Something out of Nothing

All of a sudden, 2015 is gone.  I feel pretty meh about it, although I feel like I should be more hopeful for a new year or sentimental about this year passing.  Technically time is just a continuum, and Jan 1st is an artificial construct of a mere subset of human civilization; there’s nothing inherently special about tonight or tomorrow morning.

But we’re always looking for a reason (or an excuse) to put meaning and significance behind things.  We draw a line between Dec 31st of 2015 and Jan 1st of 2016 and say that something begins anew!  We celebrate with friends or family, we pig out on food, we stay up late into the night, go to church, kiss strangers, or scream our lungs out as we watch a fancy disco ball descend.  We make decisions to better ourselves, wish each other luck and blessings, and somehow create happiness out of nothing.

I think it’s interesting that so much hope, joy, and resolution can come from nothingness (albeit temporarily) for no reason other than that we people drew a line in the continuum of time and said it was special.  If we can create this much hope on Jan 1st, can we recreate it on Feb 2nd?  If we are indeed simply “deciding” to be so joyful tonight, can we just as readily decide to be joyful in the nights of fall?  If we can muster up the resolution to start exercising, to quit smoking, to make more money, to start reading the Bible more, etc. just because the new year seems like a good time to start doing so, can any day in the upcoming year be just as good of a time to make changes in our lives?

I suspect technically, the answer is yes.  But realistically, it’s hard.  There’s less momentum in the world after January.  Not enough “umph” among your friends and coworkers to push you when you want to start something anew in March.  We see fewer reasons to be joyful or hopeful for most the year.

Probably this blog post won’t be so helpful tonight or tomorrow as it will be a few weeks or months from now.  Maybe sometime in April when there’s no holiday to look forward to and things get so boring, remember that Jan 1st came out of nothing; we can perhaps make April 4th special as well.  We can always make something out of nothing.

Happy New Year



All Struggles and No Good Feels

This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I’m alright song
My power’s turned on
Starting right now I’ll be strong
I’ll play my fight song
And I don’t really care if nobody else believes
‘Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me

“Fight Song” by Rachel Platten


This school year has been pretty rough.  Every week is a struggle and I feel hopeless before each exam. True, last year I was always behind on studying until the end, but did fine.  But what’s difficult is that this year I’m studying harder but doing worse.

Actually, when I say I’m doing “worse,” I don’t necessarily mean my grades.  I just calculated my grades so far and they’re not as bad as I expected.  I’m not in danger of failing, but I do think that relative to the effort I’m putting in, my life should be better.

More accurately, I’m doing “worse” emotionally.  Everyday it’s all struggles and no good feels.  Yes friendships are great; I’m leading a Bible study at church; I even work out once a week with a friend; I’m blessed in so many ways… except I’m not enjoying what I’m doing at school.  I’m studying, but for some abstract goal of the future.  Hazy are the memories of the good old days when the reward of learning was the learning itself.

One thing I’ve decided to change is to stop reviewing so much old material.  I’ve been spending about 2 hours a day reviewing old stuff, because I’ll need it when I take the USMLE Step 1 in June.  The problem is that 2 hrs/day = 14 hrs/wk = 42 hrs/(exam period).  If I were a better student, I would be a master of old content, and that mastery would help me learn the new content.  Instead, I’m always behind on my current materials, always playing catch-up and cramming right before the test (so I don’t learn them well, and have to learn them better when it becomes part of my review).

So maybe the problem is that I’m too stuck in the past, because I’m looking too far into the future, and therefore lost to the present.


Anyways, here’s a happy story:  On Sunday, after church I studied at school all day and all night until 5AM.  I went home to sleep for about 1.5 hrs, and returned to school for some last-minute studying of desperation before the exam. It was my first time doing this in med school, and surely it wasn’t a happy thing for my body (and perhaps brain).  But strangely (and sadistically?), I felt good.  I’m definitely not proud of what got me to that point, but I enjoyed how, in the midst of hopelessness, I fought back as hard as I could, and my exam went ok (it’s incredible what one can achieve the night before an exam).  Life may be really tough right now, but I shouldn’t worry, because I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me.

Simeon Koh

Chicago Adventures with Sister


Two weeks ago, my sister came to visit me.  In case you didn’t know, she is my favorite person in the whole wide world and I love her more than I love you (sorry).  We are very close and not afraid to show our affections for each other in our adorable behaviors and words.  Some jealous people think it’s weird for a brother and sister to love each other so much, but I think haters gonna hate; they don’t know what life should be.

Anyways, she came and I realized once again that in Waukegan, IL (1 hr north of Chicago) there is nothing worth seeing or doing.  So I showed her the greatest things I found up here: my friends!  I gathered a group of my friends for dinner to show her that my life here is great thanks to these wonderful people, and to show my friends how lovely my sister is.


A couple days later, my sister’s friend W came to visit as well.  It was great to have W because I couldn’t possibly take my sister everywhere in Chicago and still survive as a medical student.  Glory to God that my sister has friends!  I was able to get a couple days to study while they were having fun times in the city.

Despite W’s help, I still got way behind on studying and I paid for it dearly last week.  But I have no regrets, and would do it again if I had to go back in time.  Studying I can (and should…) do everyday, but my love my sister I only had 5 days to be with.  I think she had a great time here, and therefore, I did too.

Good bye my favorite sister, and I shall see you in December.


Simeon Koh

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.


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”).

0703151417 0703151421

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.

0703151430 0703151433 0703151443

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


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).


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…


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.


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