Semi-Reopening Life

Summer 2020, embracing the exclusively outdoor hang way of life.

COVID life has lingered long enough now that I can’t remember The Before, or BC (before COVID). School let out for the “summer” but what does that mean, when school let out in March, really? And what is a summer without vacations or camps or any summertime rituals we’re used to?

The girls didn’t join in any of the BLM protests but Eva has gotten a lot more woke about the mistreatment of Blacks in American society and wants to read about slavery and is constantly aghast about the lack of humanity in the practice. She learned yesterday that Thomas Jefferson and George Washington kept slaves and this shocked her. I explained that while people can do good things, they also do terrible things, and that’s the complexity of life and human beings.

LA County is still seeing climbing numbers, but climbing steadily and not exponentially (like some places, cough Texas cough). Cooped up too long, I’ve relaxed some of my more vigilant anti-COVID practices and have let the girls have outdoor playdates with the siblings Brandon and Emma, with whom we carpooled. The kids sprung to life when they could all be together again, I was delighted for them and sad at the same time, knowing how much socializing they’ve missed.

My friend squads are getting together for socially distanced hangs in the pool or out in courtyards or at parks. Last weekend a bunch of us from NPR hung out together to gossip and complain (as journalists are wont to do) and it felt great. Well, at least until I overheated. I showed up in my “Merry Merry Merry” Christmas sweatshirt so I lasted for about 45 minutes out there in the blazing sun before having to bounce.

There’s no end to this in sight. School probably won’t start in the fall. Uncertainty and just living in the moment is the way forward, as it’s the only option.

The Week We Thought Kim Jong Un Died

North Korean state media showed images of leader Kim Jong Un appearing at a fertilizer factory ribbon-cutting today, 20 days after he was last seen in public. During his “disappearance” we learned he was maybe in “grave condition” (CNN), possibly “braindead” (Weibo chats and MSNBC) or fully dead, and/or maybe just avoiding COVID19 by holing up in Wonsan, his resort town. The night the news spread about his “grave condition,” I was putting the kids down for the night and both spouse and I sprung into action to try and figure out what was up, instinctively. Neither of us had any responsibility over North Korea coverage anymore but raced to figure things out as if we had an audience to satisfy. Chasing down KJU rumors — what a weird thing one’s mind and body learns to do automatically.

Now he’s apparently back or resurrected. Suddenly April 2020 is behind us.

I read today an idea about the passage of time that really resonated, from Ann Friedman:

“Apparently when everyone’s routine disappears and gets remade at the same time, weird things happen to our collective sense of momentum. Novel experiences slow down our perception of time (aka March), while repetition speeds it up (ahem, April).”

THAT EXPLAINS IT!

To catch up: I spent a lot of the month writing letters and then receiving letters, from strangers who only knew me from Twitter and DM-ed me their addresses. I can’t wait to blog about that nourishing, connective experience. It filled my tank when I needed it the most.

What else can I say? Everything feels fraught and chaotic. I feel lonely and despairing a lot, despite the small children shouting and jumping on me all the time. I binge-watched Normal People the TV series (based on a book I devoured last year) and cried every episode. Last night I zoned out in the frozen food aisle, breathing faintly into my mask and staring at taquitos for too long. I’m trying to remember compassion, compassion, compassion, including for myself.

As for family, we are all grateful and privileged and so lucky to be living well enough to enjoy the sunshine of Southern California, to have each other to dine with and feel with and fight with and push against. We are all, collectively, in our cocoons, in the midst of a grand metamorphosis. I don’t know what world we’ll emerge into, but we’ll be wholly changed. We certainly won’t be caterpillars anymore.

Life in Lockdown, The First Sunday

A dispatch from coronavirus social distancing, once in an indefinite series

Fortuitous that the family got me a kitten for my birthday because now I have a new lap buddy for all this time at home.

I have never before in my life eaten so much cheese. I stocked up before the store shelves went empty and now just working my way down through the stash, at rapid speed.

Matty absconded with the two older daughters earlier today and entertained them all day, so we were able to divide and conquer without cannibalizing one another.

The baby of the family, two-year-old Luna, learned how to use the Amazon Echo and has been making Alexa play her go-to jams of “Juice” by Lizzo, “Call Me Maybe” and some sort of “Say Cheese” kid song on repeat. I tried to get her into Radiohead and she indulged me for half of “High and Dry” before calling it quits.

Have been intimidated and would feel guilty about trying to go to Costco for one last run before these stores inevitably shut down, and am instead already bumming toilet paper rolls off my better prepared mom friends who can spare.

Update: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti just announced that LA is shutting down at midnight. Retail businesses, bars, clubs, gyms and fitness centers will all close until March 31, at least. Banks, grocers and pharmacies stay open. Restaurants will be available for takeout only.

Interchangeable Asian Party

For the past six or seven years, our colleagues have regularly confused me and fellow female Asian-American NPR reporter Ailsa for one another.

elise/ailsa. for whatever reason the difference is very tricky for many of our colleagues. Oh and the great sage/our pal Kumari is the best part of this photo, obvi.

We would receive the other’s emails and compliments for the other’s stories. I would come into work and people would ask me where my little dog was (Ailsa’s). She got a lot of congrats on my Seoul posting a few years ago. These nagging microaggressions happened so often that in 2013, Matty made a desk sign for me that featured side-by-side photos of me and Ailsa so that people could have a handy visual reminder of who’s who. (You don’t have to point out we don’t really look alike, we are aware.)

Now, I’m one foot out the door at NPR and Ailsa has moved here to LA to start hosting All Things Considered from the best coast. You could say we are … interchanging. So we hosted a little “revolving Asians” party to welcome her, do another bday gorgefest for me and most importantly, to poke fun of our long running plight and the friendship we forged as a result.

I love LA because it takes all comers, people are always here for random reasons and it’s full of friends from so many walks of life. To illustrate, here are people who made it out for boozeday Tuesday, an incomplete list:

— The regular drinking buddies
— My college dorm mate
— The dad I take turns doing carpool with
— My across the street neighbor
— A Defense Department friend who lived in Seoul the same time as us
— A pair of reporters I hired in 2011; one who had just landed from DC
— People who CAME ALL THE WAY FROM PASADENA to VENICE, so they may have started driving last week
— Mari, my Japanese interpreter in Tokyo who is also a working actress now doing a bunch of pilot season auditions in LA
— A civil libertarian I met a party & shared an Uber with two weeks ago
— Husband, armed with cake
— A guy named Bob who I met at a 7 year old’s pool party last summer and confessed he had a big crush on Ailsa Chang. Somehow I remembered this and made sure to track him down to invite him out. This delighted him and and Ailsa both, but especially him.

Welcome, Ailsa! It’s an honor just to be Asian, but also not bad accidentally receiving all the love that’s meant for you. 😉

Very low light on the patio but the point is our friends became friends and that brings me great joy

Trying to Exit LAX-it

Uber, Lyft and taxi pickups were banned from the curb at the infamously congested airport. Photo credit: Rennett Stowe

The new “efficiency” move at LAX to clear up curbside congestion is to make passengers arriving from longass flights wait for a shuttle to take them to a lot to then wait for a rideshare vehicle to take them home.

This has been such an unmitigated disaster in its first week that when the LA Times tried it, for a video, it took a full 52 minutes to get a ride home. And this is AFTER winding your way off the plane and out of terminal in the first place.

In these destabilizing times, the exhaustive effort it must have taken to make an already not-great situation substantially worse sums up my feelings about the global economy, internet commerce, telling my kids to stop yelling, and so much more.

Tonight someone died by stabbing when an argument broke out in a line for the much-hyped Popeye’s spicy chicken sandwich. Felt related somehow.

That One Time At Lawrence Welk’s House

A cozy salon with Manohla Dargis, with blue-hued vistas of Los Angeles behind her. “It looks like the LA of a Michael Mann movie,” she said.

In the megalopolises of Asia, experiences are often marked by their scale — a health scare happening in a “small town of two million people,” or how one protest can draw 300,000 into the streets on short notice.

In Los Angeles, experiences are marked by the random intersections of cultural touchstones: That book party on Sunset to talk foreign policy, featuring the Obama national security guy and some former spies, which was at a clubby Soho House because Ron Burkle owns it. Or last night’s salon for NYT film critic Manohla Dargis at Lawrence Welk’s sprawling former home where an Indian-American musician entertained during cocktail hour by playing “Old Town Road” on the sitar. (That song lineup, which included sitar arrangements for A-ha, and Coldplay, and Marvin Gaye, was wholly delightful but Old Town Road marked the high point, IMHO.)

This was so dope.

Also all the caterers were clearly male models, which a Swiss one admitted when I confronted him over his serving platter of mini chicken and waffles about how ostentatiously good-looking the bar and waitstaff was. I mean, it was almost obscene to have all that bone structure tending bar.

I grew up only coming to know Southern California from the movies and TV, so living here in real life is a mix of recognition and surprise. Almost a year in, I really just love it. Not because of the randomness of the parties but primarily because it’s a place of many cultures, many peoples — and they meet-up and mix-up in interesting ways.

When LA campaigned for the Olympics, the organizers talked about it as “the Northern-most city in Latin America and also the capital of the Pacific Rim” — LA is how America faces outward and into the future rather than inward and back.

Friend Liz now comes to mock me when I say I feel like my soul was always here and now my body just caught up, but I mean it! I am feeling more at home here than anywhere else I’ve lived, and it’s taken such a short time, thanks to the weather (I am perpetually high on vitamin D) and the way the place embraces its cultural quirks and collisions. How nice for a place to be so many things, and to encourage that its people be so many things, too.

California … Knows How To Work You

I’ve been all over California this month — work trips to San Francisco and San Diego, shooting the video series and hosting It’s Been a Minute episodes from both places, and made it to Palm Springs for the first time for spring break with the family.

Humans helped act as reflector stands for us. That’s video producer Kara Frame there, on the right.

The new series has a name, Future You with Elise Hu, and we’ve been heads down on getting the first two episodes ready for an early May release. We also need to get ahead of ourselves in filming them, so this week a crew from DC came out to work with me on Venice Beach, and then we all went to San Francisco together for a harried schedule of more interviewing and filming.

Lots of bright sides: The DC ladies got to thaw out (because apparently it’s still cold out East), and I got to have my collaborators with me in person, instead of over the video chats we do all the time.

These ladies were producing me for video and radio. L to R, Beck Harlan, me, Kara Frame, Anjuli Sastry.

What else do I have to say about April? I potty trained Luna using the Potty Training Boot Camp method (two days, it’s amazing). She turned two years old, so I REALLY have no more babies.

I went to San Diego for a few days to speak at a member station gala and do other assorted speaking activities.

For the older girls’ spring break, we took everyone to the desert (everything went smoothly until one of Eva’s friend’s, Brandon, accidentally ate walnuts to which he is allergic and wound up in the hospital).

Luna, at werk werk werk werk werk.

Also I’m spending an inordinate amount of time training on vertical jump, so I’m ready for the NFL combine. Hehe. Actually it’s for episode three. It will all make sense later.

Film

Friend Harper gives a goody bag to his guests that stay over at his place in Chicago. In the canvas tote are cool things like Harper-branded stickers and … a black and white disposable film camera, which I managed to use until Harper came to LA last week and I could hand off the camera to him to develop.

I love the hard-won look of these. And the time capsule element – there’s something special about film because it gives you such a finite amount of photos you can take. I wasted a lot by just taking nonsense photos of things like takeout boxes, for fun, but I also found this exercise in limits (only 24 chances) and patience (had to handoff the film to be developed, and then wait) really lovely. Baby Luna looked hot, as usual.

The only image of my kid I have, on film
Dragon dance over Lunar New Year weekend
The sinuglar Dan Sinker
Takeout boxes — I packed these!
When Friend John came to town and we walked to dinner along the canals
Boats
Selfie, without the aid of a screen

Barry’s Back, Y’all

HBO’s Barry is back for season two! The premiere just aired last night.

After I moved here last September, I finally got around to binge-watching Barry, a show produced and written and sometimes directed by my friend Alec. It stars Bill Hader and features a lot of standout performances, but for my money the biggest breakout is the delightful Anthony Carrigan, who plays the Chechen mobster Noho Hank. If you watch the show, you know how loveable he is, even (and perhaps especially) during scenes of torture and death.

Clownin’ with the actor behind Noho Hank, Anthony Carrigan, after our interview last week.

It was the highlight of my week when Carrigan came in to let me just talk to him, about him, for more than an hour. I enjoyed it so much. Can’t wait to bring it to y’all in a full episode of our pod It’s Been A Minute, which I guest host for a week later this month.

Home Spa Home

“I would come to learn, slowly, is that community is about a series of small choices and everyday actions: how to spend a Saturday, what to do when a neighbor falls ill, how to make time when there is none. Knowing others and being known; investing in somewhere instead of trying to be everywhere. Communities are built, like Legos, one brick at a time. There’s no hack.” — Jenny Anderson

At the Korea goodbye, friends came dressed up as characters from Kakao (the ubiquitous messaging app). Love these people. Photo credit: Jun Michael Park

I miss Korea sometimes. In the winter, I miss the heated floors. On elevators I miss being able to change my mind and press a button to reverse it. But mostly I miss my Korea friend squad.

Everywhere I’ve lived, the key measure of whether a place felt like home was the people, and the sense of community we created, together.

To that end, Austin feels homiest. And Los Angeles came to feel like home almost instantly. I have the ride-or-die kind of friends here, dating back as early as high school, plus newer friends from the school community and work friends that are among the most creative and hilarious talents at NPR.

Recently Friend Janet and I spent a late Friday night at a Korean spa (these places are open 24 hours), and I thought, wow, I’ve got a little Korea right here in LA, with a pal that had no qualms about sitting around naked together for several hours. Home!