A memoir: from struggling student to struggling tutor.

*math AE, Academic Excellence tutoring. Featuring Tommy.

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 answer; What do we know?

A memoir: from struggling student to struggling tutor.

Dear me, remember your purpose.

Donner Lake

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.

Dear 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.

Dear me, remember your purpose.

A reflection: how I changed this summer.

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.

Market Street

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.

Overlooking the City from Mission Street

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.

Inner Sunset mornings, 4th Street.

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.

Irving and 6th

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.

A reflection: how I changed this summer.

A reminder to keep sailing

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

stay strong 💓 keep it beating

A reminder to keep sailing


Kyoto Tower

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.

Overlooking Kyoto from Kiyomizu-dera

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.


Taking time.

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.

Boatman, at Katsura Rivernext to Arashiyama.

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.

Fushimi Inari-taisha

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.

Hiking Mt. Inari — Upon looking back, a wild Jiehao appeared!

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.

Higashiyama District 東山区

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.

Mt. Inari Bamboo Forest

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.

Yasaka Shrine on New Year’s Eve

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.

Katsugyu — Fried medium rare beef. Thanks, Mom!

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.

Big street nearby Gojo Paradiso, literally called Gojo (五条) or Fifth Street

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.

Kazu-san, the main bartender, and the cutest couple ever, Gulay and Eray the chef

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.

This man was feeding the ducks in the pond some bread, but the crows got most of it. — Tofuku-ji

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.

What did Chow do this time? — Tsukiji Fish Market

Being careful.

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.

Sauna nearby Gojo Paradiso

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.

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

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.

Head monk ringing the bell on New Year’s Eve. — Chion-in

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?

Rickshaw driver — Arashiyama

Lonelier days.

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.

Fushimi Inari Station

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.

Thanks for stopping by ❤

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:

Where should I go next?

Sunset near Kiyomizu-dera

Dear Teacher

Dear Teacher,

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.

Dear Teacher

3 things to remind yourself before you go to bed

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.

3 things to remind yourself before you go to bed