With my mom from DC to Grand Canyon to the Rockies

On the way back to DC alone, I put my earphones on and turned on Podcast. Then, I realized that I hadn’t listened to it for the past 12 days. Not only Podcast, but also my laptop and music, all of which have filled up my time and space as if they couldn’t be left vacant, were not with me during this trip with my mom from DC to Grand Canyon to Canadian Rockies. For 12 days, we never ran out of things to talk about, walked around holding hands all the time, took pictures and cherished every single minute together. It was also a new, a little bit uncanny but satisfying experience to see my mom comfortably relying on me (it was my mom’s second visit to the U.S. and she doesn’t speak English). I guess I grew up enough to be able to care for my parents, although I am still a baby to them even when I become a grandma.

Day 1-3 in DC: “Visiting my daughter” was the phrase my mom memorized and practiced over and over again before boarding a plane to DC from Incheon, South Korea. Handing over her passport to the CBP officer, she blurted out the phrase and swiftly gave him the invitation letter I wrote for her trip as if she didn’t want to give him a chance to ask her anything in English. The officer, who by the way looked kind according to my mom, skimmed through the letter and then looked at my mom. “Georgetown?” He showed four fingers to ask her to scan her fingerprints and that was it. “I worried for nothing,” she grinned. I did too.

Among the U.S. cities she visited—New York and Boston in 2014 and DC, Las Vegas, and Seattle this time—she said she liked DC the most. I knew that she wouldn’t pick New York; she flipped out when she saw a mouse in a subway station there. Boston was too cold for her; she couldn’t believe that she needed a coat to attend the Commencement. On the other hand, the walk around the Mall and toward the Lincoln Memorial was pleasant and she liked a clear sky and a lively atmosphere.


Day 4-7 in Las Vegas and Grand Canyon:

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Day 8-11 in Seattle, Vancouver and Rocky Mountains:

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Day 12 in DC: Back to DC. Alone again, but with lots of precious memories with my mom. And with the courage to mute the voice of self-doubt, stop being shy, and venture beyond my comfort zone; the vastness and magnificence of Grand Canyon and the Rockies somehow scared off my used-to-be mighty inner critic that has shackled me.

Throughout this whole trip, I was with two entities that are the warmest and most powerful in the planet—my mom and Mother Nature.


A short visit to Boston

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Boston holds a special place in my heart not because it is the city in the U.S. I lived for 7 years, spent most of my 20s, grew up as a scientist, got my academic credential, and had my first job. It is because I met here in Boston highly intelligent, ambitious, caring and lovely people around whom I can afford to be silly and playful.

It was exactly four years ago when I presented my Ph.D. work and received an Outstanding Student Award at the NEBS annual meeting in Boston. Four years elapsed, and the Ph.D. candidate at that time became a professor and was invited to the same meeting as one of the speakers at the career panel discussion. It was an honor to attend the same meeting in a different capacity, but it was also a good reminder that I should strive more to grow up intellectually and professionally. Changes in the title are easy to see, but without changes within the person—her brain and heart—they mean nothing. Kaitlyn, let’s not forget that.

1hr 57min 23sec


13.1 miles (or 21.1km) in 1:57:23.

To be honest, I don’t like running (surprise!). However, I run a couple of half marathon races every year just to prove to myself that I could do it and to feel the achievement at the end the race; post-race soreness is a sweet reward I enjoy and it’s satisfying that I did my three-day share of exercise all at once. Then, while looking at my second best record ever, I found another reason for running the race.

The result is something truly measurable. A number down to second level. 1:57:23. Period.

As a teacher, it is my job (and a dilemma) to quantify things that are not quantifiable: students’ assignments, presentations, participation, etc. There are no two students whose backgrounds and/or interests are the same. Different student groups have different dynamics and ideas, thus they produce totally different but equally enthralling products. I do my best to grade their exams and assignments fairly using rubrics, but I don’t know if the grades I am giving out do full justice to students’ efforts and how much they cared about learning. Grading is never easy and will never be.

1:57:23. It’s refreshing to see an assessment that is unequivocally determined, simple and straightforward.

코끝에서 시작해 손끝까지 오감으로 봄을 만끽하는 하루.

봄은 하얀 벚꽃으로도 오고, 재잘재잘 새소리로도 오고, 봄비가 내린 캠퍼스의 화단 흙냄새로도 오고, 입안 가득 달콤한 딸기맛으로도 오고, 살짝 접어 올린 소매 아래 손목을 스쳤다가 깜짝 놀라 미안해하는 봄바람으로도 옵니다.

심장 쫄깃한 자극이 아니어도 들썩들썩 요란하지 않아도, 은은하게 또 조용하게 경쾌한 붓터치만으로 봄은 사람의 맘을 살랑살랑하게 합니다.

봄의 싱그러움을 닮고 싶다고 하기엔 좀 낮간지럽지만, 한살 두살 나이가 들어도 누군가를 만났을 때 봄처럼 다가오는 사람이 되고 싶다는 생각을 문득 합니다. 화려한 언변, 짙고 강한 이미지, 톡쏘는 사이다 같은 매력 없이도,

은은하게, 조용하게, 스며들듯 이끌리게.

(In front of my office building)

Why tennis?

After watching me for more than a year playing tennis almost every day and remaining enthusiastic about it, my friend Anh asked me “what about tennis makes you crazy about it?”

After a long, haphazard answer to it, I summed it up in a satisfying way. “It requires a combination of power, speed and control.”

Thinking back, I realized that’s the kind of person I want to be. I want to be a person with determination, who also understands and values the power (and weight) of words. I desire to be someone who seizes the opportunities, rather than waiting for them to come. I would like to be a person who respects the boundary between people and knows her limit in experiences/perspectives so that she never judges anyone in haste.

Maybe that’s the reason I love tennis 🙂



The magical power of old friends

Old friends have a magical power. When they are together, no matter how far they were apart in time and space before, they stretch out the ephemeral present moment to the point that now it can be loaded with years of past and future. Their past years had little overlap. So will their coming years. However, their separate paths enrich their friendship, rather than eroding it.

Maybe a good friendship is more like buttons than zippers. We don’t need to be together all the time to maintain a lifelong friendship; we just need to spend some time together here and there. While a missing tooth breaks a zipper, separate paths are inherent in a good friendship and they allow two friends to complement each other.

My middle school friend Haneul came to DC to visit me on October 10, 2017. I don’t even remember when we saw each other last time. Was it 2010? or 2011? I spent the whole Sunday with her and she transformed my ordinary Sunday into a very special day.

We often judge the quality of time by how much we accomplished during the time. Sometimes (or more often than you think), what matters is whom you spent that time with.


나 뿐만 아니라 너도 기억해주길…

버스 안, 내 옆자리에 할머니 한분이 앉으셨다.
70세는 훌쩍 넘어보이는 할머니의 팔에는 검버섯이 앉아있었고
나이수만큼의 깊은 주름과 엷은 주름들이 자리해있었다.

본적 없는 이 낯선 할머니를 바라보다가
이런 생각이 들었다.

‘나중에 내 아이가 기억할 우리엄마의 모습은
지금의 모습이 아니라
나이든 할머니의 모습이겠구나.’

짙은 쌍커풀이 있는 큰 눈,
여리여리하게 가느다란 팔과 다리.
탤런트 김혜선씨를 닮았다고 하면
“어우 얘는~”
하며 손사래를 치는 우리엄마.

내 은사님이 “혹시 교장선생님 아니신가?” 물으실 정도로
강단있게 생긴 우리 엄마.

하지만 나중에 내 아이가 태어나
할머니라는 말을 할 수 있을 때면
우리엄마의 이렇게 예쁜 모습은
세월이라는 힘에 살짝 지워져 있을 수도 있겠구나.

그래서 작은 다짐을 하나 했다.

한국에 있는 지금,
엄마와의 사진을 많이 찍어 두자고.
사진이 담을 수 있는것에는 한계가 있겠으나
우리 엄마가 이만큼 예쁘다는 사실을
나만이 아니라 내 아이도 기억했으면 한다.

caption: 아빠 유전자의 횡포(?!)로 인해 엄마의 큰 눈과 가느다란 다리는 내게서 발현되지 못했다. 아빠도 인정한다. 우리아빠 유전자가 잘못했다 ㅋㅋㅋ