Telling Our Stories

Below is an essay I wrote in 2010 as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley for an immigrant student advocacy organization called Immigrants Rising. This piece was written and read out loud in front of the 150 guests at the “Day of Immigrants” event that took place on the Angel Island in 2010.

For my college application essays, I avoided the gloomy topics of immigration and living in a low-income family. Each of the college admissions books I read and internalized had an underlying theme: college essays ought to focus on the positive aspects of one’s life, with humor injected in between the sentences. I simply couldn’t do this with stories about immigration; my memories were too depressing. How could I inject humor into nights filled with anxiety when I overheard my parents arguing whether or not we should give up and go back to Korea, phone calls with my landlord to fight for the deposit she refused give back, or moments of panic whenever I thought about paying for college? I asked my counselor if I should write my college essays on these experiences. “Ten thousand other immigrant students probably wrote about overcoming adversity much greater than yours,” she replied. So I concluded that stories about immigration are all too similar, all too pervasive, and all too serious as a topic to be handled by a teenager. In the end, I wrote about how I played piano for the Alzheimer’s patients at the local hospital, how I won a motor-building contest during the summer technology program at MIT, and how I am the only service-learning teen-ambassador in all of Orange County. And all the essays I wrote came out detached and cliché, as if I was hoping my readers could fully grasp who I was just by looking at my shadow.

I wonder how many immigrant students feel as if we ought to bury our painful memories and underscore the humorous and hopeful moments of our lives. It is easy to write about wonders of a new land, the nice neighbor who taught you English, and the teacher who changed your life. But there is nothing harder than sharing your experiences of extreme anxiety as you sleep in fear of deportation, or the feelings of guilt and bitterness at making your parents pay so much tuition when they already work ten hours a day just to put food on the table. With happy events, words pour out like honey and milk. There is no need to worry that you might sound self-pitying, no need to recall unpleasant events that will drain you emotionally. But by focusing on the happy and hopeful events of our lives, by pretending we are the same as stable and happy middle-class American families, we unconsciously erase the sacrifices our families have made to get us to where we are today. We erase ourselves. Writing about past experiences, whether pleasant or unpleasant, forces us to reflect and re-evaluate the past and the present, as well as what we truly want to achieve in the future. So let us rely on words and their ability to capture even the most fleeting emotions, no matter how sad or depressing they are. Let us preserve our memories before they slip away into oblivion. Let us preserve ourselves.


Lourdes 2019

Serving as a stagiaire at Lourdes was a profoundly beautiful experience I can’t yet put into words…

Here are some pictures from the trip 🙂


Waiting to register as Stagiare at Notre Dame de Lourdes


Notre Dame de Lourdes in sunset before the Marian procession.

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Serving the pilgrims at the train station.


Pretty town of Lourdes


Our Lady of Lourdes at the Grotto of Massabielle

Musings on Producing

Film producing feels like putting together a 2000-piece puzzle while the timer is ticking down. Frustrating until you see the pieces fit together. Extremely gratifying when the whole picture is revealed to you at the end.

Ode to New York


Everything about New York blows me away. The diversity of people, amazing art collection, bookstore with history and charm, delicious food, the lights of the Time Square and Broadway, music of the NY Philharmonic, impressive skyscrapers, historical buildings, parks with so much character. I can’t count the ways this city draws me and charms me. The four days I’m spending here turned out to be the best weather New York has had in a long time. It was preceded by a thunderstorm and temperature drops. The only side of New York I have seen is a city saturated in vibrant colors under warm and bright sunlight, and I feel impelled to to move here immediately.


The city somehow injected me with energy and health that I haven’t had before. In two days it satiated the artistic paucity I felt for years. Surely it can’t be all roses to live here, but it’s unfair that I only get to see the best that New York has to offer because somehow I got lucky with the weather. I wonder if money would be a deciding factor in whether one enjoys New York or not… and I feel very lucky to have the means to go to the concert and not worry about starving for the next month.


It’s eleven pm at night but I feel like I want to step out again, to gaze at the city from the top of the Empire State Building, to admire the Art Deco floors and the golden statue in front of the Rockefeller Center. And it’s amazing to behold the sight of Broadway and the Time Square… I wonder if you can feel lonly in the middle of all the warm glow of lights. I’m sure you can but tonight I just felt alive and happy to behold the sight in awe.

The ode to this city has been sung many times by writers (E.B. White “Here is New York), filmmakers (just see any Woody Allen film or hear him open his mouth), artists (Winogrand), jazz singers, pop singers, musicals, tv shows, etc etc. With all this hype from so many self-professed ‘New Yorkers’ and admirers of the City,  I thought I would feel blasé and I am so surprised to find myself so in love with a city and long to be with it as if it were a human entity. It’s a weird feeling.

So here is my ode to the great city, in the form of a blog post and couple pictures. And someday, I will have to move and work here and earn the claim to ‘know’ the city like a true New Yorker.

Italian Cinema Scores by NY Philharmonic

La Dolce Vita: The Music of Italian Cinema  New York Philharmonic

The program

My friend brilliantly noticed, while traveling in NYC in August, that NY Philharmonic was scheduled to do a night of Italian Cinema called “La Dolce Vita”, including a piece from Cinema Paradiso. It was a two-day event with amazing violinist Joshua Bell, vocalist Josh Groban, and soprano Renee Fleming scheduled to perform. The last day of this event fortuitously fell on the day of my arrival at New York City. So despite the jetlag from time difference and flying the red-eye, I attended the event at the Lincoln Center.

I guess I should disclose that I have an on-going love affair with Italian Cinema. I haven’t seen enough of Italian Cinema yet to qualify myself as an aficionado, but I find myself extremely attached to the ones I have seen. The one in particular is Cinema Paradiso, which captures the wonderment of childhood, and is steeped in beautiful nostalgia and melancholy over the innocence and naivete that often inevitably goes away as we grow older. But truthfully, these movies would mean almost nothing to me without the scores by Ennio Morricone (Cinema Paradiso, Once Upon a Time in the West), Nino Rota (Fellini’s films like 8 1/2, La Dolce Vita), and Luis Bacalov (Il Postino).

Image courtesy of Forbes:

New York Philharmonic did this very smart thing where instead of playing the footages from the movie like SF symphony does to scores, they commissioned an Italian film director Giampiero Solari to create a visual screen play for the performance. I felt that I could really experience the power of music and its role in cinema without confusing which is influencing me more (was it the images or the score?!?!). Tonight, music assumed a leading role in the world of cinema and made it clear to everyone in attendance of its power in storytelling and provoking deep emotions that transcend time and space.

Joshua Bell performed as a violin soloist on the Suite from “The Anonymous Venetian”. It was heart-wrenchingly beautiful, and I think I had to actively fight the tears from flowing. His violin seemed to be telling a beautiful story, and all I could do was empathize with its melancholia, its vulnerability, its passion as the song played.

The piece I was looking forward to, called “Se”, from Cinema Paradiso, ended up disappointing me. Possibly because I have heard that piece on youtube so many times (possibly around hundred times) without the singers (and with Ennio Morricone conducting: The singing somehow took away from what was already perfect, or that was how I felt at the end of that piece…

The NY Phil also played a piece from Life is Beautiful, and the gorgeous footages from the movie played (instead of the animation), along with the piece that ebbed and flowed, swelled with the crescendo and made our hearts melt into pools of emotions.

So these are the movies on my to-watch or re-watch list:
Life is Beautiful
Cinema Paradiso
Il Postino
Once Upon a time in the West
Profumo di Donna
Juliet of the Spirits

Supporting the Pavilion Lake Research Project

I am in the middle of a two week-long field work in Pavilion Lake, British Columbia, Canada. This is my first official “NASA” field test trip in a remote site and I am very excited to be here with the xGDS team from Intelligent Robotics Group (Tamar and Dave) to make sure our software helps the scientists operate smoothly as they collect and analyze data about microbialites.

Pavilion Lake, BC, Canada

Pavilion Lake, BC, Canada

Microbialites are rocks that are formed by bacteria. They are most often found in very harsh environments and are often many million or even billion years old. The ones in Pavilion Lake are especially of interest to the scientific community because they grow in fresh water that also support other living species. From what I understand, studying these microbialites provides an understanding of really ancient microbialites that were formed billions of years ago on Earth, and it may provide clues to origin of life on Earth and ultimately clues to life on other planets.

A better / more accurate understanding of microbialites can be found here: 😉

Microbialite sample

Microbialite sample

The software my team and I wrote is called Exploration Ground Data Systems (xGDS). It’s a pretty amazing tool that helps scientists plan their flights, take time stamped notes, view and analyze video data, images, and basically whatever data they collected out in the field. They use it to plan, execute, and review the entire research project.

Allyson, a scientist, uses xGDS to take timestamped notes while viewing video and noting the location of the ROV via xGDS tracking system.

Allyson, a scientist, uses xGDS to take timestamped notes while viewing video and noting the location of the ROV via xGDS tracking system.

There are many things I really enjoyed and learned from Pavilion Lake Research Project, and one of them was observing how effectively this tightly-knit group of scientists and engineers were led by Darlene and her team. We operated on a tight, busy schedule that began with a 7am meeting, then a morning flight with divers in the lake with xGDS supporting, then lunch, then an afternoon flight with divers and xGDS support, then dinner, then evening debrief at 8pm (after which  our team would go back to the trailer to code some more). The days were busy and hectic, and I am slightly woozy from lack of sleep my eye and hand are swollen from the mosquito bites. But it was so exciting!! And I learned so much about team work and productive work schedule from her team.

Science team meeting at the end of the day.

Science team meeting at the end of the day.

In the previous years, the underwater data was collected using a manned-underwater vehicle (basically a submarine). During this year’s test, however, we used underwater ROVs’ (remotely operated vehicles) with cameras to collect footages and sensor data underwater. There are three ROVs’ and you can see one below (his name is Seamor).

Seamor is a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that goes underwater to collect various data including video and sensor data.

Seamor is a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that goes underwater to collect various data including video and sensor data.

Sometimes the weather in Pavilion Lake would  be freezing and windy. But the next day, the weather would flip and we would get nice sunny weather like you see below!

Enjoying the sun after days of rain and cold wind.

Enjoying the sun after days of rain and cold wind.

So checkout for information regarding Pavilion Lake Research Project. It’s been a great fun so far, sprinkled with lot of laughter, jokes, and lots and lots of adventure coding 🙂 And I am super excited for this network of scientists I now know. They are the greatest, funnest bunch 🙂