Jeju Island: A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Do Again

An offering on my breakfast buffet. Jeju Island, I'll be back.

An offering on my breakfast buffet. Jeju Island, I’ll be back.

Right now it’s Tuesday morning and my infant daughter is off in slumberland, freeing me up to write about Jeju Island, which the Koreans say is the “Hawaii of Korea.” There ARE some things it has in common with Hawaii, like natural beauty and parts of the island so untouched that four way intersections have no stop signs or traffic lights, leaving you to your own devices.

Go team.

Go team.

I saw a UFO themed restaurant. I saw a waterfall without water falling. I saw a beach where everyone took off their shoes and lined them up on the boardwalk before stepping onto the sand. I tried a burger concoction that was a foot tall. I smelled fresh Jeju black pork on the barbecue grill, before quickly eating that, too. I visited a three-story Hello Kitty museum made complete with a Hello Kitty family portrait. I passed horses milling about near the highway. I went to a completely empty theme park the size and scale a large city zoo. The place called itself ‘Psyche World’ until it changed its name to something equally puzzling: Ecopia. There was a butterfly exhibit with only three butterflies. There was a giant castle displaying a jewel museum with likely fake but famous jewels, like that blue one from Titanic that the old lady dropped into the ocean in the end. There was the promise of the ‘CSI EXPERIENCE: JEJU.’ There was an empty concert park with futuristic white seating in the grass, next to a display of two crocodiles. There was vastness in the emptiness. Store clerks and ticket punchers appeared when we walked past, but if you went back five minutes later, they were gone.

This giant playground was empty so I found the single plastic lawn chair on the grounds and plopped down to breastfeed Isa.

This giant playground was empty so I found the single plastic lawn chair on the grounds and plopped down to breastfeed Isa.

I have learned that if you travel with the kind of friends who will agree to go to a weird place like Jeju Island with you on a week’s notice, you will undoubtedly have a great time, despite feeling like you’re in a vortex. They are the Yau family, who are also American expats in Seoul who also arrived here in March. Who also happen to have a preschooler and an infant. When it came to kid supplies like diapers, water bottles and sunscreen, as Joe Yau said, “There’s so many built in redundancies this way.

The island is a place frequented by Chinese travelers. So many that  he rich ones are now scooping up thousands of square meters of the island itself.

The people who don’t frequent Jeju island are people who speak English. The eight of us spent the four day weekend speaking ‘hand Korean,’ which is generally just wildly gesticulating and getting responses we couldn’t understand, until the point the Korean speakers simply throw their arms into a giant X formation, which is the loudest silent rejection I’ve come to know in Korea. Since the GPS navigator was similarly in Korean only, a hotel employee had to come out to our car each morning and program in a destination for us and we crossed our fingers we’d wind up somewhere discernable. Considering many streets don’t even have names down there, it was a wonder we had a navigation device at all.

Here’s the thing. To me, vacation explorations are not just respites from routine but a chance to make yourself purposely uncomfortable or weirded out a little. It’s in those situations you learn and grow and laugh. There is so much laughter in the absurdity of a place like Jeju Island. We survived. Neigh, we thrived.

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23 Air Travel Tips From Super Frequent Fliers

One of my views out the window, though I can’t remember where.

I’ve been logging a lot of time in the air in the past few years, training and working with NPR member stations, shooting a political video project, hanging out my Europe-dwelling parents, freelancing for the Knight Foundation and just plain ‘splorin.

But my road warrior days are coming to an end next month, when I’m banned from flying due to the spawn in my system. So I thought I’d share some of my rules for the road in case you’re about to, say, be in five cities in eight days and want to avoid spending the night in a freezing cold baggage claim.

Below are my tips, along with travel advice I solicited from friends who log Hillary-Clinton-level frequent flier miles: John Bracken (professional innovation agent), Brad Willis (international poker blogger), and Matt Mullenweg (international man of mystery). Please send me yours or leave them in the comments and I’ll update this post.

UPDATE April 2013: Reader Alex Volnyak found this post useful and he took the time to translate it into Czech for any of you Czech readers out there. Please check it out if you’re interested. And thanks, Alex!

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2012 Resolutions: Hold Me Accountable, People

I’m not going to come up with crazy stuff like run a marathon cause I’ve done THAT before and it was the opposite of fun. Instead, some somewhat lofty but likely attainable goals:

1. Send More Handwritten Cards and Letters
What happened in 2011? I am so into stationery, pens and paper* but I couldn’t even pull it together to send our customary batch of Christmas cards this year. Get ready, cause I am going to overcompensate for my dereliction by sending you a note for whatever reason I can think of in the coming year.

2. Organize Photos Immediately After A Set Is Taken
Who knows how many photos have been lost to the cyberwilderness due to the too-many-photos, too-little-time problem? It’s time I try to be more like the wizard/best damn photographer I know, Channing Johnson, and download, sort and edit photos as soon as an event is over.

3. Become Conversant in Spanish
In recent months I have traded in my usual happy hours for twice a week, 90-minute sessions with my private Spanish tutor, Hilda. After being away from Espanol for more than a decade, I decided to get serious again, and Hilda is helping me. Here’s hoping I can be conversant by the end of 2012.

4. Visit Seven New Countries and/or Territories
I’m feeling wanderlusty again. Seven is a good prime number, so that’s how I landed on it. Sudeep wants to hit Iceland, Mom’s basically already signed me up for Morocco, and Beam is planning some Southeast Asian adventure. This resolution will cost me money I don’t have since we’re about to buy a DC house, but like my parents always told me, exploration is invaluable.

*Karl Rove is, too. We go to the same paper place in Austin. He’s really into Moleskin notebooks, Crane paper and Pilot “Varsity” pens, the ladies tell me.

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2011 Year in Review: Up in The Air

In transit at the Warsaw Airport. (October 2011)

 

My friend Patrick Terpstra wrote this of his year: “‎2011 was like riding a tilt-a-hurl after eating seven corn dogs. But it sure beats watching from the ground.”

I can’t disagree. I did plenty of plane riding, which is the most consistent memory of this year, besides saying goodbye and hello to a lot of people I really love. To rewind:

The Year I Flew Around the World, Twice: After saying goodbye to Texas and The Texas Tribune, I spent 99 days this year away from home, logging 78,931 miles in the air to 29 locations including places like Warsaw, Poland (for fun) and Boise, Idaho (for work). Not proud of the carbon footprint but I can now glide through security like Ryan Bingham.

Don’t Look Back in Anger (I Heard You Say): It felt like a pretty angry and destructive year, didn’t it? My second favorite emotion*, outrage, seemed to abound. I write this as tens of thousands of Russians protest in the streets, Egypt, Tunisia and Libya take their shaky steps toward self-rule, and socioeconomic dissatisfaction continues at home. We said goodbye to Osama bin Laden, Amy Winehouse and Steve Jobs (none of whom were picks in my clearly talentless celebrity death pool), an earthquake-tsunami combo led to radiation disaster in Japan, and we experienced a rare earthquake in my new hometown of Washington, D.C.

Favorite Video of The Year Is Also My Favorite Song: “Ching Chong (It Means I Love You)”
After a UCLA student went on a crazy rant about Asian people in the library, she faced a backlash so large she had to quit college. But Jimmy Wong turned his rant response into art — one of the catchiest songs of the year, and an instant viral video. It will get stuck in your head, so if you haven’t seen this, you’ve been warned.

Speaking of Asians, My Most Memorable Welcome to Washington: The Crazy Guy in Starbucks
There was one morning after the devastating Japanese earthquake when I went into Starbucks in Chinatown, natch, when a random guy off the street wandered in, started yelling at people in line, stopped at me, and said this, to me: “Fuck you, go home. You deserved the earthquake.” Then he told the rest of the line we were all going to die. Yep.

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The Four Countries in Nine Days Epic Travel Week

There’s nothing quite like coming off an epic, five-state travel week than to get on an eight-hour flight to start an epic, four-country travel week. Let’s just say I missed a few conference calls today, being anywhere from thirty minutes late to not showing up. But we had some great times over the week, as we visited:

Mont Saint Michel, in Normandy, France
Bruges, Belgium
The Hague, The Netherlands
Warsaw, Poland

Smallest of worlds. Running into Brad Phillips and his wife, Molly, on the single street on Mont. Saint Michel.

1. Talk about random run-ins. In France, on the only street of the other-worldly Mont Saint Michel in the Normandy region, we ran right into an Austin friend, Brad Phillips, who was vacationing with his wife Molly. His firm was responsible for the design of The Texas Tribune. What a mess of humanity. So fantastic.

2. The next morning, Matty and I ran along a little trail from the backyard of the country home-slash-hotel straight to the Mont, a quick 2 kilometer jog. It was gorgeous. I’d run every day if that was my view every day.

3. We finally spent time in Bruges, after we were both introduced to the town by the hilariously dark film, In Bruges, a few years ago. The food was awesome, (try the beer-braised steak dish called stoofvlees if you’re in Belgium), and wandering the old cobblestone streets and canals and churches and all that was really fantastic. So was our bed and breakfast, where the owners made us deliciousness after our relaxing night in their little three-room rowhome.

4. Poland rocks! Warsaw was quite Western — I had expected it to be more, er, Soviet. We enjoyed the Old Town and the Warsaw Uprising Museum the most. They also serve bottles of vodka on the breakfast buffet there. Yep.

5. I came across my first TK Maxx. As a fan of TJ Maxx (which was, incidentally, hosting a fashion show and convention while we were in Boston for Online News Association a few weeks ago), I thought immediately that this was copyright infringement. Thanks to the social media crowd, I learned the TK is actually a legit brand, owned by the TJ Maxx people, to avoid confusion among Europeans with another TJ brand name that’s popular there.

I’ll eventually get the photos together and put up the images here and on the rarely-updated Hu-Stiles Blog.

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2010 in Review: Turn Around, Bright Eyes

At our Amsterdam wedding after party, in Texas.

To continue with an annual tradition started at least half a decade ago, it’s time to look back at the year that was. I’ve already been quoted calling it “the longest year ever,” but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Let’s see. We said goodbye to John Wooden, Leslie Neilsen and George Steinbrenner, the whole country learned what a blowout preventer was and somehow I made it through all of 2010 without seeing a single episode of ‘Glee’.

Noteworthy Taiwanese Imports: NextMedia Animation, the company that makes shameless animated versions of the news, and that chubby cherubic looking kid Lin Yu Chun, who totally KILLED IT with William Shatner on a rendition of karaoke fave, “Total Eclipse of the Heart”:

Noteworthy Low Moment: When the Tribune’s Niran Babalola and I tried to karaoke to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” in front of 500 strangers packed into an Austin bar during SXSW in March. We were bad, and I’m not just saying that. Behind us was an oversized projection of the instant Twitter comments as we were singing. “This is OUT OF MY RANGE!” Niran kept reminding me.

Personal Buzzword: “Werd.” I realized it’s spelled “word,” but my partner-in-crime Justin and I feel we pronounce it slightly differently, and that the difference is in the vowel.

Blissful Discoveries: Breaking Bad (OMG!), Austin’s Rainey Street district, and how I can hold down Apple+H keys to hide all of my windows MUCH FASTER now. How did I go so long without these luxuries?

The Rest of the List:

-Became a godmother

-Became a wife

-Became a contributor to The New York Times

-Got eyesight (due to the advances in laser vision correction)

-Attended six weddings (including my own)

-Rode a donkey up a mountain to a cave where they say Zeus was born

-Took a trip to LA to receive a journalism award

-Took a trip to New York to pick up a different journalism award

-Spent two delightful weekends in D.C.

-Ran into Danger Mouse at a bar

-Reluctantly endured the cycle of losing my cat and finding him at least three times

Visited Greece and Spain, allowing me to mark Thanksgiving by gorging on seafood in Barcelona (Thankful, natch)

Chuck Todd > Chuck Norris

-Got a too-excited photo with Chuck Todd at the White House Christmas party for the network television folks, which my White House staffer friend kindly let me formally crash (not wearing a sari, natch)

-Formalized our Celebrity Death Pool, in which our competitiveness led us to strangely dark proclamations

-Threw one epic, four-day party in Amsterdam, preceded by a swank engagement party hosted by a dozen of my besties, a pair of bachelorette nights (one on each side of the Atlantic), a shower at (where else?) a hot dog place, followed by a raging after party held by a pair of distinctly Austin hippies, also featuring hot dogs.

Thanks for another wild one, 2010.

RELATED:

2009 Year in Review | 2008 Year in Review

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Back in the USA

With mom in Budapest.

With mom in Budapest.

We lost constant internet connectedness for the last week as we traveled Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary by cruising down the Danube River. While we managed to check our emails once a day, not being tethered to the iPhone and other communications devices was a welcome break. I instead relished human connectedness – the kind with my family, the kind all too rare now that my mom, dad and brother are spread out across the globe.

The flights proved exhausting and frustrating as usual (but at least I didn’t have to spend the night in a baggage claim like that one night on the way back from China in 2007). Loved the Hungarians. One of our guides explained that being on the losing side of every war since the 17th century makes the people quite authentic and realistic — something that made us want to go back to Budapest, or as the locals say, Budapescht, quite soon.

Travel log:
Passau, Germany
Wachau Valley, Austria (includes cities of Melk and Dunstein)
Vienna, Austria
Budapest, Hungary
Esztergom, Hungary
Sturovo, Slovak Republic (just across the border from Esztergom)
Bratislava, Slovak Republic
Grein, Austria
Linz, Austria

And without further delay… the PHOTOS!!!

Europe Sept 09

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