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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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V0N 1B4, Whistler

A treehouse in the middle of the mountain

Dear ——–,

We almost didn’t ski on Sunday. We had a flight to catch in Seattle at 7:30 p.m. But when we saw the downy flakes falling and sticking down in the village, we couldn’t help ourselves. Jen, Andrew, Bryan and I only got 3 hours, but it was completely worth the hassle of buckling boots and schlepping gear. Whistler Mountain redeemed itself from Thursday’s slushy nightmare. Thank goodness we had granulated or powdered sugar to ski on instead. Unfortunately, everyone else also knew the conditions had improved and the lift lines were three times as long. We managed to find the treehouse near the Bear Cub trail, stepped out of our skis and scrambled up the wooden stairs. I skipped the slides, but Bryan and Jen howled on their way down. On our last run, we managed to catch about 20 feet of the Dave Murray trail, so I can at least say I did one of the 2010 Olympic runs. We hustled out of Canada as quickly as we could, with stops for Tim Hortons and ketchup chips before the border. On the way to the airport, we dropped Andrew off at the Granite Curling Club because he had a match. (He actually is Canadian.)


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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.