Q(uar) & A is a series of interviews with some of our favorite storytellers and creators about how they’re living while in lockdown.
Hannah Bae is a freelance journalist and nonfiction writer whose work has been published in the anthology (Don’t) Call Me Crazy: 33 Voices Start the Conversation About Mental Health and The Monocle Travel Guide to Seoul, as well as news outlets including CNN, Monocle, Eater, The AP, and more.
Where are you currently sheltering in place?
I’m in my apartment in Brooklyn with my husband, Adam, and dog, Ramona.
What does your face mask look like?
We switch off between construction dust masks (which we bought years ago for housework) and bandanas, depending on where we’re going and for how long. We barely go into any other buildings, so we’re most exposed when we take our dog to Prospect Park in the mornings for off-leash hours. For a quick walk around the block, where we’re careful to leave lots of space between us and other pedestrians, we think a bandana around the face is fine.
I hate to say this, but as an Asian-American woman, I’ve been wanting to cover my face as much as possible, so I wear a baseball cap, plus sunglasses when it’s sunny. (Also, as an Asian-American woman, I almost always wear a hat and sunglasses in normal times anyway to protect my skin from the sun’s aging effects!) Thank god that I haven’t experienced any racist hate during the pandemic, but I think it’s because I’m almost always with Adam or my big, black dog.
Do you follow any kind of routine at this moment?
Ramona is my reason for following some semblance of a daily routine. While on quarantine, we’ve cut down from four daily walks to three (she is cherished) — 8am, 3pm, and 10 pm. Adam and I alternate our dog walks, including the mornings, when we take Ramona to the park. If it’s my turn, we’re up around 8am and stay out until 9:30am or so. For a while, the parks police was really lax, so some mornings I’d even stay until 10am, chatting with socially distancing dog owners while our pups play. Seeing our dogs romping around joyfully in the sun has been hugely important for my mental health.
What are some pieces of entertainment that you have consumed and loved during this time?
I have been reading a ton. I’m trying to support authors whose books are being impacted by coronavirus shutdowns, especially Asian-Americans. Some of my very favorite new books have been How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang, Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong, Almost American Girl by Robin Ha, and If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha.
I’ve also found Ed Yong’s science-heavy articles for The Atlantic to be very comforting, and I adore Allison Behringer’s medical mysteries podcast Bodies. I’m also loving the Asian-heavy schedule of Netflix’s new releases: Kingdom, Tigertail, Terrace House, and The Half of It!
I have also finding myself looking forward to Sunday night TV to an unreasonable degree: Westworld, Homeland, Last Week Tonight, and High Maintenance. (But now that they’re over, what will I watch?!)
Are you working on anything during this time? And if you’re having trouble “creating” things at the moment, how are you getting around it?
Before the pandemic, I was on deck to start a new column for Catapult on the 1980 Gwangju uprising, which was a very violent, traumatic historical event that happened in my father’s hometown in South Korea. It took me months to write the first essay. Thank goodness for my editor, who has been incredibly supportive, inspiring, and patient.
For a few weeks, my brain felt sluggish and I couldn’t bear to confront such disturbing, painful material on the page. For a few solid weeks, all I felt like I could do was lie around and play Tetris and Solitaire on my iPad. I thought about telling my editor I needed to give up. I read all those articles saying “don’t worry about being productive right now!”, but when I thought about what would truly be kindest to myself, I knew it would be finding the resolve to write the damn thing.
Eventually, I printed out my drafts and started cutting them up into sections and rearranging them to see if I could find my way forward, and it worked! (Ramona helped, too.) I’ve also had other freelance work coming in that hasn’t required me to pour my soul into my writing, so I’m extremely grateful for that.
Have you taken up any new hobbies? What are they?
Well, usually I’m a terrible slob, but I’ve been cleaning the apartment more often while in quarantine, which makes my very tidy husband happy…
What’s the best meal you’ve eaten so far during quar?
Adam’s birthday was in April, so we really did it up and ordered delivery for the first time since February or so! We got pizza, which was so, so comforting, and I made some devil’s food cupcakes with marshmallow meringue frosting from Stella Parks’s cookbook Bravetart. Those were pretty freaking great, if I do say so myself!
What’s your current iPhone wallpaper and what’s the story behind it?
Lol, I’m obsessed with my dog. My lock screen and home screen are two different photos of Ramona.
What’s the best quar purchase you’ve made so far?
I bought a ton of cards from Egg Press in Portland, which is a fantastic, woman-owned small business. I am a passionate letter writer, so I feel very happy about being stocked on the goods. I loled so hard at Cathy Park Hong’s essay “Bad English,” which starts: “I had a special, almost erotic, relationship with my stationery when I was young.” My adulthood is all about childhood wish fulfillment, and I cherish the gel pens that I have now bought to my heart’s content.
Separately, Adam and I placed a huge Asian food order from SAFG, an Asian food distributor that usually serves restaurants but is now making residential deliveries. All that food — frozen dumplings, Asian gummies, Pocky, kimchi, chili oils, rice, Korean pear, curry paste — is giving me life.
Who are the writers, storytellers, or makers who are bringing you great joy right now?
Everyone mentioned above, plus my husband, Adam, because he is a fantastic cook and makes me good food all the time.
Any unexpectedly memorable moments of quar so far?
Our family has experienced a lot of joyful moments. My sister-in-law had a baby in March, and while we wish we could visit in person, we’re so happy that she and her family are all healthy. On Adam’s birthday, I collected videos of friends near and far wishing him happy birthday and edited them into a video that he loved. I’ve also really appreciated virtual events like The Antibody Reading Series organized by Brian Gresko, plus online fundraisers like those spearheaded by Stephanie Foo (I Heart Chinatown), Amy Zhang (Dumplings Against Hate), and Jen Yu (Welcome to Chinatown).
Oh, also, I have to give a shoutout to Whitney Hu and her tireless work with South Brooklyn Mutual Aid. I’d never heard of mutual aid before all this, and I’m awed by Whitney’s community service and energy.