Call us what you will — BFFs, kindred spirits, or soul mates — Kristan and I are very lucky to have each other. Months ago, when New York City was feeling overwhelming, I made a quiet escape to Cincinnati. Kristan didn’t ask why; she just welcomed me with open arms. Her dog Riley did, too.

One might think I would be bored in Ohio, coming from a bustling city that never sleeps, but that was not the case. A recent National Geographic article highlighted great attractions in Cincinnati, and by coincidence, Kristan took me to a majority of them. All just to put a smile on my face. We dined at the tastiest restaurants, munched at the sweetest bakeries, admired the trendy contemporary art, browsed the farmers markets and antique malls, and even took day-trips to nearby places.

My favorite attraction was hiking Hocking Hills, a scenic park with trails and ancient hills. Kristan prepped everything, including carrying the backpack of supplies, while I just gaped at the views with my camera. We mustered our way through a forest blanketed with leaves, up and down small stone stairways, and over several bridges, as I snapped away. Finally we reached our destination: a vast half-walled dome called Old Man’s Cave.

The caves in Hocking Hills have been around for hundreds if not thousands of years. History hypothesizes that the region was a meeting point for nomadic populations, who then settled in the area because of its natural resources and food supply. Now it’s a state park that draws visitors from all over, withstanding the test of time, just like Kristan’s and my friendship.

What’s our secret? We accept each other for who we are and communicate honestly. Being best friends means offering support, but also challenging each other and pointing out flaws. We’re both stubborn and opinionated, and we don’t always agree, but that is the perspective we seek from one another. And whatever decision we make, we always help the other fulfill it.

During the trip, as we walked Riley around a local park, I thought about how serene I felt with us just chatting away, contemplating life and our goals. Turns out, despite all the activities we did, what made me happiest was simply talking to my best friend in person. I might not get to see her often, but I feel very lucky when I do.

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Ten years later, there we were. Somewhere between 100 and 200 members of the Bellaire High School class of 2003 had gathered in a dive bar near the Southwest Freeway, overtaking the regular customers. Red and white banners staked our claim and announced our continued school spirit. Camera flashes kept going off. The entire night was dedicated to mingling and catching up, drinking and sharing stories, shouting to be heard over the other voices and music.

Like true best friends, the two of us stuck together for much of the night, trying to spend time with each other, while also wandering around and reacquainting with our old peers. Despite people’s newly acquired beards, changes in fashion, or extra pounds gained here and there, everyone still felt vaguely familiar. It made us wonder: Were we mostly the same too?

A sense of curiosity had us talking to everyone we passed, whether we recognized them or not. Former boyfriends, dance team buddies, tag-along spouses, and even one lovely girl who remembered us far better than we remembered her. Like a choreographed dance, the crowd kept splitting into pairs and small groups, then swirling around and dividing again. In each new configuration, we laughed over fond memories, reminisced about old teachers, and marveled at all the things that had fallen between the cracks, waiting until that night to be unearthed again.

Once or twice we were ignored by people who we approached or waved to, which was puzzling more than offensive. It seemed to go against the whole spirit of a class reunion. But it didn’t matter — such petty matters were left behind in high school — and only showed us who our friends really were, both then and now.

Overall, the reunion was enjoyable in an inessential way, like eating a slice of cake. It tastes good in the moment, but you don’t need it. It doesn’t nurture or fulfill you in any way. On the one hand, it didn’t really matter how our classmates had turned out. They had been absent from our lives for a long time, and as soon as we walked out the door, they would disappear again, with no impact on us one way or another. But on the other hand, it was nice to look around the room and think, “Hey, we did all right.” As a group, we’ve experienced such interesting things over the past decade — like working on Wall Street, studying volcanoes for NASA, becoming parents, chasing and living our dreams.

At the end of the night, we felt a sort of collective pride — and honestly, a sense of reassurance. We had all survived, and maybe even thrived, in these first ten years after high school. That meant we were probably in good shape to do the same or better in the decades to come.


Kristan

I can’t believe it’s been a decade since Angie and I graduated from high school. It seems like just yesterday that we were learning how to drive, editing the school newspaper, and studying for the SATs. But time flies, and now the infamous 10-year reunion is upon us.

Our class president has scheduled the reunion for Thanksgiving weekend, when out-of-town alumni are more likely to return. As one of those out-of-towners, I appreciate her consideration, but I’m still not sure I want to attend.

The thing is, I don’t feel the need for a reunion. The people I care about, I already keep in touch with. We email, chat, and post on each other’s Facebook walls. We tweet, text, and occasionally even call. Of course it would be nice to see them in person, but we could arrange to do that in a different, more intimate way — without name tags, cocktails, and a room full of other people that we barely remember.

All of this leads me to wonder: Am I just not the reunion type? Or is technology eliminating the need for reunions?

Angie

There’s nothing like a 10-year reunion to make you feel old. It’s a big tradition, idealized by media and society, and that’s on my mind as I plan to fly home for Thanksgiving and possibly attend.

Part of me feels indifferent because, like Kristan, I will see my friends when I go home regardless. Also, we went to a large school with hundreds of students I never knew — and still may never know. But part of me is curious to see those I lost touch with, the ones I remember as being good people in high school.

I can’t help wondering: How have we transformed? Do we all look the same as we remembered? Will we try to show off our jobs? Spouses? Other status symbols? Or will we just reminisce about old teachers? First kisses? Senior prom?

As my peers and I have grown from teenagers to adults — breaking past high school archetypes — there are so many stories to share, pains to learn from, and achievements to celebrate. For me, as with most events in life, I will never regret going, but I will always wonder if I don’t.

Your Turn

Do you think we should attend our 10-year high school reunion? Did you attend yours? Share your thoughts and experiences with us at JBUcolumn@gmail.com or www.jbucolumn.com.


My family used to have a swing set in our backyard. I remember the metal beams, the red seats of the seesaw and “love seat,” and the rubbery swings with blue plastic over the chains to protect your hands from getting pinched. I remember helping my dad place stickers on the swing set to make it look cool. I remember the metal slide that I would happily climb, trying to reach for the sky before I slid back down to the world.

I played on the swing set almost daily, sometimes alone, sometimes with my sister or friends. When I was older, my long legs had to be crammed onto the steps of the seesaw, but I still eagerly pushed back and forth to see how high I could go. I could feel the swing set shift out of its setting in the ground from my force. It never failed to make me happy.

Eventually my dad had to remove the swing set because the braces started to crack and the metal rusted, making it unsafe. I was lucky that my schools and neighborhood had other playgrounds to play on. But I was also growing older, and by high school I had moved on to more mature afterschool activities.

Nowadays I sometimes wonder why only children are allowed to play and run around. They’re encouraged to imagine all sorts of adventures. As adults, we instead have structured alternatives such as team sports or choreographed dance. They’re still enjoyable, but each move is calculated and constructed. It’s about control instead of freedom.

Recently, I visited my friend in Queens and suggested we take a walk around the neighborhood. She informed us that there was a park nearby with a playground. One of our friends immediately lit up and asked, “Are there swings?”

When we got to the park, a group of middle-schoolers was already there, so we hovered awkwardly, waiting and hoping for our chance. Once they left and no other young children were around, we pounced on half of the swings. The four of us took turns swinging, and the feeling was instantaneous bliss.

There we were, a group of grown women who couldn’t control our laughter over a pair of swings. It didn’t matter whether we were the ones swinging or the ones watching, the laughter continued to roll out of us. The sheer joy of movement, and the brief return to childhood, affected us all.

When it was my turn, I walked backwards as far as I could go, all the way onto my tiptoes. Then I heaved up and gave myself a large first push. With each back-and-forth, I swung with more force. My legs kicked higher and higher, until I could see my feet flying towards the clouds. So high that I wanted to touch the sky, before I came back down to reality.


Over Labor Day weekend, I visited Seattle for the first time. The city is an interesting mix of big business and hippie culture, with vibrant art and foodie scenes too. I saw all the main attractions — Mt. Rainer, Puget Sound, Pike’s Place market, the Space Needle, Chihuly Garden & Glass — but one of the most memorable highlights, at least for me, was something you probably wouldn’t find in a travel guide.

4th Ave. About 35 stories tall. Cross-hatching support beams that you can see from the outside, like giant X’s. I think it’s brown with black windows. And it used to be owned by a bank.”

This was the information my father had given me over the phone. Vague memories from decades ago. The reason my dad wanted me to find this building is that he had been part of the team that designed it, back when he worked for a big architectural firm. He has always done this: pointed out bits of history that are interesting or important to him, thinking they’ll be interesting or important to everyone else too. Growing up I thought it was cool, then lame, then annoying, then endearing. Now that I’m an adult, I think it’s all of those things at once.

Scanning the skyline from the Bainbridge ferry and later the Seattle monorail, I saw a handful of skyscrapers that were possible candidates — including an ugly brown one that I desperately hoped was not his. But upon closer inspection, none of them had the cross-hatching support beams that my dad swore would confirm his building’s identity. They were like a litmus test, or a birthmark.

Fueled by a sense of daughterly duty, I decided to reserve my last morning in Seattle for tracking down my dad’s building. The strap of my duffel bag dug into my shoulder as I hiked up and down the hills, certain that somehow I could find this thing. Certain that my dad’s role in the project would echo through the years and serve as a homing beacon for me to follow.

That didn’t happen. In the end, it took another phone call to my dad, and an assist from Google, to figure out which building it was. But at long last, I found it. Better yet: I liked it.

The building sits on the corner of Marion St. and 5th Ave, crisp and white, striped by dark windows. It has a little Asian restaurant in the ground floor, as well as a newsstand, an ATM, and other useful nooks. It’s clustered in with several other skyscrapers — some taller, some not — but its gleaming façade distinguishes it from the crowd. Though it was built 30 years ago, the building still looks modern. The materials are attractive and have held up to both time and weather. There is good attention to detail, such as the tidy angles, the orange accent panels, and the lovely contrasting textures. Those cross-hatching beams are subtle, but elegant.

After taking photos and admiring it from the outside, I made my way inside. The interior was similarly sophisticated and stylish. As I wandered around, grinning, I found myself hoping that someone would stop me to ask what I was doing. Then I could say, “Oh, I’m here because my dad’s an architect. He designed this building.”

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A few months ago I was coming back to Texas to visit my parents, and my dad asked me to bring a copy of my local newspaper for him. The Cincinnati Enquirer recently switched to the smaller “tabloid” format, and as a fellow publisher, my dad wanted to see how things had worked out.

Then he and I started talking about where people get their news nowadays. Each format — print, broadcast, online – has benefits and drawbacks. The key factors are accuracy of information, speed of distribution, and cost. Which reminds me of a saying: “Fast, cheap, or good. You can only get 2 out of 3, so choose wisely.”

When it comes to staying informed, I am definitely part of the Millennial generation, meaning that I mostly depend on Google or social media. For example, I learned about Osama bin Laden’s death via Twitter, and about the Boston Marathon bombing via Facebook.

I do catch snippets of the 10 o’clock news sometimes, usually after one of my favorite shows is over. However, while all formats contain a mix of stories, I find that TV focuses the most on “sensational” topics like robberies and shootings. Or they reel you in with teasers: What popular new toy might kill your child? We’ll tell you right after this commercial break, so don’t change that channel!

Print news, on the other hand, seems to be the most community-focused. Because of their built-in delay and their smaller coverage areas, newspapers aren’t trying to capture an audience with speed or general interest, but instead with quality and relevance. They try to keep us informed about what’s happening in our city, our neighborhood. Changes with the school district, what the congressmen are doing, new roads being built. The stuff that truly impacts our daily lives.

Talking about all of this with my dad gave us both a lot of good food for thought. His newspapers already have websites and Facebook pages, but he’s looking into other ways to make subscriptions convenient and timely for his readers. Maybe an email list so people can download a PDF copy. Maybe a Twitter feed.

Another innovation that social media has brought to news coverage is “common man reporting.” Through Twitter, Instagram, blogs, and other online tools, people can instantly broadcast their mobile photos and eyewitness accounts, sometimes before journalists even arrive on the scene. More valuable than any one individual’s testimony is the conglomeration of them all.

But just as easily as information is spread this way, so is misinformation. People jump to conclusions, often without the background knowledge needed to make them in the first place. And like a bad game of Telephone, things usually become more distorted with each transmission.

So the internet is fast but bad with details. Newspapers are specific but slower. Television is somewhere in between. Because there are pros and cons to each format, we consumers have to be aware of them when we choose where to get our stories.

Most importantly, technology may be changing a lot about the way news is reported, but hopefully all journalists will stay focused on and driven by the heart of why news is reported. It’s not about subscriptions, advertisers, or “getting the scoop.” It’s about empowering people through the delivery of relevant and accurate information.


Though Asia has a reputation for being inexpensive, the truth is that prices for most things in Taipei were not that different than other cities. The food, however, was phenomenal and a bargain.

For breakfast my mom and I typically went to a stall in the food market, where the line was constantly out the door. They served the traditional greasy carb breakfast: fried pork buns, vegetable onion buns, lots of different types of dumplings, fried breads, and beef “sandwiches.” Of course, as any Chinese person can attest, you must have doufu nao (soft tofu soup), but it’s your choice between salty (my pick!) or sweet. No matter what we selected, my mom and I always arrived hungry and left happy.

My grandmother’s housekeeper also shopped at the food market early each morning to buy groceries for our lunch or dinner. I trailed behind her with my camera to capture the daily produce, which included not just vegetables, but also lots of seafood: seaweed, clams, shrimp, sea bass, and more. As part of every meal, she would pick indigenous fruit that could not be purchased in the U.S., such as liuwen (known as wax apple) and bali (a native guava). With these fresh ingredients, she prepared feasts for our family, often using my grandmother’s recipes. One popular Taiwanese dish is a thinly-sliced braised beef shank, served cold. She made it everyday for us because it was a favored treat.

When visiting Taipei, eating at a night market is a must! The streets are packed, and you shuffle along the herd of people with no personal space. When you find a food stand you must try, you crowd around and order. My cousins and I went to Raohe Street Night Market, sampling the most infamous dish, stinky tofu. (I still am not a fan.) We washed down the tofu with corn that was prepared like a blacksmith molding iron, fried Japanese octopus balls, and Asian pastries with red bean or ice cream. However, we shied away from the grilled crustaceans. Everything at the night market is cheap, which makes for a filling “second dinner.”

Before leaving Taipei, I went by Chia Te Bakery to buy their famous pineapple and cranberry “cakes” to share with friends back in the U.S. The ones baked in Taiwan are much better than the packaged supermarket kind, and Chia Te is considered the best. Lucky for me, I could walk there from my grandmother’s home. Every mouthful of the buttery soft crust, and the sweet-and-tart combination filling, was heaven.

I’d like to think my puopuo is enjoying a few Chia Te cakes in heaven as well. While it look grief and sadness to bring our family all together again, we celebrated her life and our bonds during this short trip to Taiwan – smiling up to the sky.

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