Dan Kang

Mar 31

Cut

Cut, a short story for my creative writing fiction class

They said they didn’t want other kids to make fun of me. That somehow, between playing tag, kicking soccer balls, and jumping off swings, we would all stand in a circle and whip out what little we had and some kid would point to mine and say, “Hey, your peepee’s weird.” Perhaps it never occurred to my parents that not having my foreskin cut off might make me the odd one out. It didn’t matter, since we were too busy running around and napping to worry about what each others’ peepees looked like anyway.

We started worrying in junior high. Put together a bunch of snot-faced children newly finding themselves at the bottom of the totem pole after reigning supreme at their elementary schools and brats having just escaped from that position, and it’s no wonder you end up with insecure kids trying to prove that they’re cooler than the other insecure kids. Every day was a competition of who can run faster, jump higher, look tougher, and come up with the most depraved insults. We started off with stupid, dumbass, idiot, got braver and moved on to pussy, retard, shithead, and then finally the holy grail of curse words, fucker, but only when we had looked down the hallway both ways to make sure that there were no teachers nearby. We muttered it under our breaths, smug in the knowledge that there could be nothing worse, when one day a new word spread like wildfire: chode.

No one knew what it meant at first, not even the cool kids who thought they knew everything. Still, we whispered, chanted, yelled the word, daring each other to say what it meant because surely they weren’t cool enough to know, all in the hopes that someone would actually enlighten us all. “It’s a dick that’s wider than it is long.” It became an essential part of our vernacular, rearing its ugly head whenever we wanted to describe the classmate who asked too many questions, the kid who cut in front of us in the lunch line, the teacher who gave the pop quiz. We also teased each other, asking “you have a chode, huh?”, asking because we didn’t want to be asked. Everyone accused everyone, all of us projecting our worries that the lottery of puberty would end up cursing one of us with the most unfortunate transformation.

The only person that wasn’t accused of having a chode was Gary, our in-house high schooler. Even though he was really in junior high with us, he was at least a couple years older and much bigger than any other boy in school. And he was hairy. His curly, dark brown hair was everywhere, covering his face, his chest, his back, his arms, and even his feet. We called him Gary the Gorilla. Apparently, he once bragged to some boys in the locker room that he had more pubic hair than all of them combined and then went ahead and proved it. When I heard that, I went into the bathroom to inspect myself. Three short, brown strands. Gary was what we imagined all high schoolers must be like. Surely in addition to being tall, strong, and possessing endless pubic hair, all high schoolers had big plans for their lives and even bigger dicks. Gary would do well in high school.

The summer after junior high, I felt almost ready for high school. Puberty was hitting me at full blast, and I had several strands of armpit hair to prove it. Even my pubic hair count had gone up from a measly three to a blossoming twenty-six. Puberty wrought other changes, too. My friends had introduced me to the world of porn, and every day I found new sites, new videos, and new pictures. Every night, when my parents went to sleep, I lay in bed and waited until I heard my dad start to snore softly from the master bedroom. I counted to 300 in my head, then crept out of my bed and spent hours on the computer devouring everything in sight. Pornography taught me the model of the ideal penis — a foot long, circumcised, and as thick as an arm. According to the vast array of samples I had observed, that was the penis required to satisfy women. The evidence spoke for itself: Bigger is better. Circumcised is better. I made the decision my parents didn’t and asked to get circumcised.

I found myself lying naked, slightly propped up on a green mat in an old, worn-down doctor’s office. My mom had been banished to wait outside after making the unforgivable suggestion of staying to watch. The doctor was an older man, possibly in his 50s, looking like he wanted to be anywhere but in the room. He had spoken very few words, undress and lie down, and his stern and unfriendly demeanor made me question his personal dedication to making sure that my penis would come out flawless. I half-wished that my mom had stayed after all to guarantee that the doctor wouldn’t slip up and render me a eunuch, but quickly changed my mind. This surgery needed to be an affair between men.

“Are you going to put me to sleep?”

“No.”

With that, he walked up beside me.

“Hold still.”

He held a shot in his hand, and he slowly brought it closer to my body. Before I could say another word, he pushed the needle straight into the base of my penis, and I shut my eyes and clenched my teeth together to keep from screaming out from the pain. I regretted that I had decided to trust this doctor, regretted coming to the clinic, regretted ever wanting a circumcision, regretted ever looking at porn, regretted ever making those friends. I slowly opened my eyes to find him looking at me, probably to make sure that I hadn’t passed out.

“That was the local anesthetic.”

I said nothing in response, not having yet fully recovered from the shock. I watched as he brought another needle to my body, grimaced, and braced for the worst. The needle penetrated the base, but this time, I didn’t feel the needle. Or anything in that region for that matter.

The doctor proceeded in the same way, sticking several more needles in until my penis looked like a lion with a mane made of porcupine quills. He got up once, and walked over to a drawer to take out a pair of scissors. He clamped down the sides of my penis by the foreskin, and made a straight cut at the head. I thought back to a time in elementary school, when I had walked around the house in jeans without underwear, simply because I had accidentally peed myself and didn’t care enough to put on another pair. I had just finished peeing in the toilet, and was zipping up when I felt red hot pain at the tip of my penis. The zipper had caught onto my foreskin, and it felt like it was being torn apart. Now, with this doctor cutting my foreskin off, it really was torn apart. Snip, snip, snip. No more foreskin.

When I got home, the first thing I did was waddle to the bathroom to inspect my newborn penis, freshly released from its womb. The doctor had given my mom a dixie cup, telling her that I had to wear it for at least a week to prevent infection. The moment I put it on, I felt like my penis was its own entity, a neutered dog with a cone around its head. I looked inside the cone now, hoping to see the beginnings of a foot-tall giant. Instead, my penis looked smaller than ever before, smaller than it had been before the circumcision. A frown crept onto my face as I worried about the fate of my penis, but a single thought consoled me — at least it wasn’t a chode.

Feb 18

The Pen

This is a piece that I wrote for a creative writing workshop that I’m taking this semester. I’m trying to get a lot more into writing fiction, so you’ll see some more in the upcoming weeks!

Strutting down the aisle all entitled-like, he stopped in front of the seat next to me, waiting. The seat was obviously occupied by my jacket, but that didn’t bother him. For the next minute and a half, he drowned out the lecture with the shuffling of his backpack — binder out, binder in, laptop out, laptop in, the son of a bitch couldn’t decide. Just as I leaned in to hear the professor repeat an explanation I had missed, he tapped my shoulder and boomed the question-statement, “You got a pencil?” Whispering was below him.

I reached inside my pencil case, shuffled through my many pencils, and handed him a pen I knew to be sputtering to its quiet death. He grasped it out of my hand, set it down, and was immediately too busy pulling his phone out of his pocket to even mutter a quick thanks. The proof on the board must have short-circuited his brain because my pen lay untouched on his desk while he diverted his concentration to methodically tapping his phone every second or so. Most definitely Flappy Bird.

The smell hit me like a freight train. Sometime between “proof by induction” and “linear homogeneous recurrence”, he had unwrapped an oversized burrito and was proceeding to stuff chunks of it into his stupid face. Maybe he knew that I hadn’t eaten all day and was specifically choosing to torment me. While it was the first thing I noticed, the smell wasn’t the worst part. His earlier disruptive expedition into his backpack was nothing compared to his flagrant chewing, his deafening mastication, his shameless smacking of lips. He looked intently at the professor now, as if he actually cared, mocking my inability to hear anything besides the cacophony he was producing.

When class ended, I watched him take his sweet time packing up and swagger back up the aisle, trash from his burrito in tow. With each step he took, my chest loosened up and I breathed a bit freer. Then my heart stopped. The bastard had stolen my pen.

Sep 01

vulnerability

6:10am, unable to sleep

my goal, what i strive for, is to always be vulnerable, to express myself fully and be perfectly honest and be who i am without pretense or fear but just be me

the way i strive and inch toward this goal is to share myself unabashedly, share my thoughts, share my experiences, share who i am. the way i’ve been doing this is to tell stories about my life, deeply personal stories that most people would not feel comfortable sharing to their friends, much less strangers on the internet

sometimes i wonder if my sharing of these stories is really, truly me being vulnerable because sometimes it feels as though i’m just telling a story, here’s the setup, the conflict, the resolution; here are lessons learned; here’s A, B, and C

even when i share details of my life that are objectively tragic and personal i sometimes feel that even within the apparent vulnerability there’s still a part of me not being shared; that by treating these stories as just events that occur in my life, almost external events that i admit to having shaped who i am but nonetheless i for whatever reason consider myself an entity outside of them, i’m not actually sharing my true self, not actually being vulnerable

it’s like when i sat next to my friend talking about the time that she was raped, she was almost unfazed when sharing the details and that part both intrigued and confused me and then i realized that i’m the same way about when i share my experiences

this admission, one step closer

Aug 30

Year in Review (Aug 2012 - Dec 2012)

I’m waiting at my gate in John Wayne airport a whole 2 hours before departure instead of the usual 2 minutes, and I still can’t believe I’m going to be back at Princeton in a week’s time after spending some time drinking maple syrup with Roaring 20, my awesome a cappella group, in Toronto.

My decision to take the year off was based off two major factors: my grandma’s quickly deteriorating health and my desire to work on an iPhone app called Bemo.

Home (August 2012-October 2012)

After finishing up my internship at Twilio, I spent some time at home, or maybe more accurately, a nursing home in Anaheim. My sister and I spent many hours every day visiting my grandma in her nursing home and just keeping her company. The drive wasn’t too bad, but somehow that place simply sucks the life out of you — I suspect it has to do with the place reeks of death.

My sister and I split our visiting hours into shifts so that my grandma would have someone next to her for most of her waking moments. In her last days, she was extremely needy and would plead with us not to leave her. But alas, every day we had to break her heart. When I took my sister’s place every day in the evening, I would try to be somewhat productive by either writing or drawing or coding. The coding part didn’t work because I couldn’t focus at all, but I came out with some crudely drawn hospital walls and angsty poems about how an old woman sharing my grandma’s room was essentially dead because I didn’t see her actually awake a single time during my time there. One week, I spent at least 5 hours a day playing an iPhone game called Subway Surfer and completely destroying any high scores that my girlfriend and her brother had previously set. She never suggested competing at any her games after that.

During this time, both my sister and I fell into a sort of depression, and it’s not wonder really, what with seeing our grandma slowly dying and suffering immensely every single day. And as I mentioned before, the place itself sort of kills you. I suspect we began to hate ourselves, what with being unable to do anything to really help my grandma feel better besides adjusting her bed or pushing her onto a specific side every 5 minutes but even then doing so resentfully because the requests came all too often, much too often, and even though she had spent 15+ years waking us up, feeding us, and taking care of us we couldn’t even handle taking care of her needs for a couple hours a day. Eventually, we had to leave.

San Francisco (October 2012-December 2012)

My sister and I escaped, well I escaped, by taking a road trip to Seattle and dropping myself off at San Francisco on the way down. My sister went back home. The road trip was a much needed time off for both of us, and instead of spending our days sitting next to a hospital bed we spent it behind the wheel racing 18 wheelers on the freeway and gorging ourselves with Twix bars and McDonald’s ice cream cones. I’m surprised our bodies survived the trip.

After being dropped off and avoiding getting into a million potential catastrophes because the hills in San Francisco are insane and driving there is nothing short of a nightmare, I spent some time crashing at Chris, Rafi, and Emily’s place in Pacific Heights. Great apartment, and I’m pretty sure I put them all at some sort of risk of getting kicked out by their landlord because they’re not allowed to have anyone there for an extended period of time. Thanks Chris, Rafi, and Emily; you guys are awesome.

I searched for an apartment, and by search I mean responding to every Craigslist ad possible because the housing market in SF is a seller’s market to a comical extent. My standards were rock bottom, and I even considered living in a tiny, dark hotel room with some random middle-aged dude who smoked like a chimney because the price was cheap. Thankfully, I found a place on Lower Nob Hill (no, not the Tenderloin, I actually mean Lower Nob Hill), where I had my own room but shared a bathroom a la dorm style. It actually was pretty much a dorm for Academy of the Arts and CCA students and I was pretty much one of a handful of people in the building who didn’t go to art school.

Close to a week later, I was riding the CalTrain while chatting with a stranger that I had met on the bus when I got a phone call from my sister.

“Grandma’s dead.”

I had expected these words, yes, I had even hoped for these words before because I thought my grandma would be better off dead then living in the constant state of suffering that she was in, but I didn’t expect to hear these words so soon, no not this soon, but really what did I expect after deserting my grandma for a week to go on a road trip, how she must have agonized over having someone next to her all day long to suddenly having no one. What did I expect.

I took the news well, only because the long hours next to her bedside, if nothing else, had prepared me for this moment. After the phone call, I shared the news with the stranger I had been talking to and he took the news much worse than I did and I instantly felt bad for dropping this bomb on him. I suspect that had it not been for that experience that we went through, we wouldn’t have become friends and met up semi-regularly for lunch every now and then. Sorry about that, Adam.

I flew home for the funeral, it was strange because the casket was open but the person inside was not my grandma, it was my grandma but they had caked her face with something that was supposed to make her look better and presentable and not gaunt but instead it was strange and foreign and fake. The most vivid memory I have is of my grandma’s younger sister’s granddaughter, age 3 maybe, crying because her mother was crying. There is no way that the little girl knew who my grandma was or that she was dead or what death even means, but she was crying nonetheless because her mother was. We’re all conditioned to be saddened by death.

I left home as soon as I could to come back to San Francisco. I expected the numb feeling to go away and for the waterfall to begin, but really, nothing of the sort happened. The farthest I got was a single tear I shed while thinking about my grandma one time in my room. I suspect my emotional faculties are somewhat abnormal.

Despite coming to San Francisco for the purpose of working on an iPhone app called Bemo, I almost immediately became distracted by the amazing city that is San Francisco. I spent my days exploring the city, meeting up with friends that I had made from previous internships, writing, reading, drawing, and sometimes even trying to cook and bake. I made a lot of chocolate chip cookies then.

I want to talk about Bemo for a bit. Bemo was an iPhone app that was started in Princeton’s COS 333 class with Harvest Zhang and Raymond Zhong, and it was an easier way to share your real-time location with your friends analagous to how phone calls work. When I decided to take the year off, I planned on making a startup with Bemo and make it as successful as possible. As a result, I made the decision to work on it alone without Harvest and Raymond because after all, I’d be working on it full-time in San Francisco and they would be back in school. It was an extremely selfish and immature move, and I did a terrible job of handling the situation. Harvest and Raymond, I owe you two a public apology and I’m sorry for having been such an asshole.

Whether it was due to wanting to avoid a toxic project or pure lack of motivation, I didn’t end up working on Bemo for more than a week. Instead, one of the things I did was work for a short time as a public fundraiser for the Red Cross via an organization called Public Outreach. The term we used internally to describe what we did was “canvassing”, but so far everyone I’ve talked to who does the same thing for different organizations calls it fundraising so I’ll go with that. If you’ve ever seen people from Greenpeace in green vests beckoning you over to talk to you about how you can save the world by making monthly donations, that’s essentially what I did but for the Red Cross. It’s singlehandedly the most valuable experience that I took away from living in San Francisco because facing constant rejection for 8 hours a day is truly a transformative experience. Imagine people looking down, picking up their phones to fake being on phone calls, or even crossing the street so that they can avoid having to talk to you. All day long. You learn to deal with it very quickly and end up just entertaining yourself on the job by coming up with the most creative way to get people to talk to you. I was let go because I didn’t meet the quota necessary to stay on, but I met some amazing people from my time there and I’m really glad I did it.

Okay, so this post is much, much longer than I had anticipated, and I still haven’t gotten to backpacking in Europe, which was by far the most rewarding experience I had during my time off. My plane’s boarding so I’ll save that for next time. Toodles.

May 12

Mother’s Day Without Mother

image

Childhood

"She’s too tired to talk right now."

This was the reason week after week why I couldn’t talk to my mom on the phone. I was living with my uncle’s family in the States, and my mom was somewhere in Korea dying from breast cancer. By the time the excuses started flowing, she was already dead and I was oblivious.

A couple months later, we’re all sitting cross-legged in the middle of my grandpa’s senior home apartment in La Mirada, and I’m bawling my eyes out. My dad had just announced the news that my mother had passed away, which hit me like a ton of bricks, and noticeably missed most others as I was one of few shedding tears. Everyone else had known for a while now.

Teenage years

Every day is some variation of waking up to my grandma yelling at me that I’m late for school, eating my grandma’s home-cooked Korean meals (and once in a while finding a stray hair resting on top of the fluffy white rice), and listening to her singing praise songs and clapping next to the dinner table after finishing her daily session of copying down Bible verses.

My grandma has been my mother for nearly a decade and is recognized as such not just by me but also by the US government. My legal adoption to my grandparents is complete, and my fun fact — my birth father is my legal brother — is born.

Young adulthood

Grandma dies due to a weak heart and a host of other problems. I wish I could say that she died peacefully, but the last months of her life had been nothing but discomfort and frankly, suffering. I had moved away from home, away from my grandma, to San Francisco only a week prior.

Two days before Mother’s Day

"What are you doing for Mother’s Day?"

I don’t know how to answer her, the cute girl with blue eyeliner raising money for Greenpeace next to Barnes and Noble. I don’t want to let her know that this will be the first year in which there is no one to celebrate, well there is, but she’s six feet under. I hem and haw for a while because I don’t want to drop this heavy emotional bomb on this unsuspecting stranger who probably thinks she’s asking an innocent question that will make for some polite conversation. I tell her the truth. She doesn’t apologize for the next 20 minutes which so many people are prone to do after hearing the news of death. I appreciate that. She shares that her dad also died this past October, he from a brain aneurysm. My Mother’s Day will be her Father’s Day, and I feel for her.

One day before Mother’s Day

My sister, my grandpa, and I drive over to Rose Hill, where my grandma had been buried just 7 months prior. We have some trouble finding her grave, but we eventually find it. We say our greetings to the air, leave some pink roses in the hole in front of her plaque (which apparently cost a bit extra to install), and sit around for bit talking about grandma and admiring other graves with small fences and entire gardens. Grave envy is a real thing.

Mother’s Day 2013

Facebook and Instagram are exploding with cute pictures of people and their moms. It’s weird not having anyone to buy flowers for, not having anyone to kiss on the cheek, not having anyone to wish “Happy Mother’s Day!”

My sister and I look inside the crowded Starbucks, exchanging joking-but-not-really-joking comments that all these people should go home to their mothers so that we can take the table adjacent to the door that has an outlet right next to it. We clearly deserve this table because everyone has mothers at home and we do not. We are owed.

The powers that be hear our cries for justice and a couple minutes later, the table opens up.

Apr 06

An Overdue Update

I should let you know that I haven’t been posting any of my travel posts or uploading any pictures on Facebook because my laptop was stolen on a train ride from hell through Bulgaria. More on this later. The important thing is that I’m still safe and traveling!

Mar 21

Vienna Travel Tips

Transportation

Hostels

Nightlife

Eats

Mar 20

Vienna First Impressions

Alright, so this post is way overdue because I’m not even in Vienna anymore, but I’ll write down what I remember of my first impressions.

Mar 19

Prague Travel Tips

Transportation

Hostels

Nightlife

Spending

Mar 14

"Where are you from?"

Let’s be real, saying “Fullerton” is out of the question.

I used to say Orange County, but only a handful of people from Europe who have seen “The OC” knew where that’s located and I felt like a snobby American who expects everyone from all over the world to know where Orange County is located.

And then I switched to saying California, but that only delayed the problem because quite a few people would ask the follow-up question of where exactly in California I’m from. Back to square one.

A possible solution was saying that I’m from Los Angeles, as it’s reasonable to assume that the vast majority of people have heard of LA and know where it’s located. But then some people have actually been to LA and would tell me about all the fun, tourist activities that they’ve done there and I would just nod and smile and feel like a fraud because I’ve never properly explored LA despite living 30 minutes from it. Shame on me.

So now I just tell people that I’m from Disneyland. For people who don’t know where it is, I tell them it’s “around LA” and I get the added bonus of having people associate me with the Happiest Place on Earth. Success!