Lost in Translation

From Day 0, we are taught to translate from one language to another. No newborn understands what “ma” means until the brain develops the connection to link the sound to the figure that provides us love and care.

And since day 0, we continuously learn to translate. We are asked (perhaps forced) to translate “1, 2 and 3” to the quantities we observe. We are asked to translate “Mary had a little lamb” to a imagination of a figure who possesses another figure of some shape. We are asked to address more complex translations, or translations of translations. Society teaches us how to translate, or more so, what the correct translations are.

Correct. We are lauded for proposing the correct translations of things. 1+1 = 2. A reading comprehension problem on the SAT. The most recent news on why Trump just tweeted what he tweeted.

So then the big question arrives one day: what is correct?

After an awkward moment of silence, some propose a translation for correct: “it’s what’s right,” they may say. It quickly becomes apparent this answer is unproductive, and so is every answer that is an attempted translation for correct. Maybe we can translate such situation as “running in cycles.”

This is a difficult question because we don’t really have an answer. Our entire lives have been based upon translations of ideas, ideas rooted in societal contexts and human observations. Science, as objective as it is claimed to be, is nothing but a human translation of universal observations agreed upon by a good chunk of the population. Thus, science does not hold the key, either.

We can direct our question, then, to what is actually being translated. When we count the fingers on our hand, we are making a “logical” connection. Objectifying and separating each finger first, then connecting it to the translation we learned to associate it with. When we learn to speak full sentences, we identify the subject and the object and establish a relationship. The only “logical” relationship that, again, we as humans have established.

That is to say, logic is entirely subjective. We may say that the particular logic that dominates the current era or even just the environment around us is the logic that determines how we make our translations. It is almost surprising how adherent we are to which logical ideal we entertain. I need say no more to describe the sorts of issues that arise with conflicting ideologies.

Disregarding what I claimed about science for a moment, let us suppose that our current biological viewpoint on the idea that the greatest necessity for most living organisms including humans is survival. Back to day 0, we need our motherly figure for survival. It was necessary to the very core that we learned how to say “ma” to survive. This is where I’d like to believe we have a commonality shared by all — no translation needed.

It is difficult to even hope that we can all agree on anything. At some point, the translations become absolutely meaningless and repetitive. Since we are creatures based on survival, if we feel as though others’ ideas are threatening to ours, instinct tells us to flee or fight; either way, create separation.

Therefore I leave this subject here, merely hoping that one day we can learn to understand why others think differently. Things lost tend not to be found.

Lost in Translation

dear Sleep,

my relationship with you is complicated. i need you, and you need me, but our time spent together is not very long, nor always pleasant.

Sleep, you tease me in various ways. it wasn’t fair when you tempted me in the middle of an important lecture out of nowhere. i have priorities too, and you need to respect that.

it wasn’t funny when you decided i couldn’t have you when i needed you so much. you led me so kindly into bed but then left me under the cold sheets. three times, this past week, i waited for you because you promised me you’ll be back. i waited until the clock ticked six o’ clock and then until the sun rose. you didn’t come back.

nor was it funny when you brought back bad memories or messed with my dreams. you know i don’t want to see or hear about Latte dying for the 237th time. you know i pray every night in hope that you’ll gift me with delightful and happy scenes. you know on those kinds of nights i wake up bittersweet that you left me so soon. you know it disappoints me when the movies just never decide to start.

okay, i guess i need to apologize, too. when you needed me, i neglected you for the other stuff in my life. i pushed you away for days without knowing i had pushed you away. i’m sorry about that one time i binged on anime, that wasn’t nice.

but Sleep, i can’t give up on you and you can’t give up on me, either. i find myself so depressed and lonely when you’re not there. i love you, you know that, and on our good days we have such a great time together.

dear Sleep, i write because i miss you. i wish we could go back to the times when our relationship felt so natural and true. i’m no one without you.

dear Sleep, be back soon.



dear Sleep,


Have you ever held a dead cat in your hands before?

It doesn’t feel like the cold hands of your partner in the January chills. It’s not dripping wet, nor is it very hard, like a wooden flooring or a marble kitchen top. Rather, your finger sinks ever so slightly into the skin and the fur until you feel the resistance. Feel the little fleshy bit of skin right next to your elbow bone. Now feel a cold leathery couch. Put the two together. Dead cat.

The feeling is so surreal and so unique that it will haunt you in your dreams. Cat, cat, cat.. dead cat. You will at various times wake up in tears, frantically searching for the warmth and the soft, supple flesh.

At random points on random days of the year, you will remember that blood-draining moment; the dampness you felt as you tried to lift an empty soul into your arms, only to rapidly let go of your grip in its unfamiliar stiffness. There are things that don’t ever seem to wash away on your hands and on the floor where it last lay.

Death is an odd thing. It’s an eraser that leaves a lot of blemishes on the white paper. The words you wrote are supposedly removed, but there are outlines, smears and black shavings all over the place. It’s dirty and ugly. You feel helpless, then frustrated, then resigned, then frustrated again, as you fail to find a different, better eraser.

I try to find dreams where the cat lives, cat. I try not to worry, cat. I try to think about how lovely it is to meet another cat, cat. I hate it when I see you again, dead cat. I wish you wouldn’t appear again, dead cat. Cat, cat, cat. Just cat.


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

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.


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.


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.




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


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.


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.


I hear

swoosh —

the pain,

the crashing water —





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