Finding Rest

My summer break is over.  Tomorrow I start my 2nd year of medical school.  Sadness overwhelms my soul.

Ironically, I hadn’t been very restful for most of my summer break.  During the 2 weeks I was back in California, I was busy meeting up with family and friends.  During the 8 weeks of doing research in Chicago, I slept less than during the school year (I woke up at 5 AM to beat the traffic).  I started exercising, and reviewed some for the board exam next year, moved twice, etc.  I wasn’t burning out with school, but I managed to fill up all my time with various activities instead of resting.

The night after my last day of research, I went to my church retreat, where the theme was “rest.”  My pastor preached something about how finding rest isn’t necessarily just physical or just doing nothing, but something about finding rest in God or something along those lines.  I would have a better summary, but I was really sleep-deprived from the last few days of finishing up my research project that I… found much-needed physical rest during his sermon.  But that retreat did lead me to think more about rest.

Firstly, I realized I need physical rest before I can find spiritual (or any other kind) of rest.  How could I find rest in God if I’m too busy sleeping in the middle of my pastor’s sermons?

Secondly, I realized, as my pastor said, that being lazy isn’t necessarily restful.  If we’re hungry, we need to eat.  However, filling our stomachs with unhealthy food ultimately makes us feel more lethargic and uncomfortable.  Only by filling ourselves with healthy and balanced meals can we really improve our energy and spirit.  Likewise, filling up my days with directionless activities and unhealthy habits ultimately won’t bring me rest.  I need to be smart about how I rest too.

I think I did a relatively good job of smartly resting for the past 2 weeks.  I’ve been getting enough sleep and alone-time; I’ve been getting a little bit of studying done too; I’ve had times of going out with friends; and I’ve somehow been more blessed at church and Bible study too.  The zealous part of me wishes I could have done more of each.  But I think it’s ok that a time of rest is not without some healthy number of regrets.  If I had somehow meticulously executed my rest plans perfectly to the nanosecond, I imagine I would have forgotten to rest at all.

Anyways, school starts tomorrow.  I hope I can adapt into a new equilibrium of work and rest.

Simeon Koh

My Experiences at Sinai Urban Health Institute (SUHI)

“[Jesus] stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him.  Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.'”

– Luke 4:16-21

***

This summer I did research with Sinai Urban Health Institute (SUHI) at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Chicago, a hospital that mainly serves the urban poor.  Somewhere deep in my heart there’s a tiny little room that yearns for the urban poor, and that tiny little heart led me to this research program.

Mt. Sinai Hospital was pretty ghetto as expected from a hospital that doesn’t make much money from their patients.  The building was old, water fountains were sketchy, and some of the bathrooms didn’t have fans to let out the smell after I occasionally… defecated in them.  To be fair, the parts that the patients see are nicer, thank goodness.  But the room I was working in had one freshly dead cockroach every morning (once, a cockroach was half-alive so I crunchily euthanized it).  And the wifi had a habit of dropping dead in the afternoon, as if to foreshadow the cockroaches’ fate that night.

But the ghettoness didn’t matter, because the research internship was so good.  In a lot of research programs, I hear the medical students are basically free/cheap labor minions.  Not here at Sinai Urban Health Institute.  The first full week of our internship was dedicated to educating us about urban public health issues, and throughout the next 7 weeks there was a day per week dedicated to field trips, book clubs, or other sessions to keep us grounded to the communities we were indirectly serving through our research.  Much of that training didn’t benefit SUHI directly (actually took time away from us and the staff doing more research), but they were more interested in inspiring and equipping medical students who can serve the underserved in the future.

Still, I’m not sure if I want to take my career to places like Mt. Sinai Hospital to serve the urban poor.  I won’t go into detail, but there are lots of challenges and barriers that come with treating the poor.  And there are lots of ways that lack of finances at a poor hospital can hinder the healthcare doctors provide and the training they receive.  Just as a small example, we mere student researchers probably lost several days’ worth of productive hours because of wifi problems; then imagine all of the other limitations that healthcare providers at Mt. Sinai Hospital face because the hospital can’t afford more or better rooms/machines/staff/etc.  I may have a high tolerance for ghettoness and difficult human interactions, but I don’t want to hinder my quality of training and services I would provide as a physician.  I have to wrestle with this for a while longer.

***

The question is, “Where will God take me?”  The tiny little room in my heart that desires to proclaim good news for the poor was built when I participated in an urban missions trip called Los Angeles Urban Project (LAUP) in 2011.  To be honest, I was skeptical and somewhat resistant during LAUP.  Then against my will, God led me to return to LAUP the following year as a team leader (a story for another blog post).  And now SUHI.  Still I am skeptical and resistant to jumping onto this path.  But I think my tiny little room for the poor is getting a teeny bit bigger.

One day while walking by the poor-looking people in the streets of Chicago, I thought, “When you need help, who will care for you? … I will be your doctor.”  I wonder if I was just thinking stupid things without actually thinking, or if it was a prayer that God made me pray.

Will God invite me to bring good news for the poor, proclaim freedom to the prisoners, restore sight to the blind, set the oppressed free, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor?  Of course.  That is a calling for all Christians.  The question remains whether He will do so by making me a doctor in the inner city.

If you’re reading this and expecting that I’m going to be some Mother Teresa-looking doctor, please know that I reserve the right to not be like Mother Teresa.  You’ll see what I eventually become, but in the meanwhile I’ll be at war with myself.

Simeon Koh

Taste of Chicago Shenanigans

“I eat a little bit of everything, and not a lot of anything.”

– Giada de Laurentiis

***2015.07.09 - Taste of Chicago

Last week I went to the Taste of Chicago, a food festival.  Several dozen food vendors open up a booth and give you food in exchange for tickets.  I knew it was going to be a hot, unhealthy, and expensive day, but I figured it might be a fun experience.

This food festival had these “taste of…” options where you can buy smaller portions for fewer tickets so that you don’t get full on just a few kinds of food.  Also, it’s a ploy for them to give you less food and sell you more stuff.

I was starving when I got there, so I bought this (“taste of…”) fried catfish thing and gobbled it up quickly.  Probably the reason I ate it so quickly was because it was 2 tiny pieces… for 4 tickets (12 tickets = $8.50, so 4 tickets = $2.83).  It was tasty, but it was literally… just a taste.

Next I bought this spicy something jerk chicken thing for 5 tickets ($3.54).  I got one tiny piece of chicken that’s pictured above.  It was so sad and I was so hungry that I was just gonna eat and take no pictures, but I took one for the blog.  Oh the dedication.

I also had some fried steak sandwich (like a beef katsu with marinara sauce in a sandwich).  Shared a funnel cake (at least it was a descent volume).  Some overpriced sorbet.  Etc.  Lastly I stood in a long long long line to get half a taco.  Yes, it was literally half of a taco, which we all know is pretty small to begin with.  And it didn’t taste that good.

But it was fun to be with friends and partake in this experience.  With the $17 I spent on food, I could have had a great meal elsewhere, but sometimes you pay more money for less food because somebody tells you it’s the Taste of Chicago.  Oh the price of adventure.

Simeon Koh

Simeon Koh’s Day Off

Happy Independence Day!

Yesterday was my day off from my summer research internship.  Whenever you get a day off, the question is what am I going to do with it?  I could have just rolled around in bed all day, spend the day on my computer, do laundry and chores, or … study for USMLE Step 1.  But I’m happy to say I got none of those things done!  Instead of pursuing the mundane, I took a couple risks and ended up with an adventurous day.

Initially, I started the day off very unadventurously with a haircut.  The hair shop is 40 min away and only worth it because it’s attached to H-Mart, where I get my Korean groceries.  But I didn’t need any groceries, so it didn’t feel good driving so much just for a haircut.  But on my way out of H-Mart, I found the Koreans’ most-coveted Honey Butter Chips!

IMG_20150703_130118These limited-supply potato chips have been a craze in Korea and I didn’t know you could find them in the US.  It was ridiculously $4/bag, but I had to carpe diem, seize the day!  More on these chips later.

Next I walked over next door to a Korean book store that I’ve always wanted to check it out, but never had the gusto to try.  Was this finally the day I muster up the courage and the willpower to enter that book store?  But I just spent money on a haircut and a very expensive bag of potato chips, so there was no way I could buy a book now!  Besides, I have so many unread books at home already!  That was the timid and uninteresting Simeon talking in my head.  But today was the day for the courageous and interesting Simeon to say, “I may not have much money, but I must adventurously enter that book store and see for myself what lies inside!”

The first thing I run into in that book store was a pile of old Korean books and CDs on sale for $1 each.  Not only do I love CDs, I found old Korean albums that I used to love back in the dark ages when I used to illegally download music.  I abandoned piracy several years ago but I missed those songs, which is near impossible to find nowadays.  I would have bought like 10 CDs, but I limited myself to 5 albums… for only $5!!!  Imagine what I would have missed if I hadn’t followed my curiosity.

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By this point something Tookish woke inside of me and I knew I couldn’t just go home yet.  I drove to a park that I have never heard of before, hungry for adventure… and Honey Butter Chips.

0703151413I went to Old School Forest Preserve and walked around, eating my Honey Butter Chips and falling in love with nature.  And oh my goodness these chips were SO good.  They were amazing.  I didn’t know potato chips could be like this.  It was a whole new world my friends.  Anyways, there were bugs after my Honey Butter Chips (or my blood (or my love and affection?)) but adventure always requires hostile antagonists.

Anyways, the trail I was on had these exercise stations.  It started off with things like “Jumping Jacks” or “Touch your toes.”  That was cute.  Then things got kind of difficult (see “Body Curl”) and just plain weird (“Leg Lifts”).

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Then things got intense.  This trail was a little bit of military bootcamp, gymnastics, Tough Mudder, and American Ninja Warrior.  But I did 1 rep of each exercise, and moved along like a trooper.

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Then I got to this thing and thought, oh my gosh, they’re gonna make me do the iron cross.

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But it actually turned out it was just hip circles.  I was perfectly capable of swiveling my hips in the woods by myself (thank goodness no one was around to watch).

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After my walk, I sat on a bench and did some drawing.  When I was young I wanted to be a cartoonist but somewhere along the way I stopped drawing as much.  It was nice to relax and draw something.  Now that I think of it, I don’t know why out of all the things in the park I picked a bathroom…

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Afterwards, I felt like finishing off my adventures with ice cream.  I already had a bag of potato chips today, but I was like YOLO, let’s do it carpe diem, sieze the day!  It was so good.  And I felt very American.

IMG_20150703_164735

After I got home, I did some reading and even went to the gym at night.  What a great day it was to have a day off.

 

Simeon Koh

“I want to help people.”

Probably every medical student, sometime during his/her application process for medical school, has said, “I want to help people.”  Probably almost everybody meant it at the time, and probably most of those almost everybody still would say it again now.  And it’s not hard to conjecture that most medical students want to help people even in non-medical ways.  At least, that’s the way it is for me.

But it’s actually pretty difficult to do a lot of helping people, especially in medical school.  I’m so busy taking care of my life (or at least trying to) that I have very little time and/or willpower to care about anyone else.  It’s ironic how I don’t help people because I’m so busy learning to someday help people.  I think that’s really the challenge of being a medical student: how to develop your heart for helping people while making sure to keep up with the demands of medical school.

As a first year medical student, there’s really nothing you can do medically helpful.  When I hear that my friend’s dad or mom is really sick, I can’t do anything more than the average person.  That’s perfectly understandable, though.  I can help those around me in other ways!  Like saying encouraging things, or feeding people snacks, or praying for them, or sharing my notes with a classmate, or giving rides to friends without cars, etc.  How awesome ’tis to be a helpful person!

But there are days when I can’t help.  Or more accurately, days when I won’t help.  For example, I find out a classmate is struggling in school.  I want to help!  But I can’t.  More accurately, I won’t.  Because I barely have enough time to survive my own workload.  Or let’s say there’s some event at school or at church where they need some help.  I want to help!  But I won’t.  I need to study.  Or if I don’t need to study, I need to savor what little free time I have to clean my apartment or blog or do something relevant to my personal life.

I want to be that guy who’s so smart and does everything so quickly that I have abundant time left to teach others everything.  I want to be that guy who is so put-together and in control of my life that I can help others.  I want to save lives, protect the vulnerable, fight for justice, comfort the weary, provide for the poor, teach children, stop global warming, love my enemies, have great relationships with family and friends, and still have time to blog every week.  I want to be a super hero.

But I’m not a super hero.  Dang it.  I can barely take care of myself.  Ain’t nobody got no time for no nobody else but me.  I need to block myself away from the needs of the world for about a decade (or why not a couple decades?) until I become a super doctor at the top of the world, because that will then allow me to “help people,” just like I’ve always wanted… yeah.

I think wanting to help people is the easy part.  But because I’m not perfect, the question is, “At what cost?”  Do I have what it takes to help even when I have so little to give?

Simeon Koh

Goodbye My Neighbor

Sorry I haven’t written in here for a while.  I had promised to write at least once a week, but it’s already been 3 weeks since my last entry.  I think I’ve just been busy being lazy to write here.  I also didn’t really have something I wanted to write about.

Sometimes I think I need to have something profound to say here.  When I do have some profound moments, I do like to share them, but sometimes life just isn’t that special.  I guess something doesn’t need to be profound or prophetic for me to talk about.  Maybe it just needs to be interesting.  This is just a blog after all.

***

My neighbor moved away a couple days ago.  I was heading out for school in the morning when I saw her door open (her apartment entrance faces mine) with movers moving a bunch of her things into a truck outside.  When I came back home that night, her paw-print doormat was gone and there was no barking from her dog.  Plus, her bright red car with a paw-print sticker on the back wasn’t in the parking lot.  It’s been 2 days with no sign of life from within, so I’m pretty sure she’s gone.

I don’t even know her name.  I don’t know what she did for a living.  We merely said hello awkwardly whenever we passed each other in the last 5 months I’ve been around here.  She was some sort of white lady in her early 30s (I think), brown hair, big eyes and long eye lashes, living alone with her dog.  Besides English, I have heard her speak on the phone (to her mother maybe?) in some European-sounding language that I didn’t recognize.  Sometimes a couple kids would come visit her.  I don’t know if they were her kids, or her niece/nephew, or some unrelated kids.

I knew almost nothing about her, but she was the only person I could recognize in this neighborhood.  Not that I really care that she’s gone, but I now will recognize no one around here.  Quite possibly there is now no one who would recognize me in this neighborhood as well.

Now that no one lives in that apartment across the hall, I wonder who will come next.  Maybe another lonely person; maybe a happy family of four; maybe simply no one.

My neighbor moving away also leads me to think about my own departure.  I plan on moving after my 10-month lease ends in early June.  Will I miss my apartment?  I’m pretty sure I won’t.  As much as I like it, it’s merely a transitional residence.  A temporary home.  A place to rest for a moment until we move along, as we all do.

Simeon Koh

Do You Want to Build a Snowman?

2015.01.04 - Snowman

My winter vacation has unfortunately ended, and I begrudgingly left my home in California to once again resume my first year of medical school.  When I got off the plane at 6AM, Chicagoland greeted me with lots of snow!

Some friends were nice enough to pick me up from the airport and dropped me off at my snow-covered school parking lot, where I had left my car.  We said good bye and I started to drive home when I suddenly realized I couldn’t just go home yet.

I had to build a snowman.

Oh man it was hard work.  I think I’m done with exercising for 2015.  Anyways, I wanted to make it really really big like man-sized snowman!  Then the big ball I was working on split in half.  It was the most devastating moment of the year.  I desperately put the 2 halves together and mended the crack with more snow, but it kept cracking open pretty frequently after that.  So I gave up on a man-sized snowman and settle for a hobbit-sized snowman.  A snowhobbit.

The second ball was a lot easier because I guess I got better at snowballin’.  I picked up some rocks for the eyes and stuck some branches for the arms.  Then took some pictures.  I really wanted to take a video of my self playing “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” next to my snowhobbit, but I found out I’d need someone to record me while I play if I’m outside.

Speaking of not having someone to help me, it’s important when you’re picturing this situation to note that I was alone in the snow-covered parking lot from 7:30-9am making my snowman.  Was it weird for a California-grown, sleep-deprived (slept <4 hrs on the overnight flight) man to be sweating and grunting in the snow early in the morning alone at the school parking lot?  Perhaps.  Would I have probably stayed awake during church today if I had slept instead of snowballin’?  Probably.  Would there be numerous opportunities to make a snowman later this winter?  Yes.  But the novelty of the moment would be gone if not today.  I want to thrive in 2015, not barely survive.  So build a snowman I did!

2015.01.04 - Snowman 2

Simeon Koh

2014 Simeon’s Christmas Recorder Project

Merry Christmas!

For those of you who see me on Facebook, you know I’ve been uploading a Christmas song played on my plastic recorder daily (almost).  I don’t know why I started doing it, but thanks a lot if you’ve watched any of them!  For this Christmas Recorder Project, today’s video will be the last, since tomorrow we will no longer be waiting for Christmas (unless you really want to start counting the days until next year’s Christmas).

I figured Facebook videos can be kind of hard to navigate through.  So I uploaded all the videos to YouTube.  Since I don’t plan on stopping playing the recorder, I may upload more random recorder videos someday.  We’ll see.  Maybe I’ll even upload other kinds of videos.  Who knows?  My desires are many but my will is often close to nil.  Anyways, I hope my recorder videos bring you some sort of entertainment and a little bit of the Christmas spirit.

2014.11.29 – Auld Lang Syne

2014.11.30 – Do You Hear What I Hear

2014.12.01 – O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

2014.12.02 – Jingle Bells

2014.12.03 – Santa Claus is Coming to Town

2014.12.05 – Away in a Manger (3 versions)

2014.12.06 – Jingle Bell Rock

2014.12.07 – It Came Upon a Midnight Clear

2014.12.08 – O Holy Night

2014.12.10a – Last Christmas

2014.12.10b – Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy

2014.12.11 – White Christmas

2014.12.12 – O Little Town of Bethlehem

2014.12.13 – Twelve Days of Christmas

2014.12.14 – Joy to the World

2014.12.15 – Silver Bells

2014.12.16 – Angels We Have Heard on High

2014.12.17 – God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

2014.12.18 – Let it Snow

2014.12.20 – Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer

2014.12.21 – Bringing Our All

2014.12.22 – Here Comes Santa Claus

2014.12.23 – Carol of the Bells

2014.12.24 – Silent Night

2014.12.25 – We Wish You a Merry Christmas

Simeon Koh

Coming Home

“I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
This brokenness inside me might start healing.
Out here it’s like I’m someone else,
I thought that maybe I could find myself
If I could just come in I swear I’ll leave.
Won’t take nothing but a memory
From the house that built me.”

             – Miranda Lambert
from “The House that Built Me”

***

In about 7 hours, I will be flying back to California for Christmas break until Jan 3rd.  It has been 4 months since I left home, so I’m pretty excited(?)… or nervous(?)… actually more like confused(?)…. no it’s hard to put a word to how I’m feeling.  What I want to say is that I’m just wondering what it will be like to be back at home.  How have things changed and how have things stayed the same?  Will I feel exactly at home, or would I feel like too much of me has already moved out?

How do you define home?  Where you were born?  Where you’ve grown up in your youth?  Where you live now?

They say home is where your mom is.  I guess dad should get included there too, but it was my mom who told me this.  Anyways, the point is that the reason I’m going back is because my parents (and sister and grandparents) are there.  If you think about it, it’s difficult to rationalize the kind of love you have for your family.  Why do I want to be with my mom and dad?  Why do I want to hug and embrace and be cute with my sister?  Why do I want to take my grandparents to eat pho?  I really don’t know, but it compels me to fly home this Christmas.

As much as I love my family to death, I’ve really been a terrible son, brother, and grandson to them for the past 4 months.  I often forget to even give a phone call home once a week.  I apparently don’t care enough to let them know what I’ve been going through, or to know what’s been going on back home.  As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve been too busy living my own life, away and independent from them, that my family has been hardly on my mind.

If I cared a bit more, I would have bought some thoughtful souvenirs for them.  Instead, I’ll probably find something cheap from the school bookstore or something that says “Chicago” from the airport and take that back to my family.  Yet still they’ll be waiting for me with wide open arms and much anticipation.  Grandma will kill the fattened calf and cook up a feast of my favorite food, and my parents will shower me with praises and affection for the next 2 weeks.  What have I done to deserve any of this?  Really nothing more than just being the imperfect son I am.  Just 2 paragraphs ago, I mentioned I really loved my family.  But no matter how much I love them, I don’t think I’ll ever out-love their love for me.

Just wait a few more hours, mom.  Your son is coming home.

Simeon Koh

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