By Jae-Ha Kim
Tribune Media Services
November 24, 2009
With his critically acclaimed debut novel “Everything Asian,” Sung J. Woo succinctly and poignantly captures a year in the life of a 12-year-old immigrant who tries to navigate life in the United States, while also trying to understand his estranged father. A resident of Washington, N.J., the 38-year-old author chats about his recent trip to Alaska, how he gets the best hotel deals and why he often feels like a tourist — even when he’s not far from home.
Q. What is your favorite vacation destination?
A. Homer, Alaska. My wife and I never would’ve gone there except we won a pair of airline tickets to anywhere in the States, not including Hawaii. So we picked the farthest possible destination from New Jersey. We flew into Anchorage and drove four hours south and if we’d stopped at every jaw-droppingly gorgeous vista, it would have taken twice as long. I’m hardly an outdoors person, but there’s something otherworldly pristine about this gigantic state — a combination of innocence and grandeur that hits you right in the heart.
Q. Where are your favorite weekend getaways?
A. New York City is an hour and a half away, so we’ve done the dinner-show-overnight-breakfast combo a few times, using Priceline to find luxury hotels at a bargain. We’ve stayed a number of times at the Crossed Keys Inn (www.crossedkeys.com) in Andover, N.J., a lovely B&B. There’s a stone cottage that’s separate from the house and a large barn that has shuffleboard, a pool table, and couches perfect for naps. The owners have changed since our last visit and it’s now more of a wedding destination, but regular non-wedders can still stay there and spend a couple of nights in the garden portion of the Garden State.
Q. What are your favorite hotels and restaurants?
A. The Hotel Marlowe near Boston has a unique personality. The Alaskan Suites in Homer (www.alaskansuites.com). Not only do you get the million-dollar view of the bay, the cabins are first-rate, providing a hint of wilderness while supplying plenty of creature comforts. Lastly, Hotel Lutece (www.paris-hotel-lutece.com/en/) in Ile Saint-Louis, Paris, is just the perfect place to stay for anyone visiting the City of Light. There’s gelato and crepes all around, the two staples of French food as far as I’m concerned. My two favorite restaurants are right by me: Russo’s Ristorante in my hometown of Washington and the Perryville Inn (www.theperryvilleinn.com/) in Perryville. Rick at Russo’s cooks fantastic Italian fare and Paul at Perryville makes food into delicious art. In my travels, I’ve encountered excellent dining at Betelnut in San Francisco (www.betelnutrestaurant.com), the Salt Lick in Driftwood, Texas (www.saltlick bbq.com), the Blue Ginger in Wellesley, Mass. (www.ming.com/blueginger), Alain Ducasse at Hotel Plaza Athenee in Paris (www.plaza-athenee-paris.com/alain-ducasse-plaza-athenee) and Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, N.Y. (www.moosewoodrestaurant.com). Also, Two Sisters Bakery (www.twosistersbakery.net/Home.html) and Fresh Sourdough Express (http://www.freshsourdoughexpress.com/) in Homer, Alaska, are standouts. We also liked a wonderful winery there called Bear Creek (www.bearcreekwinery.com), and, of course, the Spit.
Q. When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?
A. I recently purchased an Eee PC — a netbook — and it can do just about everything my bigger laptop can do, so I never go anywhere without it nowadays. It’s got such a long-last battery that for an overnight trip I don’t even pack the power supply. Besides my Eee, my hooded windbreaker. It’s not exactly waterproof and it’s paper thin, but when I zip it up, it keeps me warm. And I can roll it down to practically nothing, so it takes no space at all in the suitcase.
Q. What kind of research do you do before you go away on a trip?
A. For hotels — TripAdvisor, for restaurants — Zagat. They’re comprehensive and accurate, which is all that I ask for from any travel source. And people, too. There are a few friends whose opinions align with ours and that’s invaluable.
Q. Where would you like to go that you have never been to before?
A. A good friend who works for the (U.S.) Foreign Service is currently stationed at Doha, Qatar. It’s a place I’d never visit by myself, but since he’s there with his family, it would be great to see him and the country. It’s a long flight, though, and as I get older, I have to admit — it’s tough to sit in that airplane for all those hours.
Q. What is your best or worst vacation memory?
A. My best memory is going to Paris for our honeymoon. Walking along the Seine, admiring the Eiffel Tower at night, noshing on Nutella crepes. I’ll never forget it.
Q. How do you try to fit in when you’re a tourist?
A. I don’t even bother to try, because I’m a tourist everywhere that’s not home. Even though I’ve been to NYC countless times, I still need a map to navigate the streets. I was never blessed with a sense of direction, so at this point I’ve fully accepted my shortcomings.
Q. Have you ever been guilty of being an “ugly American”?
A. I hope not, but you never know. In France and Italy, I did what I could to speak the language, but it’s never easy. Sometimes I wish everyone spoke English. There, I just did it — now I’m officially an ugly American.
© 2009 JAE-HA KIM
DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
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