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Postcards from Travel Near and Far by Jia-Rui


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90014, Downtown Los Angeles

Downtown city view from the Oviatt Penthouse

Downtown city view from the Oviatt Penthouse

Dear ——–,

Scott invited us to J.D. Webb‘s CD release party at the Oviatt Building penthouse on Thursday night. J.D.’s music wasn’t exactly my bag, but I give him credit for rhyming “hair like molasses” with “dark sunglasses.” What was impressive was the setting, an Art Deco building designed for a luxury haberdasher. On the roof, we were surrounded by much taller buildings whose lit-up windows formed their own kinds of constellations in the night sky. (I just hoped the lights weren’t on because people were still working at 10 p.m.!) The band could make as much noise as it wanted to because the block was deserted. This whole week turned out to be a love letter to downtown Los Angeles. A few days before, I went to see 500 Days of Summer and delightfully nudged Bryan when the Redwood, the traditional L.A. Times after-work bar, appeared on screen. Movies that romanticize downtown living usually choose Manhattan as the backdrop, but I hope Hollywood remembers this kind of old-school glamour lies just a few miles away.


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91101, Pasadena

Wildfire burning in La Canada Flintridge, north of Pasadena

Wildfire burning in La Canada Flintridge, north of Pasadena

Dear ——–,

It’s hard to breathe here with four wildfires burning at the same time. The triple-digit temperatures are not helping. As I did errands in Pasadena on Friday, I was in awe of the cafe latte-colored smoke blooming north of the city in La Canada Flintridge. For the first time in seven years, I didn’t have to rush to cover it; my tenure as an L.A. Times reporter ended Thursday. It felt a little bittersweet. I was curious about what was happening on the front lines. I wondered what people up there were packing into their cars as they evacuated. But I was relieved I didn’t have to stop what I was doing and run into the danger. Instead I could go home, think about what I would pack if the fire burned our way, and put some distance between me and those uncontrollable, unpredictable flames. Of course, the irony is the new job that starts Monday is actually in La Canada. I’ll be heading towards fire lines anyway.


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91007, Arcadia

Juicy pork dumplings at Din Tai Fung

Juicy pork dumplings at Din Tai Fung

Dear ——–,

In a building I thought was a sleek medical spa, we visited the new branch of Din Tai Fung. The wait for the original location was 30 minutes, so we literally walked around the block to try our luck at the new one. I was worried about what Tami would eat since she keeps kosher. How can you go to Din Tai Fung without feasting on juicy pork dumplings? I thought the worst when Tami ordered the fish dumplings, but the meat was stuffed with so much garlic and ginger that they didn’t taste fishy at all. As I was gobbling dumplings, it occurred to me that we were eating delicacies usually served at Chinese New Year. This was totally appropriate. Tami needs to get started on a new chapter of her life. I am about to start a new job in a new field. Nothing like dumplings to settle the stomach and fortify you for the road ahead.


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90746, Carson

marta

Marta was triple-teamed most of the time but still managed to get off this cross.

Dear ——–,

I came out of the Home Depot Center on Saturday afternoon with more respect for the dazzling soccer abilities of Marta and Shannon Boxx, but also a realization that it takes more than two players to make an offense. We were watching the first championship game of the Women’s Professional Soccer League where the Los Angeles Sol battled Sky Blue FC from New Jersey. (I dragged Bryan in part because I worried this might be the league’s first and last final. The good news is that the league only lost as much money as they expected to lose.) The sports mantra that defense wins championships was in full effect as Sky Blue managed to take balls off the feet of Sol attackers before they got any clear shots. I didn’t agree with the strange Sol defender aversion to midfield. Why did they keep lofting hopeful, desperate balls 100 feet ahead of the forwards? I guess I’m a fan of the possession game. (Hey, no control freak comments!) Barcelona after all used it deftly to embarrass Man U during the UEFA Champions League final. Even though the Sol were playing one short for much of the game because of an overly harsh red card, Saturday’s game was really close. I screamed every time the Sol looked as if they might score. I left the game hoarse.


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90036, Los Angeles

HappyHappy installation near the Broad Contemporary wing

HappyHappy installation near the Broad Contemporary wing

Dear ——–,

I went to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art yesterday to get a birthday present at the gift shop. This art installion, HappyHappy by Choi Jeong-Hwa , stopped me in my tracks. From far away, I thought I saw a bunch of long, colorful lanterns, but as I got closer, I realized the lanterns were actually plastic cups, tupperware containers and colanders. Kids were running between these plastic streamers and the security guards weren’t stopping them. It reminded me of swimming through Chuck E. Cheese ballpits. I smiled instantly. Here were things you don’t usually pay attention to, presented as pure, joyful colors and shapes. HappyHappy was part of an exhibit on contemporary Korean art called Your Bright Future, but wasn’t our immersion in brightly-colored plastics practically universal? If nothing else links us to everyone else in the world, our common infatuation with cheap, throwaway items does!


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90013, Downtown Los Angeles

A little lunchtime Michael Jackson at California Plaza

A little lunchtime Michael Jackson at California Plaza

Dear ——–,

As Ron and I were toiling up the many steps of Angel’s Flight today to get to California Plaza for lunch, I heard the strains of “Beat It” floating out above us. At first, I thought someone was playing the melody on a squealing 80s electric guitar. Ron thought the sound resembled the electric fiddle of Riverdance. When we got to the top of the stairs, we saw a woman playing a haegum, a traditional Koean two-stringed upright fiddle, as part of the Grand Performances series. I was baffled, but impressed. I love getting surprises like this when I leave the office. As we settled down at one of the tables with sandwiches from my new favorite place Mendocino Farms, HaegumPlus tore through flamenco, Klezmer and jazz. When Kang Eun Il, the leader of the ensemble, introduced herself, she spoke in Korean. But clearly, she’s fluent in a lot of different musical languages.