotel room and goofing off, as you can see.

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White House Correspondents Dinner Weekend: Jokes About A Town That Is One

“How do you write jokes about a town that already is one?”

-Kevin Spacey, as his House of Cards character Frank Underwood, in the spoof video produced for the dinner

I’ve never covered Hollywood, so the White House Correspondents Dinner is the only place I’ve seen so many celebrities in one room. Granted, the dining room at the Washington Hilton holds 3,000 so it’s a large pool from which to find bold-faced names. The dinner — and the weekend of partying that grew up around it — is quintessentially “Washington,” for better or for worse. (Much like SXSW, apparently the event has gone from a well-meaning celebration of one idea to a marketing-laden orgy of totally different priorities.) A glutton for new experiences and an avid reader of celeb-blog The Superficial, I am game to witness the absurdity.

The whole event is sensory overload. You can’t turn your head without seeing someone famous or familiar-for-some-reason-you-can’t-quite-place. The long hallway shoot of pre-dinner receptions and a few post-dinner parties is in a basement, probably the only time Michael Douglas or Nicole Kidman hang out in a basement. After going through security with Don Draper’s wife Megan (actress Jessica Pare) to get in the ballroom, the likes of Kevin Spacey, Steven Spielberg and Claire Danes get gawked at near the stage. Packed in that giant ballroom, it was easy to walk right into and nearly run over a tiny Hayden Panettiere. Last year, I found myself reapplying lip gloss next to Kate Upton* and Anna Paquin. Ron Kirk snapped iPhone photos of people wanting pics with his friend Eric Holder. Tony Romo and his wife told me details about the birth of their baby, since we Texans just instantly bond that way, I guess. This year the Romo’s showed up again.

“Y’all are becoming real White House Correspondents Dinner regulars,” I said to him.

“It’s her. She loves to put on a dress,” Romo said jokingly, of his wife.

Saturday, Friend Matt decided to offer me his dinner ticket with only 90 minutes to spare. It took an incredible amount of perfect timing and logistical savvy for us to drive across town and do the pass off in time. (And to shower and get ready in 10 minutes.)

What I learned last year was that it’s actually the parties preceding and following the meal, the ones sponsored by real power — Fortune 500 companies and VC-backed startups — that are actually “fun”, if you want to call it that. (Fun in the weird Washington way.) Loved seeing old friends** and meeting new ones. Frankly, it was all so much better than when I attended while pregnant last year because this time I could drink through it. (!)

My memories of the weekend exist in single frames: A Swavorski crystal toilet at a late night house party. Asking Kevin Spacey about House of Cards spoilers (“I don’t know anything,” he said). Making new friends while in a super long bathroom line at The Atlantic’s Friday night confab. Seeing Gayle King and Joaquin Castro at every hoppin’ spot in town. Getting momentarily spooked when Gus Fring (the Breaking Bad villain who got half his face blown off) walked past my dinner table and looked me right in the eye WITH HIS WHOLE FACE. The AC dropping to temps in the 50s so a room of 3,000 wouldn’t wind up sweating. Conan really yelling into that mic. My gal pal Judy. Piano renditions of Coldplay at the Turkish Ambassador’s house. Delicious dolmas. Lots of red carpets and velvet ropes but way more gawkers than celebs. Celebrating a startup incubator in an unexpected place. Signature drinks named AT&Tini’s. Gorgeous views at the Sunday brunch. Corporate sponsor after corporate sponsor after corporate sponsor. Big brands. Medium brands. Small brands. Business cards. Bacon. Introductions. Jewel tones. John Oliver!

*When Kate Upton first walked by our table at dinner, I thought to myself, that woman should be a model! Doh.

** Including a sorority sister I hadn’t seen in 13 years

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Please Prepare The Fetus For Arrival: The DC Shower

The Fetus has yet to arrive, but he/she is pretty lucky to have so many aunties and uncles around. Not to be outdone by the Texas BBQ Shower, my old friends Sudeep, Beam, Fiscus and Andrew (some of those are not their legal names, natch) hosted a travel-themed fete in our new hometown of DC to prepare our future jetsetter for all his (or her) adventures. This was fun times, y’all. And it’s already earned many superlatives, like “the most irreverent/funny/inappropriate” shower that guests had ever been to.

Instead of the traditional all-girl affair, my closest gay pals joined the gal pals in this fete for Fetus. So we were DQ-treated to such entertainment as Friend Dave, a veteran DQ employee, explaining the art of making a Buster or Dilly bar from scratch (it’s all in the wrist), internationally-themed cupcakes and food, lots of Mommy-Loves-Vodka jokes, airline mini-bottles for party favors, and raucous debate about the ethics of circumcision. (And apparently there are different ways to cut — the “bald eagle” versus the “shaggy dog.” Yep.)

As an added bonus, Friend Denise is not only a friggin awesome baker (her German chocolate cake was a huge hit), but a talented photographer. She took some pics to show off all the detail these hosts and hostesses put into throwing a truly fun, boozy afternoon. Thanks again my friends. We’re so grateful.

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The Mystery Postcard from the Elizabeth Cady Stanton House

I returned from Oklahoma to find this on my desk. Who sent me this mysterious smiley-faced postcard from the Elizabeth Cady Stanton house?

Things I’ve considered:

1. Whoever addressed the card switched from normal casing to ALL CAPS for the NPR address. What gives?

2. Elizabeth Cady Stanton is a 19th century women’s rights leader. Could this have been sent by a third-wave feminist friend of mine, or just by someone who happened to visit this place and decided to send me a postcard?

3. Stanton’s house is in Seneca Falls, New York. My friend Reeve, whose handwriting could be on this postcard, was recently visiting New York. But it seems the Elizabeth Cady Stanton house wouldn’t be one of his top destinations. I think Reeve prefers Susan B. Anthony.

4. I have ruled out both friends who consistently send me postcards: Sudeep “Man of Honor” Reddy, and Dave “I Love The North Pole” Levinthal. It’s not from Dave based on handwriting and because he only vacations in places with subzero temperatures, and I ruled out Sudeep because he never addresses postcards to me, he sends them to my beagle, Saidee Hu.

Help me solve this mystery.

UPDATE: Reeve has texted to say “That postcard did not come from me.” He adds that this mystery is “creepy.”

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The Summer Everyone Was Talking About Bon Iver

Since I am a hopeless nostalgic, I figured I oughta capture my feelings about my first summer in DC, a place I always said I would never live unless I was rich. Rich is relative. I feel rich in experience and spirit.

  • Trading in my typical summer activity of co-hosting baby showers for hosting happy hours.
  • Getting to know a lot of awesome new friends. And reconnect with old ones, like my besties Sudeep and Beam, who comprised half my bridesmaid brigade at the Amsterdam nuptials of 2010.
  • Walking around outside since it wasn’t too hot to be walking around outside.
  • Having some Tangy Sweet yogurt whilst getting a pedicure at my new nail place, Golden Nail (singular, not plural. I have no idea why)
  • The great debt ceiling crisis and the visit to the Senate Cafeteria (which Politico’s Mike Allen calls the Dirksen Bureau), getting awkwardly flirted with by Kent Conrad and overhearing Jon Tester on the phone saying “They’re not putting any pressure on these guys!” What was he talking about? Congress or someone who does his lawn? I will never know.
  • Spending July 4th in remote West Texas after a blustery winter and spring in a town full of people who walk fast, aren’t that nice to strangers and take themselves way too seriously.
  • Dragging my ass to Pilates reformer classes and having Tami the trainer react with sheer bewilderment when I and the others were not able to do her “mermaids” or other tricky moves that required muscles.
  • Spending every other weekend out of town, going to random places like Salt Lake City and San Antonio.
  • Learning Saidee didn’t have doggy cancer.
  • Cookouts with my cousins when my little brother was in town, which was a lot, even though his home is in Beijing.
  • My irrational obsession with seeing Crazy, Stupid Love for Ryan Gosling, and then finally seeing it and feeling a bit let down. Expectations were too high.
  • Pool time in Crystal City with the Beam, where even though we were just lying there for a few hours, we wound up famished at the end of our time in the sun and had to go gorge at nearby Chik-Fil-A.

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Reddy on the Spot

With the "prestigious" Reddy in May 2010.

My friend Sudeep is unwittingly in a public feud with Sarah Palin. In a Wall Street Journal blogpost, Sudeep wrote that her claim about grocery prices rising “significantly in the last year or so” was not supported by the facts. Palin used her Facebook page to fight back, rebuking Sudeep by citing another Wall Street Journal article to support her original inflation argument. Only, she selectively quoted the piece. She took out the part that said prices have been “tame” and clearly supported what Sudeep (and the facts) said. Doh.

We here at Hey Elise are Sudeep’s #1 fans, and as such, decided to aggregate today’s coverage in case the “prestigious” (Palin’s words, not mine) WSJ reporter ever comes out of his undisclosed location and wants to read about his day in the lamestream media spotlight.

Columbia Journalism Review:

So, Palin is hammering the Journal and Reddy for pointing out that she’s flat wrong about grocery prices going up significantly in the past year. What does she do? She quotes a separate Journal story that confirms what Reddy is saying—and cuts out that part with three dots. Nice! Palin has a journalism degree, so I’m guessing she knows what an ethical no-no it is to misquote somebody like that.

Gawker:

Of course she didn’t really read the article she cited to support her rebuke, because that article actually supported what the WSJ guy said in the first place. In conclusion, Sarah Palin, an illiterate person, is very entertaining.

Slate (in which John Dickerson attempts to post a defense of Sudeep on Palin’s FB page but it gets deleted)

At least she called you prestigious, Mr. Reddy! Palin seemed to have his number. But then I read Reddy’s critique and the story Palin says undermines it. The story Palin cites to support her claim doesn’t do that. In her speech, Palin said that “prices have risen significantly over the past year or so.” The Journal article says prices are only “beginning” to rise. The time period of “significant” increase Palin is talking about is referred to in the first sentence of the exculpatory article as “the tamest year of food pricing in nearly two decades.”

And I love this one, NY Magazine’s “Sarah Palin is in a fight with a Wall Street Journal Economics Reporter about Economics:”

Ouch. Reddy, dude, you don’t even read your own paper? Are you literate at all? Even a “former [half-term] governor and current housewife” knows more about economics than you, an alleged economics reporter. How pathetic for you. Maybe you should be the housewife and Palin should be the economics reporter.

Wait a second, though. As Reddy and the Columbia Journalism Review‘s Ryan Chittum notice, Palin used some ellipses to skip over a section of the Wall Street Journal passage she quotes. We wonder what she left out …

An inflationary tide is beginning to ripple through America’s supermarkets and restaurants, threatening to end the tamest year of food pricing in nearly two decades.

But that directly contradicts what Palin was arguing, and validates Reddy! When Palin realizes that she omitted this vital information, she is going to be so embarrassed for the first time ever.

Can’t wait to see what cable news will do with all this. A Mama Grizzly versus Lamestream Media fight could feed the cable newsies for weeks. (More at Huffington Post, The Raw Story, and too many other places to track.)

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