Our theme for the month of June is “Celebrities and Me.” Writers were asked to select and write about a celebrity with whom they feel some connection.
Dear Josh and Chuck,
I have a running wager with my wife, Mary Catherine, that if either of us is featured on Stuff You Should Know’s listener mail segment, we owe the other fifty dollars. This is basically a moot point since we share finances, but fifty dollars is fifty dollars, and good motivation to write!
I’m not solely writing out of selfish, monetary interests, though. I’d like to personally attest to a recommendation made in your Michelin Guide episode: the small pork bao stand in Taipei, Lan Chia Guabao (蓝家刮包), truly has the best bao. The long line is worth the wait, especially for the pillowy-soft bun; you’ll feel like you are biting into a cloud. I was a weekly visitor during my two stints in Taipei in 2015 and 2019.
Until recently, one could also jump across the alley into another ever-present line at Chen San Ding, a famous mom-and pop boba tea shop. Their bubbles, steeped in a vat of black sugar, were the very quintessence of one of my favorite Taiwanese expressions, “QQ”—which sounds like the word for “chewy” in the local dialect—a heavenly state of delightful squish which is bouncy but not sticky, soft but not mushy. Unfortunately, the shop closed in late 2019 after its cleanliness—in more than one sense—was called into question: a couple discovered a cockroach in one of their beverages and the owners were allegedly evading taxes.
As a listener, I have found one conundrum of your show to be that, as I try to keep up with the multi-weekly releases or catch up on the endless library of thousands of episodes, stuff I should know naturally transitions into stuff I once knew and have since forgotten. The rapacious pace at which I often tend to devour SYSK episodes—such as on twenty-hour road trips to Florida—has probably caused me to forget 95 percent of the stuff I’ve learned in the process.
Rather than holding up knowledge as trivia, though, the show has helped me curate a posture of genuine curiosity, to probe the unfamiliar, and to find delight in subjects as seemingly mundane as how wastewater treatment works, as revelatory as how bras work, and as stress-inducing as how cave diving works.
I also highly encourage fans to listen to SYSK at 1.5 speed. Not only can you blaze through episodes, it also adds a dash of humor to Josh and Chuck’s rapid, back-and-forth quips. Plus, the classic Charles W. “Chuck” Bryant chuckle is elevated to another level of cheerful heartiness.
Having worked from home since the pandemic, my lack of a commute has reduced the time I would normally spend listening to SYSK. Fortunately, I’ll soon have the opportunity to catch up on episodes. Because I am starting a PhD program in Chinese history at the University of Washington this fall, my wife and I will be moving from Detroit to Seattle, which is a forty-hour trek or, in podcast time, approximately sixty full-length episodes at 1.5 speed. We’re looking forward to the journey with you two in tow.
P.S. Please give a shoutout to Mary Catherine, my original gateway to the show. She refers to the two of you, along with herself, as a collective “we,” enthusiastically sharing about what the three of you learn together. Thank you for making her commute so enjoyable.
Photo credit: SYSK Photo
Chad Westra (’15) is a Ph.D. student at the University of Washington where he studies modern Chinese history. He enjoys chess, following Detroit sports, and caring for the overgrowth of plants in his condo.