Our backyard is home to a guava tree, which gifted us with guava abundance the first fall we lived in LA. And it turns out we have an avocado tree, too, which delivered perfect avocados on Christmas morning last year. And at some point I learned we had two tall banana trees, which led to one of the funnier cultural misunderstandings between me and our Indonesian helper, Yani.
Yani is more than a “helper” — she cooks and cleans and also basically raised Isa and Luna, as she’s been living with us since moving to Seoul to join the family in the fall of 2015. She previously worked in Taiwan to care for my grandparents, so she’s been caring for two different generations of us.
She is from a rural village in East Java, and her family owns a lot of farmland where they grow fresh fruit and vegetables. When she saw the banana tree sprung ripe bananas last year, I found her outside in the backyard taking a kitchen knife to the base of the tree, as it were a machete. She was like, the bananas are ripe, time to hack down the tree!
I had to stop her and explain hey, uh, we don’t need to do that, we don’t need those bananas and this isn’t even our house, we’re renting! This baffled her, as she said it was the best way to get the bananas down.
I’ll miss those trees. I’ll miss toddler Luna walking up and down the streets and making herself at home in random neighbors’ yards, just lounging on their patio furniture or gardens while sometimes wearing nothing but a diaper. I’ll miss hooking on to the Ballona Creek bike path for a run or a ride by essentially just crossing the street. I’ll miss trying to chase Isa and Luna around on their scooters as they raced through the hood. I’ll miss how freely the cats got to roam inside and out. I’ll miss our next door neighbors, the Davidson’s, who we drove to the airport when they made a COVID19-prompted decision to move to DC earlier this summer. And our smart and sarcastic neighbors the Taylors, across the street, who also grew to be close friends.
We moved to the rental on Rubens from South Korea, so it’s my first California home. Now we are headed to a townhouse I closed on a couple weeks ago, three miles away, in Culver City. It’s conveniently located a block down from NPR and across the street from Luna’s ballet studio. I don’t know if it’s smart to buy during this crazy uncertain time, but the monthly payments on a house I own will be way cheaper than rent on the westside of LA, that’s for sure. Friend Skyler is decorating from afar, with a Pinterest board and lots of detailed links and digital drawings and text messages. My guidance for her was to decorate a nest that matched my personality — warm, but with whimsy. Or, “mid-century meets the Muppets.” Her wallpaper choice for the master bedroom went up today and it’s cute AF.
Two shipments of hundreds of boxes were involved: one from DC, which was from the storage unit I hadn’t seen since early 2015, and another from the shipping container that came over from Korea. Now both are finally, finally here in Los Angeles.
(Have you noticed that Los Angeles is pronounced frighteningly incorrectly? How do native Spanish speakers deal with this? As a running joke my colleague at NPR West and I keep over-pronouncing it Lohs Anhuhlays just to amuse ourselves.)
The Korea stuff was packed in matching boxes but the boxes have a real stench to them and I want them out of my house but that would require me going through the remaining boxes that the movers didn’t unpack. And I can barely keep my eyes open long enough to write this post.
Some things that happened:
I went to DC to oversee the storage unit move but got lost inside the rows and rows of storage units. Things got so desperate I even picked up one of those emergency phones to alert someone for help but NO ONE WAS ON THE OTHER END. Eventually I figured things out but then I couldn’t unlock the combo lock I put on there so I had to get the lock axed off. Finally inside the unit, I found some pure gold, like the ad from that time I advertised juniors clothes for the PX circular (the equivalent of the Target or Walmart on American military bases around the world) wearing a DISCMAN, yes a discman.
Sitting around at bars in DC I overheard conversations about:
How sound bites are rigged against the speaker because of the way their words are cut
Note: No one here in West LA seems to know what NPR is and I kind of like it.
My children are going through a lot of transition and I’m so proud of them. The oldest one and the middle one are both in school now, and both are awesome schools but they each have so many events and social activities that I feel it’s really cramping my social activity flexibility. Thank goodness I have ride-or-die pals here in the area for the following emergencies so far:
Low blood sugar, weepy and longing for a home-cooked Indian meal on my move day, which Raina brought over in the middle of her work day
Needing to drink and ponder life’s great mysteries on short notice
Last-minute tonkotsu ramen fixes
I didn’t notice these were all food/bev emergencies until I jotted them down just now.
My days are being dominated by school drop offs and pick ups that require driving, finding street parking, parking and then walking a child onto campus before being able to say goodbye (as opposed to our door-to-door bus service we had in Korea in which the girls were just carried off and dropped off from the high rise).
We can’t find anything. Half of my conversations with Matt Stiles are “Have you seen my X” and trying to maintain some semblance of civility with one another but really wanting to knife each other since there are box cutters everywhere but not really but kind of really because moving sucks.
“We’re just trying to get it done. You’re exhausted all the time. When people are like, ‘Are you going to be so sad when it’s over?,’ You’re like, ‘All I can concentrate on right now is the glass of wine that’s going to happen in about eight hours.’” –Matthew Rhys
What is it like in the maelstrom of the most unpredictable and chaotic global stories as it intersects with the most unpredictable and chaotic American presidencies? It’s what you expect: Sometimes thrilling, frequently exhausting, feels important. Last month, throngs of us covered history — the first summit between the US and North Korean leaders — and President Trump subsequently declared world peace. So I think my work out here is done.
Okay, so North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is the same as it was before, and maybe even expanding. But after three-plus years on the peninsula, it IS time to go home — we repatriate to the US this weekend.
After flying west to wind up in East Asia, which became the titular blog and sendoff song (song still holds up), now I’ll fly east to the West coast, specifically Los Angeles — a place full of Asians! LA boasts the largest concentration of Koreans outside of Korea, so this soft re-entry point means my next pore-vacuuming facial will only be a short drive away.
Broadly the plan is to develop a new beat, continue to host my video adventures and fill-in host our radio programs from DC or Culver City (we have some deal to say Culver City and not LA). Ideally I want to guinea pig expressions of NPR on non-radio platforms — live events, smart speakers, you know, whatever we can experiment with, without breaking.
And A Partridge In A Pear Tree
Not twelve hours after I landed in Seoul to open NPR’s first ever Korea/Japan bureau in 2015, the US Ambassador to South Korea was knifed in the face by a North Korean sympathizer. My internet wasn’t even set up, so I started by filing spots by phone.
The pace never slowed down. Over these past three years, I birthed the bureau, two humans and our video series Elise Tries, a labor of love and experimentation. All the while, North Korea news was relentless.
Outside the Koreas, I shuttled back-and-forth to Japan 35 times, filed from nine Asian countries, one US territory and twice from Hawaii. Covered three presidential trips to Asia, the G7, the aforementioned Olympics, a few ASEANs, the now-defunct S&ED in Beijing, followed the 17-week candlelight revolution which brought down the South Korean president, the changeover to a liberal Korean leader, the ups-and-downs of Japan’s Prime Minister and peeled back a host of social issues and curiosities. The curiouser of the curiosities became grist for our bootstrapped Elise Tries vids, which somehow got seven million Facebook views in its first season and just won a Gracie Award.
The youngest, Luna, is walking and talking now, but her infanthood’s memorialized forever. Isa came here in my belly and now stands on street corners hailing her own cabs. Our oldest, Eva, arrived here as a goofy two-year-old and will leave a month shy of her sixth birthday — literate, and missing her bottom front teeth.
Eva somehow got into a badass Mandarin immersion kindergarten in Venice, and being fluent in a second language is something I’ve wanted to give her since she was born.
With Special Thanks…
Expat life is the kind of free-form existence that suits my Aquarian tendencies. And it’s a rare privilege these days to get to work overseas with the support of a large, well-funded news organization. But in addition to being a itinerant foreign correspondent, I’m also a partner and mom, and my spouse is ready to move on. A fairly woke feminist, he left his full time journalism job to join me on this adventure abroad. Women do this for men all the time, so neither he nor I think he deserves applause, but in the context of East Asia’s highly-gendered societies, Matty becoming a trailing spouse and the lead parent was radical. He — and our all around helper/housekeeper/nanny Yani — are the heroes of this Asia stint.
At Matty’s first PTA meeting at Eva’s international preschool, the PTA president learned he’d just left his job as a Wall Street Journal reporter.
“She said, oh, you’re a reporter, you can probably take good notes,” he recalled. And that is how he became PTA secretary for the 2016-2017 school year. He downgraded to room parent the next year, because while still lead-parenting, he filed prolifically for the Los Angeles Times.
We both covered the summit spectacle to end all summit spectacles, in Singapore. The whole fam had to go because news rules our lives. We came full circle from last August, when the Party of Five went to Guam because Kim Jong Un threatened the territory and Trump responded with threats of “fire and fury.”
Now “there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea,” if the President of the United States can be believed [clears throat].
Peace in the Far East. What better way to leave this beat?
Maybe I will get to sharing the photos from that time (which was followed by a terrible bout of Montezuma’s revenge — what a crisis), but tonight I was just feeling reflective after a day of packing for 2015 Cross-Planet Move: Storage, Part A.
In order to move some clutter out of my house, I’ve decided just to call movers over tomorrow and take away as much nonsense as possible so the house can be shown for potential renters. We spent the day packing up mementos, books and a lot of things that were frankly already mostly packed from the last move and left untouched for the last three years.
Among the items, I found the “yearbook” my South Carolina TV news colleagues signed for me when I moved away in 2006. It’s filled with hilarious memories, some of which I’d forgotten. JL‘s was probably my favorite, and amazingly, all true:
Moving always makes me feel a little wistful. This is my seventh move since graduating from college, not counting this summer, when I helped move all my childhood things from a childhood home, and I seem to have more crap with each move. I love it when old mementos (like above) pop up but it all reminds me of something Chuck Klosterman wrote in Killing Yourself to Live:
“When you start thinking about what your life was like 10 years ago — and not in general terms, but in highly specific detail — it’s disturbing to realize how certain elements of your being are completely dead. They die long before you do. It’s astonishing to consider all the things from your past that used to happen all the time but (a) never happen anymore and (b) never even cross your mind.”
So it’s onward, with the 2015 version of me. I’m definitely less reckless than I used to be (but not so conscientious that I don’t get my purse stolen from my unlocked car as we saw two weeks ago).
“Ten decisions shape your life,
you’ll be aware of five about…” -The Strokes
I get to (finally) make it official. We are moving to Washington D.C., a.k.a. the great nemesis of Governor Rick Perry, home of the lamestream media, and the land of taxation without representation. (That poor congresswoman doesn’t get a vote! WTF?!)
This means, of course, I’m leaving the proudest professional project of my 28 years, The Texas Tribune — and Texas, for that matter — just before Valentine’s Day.
One more twist came at the end of 2010, the year I thought would never end. In mid-December, I got an unsolicited call from NPR in DC. They had “done some research” on me and had a job for which they thought I would “be an interesting choice.” A few days later I was at the DC HQ, meeting smart people who cared about journalism, and I wound up accepting the job, which calls for leading the digital side of NPR’s new StateImpact, or the project formerly known as the “Impact of Government.” (There will be someone else heading up the radio side, and I recently learned that the broadcast counterpart is Ken Rudin, longtime NPR Political Director and the original “Political Junkie” blogger.)
IOG will aim to expand state government coverage by eventually hiring 100 reporters, two in each state, devoted to reporting the multi-year effects of government decisions. (The first eight pilot states will be announced in the coming weeks.) Taking on this project means working from Washington, conceptualizing the digital platforms, creating new story forms, helping stations hire and train reporters, etc.
After getting the offer, I spent days talking myself out of and then back into and back out of the opportunity. I would have never been able to stretch and grow across platforms without the vision of John Thornton, the friendship of Ross Ramsey and the trust of Evan Smith, who’s basically the George Clooney character in the “Ocean’s 11” of journalists who came together. I feel a deep, deep attachment to what we’re building here. After all, this is born of our actual sweat and tears. (Many, many tears, in my case. Ask my multimedia partners-in-crime Todd or Justin.)
I wasn’t (and am still not fully) ready to leave our baby, or my real-life friends that helped build it, or the city that quickly became my home. I prefer Austin’s four seasons – mildly hot, medium hot, sauna hot and surface-of-sun hot – over actual seasons. But I decided to take this leap into another public media unknown because I’m sold on what a special opportunity this is to grow and learn, and on NPR’s commitment to being on the cutting edge of web journalism, which is of highest importance to me.*
So off I go. I’m counting on you to bring me a case of Shiner, and if you’re a really good friend, some Tito’s, when you visit. Both are nearly impossible to find inside the Beltway.
*That’s the official line, anyway. I was really most swayed when my soon-to-be boss said that if I went to DC, Nina Totenberg and I “could be BFFs”.