I sighed this morning when I woke up, from a weird and messed up dream.
Exactly a month ago, I set foot into a company which, if I had the choice to, I could stay at for years to come. A month before that was what could easily be the last time I ever sit down in a lecture hall to take an exam. How do you feel being done? people would ask me. I didn’t know. Was I supposed to be happy? relieved? It didn’t feel anywhere from being done.
Last week, I moved into a house that I could finally write down as both a billing and mailing address. The movers came and went in half an hour. All my possessions took up a corner of a room in 6 boxes, 2 suitcases and 1 IKEA tote bag. The new carpeted floors almost seemed inviting for my well-traveled goods to settle down on.
Yesterday I sat down at my desk, a cheap wooden surface with folding metal legs that could hopefully serve me for its lifetime. It was my desk. I wouldn’t be moving away from it anymore.
This morning, I sighed because I had thought I would have less to worry about now. From constantly going back and forth between Korea as a child and teen, hurrying off to Mudd for college and even more so rushing to finding a job, there had been no place I could call home. I did now.
I was going to have a stable income and a stable spending. There didn’t need to be any more backbreaking, late nights finishing a math problem or making $14 more to pay off the next bill. My coworkers told me, go home! Have a good weekend! and they meant it. Have a weekend of rest and fun.
I had time to do things now. The unopened art supplies and a dusty gaming laptop waited patiently in their corners for an eager but tired master. There were books that I could dive into, though I would probably dawdle off into looking at my phone in 15 minutes.
Yet, I sighed because there were always things I should do. Over the last weeks I planned and planned and planned my life in vain. I thought I would feel free that there were no longer shackles binding my legs down; yet what I found was that my legs had gone weak and afraid, unsure of what they should be doing without the whip cracking.
Was it imposter syndrome? What if I had been faking all along, only looking like I knew what I was doing, only seeming like I was good at everything I did, because I was told what to do and I followed the directions to the dot? Where were the directions now?
There were questions that came attacking at my ego. What if I just gave up on the ambitions and settled here? What if I didn’t deserve to be standing where I did, unsure but comfortable? I didn’t want to admit being an imposter. What if I wasn’t as strong as I thought I was? I deadlifted only 135lbs last night, 50 short from what I used to do easily. Fuck.
I’m a child still bumbling around, and that realization is disappointing. I’ve always wanted the time to pass quickly, for me to come to this stage in life where the first stone has finally been set. I’m here now, and everything’s changed but somehow nothing’s changed within me. This time, I don’t know anymore what the rest of the structure should look like, or how to get there.
At the least, I need to stay confident and not let the questions get to me. Maybe watching Carol Dweck’s TED talk again might help. Maybe just letting go of my worriesmight get me back on a clear slate. Do I even know how to do that? Where are the instruction manuals for letting go of expectations and taking it easy?
I’m reading into what I’ve thrown up on this note. It reminds me of Salisbury Cathedral, built initially in 1220 on four feet of sand above a river and completed in 38 years, but not without the following 500 years of additional construction for support and restoration. A consequence of consistent and hard labor, a work of both skill and time.
I don’t know where to go, and maybe I don’t need to. Forget trying to be a child of wit and guile; work like an ass and admit weaknesses. If I run hard enough with my eyes open, I’ll get somewhere, eventually.
It’s almost 10 pm, and to put it mildly, I’m screwed. There are lots of epsilons and deltas I wrote on many pages without understanding what they are. It seems like there are people here that know what they’re doing. I’m flustered and confused; I nod as they ask me if this makes sense. I don’t like that it doesn’t. It’s crowded here.
The closet door closes with a satisfying click. I see blackboards filled to every corner and edge with equations and graphs of all shapes and sizes. I can almost smell the pretzel crumbs and whiteboard marker residue. My hands are dry from a layer of chalk, and I’m only sort of complaining about how much later I had to stay. I grab my skateboard from the Writing Center, and pause. Crap, I think I told her the wrong lemma.
There’s a lot of work to do but everyone around me yells, Pass, fail, frosh! I got an academic advisory for failing my spec rel quiz. What’s to blame? I did play beer pong all weekend, and this stuff makes no intuitive sense to me. I go to Prof. Chen’s office for an appointment and she tells me I should go to AE. I am flustered again; I nod and say thank you, and leave.
I hear my name as I’m walking briskly towards the other corner. I turn around and say one sec and I’m back at it, dropping hints like candies on Halloween, but making sure they earn it. Ooohhhh, I get it and wow are my favorite things to hear. I smile and walk back to my regular customer. He’s stuck on number 6 and I ask him you got the other one’s okay?
Thursday night AE is nice. There’s usually no one but me and one tutor. He seems chill, and he doesn’t seem to mind the number of questions I ask. I’m relieved he’s a senior. He knows a lot about Mudd. I still can’t finish the homework on my own, but I’m not flustered anymore. He’s packing up the pretzel box and laptop so I need to go to Sunday AE. There’s still one problem I don’t know how to start.
There are hands raised everywhere so ask each hand what’s up. I pull at one hand to the other, and together we’re looking at the problem with way too many arrows. I hesitate because I don’t know the answer to this one. I nod, pretending to know. I ask, What do we know? One hand sticks up a suggestion and another grabs it. They trade. I ask, Okay, now what? They’re stuck. I’m stuck. We stare at the board in silence, together.
Prof JIM! We all yell in unison because this frictionless pulley problem is hopeless. He smiles and comes by. He performs some magic on us, and the problem now makes sense. We love him. How are you so good at everything? He chuckles and shakes his head no. I ask some people if they’ve done number 3. He quietly watches our bickering over free body diagrams, until at the perfect moment of silence he drops, let’s try considering the normal force. He walks away.
I see two freshmen sitting two seats apart. I ask for names, and what problem they’re stuck on. I stand in the middle, but not between. Nervous glances, uncertain of competition. I tell them I cried over the problem they were solving. Glances soften into a smile. I ask them what they like about the class, and what they don’t. One notices it’s different from high school. The other asks about what differential equations are. When we return to the problem, it’s part of a conversation, not a test of knowledge.
I declare my major and someone asks me for help on a problem. I’m flustered. I don’t know the solution immediately. I read through their solution. I scratch my head in confusion, once. I ask them, did you try solving it backwards first? I smile, because now I understand. It now makes sense, and that makes me happy.
Someone asks me for help on a problem. I think it’s something I’ve seen before, but I don’t remember how to start. I lead the student down the wrong way, twice. My heart is racing when another tutor comes by to help. Together we get through the problem. The three of us are smiling, but I’m nervous. My face is flustered; I remember what I should do. I ask the other tutor to help me review the concept.
I ask a tutor for help; I don’t understand how to start.
I will be working as a software engineer at Facebook starting January next year.
I have many reasons why I made such a choice. Frankly, money tops this list. Many of my school friends are aware of the numerous jobs I held while at Mudd. Few know of the exact number of hours; even fewer know the reasons behind why I had to work so hard; why I had to sacrifice my learning and health. Just a handful understand that, to me, graduating early with a job in hand is not an achievement, but a punishment.
Working at one of the highest paying companies sitting at the heart of Silicon Valley is a magic wand to my financial problems, many of which have been crippling me inside out.
But this note isn’t for me to brag about how hard I worked or how successful I am — quite the opposite.
To ____, I am yet another person joining the programming bubble, making six digits as a newly graduated 21 year old.
To ____, I am yet another privileged and spoiled being chasing money because I was given all the chances to do so.
To ____, I am a fraud who blabbers about her interests in math and education, yet turns to work at something entirely irrelevant.
To ____, I am a daughter who gave her mother bragging rights during afternoon gossip sessions.
To ____, I am a person of which envy and hatred is deserved and received.
To me, ____ is me.
Remember your purpose. What you wished to do was far from what you could do. It is not your fault that you’ve had to trek rougher paths. It is difficult saying yes to things that would help you farther down the way; it is difficult saying no to things that would help you at the moment.
Remember your purpose. You are young; you have time. Let time bring you the resources and people you need in your life, but don’t let time erase what you can really do for the world with these resources and these people. You are young; you have energy. Work hard to earn your worth and reciprocate by remembering this world is not lived alone.
Remember your purpose. You have experienced the bitterness of the cold winds that blow hope away, and you understand the feeling of despair and grief. Do what you can to never let anyone experience the same. Bring others help when you see that they are standing in your shoes from the past. Remember that light at the end of the tunnel is from a source; be the source when you’ve once received from it.
Your workplace does not define you; but have fun, and never cease learning. Keep in mind the consequences of your actions, and the impact it will have on literally billions of people.
Your education does not define you; but remember this regret that you feel from cutting yourself off from the fountains of knowledge, and return to them when you are able.
Your purpose will define you. Hold onto it tight; tighter as you drift off, swayed by life’s storms.
Dear me, remember you will have all the time and energy and resources one day to make the impact you wish to make; be patient and wary.
Two years ago, I visited San Francisco alone for the first time. I fell in love with the potpurri of colors, old and new, pastel and brilliant. I knew this had to be place for me.
Two days ago, I rode the shuttle to work and fell in love yet again as we sat in the morning traffic on Oak and Buchanan. I watched the cyclists go by the beautiful houses, the multi-storied and multi-shaped gables jutting out here and there, painting a unique landscape I’d never seen elsewhere. I pulled at my fleece sleeves, smiling despite by the chill of a late July morning.
In a way I can describe in no other, I found it oddly comforting to be in the rather uncomfortable breezes that kept my nerves somehow both awake and numb. It’s like the feeling you get when you think you’ve changed. You don’t know if you like it, you don’t know if it’s good. But something has gone off its former railings and steered away, and inertia pushes back.
This summer, I changed.
One, I began muting the noise.
I’m walking with my head down on Mission. An indeterminable orchestra ensues: glass clinking, distant sirens blaring, cars honking, homeless men swearing at young techies, young techies swearing at homeless men, Chinese tourists, fancy bar doors opening..
and then I stop looking at my phone, it’s not much different online. There are problems here and there, online and offline. At some point, I was passionate about learning the news, and spreading what I thought I knew to others around me, like it or not. Like putting on the $350 pair of noise cancelling headphones, I became less so concerned about the details of someone else’s life. No longer seeing it necessary to apply stress where it did not belong. I learned it did not bring happiness to others by bringing in a megaphone in a world where megaphones ran rampant. It was not effective, bringing more noise.
So, I muted myself.
I thought I was being a role model, and so I thought I had to put myself really out there. It was easy being loud; I had a lot of opinions and facts that I wanted to share. Sitting in meeting rooms, painfully aware of stereotypes. As an Asian female intern, I convinced to myself these could not be true here,in the epitome of Silicon Valley companies. I had always been one to raise my hand in school, so I raised my hand here. That was fine. I talked as I would at every lunch and dinner I had with my team, convincing myself that being the only girl meant my speaking up would somehow strike as being a strong independent woman. It didn’t matter; I had a lot to say.
But at some point, I was tired of putting reason to my behavior. I wanted to be able to listen to others and process, to filter and sort out what others thought without having to respond. I didn’t want to pick a fight with myself, but I knew I was sick of being the intern, the female, the whatever.
When I stopped talking, I made less mistakes. A few months ago, I would have told myself that making mistakes was how I learned. True; still, something told me it made me feel incredibly vulnerable. I hated sounding young, knocking over societal walls, dumbly staring at what mess I had made. When I stopped talking, I could correct myself after hearing what others said. When I stopped talking, I learned to stop interrupting.
I was scared, initially. What if I couldn’t say what I wanted?
I found the answer when I saw my manager stopping himself to let me or others speak first, multiple times. He was patient with what others had to say, and then proceeded to deliver his opinions. Zero loss of meaning. It was as though he was standing on higher ground, patiently waiting for the enemies to tire until he gently pushed the boulder down its graceful trajectory. Effective communication.
Then, I let myself loose.
My mother described to me at some point in high school how stingy I was. It was true, instead of paying $2 more to ride a bus to the transferring metro stop, I walked 30 minutes. I worked anywhere from 20 to 30 hours a week during school, always opting for the coffee of the day and plain bagel without cream cheese option for breakfast ($3.25, with tax), staring down the $4 smoothie or the $5 breakfast sandwich.
This summer, I took $5 Lyft rides (not Line, either *gasp*) for a destination 1.5 miles away, asked for extra guac, bought coffee four times in a day, and drove to work instead of walking 15 minutes to the shuttle stop.
I thought I was more comfortable. Less hungry, less thirsty, less tired. But oddly, I was more cranky. I was impatient at the bus driver when I could not go above 75 in the fast lane on the 101. I didn’t want to go outside. I got to work at 10, left at 10, feeling miserable. Every day I questioned my habits, and every day I failed to answer them properly.
I was stressed, and I didn’t know why, until I was told:
you need to work less.
There was something about work that occupied my thoughts, leaving no space for worry. I would work long hours to simply try and forget about all the other responsibilities. I came home and crashed into my sheets, refusing to put on an alarm.
But monsters don’t go away simply by not thinking about them. Like weeds, the longer they’re left alone, the harder they are to deal with. I wasn’t working on holding the monsters down, rather, I was ignoring them by working on what I could do mindlessly.
When weekends came by, I couldn’t work, nor could I take down the beast of responsibilities. I wanted to watch anime, or draw, or play games, but it didn’t help having my own self tap my shoulder from behind, holding up my unfinished thesis.
I realized I had changed into a lazy procrastinator, someone I would look at with terror in my eyes. I wanted to cry, and I did.
When I was told I should work less, I misinterpreted the meaning. It was not that I was working too much, but rather that I was ignoring everything else about my life, equally important and crucial in leading a less stressful life in the near future.
I learned that blindly ramming my head into one wall to forget all others would only come down on me as the wall crumbled. I learned that straining myself to be someone was not okay, but I also learned that letting myself go wasn’t either. I learned that not every change was good, but to realize the change had happened was.
I’ve been asking myself, what should I do?
I’ve been running at full speed, coming only to an abrupt halt and crashing down onto the ground. I’m sobbing and in pain, but my stupid ego doesn’t want to admit I’m tired. I need to rest, properly.
Yesterday, I stopped on Irving and looked at the run down Muni tracks. The roads each train had taken hundreds of times were long due for repair. It wasn’t enough wear to derail the cars, but the driver’s ass had been bruised enough. It was time to fix things.
All photos by me, taken in SF over the course of the last few months.
Before anyone begins reading, these are reminders made by myself for myself. Seek help from friends and loved ones if you don’t find solace here.
This week I received news, from both far and near, of both distant and close, that so-and-so was no longer with us. Five separate incidences from five very different corners of this growing aquarium I view the world in. I let my work sweep me away, I decided to move on, move on, move on… but this wasn’t going to just move on.
Here’s a gentle reminder that moving on isn’t a thought but a process.
We forget, naturally.
Today, I got on a SF Muni bus for the first time in a year. As I sat, staring in agreement at the “May need to make sudden stops” sign, I saw from the corner of my eye a child, sitting on her mother’s lap, eating a cookie.
I became aware of her youth. Will she remember this day five years from now? Will she remember where she was going, what cookie she was eating, or the old man in front of her mumbling Shakespeare quotes and garbled Cantonese?
No, probably not.
Today, I got on a SF Muni bus for the first time in a year. That’s sort of a lie. I don’t remember the exact day I was on a Muni. I don’t remember what I was doing, where I was coming from, or who I was with. I just know it happened at some point, and it was around a year ago.
This is most days in our life. When I learned about photographic memory, I thought that was the best thing ever (The number of history exams I could have aced in high school!). It was much later when I actually met someone with photographic memory that it was more pain than bliss.
She remembered the weather of every single day of her life. Every road she’s ever taken, every meal she’s ever eaten, every word she’s ever heard. She remembered her very first experience with grief with the same amount of detail as her latest one.
I realized then, I had been the lucky one. Programmers might call an average memory like mine a lossy compression. We only keep the juicy details, throw out the rest.
But these details are too hard to look at sometimes. I tried this week to stuff it away into a pocket, before its fat ass began seeping through the seems. The brain begins to slow down trying to do anything else, as it tries harder and harder to compress, compress, compress, boom. Where’s the clean up staff when I need one?
There is a drain for these things. We have the tendency to not use it. We also have the tendency to try to flush everything down at once and end up needing a plunger. I usually stare at a clogged toilet kind of hopelessly (especially when self-inflicted), in utter embarrassment and annoyance. But with time and some patient effort, it solves itself. Usually. Plumbers should really be paid more.
Insert cliché quote here: this, too, shall pass.
Remember love is constant, and reciprocative.
Every viral video I see on Facebook of rescued dogs acclimating into society after abuse and other horrors reminds me of me four years ago, and who knows, maybe n years later.
In her commencement speech today at MIT, Sheryl Sandberg reminded us a quote she was reminded of by the superintendent of the US Naval Academy: Smooth seas never made a skilled sailor.
Franklin D. Roosevelt sat firm in the midst of a war as he said this quote. Bearing on his shoulders was the fate of millions; with one word, hope could turn to misery. Vice versa.
The sea we’re on will never be always smooth, ever, to any sailor. The conditions of a storm can be constant, but so is the sun. The skilled sailor remembers that it is still shining behind the darkness, and that its warmth will be blissful and good, but also remembers that it doesn’t come easily, that they must work for it.
I forget that there are many suns in our lives. I forget to seek them out and relish in the rays, and to remember to let the storm pass. What words make me all warm and fuzzy inside? How often do I say these words to others? How often do I receive them in response?
When times are low, this is hard. It’s like I’m telling myself a lie — forcing myself to be happy, forcing myself to laugh. I’m not happy. But happy and sad aren’t black and white. Just as movies can make us cry one moment and laugh in another, I can do the same. Let myself be sad, but let myself remember to be happy.
to be happy = to spread happiness + to receive happiness
Kyoto, 京都, literally translates to “capital city of all.” It was the first capital city and one of the oldest cities of Japan, teeming with both history and modernity.
Where there are skyscrapers, there are tiled roofs and wooden door fronts. As a traveler exits Kyoto station, they are greeted with Kyoto Tower, illuminated brightly at night. Hiding right behind it is the black and wooden Hongan-ji. I fell in love. This was the first day in Kyoto, 6 in the morning after catching minimal sleep in the cramped night bus, squished into a ball for 10 hours.
I was surprised to find out this would only be the beginning of my infatuation and love for this city —
the start of an adventure I will never forget.
If I could describe the last month in one word, it would be spontaneity. Others may call it stupid, but the two are not mutually exclusive.
But my decision to go to Japan was far from spontaneous, rather, more fortuitous. When I was searching for an opportunity to travel alone, I looked at a list of all the possible countries that wouldn’t risk too much of my own safety as a twenty-year-old-that-looks-like-she’s-sixteen. I wanted to make use of my photography and Japanese language and art history classes this semester. The answer was pretty clear, once I found cheap (free) accommodation. It helped that I love Japanese food.
Thereafter came the random decisions, to walk, to eat, to experience, and to learn.
Living in Korea during high school and as a child, Japan is only an hour or two away. My summer and winter breaks would often contain a three day trip to wherever the package tour advertisement led us. The last trip I took with the whole family was to Hokkaido in the winter of 2012.
Yet the most I remember from that trip is sitting in a bus that took us around to various tourist sites, lingering only an hour or so at a time before getting herded back on board for the next destination. We had little choice on what we could eat, where we could stay, or what else we could do. Thinking back, I’m a little sad to think my experiences were fettered, but I’m still grateful I even had the opportunity to be exposed to different cultures.
I took a lot of time on this trip.
The number of things you can do in three days is limited. In three weeks, I visited the same locations more than 5 times. It was supposed to be the same view, but at a different time of the day, with different company, with different things to look for, everything looked very different.
Below is a picture taken at Fushimi Inari-taisha, a beautiful and famous shrine nesting Mt. Inari and dedicated to the fox god, surprisingly named Inari. I visited this shrine alone shortly after I arrived in Kyoto. The photo is of the thousands of red gates that line the entire path through the mountain. I went on a clear day in the morning, before the crowd.
Here it is again, on a cloudier day, but with company.
My boyfriend TY and his friends, Chow and Jiehao, visited Kyoto for four days. Thus while acting as a sort of tour guide and translator, I was able to revisit a lot of the places I had already been but this time noticing details that I had missed.
On consequent trips, I took time to take more interesting photos, and to really indulge in the scenes. I developed a habit of “looking back” (Shout out to Matt for noticing this!). I think I realized at some point just how occupied all the time we were in life, staring straight forward. We forget how high up we’ve hiked or how far we’ve come down the street.
All throughout the trip, I spent the most time walking around. During days where I was entirely alone, I tried my hardest to walk everywhere. The slow pace was quite literally agonizing sometimes, but my 10+ trips to Japan before could not compete with this one, simply because I took time to take everything in, as much as I could.
Wandering around and getting lost.
Kyoto is a bustling city full of small roads and little houses, so it takes one wrong (or right?) turn to find beautiful alleyways and tourist-free neighborhoods. It’s quite common to find yourself absolutely swallowed by a swarm of people, but only if you follow the main road.
The picture below is an alleyway in Gion, a district known for geishas, or courtesan women, and kabuki, a traditional Japanese style of theater dating back to the 17th century. The bluish street on the other side leads to a major road, packed with people.
Google Maps is a dear gift sent from heaven. It’s probably saved wanderers like myself from stumbling into a dead end or some uninhabited forest more than enough times for anyone to deny its utility. Perhaps, however, this exact technology that gives us the freedom to travel without fear is the exact reason we get bound down, spoiled and afraid to explore outside of the screen.
And thus, I decided that on some of the days I would just let myself free from staring down at my phone and looking up destinations.
I found gems. The best of the days I spent alone were the days I literally planned nothing and decided to simply walk, somewhere. As a consequence, I was able to show friends some locations that you would only know of if you took the weirdest of routes that no tour book or TripAdvisor article would ever recommend.
For instance, I took a weird turn on my first visit to Fushimi Inari. Being one of the most famous sites in Japan, this mountain is almost always completely filled with tourists, many of whom attempt to circuit the mountain via a hike that takes you up many stairs and down many stairs. I struck gold after spontaneously deciding to take a route up a random switchback that no one seemed to even look at.
Below is what I found in this part of Mt. Inari that was basically deserted—a bamboo forest so thick the sun could barely penetrate through.
Being a local.
I’ll be honest, I sometimes would do this to avoid crowds. It’s an eyesore to see groups of 15–20 people take up a chunk of the road, the tour guide flinging some sort of flag or doll up ahead. It’s hard to take photos. They clog the pedestrian traffic. A lot of pushing, a lot of mindless chatter, a lot of stress for an amateur photographer trying to take a photo to get likes on Instagram.
Living costs in Japan is relatively expensive, but only if you make it so. Many of my meals were, to be frank, not the most appealing nor the most decadent. Many days, I ate from the konbini, a convenience store. But I was able to practice reading the kanji off the menu and taste the local food at a local price. I was not distracted by the side comments made by foreigners who think the others around them don’t understand what they’re saying. I never waited in long lines, especially if it were for the same menu item offered by a lesser known place, at a lower price.
That being said, I did indulge in some foods when my Mom and sister stopped by to visit from Korea and decided to feed me.
Meeting people and greeting with こんにちは。
I was lucky to find free housing during my stay. In short, I found a website that lists local hosts all over the world who are willing to provide accommodations in return for volunteer hours. After much searching and many emails, I decided to stay with a few other volunteers at Gojo Paradiso, which is both a restaurant/bar and a guest house for other tourists.
My “job” there was to help out with the social media side of things, advertising Meetups for locals and tourists, as well as updating Instagram and Facebook for the restaurant. During dinnertime, I helped out once in a while with service, but I spent most of my time at the bar just talking with the other volunteers and customers. The bartenders were all from Japan, so it was very easy for me to practice my Japanese. I met volunteers from all over the world — Turkey, Israel, China, Germany, Canada, Mexico — and they all had a story to tell.
The customers I met were the most interesting. Gojo Paradiso is frequented by a lot of tourists who miss American cuisine, but also by locals who want to meet foreigners and practice English. To say the least, every night was filled with laughter. I learned so many new ways to engage in conversation, no matter their background.
I tried my hardest to start every conversation in Japanese. Living in the States, people expect everyone to speak English. Honestly, it confuses me when travelers don’t make the effort to learn how to say even just hello in the language of the country they’re visiting.
Nonetheless, the most fruitful and fun of conversations came when I would speak in broken Japanese to someone that was learning English. Over time our hand motions would get wilder and more creative.
It is a good thing that laughter is a universal word for happiness.
Japan is a very safe country. There are no guns here. There is a police station in every other corner. I dropped a 10¥ coin at the convenience store (10 cents) and the cashier ran a full block down to return it to me.
Still, I am a Korean, twenty year old girl that tries really hard to look like she’s tough. It would be stupid for me to assume that everyone I meet is nice. It would be foolish for me to not stay wary.
At the bar, I introduced myself and was introduced to many strangers, some who became friends, others who were better left strangers. I met those who were distraught, those who needed the familiar accompaniment named alcohol. There were individuals that were simply looking for women. There were individuals who wanted to just talk.
I learned there was a lot more to this world that I was not aware of, and that this was just the tip of a very big iceberg.
Leaving room to learn.
Perhaps fortunately because of my interests in Japan since middle school and a more traditional Korean upbringing, I did not really have much difficulty nor find surprise in Japanese culture. Nevertheless, there was still more than enough room to find something new.
For instance, pedestrians walk on the left side of the road, partly because Japanese traffic is left-handed. At Buddhist temples, a bell is rung 108 times to celebrate the new year. It is extremely rude to pass food to another person using your chopsticks, as such a practice is similar to removing the bones from a cremated body. There are vending machines everywhere, but no trash cans anywhere, and curiously enough, no litter anywhere. The respectful and rule-abiding society breaks down quite intensely when alcohol comes into play.
To put things in a different light, I thought to myself what it would have been like had I been to a country I had close to no knowledge about. Would I read more? What would I do to explore? Would I be as adventurous?
There were a few days in which I missed having someone to talk to. The dynamic during the days I was visited by various friends was very different, to say the least. While I spoke close to nothing on lone walks, every other minute would be filled with some sort of chatter with company.
This is what you say when you enter a restaurant, to indicate you are eating alone.
Hitori-desu. It would be the only thing I would say, probably for the whole day until I returned to Gojo Paradiso.
While slurping my udon or nomming on an onigiri, it would hit me hard how much I missed having a friend to talk to. My meals would take no more than 15 minutes after service.
While waiting for the train, I felt as though the platforms were missing something. Still busy and bustling, but distant and strange. There were no jokes. There were no questions to answer. Just the wind that whipped by with the passing train.
Of the 28 days that I spent in Japan, 13 of the days with friends and family. These were the days that I was reminded of companionship —
walking side-by-side a crowded street, sharing one too many street foods, daring to explore the 7th floor of shops in Akihabara, hiking up a mountain filled with monkeys, taking the wrong metro and blaming someone else, creating stupid poses for the best photos,
just loving the presence of one another.
Thank you everyone, for visiting me, for commenting on my endless photos, for supporting me throughout. That was a blast. I have just one question:
The moment we say goodbye to our mommies and daddies and nannies as we walk into our first day of classes, you are our now our guardian. From here on out you are the one holding our hands; the one to tell us what to do and what not to do; what to love and what to laugh at; what to learn and what to be curious about.
Your every “hello” and “goodbye” and “have a great weekend” are signs we are loved and cared for; even your scoldings are bittersweet ordeals, if met with candy, literally or figuratively, afterwards. You introduce chords and melodies into the orchestra of life; ones we have never heard of before.
Sometimes they sound so beautiful and harmonic, but other times they sound awful or, worse, don’t sound like much at all. Your ignorant dismissals make us feel insignificant. We are not machines that take your orders. We do not produce the same result every time. You sometimes forget that machines are not taught, they are programmed. We are not machines.
Still, you are the reason why some of us willingly wake up at 6am ten or so years into school. You are the reason why on cloudier days we can still find sunshine. Your hand reaches to help us out of ditches in our roads, and you are the guide and pacer in this marathon when we have no sense of direction or speed. You help us build the bridges to cross many rivers, you lend us your shoulders and backs to reach higher peaks.
You are also the reason some others of us forever shove our backpacks into cobwebbed corners. You are also sometimes the reason why the lightbulb dims and the melody turns monotone and sad. You become just as insignificant in our lives as we are to yours. You forget we have lives, we forget you do, too.
Indeed, you are also the one to push us into things as well as push us away from them. We recognize your love and passion for a subject and mimic the same excitement as our heart beats just as rapidly as yours. We are asked to remain curious and inspired with every thoughtful question you hand us. We are challenged to love challenges and to stand back up from falls.
But we also recognize your boredom and distaste. It is difficult for us to remain colorful in dullness. Each of your requests for uniformity and correctness erases a little bit of us. We become machines. Bored and boring machines. Nameless, faceless.
One day, we will have students of our own. You will have told us many things when we were your students, but you will have also told us many other things that we will only understand once we stand in your shoes. Some things, you will not have told us at all, left as a door for us only to discover what’s behind on our own.
When such a day comes that we have our own smaller hands to hold, it is our hope we understand what intentions you may or may not have had.
When such a day comes, we hope to have a hand to offer. We hope to have the same energy that we so delighted in; we hope to learn to love to teach others just as we learned to love to learn; we hope to sing the same beautiful songs and wave just as many “hellos” and “goodbyes”.
So, dear Teacher, please remember:
we will be you one day, so be the You you want us to be.
I once heard Sheryl Sandberg talk about how she wrote 3 things that made her happy every night to overcome her grief over her husband’s death.
Finding a way to write three things every night has proved cumbersome. For starters, I have to think about where to write these three things. More importantly, I forget I have to write three things.
So I figured out a way to do something similar without having to have some form of writing utensil and without having to consciously remember. Let me explain:
1. Mumble “I’m beautiful/hot/sexy/admirable/decent/etc” when you make that last bathroom trip before you go to bed.
I struggled with body image issues for the longest time ever. I admit, I still do. I hated seeing myself in the mirror, yet I proceeded to stare at my naked ass for the next 50 minutes, hating every bit of it. Every time this happened, I walked away frowning and sad.
Well, no one looks good while they’re taking a dump. Or brushing their teeth.
I see myself in the mirror washing my hands or with foam all over my chin. And then I tell myself, I look hella fine. I’m not saying it has to be genuine; just say it out loud. It took time but it built me the self confidence in myself to say it with some meaning. It made me smile because it was stupid. It’s even funnier when there’s someone else in the bathroom hearing you say it.
And as egotistic as this sounds, sometimes I do look hella fine. I look hella fine even if I have a hugeass pimple on my nose. I look hella fine because I found myself in the mirror and was okay with the girl staring back at me, telling me I’m hella fine.
2. When you turn the lights off, be a geek for a sec and think “Achievement Unlocked: [insert achievement]”
For readers who are don’t play games, most xbox games have “achievements” that ping you “Achievement Unlocked” when you achieve those achievements.
I usually think to myself, “I turned the lights off.” Yeah, literally anything I’ve achieved. Lights out. You made it to the end of the day. You made it to your bed. You made sure to brush your teeth. You did something that you made manual, actual effort to do. All you’re doing here is consciously thinking about that thing that you did.
Again, it’s stupid, but it’s stupidly easy to do. And stupid enough, those achievements that you think up are not always the small things. Sometimes, those things are pretty big things, or multiple things, or things you did a while back that you forgot to acknowledge. No matter the achievement, these are all the reasons why you are heading into the bed tonight.
Give it appreciation because you deserve it.
3. As you set the alarm for tomorrow, remind yourself that there is a tomorrow.
Okay, I admit, this is a little cliché.
There is a tomorrow. I mean, that’s why you’re setting an alarm for it.
There is a tomorrow. You may have fucked up a whole lot today, but there is a tomorrow.
There is a tomorrow. You may have won a Nobel Prize today, but you’re (likely) not going to win another one tomorrow.
There is a tomorrow. You may not think much of it.
There is a tomorrow. No matter what, it will happen.
There is a tomorrow. Do what you will with it, but there is always a tomorrow.
I think these are three things that are easy to remember, require no extra materials, and get the right message across. No pressure, no effort.
Have a good night.
Disclaimer: I don’t know how to live life; I just live it doing things that has helped me, and like to spread the word that some things work. I want the best of everyone else as much as I want the best of myself.
Heading into my third year and fifth(!) semester, I looked back at the times I made major mistakes and how I managed to climb out of those pitfalls. Here are three (four) things that I do.
1. Maximize calendar use.
I’m not a very organized person, but the one thing that I have had to learn to do in college was use a calendar for classes. My very first semester, my calendar was just that — classes. I have since evolved, and use my calendar a little differently. This is roughly what my calendar looks like on Sunday night.
The purple marks classes and brown marks campus jobs; both mark events that happen every week. Green denotes random events. Standard, right?
This is what it looks like on Friday night.
Blue denotes what I did during that time, which I add into the calendar every night, after I’ve done those things. I simply write what I worked on for which class, and mark for how long.
This not only helps me understand how much time I spend on each class or activity, but it also helps me understand where I’m wasting time, or how. If I start seeing big chunks of either blue or white, I can visually perceive that I’m maybe spending a little too long on something, or maybe not spending enough time on another thing.
Moreover, this helps me set priority to which to-do items I should be working on, which leads me to the next point.
2. Be a smart procrastinator.
I used to be in the habit of doing things the order they were due, and thought that this had to be the most logical way to do things.
It makes intuitive sense that if I have an assignment due tomorrow versus an assignment due next week, I should work on the assignment due tomorrow first. Some inverse function between time remaining and priority (more time = lower pri).
Except the function should be more like priority = (1/time remaining) + time needed to finish the assignment.
For starters, you should never be in the position where you haven’t even started on an assignment due tomorrow. Why?
if you have an assignment due tomorrow that was assigned to you today, it is highly likelythe assignment takes little time
if you have an assignment that takes a long time, it is highly likely the assignment was assigned to you some time ago.
It’s essentially a vicious cycle. If you devote your attention to the things that are due first, rather than the things that take longer to do, you will run out of time to do what takes more time. And yes, this means I’m telling you to procrastinate, but procrastinate on the things that take less time.
Plus, the real magic of doing this is that you will almost never run into a situation where you are pressed by time. Compartmentalization works; spending 1 hour on a project everyday for a week is indeed different from spending 7 hours in one sitting. I sound like your old high school lit teacher, but that equation makes more logical sense to me than “don’t try to write this paper the night before.” At the least, this is how I found motivation not to “procrastinate.”
3. Have a morning (or night) routine.
Towards the end of last semester, I was in absolute shambles. There were things happening on campus that tore me down. Over the summer, I created for myself a morning routine to help me get back on track.
I’m someone who enjoys the quiet (or fun!) of the 2am night, but does better when I wake up at 5am. In other words, I have a morning routine. If you’re a night owl, make a night routine.
My morning routine sounds complicated but the goal is straightforward: get ready.
I wake up and do a quick workout or run. After a shower I make coffee or tea and eat a full breakfast. While eating, I spend 10–20 minutes doing something that activates my brain (like listening to a science podcast or reading the news attentively, currently I’m learning Hebrew on Duolingo). Lastly, I do something meditative or decompressing, like reading a daily comic strip or doing dishes (that’s just me, apparently) or prepping lunch.
This literally gets my body and brain ready for the day. But this also means I spend anywhere from 1.5 to 2 hours preparing and getting ready for the day. Yes, this means I sleep early or sleep fewer hours, but it’s worth it. I feel awake, alive and ready for the rest of the day. Plus I’m also exhausted by 11pm and have a good night’s sleep.
I cheat sometimes and sleep in on weekends, but the morning routine stays the same. It takes the body 21 days to create a habit, so it gets easier with time.
For night routines, I would do something similar, except get everything ready for tomorrow before heading to bed so the moment you get up, you feel rested and not rushed to do anything at all in the morning. Get ready to be ready.
You may ask me: why be so anal? My answer: your time is precious, but it’s entirely under your control. There are only 24 hours in a day, and not surprisingly, most of that time is spent being idle. If you get your body into the habit of doing things on a regular basis, you spend less time thinking about what to do instead of actually doing them. You spend more time being more productive and healthy. Your body naturally expects to do things at specified times, and learns to expect time management. Sounds nearly crazy.
Bonus. Make plans for 10 years from now.
Once in a while, whenever it trickles into my head, I do this ritual that sounds ridiculous at first.
I make plans for:
today, this week, the next 2 weeks, the next month, the next 6 months, the next year, the next 2 years, the next 5 years and the next 10 years.
An example from today (times have been written in Korean):
Yes, the last section is for 10 years, and yes, it says be “fuckn famous” and “box in a match.”
The point here is that I make expectations for myself that are far too high. The things I wrote for today and tomorrow and this week are relatively reasonable. It definitely is just a to-do list of things that I know I have to finish. But as soon as it hits the month-level time frame, the content becomes ambitious: saving money, maintaining some ridiculous GPA, starting new projects. Under 6 months I have: find speaking opportunity. This is more of what I want to do to be the person I want to be in 10 years. Under 5 years I have a long term goal: find a second job involving the work I want to do for nonprofit. Again, long term goals, dreams, things I wish to be.
The goal of this exercise is to stretch my mind and consciously think about what the bigger picture of my life looks like. Especially during the school year, I get depressed by the routine and tedious tasks that never seem to get anywhere. This helps me take a big step back and rethink for myself where I want to be. It doesn’t matter if I don’t achieve these things; I write them thinking they are overambitious for the exact reason that I don’t want to feel pressured, just reminded.
On closing note, this is me and my life.
Time management is difficult. There are times when you simply cannot keep time under your control. In this way, time is a creature that is both yielding and stringent. When unexpected things come up, adjustments have to be made. Morning routines need breaking. Scheduling becomes a hassle and all you want is space to breathe. That’s why I think it’s more important to understand that managing time needs management on its own. No one method will be a save-all, cure-all method. I hope you the reader can take some things I’ve written here and apply bits of it to yourself, perhaps tweak it or make your own. In the end, you want to be less stressed, not more. Be happy, not worried.
He was drowning in something cold and dark when the alarm clock rang at precisely 5:45 am.
He groaned as he got up, stumbling into the shower and flinching at the frost on the floor.
Naked, arms crossed and still half-asleep, he stood with his eyes closed in front of the curtains until the the shower became warm. He flinched once more when the jet of ice-cold water blasted at his chest.
He was in the middle of rinsing his hair when he heard his alarm go off again. He cursed to himself. The neighbor’s dog began barking through the thin walls, at which point he fought back the urge to curse louder and quickly washed out the rest of the soap. He reached for a towel and ran out to slam down on the poor clock. He muttered more profanities and sat down, wet drops dripping uncomfortably down his back. He sighed.
He stood back up and shook his hair like a wet dog, drying out any of the remaining moisture with the towel. He put on a pair of fresh briefs and socks, sitting back down on a drier part of the bed. He was about to turn off the clock alarm when he noticed something odd in the reflection on the small mirror in his room.
What he saw was definitely his own face and upper body, but there was a weird black object hovering above his right temple. He moved in closer, slowly.
He held his breath.
His reflection found a jet black Glock, hovering, pointed straight into his head, about an inch away.
He blinked rapidly, twice. He stared at it, then reached to grab it. It was real. The rubbered grip felt firm, his index finger at the trigger, ready.
He turned pale. He stood rather awkwardly, hand still on the gun, arm poised in an unnatural angle until the alarm clock went off again. He slammed at it again, missing once. 6:10. Quickly putting on the rest of his clothes, he scrambled out the apartment door.
He thought about last night as he turned on the car’s ignition and drove out of the driveway. The radio DJ went on about another bleary day ahead. Memories shot back and forth, searching for anything out of the norm. They halted abruptly and briefly when he saw it again in the rearview mirror. Cold sweat slid down the side of his face.
He got to his cubicle late. He found a granola bar from his desk drawer. He chewed uneasily at some sticky and soggy bit of the bar, and then rose to get some coffee, trying hard not to check his phone. He wasn’t ready yet to look at his reflection again on the glossy black iPhone screen.
His boss’s secretary came in as he was about to pour into the ceramic mug. She greeted him in a cheerful, high toned voice, “Good morning!” Her high heels clicked loudly in the otherwise silent office.
Without looking up, he called, “Ana?”
Her face turned to his. Big, rabbit eyes stared back. Innocent. “Hm? You look a little pale, what’s up?”
“No. I mean, nothing. Good morning.” She nodded, and turned away to find her desk. He did not notice the hot liquid spilling down the side of the mug, burning his fingers. There floated a large revolver, pointed an inch from her temple, swaying side to side alongside her wavy hair.
Work was barely a distraction. All around him shuffled about his coworkers, clicking and typing about, muffled small talk here and there. From the reflection of the tinted computer screen he noticed every person walk by his cubicle. He noticed every piece of firearm floating by. All were aimed just one inch away.
He started drawing them out onto a notepad during lunch. Every gun he saw was a handgun of some sort. He noticed a few others with the same Glock. A .50 caliber Smith & Wesson seemed to droop heavily in the air next to his manager’s glasses. He thought for a moment it could be social status, but then he saw an intern with one.
The sandwich bread was chewier than usual.
In the privacy of a stall in the men’s room, he tried to move the gun away from his head, but it didn’t budge. The only moving part seemed to be the trigger, which gave in slightly, almost eagerly, at his pull. He let go of his breath, a barely audible gasp echoing inside the tiled walls. A few people came in to relieve themselves. After waiting to hear the door close, he held the notepad tightly and walked back to his desk.
The afternoon was not any more productive than the morning. He tried to focus on conversations around him, somewhat hopeful. He had barely produced a couple lines when he felt the winter sun setting and streaming in through the building. It cast long shadows on the gray carpet. He saw there were no shadows from the gun.
He heard the office beginning to empty and Ana saying bye, wishing him a good weekend. The lights began flickering off, starting from the farther corners. In the dim space, his monitor screen blared off-white, as if tired and ready to retire for the upcoming night.
He paced next to the large glass window. Gray, concrete walls lined the bleary view outside. He could hear the whir of the heaters, pouting here and there as they readied to take a break.
Then he stopped, mid step, realizing where his hand was. It was as though there was some sort of magnet in his finger. Chills ran down his neck as his fingers began to dance inside the loop of the trigger. He swallowed.
His nail tapped the underside the metallic shaft, and suddenly it was as though the world had been put on mute. He heard every inaudible squelch his sweaty palm made against the smooth rubber. He felt the heart beating rapidly. Under the rhythm began a miniature dance between the gun and he.
His phone vibrated in his pocket, ending the thrill of it all. He picked it up, recognizing the familiar number. He took a deep breath.
His mother spoke as she always did, every day. She began nagging about how he needed to work harder, to try harder to get a girlfriend or maybe a wife. She began talking about her friend’s sons and daughters, about their glorious lives that he had heard her talking about for however many times before. She spoke of one day having grandchildren of her own. She was about to get to the part about the next promotion when he yelled at her to stop. Except, he didn’t stop at just that. He told her she was full of shit. He told her he was trying, that he deserved more respect. He told her he was tired.
Click. The phone screen told him the other side had hung up.
He threw his phone on the ground, then he threw his face into the clammy left hand. His face flushed red.
A few moments passed, and his fingers reached to find those gentle curves once again. They glided up and down, the stone cold barrel electrifying. They stopped, locking down into position. His face hardened. The monitor went into screensaver mode. Cars honked weakly in the city outside. Someone screamed about Friday.
The world silenced once again. His face contorted.
The phone buzzed. He opened his clenched eyes and stared. He reached down to grab it, his right index finger still pulling hard. He just barely lowered his hand and took the call. He heard a brief sigh, then —
a gun shot. It was deafening. A high pitched shriek rang between his ears.
He felt for his face. A tear slid down his right cheek when he found it, still in tact. He wiped it away, only to find it was growing into a steady stream.
His knees collapsed. He sobbed. The phone showed his mother’s photo, a hearty woman in front of the kitchen, taken right before the Thanksgiving feast. Hands shaking, he dialed. No answer. His sobs grew louder.
He looked up. The glossy window reflection showed no more gun. Instead, there sat a man whose face was half blown away, a single eye searching for the other. Screaming in bursts, he scrambled back to his feet, head clenched tightly. He pressed his face against the icy glass.
He saw people. People holding hands, people crossing streets, people laughing. He saw people sitting in the darker corners, people occupied by phones, people living in other worlds. People were talking, people were driving, people were eating and drinking. Alive — every single person he saw was alive.
On Monday, Ana walked in and screamed. The police report stated suicide, caused by a single bullet, straight in through the right temple. No gun was found on the site of death.
At the funeral, one elderly, plump lady cried her heart out. She gave a eulogy. Her voice choked at every other word, breathy and held back. She could make out just one sentence about how he had been there every day to pick up her call, how they had been the greatest of gifts and most precious of moments in her life.