Springtime in A Coupla American Cities

Caught Janeane Garofalo, doing some standup, in Brooklyn.

Shooooooot, if I don’t start speeding it up I’m not going to be able to keep that New Year’s Resolution about blogging a certain number of times a month. One day, the relentlessness of the North Korea beat will end, but not before it ends me, first.

I took a sojourn to the states last week (DC and then New York), which at first was awesome but now that I am back and only sleeping in three hour bursts, and only sometimes at night, my despair is rather acute. My brain feels like a bowl of soggy instant oatmeal. I took very few photos, so there’s really nothing to aid my collapsing memory of many things that happened last week.

There was plenty of patio-drinking, random run-ins in the street and lingering breakfasts. Also: trying our friend Rose’s new restaurant, reunioning, making the rounds of the think tank circuit, speaking about sexism in South Korea to young policy wonks, a comedy show where I discovered the knock-down hilarious Michelle Butreau, a board meeting for Grist and a last minute meetup with Texas friends weekending in New York thanks to Instagram.

In an embarrassment, I set up my friend Matt on a blind date and then ruined my own matchmaking by bringing him to a party the night before the date. At this party he met SOMEONE ELSE that he decided he liked so much that he canceled the date. I am awesome.

Felt a lot of highs and lows and now I’m just feeling really, really exhausted.

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26-36-48

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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Seoul -> DC -> NYC -> London -> Seoul … In Seven Days

Attempting to come out of a jet lag blur to say that I spent an incredible week in the Western hemisphere, which included a lot of time on planes and briefly, a train to New York. (After getting used to the bullet trains of Asia, the Amtrak feels like a damned stagecoach, not gonna lie.)

The notable thing about this trip was the lack of group activities; it was a lot of one-on-one dinners and breakfasts and coffee meetings with friends for whom I care deeply. And it all included a lot of freaking out about what is next for us in America and the world.

Things that common-law work spouse Matt Thompson said to me over burgers will stay with me, about how we need to lean more heavily into our archives and history, in general, to better understand what’s going at the dawn of Trump. And the work advice from people like Kate (who used to work with me) and Chuck (who is about to not work at NPR anymore) will make me feel better about the state of things in my career. Ultimately, the time in DC was so compressed that I had to fit in time with my BFF Sudeep by straight-up scheduling a walk together to the Triple A office, get a coffee to-go, walk to Treasury to get something back from an official, and then walk partially back to his office. That was the sum total of our reunion. For my other BFF, Sara, we scheduled a Chik-Fil-A dinner followed by a trip to Target. No joke. There was just no time.

On the flip side, the days lingered and melted into each when there were fewer people to see — in London, for a weekend with Friend Matt (seems everyone is named Matt, it’s all very confusing, but at least I can’t trip things up this way). He wanted to get to a top-ranked restaurant he hadn’t been to yet, and to go to an all-night barn party/jazz jam session out in the country, and since I was going to spend my final time in America just gorging on the fast food I’ve missed (Whataburger, where have you been all my life), it wasn’t too much of a burden to join Matt on his more classy trip to London, instead.

Serendipity and luck were in our favor all along: We almost missed our flight but didn’t, no belongings were left or lost, and little things happened to time out just as needed. We stayed at a flat* in Covent Garden near the theater district, and while walking home from a late night dinner we saw signs for a show featuring Sir Ian McKellen(!) and Patrick Stewart. When Matt checked about getting tickets the next day, he learned it was closing night, snagged two tickets and we got in to saw the dense and (obviously) well-acted show. I joked that it was about the frailty of existence for rich white men, and then we read a review, in which the reviewer explained that essentially the play was about the existential ennui of rich white men.

There was also delicious food, libation I so longed for and trips out into the English countryside, one night for the most random, bohemian jazz jam session-cum-birthday party filming. I can’t quite describe it except to say there were some ballerinas and lots of soldier costumes, plus a gong bath. My first gong bath!

* I try to code switch to British terms like flat and queue and crisps where appropriate.

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Acculturation

noun ac·cul·tur·a·tion \ə-ˌkəl-chə-ˈrā-shən, a-\

1:  cultural modification of an individual, group, or people by adapting to or borrowing traits from another culture; also:  a merging of cultures as a result of prolonged contact


I’m back in Korea after a harried two weeks in the states. We hadn’t gone “home” to DC in nearly 10 months, so I was highly conscious when I returned, like a little baby that had just entered the world, already in progress. DC felt incredibly small and quiet. The nation’s capital is always unusually quiet during the holidays, as its denizens flood out to their real homes or on vacation. And it is geographically small — something like only eight miles across. But after being in Asian megalopolises for most of 2015, DC felt like Tulsa. The streets were narrow and the sidewalks were wide, rather than the other way around.

Here are the other reverse culture shock observations:

  1. Everyone speaks English! I chatted up anyone who would talk to me and resumed saying hello to random people on the street. They always responded when I said “Happy Holidays” or “How ya doing?” So great.
  2. Damn, there are a lot of breakfast cereals and yogurts to choose from. The number of kids cartoon-themed yogurts alone floored me.
  3. I can get drinks larger than eight ounces?!
  4. Why does my alcoholic beverage cost three times my lunch?
  5. There are so many countdowns simultaneously splashed across the screen on domestic CNN. I can’t keep track of what they are counting down to. Is Armageddon nigh?
  6. The internet feels slow, but at least I’m not censored from visiting North Korean news sites.
  7. The clothes dryers are marvelous. I hadn’t properly dried my clothes in so long that I did a load of laundry every day just to take advantage of the quick dry cycle and how efficiently it dried my clothes, which came out so soft and fluffy.
  8. Why don’t any of the escalators work on DC Metro?
  9. So many women walk around in yoga pants. You never see a Korean woman walking around publicly in yoga pants.
  10. Stores are open before 10am. This revolutionized our time in DC because we were with our tots, which meant we could actually take them out of the house HOURS before we can in Korea.
  11. Spacial awareness: While shopping at grocery store Harris Teeter, I was pushing my cart and came within a six foot radius of another woman, who promptly apologized because we’d come so close. In Korea, you can be blatantly stepped on or, in our toddler’s case, mauled, and the other party doesn’t even notice.

Now that I’m back in Korea, I’m feeling a little sad because I’d just gotten used to being in America again, and then we left. It was fortifying to see so many of my bestest pals, even though our visits were compressed into a short time window. I don’t want to go back and forth too much, however, because the cultural whiplash — not to mention jet lag — might wipe me out.

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A Guide To My Washington D.C. Places, As I Depart

Private karaoke room goodbye at Wok 'n Roll. Yes, it's called Wok 'n Roll.

Private karaoke room goodbye at Wok ‘n Roll. Yes, it’s called Wok ‘n Roll.

While my memories of my last hometown, Austin, are vivid, my memories of DC are sort of soft focus. I think this is because I didn’t spend as much time just existing in DC — I originally took a job here that required nearly 50 percent travel — and I drank a lot, and, the nature of covering national news means you’re less a part of the community in the way you are when you’re coverage is “of and for” a more localized area.

But D.C. grew on me. Our daughter was born here, I worked among some of the smartest and most creative people I’ve ever met and feel this is the place I “grew up” and stopped feeling like a child that was just flitting about life. I enjoyed checking off some D.C. bucket list items like attending the Correspondent’s Dinner a couple of times, hosting a book party where people looked for their names in the index and spending summer nights at Nats games.

If there’s one common thread about DC no matter what your friend group, it’s that we’re always saying goodbye. D.C., as it’s well known, is full of people who aren’t from here and don’t stay here, so even in the short four years I’ve been here I’ve said goodbye again and again and again such that it’s reluctantly become muscle memory. I suppose it’s not so strange for me to leave, too, and I fully expect the place to be unrecognizable when I return.

Some places I’ll remember…

Favorite Place For A Stiff Post-Work Cocktail (Plus chicken wings!): Stan’s on Vermont Ave near 15th Street.

I said cocktail but they actually serve you a full tumbler of a hard liquor of your choice and it’s so full that your requested mixer comes in a separate glass. This will get you drunk in a hurry, and the basement location, the delightful hostess who remembers you and all your friends AND their famous chicken wings make this a great night, every time.

Favorite Lunch or Dinner Restaurant: Sushi Taro. Located conveniently need the Kazakstan Embassy, Sushi Taro became a go-to in my waning days of DC because I frankly prefer Japanese cuisine above the rest. Except for some Chinese dishes, of course. Like roasted duck.

Favorite Breakfast: District Taco, cause you can take a gal out of Austin but not the breakfast taco cravings out of the girl.

Favorite Happy Hour That No Longer Exists: Kushi. The service was meh and the food was only above mediocre but damn, we drank there so much. For a couple of years a group of us reliably met every Tuesday night with rotating hosts for the Tuesday Night Drinking Club and Matt Thompson almost always picked Kushi when it was his turn to host. It closed last fall because the owner hadn’t been paying rent. Oops.

Favorite Drinking Spot Before It Was Overrun By Millennials: The Passenger. It was like The Max for NPR, back in the old building. I remember so many summer nights spent sweating in that front booth cause the air circulation in there is horrid. But the craft cocktails were divine.

Best ‘Stuff White People Like’ Market: Union Market. This venue also hosts Crafty Bastards, which is also quite white.

Need A Random Weekend Walk? Meridian Hill Park has lots of space for picnicking and often has a drum circle going so you can enjoy that while on your walk. For more nature, my family and I like the National Arboretum. (The Arboretum is also excellent for Christmas card photos.)

Overhyped: Why do people love Sweetgreen? Why does everyone eagerly pay $12 for a salad and a drink?

Cheap Lunch: Harris Teeter will put a giant slice of pizza in their oven for you and sell it to you for $2.99. So I get two slices and it’s still cheaper than half a salad at Sweetgreen.

The Only Good Chinese In DC Proper: Panda Gourmet, which is the restaurant inside a Days Inn on an otherwise shady stretch of New York Avenue. It serves Szechuan and Shanxi cuisine (they are very different from one another), and we love anything on the menu that starts with ‘twice-cooked’. Also a big fan of their eggplant in garlic sauce and Shanxi noodles.

My Hair Guy: Carlos Perina of Corte Salon. Carlos is excellent with color, gives Eva free bang trims every three weeks and became one of my close friends over the last few years. He cut Clinton in the nineties and also gave Johnny Wright a station at his salon before Wright became Michelle Obama’s traveling hair guy.

Reliable Vietnamese Nail Ladies: Soleil 21 on Capitol Hill

Reliable Local Chains: Matchbox, Beau Thai, We The Pizza

Reliable Dim Sum: You have to drive a bit to Rockville but Far East knows what its doing. And it’s right next to a Wendy’s so if you are hungry for dessert afterward (which let’s face it sometimes I am) you can get a frosty.

Airports: Just don’t fly out of Dulles. People from DC would rather spend a night in Prince Georges County jail than fly out of Dulles.

Bar Trivia Options: Argonaut, if you like drilling down on subject specific questions. Nellie’s, for sports and just random fun questions plus cheap drinks (great for teams).

A Good DC Gift For A Friend: A bottle of Greenhat Gin. Or something kitschy from a local artist at Monroe Street Market.

Things to be Avoided: Driving on Rhode Island Avenue (anytime). Any carry-out that serves Chinese/Chicken Wings/Subs, of which there are many.

Annual DC Events That Should Make Your Calendar: Embassy Day. The High Heel Race. The Pride Parade. The AFI Film Festival in Silver Spring. Actually I don’t know that many ‘DC’ events because I only lived here about 60 to 70 percent of the last four years. But those are the ones I made it to and enjoyed.

T.S. Eliot says that you really only know a place after you left and came back, so I don’t claim to know DC at all. But again, it somehow crawled into my heart and became home, albeit only for a short time. See you next time, Washington.

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The Long Goodbye From DC, Part One

When leaving town, why have one big final blowout in which you accidentally consume too much marijuana and find yourself throwing up the entire way to the airport the next day (I’m just saying hypothetically, cough cough) when you can have a string of smaller goodbyes over the course of three weeks?

My former common-law work spouse Matt started his new gig at The Atlantic this month, our former boss Kinsey starts his new job in New York next month and my own move to Korea is imminent, so the first in the goodbye string was getting some of our old NPR colleagues together for drinks the same night the Packers showed America how to lose a football championship.

So many smiling faces. I already miss a lot of these colleagues so much.

So many smiling faces. I already miss a lot of these colleagues so much.

The other memorable part of this long goodbye tour is the DELICIOUS ETHNIC MEALS PEOPLE ARE MAKING FOR US. Eyder and his wife Cynthia dropped off authentic Texican enchiladas — Cynthia makes the verde sauce from scratch — and I ate three in one sitting. Chris Howie’s mom-in-law makes the most incredible Indian food ever and they had us over for a feast of I don’t even remember how many dishes. I got lost in a dream scenario of homemade naan, butter chicken, saag paneer, daal, oh man I can’t even describe.

Next, we wanted to see lots of DC drinking buddies and needed to get rid of a lot of random items in our house, like Magic Mesh, which Nick Fountain apparently wanted “real bad.”

So Friday night we had people over for a Hu-Stiles House Cooling, so that I could see lots of awesome people and give away items which included:

– Mark Sanford’s early book, The Trust Committed To Me
– A George W. Bush action figure
– A travel music stand
– Half a bottle of Jameson
– Some kind of Dutch knife sharpener
– A leftover party favor from my bridal shower in 2010
– A cat scratcher
– A screener of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood
AND SO MANY MORE AWESOME THINGS FOR YOU TO REMEMBER ME BY!

I mean, look at the excitement on their faces to leave with this bounty.

I mean, look at the excitement on their faces to leave with this bounty.

Last weekend we partied with the NPR  "olds." This weekend it's partying with the NPR "youngs." The olds definitely got drunker.

Last weekend we partied with the NPR “olds.” This weekend it’s partying with the NPR “youngs.” The olds definitely got drunker.

More goodbye-ing to come…

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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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Recommended Reads: On Death and DC (Unrelated)

I’ve been reading a lot this summer but not curating these reads quite as much as I’d like. Two particular pieces I want to point you to: First, longtime political scribe Marc Ambinder on lessons he learned about the ruling political/media class here in our nation’s capital. Then, a sprawling, heart-breakingly personal New York Magazine cover story that raises important questions about how we treat aging loved ones in our society. If you get around to reading it, I’d love to hear what you think.

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Liveblogging Jury Duty

Bunch of people sitting around to perform our civic duty.

It’s my first time to be summoned for jury duty even though I’ve been a registered voter for the last 12 years.

This is not going to be as fun as the time I live-blogged the blind date going on behind me at Panera Bread, but it seems that there’s going to be a lot of sitting around here in the “juror’s lounge” as we await going into a courtroom to (possibly) be selected to be on a jury panel. I’m not using ScribbleLive or any of the other liveblogging services cause I don’t think I’ll have that much to blog. So just refresh or come back often…

9:29am: We are all checked in and hanging out in a wi-fi powered lounge. I’d say about 150 people were called to be part of several possible jury panels. Watched an orientation video detailing how much we’d get paid ($4 for transportation) and warning us not to use, wait for it, LinkedIn, if we were selected to be on a panel. A creepy, sniffling guy decided to sit next to me, audibly sighing all through the video.

Continue reading →

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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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