If my father hadn’t immigrated:

My brother wrote his college application essay on the immigration story of our father and his family. A non-English speaking 17 year old who climbed his way up from rags to riches through the American Dream. A story a lot of us second-generation kids were told since young.

The dinner table monologue always started the same way — “When I was your age…” or “If I hadn’t moved to America…” and back then it was a drag, a lecture that I didn’t have to hear for the 129th time. “I know, Dad, I know.” But I don’t think I really knew what he meant.

If my father hadn’t immigrated into LA at the age of 17:

  • I would have gone through the regular, disgusting public school system in Korea.
  • I would not speak English, or Spanish, to this level of fluency.
  • I would not have traveled and visited more than 15 countries before the age of 15.
  • I would have a brother who would have had to serve in the military for two mandatory years.
  • I would not have a younger sister. Likely, I would not have been born either.
  • I would be busy caring about my physical appearances.
  • I would be struggling to find a job under a dysfunctional government and a declining economy.
  • I would not be able to receive grants and scholarships.
  • I would have been working far more part time jobs and studying far less.
  • I would probably have been part of the OECD statistics on teenage suicide rates.
  • I would not be here today, writing this.

The “American Dream” we like to put in quotes is not so glorious, and I’m not trying to say that Korea is horrible in every aspect. But it’s true that the America that raised me despite my immigrant father and my skin color was a kind one. The sheer number of opportunities that were available for me shines light on how lucky I was encouraged to live to look further and to think beyond limits.

It saddens me that I have to constantly think twice about whether I should be using present or past tense. It saddens me even more that I’m having a harder time writing in future tense.

America was great. America is great. America will be —

fuck you, Donald. America will be great without you.

If my father hadn’t immigrated:

The Sound of Farewell

Being an auditory listener isn’t really that fancy as it sounds. Most people have it.

Turn to page 476.

How easily can you read that in Professor Snape’s voice? It’s really not that hard. But what if that happened to you every time you read anything? typed anything?

That would be me. I read every text message in the voice of the sender, even if that may be just a “k” or a “lol.” I read every narrative in every story with a neutral, standard narrator voice, but it’s not my voice. I read every dialogue in the voice I think the character deserves. This is still nothing too uncommon.

Here’s what’s a little weird, then: I hear them. I hear the words that the lecturer says. Well, okay, duh. But for me, those words never take the graphical, syntactical form in my head. They are just, sounds, like musical notes. I need to put in effort to think of the word “medium” —to form each letter in the alphabet that make up this word — in my brain, or at least until it echoes in my auditory canals for a good two to four times.

Naturally, I associate common words and phrases to a lot of people. I often remember a person’s voice and vocal idiosyncrasies before their face. My brain seems to pick up the way a person’s footsteps sound better than the visual picture of how they pace.

And this is how I heard the sound of anger — from my mother, whose steps were almost inaudible and soft on the wooden floor of our house stairs, oh how they would turn ever so slightly louder, as if it held the tint of her rage for whatever I did wrong.

This is how I heard the sound of joy — on the playground in the rainy weather, a consistent pat-pat-pat as my peers would run across the cement floor, excited for a rare instance of precipitation in southern California.

This is how I heard the sound of dedication—from my former boss, whose pace was quick but steady, never missing a beat as he walked through the halls, no matter the time of day.

And thus, this is how I heard the sound of farewell — the unavoidable silence that befalls upon both sides of a conversation that once had ripened with fruits of avid curiosity and interest; the hum from the receiver on a phone that dragged on for a second too long; the sigh that meant everything from disappointment to relief to retirement.

The sound of farewell tears the tear ducts to pieces and pierces the heart with sharp pain.

The sound of farewell rings and rings, something that haunts you till the break of dawn.

The sound of farewell is confounding.

It is a good-bye perhaps expected, perhaps unexpected. “Farewell” literally means you hope the other will do good and be good. “Good bye” literally means you hope the other has a good “by,” the hope that one’s journey may be good. The bittersweetness of these words highlights an irony, overlooked.

The sound of farewell is blinding.

It is as though you become an athlete, so focused on the game that everything else disappears from sight. The world around you fades into the dark void that needs no attention. What others say to you start making no sense. The departure of love is a void that needs constant feeding.

The sound of farewell fades.

Yes, it hurt. Once. Twice. Likely for long time, continuously.

But like any sound, it fades, and it must fade.

Then it becomes much like the distant memories that you try to conjure up from kindergarten. A fog sets in, and remains. The tolls subside. Amp off.

Unplug those ears. It’s time to seek the sound of hello.

The Sound of Farewell

Be Right, Be Good.

The well-known story of the dilemma of the train conductor goes something like this:

You are a conductor on a train, but all of a sudden the brakes on the train stop working. Ahead of you is a fork in the tracks. An evil villain has tied down five elderly men onto one track and one child onto the other. Which way do you go? Do you choose to sacrifice five to save one child’s life, or do you choose to sacrifice the child for five total saved lives?

A less well-known story of a privileged college student goes something like this:

I voted for the first time in the 45th presidential election. My decision there was not so much a dilemma than an obvious answer, but my distaste for politics will stop me right here to discuss further about this subject. The outcome of the election brought on drama all throughout the media and across platforms online, and with it came a surge of information of policies, laws and social problems that I had not even imagined the possible existence of. I felt as though I were a horse whose side blinders had been removed. I felt as though my quiet self consumed in academics and personal interest had been swept away by my own ignorance.

One of these insights that came to me only recently involved what it meant to work for a “big company.” My knowledge in economics or politics is severely limited. A couple Wikipedia articles of past presidents and histories of their economic policies are enough to give me a taste of the long and complicated fight that pervade through pretty much all levels of wealth. Then the “big bad company” is quite easily understood as an enemy to some and a tool for others. Involvement with federal affairs that cause consequences in economic, environmental, ethical and social ways, monopolization of certain markets that caused the discomfort and unfortunate futures of millions and an ugly gap between the rich and poor that seem to only widen.. the moral problems are quite certainly there.

But in the bubble that I contained myself in while working as an intern at Facebook and attending a higher-end private college, I found that such things were not discussed enough. Some people just didn’t care. Others saw it as a stepping stone, like it was a sort of tool to get to the next level with more ease. It didn’t seem to me that anyone was deliberately ignorant, either. Rather, the focus of company or school news mainly looked into what good they were doing for the world. The bad was never looked into. Bringing up a topic like so brought shrugs from most. It seemed, anyway, like those who did care had never existed here or had already left.

This isn’t a rant on Facebook, nor do I intend to make it sound like one. The train conductor has to make a decision at some point, and with either decision they will be struck with guilt. The thought of leaving a company like Facebook and declaring you will work for what’s purely good for the world is ideal at best. On the other hand, I’m not denying that there are indeed great people at Facebook who do amazing things for the world with good intentions, despite the more negative consequences that may be commented on as “side-effects.” Admitting to guilt is hard. No one likes to say they were wrong.

So what are we to do? Struggle endlessly, in constant suffering resulting from this guilt that we are powerless beings with little control over the future? Shake our heads and repeat to ourselves that we didn’t do it, that we aren’t the bad ones, while pointing shaky fingers at others? These are rhetorical questions, but equally legitimate ones that drive many of us into an existential crisis that we all try to hide away in a hole somewhere in our hearts. I don’t want to debate about whether all humans are at birth born good, nor do I want to argue what is “good.” But for the sake of this post, I wish to think about how beautiful it is to hear an infant giggle in pure joy. Fact: all humans are infants at some point in their lives.

Suppose this true, then our focus needs to be on what we think is good, despite what others may say. One popular argument that is given in favor of sacrificing the five elderly men in the conductor’s dilemma is that a child holds a future ahead of them. What if they are the next Gandhi? Bill Gates? Hitler? The sub-twenty year old self that I am likes this argument, not just because I would survive this train tragedy but also because I am reminded that my future is yet undetermined. Whatever decision the conductor makes, the intention he had is what matters, and nobody can really blame him for making a decision that he thought was right at the moment. In the same way that I am tied down on the train tracks, I hold the track switch for a different set of five men and one child. My decision in the long term can affect others in perhaps vastly different ways as seen by others, but my intentions would have been for the better — and no one but I can blame myself for the outcome.

Sometimes I feel as though the human race has come great measures in making technological advancements yet has in comparison developed far less in societal aspects. Why and how is it that the fictional stories of robots and artificial intelligence has become a reality in such a short period of time, yet no utopian society has emerged, ever? In a point in our history where engineers and badass tech companies are taking over the world with their knowledge (aka, power), it’s time we directed our attention into utilizing science for society as well. It doesn’t take much: just ask, “am I giving good to the world with what I do?” Maybe the answer isn’t so clear at this moment. Just don’t feel guilty that the wrong side of the tracks were chosen because you did what someone else told you to do.

Be Right, Be Good.

to box (v.)

Open your eyes.

Stare into your own self in the mirror with a vicious glare. She is your greatest rival and friend. She will be the one to destroy you and conquer you. Beat her.

Ding!

Quick, jab, jab, straight, duck, one, two. Protect your sides. Keep your feet light. Don’t let your hands leave your face for more than a second. Back straight, thighs strong. Hold tight to your fists, but let them stream out smoothly.

Go at her with your mightiest of mights and grittiest of grits. At this moment, she is what defines your success. Back off, breathe, now lunge forward. Make it strong and rapid. Keep your eyes open–don’t let the sweat and tears get in your way. Pain is momentary. Repeat.

Ding-ding-ding!

Relax. Shake off the stress. The round is over. Now focus on the next round. Where was she weak? Where did she falter? Stop looking down. It’s not all over yet.

Ding!

Ding!

Ding-ding-ding!

The exhaustion is rewarding. Let your arms drop, but only after they’ve been raised high. Look back at her in the mirror, and smile at the winner.

to box (v.)

The Theory of Special Relativity

As any Mudder whose been through the funs and not-so-funs of pass-fail should know, the theory of special relativity is indeed pretty special. Yes, all freshmen go through the rigor of learning the basics of Lorentz transformations and Einstein’s brilliance, but I’m not the person to teach others about how fast a clock runs for a rhino speeding through at 4/5 c. I easily failed that midterm, really.

As any Mudder should also know, imposter syndrome is real. Whether they’ve experienced it first-hand or have seen others pound themselves down to the ground, moaning “I’m so stupid,” imposter syndrome is a popular term that gets thrown around here and there, supposedly as a way to ease the pain of those big fat C’s and D’s and F’s you (may) get on assignments.

But really, it’s all relative. Let me explain.

Postulates of Special Relativity – 1. The laws of physics are the same in all inertial frames of reference.

There is no such thing as absolute time, nor is there an absolute space in any frame of reference. The positions and velocities of objects are relative to each other, not to some specified spacetime.

As a Mudder, we get graded on a lot of things. Especially problem sets. I don’t know how many hours I spend looking at the dreaded hmcpset.cls formatting with those boxes trying to bind the problem statements into pretty little packages of doom, and I don’t really want to know the exact number, either. Either way, it takes me long and it takes me far to get through a set. So I must admit, it hurts a little too much when you worked real hard on that thing, just to receive it back with a lowly number on top to define how well you did in getting to the right answer. It hurts a little more when you see your friend’s all smiley about their grade.

A grade is a letter, which approximately translates to a number, which approximately is supposed to translate to how well you understood the material you were taught in a 50 minute lecture. A grade is absolute. Your position is pounded into the Shanahan floors. Your velocity only seems to slow as you lose momentum, which seems almost impossible since it’s already time for the next midterm.

But understanding is not a letter nor a number. The relative space is wrong here; an individual should not be compared to another individual. An individual deserves and has their own spacetime. An individual’s velocities and positions across various topics shouldn’t and need not be compared to another’s. Slow should not be a slow compared to that kid who passed out of core. Slow is a “I don’t get math as fast as I get chemistry.” It’s relative to you. So it’s okay. Don’t panic. Grades are stupid and wrong.

Postulates of Special Relativity – 2. The speed of light is constant in all inertial frames of reference.

If I’m sitting, facing front, on a rhino who’s charging at 2/5 c and I shoot a bullet at initial speed 4/5 c, what’s the final speed of the bullet? If you passed Spec Rel, you know it’s obviously not 6/5 c.

No one really seems to agree how fast (or slow) time flies at Mudd, and rightfully so. Each semester drags you up and down mountains and hills of all kinds of terrain. At one moment, the top seems way too high to climb. Lecture after lab after lecture after lunch after lecture. Someone please take me to bed. At another moment, it’s already Friday and people are going for red cups– oh, shit now it’s already Sunday and there’s a problem set due in 8 hours. Either way, time seems inconveniently spaced. It’s like I’m an ant on that bullet on that rhino– a confused ant who doesn’t know its speed. Is it 6/5 c? c? 6/13 c???

In this confusion we forget that we are still going at some speed that’s constant for some godly being up there. At some point, we’ll see that we’re still physically mortal beings. There’s too many things that we need to care about that we forget there is something called fun. Something called adventure and hobbies and yes, sleep. Something called health. We all run out of time at some point, and it’s just too sad if all you have to take with you to your grave are problem sets.

I’m guilty of not realizing this. I’m guilty of realizing this and yet still pinning myself down onto an absolute board of failures and successes. I’m guilty of not seeing that time will come running right through me, and it’s up to me to decide how I’m going to spend it.

I’m gonna blame it on the fact that spec rel is/was/will most likely be still too damn hard for me. But let’s all try to understand, yeah?

The Theory of Special Relativity

swoosh

when you close your eyes,

there are sounds.

you don’t have to be insane

to hear the walls echo your thoughts back at you.

you don’t have to try too hard

to replay the last conversation you had.

sometimes

you hear music — the lyrics! the melody! the harmony you know by heart.

when I close my eyes,

there are sounds.

I think I am insane

to hear the walls echo your thoughts at me.

I have to try really hard now

to hear your voice again in me.

sometimes

I hear

swoosh —

the pain,

the crashing water —

“sorry.”

 

 

swoosh

A Generation Remembered

I’m in no position to write about this.

The only guns I’ve seen in my life are on display, shoot out white pellets or are chained tight to a range.

The only blood I’ve seen is from falling off a bike and  from movie scenes, does that even count as blood?

The only death I’ve experienced are those of distant relatives, or that of my kitten, 8 weeks old.

The only hatred I’ve received has shrugged off with time.

I’m neither black nor have had intimate relationships with the black community.

Like I said, I’m in no position to write about this.

But the hurt that I see in the tears of those affected, the pain I see in those who do know of guns and blood and death; it’s enough to make my naive face grimace and stomach churn.

I once thought that the world was beginning to become a better place. I’d never seen such a brilliant scene as the Pride Parade. I’d never been in an environment where all individuals were accepted and loved for who they were. I’d never realized how privileged I was.

Now, all I can think about is what the future generations would think of us as they read of the hideous societies in their history books. I can only compare it to what I felt when I first learned of the Holocaust, or of racial segregation.

I do not want my generation to be remembered as one full of so much hatred against one another. I know there is still love in the world that I know can easily help those who fail to see the beauty in understanding others.

I do not want my generation to be labelled as something like the “Holocaust Years” or the “McCarthyism Era.” There are far too many brilliant individuals and movements that we can be remembered after–worldwide connection and communication; achievement of many technological feats; openness to cultures once hunted after–the list can go on.

I am young, and so is everyone that has read this post. Being young means that there is a future out there for us that is ours to craft, and that in no way is it late to start. Change is not an individual’s doing, but a population’s. We as humans are not so stubborn to accept new values as time comes. Let me please hope that those values are not riddled with hate.

I want to be remembered by the future generations as the era of love and the generation of united efforts. Those efforts are already widely visible, and all we need to do is continue them, to push forward ceaselessly, until the “faith in humanity” is no longer “restored” but “persisted.”

Let’s be remembered with pride, not with shame.

A Generation Remembered

A Hatred Toward Hatred

South Korea (along with a lot of other parts in East Asia) is conservative.

Its homogeneity in demographics has only recently started to break down with the influx of foreigners resulting from the growing economy in tourism and job opportunities for positions in schools and private academies. Ethnically, South Korea is far from diverse, with 96% of its population consisting of pure Koreans.

Similarly, and perhaps not surprisingly, the visible queer community not only takes up a very small segment of the population, but is also looked upon as an oddity. Teenagers struggling with identities have close to zero support or help. Just two years ago, the Seoul city mayor announced that the annual queer festival and gay pride parade be shut down. Heteronormativity is real here.

Southern California is quite the opposite. With diversity that spans ethnicities from all over the world and a general acceptance and support for all lives and identities, the situation in South Korea from a socal dweller may seem incomprehensible, if not insulting.

Insulting. Insulting because no one deserves to receive hatred for who they choose to love. Insulting because hatred against anything or anyone is simply not cool.

The sad truth is that even in the most liberal parts of the world today, there are remnants of hatred towards those who are gay or trans or queer or ___. Those who receive this hatred undergo a struggle that those who identify with bigender stereotypes would never understand, even if they tried. The cries of frustration and demand for the righteous respect they wholly deserve are heard daily, and with reason.

But sometimes, there is hatred upon hatred.

Sometimes, I hear those cries and cringe, not because I am against the good intentions of those words, but because those cries are so full of a hatred that is hard to listen to without an instinctual shudder.

This is the same cringe that I would hear when some ignorant individual would scream out “fuck gays.” Sometimes, it doesn’t matter what goes behind that word, because in the end, to some listener out there, it’s a “fuck you.”

I confess that, as a listener who once was unaware of the mere existence of the queer community, I would have been offended to hear those words simply because I adhered to the heteronormative environment I grew up in.

To bring about a change in a world that is clearly unfair, we need to act with kindness, not hatred. With understanding and willingness to help others understand. Great social justice leaders in our past acted not with violence but with a civil disobedience that sought to protest with a genuine pity for those who did not know but to jump on the bandwagon of social norms, righteous or not.

“The Wind and the Sun” is a fable written by Aesop some centuries ago. He writes,

“THE WIND and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger. Suddenly they saw a traveller coming down the road, and the Sun said: “I see a way to decide our dispute. Whichever of us can cause that traveller to take off his cloak shall be regarded as the stronger You begin.” So the Sun retired behind a cloud, and the Wind began to blow as hard as it could upon the traveller. But the harder he blew the more closely did the traveller wrap his cloak round him, till at last the Wind had to give up in despair. Then the Sun came out and shone in all his glory upon the traveller, who soon found it too hot to walk with his cloak on. KINDNESS EFFECTS MORE THAN SEVERITY.”

Let us work for a world without hatred, but kindness. Let us learn how to love others, and how to help others love.

A Hatred Toward Hatred

It rained for a couple of days recently.

It rained for a couple of days recently. The sun came out today and its warmth was wonderful. Basking under the rays of brilliance, I felt the stress that had built up the past few weeks melting away. Ahh.

It won’t rain forever. But neither will it shine to eternity.

The thousands of days we live in our lifetime flows like a sort of rollercoaster, taking wild turns, dipping and peaking in sequence and sometimes just coasting along. The flirtatious tease of the delightful soar to the top is accompanied by the dramatic downfall into depression. Confused, scared perhaps, youthful passengers learn to either enjoy or be terrified of this ride. Some look up, knowing there will be a time when the skies will feel closer again, and the view below will be marvelous and novel. Some look down, nerve racked by altitude, shuddering at the drop to come. Some — many, in fact — want to escape this nauseating cycle before it comes to its natural end. A few do.

This may be a rather dark depiction of life. Or it may be just an illustration of different perspectives. Nevertheless, it’s an exchange we all are familiar with. It is rare that everything is wholly happy or wholly sad.

As an existentialist, or just about anyone who’s thought about death, may claim, nothing on this ride really matters. Just as the beginning is the same for all of us, the end is no different, no matter what the path may look like in between. So why should we care to be happy or sad? Why should there even be this hope, this despair, to expect anything?

Because that argument is absolute bullshit. The rain that falls on us isn’t just from the sky, but also from those around us. This isn’t a lonely ride; you matter. Every one matters to every other. The factors that determine the next few courses of events comprise of those around, and vice versa.

I don’t mean to be too corny or cliché. What matters to me is that I matter, that I am of matter to those around me, and that there are individuals who matter to me as well. The give and take isn’t always smooth, there are indeed things in the world out of our control. That shouldn’t affect how we handle what we can control.

It’s bittersweet; like a cup of coffee. An enjoyable cup of coffee. So take a sip and seek the warmth in its black flavor.

It rained for a couple of days recently.

Feeling Diverse

Note: The ideas in this article and on this website are completely my own. I welcome any and all comments, critiques, contributions or corrections (wow that’s four c’s) that may be triggered while reading.

This week has been rather stressful for me.

Not because of midterms (well, only partly), or the multiple projects and problem sets due, but because of the stress in finding something to do over summer. Job application after job application, my fingers have been tuned to fill out forms like playing scales on a piano.

Before pressing that “Submit” button, all companies ask me for three things: 1) gender US, 2) identity as a Disabled/Veteran and 3) race.

I select, Female, No, Asian.

Female. Asian.

Every time I press those two selections, I question myself: “What if I weren’t an Asian female? What if I were a white male?”

Diversity in the workplace is something so widely discussed and debated over today that I can’t say I have an opinion at all. There are thousands of individuals out there advocating for females, for non-Caucasian ethnical groups, for queer individuals or for whatever stereotype-breaking identity to have a place in the industry.

It confuses me, then, to think that I have a better chance at the same job than my white, Caucasian peer, whose skill sets are identical if not better than mine. All because of the fact that I am a female, or Asian. Are Asians even considered a minor ethnical group these days? Have the stereotypes changed?

Don’t get me wrong here.

There is a definite difference between expressing bias against a certain individual’s identity, thereby lowering their chances at an opportunity, and expressing favor towards another individual’s identity.

Diversity in an environment is something I would definitely want to have, for the reasons that I am exposed to a setting that calls for an open, curious mind. Promoting homogeneity is not just morally wrong; it absolutely deteriorates a population’s ability to grow.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t make much sense to me that an individual should be rated higher, simply for the identity they possess that would add to a diverse setting.

So if I get into a program that my obviously-equally-smart-or-more-but-white-friend Bob doesn’t, am I supposed to feel qualified? or am I supposed to feel diverse?

Feeling Diverse