At several points in my life, I’ve had run ins with the fine people of The New York Times. While growing up it was The Washington Post that I read the most while I was in college, as I’ve grown older it’s The Times that have come to see as the best newspaper in the world.
I say that knowing full well that The Gray Lady ain’t perfect. From a strategic standpoint, it has its problems and occasionally it screws up on a monumental, existential level. It’s coverage of the lead up to the Iraqi War and — gulp — the 2016 Presidential Campaign being two glowing examples.
Anyway, when I was in South Korea, I ran into The Times on two different occasions. The first was completely bonkers. I connived my way into the World Newspaper Congress (I think that’s its name) in 2004 and met the paper’s publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. I acted like a bobby socker when I met him, leaving him startled to say the least. It was a unique experience for both of us and though I don’t have a picture of it, I do cherish the fact that I got to meet him at all.
Meanwhile, for a very dumb reason I met Jennifer 8. Lee. It’s all very dumb, very, very dumb. But it did produce an article in ROKon Magazine you might like.
ROKing Sinchon with Jenny 8
Jennifer 8. Lee likes food.
Recently, I hung out with the New York Times reporter and her friend Tomoko Hosaka of the Wall Street Journal here in Seoul.
The plan was for her to go to a jimjilbang with Annie Shapiro and ms. tiff, but that didn’t work out. Tomoko wanted to go to eat “Korean barbeque” and since Annie and Tiff are veggies, they were left out. This story was supposed to be about Annie and Tiff taking Jenny to a jimjilbang and getting all nekkid – now that would have been funny – but there are no happy endings in Korea so you get this write-up instead. I took a picture of the two ladies at the restaurant, but they wouldn’t let me use it. I generally think taking pictures of yourself with famous people is kind of lame, so you, gentle reader, will just have to settle for a picture of the fortune cookie I was given. If Annie and Tiff had done the story, maybe the situation would be different.
On the way to the subway, Jenny kept stopping to eat stuff from street vendors. I had to DJ that Friday night and we had to go all the way across town, so I was starting to stress out a little bit.
Again and again, she would ask me what this or that food was offered at street vendors as we headed towards the subway station. I had no clue. “I eat because I have to, not because I want to,” I told her finally. What else could I say? I
The fact that I met her is a testament not only to this wacky Internet age that we live in, but how being an expatriate in a place like Korea has its quirky advantages.
I met Jenny ’cause I, well, picked on her middle name online. When I first came to Korea I had way too much drunken spare time on my hands, so I often found myself in bouts of soju-fueled writing binges.
“I can not stress enough how odd it is that Jennifer Lee uses an ‘8’ for her middle name. It’s just totally unheard of. It’s like one of the
columns of Western civilization has suddenly become just a little unstable,” I once wrote. “I don’t care that her name really is ‘Jennifer 8. Lee.’ In
years gone by, an editor would have taken one look at it, eyed the flask of Jack Daniels in his desk drawer then said, ‘Look, kid, I don’t care how
lucky the damn number is, you’re going by ‘Jennifer Lee’ from now on.'”
Her middle name is a lucky number in Chinese culture. How exactly she was able to keep it in her byline eludes me. The fact that she graduated from Harvard University may have something to do with it.
When this actual famous reporter out of the blue contacted me, it both made me very happy and very nervous. She contacted me because she had read some of the shit I had written about her online and she needed some help finding Chinese restaurants in Korea. She’s on sabbatical from the Times to write a book on, like, the best Chinese restaurants in the world or some such. The first time she contacted me, I suddenly felt kinda bad about all the pointless mental masturbation I expended on her.
It’s funny how you can talk shit about a famous person online, but when you actually meet them you treat them like you would anyone else. While she’s no Maureen Dowd, in some media circles, Jennifer 8. Lee is, in fact, “famous” or “notorious.” For people who read Gawker.com, Jenny is shorthand for a reporter who writes seemingly pointless trend stories about things like “man dates.” She had the odd habit of using the phrase, “people of my generation” in a very authoritative tone, like she literally was speaking for everyone her age. “Jenny, you’re younger than I am,” I said teasingly at least once over galbi.
She actually has a rather bubbly, cute personality. My lone meeting with her did leave some1thing of a mystery in my mind — how is it that someone who, in the words of one article “causes $148,000 in damage to her Washington condo” actually be quite nerdy? What the heck does she do? She is obviously an extremely smart woman and from the little mischievous glint in her eye I can see how she probably loves to host a great party. But like all the great reporters I’ve known, she didn’t seem like much of a extrovert. She was quiet and curious about everything.
I picked her up at the Ritz Carlton. When I met her, she handed me a fortune cookie, while I handed her a copy of ROKon. “Fortune cookies are actually originally from Japan, not China,” Jenny said. It was a huge fortune cookie. It looked like a piece of found art. “I’ll either eat it when I’m drunk or crush it when I’m drunk,” I quipped.
I took the women to Sinchon to my favorite Korean restaurant. I go there so much that I’m like a part of the family. Tomoko seemed a bit uneasy hanging out with little old me, while Jenny was a good sport. I wanted to get Tomoko drunk to loosen her up a bit, but she had an early morning date with the DMZ.
At one point, I felt kinda bad for Tomoko. She’s a fairly important journalist in her own right, and all I did was talk to Jenny.
“I know you went to Harvard, Jenny,” I said invoking the “H-bomb” without meaning to, “But where did you go, Tomoko?”
“Northwestern,” she said with just a touch forlornly.
We talked a long time. I talked up ROKon, while the ladies were more interested in the food than anything I had to say. They’re an intense bunch, those two. I told them about knowing another Wall Street Journal reporter, Lina, but neither of them knew her. They were perplexed that they didn’t know her ’cause she has some connection to the Washington Post. Jenny acted like if there was an Asian who worked in any capacity at the Post, she would know her.
I had of vision of taking Jenny to Nori People and being able to see her shake what her momma gave her to my musical selections, but it was not to be. Jenny couldn’t stay. I did take Tomoko and Jenny there just to show it to her. “Oh, this is fun,” she said. You have to give those New York Times reporters credit, they are an observant bunch.
They left a lot sooner than I’d liked. As I said, I had all these grand plans to show them what a fun time we ROKon staffers were. Jenny promised to show me around New York City if I ever happened to end up there. The more I look at that fortune cookie, though, the more it looks like something that rhymes with “Mulva.”
By SHELTON BUMGARNER
ROKon Magazine Editor