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.

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

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


During this break, I had an opportunity to explore San Francisco, a truly beautiful city full of youthful energy and bustling streets, peppered with unique sights.

It is also a very expensive city.

The homeless populate sidewalks, coin cans rattling and cardboard signs pleading for spare change. On a particularly drizzly night, walking up Irving Street, my brother and I found a man struggling with his upturned shopping cart, his belongings scattered like debris across the wet blacktop. We stopped to help. The stare from his one greyed-out eye stung me as he thanked us and left us on our way.


It is a euphemism for the unfairness of the world we live in. The cliched talk of the gap between the rich and the poor remains at just that–talk. The greater majority that settle in the middle class merely shrug and look up at the richest to reach down and help the poorest. The mindset most of us take is selfish but sadly realistic: it is what it is, and there is little I can do to change anything.

Growing up among the rich, I had everything I needed. Words of being grateful for having a roof over my head at night with a full stomach seemed only superficial. They never really hit home or held me in tears. My immigrant father was careful to make sure that his three kids were never stressed over money, spoiling us with whatever we wanted and making sure we wouldn’t feel poor next to our friends at ridiculously expensive private schools. Simply put, I grew up a brat.

In high school, I began working in nearby cafes that I frequented for studying and became surrounded by an entirely different demographic from what I was used to. Many of those I befriended had to be satisfied with dollar lunches or cheap flea market clothes. Some had loans that burdened their backs since a very young age. A few dropped out of high school to start working and sustaining themselves. My closest friend once broke down crying in front of me, a mere teenager seven years younger than he, absolutely exhausted from work-related stress.

Money was something that strained their lives to misery, grasping them by the neck and refusing to let go unless they won the lottery.

One particular day at work, I experienced how abusive wealth could be. A customer demanded that her money be refunded because her young son had received the wrong drink. My coworker, the cashier at the time, had initially tried to explain that because the drink had already been consumed by more than half, a refund would be difficult. The customer proceeded to bark out grotesque statements, remarking on how disgusted she felt to be served by a “young little bastard.” She then turned to threaten the manager, claiming she had enough power in her (husband’s) hands to shut down the store. The manager gave her a refund, apologizing in every moment possible to get her to leave. After smashing the cup with what remained of the drink on the ground, she stormed out the door, dragging the young son behind her.

The coworker wept quietly in the back, returning fifteen minutes later with a shaky but cheerful voice and a forced smile. She was just a year older than I was, a first year pharmaceutics major at a revered university in Korea. She worked harder than anyone I knew–studying during break times, working two part time jobs, commuting for two hours on train every single day. My heart sank when I asked her if she were okay and she replied, “Yeah, it was my fault anyway.”

Similar incidents occurred to me as well, and each time I became more and more disgusted by what it meant to live a privileged life. Customers with flashy brand-name purses and obvious ostentatious stances screamed at me and my poor coworkers: “I’m rich, and I have power over you.”

The poor are helpless in the face of money. It is rather sardonic to see the faces of powerful figures on bills and coins. They pity you and your fate.

I am a privileged being. I go to bed each night with a satisfied tummy in the warmth of a cozy room. I have the liberty to be educated, to have what I want, and, sadly, to walk briskly past those in need, feeling only momentary guilt.

Who is responsible to decrease the gap between is not of concern here because we can all feel grateful for what we have and understand that all individuals have a story behind their eyes that give them the right to deserve respect as human beings.

The world is unfair. Privilege is decided randomly upon birth, a choice we cannot make. But the choices we make in the rest of our lives are in our hands. The most we can do, then, is to be fair upon the rest of the world.


The Banality of Korean Education

Around this time of the year, I hear as much Christmas and New Year celebration as college decisions and application news. My familial gatherings and phone calls always involve gossip about who got in where, who’s applying where and whether so-and-so should be taking the upcoming January SATs.

“It’s a Korean thing,” we would joke.

Ever since and even before the release of Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, the standard stereotypes and phenomena of the Asian education systems have been more known to the rest of the world. For many Asians, the brutal lifestyle of “study, study more, study till you get into Harvard” hits close to home.

I, a Korean-American raised both in the States and in Korea, was no different. But here I intend to focus on a more personal and specifically Korean aspect of this style of education that has affected me in ways that I could never have imagined.

Perhaps most well-known as “hagwons,” institutions and cram schools were attended by nearly all my Korean friends and peers since as young as first grade in elementary school. Growing up, a typical day would consist of school and hagwon every day, every other day focusing on a different subject. Winter break meant I would be introduced to the family tutor (who’s taught my older brother and his friends as well as my cousins) to get through all of Pre-Calculus. It didn’t seem weird– I was used doing third grade math in first grade, Geometry in sixth grade. And not to mention that Mom’s friend’s daughter had already finished Trig in seventh grade. It wasn’t anything special.

As I entered high school, I found myself constantly bored during class. Not just bored but also extremely sleepy. I was never home before 11, a curfew that the Korean government instilled as the latest time for hagwons to be in session. Each break I spent cramming in AP and SAT prep books into my head so that I would for certain score perfectly.

Why? The answer was simple, as told by my mother and universally shared by all other tiger moms–“for you to be successful.” Did it work? I got into a prestigious college along with all my other friends that suffered through a similar path. Princeton, Brown, MIT, Stanford, you name it, I have a friend that I attended hagwon with that got in. So yes, Mom, I did get into a college. I succeeded.

But am I doing well now, in college?

The frank answer is no. At least not to my satisfaction. I am no longer ahead in any of the subjects, I am no longer attending class outside of class, taught by another teacher that would teach me just the “integral” points that would help me ace the tests. I am no longer scoring the straight A’s with my eyes closed.

Instead, I have to work for it, all independently. I have to stay awake and alert in class, and expect that I don’t know anything about what will be taught today. The consequences of my hagwon-spent years slap me smack in the face–“You don’t know this, and there is no one but yourself to understand this to certain proficiency to pass the class.”

The sad fact is, it’s not just me. My peers and upperclassmen have told me in shame that they were going back to Korea for the break to “catch up on the OChem class that I failed” or “get ahead with multivariable calc before I go back.” These are not stupid people, all attending great schools. These are definitely not lazy individuals, either. They’re just experiencing the aftermaths of the institutionalized and droning education culture. And numbers prove this.

To be fair, my mother wasn’t as hardcore as she could have been. The average “hagwon time” I spent was significantly less than those around me. Yet I still feel the effects.

This break, the first one in years that I’ve not had to sign up for a class polishing APs or search for tutors, I’ve found it awkward to not pick up a pen to take notes and be read from a textbook. I’ve felt like I was going to get behind, wasting time.

It’s almost a disgusting thing, to have this feeling. In retrospect, after speaking to so many of the other amazing individuals I’ve met in college, I realized that I could have spent the exact same time doing so much more. I would have done just the same in school by listening in class and studying for school during school. I would have had the time to do things that we call “hobbies” for fun, not for filling up another section in the extracurricular section of the CommonApp (and yes, there are mothers who send their kids to hagwons to build hobbies that would be appropriate for this exact purpose).

I see this as a banality of the Korean education system. There are lots more, and people have written countless articles and books on the gross sides of this topic. We’ve been raised to be machines, producing answers the way we were told to memorize them. We’ve little to state as uniquely ours, and “fun” is term used to merely describe the rebellious nights spent partying, but only after the hagwon session ended at 11. We’ve grown to be helpless, craving the spoon that has fed us how to be boring for years.

Too many of us therefore feel absolutely lost in the world where success was once just getting into college. Okay, we’re here, so what are we supposed to do now? Mom? Is there a hagwon for this?

The Banality of Korean Education