Train Ride

April 5, 2017

True to Her Word

February 16, 2017

Friend Reeve Hated La La Land, Here Are The Reasons Why

January 9, 2017

Friend Reeve is an excellent curator of culture, but he takes some counterintuitive views on critically acclaimed works of art. The much-beloved La La Land is a great example. Because he is so ornery about it, I have posted his rant.

Reeve: I think everyone should read this, and not see La La Land, which is crap. (If you skipped the link, it is about the “white man fetishizing jazz trope.”)

Elise: Since when did you become an expert on jazz?

Reeve: I’m not. And neither is anyone involved with La La Land. In fairness, if you like colors, and you don’t care that much about story or character or acting or music, you might like La La Land just fine.

Elise: I thought it was an excellent movie experience. Bittersweet at the end.

Reeve: OMG.

Elise: It wasn’t deep. It didn’t need to be.

Reeve: I didn’t say it needed to be deep. It would have been better if it had 1) good songs, 2) a good (enough) story, 3) a capable leading man. It was built on cliches and doesn’t make any sense.

Elise: It’s ambition vs love. Tale as old as time.

Reeve: This guy, who has been nothing but a jerk to Emma Stone, is more autistic than charming. Gets into a successful band, this band, by the way, plays the only listenable song in the entire movie. So he’s been touring with the band for a few months, making $1K/week plus a cut of merch, so more money than when he had a STAIN ON HIS CEILING, which apparently is a hardship. But he’s not rolling in dough. And she is mad that after a few month of this, he is not focusing all of his energy into opening a single jazz club. This is not drama. It is drama written by 18 year olds. It is idiotic. And that’s before your get to the fact that neither leading actor in the musical could sing particularly well. Maybe it will be to awful nails-on-the chalkboard whisper singing what O Brother Where Art Thou was to Americana music.

Elise: My god. I had no idea you felt this way.

Reeve: I also hated Manchester by the Sea if you want to change topics. I just saw La La Land yesterday, so it’s fresh. And I LOVE musicals. So it’s not like I’m anti-musical. I feel like the music in a musical should enhance the moments and emotions in what is a good story. It cannot replace or make up for a the key elements of a good story, performance, etc. Which is what they tried to do here. Even the minor points in the movie are stupid. Like — what is so incompatible about Samba and Tapas? One is a style of dance, the other is a format of serving food. It is not hard to do both. Why all the harping on this issue? Why didn’t an editor at some point say — maybe we should make this joke make more sense, like … samba and bbq. Or you know — anything. Or maybe just move on from the jazz-fetishizing white guy trope.

Elise: Is the jazz-fetishing white guy trope a thing?

Reeve: Yes. Did you read the Slate article I sent you? It has a delicious list of basically white guys mansplaining jazz to women in TV and film. Woody Allen does it a ton, though he actually does play jazz. So maybe that’s ok.


A Few Reflections Before Saying Goodbye To My Constant Travel Companion, The Breast Pump

June 28, 2016

Security check at Tokyo’s Haneda airport. The blue jug at bottom left is to dump liquids above 150ml.

Yet again I was standing over several bottles of my breastmilk splayed out in a bin. My bag got pulled for an extra look at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport security checkpoint, something that happens pretty often when you’re carrying lots of liquids, I guess. The Japanese security agent pointed out the milk in plastic bottles he had removed exceeded the 150ml limit. (At least I think that’s what he was saying. I don’t speak Japanese, and he kept pointing at the 150ml line on the bottle.) Then he pulled up a giant blue plastic jug that looked like one of those tanks you carry spare gasoline in. It was half-full with a swamp-colored mix of whatever previous passengers must have dumped out. He started unscrewing the lid of one of my bottles.

“Oh no, no,” I said, starting to panic. “This is MY milk. It’s from my body. I can’t dump it. I can’t.” I started doing the two-hands-squeezing-in-the-air motion, in front of my chest. I have made this hand gesture for “boob sucking” so many times that I can only remember a single trip in Asia when I didn’t do it.

He turned pink. My arm hairs were stood up. The passenger who could understand English standing nearby started cracking up.

“Oh ok ok ok ok,” the Japanese guard said, sheepishly. I packed up and scurried to the customs check.

I pass through two airports a week, nearly every week, as part of my job as a foreign correspondent. I’m also the breastfeeding mom of an infant. I love nursing, I do not love pumping. But to continue doing the former, I have to do the latter when I’m away from baby. Which means every time I travel without daughter Isabel, a milk-extracting contraption powered by batteries or an AC adapter must travel with me, along with attachments and the storage bottles and ice packs necessary to keep the milk from going bad before it’s transferred home.

As the baby gets close to turning one, a milestone at which she can drink cow’s milk instead of mine, I am preparing to stop globetrotting with my constant companion — the breast pump and the milk.

What a year we’ve had together.

There was today’s close call, when I almost had to pour out the four bottles full of “liquid gold” I’d extracted from my body with the suck-simulating device I strap myself to in between conducting interviews and other reportage.

There was the time two Beijing airport guards took out the plastic suction parts — the catalog calls them ‘breastshields’ — in front of a line of people behind us, examining them like a frog they were about to dissect for 9th grade biology class.

“We’ve never seen one of these pass through before,” one of the twenty-something year old guards said to me, of the machine.

There was the other time a Chinese guard demanded I show him all the parts of the pump, how the tubes connected to the base, and to turn it on before he let it pass.

There are the questions at security about where is the baby, to which I have to explain, good god if they baby were with me I wouldn’t have this overpriced contraption instead, would I?

The ritual when I return home. Transferring the pumped milk from the trip into storage bags so there’s a stock for next time.

Then there are the hassles I brought upon myself, due to carelessness. The first time I fired up the pump in my new home of Seoul, I blew out the pump’s power pack when I plugged it into Korea’s 220V. (The device was designed for America’s 120V.) Without that I couldn’t operate it, so a friend with military ties had to rush on to the U.S. base to buy me a new machine from the commissary.

Rule of thumb: Never leave any part at home. When I forgot to pack the critical suction cups, er, ‘breastshields,’ for a five-day trip to Beijing, I spent an entire morning on an odyssey to Chinese malls instead of reporting, because I HAD TO find parts close enough to what I needed so I could express my boobs before passing out from pressure and pain.

The adventures are always made more amusing (and challenging) because there’s a clock ticking on pumping — if you don’t do it every few hours, it’s not just uncomfortable but unhealthy.

Which is why a photographer I’d just met had to see (and hear) my pumping from the backseat of a cramped rental car as we drove through Fukushima’s temporary housing projects. Or why I have to reluctantly link up with the clunky device while in the middle seat of a plane, a blanket thrown over me and hoping not to wake the dudes sleeping on both sides.

The day President Obama visited Hiroshima I had about 20 minutes before he arrived to express my breasts in a bathroom stall. The State Department and U.S. Embassy press wranglers rushed my milk to the kitchen of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum so it could be refrigerated until the event was over. When the museum restaurant with the fridge closed, the Japanese staff had expertly packed ice packs around the bottles to keep cool until I was done working. (The Japanese are serious about their packaging.)

Before I know it, this spinoff story of my Asia adventure, the one starring an awkwardly purring machine, will be over. Maybe I’ll miss it, most likely I won’t. And either way, I’ll always have a reminder of the year of pumping endlessly. It’s the wee one at home, who’s the real power source for the pumping.

A pretty experienced traveler herself. Isabel, 11 months.

How Living and Breathing In An Asian Megacity Has Changed My Notions of Freedom

May 30, 2016

Daughter Eva, on a day when pollution in Seoul measured “hazardous for all groups,” not just children and old people.

Before I moved to Asia, my notion of freedom largely existed in the realm of figurative freedom, that is, to live in the moment and be free of worry about what was next, or what was buzzing on my smartphone. “How to live freely” was notional — a mental freedom, because the other kinds were a given.

A year into this Asian life, my entire freedom construct has changed. The areas where freedom was default — the freedom to breathe without endangering my health, the freedom to browse the Internet without hitting walls, the freedom to speak and be understood, are no longer a given.

I have come to know the challenge of not having a common language in which to communicate with sources, and in everyday life. Korea and Japan, my coverage areas, are famously homogenous societies. In Korea, the number of other “foreigners” living here is three percent. My Korean interpreter is excellent, but there is a certain captivity when speaking through someone else’s voice; something I never understood so clearly until living this way for the past year. Would I be able to get that one interview if I were expressing myself properly, or if there were a way to do nuance when speaking through a proxy? Is there an entire world that could be unlocked to us if we could understand what the hell was going on around us?

It is my job to monitor North Korea, but North Korean sites are more accessible from the Chinese internet famous for its ‘Great Firewall’ than they are in Seoul, where South Korea blocks North Korean news and information sites under a Cold War-era national security law, a holdover from the time of fear that communist ideology would creep south of the border. Getting on trusted Western news sites in China, meanwhile, makes you long for the dial-up internet speeds of the early 1990s. VPNs can help, but only so long as the Chinese censors don’t kick you off of them just as you’re getting connected.

But my main anxiety is the environment. Each morning my first phone check is not for the news or my emails but instead, the levels of the harmful, invisible particulate matter, PM2.5, to decide whether I can exercise outdoors, or whether the baby gets to go out on a walk in the afternoon. On many days this year, the levels have been too high for my girls to go outdoors. “The air is bad today” coming out of the mouth of a three-year-old is quietly heartbreaking. The hacking cough sounds of a baby are even worse.

Eva figures out how to roll down a grassy knoll. Okinawa, March 2016.

In March, my husband, daughters and parents joined me for a long weekend in Okinawa after I finished up some reporting there. The six of us were walking to dinner (we found a Red Lobster in Japan and I’ve never met a chain restaurant I didn’t love). My mom and my older daughter, Eva, disappeared for a few minutes. Later, when they caught up with us, my mom told me they had come upon a steep grassy hill and young Japanese kids were rolling down it for fun. Eva found it puzzling and delightful. She tried to do it, but it took her a few attempts before she could figure it out — the girl had never rolled down a hill before, because she hasn’t grown up around enough grass or hills to do so, nor does she get to play outside that much. I was aghast; I grew up a tomboy in the suburbs, playing in creeks in the summertime and sledding down neighborhood slopes when it snowed.

On balance, I think what we gain from my posting in Seoul and traveling around the region outweighs staying close to the shoreline back home. But this urban existence in an Asian megacity has made me value small, yet huge, freedoms I never thought about before, and consider them more fully when deciding what to do next.

When I was 20, I imagined I’d someday want to cover China, from China. It’s my ancestral homeland and I thought I should put my Mandarin to good use. These days, given the alarming pollution levels there, I’m not so sure. Millions of people in China and India’s megacities have it far worse than those of us in Seoul when it comes to pollution, and millions of children are growing up breathing the same air my children would breathe if I moved to, say, Shanghai, for a couple of years. But, I have a choice; many of their parents do not have the same choice. 99 percent of the time my parenting philosophy is kids are adaptable and flexible; they can easily fold into their families’ lives. But I feel like pollution and lifelong lung capacity falls in the one percent of instances where I should adapt to what they need, first.

Internet hassles and lost in translation moments are the stuff of a job as a foreign correspondent, they’ll shape me, amuse me and give me a little edginess, over time. I find pollution far more pernicious. Its effects may not be known for a while, and it may never be clear how or if they do.

The privileges of my life and work have so far spared me a “I can’t have it all” moment, until now. I think this is it. I want my children to be able to play outside and to cover arguably the biggest global story outside a war zone. I don’t think I get to have both.

(Cross-posted at

Okinawa Beach

April 3, 2016

A belated post from last week’s trip to the beach in Okinawa, Japan, where Isa was a good sport about getting her feet buried by her sister.  


Dating in the Digital Era: Never Commit, And Never Break Up

July 22, 2013

FLickr/arby reed

Social media makes it easy to keep relationships ambiguous and uncommitted. But keeping a digital distance from exes is also next to impossible.

I’ve been out of the dating world for the past decade, which makes me unqualified to speak from personal experience but intensely curious about how technology has upended courtship conventions. Based on the recent headlines, it seems an interesting paradox has emerged: Texting and social media make romantic ties simultaneously easy to avoid and harder to shake.

“Not since the dawn of the automobile has a technology — the cellphone — so swiftly and radically changed the way people interact, meet and move forward (or not) in a relationship,” writesUSA Today, in a piece that ran last week. Texting or tweeting beats talking because it keeps flirtation casual, protects you in case of rejection and, in so many cases, tends to hang a lingering ambiguity over a couple’s relationship status.

So the digital age enables us to never really commit, but there’s a flip side: You are also never really breaking up. In New York Magazine, Maureen O’Connor chronicled the emotional land mines:

There was also a time, I am told, when staying in touch was difficult. Exes were characters from a foreclosed past, symbols from former and forgone lives. Now they are part of the permanent present. I was a college freshman when Facebook launched. All my exes live online, and so do their exes, and so do their exes, too.

“It’s a dozen soap operas playing at the same time on a dozen different screens, and you are the star of them all,” O’Connor continues. “It’s both as thrilling and as sickening as it sounds.”

These days, Snapchat, which promises “the lightness of being” by facilitating only self-destructing messages, can help you avoid a digital trail. And savvy entrepreneurs have clearly tapped into a need with an array of ex-erasing apps: MuteTweet, which keeps your ex out of your timeline. Ex-Blocker, a plug-in that makes sure no reference to certain names appears in your Web browser. KillSwitch crawls Facebook photos, videos and posts to systematically delete anything that mentions your ex. Ex-Lover Blocker activates a phone tree of your best friends when you call your ex and Facebook-shames you if you do.

“There’s even something called Eternal Sunshine, which removes unwanted status updates from your Facebook feed,” writes O’Connor.

“Eternal Sunshine” owes its name to the 2004 Michel Gondry film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, in which a man and woman are so wrecked by their split that they seek to erase their memories of one another. In the fictional universe, the mind-erasing operations did work, to heartbreaking effect. The moral of the film was that we actually need our pain as well as our pleasure to feel complete.

So we could make cutting ties easier by living without a digital presence and dating the old-fashioned way — through talking — and be spared the reminders of one’s ex after the relationship goes awry.

Or we can jump into the digital present with knowledge that your hookup(s) are likely to always remain part of your digital past.

Without technology, relationships can be confusing, consuming and often hard to forget. With technology, relationships are confusing, consuming … and thanks to digital reminders, impossible to forget.

This post originally appeared on


September 23, 2010

I know, it’s sad. But the same content (up to this point) now exists at a simpler URL,, hosted by my hubby’s WebFaction server. So see you there.

Stuff I Love: The Trailer for ‘The Social Network’

August 29, 2010

It’s the haunting choir rendition of Radiohead’s The Creep, the opening images of people friending each other flashing on the screen, and the carefully selected bites of drama from the film, edited together so crisply, that make the upcoming ‘Facebook movie’ trailer satisfying enough to be it’s own short film.

Celebrity Death Pool Summer Update

August 19, 2010

My friends Blake, Reeve and I began a celebrity death pool last summer over some adult beverages at the Red House Lounge. At the time, 2009 was waning but some high profile people had yet to meet their maker. Blake picked Walter Cronkite, I picked Patrick Swayze, Reeve went with Robert Byrd, who cost him the contest last year but ended up winning him a point in 2010.

For the 2010 celebrity death pool, we let another pal join in and each picked ten celebs we thought might die within the year. So far Reeve is leading the pack. Let’s review our 2010 pool rules and picks:

STAKES: All you can drink on the losers during MLK holiday weekend, 2011.

RULES: One point per death, and in case of a tie, we will total the distance of the death ages from 100. Greater difference (younger deaths) breaks the tie. Every member of the death pool must tweet the point update after a celebrity dies.

OUR PICKS, in no particular order:

REEVE: Elizabeth Edwards, Dennis Hopper (74), Robert Byrd (92), Ronnie James Dio (67), Olivia DeHavilland, Nelson Mandela, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Bryant Gumbel, Kirk Douglas, J.D. Salinger (91) (FOUR POINTS)

BLAKE: Harry Morgan, Ariel Sharon, Ronnie Biggs, Dick Clark, Zsa Zsa Gabor, The Lockheed Bomber, Chemical Ali (61), Mike Wallace, John Wooden (99), Billy Graham (TWO POINTS)

ELISE: Rue McClanahan (76), Billy Graham, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Kareem Abdul Jabar, Pat Summerall, George H.W. Bush, Bob Lanier, Bum Phillips, Courtney Love, Fidel Castro (ONE POINT)

JUSTIN: Larry King, Shia LeBeouf, James Garner, Jerry Lee Lewis, Artie Lange, Rue McClanahan (76), Roman Polanski, Fidel Castro, Willie Nelson, Burt Reynolds (ONE POINT)