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Postcards from Travel Near and Far by Jia-Rui


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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.


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20546, Washington

Astronaut suit at NASA Headquarters

Dear ——–,

I made a quickie trip to NASA Headquarters this week to be a kind of showrunner for a press briefing on the science results from a comet flyby. On the Supershuttle to my hotel, I was listening to the radio ads, which were promoting things like Lockheed Martin’s tech support, which was deemed to be innovative and “secure.” There was no way any company like that would ever waste money on a radio ad in L.A.! My hotel was right across the street from NASA Headquarters, in the middle of a neighborhood full of bad Le Corbusier knockoffs. Seriously, it was bureaucracy central. Sewell and I struggled to find a place to get a late dinner, settling for a bar/bistro three blocks away at the Holiday Inn. I put on my wool coat and we walked out into a crisp autumn night that made me miss the East Coast a little bit. The next day’s briefing managed to go off without any blow-ups (whew!) and I headed back to the airport Thursday evening. Through the window of my cab to the airport, I saw gold and orange leaves fluttering in the breeze.


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20560, Washington

Beanbag people outside the Hirshhorn Museum

Dear ——–,

I had never seen so many warning labels in an art museum before I spent the morning at the Hirshhorn. In the “Colorforms” exhibit, one piece cautioned about the low light levels and another pointed out the bright and rapidly flashing lights. A third advised, “Some individuals may be sensitive to the hazelnut pollen in this work.” I know contemporary art is supposed to assault you, but I thought it was all intellectual! I was not impressed by the Yves Klein exhibit. I felt weird watching a movie that showed the artist leading nude women out to a space where they rolled around in paint and pressed their bodies against canvases. The artist and audience were fully clothed. Maybe this was iconoclastic in the early 1960s, but to me it seemed a stale, almost exploitative re-enactment of old male fantasies. I did particularly like a time-lapse film by Guido van der Werve, which showed a man functioning as a kind of sundial as the summer sun moved around the north pole. Klein may have invented his own shade of blue, but the shifting blues of the never-dark sky were far more evocative.


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20001, Washington

Summer night outside Oya

Dear ——–,

I met up on Wednesday night with Saba, who suggested going to Oya. It was restaurant week and I decided to splurge on the three-course prix fixe menu for $35. The tuna tempura roll was very good — crispy and silky all at once. The salmon was a little salty, but I lapped up the bittersweet molten chocolate cake, which came with some tiny popped rice balls for garnish. It was good to catch up with Saba, who interned with me many years ago at Newsweek. We’ve both changed jobs since the last time we saw each other over a year ago and, of course, had to ask each other why. Saba brought her roommate, who does international development work, and I admired the purpose with which they were both charging ahead in their careers. Say what you will about the petty politics of the Beltway, but at least people in D.C. don’t think “laid back” is a compliment. We ate around 6:15 and headed out around 8 p.m. Do people in Washington all have to get up early?


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20001, Washington

Photo mural of the Capitol, in the Renaissance lobby

Dear ——–,

I loved stepping out of the airport doors into the mugginess Tuesday night. It was a reminder I was back on the East Coast. It’s been about two years since I’ve been back to downtown D.C. and I’ve definitely noticed some changes. Chinatown, for example, has cleaned up a lot and now is home to foodie salad joints like Chop’t. (I totally recommend that place, by the way. I had an amazing steak salad with chimmichuri dressing. They also had a machine with a variety of Boyland sodas on tap.) Even though it was a sultry night, the sidewalk was thick with people. I even passed some teenagers hanging out on a corner, listening to iPods tucked into portable speakers rather than the boom boxes of old. I’m glad that the hotel where I was going to stay — the Residence Inn in the midst of enormous cement bureaucracies — was overbooked and they tranferred me (free!) to the Renaissance instead. There’s a lot more going on in this area, which they call “Penn Quarter.” But what’s with the name? What’s wrong with calling it Chinatown?