5th Alumni Weekend at Harvey Mudd College


Last weekend I was back at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, CA for alumni weekend.  Every year they have a weekend event for all the alumni to come back and see old classmates, see how the college is doing, and donate money back to the institution.  Every 5th year they make a bigger deal out our reunion with special events and stuff, and usually have a greater turnout than usual.  This was my 5th year reunion, and I knew this was the last time most of our class of 2012 was going to gather in one place (the 10th, 15th, etc. will have some decent turnouts but definitely not as much as this one), so despite my exam coming up within a week, I decided to fly over to California for the weekend.  It was totally worth it.

Having been a small school with < 200 people per class, where almost everyone lived in the dorms, we were already a tight-knit community but I still wondered if anything was going to be awkward seeing old friends again or whether we would feel the distance that the last 5 years has put between us.  Of course, once I got there I realized that my worries were totally unwarranted.  If our college memories were a TV show, somebody had simply pressed the pause button for 5 years, and simply resumed play as if we had never left.  Some of us may have lost weight, others may have gained some, some guys grew out their beards, some have rings on their fingers; but overall consensus was that we all look exactly the same as we did back in 2012 in senior year.  The only mystery was why the current college seniors on campus looked so young.

I could go on and on about those familiar buildings that contained our college memories, and the new buildings that replaced some of them.  However that would take too long and may not do it justice within a single blog post.  Five years doesn’t seem like a long time, but really it has been 9 years since we first met as freshmen.  Some of the details of the fall semester of 2008 is starting to become fuzzy, but the overwhelming feeling of belonging and the bizarre quirky fun we had from 8AM classes to 6AM all-nighters still remain as clear as if it were yesterday.  There has never been and probably never again will be a place like Harvey Mudd for me.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to get together again with about 100 of my classmates (>50% of us) but incredibly sad that we’ll never be together like that ever again.  One Saturday was not enough time, but apparently 4 years weren’t enough either.  I wish us all great and bright futures, and hope I do a better job keeping in touch with you.

Simeon Koh

05.07.2017 - HMC Alumni Weekend


2.5 Years Later, Adventure to Jim’s Original


When I made friends in the Chicago area, they would occasionally rave about Jim’s and promise to take me there.  Apparently it’s a popular late night hole-in-the-wall hot dog/burger stand for college kids in Chicago.  People talk about it as one of those guilty pleasures associated with strong nostalgia of the youthful frigid nights when they would gather people to go devour greasy sandwiches and hot dogs and nibble on the spicy chili peppers.

Finally after 2.5 years, I had my first Jim’s experience.  I dared not try to match everyone’s deep desire for it, but I like to think I started my own collection of memories at Jim’s last night.

As with most adventures, the food requires proper spontaneity of the setting.  In our church small group chatroom, somebody mentioned that he got Jim’s 3 times this week.  Then all these Chicago people unleashed their longings for Jim’s.  Reading these messages, I knew I had to jump in strategically in order to finally get myself to Jim’s.  Despite everyone’s love for this place, it’s not everyday that people talk about Jim’s.  And when people talk about their cravings, often the conversation dies without a solid conclusion to their cravings because human beings are prone to the comfort of their daily routines and there is the barrier of coordinating people’s schedules to make a trip to a place like Jim’s.  So at the peak of everyone’s excitement, I asked them to take me to Jim’s, accentuating the sad story of the past 2.5 years of hearing so much about Jim’s yet never having experienced it firsthand.

One immediate “omg” was unleashed and with the momentum of the conversation, a critical number of people expressed their availability and willingness to go to Jim’s next Wednesday after our Bible study.  My strategy worked!

What I hadn’t expected was when somebody said “let’s go now.”  Unsurprisingly most people couldn’t go on such short notice, but this person seemed super on fire for Jim’s, citing the slightly chilly drizzing weather as the perfect atmosphere for a Jim’s run.  For a moment, I hesitated because I, too, am human and didn’t want to get out of the house but the Tookish part of me took over and I said let’s do it!!!  In the end three of us ended up at Jim’s.

The excitement was very apparent during our trip as my friends wanted to pay for our food, telling me about the necessity of going halfsies on the polish hotdog and the fish sandwich and nibbling on the hot chili peppers while eating the fries and drinking grape soda.

The Mexican guy who gave us our order asked us, “ggochu manni?” which is Korean for “lots of peppers?”  Apparently all the drunk Korean college students teach him Korean.

As for the food, it was indeed very good.  The polish with the grilled onions was really good, and my favorite was the fish sandwich with the greasy but crunchy fish patty stuck between the buns and cheese and sauce and onions and happiness.  The fries were warm, crisp, and with the perfect amount of moisture.  The hot pepper was a nice contrast, and the carbonated sting of the grape soda intensified the spiciness.  We stood at the stand (no chairs in this place), finding shelter from the rain and eating our food and making memories.

Simeon Koh

My First Car Accident

Last week Friday I got into my first car accident.  I was hanging out at a friend’s apartment playing board games and having a good time, then left close to midnight.  I realized I was going north instead of south, and had to turn around.  I was in the right lane and wanted to make a left turn to turn around (I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me to turn right and make a loop that way).  It was late at night and I didn’t see any cars so I made a left from the right lane.  The next thing I know something hits my car hard on the left and I spin.

I hit my head on the driver side window before the airbag went off.  Once I came to a stop, I turned on the emergency lights and examined myself.  Airway, breathing, circulation all were ok.  No loss of consciousness.  No bleeding or cerebrospinal fluid leaking out of my ears/nose.  No obvious skull fracture, no cervical spine tenderness.  Some tenderness where I hit my head on the window and ringing in my left ear but Glasgow coma scale 15 out of 15 and no paralysis.  Abdomen ok.  I guess 2.5 years of medical school paid off because I was able to determine I didn’t need a CT scan or any other reason to go to an emergency room.  It would have been interesting to be sent to the nearby hospital and be reunited with the trauma surgery team that I rotated with last month, but I’m thankful it didn’t come to that.

The police officer appeared out of nowhere and checked on me and figured out what happened (totally my fault).  Thankfully the other driver wasn’t hurt either and his car was driveable.  My car had to be towed, and after getting a ticket my friend drove me home.


In the summer of 2012 as I was nearing the end of leading an urban missions team in Los Angeles Urban Project, I had a conversation with another team leader about my plan to get a car and how to find the balance between buying a nice car with the need to save money for charitable deeds.  He told me that it’s not about what car I buy, but what I do with my car.

With that conversation always in mind, I’ve done my best to be a blessing to others with my car.  I used it to drive my grandparents to all their doctor’s appointments.  I used it to run errands for my parents.  I used it to drive friends to church, grocery store, airport, or whatever needs were around me.  It’s ironic that after 4.5 years trying to be a blessing to others, the last thing I would do with the car is to cause great harm.

But in the moment of my greatest fault, I’ve been blessed with much grace.  I expected my parents to flip when I called them about my accident, but instead was told everything is ok and that I needn’t be too stressed as long as I’m not hurt.  When I described to my friends my terrible lapse in judgment, everyone was so understanding of my mistake.  My classmates have been driving me to my rotations everyday, and my church friends drove me to church and back.  When my insurance told me my car is totaled and I would getting a check for the value of my car, my parents wanted to send me more money so I can buy a new car instead of a used one, an option which I politely refused since I know they’ve been saving up to replace their 15 year old van.  It still baffles me that they want to buy a new car for someone who just totaled his own.

Anyways, it has been an inconvenient week without a car but one with much undeserved blessings.  I hope from now on I can be just as forgiving to others when they make mistakes.

Simeon Koh



2017 New Years Resolutions

It’s that time again where many of us make resolutions for the new year.  For some, it may be getting that promotion, for some it may be losing X amount of weight, for others it might be developing spiritual disciplines.  Although many of us won’t make it through the year with our resolutions, it never hurts to try!  At least for the first month or so we would be doing things we wouldn’t do otherwise!

My 2017 New Years Resolutions:

1) Do 10,000 pull-ups this year

2) Read 1 chapter of the Bible a night

3) Write in this blog at least once a month


This wouldn’t be an interesting blog post if it ended with that.  So here are my tips on making/keeping New Years Resolutions:

(A) Keep them few and simple.  There are a bazillion things I want to do with my life, but only enough willpower for a couple at a time.  So I limited my resolutions to 3 items, and hopefully that will make it more likely to keep them.

(B) Make them challenging enough, but keep it easier than you’d like.  In my opinion, this is not one of those things where you shoot for the moon and hope to land among the stars.  I have never met a person who was disappointed for accomplishing their New Years Resolution too easily.  Rather, people are disappointed when life gets busy and they have to give up on their resolutions.  So underestimate your abilities and give room for surpassing your goals!

For example, many people attempt to read the entire Bible in a year but stop somewhere during Leviticus.  I expect I would fail by the end of Genesis.  So I’ll do 1 chapter a day.

(C) Keep enough flexibility so you can recover from occasional mishaps.  Often, once you miss a day or two it becomes ridiculously difficult to catch up on certain resolutions.  So design your resolutions so you can get up immediately after you fall because the problem is never that we fail with a single fall, but we grow tired of always playing catch-up.

For example, 10,000 pull ups in 365 days comes out to about 27.4 pull ups/day.  However, I’m going to rest at least 1 day a week, so subtract 52 days, then 13 additional lazy days just for kicks, leaving 300 days.  Then 10,000/300 = 33.3 pull ups/day, which is still doable.

Of course, I won’t start with 34 pull ups/day in January.  I’m starting with 15 (3 sets of 5) and increase as I want.  And I purposely didn’t specify how many reps and how many sets because that’s complicated and gives me the flexibility to do 34 sets of 1 pull up if I wanted to.


(D) Reward yourself for doing a good job. Our goals are almost always things we want to do but don’t have the desperation to actually do them.  So create incentives for ourselves.

For example I want to keep writing in this blog, but it’s been hard because medical school sucks in general as well as time.  Plus I started writing for the Medscape medical student blog, leaving less time/energy/brain to write here.  So I need some positive reinforcement every time I write here.  I plan on rewarding myself with a nice meal, a new CD, new clothes, 5 lb bag of gummy bears, or something ridiculously happy.

Anyways, please share below if you have any New Years Resolutions, or if you have additional tips on keeping them.

It’s good to be back!

Simeon Koh

Thoughts from Church Retreat

Last weekend I went on a church retreat.  The highlight for me was a seminar on social justice.  The speaker was a lawyer who works with the urban poor populations, especially women who turn to prostitution to pay for their drug addictions.  I won’t try to summarize the seminar here, but let’s just say I was moved by the heart she has for these women and her willingness to put her skills and resources to love those in need of God’s love.

This seminar was so good for me was because it rekindled the little bit of heart I have for the poor and marginalized people in our communities, especially children from broken homes.  During college God taught me how to start loving the urban poor, and before med school I did my best to donate some of my earnings and pray for social justice.  However, med school sort of put out any time/energy to engage with these issues.  I am so busy and drowning in my training that I cannot also pour out myself for others.  (I’m the one who needs to be poured into nowadays!)

I often fear that somewhere along my medical training I would lose the heart of God for social justice.  I know right now I need to be focused on my studies so that later I can help others, but I keep imagining that by the time I’ve obtained the skills to make a big difference, I would no longer have the desire to use them for good.

I know I am not going to go start volunteering regularly at a soup kitchen or donate my non-existent money to mission organizations any time soon.  On the surface it’s going to look like this seminar made no difference in my life.  But I’m still thankful because it made me realize that the itty-bitty heart for the poor and the marginalized is still somewhere deep deep inside me.  May the good and loving God keep the fire alive until the time is right.

Friends in California in Chicago


This past weekend 3 of my friends from California flew over to Chicago to visit.  I had feared that it would be too cold for them, but they must have brought the sunshine of Southern California within their hearts because this weekend was the warmest it has been in a long time.  All the snow melted and it was beautiful.

If I were to summarize what we did in Chicago, it would be that we ate a lot.  We ate deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati’s, went to Shake Shack burgers for dinner, bought donuts at Firecakes (which we ate for early morning snack the next day), ate brunch at Yolk, dinner at Xocos, brunch at the Purple Pig, and a second brunch at Wildberry.  But somehow the most frequent place we visited was Garrett’s popcorn shop and Walgreens (I found out that Walgreens’s headquarters is in Chicago and therefore there is a Walgreens store everywhere!).  Somewhere during all the food we went shopping, I got Snapchat, went to the natural history museum, lost all the data on my phone, took a morning walk/run along the Chicago river, found the statue of Benito Juarez, etc.

I won’t go into detail about everything we did because what we did really doesn’t capture the happiness that I felt during those couple days.  It was just so cool to have my hometown friends that I’ve known since middle/high school just randomly fly over during my spring break just to hang out in Chicago.  For those 3 days they helped me forget about all my problems and thrive in the every minute of the present.  It’s incredible how you can find escape from stress when you’re with friends.  Who needs drugs when you have friends?

Anyways, I just wanted to brag about what cool friends I have and how lucky I was to have them in Chicago for those precious few days.


Simeon Koh

A New Creation, a Dentally Insured Grown-up Gentleman

Yesterday I took full advantage of my dental insurance and got 4 cavities fixed.  That might seem like a lot, but psh I got 5 more to go.  I did pay $278.90 for the 4 cavities, but considering my insurance paid $534.10, I feel not so bad.  The dentist office people gave me a sheet that says by the end I would end up paying $692.50 for the 9 cavities, but my insurance will pay $1382.50; if I had no insurance I would have to pay everything which comes out to $2075.00.

Before you judge me for my cavities (or maybe it’s too late), I have to tell you that they really didn’t seem bad to me.  I didn’t have any tooth pain, there were no visible black cavity spots, and I didn’t have bad breath (at least I don’t think I did…).  But now I’ve learned that cavities don’t have to be black and brushing my teeth regularly isn’t good enough.  If it weren’t for my wisdom teeth, I would have never known I had so many oral problems.

In November, my impacted wisdom teeth were pushing out again and started to hurt.  I’ve known for years that my wisdom teeth were very slowly growing out crookedly but they didn’t bother me enough so I just let it sit.  I was half in denial and half trying to convince myself that waiting for them to come out more would make the job easier for the dentist (that’s how much of a nice guy I am!).  But this time it hurt so much that I would wake up several times in the middle of the night.  So I found a dentist.

Confession:  until this time, I hadn’t been to the dentist since probably middle school (or maybe I went one time in high school?), which is like minimum 8, maximum 15 years ago…  People I’ve told this have been unanimously horrified.  Apparently it’s a thing that people actually go to the dentist.  After all my baby teeth were out, I didn’t get black cavities and nothing hurt so I never felt the need to go.  Also, for most of my adolescence my family didn’t even have health insurance; so what makes you think we had dental insurance?  To the doctor I would go once in a while because I needed to get some forms signed for participating in sports or to get into college etc. but nobody made me go to the dentist.

Anyways, in November I got my 2 wisdom teeth pulled out (Thanksgiving was fun) without insurance which cost ~$1000.  But more urgently my dentist said I really needed a deep cleaning lest I develop periodontal disease which is apparently something scary, and that also cost ~$1000 without insurance.  That was a lot of money, but apparently even if I had signed up for dental insurance they wouldn’t cover expensive things like those until 6 months of being insured.  So I paid everything out of pocket and thought it was the end… until my dentist said now I gotta get my 9 cavities fixed, which would cost another $2000.

So that is the story of why I have dental insurance (cavities are covered immediately when your insurance takes effect, unlike deep cleaning).  I am now a new creation, a dentally insured grown-up gentleman.  Since November I have been brushing my teeth with much more vigor, flossing every night, and using a mouth wash every night.  Learn from my experience and join me, friends, in taking care of our oral health.

Simeon Koh

Adventures at a McDonalds Drive-Through

Last week, I had a relatively productive day at school.  I accomplished my goals for the day despite numerous distractions and left school at 2AM.

If I were a body image-conscious supermodel, I would have just gone home.  But since I am not, I stopped by McDonalds 24-hr drive-through.  I ordered 2 breakfast burritos and 1 hash brown.  I may not be very conscious about body image, but because I am an environmentally conscious citizen, I turned off my car while I waited for the has brown to cook, rather than to let the greenhouse gases pollute the air.  Then I got my food and turned the keys… and then the car wouldn’t start but the car alarm went off.  Interesting.  Awkward.  Terribly embarrassing, as the McDonalds lady looked at me with her widened pupils.

I use my car remote to turn off the alarm and try again.  Same thing.  Just alarms going off at a lonely McDonalds drive through at 2:30 in the morning.  I try a couple times, check under the hood, etc. with no luck.  Thankfully since my car is less than 5 years old I could call “Hyundai roadside assistance.”

“Are you inside your vehicle and at a safe location?”  she asked.

“…Yes… I’m in a very safe place.”  I replied.

I spend several minutes explaining that I was stuck at a very safe McDonalds drive-through and give her my information and etc.  During this time I’m getting more and more anxious, not because I’m afraid for my life or anything, but because my phone battery was at 5% and this lady at Hyundai roadside assistance was very very calm and … not rushed.  Thankfully my phone survives the conversation and the lady assures me that someone will be over “soon.”

Meanwhile I knocked on the drive-through window and asked the McDonalds lady if I could charge my phone.  She took my phone and charger, and I became probably the first non-employee to charge my phone via the outlet next to the McDonalds coffee machine.  Then I sat in my car (since only the drive-through was open, the restaurant itself wasn’t open) and ate my burritos and hash brown because I had nothing else to do.  I thought of studying (oh the disease of being a medical student) but I was too cranky for that.

In retrospect, I could have called my apartment-mate to come jump-start my car.  I also could have asked the McDonalds lady or other customers (who I learned start coming around 3:30AM) to jump start my car.  However, I was dumb and didn’t think it was the batteries because the lights and my alarm (especially) worked really well, and because I hadn’t noticed any leakage in the battery when I checked.  It was also 2:30AM and I had faith that someone will be over “soon.”

The person finally got there around 3:45AM (the person for some reason was at the Wal Mart across the street instead of the McDonalds and tried calling me but my phone was charging next to the coffee machine when he called).  But somehow I got in contact with him and he brought a portable battery starter and got me going in 10 seconds oh my goodness.

If I had known that a portable battery starters existed, I could have walked over to the Wal Mart across the street and bought myself one and gotten out of McDonalds in less than 30 minutes.  Instead I suffered alone in the car in the cold (it was less than 20F that night) for an hour and a half, occasionally blaring my car alarm in the middle of the night and ruining everyone’s 3:30AM McDonalds experience.

Anyways, I got home around 4AM and went to bed as a cold miserable and cranky man.

Simeon Koh

P.S.  Why does the car alarm go off if my batteries are no good?  There must be a gentler way of letting me know.


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