Vectors in Life

“In a way, a man’s works are like vectors; unless they are aligned together, their [magnitudes] cancel out and he may just as well have been doing nothing.”

- Simeon Koh, 09/27/2012

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Let’s briefly review vectors.  Vectors are like arrows: they have a direction (which way it points) and a magnitude (how long it is).

This is a vector, which tells me my life is pointed towards the right, with some amount of umph.  A longer arrow would have meant more strong of an umph in my life.

Vector 1

This is another vector, which tells me my life is pointed towards the left, with the exact same amount of umph as the previous vector.

Vector 2

The funny thing is that vectors can be combined together.  If I add two of the first vector, then it would be like my life was pointed towards the right, and then pointed towards the right even more, resulting in a longer arrow to the right (brown arrow).

Vector 3

In contrast, if I add the first and second vectors together, then it’s like my life is pulled to the right, and at the same time pulled to the left by the same amount of umph.  In the end, my life points towards both the left and the right, and therefore points to nowhere.

Vector 4

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I made a vector analogy to life in my first blog post 2 years ago (see above quote).  At that time, I had finished college with nothing in particular to occupy my life.  I was doing random things, but getting nowhere because my life vectors weren’t pointed towards a purpose.  So I started this blog to get some of my life vectors pointed towards epicness, and I’m thankful for the adventures I’ve had.

Two years later, I’m back to the vector analogy, although in a very different place in life.  Now I’m in med school studying too many things and living in a different part of the country and apparently there exists this thing called winter that everyone keeps talking about, etc.  But despite my incredible productivity in life (many vectors with very large amplitudes), I feel like my life isn’t going anywhere.

On Thursday in Bible study, I was thinking about tropomyosin and microfilaments or something nonsensical instead of the churchy topic at hand.  Then I thought to myself, what is my life pointed towards?  Sure wasn’t pointed towards God very much.  Sure wasn’t towards my family back home.  Sure wasn’t towards my friends.  And the saddest thing was that my life vectors weren’t even pointed towards myself!  What was I doing these past few weeks?  I have no idea (maybe I should reread my blog posts).  I’m constantly running, but towards everything and therefore nothing.  My vectors are canceling out.

I’m still glad I’m here in med school studying what I signed up for so desperately.  I’m looking forward to the day when I’ll be actually useful to people.  But I need to think more about what kind of man I want to be and which vectors will take me there.

Simeon Koh

P.S.  Yes I realize I just quoted myself in the beginning of this post.  Is that weird?

37th Annual Korean American Health Fair

“[T]ake opportunities to volunteer at clinics or health fairs.  Even if you feel useless, do it.  We’ll all be pretty useless till second year of residency anyway, so we may as well practice that feeling.”

-From a Wise Friend’s Letter

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This past Saturday I volunteered at the Korean American Health Fair in Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicago.  It was a day when Korean doctors from the area volunteered their time to provide free health services to the uninsured Korean populations in the area.  Although as a mere first year medical student I didn’t know anything about anything about anything about anything, I hardly get any patient interaction at this point in my school curriculum (are they real?  do they exist?), so I was grateful for the opportunity to volunteer.

And indeed, I was REALLY useless.  I was a fly on the wall at a podiatrist’s office for a couple hours (I’m not even in podiatry school!); then I went over to an ophthalmologist’s office to usher patients in and out, and to hand a piece of tissue for patients to wipe the excess eye drops the doctor used on them.  Although it may have been nice to have this gentle little Korean boy pull tissues out of Kleenex boxes with perfect grace and timing after the doctor’s administration of eye drops, really they would have been perfectly fine without me.

But then why on earth was I volunteering to be useless?  I could have used that day to study Clinical Molecular Freaking Cell Biology or something.

Actually, although I was there to give help, I received more than I gave.  The podiatrist showed me how a truly good and humble man sees patients; an ophthalmologist, even though he sounded less humble and meek, showed me through deeds (he had volunteered at this fair for ~25 years) his love for patients.  The patients taught me that they indeed do exist(!!!), and that there is a special need for Korean-speaking healthcare providers.  Plus, I made a new friend, and it sure was better than studying clinical molecular cell biology at home by myself on a Saturday.  Also, randomly at the hospital they gave volunteers free honey powder.  I have no idea why.

Anyways, at this point, and for a long time, I’ll be receiving a lot more than I give.  But maybe if I study hard and keep volunteering to be useless, there will come a day when I’ll be able to give more than I receive.

Simeon Koh

Reflections on Exam #2

Another late post.  I had a big exam on Monday so last week I was pretty swamped.  Although I was used to heavy workloads from undergrad, medical school is quite different from what Harvey Mudd College trained me for.  No calculus?  No mathematical proofs?  No mass-on-a-spring-model-applied-to-every-other-problem?  What happened to 10-hr problem sets?  Now it’s all about gazillions of PowerPoint slides to study and understand on your own time.  Also, at Harvey Mudd, no matter how hard I studied some questions I couldn’t solve because I just wasn’t clever enough.  Here at Rosalind Franklin University, I think I can master everything … if I had about two or three times the amount of time.  Different kind of education, different kind of variables in play.  The only constant is the immense amount of pressure.

For those of you who know me, I’m one of the calmest people I know.  However, once in a while even I get anxious.  Sunday morning was one of those moments.  I was a bit behind in studying and I guess my slow brain finally processed through that fact on Sunday morning.  I was pretty anxious and didn’t have an appetite.

Thank God for Sundays though.  Of course, the pastor’s sermon that day had nothing to do with what I was going through (still a good message though, pastor), but God was already doing work in me before I even arrived at church.

The strange thing about it was the dissonance between my head and heart.  The first 2 years of med school here is graded Pass/Fail, exactly to prevent neurotic (and even non-neurotic, like me) medical students from exploding under pressure.  Also, even if I failed the biochemistry part of the exam (which was the subject I was most anxious about), as long as I don’t fail the overall class, I would be fine.  My brain knew all this plus more reasons why I shouldn’t be anxious, and I kept telling it to myself, expecting my rationale to triumph over my emotions, as per usual.  Then why was my heart still so anxious?

I realized that the stress wasn’t really about the exam or about bio-freaking-chemistry.  It was actually the fear of sucking.  What if my sub-excellent performance in school prevents me from getting into a good residency program?  What if my suckage in biochem leads me down the road to serious big-time suckage in providing adequate care for patients?  What if I disappoint my family and friends, who think I’m smart?  What if my peers start to pity me for my terrible study habits?  Most importantly, what if I can’t ever be good enough for my own standards?

But what Christianity makes it clear is that God’s love and mercy is independent of our performances.  That’s a central message that’s taught in churches everywhere all the time, but something that I need to come to terms with again and again.  It’s difficult because I don’t have that kind of love and grace on myself.  I totes judge myself on being cool and awesome at thing I do; and I totes pride myself in my usual calm and peaceful nature.  So when those things start to fall away just as the cookie crumbles, I don’t like it.

That’s my pride talking, though: the need to feel good about myself for not only winning at life, but also looking pretty while doing it.  God has a different narrative though: my value as a human being is independent of my victories and usefulness to the world.  Despite society being what it is, I know God’s narrative is true because nobody who’s ever loved me has said “I like you because you’re good at [fill in the blank].”

Only halfway through church service, I was already done being anxious.  Bio-freaking-chemistry was to have no pressure on me anymore.  This is not to say God miraculously taught me biochemistry (that would have been nice though),  or that I flipped the table and said, “To Mordor with med school!”  I still had to study hard that afternoon and get help from my friends.  God would have known that I wasn’t actually stressed about the exam.  He always knows the true diagnosis that’s not apparent from the surface.  Instead he helped me be brave in the face of possible/probable(?) suckage.

Simeon Koh

P.S.  I think biochemistry actually went alright.  But Clinical Molecular Cell Biology though…

Why I need to be sick

The past couple days I had come down with some light cold.  Phlegm, tingling throat, chills, malaise, etc.  Ah but I needed to study (oh when will it end?)!  At least I wasn’t pouring out fluids from my nostrils and sneezing every 10 seconds like I normally do with sicknesses.  This time I could at least read biochemistry notes while snuggled up in my bed.

While this was really mild and I was going to be totally fine, I hated it.  I didn’t like how it inhibited my rate of study and lowered my energy levels.  I also passed it on to one of my friends, and who knows how many enemies?  So much potential productivity lost from just a random microbe invasion that inevitably would disappear in a few days anyways.

But every time I’m sick, I’m reminded of why I’m here studying my life away in medical school.  A few years ago, I was at a week-long Christian conference (Urbana 09) where I had the misfortune of being sick for about half of it.  One particularly bad evening the speaker was talking something about the sick and the suffering in the world or something- I don’t remember much of her talk.  I left in the middle of her talk because I was so sick, and as I was leaving I thought of how much it sucks to be sick; how much it would suck to be sicker than I was; and how much more it would suck to be that sick every single day and know that you’re never going to get better. 

I think a teeny tiny bit of compassion was born that night somewhere very very deep inside of me.  I began to actually care about the fact that sickness and pain exist in our world.  And from that day onward, every time I am sick, I am reminded of the sick and the suffering, and my compassion grows just a teeny tiny bit.

Simeon Koh

Cheesecake and Cheesesteak

I forgot to post last week.  I’ll make it up I promise.  But I can’t promise very good quality writing.  Things are quite busy again, and most of my life isn’t very adventurous right now.

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Last week friends and I went to eat at this place named – I kid you not – Create Your Own Cheesecake & Cheesesteak.  On the outside it looks like an uninteresting real hole-in-the-wall kind of place, but with a name like that, how could we not try it?  Plus Yelp had really good reviews (although small n).

It was actually incredible.  You know how you walk into an ice cream shop and you sample different flavors and you buy whatever scoops you want?  This was like that, except with cheesecake not ice cream.  And these were really amazing cheesecakes.

The cheesesteak was also good.  Plus the staff were really nice.  The owner (I think he’s the owner) gave us all 50% off coupons for next time (it’s just copies of the menu that says “50% off” endorsed with his signature) for no reason!  Also, as we were about to leave, he just gave us free cheesefries!  I don’t know why he was so gracious to us (must have been heaven’s grace overflowing within his spirit or something) but I’m definitely returning to this place.

Also, a special shoutout to that Indian friend in the picture (he’s trying to eat the other guy’s head).  He bought me the cheesesteak because he apparently “felt bad for saying mean things” when we were joking around the other day.  I don’t know what he has to be sorry about, so I think he’s just another generous guy in my life.  Cool.  I love being loved.

This blog post has been a random story about great food, without much deep thought, but that’s okay.  Deep thoughts will come as several shallow thoughts assemble themselves.

Simeon Koh

Deep Dish Pizza

I should be studying.  I have my first exam on Monday and there are still much I haven’t reviewed.  However, I made a promise to blog at least once per week (not necessarily meaning every 7 days, but just once within that Sun-Sat period), and promises are more important than getting that 1 additional point on an exam.

One of the things that nearly everyone tells me about here is the Chicago winter (look up “Chiberia”) and Chicago-style pizza also known as deep dish pizza. For reasons unknown to most people, this species of pizza seems to exist primarily in Chicago-related area (defined pretty broadly here).  Why has it not made its way to the numerous pizzerias in California (even though we Californians all know/hear about it)?  How come other species of pizza (commonly belonging to genus Pizza Hut, Dominoes, etc.) can somehow even make it overseas to Korea, but deep dish hasn’t proliferated?  No one I’ve met has been able to provide a satisfactory answer.

Anyways, one of the good friends I made here is hungry pretty constantly, and was craving deep dish pizza.  I also had to try it out for myself, so a group of us went out to eat deep dish pizza for the very special occasion of celebrating the completion of the second week of school.  As we know, the second week of school comes around only once per year, so we HAD to celebrate.  Had no choice.

The pizza was huge, and I was pretty stuffed with 2 slices (as opposed to like 4 slices of normal pizza), which everyone had also forewarned me about.  It was indeed delicious, and worth all the hype.  I think I liked it better than normal pizza, but I’ll hold off on an official statement until I’ve had more experience with deep dish.

Here are some pictures:

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I also want to mention these new friends I made in school here.  Sometime during first week of school I was studying in the library, at the opposite end of the table where these guys were sitting.  But my laptop battery eventually ran out and I had to move closer to them to plug into the electrical outlet.  And thus we became friends.  In fact, the 4 of us are in sort of accelerated friendship mode, where we now see each other for at least 8 hrs pretty much everyday.  I can’t explain why, but I feel extremely happy when I’m with them.  Much thanks goes to God for friends with whom I can already foresee myself making unforgettable memories.  My first deep dish pizza was already one of them.

Simeon Koh

Coming back from the hiatus

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It is actually hard to believe that it has been over 2 months since I last blogged.  Thing have been going crazy the past couple months (still is) and blogging has been on my to-do list everyday, but it just never got crossed off.  However, in case anybody was wondering whether I was going to return, the answer is yes I haven’t left yet.  Remember how I hate leaving unfinished business?  I hate the thought of this blog becoming another of numerous blogs that are left abandoned without good bye.  Prior to starting a blog, I thought very hard about this and decided the I wouldn’t just let it die, at least not without a proper closure.

I recently started medical school at Rosalind Franklin University in North Chicago, IL.  Things are already really busy (I should really be studying right now) and will continue to be for years to come.  Would I be able to keep having interesting adventures for this blog?  If yes, would I have time to blog about them?  After all, during the past 2 months, I was trying so hard and going on so many adventures that I kind of didn’t have time to blog about them.  I considered properly closing down the blog in pursuit of a bigger season in my life, but I decided against it.  I still have lots of ideas and many adventures are still out there.  I promise to write at least 1 post per week, no matter how short.  I suspect the quality of my writing or my stories might depreciate as I get busier with school, and I apologize for that in advance.  But hopefully in the midst of many lackluster posts you might find a small gem once in a while.

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Right now I don’t have the time to tell you about all the adventures I’ve had in the past 2 months, so I’ll list a few bullet points here.  Perhaps later I’ll get around to some of these stories.

  • 6/25/2014 – I went to The Piano Guys concert at Pantages Theater.  It is quite unlike me to spend lots of money on concerts, but the Tookish side of me took me there.
  • 6/26/2014 – Unfinished business.  I took a couple of 후배s (Korean word to describe people who were your underclassmen in school) to dinner.  It had been ~1 year since I had promised them dinner.
  • 7/11/2014 – I went deep sea fishing again.  This time overnight on a full moon.  I caught a fish.
  • 7/19/2014 – Saw Shakespeare at the park at Griffith Park with friends.  Twelfth Night.
  • 7/20/2014 – Fun DIY project of painting my old keyboard.  Lesson of grace somehow learned in the process.
  • 7/25~7/30/2014 – Drove to Portland, Seattle, Palo Alto, and back.  A couple thousand miles driven, 1 wedding attended, a dozen wild blackberries picked, 2.5 audiobooks of The Hunger Games listened to, and 16 old friends met.
  • 8/2/2014 – Friend’s birthday party at Huntington Beach.  Lots of shenanigans.
  • 8/5/2014 – Last day of work (teaching test prep).
  • 8/6~now – Driving to Illinois, getting my first speeding ticket, living by myself, settling into an apartment, spending much money, meeting old friends in this foreign land, finding a church, white coat ceremony, starting med school, and already making new friends.
  • 8/17/2014 – New record broken: 2 months without being late.  Punishment still to be bestowed.

Simeon Koh

 

 

Laguna Coast Wilderness Park

I am running out of time for adventures.  I am starting medical school in August, which will be an adventure of course, but it will mean less time to do some of the random things I have had time to do for the last 2 years.  So I’m trying to have as many adventures as I can in the next 2 months or so.

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Last last Friday I went to Laguna Coast Wilderness Park to hike.  It was a bit far from my house (~1 hr drive) but I was getting somewhat bored of the trails near home.  About 4 years ago, I went to Laguna Coast Wilderness Park for research field work (looking for lichens), and I couldn’t forget about that place because it was so awesome.  This time, I went with my friend Aaron, and we started from Nix Nature Center (see map).  We started up Mary’s Trail, up Little Sycamore, turned left to come down by Serrano Ridge, Camarillo Cyn Rd., and up Stagecoach South Trail.  I can’t say how many miles it was, but it took us about 3 hrs and 45 minutes.  I probably could have done it a bit faster, but we stopped for lunch, and took lots of breaks.

It was a really enjoyable hike.  Lots of shrubs, some trees, and sometimes birds and animals were seen throughout the hike.  The weather was really nice too, since it’s near the sea.  Towards the end it got pretty difficult because we were pretty tired and the weather was getting warm.  We eventually made it and expressed our happiness in a very tiresome manner.

An interesting thing about this park was that the facilities are really nice.  You could tell that good money went into building the Nix Nature Center.  Also, the restrooms were nice and the water fountains worked!  Most amazingly, the park had little tubes of sunblock for free!  I’ve never been to a place that gives away free sunblock.

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Afterwards, we drove down to the beach to cool down.  When we got there the tide was coming in so the waves were pretty strong, which was fun.  However, the waves knocked my glasses away and I lost them.  Sad panda.  Plus the tide was coming in, so there was no way the glasses would wind up on the shore.  Thankfully in my car I had my prescriptioned sunglasses, so I drove back home without dying in a car crash.

***

After we got home and washing up, we decided we burned too many calories that day, and thus needed to reverse our exercise.  So we went to Slater’s burger, and I got the Hawaiian burger PLUS a mint-chocolate Guinness milkshake.  The food and milkshake were really good, so YOLO swag, right?  Actually, that was way too much food and I actually didn’t feel very good afterwards.  I guess this is America.

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All in all, an adventurous day it was indeed.

Simeon Koh

 

Not Being Late #7: Relapse

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In my Not Being Late post #5, I boasted of my 1-month streak of not being late.  Those were splendid days indeed.

I think the streak went on up to 5 weeks, and then I was late to something (Not Being Late post #6).  And everything kind of went downhill from there.  Throughout April and some of May, I kind of relapsed into my old self.  I was late to all sorts of things that should have been really easy to be on time for.  There were a couple of situations where being late was worth it (like staying 15 min late to tutor a student studying right before for his AP calc exam), but mostly I was just irresponsible.

I won’t say being tardy is like an addiction.  It’s not like I can’t live without being late (and need to be more and more late to feel a sense of euphoria).  It’s more like being in shape.  It feels good to keep in discipline consistently, but it does take very deliberate effort, which makes it very easy to relapse back into an un-prompt lifestyle.

While I am surprised that it’s the end of May yet I’m still working on my New Year’s Resolution (I assume very small percentage of people make it past 1 month), I do need to reboot myself.  I’m currently on a 2-week streak again (yay gummy bears!), so hopefully I’ll make this streak into a personal record.  Wish me luck.

Besides, this year I’ve so far made 19 tardies.  This means the next one will get me to 20.  Hitting 20 is very very bad, because it gets me to a “Milestone Punishment.”  (If you have forgotten what that means, review my rules from my first post.)  Keep in mind that Milestone Punishments are accumulative, so I’ll have to do both 10th-tardy Milestone and the 20th-tardy Milestone Punishments.  That is scary.

Here’s hoping that I’ll never reach my 20th tardy.

Simeon Koh

P.S.  I made an edit to Punishment #5, which was “Donate $30 to an organization I oppose.”  Many people thought I should reconsider that, and I finally had a chance(?) to really think about that one when I got that punishment twice in a row.  In the end I ended up donating to an organization I would support, party due to a timely email from my friend about THIS.  My friend’s friends are the ones putting their business skills to invest in the future of Southwest LA.  If like me you have a soft spot in your heart for the urban poor in LA, please check it out.  Thanks.

Unfinished Business: Picma

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An email I received on 6/12/2012 from a friend of mine said, “you have been warned,” with a link to the game Picma.

Picma is an online puzzle game where you use clues to deduce which grids should be colored, and if you solve it right, you get a picture at the end.  The easiest ones took me as little time as 8 seconds, whereas the hardest ones took several hours.  Back in summer of 2012 I started playing Picma thanks to my good friend who emailed me the link.  I played it through pretty well… until the puzzles started getting frustrating.  I got stuck on a couple and it got discouraging to play, so I paused for a while.  Then somehow I lost my browser cookies and thus lost all my progress.  That was super discouraging and I stopped playing after that.  Since then I had revisited Picma a couple times, but never bothered to make significant progress.  However, Picma was always discreetly in the back of my mind…  So in the spirit of this unfinished business series, I decided to go for it once more.

Not surprisingly, the easy ones were fun, and the difficult ones were frustrating.  The feeling you get after completing a nice puzzle is incredible; the feeling of finding a mistake 75% of the way through a hard puzzle (and thus having to scrap most of your progress (but not exactly knowing how much you need to scrap)) is so devastating to a man’s spirit.  However, as Rudyard Kipling wrote in the poem “If,” a man should be able to “lose, and start again at [his] beginnings.”  As Picma taught me, it is a very very difficult thing to be a man (or woman).

Why not forget about Picma?  Why not just enjoy the easy fun puzzles and pretend the hard ones don’t exist?  Life is too short (yolo) to waste on internet games, let alone a frustratingly difficult one!  I believe that life is like a meal.  There are umami-ful meat and satisfying rice, but there are the tough vegetables and other nasty things…  However we need both the delicious and the undelicious for good health.  Likewise playing only the easy fun puzzles would limit my life to the basics, whereas the frustrating puzzles would challenge me and force me to think differently.  Life lessons from Picma (who knew?)!

Anyways, it took me 2 years but I did it in the end.  No flash game shall bring me to my knees!

Simeon Koh

 

 

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