What happens when your dad goes missing?

(My dad went missing a couple of weeks ago. Here he is in the local newspaper. Photo courtesy The Gazette)

By the time Christine called me on the phone, it was already too late.

I was in my rental car, an electric Chevy Bolt, feeling all kinds of Angeleno-like, zigzagging through traffic on the 10 West, the speakers blaring some song by Demi Lovato. Liz, my friend from Brooklyn, and I decided to go to Venice Beach – and all was so perfect. That’s when our serene LA day was interrupted by Christine’s unsettling call.

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“David,” she said sternly. “Have you heard from your parents?”

It was rather peculiar. Christine rarely, if ever, called.

“No,” I answered. “I haven’t spoken to them all day. What’s up?”

“It’s weird because my mom’s with them, they took a trip to the mountains and no one’s answering their phones.”

They were supposed to be home by 2, she explained. When 7 p.m. came rolling around and they still hadn’t appeared at church, it raised alarm bells.

Odd. Very odd, I thought.

I didn’t think much of it and told Christine I’d call her back. That’s when, in a matter of a few minutes, I found my world spinning out of control. Neither of my parents picked up their phones and when I called my sister in Columbia, South Carolina, she hadn’t gotten a hold of them either. Strange behavior, I thought. At least one of my parents always called us back.

By the time we got to Little Tokyo, Christine had given me an update.

“We found my mom!” she said with a relief. I let out a big sigh as well.

“SO crazy! I’m so glad they’re all safe.”

I had spoken too soon. My mom was fine, but it turned out my dad was missing.

“What do you mean, missing?!”

As Christine explained, when the three of them were supposed to meet back at my dad’s SUV around 2 p.m., he never appeared. They sojourned into the mountains to go on their annual mushroom foraging adventure, a common Colorado pastime for this time of year, somewhere between the Sangre de Cristo and Wet Mountains. The mountains are the southernmost subrange of the Rockies and said to be treacherous, steep territory, a place where there are at least 25 missing hikers every year. From 2010-2016, there were 46 known deaths by hikers, campers and people like my parents, “shroomers,” who go into the mountains to forage wild and rare mushrooms.

In a 2014 article in the Wet Mountain Tribune, Mushroom Season is one of the most common times for people to go missing. A co-captain for the county said that these foragers are so concentrated on the ground, “when they finally look up, they haven’t got a clue where they are or how they got there.”

Not coming to any conclusions, I took a deep breath.

It’s interesting what fear makes you do. One, is go into a deep denial, allowing you to go into self-preservation mode.

I called the Custer County sheriff’s department to no avail. It was past 5 p.m. and the small county’s department was already closed. Local police departments were no help as the area my dad went missing was out of their jurisdiction. Still, I frantically left dozens of messages pleading for someone to get back to me.

It’s interesting what fear makes you do. One, is go into a deep denial, allowing you to go into self-preservation mode. I decided to meet my friends for dinner in order to find some semblance of normalcy. To make everything go away.

As we had Korean food, silence in between the metal chopsticks clanking on our bowls, the rice and beef causing indigestion, I kept looking closely at my phone. Mom, dad, please call, I said as if telepathically sending them a message. Please call soon. Please call now. Just … please.

I excused myself to the bathroom to collect my thoughts. It was all too much. I couldn’t help but look around and find many families together, their dads sharing stories, children rolling their eyes, laughing at dad’s dad jokes, wondering how nice that must feel. To be normal. To be without worry. It became all too much. While the world was still alive and functioning, mine was crumbling before me. Would I ever see my dad again?

Quickly after dinner, the sheriff called back.

“It’s a really rugged area,” he explained. “Steep terrain and there are also wild animals. I don’t want to alarm you but we’re going to send out our team of search and rescue. Finding him is like finding a needle in a haystack. And we can’t do anything until daylight around 5:30. Don’t worry too much. They’re the best in the country. I’ll give you updates if we get any.”

Should I pack up my stuff and head to Colorado? I asked. “I wouldn’t until 24 hours later,” he replied. “When that time comes, I’d highly suggest you get here. That’s when we’ll know it’s serious…”

That news shattered me completely and while I was busy picking up the shards of my heart everywhere, I still had to keep it together for my older sister. By that time, it was midnight in the east coast and understandably worried, she wasn’t still up.

“What do you mean they’re not going to send anyone until 5 a.m.?” she asked over the phone, her voice shaking, cracking. “What about dad? He’s alone out there and it must be cold. Why aren’t they helping him?”

For someone who always had an answer to everything, who had always been the encouraging one with positive mantras to share, I found myself with absolutely nothing to tell her. There were no words of comfort, just uncertainty.

I’ve often wondered how a person is supposed to react in the midst of utter hopelessness. Are they supposed to be crippled with fear, becoming a victim of the unknown, go into deep denial or the opposite: cling onto hope for dear life?

Understandably, I couldn’t sleep that night. I felt too guilty. Scenarios began playing through my mind. I imagined my dad in the Colorado darkness, meandering through the wild, the cold creeping into his bones, the wolves howling at the moon. Was he scared? Was he injured? Was he calling out for help? Was he calling out for us? Was he thinking we had given up on him? Was he hopeless or did he choose to be hopeful?

The sun came up when I opened my eyes and I rolled over to look at my phone. No calls. I quickly called the sheriff’s office for an update. At this point, it was about 6 a.m. and search and rescue was already dispatched. My sister and her husband decided to take the first plane out of Columbia and help my mother find my father. I’d find out later, but she was there in the mountains all night, setting up camp, searching tirelessly for her devoted husband.

A few hours went by and still no word. I buried myself deep in work and started typing away on Very Good Light, finding solace in the stories I was editing. It was self-preservation and utter denial but again, I was desperate for any semblance of normalcy. I looked briefly at my phone. Four hours until that 24 hour deadline to find my dad.

Time was running out.

As I made a couple more calls there was still no word. With now an hour to go before we had to call it quits, I sat there, stunned, crippled by anxiety. Come on dad, you can do this…come back to us, I whispered.

Before 11 a.m. hit, I received a phone call.

“Is this David?” a woman on the other line asked.


“We found your dad. He’s alive.”

My phone dropped out of my hands and I couldn’t help but weep. All of that pent up emotion was released, the brackish tears stinging my sanguine face. The relief rushing over me like a tsunami.

I immediately called my sister who had just landed in Denver, to tell her the news. Both exhausted, we began sobbing out of deep gratitude to the universe, to God. Gratitude that he was alive, that we’d be able to see him again, that all hope was restored.

Days later, my dad opened up about what had happened. Search and rescue would have never found him, he said. They went west when he went east. As my dad will recall, his leg was sprained from a fall and he had limited mobility to climb back over the mountain. He’d lost his way after foraging his mushrooms. Time and place become intertwined when you’re deep in the mountains, and he became disoriented after being far from the group.

As night crept by, he set up camp on a flat boulder, where, in nothing but a polo and shorts, he sat, helpless, shivering, the only thing he could hear in the deafening silence, his chattering teeth. He figured he didn’t have any option but to wait until the sun came back up. Running out of supplies, he came to a horrifying conclusion: If he didn’t find help in the next few hours, he’d be dead. Fear isn’t what drove him to survive. It was hope. He could die, or live. He chose the latter.

When sunrise came, the warmth flushing back into his bloodstream, he traced back his steps. He thought through how he lost his way. Going back to his Korean army days, he was able to locate North, South, East and West. To get back, he’d have to venture West. With only one working leg, he crawled his way up the mountain, inch by inch. After making it up a trail for three hours, he oriented himself and realized he finally knew where he was.

The only problem was getting up the next steep hill. Running out of time, he sat there, catching his breath, hopeful. Just then, he spotted a woman, foraging for mushrooms at the crack of dawn. He asked her for water and a little food. Miraculously, she was Korean as well and offered him something better: Korean rice cakes. She later drove him back to his car, where he was finally discovered by authorities. There, he reunited with my mom, who thought she had seen a ghost. Certainly, she thought, she’d become a widow. All of this was a surprise. All of this wasn’t supposed to happen. Grief-stricken, they embraced, their bond stronger than ever.

Weeks later, we’re very fortunate we can laugh about this ordeal. Though the most harrowing and heartbreaking 24 hours of my entire life, it was also one where I’ve learned so much about the human condition. We are more resilient than we think. We are more powerful than we imagined. We love harder in the midst of fear. And only when we cling onto hope, rather than hopelessness, is when we not only survive, but thrive. Let’s keep that hope close to our chests, protect it, and keep it alive.

I’m a grown man and still don’t know how to pack

How do you fit everything in a small bag? (Photo by David Yi/Very Good Light)

Packing: It’s complicated.

Sometimes you want to go off on an adventure with nothing but the clothes on your back then you realize that lol, that’s disgusting. Unfortunately, packing is a necessary evil, like Nutella.

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I’m as terrible at packing as I am eating healthy things. Packing is like, the biggest chore, worse than doing dishes, walking your dog or cleaning your bathtub. An act so debilitating I can’t actually do anything while in the middle of it. Instead, I find myself just sitting there, staring at my luggage, thinking so hard about what I’d rather be doing than packing (like guzzling a jar of Nutella), that I usually end up with a total of 12 minutes to do so before missing my flight.

The new stuffing.

Things get even more complicated, of course, when you’re a beauty editor. Not only do you have to pack things called clothes, you also have to plan ahead on what products you need for what occasion, weather, specific people you’ll encounter. The list goes on and on. Like, is the trip going to be mostly lounging by a pool? Do I need to bring a concealer for daytime activities? Does the week involve dinners with important people where I have to do my brows and maybe use some light contouring or full-on Kim K contouring? How about skincare, then? Do I have time or capacity or space in my luggage to pack in 9 products? How about masks?

(Insert aggressive sigh here!)

You can imagine my anxiety when I realized I was going off on a week journey to Philadelphia with Buick driving the brand’s Encore SUV (in-car wifi, WHAT??!), for the annual Asian American Journalist Association’s convention. Knowing that I’d be hotel living for an entire week, I realized that I couldn’t bring all 70 of my products with me. Instead, I only had room for 14 items in my dopp kit. I chose ~only~ the essentials to stuff into my leather bag. Here’s my logic behind packing for a week-long trip.

(As a side note, and this is obviously #notsponsored but REAL thoughts: Can I just say how impressed I am with Buick and GM in general? I was taken aback by how the entire company has an entire diversity division that seeks to empower disenfranchised communities. They even sponsored the AAJA convention, something that’s near and dear to me. Not only are they providing diverse groups with the means to put on important conventions like AAJA, they are continuing to learn about how they can become better allies. It’s rare to see big corporations care about diverse communities, especially the Asian American demographic, but Buick and GM are making it a priority to reach out and put their money to good use. So huge shout out to brands that see the importance of supporting communities of color. Props to you, Buick/GM! Literally, ALL GOOD KARMA TO YOU!)


(Hanskin toner, Dr Jart+ cleanser, CosRX Snail Mucin essence, Skin Inc Vitamin C essence)

I thought about what I’d need for a solid morning and night routine. For this, I chose my Dr. Jart+ Dermaclear Micro Gel Cleanser, which is gentle on my skin but totally effective as a makeup remover. Then, I packed Hanskin’s toner, which has 1000 times more moisture than water. It’s supposed to have some version of hyaluronic acid that’s smaller in molecules than any regular kind, which goes deeper into your skin. Perfect for air-conditioned rooms, I figured.

(The Face Shop sheet mask, CosRX Triple C Lightning Liquid, Sisley exfoliator, J.One Jelly Pack, Tatcha Essence)

I brought CosRX’s Snail Mucin as well, a formula with 96% snail secretion filtrate. It’s an essence with ~real~ snail, that helps the skin replenish itself. It’s super sticky, yes, but in the morning your skin is baby booty soft. Tatcha also has an amazing brightening serum that gives you a radiant glow the day after. It’s not super hydrating but it’s still awesome for when your skin is looking extra dull and ry.

For nights, I a light Vitamin C essence could undo sun damage, which is why I packed in Skin Inc’s own version. It has Vitamin C and E beads that melt into your pores. For days where I’m exposed to more sun, I need something more potent. I brought Soko Glam’s collaboration with CosRX called the Triple C Lightning Liquid. It’s ~super~ fresh and will last you probably a week before it turns from clear to orange, a sign that it’s not as effective.

Next was Sisley’s Buff and Wash facial gel. I’ve been testing it for a while and I’m not the ~biggest~ fan, but it’s a decent exfoliator if you need a physical one. I brought it along to test and realize that for the price, I’d definitely skip! Finally, the last item for skincare was a moisturizer (not seen in the photo) from Fresh’s line, called the Peony Brightening Moisture Face Cream. It’s light, super moisturizing and allows the pores to glow for 24 hours.


(Sulwhasoo compact, Milk Makeup Oil Stick, Real Techniques beauty blender, Make Beauty brow gel, Koh Gen Doh concealer)

For the convention, I didn’t think a full face of makeup for any of the panels or networking sessions was necessary. I left my contour sticks, eyeliner and lip tints at home and instead, brought a very good cushion compact from Sulwhasoo. Cushion compacts have been super popular in Seoul for a while now and for good reason. It’s like a BB cream with its SPF 50+, plenty of moisturizing elements like apricot kernel oil, which promotes collagen formation, and something called Jaumdan Water, which allows for hydration. For that dewy look, this is perfection. It’ll give you coverage that looks super natural while actually protecting the skin.

I tend to breakout for the most outrageous reasons, like eating pizza at midnight or Nutella sandwiches in the middle of the night. If I need to conceal said angry breakouts, I need something thicker than my cushion compact. Koh Gen Do’s Maifanshi concealer helps my under eyes and blemishes go away. Before putting it into my skin, I’ll use an excellent primer from J.One called Jelly Pack. It minimizes pores, tightens the skin but is also super sticky to hold onto your makeup. I’d probably say it’s my favorite primer at the moment. Of course, you absolutely need to blend the product in so brought two blenders from Real Techniques. One is a mini for your eyes and the other one if a normal-sized one with a flat in to better blend. I’ll bring a Make Beauty Brow gel to keep my bushy friends in place and Milk Makeup’s Hydrating Oil Stick in case I get a little dry in those air conditioned conference rooms throughout the day. Voila! Packing complete.

So was my packing successful? I’d say so. I think I was pretty thorough with my packing choices, though I wish I did bring just a little more cosmetics. At the end of the week, my skin looked pretty good, stayed hydrated and healthy. But a monogamous beauty user I am not. And at the end of the week, I was itching for other products to use. Thankfully, this trip was only a week. I don’t even want to think about what would happen on longer trips, like my month-long journey to Seoul later next month. I’m already dry heaving with anxiety. I’ll be opening a Venmo account just for a Nutella Fund. Send help. Now.