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Postcards from Travel Near and Far by Jia-Rui


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90028, Hollywood

Waiting to get into the Henry Fonda for Radiohead

Dear ——–,

Bryan got us on the guest list for Radiohead’s benefit concert for Haiti. I felt pretty special since the guest list included Justin Timberlake, who was standing at the bar with Jessica Beale about three feet next to me at one point! Radiohead usually plays 10,000-seat venues, but they put up about 1,000 tickets for auction for an intimate show at the Henry Fonda Music Box. (This one guy was so desperate for tickets he actually offered to trade time on the set of an adult movie for a ticket.) The band played songs off practically every album, whipping the crowd into a frenzy with a high-powered rendition of “The Bends.” Thom Yorke’s voice was so clear on some slow songs that I wondered whether he had ever been a choir boy. When he announced the amount they’d raised for Oxfam, Thom said, “Fuck me!” It was over $572,000! I’m still trying to figure out why they gave us four wristbands, but apparently one of them entitled us to stay for the after party. The DJ spun some random old-school funk and I saw Thom boogeying with Flea from the Chili Peppers.

Bonus photo of Radiohead on stage


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91103, Pasadena

The Rose Bowl and the lightly frosted San Gabriel Mountains

Dear ——–,

The skies have finally cleared after a week of rain. Everyone was out today even though it was a little brisk. Bryan and I barely found parking in Old Town Pasadena when we went to Le Pain Quotidien for lunch. It’s been a while since we have spent an afternoon together because Bryan has been recording and at the whim of the band. We decided to go for a long walk with our sweet, but senior whippet mix around the Rose Bowl. We could see a dusting of snow like powdered sugar at the tops of some of the nearby San Gabriel Mountains. I don’t remember seeing snow this low in years. We won’t have the time to go to Mammoth, but maybe we can steal away to Mt. Baldy Sunday for a quick slide down the mountain.


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90006, Koreatown

Meat, meat and more meat!

Dear ——–,

Park’s BBQ was located in the same strip mall as a store called Hi Puppies!, so I guess you could call the location “unassuming.” As I waited by the door for Ja-Shin and Jeff, I read the write-ups on the wall — I’d never been to a Korean barbecue place with a Michelin recommendation! We started out with perfectly marbled Wagyu, moved on to brisket and closed out with succulent short rib. I dipped the beef variously in a brothy pickled turnip juice, spicy fermented bean paste and rock salt. It was an overwhelming assault on my taste buds and left my clothes smelling entirely of meat. Bryan picked me up at Park’s for the BigBang‘s show at the Roxy. Bryan worked on their album a few months ago and it went platinum in Norway! Their style — Fleetwood Mac meets Aerosmith — isn’t exactly what I’d normally listen to, but they put on a good show. The lead singer Oystein was jumping all over the stage, encouraging the crowd to cheer. It was probably a smaller audience than they were used to back home, but some guys in the crowd were very enthusiastically egging them on.


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93546, Mammoth Lakes

On the lift, up to fresh snow

Dear ——–,

I finally got a powder day on the mountain Sunday, after missing the first two storms of the season. Shiao-Wen gamely agreed to go up Lincoln Mountain with me and maneuvered around some rocky patches so we could get to a clear field of untracked snow. I may have asked her to do too much since she was still getting used to the deep powder AND her glasses kept fogging up. We both felt a strange sense of vertigo when the snow was falling so thickly everything looked white and we couldn’t tell whether we had stopped or not. I spent most of my day in the trees for that reason; at least they helped me see the contour of the ground. Bryan would’ve drooled over this kind of day, but he unfortunately had to stay in L.A. and work. We decided to call it a day at 1:30 p.m. since we could barely see. I managed to get the chains on the car in about a foot of snow in the parking lot. We drove past the Inyo County line before the road was clear enough to take them off.


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90041, Eagle Rock

The Civic, ready to hit the snow!

Dear ——-,

I put on my first set of tire chains this morning. Shiao-Wen and I are going on a road trip to Mammoth without Bryan. There’s snow in the forecast, so Bryan showed me how to shimmy on the chains in the driveway. I barely know how to work a car, but I decided that if I’m going to be a hard-core skier, I better learn all the skills I need to get to the mountain safely. Crud got all over my hands and forearms as I pulled the links together and tightened them with hooks connected to a big rubber band. This was really my first ever Grease Monkey moment. I hope I can do this with gloves on, in 15 degree weather, as trucks roll by, in the dark.


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91106, Pasadena

Wood-paneled dining room of Caltech Athenaeum

Dear ——–,

It was Carolina’s last day in our office, so Jane organized a lunch at the Caltech Athenaeum, a kind of faculty club for Caltech, the Huntington Library and the Jet Propulsion Lab. I’d actually visited the Athenaeum before because we considered getting married there. (We decided the maroon and forest green color scheme wasn’t exactly a match for us.) Over a tasty buffet of salads and roast chicken, Carolina regaled us with funny tales of her 10 years in the office, including the shipment of a suspicious substance a few years ago. Jane had written something about the Big Bang and Carolina handed her a piece of mail from someone at a Bible college in Tennessee. The envelope started leaking. Carolina took off in the vanpool home. Hazmat arrived and quarantined the building. They called Carolina and wanted her to turn the van around. The vanpoolers decided to keep going in the hopes that the hazmat team would figure out what the substance was in an hour. It turned out to be horseradish. A guy said his neighbor had grown horseradish with such a kick that he wanted to see if NASA could use it.


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91109, Pasadena

Jets in formation on the way to the Rose Bowl

Dear ——–,

We headed out of our office around 5 p.m., up to the roof of the building next door. The BCS Championship was just about to start a few miles south of the lab at the Rose Bowl and we thought we might be able to see the flyover. While we were waiting, we spotted a bright speck of light on the southwest sky. Was that the International Space Station? It was supposed to be visible for a few minutes around 5:25. But it stopped moving. So . . . was it Jupiter? We almost gave up when time ticked close to 5:30 and we saw only a few planes taking off from LAX and some helicopters hovering over the stadium. Jane called her husband who was watching TV. Courtney was about to leave, but Jane shouted out, “Josh Groban is singing!” The planes had to come at the end of the national anthem! About a minute later, these four jets flying in a close diamond cut through the air. (My iPhone photo turned out the best though Jane and Courtney also snapped pics with regular digital cameras.) Then we watched fireworks break over the Rose Bowl.