Category: Personal

Brief Update

So I see that I have been getting in at least one post every month and I don’t plan on breaking that flow (though I really would like to post more often though).  I have SO many posts still stuck in drafts because they take thought and energy to write and… honestly, I’ve been lacking in that department for a few weeks now.  I’ve made no secret about the fact that I struggle with depression and, yes, I’m going through a bit of a low at the moment.

But for those of you who may be curious, here are a couple general updates about the state of my life, this blog, etc.

1) For various reasons, I deleted my tumblr a few months ago and I’ve been much happier without it.  The downside is I’ve lost all the casual translations that I’ve posted on there for the past 4 years so many of the links on my “Translations” page are dead.  Boo.  But not to worry – I have started a portfolio of my translations on Google Drive and will be updating links over the next couple months.

2) I still have a (very infrequently) updated Korean language diary on tumblr here.

3) I was in the Motherland (i.e. India) for two weeks in August.  Overall it was a very unremarkable experience.

4) I’ve been reading a lot, LOT more (not Korean) and have thus mostly given up on television – including Korean dramas and anime.  This makes me so happy because I’d always loved reading but then graduate school sucked all the enjoyment out of it for me.  I’m finally falling back in love with books.  Are any of you avid readers?  Friend me on Goodreads!  The slight downside to this is that language-learning has taken a backseat for the time being.

5) A big hug and THANK YOU to all the people who have followed me on this blog, sent me sweet emails/messages/tweets, and have stuck with me from the beginning.  You guys are the ones who keep me writing and learning.

Epik High in San Francisco

Okay so this happened:  On May 28, Epik High commenced their 2015 North American Tour at the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco.


The stage at the Warfield Theater
The stage at the Warfield Theater

This was a big deal for me because it was my first ever concert.  I’m a homebody and the idea of standing in line, enduring screaming fans and general madness just to hear/see artists live never seemed appealing to me – especially since I can just listen to a CD or watch a YouTube video in the comfort of own home.  But I’m thrilled to give up my… uh… concert virginity to Epik High.  Honestly there’s no other group I’d want that honor to go to.  Hee.

I still can’t believe my two eyes saw them in the flesh.

San Francisco was the first stop on their tour so their energy was really fresh.  Tablo’s always been my musical bias (I still think he’s one of the best wordsmiths in this industry) but Mithra was FANTASTIC at rapping live.  The venue was small enough that the whole concert itself felt intimate.  So intimate, in fact, that their true dorkiness shone through.  During the intermission, the trio listed off their favorite things about North America and – I kid you not – Tablo said geocities and hotmail.  Woooowww.  (Tablo couldn’t hide his nerdiness – Mithra and Tukutz named some popular movies and Tablo’s like, “Uh… F. Scott Fitzgerald…”  I screamed extra loud for that.)

A fan requested poor Mithra to do aegyo…. let’s just say that is a memory I want to bleach out of my brain forever.

The concert ranged from songs from their relatively new stuff (“Born Hater,” “Don’t Hate Me,” “Happen Ending,” “Eyes, Nose, Lips”) to old fan favorites (“Umbrella,” “Love, Love, Love,” “Fan”).  Such nostalgia.  A tiny part of me wishes I had splurged on VIP tickets but we had pretty great seats overall.

I swear I have photos from the concert and will add them to this post at a later time (they’re on my phone – haven’t had time to transfer them to my computer).  Better late than never!  Photos below.

2014: A Year of Change

Stuff happened in 2014.

So.  Much.  Stuff.

When I think about growing up and taking on responsibilities and such, I think this is the year that I really threw myself into the ocean of adulthood and taught myself how to swim.  It wasn’t easy.  I’m fairly sure that I cried more this year than I ever have in my recent past and was almost continuously sick because of stress.  Nevertheless, 2014 is a year that I will look back on fondly in the future.  These were the highlights of my year.

Continue reading “2014: A Year of Change”

How Language Makes Me Feel

비는 비.  낮은 낮.  여름은 여름….  살면서 많은 말을 배웠다.  자주 쓰는 말이 있고 그렇지 않은 것이 있었다.  지상에 뿌리내린 것이 있고 식물의 종자처럼 가볍게 퍼져가는 말이 있었다.  여름을 여름이라 할 때, 나는 그것을 가질 수 있을 것 같았다.  그럴 수 있다 믿어 자꾸 물었다.  땅이라니, 나무라니, 게다가 당신이라니…. 입속 바람을 따라 겹치고 흔들리는 이것, 저것, 그것.  내가 ‘그것’ 하고 발음하면 ‘그것….’ 하고 퍼지는 동심원의 너비.  가끔은 그게 내 세계의 크기처럼 느껴졌다.

The first couple pages of 두근두근 내 인생 (yes I’m reading that now) absolutely struck me dumb.

Never have I read a more accurate depiction of how I feel about language – particularly Korean.  I always whine about how it’s so hard to learn new words and really have them stick in your long-term memory.  But the fact of the matter is, when it does happen, it’s such an astounding feeling.  When you really truly know word – when not only know its definitions but also its subtle nuances, its color, the intangible quality it gives the sentence it’s a part of – that’s a special feeling that I think only true lovers of language can appreciate.

Q&A: Being Indian in Korea

Janhavi asked:  I will be studying abroad in Korea next spring. I was wondering if you could tell me about your experience as an Indian in Korea, since I will be in the same position once I get there. Thank you so much!

First off, hi Janhavi and thanks for the question and comment!  I’ve been meaning to write more about my trip to Korea but (as always) am distracted by a million other things I want to write about first.  That actually struck me as something interesting about myself: As much as I LOVED my trip, I can really, truly love Korean on just a pure intellectual level.  I don’t crave the need to be surrounded by it to really enjoy it.

Anyway, I digress!  You brought up a valid question and it’s my pleasure to answer, but with the requisite caveats!  These are some things to keep in mind before you read too deeply into my answer:

  • I only visited Seoul.
  • I stayed only for 10 days.
  • I didn’t get to visit all the different parts of the city.
  • I traveled with someone else who was Asian but not Korean.
  • I spoke primarily in Korean with no difficulties.
  • I went to a lot of touristy places.

That being said, my experience as an Indian in Korea was…. well, rather unremarkable!  I don’t think there was ever a moment, either in a positive or negative sense, when I felt like oh, such-and-such is happening because I’m Indian.  

One thing that I want to emphasize is that whenever I had to communicate, I always initiated the conversation in Korean and the conversation always continued in Korean.  I think in general, this puts a lot of people at ease, especially if you go into small shops and restaurants that may not be used to dealing with foreigners.  For example, the S.O. had his hair cut at a really fancy-pants salon in Cheongdamdong and none of the stylists spoke English.  Needless to say, I probably would have had a very different experience had I tried to get an appointment there without knowing any Korean, but whether or not my ethnicity would have contributed to that experience is hard to tell.  Some shop attendants at the smaller department stores avoided us or tried to use sign language, but the instant I spoke in Korean, it was all warmth and politeness.  Knowing some Korean and having a sense of cultural awareness can make yourself feel confident in a foreign environment as well!

You’d be surprised by the number of Indians you might catch sight of in Seoul.  I definitely noticed a handful young South Asian professionals (mostly men) at various subway stops.  I ran into an entire salwar-and-kurta-wearing family from Dubai at the Trick Eye Museum in Hongdae.  (Beware that people like that can forcibly try to befriend you just because you’re a fellow brown person.  Heh.)

If you wander around Sinchon and Hongdae, you can find young people of all different ethnicities!  That sort of diversity is more like what I’m used to since I’m from the U.S., so I didn’t feel out of place or anything.

I’ve heard some secondhand stories of racism and prejudice in Korea, so I think a part of me was bracing myself for something like that.  But honestly?  Nothing of the sort happened to me.  We were treated with nothing but graciousness wherever we went.

There were just two incidents where Koreans made direct references to my Indianness.  One was a guy at Migliore (a fashion mall in Dongdaemun) who was  saying stupid stuff to try to get me to look at the stuff he was selling (“Hey, you look Indian!  You’re Indian, right?  If my guess is right, you have to talk to me!”).  The other was a sweet saleswoman at Lotte Department Store who said I had really beautiful, wide eyes (and then she gave me an extra nice discount on the Beanpole clutch I was buying haha).

That’s really all that comes to mind on my end.  The greatest joy I had out of my trip to Korea is getting to enjoy normal day-to-day things that native Koreans would do in Seoul – speaking in Korean, reading random stuff in Korean, taking the subway, eating Korean snacks, hanging out at a cafe…. and I was able to do just that just fine.

Happy studies in Korea, Janhavi!

Site name change + new blog


Three years after publishing this blog, I’ve decided to make a minor change to the title.  It’s gone from 반짝반짝 to 반짝반짝 한국어.  I think I’ve subconsciously thought of my blog as the latter for a while now; it reflects the fact that it’s a blog about Korean (mostly) and that the journey has been a lustrous one (…mostly).  I think my happiest experiences in the recent years have had something to do with Korean so the title is fitting in that sense.  In retrospect, I kind of regret choosing a Korean word as my site name because it may make it more difficult for people to remember and/or type into a search engine, but I don’t want to change it at this point.  Plus I’ve noticed that a lot of Korean language learning blogs have popped into existence in the past couple years and it’s getting more difficult to tell them all apart!  A unique blog title does help in that case.

Speaking of blogs, I started a new Weebly site to write more generally about other stuff in my life.  I’m kind of going for a scrapbook/portfolio type thing – that is, a space where I can showcase projects I’m working on and also write longer personal posts.  As for Weebly itself… I actualy don’t know much about it.  I mostly wanted to start a website where I can practice messing around with modifying and creating new themes for free.  Unfortunately, there’s only a limited amount of theme customization you can do on WordPress when you have a basic account.  On the other hand, Weebly has some aesthetically pleasing (free!) templates already and allows you to modify its HTML/CSS quite easily.  Also, Weebly is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get website builder comprised entirely of drag-and-drop widgets that you can use to build your site without any knowledge of web development.  The whole setup is quite different from the WordPress content management system.  I don’t know much about different CMS but WordPress seems to cater well to people who focus on content on their blog, whereas Weebly is quite nice when you want to consider aesthetics.

In any case, if you want to check it out, here’s the link!

EDIT (7/18/2016): I’ve deleted this blog.

생각하게 하는 속담

How can it be spring already?!

Thinking back to where I was a year ago, I likened my existence to the equivalent of being enveloped by a horrible black fog that followed me everywhere I went and overshadowed every single thing I did.

But the way I feel these days is so different from how I felt back then that it is almost difficult to comprehend it even happened.  I’ve gone from struggling to get out of bed and barely having the energy to shower to not only working full-time on my new thesis proposal, but also wholeheartedly taking on new leadership opportunities outside the lab.

Thus far, I’ve made and (most importantly) been able to sustain many positive changes in my life.  I now write and manage social media for a new science podcast called Goggles Optional, blogged briefly for the Biophysical Society, got chosen as a program leader for the Stanford Biosciences ADVANCE Summer Institute – which I applied for in hopes of inspiring the same type of positivity in our incoming first-years – became a website editor for the Stanford Biosciences webpageand want to start a biosciences outreach seminar series in the fall.  Not to mention, I’m connecting more with my classmates and labmates and have some special new people in my life.  (Read: SOCIAL LIFE!)

I realized I needed to create a life for me outside of being in the lab and I’ve really tried to seek out opportunities that I’m interested in and will help me work toward my dream career (as a science writer/communicator!) as well as make me a more well-rounded person.

But, as I sit here and read science articles and try to focus on my new project, my labmate voiced a concern that my own brain had been nagging me about for the past several weeks.

“Archana,” she said, “I’m worried about you having time to actually do your PhD project.”

Her well-meant concern did not surprise me because, honestly, I’d have to be stupid to have not thought of that before.  The exact phrase that came to mind is this Korean proverb.

걷기도 전에 뛰려고 한다.

Literally:  “Trying to run before even walking.”  쉽고 작은 일도 못하면서 더 어렵고 큰일을 하려 한다는 뜻.  That is, intending to do something challenging while being unable to accomplish something small and easy.

I wondered, am I – as the English proverb goes – biting off more than I can chew?  I am struggling to write a new thesis proposal, which should be my first priority, but also concurrently signing up to do a hundred other things that will take up time and energy.

That is not to say that my thesis proposal and qualifying exam (which has been my major source of stress and struggle for the past year) is something “small and easy” – but, relatively speaking, it’s a hurdle that many, many people have been able to face and overcome.  I can’t tell you how many times I have agonized over why I can’t do the same.

For the first couple years I was at Stanford, that hurdle prevented me from seeking out all these extra opportunities I’m now involved in.  I was putting extracurriculars on the back burner for when I was in a “better place” with my project.  But the fact of the matter is, that was never going to happen.  Stuff is always going to be happening in the lab – there are always going to be strange results to scratch my head over, complex analyses to be done, protocols to troubleshoot.  If I wanted, I could spend 14 hours a day/7 days a week in the lab – but to a severe detriment to my mental and physical well-being.

And when I really think about it, yeah, it seems like I’m doing a lot but the time commitment for these extracurriculars doesn’t even match up to how many hours I spend (and will continue to spend) in the lab on a daily basis.  All I’m doing is giving up the hours I’d otherwise spend on tumblr or  twitter or watching Korean dramas or, sadly, studying Korean or Japanese.

As of now, it doesn’t feel like I’m sacrificing anything because I truly enjoy these new activities, just as much as I love studying languages.  This isn’t goodbye, by any means, to this blog or to my pursuit of Korean and Japanese proficiency.  It’s just an acknowledgement of other things that I find exciting and satisfying in my life.

The Goggles Optional team (February 2014)

새해 복 많이 받으세요!

Happy Lunar New Year, readers!

Good grief, January just flew by, but luckily 설날 gives me another chance to wish you all a very prosperous new year.  How are you all doing?

A lot of things have happened since the last time I blogged and many of them, I’m happy to say, are good things.  My life is more balanced these days.  I’m happier than I have been in a long while.  Yes, there are still challenges but instead of letting them swallow me, I feel like I can take them on.  Everyday I marvel at how I’m lucky to have such a wonderful support system both online and in real life.

My goals for the New Year?  I’d say it’s to sustain this positivity.  To appreciate myself and others more.  To achieve balance in my life.

As for my language goals for the New Year:  Get back to Korean.  Make it a part of my daily life again.  The two-month hiatus was nice, but now I’m ready to start again.  Also further my Japanese.  I bought a couple novels in Japantown a few months ago and I’m eager to get started on them (keep an eye out for a future post on it!).

In other news, I found a really awesome vegetarian 떡국 (ddeokguk) recipe via @ZenKimchi earlier today!  (This makes me happy because I’m vegetarian and often cannot enjoy Korean cuisine.)


Find the recipe (and more yummy photos) HERE.

For those of you who may not know, 떡국 is a dish that is traditionally consumed on Lunar New Year (설날) in Korea.  Curious as I am about traditions, I used Naver’s 지식iN to find out why.  One of the most common answers I found has to do with age.  Given that Koreans usually add +1 to their age on New Year’s day, traditionally, it was said that one can only grow a year older if one ate 떡국 on 설날 – so this was one way to convince children they could grow up faster if they ate this on New Year’s.  The other explanations I saw had to do with the 떡 itself.

(image source)

가래떡 – the type of 떡 used in 떡국 –  is long and white in appearance (see above).  Because of its length, people say eating 떡국 will give you a long life.  And, because it is pure white in color, people say it symbolizes the bright, new beginnings associated with the new year.

Gah my mouth is watering now.

Wishing you all a wonderful new year!  Here’s to more blog posts in 2014.

속을 보여주는 속담

(Here’s a beautiful instrumental piece that has nothing whatsoever to do with Korean.  Enjoy!)

I remember how I was four months ago and I tell myself that progress, while frustratingly slow, is being made.  And I’m not talking about Korean.  

A couple weeks ago, I made a decision that I thought would help me get back on my feet and, while I think it is helping in some sense, I also feel myself relapsing for reasons I didn’t anticipate.  Getting though each day seems like a tremendous accomplishment. 

It’s scary to admit that I’m going through something I arrogantly thought would never happen to me.  It’s scary to admit that I need help.  It’s scary to realize that I am, first and foremost, battling with myself.  It’s going to take time to sort this all out and it’s scary to even think about how to take the first step.

The biggest thing I’ve accomplished in the past few months is accepting that I’m not okay and reaching out to people for help.  These days, I’ve become pretty open about my struggles with clinical depression and anxiety disorder.  I’m taking active steps to help myself.  As a result, I’m sleeping better, going out and talking with people more, attending talks, waking up at a reasonable hour, and not spending 16+ hours in bed as I once used to.  But I still struggle with emotions that are difficult to write about here.

Anxiety, especially, still runs rampant in my daily life.  Naturally, I wanted to erase everything that triggered fight-or-flight, panic-attack-like symptoms in me – that meant not reading academic papers, not going to talks, not getting various academic forms signed, and cutting off communication from everything related to lab work.  Even a simple text message from my labmates evoked a physical reaction from me.  On two separate occasions, I went over ten days without checking my email because I just didn’t want to see or read anything from my program or related to school.

In a sudden moment of clarity, I realized what I was doing.

손바닥으로 하늘을 가리려한다.

Literally:  “Covering the sky with the palm of my hand.”  That is, I have been trying to deny the existence of the sky, by merely covering my eyes.  In reality, the sky is always there and I’m the pretending it doesn’t because I don’t want to face it or accept it.  I am ignoring the obvious.

It’s like those emails.  Because I didn’t want to deal with them, I never checked my email and it was as if they didn’t exist.  But in reality, they were sitting neglected in my inbox, growing in number every day.  Knowing that made me feel worse.  When I finally faced my inbox, it was so much more awful than it would have been had I just checked my email regularly.

In a deeper sense, I think this proverb reveals something about my life as a whole.  Something that I’m afraid to acknowledge about myself.  But that’s a battle to be fought on another day.

I talked once about Korean triggering my anxiety through negative associations with my academic life – it still does.  It makes me sad and frustrated because I can’t listen to the Busker Busker CD my friend gifted me with without my hands shaking and feeling sick to my stomach.  I feel like all the 욕심 I had for improving my Korean competency has been sucked dry.  But!  I’m experimenting with trying different Korean media – like I started reading more webcomics instead of novels, because I realized I didn’t have as much of a negative reaction to it.  Newer Korean bands and vocalists that I listen to don’t affect me as much either.  Overall, I’ve lost appeal for Korean dramas but, then again, I tentatively started 응답하라 1994 the other day and thought it was delightful.

So… I have confidence that I can go back to loving this language.  I don’t think I can ever permanently erase it from my life; I just need to remember the things I loved about it in the first place and not let the rest of my life get in the way of something I was once passionate about.

Sigh.  Tell me I’m not the only one suffering from a quarter-life crisis?  Best wishes to all of you battling your twenties.

힘을 주는 속담

In the course of this month, I came to the sobering realization that 1) I’m unhappy and 2) I don’t know how to fix it.  My academic life took a sharp and painful turn in mid-February and things have been really up-and-down since.  Despite the infrequent posts on this blog, Korean has been a constant source of comfort, not to mention sanity, for me in the past month.  Not a single day goes by without my doing something related to Korean.

This is one of my favorite Korean proverbs, and one that I think about often these days.

하늘이 무너져도 솟아날 구멍이 있다.

Literally: “Even if the sky falls, there will be a hole from which you can escape.”  As Korean Wiki Project puts it, “There is still hope in even the most desperate of situations.”

(I suppose the English equivalent would be “Every cloud has a silver lining” but the Korean version is so much more poignant to me.  ‘Silver lining’ implies that something good comes out of every bad situation; I don’t know how true this is in reality, and certainly, I doubt anyone would start off feeling this way.  The Korean version just sounds so right to me.)

Anyway, I think about this proverb almost every single day and tell myself:  As long as I am a healthy, driven human being, I can pick myself back up from every fall.  Nothing is the end of the world.  I can start over.

I can’t say I’m 100% okay at this point, but I’m slowly learning to let go of unnecessary worries and stress.  Hopefully things will look up soon.

(P.S. I missed you all.  I promise haven’t disappeared entirely off the interwebs.  In the interim, I somehow managed to gain a few new readers, so a special warm welcome to them.)