Dan Kang

Aug 31

On my mother -

coocakes:

November 10, 1999. It took me nearly 10 years to acknowledge her death to someone outside my family.

최재란. God-fearing wife and daughter. Mother of 3. Sister to 3. High school chemistry teacher turned evangelist. Succumbed to a tumor under her left armpit in the breast, which I’m told…

My sister, the gifted writer.

May 10

Dream

Dream, a short story for my creative writing class

John couldn’t wait to dream. As he slipped into his navy pajama bottoms, his right leg caught the fabric halfway through and pulled him down to the floor.

“Ow!”

He lay defeated for a while, feeling hot not so much from the pain but from the embarrassment, although he was the only one to witness the fall. He got up, sat on the bed, and successfully slid his legs into his bottoms. After turning off his bedside lamp, John slipped under the covers and closed his eyes as he pulled his blanket tightly around him. His chest started rising and falling at a steady rhythm, and he drifted off to sleep as he half-consciously scratched at a tickle on his upper right thigh.

When John woke up, he blinked several times and couldn’t believe his eyes. He was still in his own bed in his room. He sat up and cycled through endless possible explanations. Was it a problem with the hardware? No way — the error rate was less than one in a trillion. A bug in the latest SimChip firmware upgrade? But he had been dreaming without any problems for the past couple months. He racked his brain but no satisfactory answer came to mind. For a second, he considered submitting a support request, but immediately dropped the idea. A Sim Technologies support representative unable to solve a problem with his own SimChip? He’d never hear the end of it.

The annoyance of missing out on a dream lingered in the back of John’s mind as he headed into the bathroom. He splashed water onto his face, squeezed exactly enough toothpaste to cover half of the toothbrush, and proceeded to count to sixty in his head. Twenty brush strokes for the left side of his mouth, twenty for the middle, and twenty for the right. After showering, he neatly combed his dark brown hair to the side and headed to his closet to put on a crisply pressed white dress shirt, a black silk tie, black trousers, and a black jacket — the same outfit he wore to work every day. Only the business department of Sim Technologies, not the support department he was in, had a dress code, but he found it much too cumbersome to select a different outfit every day.

In the kitchen, John removed the two perfectly toasted slices of white bread from the toaster and set them down on a plate. As he reached to grab the peanut butter jar from the cabinet above, he stopped short. He had forgotten to buy more peanut butter after it had run out yesterday. John unscrewed the lid of the jar and saw that there was more left than he had expected, just barely enough for one more sandwich. He scraped the remaining peanut butter onto a slice of toast and glanced at his watch as he twisted the lid back onto the jar. It was 10:15 A.M., which meant that he had to leave now in order to catch the subway. After tossing the used knife into the sink, John absentmindedly shoved the peanut butter jar back into the cabinet and grabbed his briefcase and sandwich. Before the SimChip came along, he used to eat two sandwiches for breakfast. Now, since he and everyone else he knew stayed awake for only 12 hours, his two sandwiches had become one, and his lunch and dinner had also been reduced accordingly. More time dreaming meant less time awake. Less time awake meant less energy needed.

Making sure that he had his wallet and keys in his left pocket and his Sim Technologies badge clipped on the right side of his trousers, John locked his apartment door and jiggled the door two times before calling the elevator. As he stepped out of his apartment complex, John quickly merged into the stream of people on the sidewalk. He walked one block south and two blocks east, keeping his gaze fixed on the sidewalk below him the entire time while taking quick bites out of his sandwich. As he walked into the subway station, someone bumped into him from behind. “Sorry,” John muttered. He stood sideways against the wall to let the person pass, deliberately looking away to avoid eye contact. On the subway car, John sat with his eyes closed and head tilted back. He usually spent his commute thinking about his dream from the night before, but this time he had nothing.

John had been in college when Sim Technologies took the world by storm with their upgraded SimChip. A few years prior, they had released the initial version of the SimChip — a chip, installed using a minimally invasive surgical procedure through the skull, that could measure and record all the signals being passed between nerve cells in the brain. Effectively, this meant that everything a person experienced — their thoughts, their feelings, their sensory stimuli — would be captured by the chip. It was a mind-blowing feat; the chip allowed people to capture the raw data of their existence. Despite great excitement in the scientific community, the product had resulted in poor adoption. Although some of the personal analytics applications that built on the data were quite impressive, most people didn’t want to have the SimChip installed just to see some pretty graphs.

All that changed when Sim Technologies added replay functionality to the SimChip. Sim Technologies had devised a method for replaying a select portion of the data — the signals created by sensory stimuli — back on the brain when it was dormant in sleep. The amazing part was that the signals could be replayed not just on the person whose recording it was, but on anyone with a SimChip installed. For the first time in history, people could see, hear, touch, smell, and taste as someone else entirely. With that breakthrough, SimChip adoption caught on like wildfire, and after enviously hearing his college roommates trade stories about their SimChip-created dreams, John had finally scheduled an appointment to have a SimChip installed.

Before the installation, a Sim Technologies support representative had met with John to explain what life would be like with the SimChip. “Every night, your SimChip is first going to upload a recording of your day before downloading a recording to replay as a dream. This means that someone, somewhere, will replay a day in your life as a dream. Do you still want to get the SimChip installed?”

John quickly nodded, embracing the tradeoff. Everyone else was doing it, and his life wasn’t interesting enough to make him worry about any important secrets being revealed.

She continued, “The recording used for your dream is selected randomly from the pool of all recordings uploaded in the past day, so you’re going to experience the most recent day of a SimChip user. When you fall asleep in real life, you’ll wake up as that person, go through their day, fall asleep as them, then finally wake up as yourself. The most important thing is to not panic. Dreaming is rather shocking at first, but you’ll get used to it after a couple minutes. It’s like a first-person movie, except that it’s more realistic than you can imagine. Like a dream, except that you’ll remember it clearly afterward.”

And remember he did. When John had initially woken up in that first dream, he tried to brush the wavy blonde hair away from the front of his eyes. When his body sat up instead of brushing the hair aside, he understood what the support representative had meant about not panicking. He had no control over his own movements. Everything was already predetermined by the recording that John was simply replaying — all that John could really call his own were his thoughts and feelings.

As John walked into the bathroom, he wanted, with every fiber of his being, to go back into the bedroom and make the bed. It wouldn’t help make the room appear any cleaner, what with the piles of socks and shirts everywhere on the bedroom floor, but it was a personal ritual that he had performed every morning without fail since he was a child.

I shouldn’t care; it’s not my bed after all, he thought, trying to quell his irritation. His displeasure was swallowed up by the surprise of seeing himself in the bathroom mirror. I must be at least six-foot three. He wanted to examine himself more, but he involuntarily proceeded to close his eyes and splash water on his face. He cringed as he haphazardly moved a toothbrush around in his mouth without any clear pattern or direction. He caught a glimpse of himself again as he left the bathroom, getting a better look at his sturdy, broad shoulders and the long hair that rested on them.

John found himself driving for a good while before getting out of a jeep in front of a beach. He had never been to a beach before, having always lived in landlocked regions, and he immensely enjoyed the sensation of the cold, smooth sand weaving in and out between his toes as he walked toward the water in his wetsuit. He felt the hefty weight of his surfboard under his arm, and he knew that he would never have been able to carry it with such ease in his real body.

There was a tall figure up ahead also in a wetsuit, who raised his hand and called out to him. “Hey AJ!”

John felt his free hand shoot up and mouth spread into a grin. “Mornin’, Brad!” John enjoyed hearing his own voice; it felt strong with rough edges, like the sound of a double bass mixed with sandpaper being rubbed.

When John walked up to Brad, they performed a highly practiced handshake that ended with a smack on the side of each others’ head. “Have a good dream last night?” Brad asked.

John’s mouth opened. “Nah, it was crazy. I was some grandma in a senior center. Didn’t understand a word she said, but I think it was Spanish.”

Brad laughed. “That’s wild! Anything exciting happen besides using the bathroom every ten minutes?”

“That was pretty much it. I don’t wanna get old, man. You really end up sitting around doing nothing.”

“Don’t sweat it dude, we’ve got some time.”

John and Brad paddled out into the sea, and John felt more panic the further away he got from shore. By the time John stopped paddling to turn his board toward the distant shore, his mind was racing with questions. What if I get attacked by a shark? What if I get swallowed up by a wave and drown? John wondered if he had made a mistake but told himself that AJ couldn’t have died surfing, or else his dream wouldn’t have been uploaded for John to replay. Maybe AJ went to sleep in the hospital after having his arm bitten off, though.

Just then, John felt his chest lower onto the surfboard and his arm paddling hard against the water. As his head jerked forward, he caught a glimpse of a massive wave rising behind him. This is it, I’m going to drown, he thought. As the wave caught up to him, he felt his arms push him off the surfboard and his right leg slide up toward his torso as he stood up in one fluid motion. John tried his hardest to close his eyes, but his eyes remained wide open and his body shifted with movements sturdy and sure. He smoothly rode down the foot of the wave as it rose up, gigantic, behind him. The crest of the wave started crashing in front of him, and he spread his arms and lightly grazed the wall of water with his forefinger as he continuously taunted death by speeding sideways toward the hole at the end of the tunnel of water around him. As he sped through the opening with the wave dying behind him, John felt complete unison between mind and body as he grinned and waved at a barely visible Brad flashing him a thumbs up.

When John had woken from that first dream, he had laid in perfect silence on his bed for an hour, simply absorbing all that he experienced. After that initial wave, John had gone on to surf for a couple more hours before devouring fish tacos with Brad and ending the night making s’mores over a bonfire with a group of friends at the beach. Dreaming was far more fun and exciting than anything he had ever done. John had excitedly gone back to sleep in the middle of the day, only to find himself jolted awake after a few, short hours replaying a day of a school janitor. Cleaning high school bathrooms wasn’t quite like surfing, but the experience, seemingly mundane, was new and fascinating. Confused about the dream’s abrupt interruption, John had contacted a support representative to learn that the SimChip replays a downloaded recording only for the duration of the length of the most recently uploaded recording. That day, John had decided to adopt the SimChip lifestyle; from then on, he would stay awake for exactly 12 hours every day in order to maximize time spent dreaming.

Now out of the subway station, John headed through the sliding glass doors into Sim Technologies. He looked straight ahead, purposefully avoiding eye contact with the guard at the front desk, and tapped his badge on the turnstile. He recalled how he had once felt immensely proud to be working there, a company that was pushing the frontier of shared human experience. He had been the envy of his college friends, who had all become SimChip fanatics, when he was hired by Sim Technologies. Little did they, nor he initially, know that his role as a support representative would be little more than a glorified question and answer database.

When he stepped into the elevator, he pressed the button for the fifteenth floor and shifted his eyes to the floor. There was someone in the elevator to his right, someone with sleek, black pumps. He turned his head ever so slightly and peered out of the corner of his eye to just barely make out her basic features. He shifted his gaze back to the floor. He hadn’t looked at her directly, but he had seen enough. Curly dark brown hair. Thin, glossy lips. Green eyes. Maybe slightly blue. Gorgeous. She looked slightly familiar too, but he couldn’t figure out where he’d seen her before. He thought about what it’d be like to get to know her, and the mere thought of talking to her made his pulse quicken.

He looked back at the elevator buttons and noticed that the only other lit button was for a floor somewhere in the thirties. He would have the entire trip to his floor to start the conversation. He could compliment her shoes. No, that could come off as creepy and even inappropriate. He could bring up the latest Sim Technologies metrics. The billionth SimChip installation had occurred a week ago, and the company was still abuzz from the announcement. No, she was probably sick to death of hearing about it. He could ask her about her dream last night. Outside of work, it was considered rude to ask a stranger about their dreams, but inside Sim Technologies it was somewhat of a norm. No, he didn’t have a dream to share.

The elevator came to a stop and the doors slid open. John surprised himself with how quickly he bolted out of the elevator. He hadn’t planned on practically running out, but maybe he hadn’t realized how nervous he had been. She probably wouldn’t have been interested in talking with him anyway. He was just a support representative after all.

John walked past a dozen cubicles before reaching his own. He sat down, turned on his computer, and began answering support questions. The first one was from a woman in Wyoming who wanted to know if she could replay her husband’s recordings. John found the script explaining that no, you can’t select whose recordings you replay, and sent the reply. The second one was from a man from London who wanted to save the recording he downloaded last night so that he can have the same dream over and over. John found the script explaining that this too was not possible and sent it along. During his first couple weeks as a support representative, John used to feel guilty when dashing people’s hopes by telling them that they couldn’t do what they wanted. Now, he just copied and pasted the standard responses and didn’t give a second thought. All the questions he saw every day were exactly the same, just worded differently and signed by different names from different places. Once in a while, he would get a unique question that would make him actually look things up and type out a non-scripted response. He enjoyed those. He couldn’t remember the last time he got one.

A couple hours in, John heard a light tap on his cubicle wall. It was his direct supervisor. He came in, and placed one hand firmly on John’s desk. “John, are you available to talk?”

“Sure.” John turned his chair towards his supervisor.

“Listen, your customer reviews this week are hovering around a 7. We need you to get to an 8.5 by the end of next week. Think you can do that?”

“Sure.” His supervisor was repeating the same exact thing that he had told John yesterday.

“Thanks, John. Also, try to speed up your responses. You’re answering fewer queries than you usually do.” He patted John on the back and walked away.

John turned to the clock on his monitor and watched the seconds crawl by. He often fantasized about quitting his lifeless job and trying something new, but then again he got to try something new every night when he went to sleep. Maybe one day he’d actually move next to the beach and learn how to ride the waves.

When John got home, he changed out of his suit and slumped into his couch in front of the television. He hoped there was a good show on to justify declining to go out for a quick drink with some of the other support representatives. He hadn’t felt like it. He hadn’t felt like it yesterday either, or the day before that, and he knew they were already thinking of no longer asking him to go out with them. John turned on the television and flipped through some channels. Nothing exciting. He thought about just turning off the set, but sat through a rerun of a movie he had watched yesterday since he had nothing better to do anyway until his 12 hours were up. When it finally ended, he walked to his room and hoped that his SimChip would work tonight.

John couldn’t wait to dream. As he slipped into his navy pajama bottoms, his right leg caught the fabric halfway through and pulled him down to the floor.

“Ow!”

He lay defeated for a while, feeling hot not so much from the pain but from the embarrassment, although he was the only one to witness the fall. He got up, sat on the bed, and successfully slid his legs into his bottoms. After turning off his bedside lamp, John slipped under the covers and closed his eyes as he pulled his blanket tightly around him. His chest started rising and falling at a steady rhythm, and he drifted off to sleep as he half-consciously scratched at a tickle on his upper right thigh.

Apr 21

The Party

The Party, a short story for my creative writing fiction class

Mark clutched the six-pack of Coors Light and pressed the doorbell, simultaneously running his tongue over his teeth to make sure that there was no evidence of the roast beef sandwich he had eaten for dinner an hour earlier. He heard no change in the dull roar of voices on the other side, and he bit his lower lip. He raised his hand again, left it suspended in front of the doorbell, and slowly brought it back to his side. Well, at least I can save the beer for later, he thought, and turned away.

“Mark! You came!”

Mark turned back to see Sierra in the doorway, her strawberry-red lips parted in a wide smile, revealing a set of spotless teeth. He cracked a smile back at her.


Mark had met Sierra a few days earlier in the communal laundry room, when he had dared to move the idle contents of machine #3 to an open dryer after his fourth trek to the laundry room with his laundry bag in tow. They’d probably be thankful that I moved their forgotten laundry to the dryer, he told himself. Still, he nearly suffered a heart attack when he reached down to pick up a pink lace thong he had dropped and immediately heard a cough behind him.

“Hi, I think that’s mine.”

Mark dropped the thong as if it were hot coal. “Shoot, sorry, I was just moving your —”

“Don’t worry, you don’t look like an underwear thief to me,” she said with a coy smile. “I’m Sierra. I just moved here.” She stretched out her hand.

“Hey, I’m Mark,” he said, taking her hand. He couldn’t take his eyes off her crystal blue eyes. “I’ve lived here for a while, I guess.”

“Great! You can give me the lowdown on the apartment complex and let me know if there are any underwear thieves I should know about,” she said with a wink. She walked over, picked up her underwear, and tossed it into the dryer holding the rest of her clothes. “By the way, I’m having a housewarming party on Friday night, wanna come?”

“Sure,” Mark replied, more out of politeness than anything. Sitting at home watching TV wouldn’t exactly make a good excuse.

“Neat. Come to Suite 211 at 9.” She threw in a dryer sheet, started the dryer, and turned around to leave. “Good meeting you, Mark. See you on Friday!”

“See you,” he replied, watching the door long after it had closed behind Sierra.


Mark had thought all Friday afternoon about whether to go to Sierra’s party, endlessly constructing, deconstructing, and running through a mental pros and cons chart. The last housewarming party he had gone to had been with Clarissa, when he had finally caved to Clarissa’s silly pleading that they needed to go to Kelsey’s housewarming or else Kelsey would stop being friends with her. Before going to Kelsey’s they stopped at a wine shop for a housewarming gift. Upon entering the shop, Mark eagerly reached for the first bottle under $10 that he saw and threw Clarissa a cheeky grin. She simply shook her head at him, the curled ends of her lips breaking the illusion of the sternness she tried to give him. They departed the store not only with Kelsey’s favorite chardonnay, but a bottle of Merlot to be shared by only the two of them later in the warmth of Mark’s bed. That was months ago.

It was this memory of Clarissa that finally made Mark decide to go to Sierra’s housewarming party. Sierra had been the first girl since his breakup with Clarissa to occupy his mind in idle moments, her silky white-blonde hair appearing smoother and her red lips appearing softer every time he mentally replayed their encounter in the laundry room.


Sierra motioned for him to enter the apartment, and he obliged. There were about a dozen people scattered around the living room, grouped off in pockets of three or four. Most looked to be in their early twenties, and it was clear to Mark that he was at least a few years older than anyone else in the room. A few people watched him walk in, and he met several of their gazes. A chubby girl with pink streaks in her hair smiled at him before turning back to her group.

“Most of my friends here are from college, and some are from work,” Sierra chirped.

“What do you do for work?”

“Finance. Let’s not talk about it though, it’s not that interesting. Let’s get you a drink!”

Mark followed Sierra into the kitchen, where she took his 6-pack of Coors Light and set it on the floor. The counter was overflowing with bottles of every type of liquor and beer.

Sierra handed him a shot glass. “We’re doing shots. You’re the guest, so you get to choose what we drink.”

“Anything’s fine with me. What do you like?”

“In that case, we’re doing my favorite. Gin!”

She grabbed a bottle of Bombay, and filled both their glasses.

“Cheers!” She flashed a smile, clinked her glass against his, and they both downed their shots. She made a face and drank from a glass of cranberry juice on the counter. Even her sour face is gorgeous, Mark thought.

“Here, you have to take another one,” she said, as she filled his shot glass again.

“What? Okay, fine,” he said, and downed the second shot.

The burn in his throat reminded him of taking shots in college, and he felt his body loosen up as a smile formed across his face.

“What, I don’t get a chaser?” he said to Sierra with a slight smirk.

“Nope, men don’t get one,” she teased, at the same time holding out her glass.

Mark took a small swig, and handed it back. “I think we can make an exception for me.”

He took another look around him, and noticed two pairs throwing ping pong balls over a long table in the dining hall next to the kitchen.

“Wow, I haven’t played beer pong in years,” he remarked.

“Let’s play together! I’m really good,” she replied. She yelled to the players at the table, “Hey! Mark and I are next!” One of the players turned toward them and gave a thumbs up.

Mark heard the doorbell ring, and Sierra turned to him.

“Oh! I should go get that. I’ll be right back. Go meet my friends! Don’t worry, they’re all nice,” she said with a wink. She smiled and left the kitchen.

Mark grabbed a beer and silently sat down in a chair next to the beer pong table. He watched as a short player with a backwards baseball cap threw his ping pong ball into a cup on the other side. “Hell yeah!” he yelled as he high-fived his partner.


Mark thought back to a particular game of beer pong that he had played at his friend Mickey’s house back in college. Mark’s partner had gone to go use the restroom, and Mark had motioned for a cute brunette to come closer to him.

“Listen, my friend’s taking a piss. Can you sub for him?” he asked her.

“Okay. But if I make this next shot, I get to play even when he comes back,” she replied.

“Deal,” Mark said with a smirk.

She smiled at him, and threw her ball straight into a cup.

“Geez, now I’m going to lose one of my best friends thanks to you,” Mark lamented, lightly punching her arm.

She looked up at him and playfully stuck out her tongue. “Too bad. A deal’s a deal!”


Clarissa somehow always managed to get her way, Mark thought with a wistful smile. He shook his head and focused back on the game. He saw a ball fly into a lone cup and heard the short player yell, “Game. Over!” and high-five his teammate.

“Whatever, Brian!” one of the players on the losing team yelled back.

Brian turned to Mark. “Hey, you’re up next with Sierra, right? Why don’t you go get her so we can play?”

“Sure.”

Mark got up from the chair, and walked toward the living room. He saw Sierra right away, and his heart stopped as it did when he first met her. She was sitting on the lap of a well-built, large man with a light scruffy beard, and her hand was intertwined with his. His face burning up, Mark turned away from the living room and walked back into the dining hall where Sierra couldn’t see him.

Brian looked over as Mark entered. “Is she coming?”

“Actually, I have to use the restroom. Why don’t you play with the next team?” Mark lied.

“It’s okay, we can wait. You were waiting to play for a while.”

“No, we’re skipping our turn. I really have to use the restroom.”

Brian cocked an eyebrow. After a pause, he said, “Sure, works for us.”

Mark managed a faint smile and looked around for the bathroom.

“There’s a bathroom in one of the bedrooms beyond the living room,” Brian said.

Mark turned toward the living room and took in a deep breath. He would find the bathroom and wait there for a while.

He briskly walked into the living room, trying to spot the bedroom that had the bathroom without being noticed.

“Mark!”

Mark clenched his teeth, and turned toward the voice.

“Mark, come over here and meet my boyfriend!”

He saw Sierra motioning with her arms for him to come closer. The entire group around Sierra looked at him.

“Hey.” Mark tried to sound enthusiastic as he approached the group, but he was sure that his enthusiasm appeared as fake as the forced smile he put on.

“Hey Mark, I’m Joey.” Sierra’s boyfriend extended his tanned, muscular arm, and Mark took it. Joey shook for the both of them.

Sierra beamed next to Joey, and started, “Joey, did I tell you about how I met Mark? I walked into the laundry room —”

“Sierra, where can I find the restroom?” Mark interrupted. He didn’t want to stick around for the rest of the story.

Sierra’s eyebrows furrowed. “Oh, it’s in the bedroom over there”, she explained, pointing at a door.

“Thanks.” Mark walked into the dimly lit bedroom and closed the door behind him. He closed his eyes and leaned back against the door, lost in a flurry of jealousy, embarrassment, and anger. His face flushed again, and he wasn’t sure whether it was the alcohol or his emotions — either way, he hated it. He hated everything he felt, especially the jealousy. That’s why Clarissa left you, you insecure bastard, he thought to himself.

“Hey, are you okay?”

Mark’s eyes immediately opened and scanned the room. He saw a silhouette sitting up on the bed and as his eyes adjusted, he recognized her as the chubby girl with the pink streaks he had seen earlier.

“Yeah, I was just feeling a bit dizzy.” He walked toward the bed.

“I know what you’re talking about. I drank too much too quickly so Sierra let me rest in her bed to recover. I guess I’m feeling a little bit better now.” Even from a couple feet away, Mark could smell the strong alcohol on her breath.

Mark sat down next to her with his legs resting on the floor. She plopped her head back onto the pillow. He turned toward her and studied her face. She had far too much makeup on, what with her eyeshadow giving her a black eye and her skin looking like someone had simply covered her face with a shallow layer of dirty clay. There were a couple bumps on her face around her lip, probably an acne outbreak she attempted to hide by caking on makeup.

“So who are you?” she said, breaking the silence.

“Mark.”

“I’m Judy,” she volunteered. She continued without encouragement, “Sometimes, I wonder if anyone really gets me.”

She had clearly had too much to drink, and he decided to humor her. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, you know Sylvia Plath? I love her work. I love literature. I was an English major in college, by the way. Anyway, you know how she killed herself by sticking her head in an oven? And sometimes, I feel like Sylvia Plath.”

“Please don’t go sticking your head in ovens.”

“No, don’t be stupid, I mean like I’m misunderstood. No one really understood her and I’m like the same way, you know?”

He didn’t say anything. He lifted his legs and lay on the bed, facing the ceiling with his eyes closed. He felt tired.

She continued. “I just want someone to understand me.”

He turned toward her, not sure what to say. He found her already facing him, eyes looking straight into his. He studied her bulbous nose, her bushy eyebrows, her crusty skin, and the pimples resting above the layers of fat that had accumulated under her chin.

“I just want to be understood,” she repeated.

Mark closed his eyes, leaned in, and kissed her.

She eagerly kissed him back, pushing her lips against his. Mark imagined himself kissing Sierra, then imagined himself kissing Clarissa, but the bumps on her chin scraping his face and her sloppy, wandering tongue made the fantasy impossible. He opened his eyes and slowly pushed her heavy shoulders back. She opened her eyes, confused.

He got up off the bed. “I need to use the bathroom.”

Spotting a door on the other side of the bedroom, he slowly made his way toward it. When he entered the bathroom, he flipped on the light and turned on the sink. He looked in the mirror and saw tired eyes beneath ruffled hair. He loudly splashed water onto his face several times and let the water drip down his face with his eyes closed. Suddenly, he realized that there was someone behind him. It was Judy.

Mark quickly wiped his face with the towel next to him, and stammered, “What are you—”

“Shhhh.” She held a finger to her lips and smiled. She closed the door behind them, locked it, and pulled him by his arm to the bathtub.

“I know what you want,” she said with a grin. She climbed into the bathtub and lay down. “Come and fuck me.”

Mark stared blankly at her. “Judy, I don’t —”

She had unbuttoned her shirt and was taking it off. “Come on, come and fuck me.”

“Judy, no.”

Her grin gradually melted away and her eyes narrowed.

“What? Why? You were just kissing me!”

Mark took a deep breath. “Listen, I didn’t —”

“You know what?! Fuck you! Fuck you!”

In the bathroom light, he could make out every detail of Judy’s angry face: the smeared mascara, the too-thick eyeliner, every part of her face jiggling as she proceeded to scream at him. Her screaming became mixed with sobs, and he stood there horrified, watching all of the makeup run down her face in globs.

Mark was still standing there, shocked, when she finally got out of the bathtub and ran out of the bathroom, no longer screaming but heaving her body with every sob. When she had finally gone, Mark closed the door, locked it, and ambled over to the toilet, as if in a trance. His body lurched once, and he spewed out a heavy, dark brown stream of roast beef, liquor, and beer. He stood over the toilet with a dribble of vomit dripping down his chin.

Heavy knocks came at the door, and he heard Joey’s voice, “Hey! Is everything okay in there?” Sierra’s voice came next, “Mark! Are you okay?”

Mark flushed the toilet, and dragged his feet to the door. He unlocked the door and opened it. Sierra, Joey, Brian, and several other guests stood silently, waiting for him to say something. He simply stared straight ahead, not meeting their gaze and not seeing them, and slowly walked past them in silence, out of the bathroom, out of the bedroom, and out of the apartment.

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