My second cousins John (center) and Nakon (right) show me family pictures with familiar faces during a reunion/introductions of sorts in Bangkok, Thailand. (Photo by Dacia Saenz)

BANGKOK, Thailand– They were complete strangers, but it instantly felt like a family reunion.

One week before I departed for my first international reporting trip, my grandmother Cece and my great aunt Karen casually drop to me on Facebook that, oh by the way, I have relatives in Thailand.

Come again?

Now I’m from a long and proud line of auto factory workers, mechanics and nurses from Flint, Michigan. But other than trips to Canada, I was one of the few people in my family to travel and live outside the U.S. since our ancestors came through Ellis Island. Or at least I thought.

So to learn that I have Thai relatives was not only a major revelation, but one that profoundly altered how I view my family in the world.

But the facts were fuzzy at first. I wasn’t exactly clear how my little branch of the tree spanned to this corner of the world.

So I sent a Facebook message and a few days later I was off to meet these mysterious family characters in the bustling city of Bangkok.

A North Korean army (or is it Chinese?) invades Spokane in the remake of Red Dawn, opening this weekend. (Photo by Sarah Stuteville)

A sunny morning in Spokane — shaggy green lawns, puffy clouds and compact SUVs parked outside of 100-year-old houses.

Then a boom, a rattling snow globe featuring the Space Needle and the blue sky fills with white parachutes.

The North Koreans have just invaded Washington state.

To children of the ’80s this might sound vaguely familiar. In the 1984 Cold War film “Red Dawn,” the Cubans invade a small town in Colorado, forcing a gang of teenagers (Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, Jennifer Grey) to form an insurgent militia to fight off the commies.

The remake, released this week, follows a similar script. Except it’s a new teenage gang (Avengers’ Chris Hemsworth, Hunger Games’ Josh Hutcherson, even Tom Cruise’s son Connor Cruise) and a new enemy.

Well, kind of.

Dayak girls feed a forest friend. (Photo by Branden Eastwood)

Dayak girls feed a forest friend. (Photo by Branden Eastwood)

It is a shock to think of Indonesia as the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

How could a country that boasts one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems be spewing out more carbon and methane than economic powerhouses such as Germany and Japan?

The answer lies in the forest. Or what’s left of it. Indonesia has cleared close to half of its forested land for agricultural development. The country’s peat forests, which sequester immense quantities of carbon are often targeted by developers, resulting in a disproportionate amount of emissions.

The Mumelo siblings, recent immigrants from Kenya, represent what recruiters hope will be a new face of the US military. (Photo by Sarah Stuteville)

Turns out you don’t pack much for boot camp.

When I asked Belindah Mumelo if I could hang out with her while she prepared to head off for basic training this week, I imagined huge duffel bags stuffed with gear.

Instead, she showed me a backpack the size of a school bag, full of white athletic socks.

But gear doesn’t matter. The most important thing Belindah is taking with her when she boards the plane and the series of buses that will deliver her to basic training at Fort Jackson, SC, is her sister Barbrah’s advice: “Don’t eat the candy.”

“Seriously, that first day, in the mess hall, they’ll put out all kinds of cakes and candies and cookies, but it’s a trick,” warns Barbrah in a heavy Kenyan, almost British-sounding accent. “They’ll make you do push-ups if you eat them.”

Three Mumelo siblings have signed up to join the Army this year. Belindah’s twin brother, Benson, is currently in basic training in Missouri.

Jess Mack, a Seattle native working in Bangkok, was excited to don Americana colors to watch the election returns. (Photo by Sara Stogner)

BANGKOK, Thailand–As the elections unfolded yesterday in the US, a small huddle of Americans glued their eyes to the CNN report, broadcasting the returns in a mostly empty bar here in Bangkok.

The American-owned Roadhouse BBQ was one of only two bars in the city advertising an election watch. Yet in a city packed full of expats, only a dozen trickled in around 10am.

Among them was Jess Mack, a Seattle native working on a campaign with the UN to end violence against women in the region.

“It’s been interesting being here and talking to people from around the world and in Bangkok,” Mack said. “People really care about what’s happening in the US because our foreign policy has an impact on everyone in some way.”

Mack was ecstatic when the news came via her twitter feed that same-sex marriage and the legalization of marijuana had been approved in Washington State.