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Postcards from Travel Near and Far by Jia-Rui


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90013, Downtown Los Angeles

Photos of NYC subway cars

Dear ——–,

I’m wondering why it took so long for an exhibit like Art in the Streets to happen. I guess the people who finance shows at marquee museums for a long time didn’t think of something done for free — and illegally — on walls and tunnels as art. It’s hard to collect. Maybe the tide started turning in the 1980s with Haring and Basquiat. The thing I love about street art is that it makes you laugh (though usually ironically); art has for so long been serious. Banksy, in particular, made some pretty pointed commentaries that were painfully funny — including a recreated frame of the Rodney King beating video with a colorful pinata instead of King. Neck Face‘s piece featured an alleyway full of trash and a fake homeless man. Erika pointed out that this was probably the first time MOCA had trash in the galleries. Some online forums have criticized the museum and the artists featured in it as sell-outs. But I’m guessing these artists are laughing all the way to the bank — they’re getting paid to thumb their nose at authority. The exhibit — definitely worth seeing — runs through Aug. 8.

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91001, Altadena

Inflatable Earth in the classroom

Dear ——–,

I took a class called “Understanding Space” last week as a way to learn vocabulary that scientists and engineers at work throw around with abandon (e.g., bipropellant, angular momentum, delta v). What struck me most was that while physics explains the mechanics of the space, it can also explain some social phenomena. The teacher was talking about how a satellite in a low orbit around Earth is traveling quite fast, with a lot of “kinetic” energy. A satellite orbiting much farther from Earth travels slower, but has a greater “potential” energy in the bank. The situation made me think about how folks who are born into low socioeconomic circumstances have to expend a lot of energy to make it and actively push themselves. Trustafarians whose parents set them up with a high socioeconomic situation, however, can cruise quite lazily through life. They can rely on potential energy (connections, parents, etc.), should they ever need to go to an expensive college or get a job. Of course, all parents want to put a kid in as high an orbit as they can. Maybe the idea is that where you are positioned determines how much energy you need to add to go zooming off on your own, into the stars.


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20003, Washington

Half-eaten burger from Good Stuff

Dear ——–,

The other week when I was in D.C., Will took me to Good Stuff. We’re both fans of Top Chef, so it was a treat to try a restaurant run by one of the contestants (Spike). It was hard to choose one burger off the menu. But I’m a sucker for anything that has daikon, so I got one of those. We also split a malted shake. The verdict: thumbs up! But more than anything else, it was a good opportunity to catch up with Will, who’s been traveling the world (China and Egypt!) to cover the news. It made me happy to hear that young(ish) reporters are getting some opportunities to do foreign reporting now — two friends at the LA Times were recently in Egypt and Afghanistan, and another LA Times friend has been in China for over a year. We’ve been all maturing, or maybe the world has gotten more unstable, increasing the need for fresh, first-hand accounts from far-flung locations. In any case, I’m glad that my friends are the ones who are going out there and telling us what it’s like.


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20001, Washington

Chopt Creative Salad Company

Dear ——–,

Being on a plane for five hours without internet meant that the moment I disembarked in D.C. on Tuesday, I had about three hours of emails and Gordian knots to untie. I purposefully picked a hotel in McPherson Square so I’d have restaurants within walking distance. (I went to Washington to organize an event celebrating NASA’s Voyager spacecraft, which are exploring an exotic region at the edge of our solar system.) Of course, by the time I actually disconnected myself from the internet in my hotel room, it was 8 p.m. So I headed to Chinatown, betting that area would have a restaurant that was still serving food. I was happy that Chop’t was open — I wanted some fresh vegetables after eating dried snacks on the plane. The Tuscan farro salad — with mozzarella, artichokes, roasted tomatoes and a ramp vinaigrette — was the best salad I’ve eaten in ages and the perfect antidote to a long day.