Fall Break Adventures

Sorry for not faithfully keeping up with my commitment to blog every week.  Last last week I was freaking out over my exams and this past week I was on fall break, but so very busy adventuring, which I’ll tell you about.  This past week of not having school was like gold.  It’s like all my social life I couldn’t have this past quarter, I squeezed them all into 1 week.  It was tiring, but it was so good.

  • 11/07/2014 Friday (night, after the exam)
    • A few of us went out to a pizza place.  It was really good, especially the seafood pizza.
    • There was some school party thing at some bar in the city.  It was pretty fun, although I don’t drink a lot or dance.  I think mostly I just needed to get out of this nothingness of North Chicago and see a different part of the world.
  • 11/08/2014 Saturday
    • I went to a meeting for KAMSA Chicago (Korean American Medical Student Association).  They had interesting speakers about their clinical research, and it was great to meet other Korean American medical students.
  • 11/09/2014 Sunday
    • After church, a few of us went shopping.  I needed to buy more long-sleeved things.  We had dippin’ dots and watched Interstellar.  I was really impressed with the movie.  That special relativity class in college sure paid off.
  • 11/10/2014 Monday
    • I got my car oil changed.
    • I cleaned my apartment and did laundry.  It was symbolic of me putting my life back together.
    • For dinner I bought fried chicken with coupons, beer, some vegetables, in the low lighting of the night and listened to Michael Bolton all by myself.
  • 11/11/2014 Tuesday
    • Got something else taken care of in my car in the morning.
    • Tried to study some stuff.  Mostly wasted time on the internet.
    • Watched Fury with a friend.  Twas a man-date.  The one and only thing I took away from that movie was that war is tragic.  Sadness.
  • 11/12/2014 Wednesday
    • A bunch of friends from school got together at a Mexican restaurant and I was very impressed.  The guacamole was great and the grilled fish tacos I had were also great.
    • Afterwards some of us went to a Korean market (H-Mart).  I was out of Korean rice and kimchi and other Korean essentials, so that was very much necessary.
    • Right after getting home and stuffing the fridge with my groceries as quickly as possible, I drove down to Evanston to meet a Korean friend from college days, who goes to Northwestern now.  He bought me dinner at a Korean restaurant, which was actually really good.  It’s hard to find good Korean food here, but I was thoroughly impressed.  It was also so good to reconnect with an old friend.  I drove home that night tired but so filled with brotherly love.
  • 11/13/2014 Thursday
    • I drove down to University of Chicago medical school to meet up with a high school friend.  He showed me around his campus, which is so much better than mine, and he bought me lunch at some sandwich place that reminded me of AP European History.  It was really good to see him, and to see what other med schools are like.
    • My church Bible study group had dinner at a Chinese restaurant.  I had so much food and it was so good.  The jiajiangmyun was just ok, but everything else was great.  Oh yeah, it was also a great time having a time of good fellowship with church people.  Oops.
  • 11/14/2014 Friday
    • Our pastor from church came up to the nothingness of North Chicago to visit.  We took him to one of the few good lunch places here and we got to know each other better.  It was cool to hear his life story and etc.
    • Right after that I drove up to Madison, Wisconsin to visit an old college friend who is now a PhD student in chemistry there.  We had dinner at some Afghani restaurant, and we talked a lot.  She then took me to a coffee shop where we played board games with her frineds.  Then we went to her apartment to watch Little Shop of Horrors.
  • 11/15/2014 Saturday
    •   After sleeping on my friend’s couch I studied a bit because my friend and her roommate didn’t wake up until past 11AM.  We had brunch/lunch and had some pleasant conversations about apple butter.  Then my friend took me to see the capital building of Wisconsin, which was super fantastically pretty, with lots of Ws everywhere and badger busts everywhere.  Then we went to eat fried cheese curds and drink Wisconsin beer, because those are the things that Wisconsin is known for.
    • Then I drove back to Illinois and picked up some friends (the same friends I went shopping with on Sunday) and took them to my apartment for dinner.  We made tofu kimchi and it was gloriously good.  It’s nice to cook with/for people for a change.

Whew that was a lot of jammed packed adventurous week.  I think definitely the appeal of adventure is new places to see and the people you meet along the way.  Although my fall break may be over now, I am very thankful for all the people who made this week memorable.

Simeon Koh

Let it go~ Let it go~

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.  When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he head and bought that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

- Matthew 13:44-46

***

Starting last week, I decided to take a 24 hr rest day from school once a week.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m still studying hard (or trying to), but I want to get more out of life than studying all day everyday.  Of course, the reason I can afford to do this is because the first 2 years of med school here are on a pass/fail system.  Although I would like to score as high as possible, whether I score in the 90s or 70s it’ll show up as a Pass on my grades.  Thank you God.

For those of you who don’t quite know med students, it’s pretty intense how much volume of materials we need to absorb.  Many of us try to study all day everyday and still feel like that’s not enough time to learn the material.  So to be honest it’s pretty scary to take a full day off from studying.

Realistically, I expect my academic performance to suffer a bit initially.  But I’m not doing so terribly in school right now, so I’ll probably pass all my classes no problem.

The real problem is coping with the thought of letting go of my academic idolatry.  Quite frankly, studying is my life at the moment; it’s what I’m here to do.  Why am I trying to let go of that?  Because I want something better.

Theoretically, I don’t care too much about getting spectacular grades, as long as they’re decent enough.  I don’t care too much about looking smart and receiving praise from my peers and professors.  Instead, I want to invest my time and energy in relationships and my character.  I won’t remember much of what I studied in my first year of med school, but I’ll remember the times I had with my good friends.  I don’t want to be remembered as a guy who studied really hard, but as a guy who truly loved his neighbors and was brave enough to be transparent about his weaknesses.  That’s the kind of life I want.

That’s all theory though.  In reality, I’m having a hard time letting go of having academics at the center of my life.  Unfortunately, to gain something better, you need to first let go of the thing you have right now.  And it’s funny how foolish I am to be so reluctant to let this go, knowing that I can’t have the better thing until I rid myself of it.  When a man finds a treasure in a field, he should theoretically be willing to joyfully sell all his possessions to buy that field.  But a foolish man hesitates to sell his favorite clothes or his old car or something that he has, even though he knows that the treasure waiting for him is worth a lot more.

To be clear, I don’t think it’s bad to study all day everyday in med school.  I also don’t mean to say that taking a day off is automatically allowing me to be awesome at other parts of my life.  Today (yesterday?) I just pigged out on a giant burrito and fell asleep at 7PM.  At the moment, it’s about letting go.  Then hopefully when my heart is in the right place I can work on that better life I’ve been talking about.

Simeon Koh

Meaning of Cooking, and Ajumma Syndrome

These are some of the food I’ve been cooking.  Seeing these pictures on my Instagram/Facebook, many people falsely assume I love cooking.  In truth, I really don’t like cooking.  But before I explain why, let me tell you a story.

***

A couple weeks ago, a friend of mine was out of food.  I, being a kind creature as I am, invited her to dinner at my place.  My friend, being a polite creature as she is, declined my offer.  Now, if I were a normal human being, I would’ve respectfully accepted her decline after offering a couple times.  However, as I found out seriously and absolutely for the first time ever ever in my whole entire life, I am not a normal human being.

I strongly and persistently insisted that she let me feed her.  Eventually, after wasting a lot of time with neither side budging, I told her to stay put (we were studying in the library) while I go back home, cook food, and bring it back to school.  Some of you readers might be thinking, ‘Wow, Simeon is such a kind person!’ and others of you might be thinking, ‘Wow, Simeon is kind of … weird!’  I agree with the latter.

Even in my mind, this whole ordeal felt pretty weird.  It wasn’t merely that I was trying to be a generous person; I deeply and desperately(?) wanted to feed her.  Who does that?!  I mean, I’m used to old Korean ajummas using food as their 6th love language, but this was a bit different.

I initially thought I was probably just a really kind person; but no, this really was some psychopathic compulsive ajumma syndrome or something.  I then thought I probably didn’t want to eat alone; but I already eat most meals with friends, so that couldn’t be it.  Then what could it be?

After some reflection, I realized that it’s because I hate cooking only for myself. What’s the point of cooking a nice meal if I’m the only one who eats it?  I guess it’s better than eating crappy food, but still there’s the feeling in the back of mind that says, cooking is about way more than just eating a tasty meal.  At least when my mom or my grandma cook, they don’t try to make something taste good for the sake of making something taste good; they do it for Dad who works day and night, for Grandpa taking care of the garden, and for the kids who study hard.  Cooking is really about love for the family.

So when I cook for myself, no matter what fancy ingredients I use or how much MSG I put in, there’s really no love in my cooking (I’m not THAT narcissistic!).  Maybe physically or chemically my food is just as good as any other, but probably it will never taste as good as my mom’s cooking because it only satisfies one type of hunger.

Anyways, as my friend and I ate the bulgogi and rice in the cafeteria, it felt very therapeutic.  For the first time in a while, cooking felt worth the effort.  My friend thanked me for the meal, but she really has no idea how thankful I am that she let me feed her.

Simeon Koh

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

***

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

***

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

***

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.

0911141818a

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:

0831141929 0831141929a0831141930

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

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