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.
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
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.
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.
Well then. It’s been a while since I’ve last posted, and I’m sorrowfully behind schedule on my year goal of making 150 posts for this year so I better get started now.
For those of you who aren’t in the tech scene or don’t really care about startups, hackNY is a sweet summer program founded by Evan Korth and Chris Wiggins which pairs up students with tech startups in NYC to keep kids off the street. That is, Wall Street. I stole that joke from Chris.
I’m going to do a weekly update so that I can keep track of things I did and learned so that I can look back on these a couple years from now (probably months in reality, seeing how terrible my memory seems to be getting by the day) and see that I didn’t waste all summer sitting on the steps of Union Square eating burritos and people-watching (just a couple days).
Week 1 has been pretty crazy, what with meeting 35(?) other programmers and designers and trying to get up to speed with Crowdtap’s technology stack. The other hackNY fellows are pretty chill, and although some are archetypal tech geeks that you expect programmers to be (not that there’s anything wrong with that), others have really varied interests and have directed films and produced music. It’s like being a freshman in college all over again, complete with late night debates about the role of nationalism in American politics. That was Tuesday night. We all met on Sunday.
Crowdtap is a 35~ person startup that connect consumers with brands by rewarding its users for completing survey questions, watching videos, and engaging in useful discussions about Crowdtap’s partners. What Crowdtap is doing is really neat and show how companies can use social media to tap into what their customers are thinking. I spent all week being a promiscuous pair programmer and learning about the Rails apps and Spine.js apps that Crowdtap uses to power their service. One thing that I found really helpful for quickly understanding how all the pieces tie together is to ask a ton of questions, even when I think I know what’s going on behind the hood. I’d much rather err on the side of being too inquisitive than to pretend to understand things when I actually don’t and be less productive.
I was really surprised by how exhausted I was at the end of each day, because I felt like a stereotypical cog in the machine that gets off his 9-5 work day and goes home to watch TV before going to sleep to repeat the whole process again. It makes sense though when you think about it because when you pair with someone for the entire day, you need to explicitly set aside time to take breaks because while you naturally take breaks when working alone, you have to coordinate to do so when you’re working with someone else.
Okay, I have to go now because Dave and Raj are arguing about the impact of legalization of marijuana on the economy and i can’t concentrate at all.
"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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!