Aram Harijan

Much ado about nothing

Month: April, 2009

My American Dream: 3. Fist Fights

[Picture of Aujin and Me fighting a couple of dudes at basketball court]

Growing up in Korea, one of the things I learned in school was the rule of absolute hierarchy. That one must respect another who is stronger than oneself. So rampant was this rule-by-fist mentality that even little children had no-bars-hold fist fights to establish dominance. To win a fight with someone who is considered “strong” in a class gained much respect and fear. That made your school life easier. In fact, each classroom of approximately 50 students or so had its own rank of the strongest to the weakest.

Then there was the rank for the whole of the class – usually around 300 little children. As I think of it now, it is funny to think about how obsessed we got about these ranks, as if they were baseball statistics.

“Yo, did you hear? KP knocked down LJ during TaeKwonDo match last week. That means KP’s rank just jumped to #3 in his classroom and #6 overall.”

“Man, LJ never ranked that high. When LJ beat SK a while ago, that was a fluke. SK hurt himself before that fight. That’s why LJ still doesn’t want to fight SK again. Because he’s scared. SK would woop both LJ and KP. And SK isn’t even #7 overall.”

My father is a good example of someone who did well in this kind of environment. He was one of these guys who grew up with his fists growing up after the Korean War. He boasted about it, too; how he got his first real big job because he knocked the @#$% out of some henchman at construction yard. I have personally witnessed him punch a guy in the windpipe. That guy dropped to the ground for a little while. And somehow they went out to drink afterwards.

I don’t know about being a construction henchman, but I thought elementary school conflicts were brutal.

Let me share with you some things I learned about fighting as a kid in Korea. One is never to have really long hair. If someone grabs your hair, you are in big trouble. Long hair meant that it was really easy for you to get in trouble real quick. A lot of fights ended this way – by grabbing the other guys hair, bringing his head down to the waist level, and kneeing his face a few times. People usually lose the will to fight after that.

Two was to fight during the school hours and to avoid after school extracurricular fights. You see, fighting during recess or lunch times is like boxing in a ring – the bell always rings at the end of the round. In a fight during recess, I knew I can fight do-or-die and not have to worry about being kicked in the mouth from exhaustion because the teacher was going to come break it up.

But man, a fight after class? That’s basically a street fight with no time limit. You never know how many kids can gang up on your; you might find your friends weren’t your friends after all. It might be that you were too strong and made too many enemies. Then there is that worry some kid might bring a baseball bat or a rod.

The worst part of after school fights was that nobody had the stamina to last a fight beyond a 10 minutes. Everything just got sloppier after few minutes. However sure I was about winning, I never wanted to take the slightest chance of being that guy who got bitch-owned after a sloppy fight where I got pounded on the ground after running out of breaths. I think that’s traumatic enough to make a person crippled inside for a long time. It’s this kind of stuff that will predispose a boy to forever submit to his superiors no matter how unjust or ignorant the situation may be. That’s how people make slaves.

I will be up front with the fact that I was never good at throwing punches when I was little (I can throw punches now). My parents never advocated that I stand up for myself because good Christians always turn their other cheek; I really took this to my heart. In fact, I became very proficient at winning fights by taking punches well. There is nothing more intimidating than watching a kid take your strongest punch, come back, and tell you that you punch like a girl. Plus you can only throw so many punches to someone’s forehead or cheek bone before your knucklebones hurt. You’ll learn this quickly if you fight barehand.

I don’t remember my exact rank, but I think there was a time when kids left me alone because of one of this crazy antics.

Moving to United States, my parents were advised by other Korean parents about the issue of violence among children. I’ll paraphrase this for you:

In the States, things are just more civil. Kids don’t fight. Plus, as immigrants, our children are not looked favorably by school or law enforcement. If there is a problem at school, the children can just talk to the councellor and settle issues by talking.

Like many things, the expectations which my parents created for us children were really different from what we experienced ourselves. They never believed us when we reported that our experience differed from what they have been told by other Korean parents. They argued with us saying that our reality should not disagree with what they are comfortable with.

Aujin drew first blood before I did, within the first month of school in Bronx. Apparently this dark-skinned kid was really harassing Aujin making funny noises (you know, the typical “ching-chang-chong”) in his face, so he communicated the only way he knew how as a 11-year-old, fresh-off-the-boat-no-speaky-English boy. My father was anxious about the event. He didn’t want this to get all of us in trouble.

Nothing happened of it. The kid stop bothering Aujin at school apparently.

While still at the same Bronx school, this other dark-skinned kid spat on my shoulder in the hall way. I ignored this even though everyone else around was trying to get me riled up. I didn’t know how to respond to that, and I just didn’t want to get my family in trouble. So I held the humiliation high. I accepted that somehow I was just lucky to be in the situation that I was. That somehow people who speak English can do things like spit on another human being and get a way with it. To speak English is to show dominance over another human being who cannot speak it. That a migrant has a lower rank because of his tongue.

It didn’t take too long to see how unfair and stupid this idea was. I also saw that my parents fear of getting in trouble was basically nonfounded. There were no major repercussions on school ground violence that I saw.

After only three months of our lives in New York City, our family moved down to Rockville, Maryland. Here, I started testing out some of the social rule. I began challenging those people who challenged me. Even though I still didn’t speak English except for a handful of words, I was able to communicate with my demeanor and stares that I did not mean to submit to their funny business. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it escalated things, but I started inching back towards my personal rights as a human being.

As a side note, I don’t know why this is, but the ones who picked on Aujin and me were usually other minorities who had not been recent migrants. Because we were usually friends with other Asian children, it was either the latino or black children who would instigate us. For a long time, I thought it was some sort of pack mentality that created this kind of situation. However, I think we were vulnerable not because of our race, but for our inability to speak. Verbal communication for the human species is one of the highest tools of forming social order, and to lack this ability means to be the same guy who got beat the bitch-owned for the rest of his life.

There was one instance where Aujin and I actually got in a fight with a couple of brothers who were white.

It was at this one basketball ground where we used to go a lot. Man, these guys would throw our basketball over the tennis court fence or trip us while we were doing layups. One day, we were just shooting hoops, and these bastards started haggling us again. I was so infuriated with these guys – especiallly when they started telling us to go back to our country – I told Aujin in Korean that I was going to beat the hell out of these kids when they were unsuspecting. He acknowledge my plan of action.

Man, I knocked the septum off that guy’s midface! He bled satisfyingly out of his nostrils. Aujin clocked his younger counter part. The fight lasted about 5 minutes. It was not clean, and in the end, we couldn’t claim a clean fight. I remember Aujin was hurt more than I was; I felt responsible for his pain. I was still enraged towards those boys, but in that same anger, I also felt human. To defend myself strongly against what others might see as a petty grievance, I found myself again. Not to live in shame, but to show people that their ignorance will not be tolerated. To break another person’s notion that they can humiliate me to increase their stupid rank, I think it was worth the bleeding, pain, and whatever trouble it brought me for that short time.

To endorse anger in this way, it may not fit the character you know as the current person. I am not proud of fights I had been in, but what I’m trying to convey to you is my frustration of being in this situation where I was picked on every day for just being an immigrant or for not being able to “speaka Engrish.” It’s just not a practical expectation to think that a migrant child should take passively all aggressions which are beyond what is normal part of “social play.”

Eventually, I stopped fighting because of three reasons.

  1. Despite the heavy Korean accent, I figured out how to yell English word.
  2. I was getting big. Other kids were getting big. It was actually getting kind of scary to fight like we used to.
  3. My family moved to school districts where social hierarchy was determined by things like wearing the latest Nike shoes or having a Nintendo 64.

Though I was still on the bottom of the social rank, its repercussion was never that anyone spat on me or made funny noises in my face. They just said, “oh my god, are those Payless shoes? How can you wear that? Like it’s leaving streaks all over the hallway! Eww….”

You know what? I don’t blame them either. Those Payless shoes ripped open every month so that you had to buy two pairs each time you shopped.

Actually, I had gotten in a couple of fights as an adult. It only happens when I was hanging out with Andy, though. I blame him fully. He probably bullied kids like me.


California Summer

Dry air.
Drenched shirt.
Where’s my fan?

The Real BackBlaze Backup Speed

As I prepare for my move out to California, I decided to back up all my data online lest my Drobo and other hard drives get lost during the transition. Last time I had a data disaster, I lost all my pictures without a backup. I am not going to chance it again.

After much consideration, I decided to go with BackBlaze. Though I like the service they provide – unlimited cloud storage at $5 per month, I realize the speed which they promise the users is always on the optimistic side of the spectrum.

Initially, I thought the backups were slow because I was using the laptop or that my internet connection at home was too slow. Having only two weeks of time left to back up ~330 GB of data, I decided to park my laptop and external drive at the university for the past weekend and see how it fared without user interruptions and at Ethernet speed.

I’ve charted the hour-by-hour backup for the past 80 hours into google docs and charted out the backup process over this time. The blue is the overall cumulative data stored in Gigabytes. The red is the data backed up in 10 megabytes per hour (100 = 1 GB).

On Thursday midnight, the back up started at 21.1 GB. The last reading is on 8am this morning at 72.9 GB. That is a 51.8 GB over 80 hours, or 0.65 GB/hour. However, the first 24 hours (all of Friday) seemed very eratic in transfer rates, with no files transferred at certain hours in the afternoon hours. Calculating just all of Saturday and Sunday, the transfer rate improve to a 0.87 GB/hr [(30.1 – 71.7)/48].

Since I have approximately 260 GB to back up, it would take me 13 days to back up at 0.87 GB of data. However, that’s probably the most optimistic estimate since the speeds have crawled to a slow and conspiculously consistent 0.1 GB/hr since 3AM this morning.

In addition to this, I noticed that BackBlaze was taking up 2.38 GB of data on my disk for its own purposes. One particular file, bzfileids.dat is at a porky 973.9 MB.

At any rate, I don’t think my backup would be complete before I have to leave North Carolina, but at least all of critical files are back up now. I will probably keep BackBlaze services for the next 3 months or so, but I would probably have to have additional backup solutions once I get settled.

Update: the bzfileids.dat is causing my computer to stop. I was instructed to uninstall the client and reinstall, but it seems like that may erase the data I worked so I hard to store in the first place. I’m not happy about the solution, granted I only paid $5 for the service so far.

My current solution: I made backblaze to back up only when I click back up now button. So at least my 80 GB of irreplaceable data is safe. My hope is that backblaze is able to update their software without requiring a restart of their software.

Conclusion: As of  5/3/2009, BackBlaze is a highly unreliable cloud back up solution. You can lose your data easily by reinstallting the software. The software itself will slow down your computer to unresponsive states. I cannot recommend it for the time being.

Update: 5/4/2009. Received email from BackBlaze. Told it would be best to “bite the bullet” and restart the backup process without really much guarantee as to how this is going to prevent future need to bite the subsequent bullets. Would rather never have to bite a bullet or anything else unpalatable as far as my data is concerned.

*sigh* google storage please come to my rescue.

My American Dream: 2. Shit, Bitch, Tits.

[Picture of me standing in front of classroom full of 13 year olds]

In case you didn’t already know, phonemes are the basic sound blocks which form the acoustic basis of all spoken language.

On one hand, most languages share a basic collections of phonemes – sounds which are common in all languages. On the other hand, each language had its own set of phonemes, which give it a distinct sound or “accent.” For instance, the Korean language lacks certain phonemes, which the American English speaker uses on a daily basis – sounds such as “ee, sh, and th.”

I have lived in United States for 16 years, and am about to graduate from medical school in 3 weeks. But even to this day, I have trouble enunciating “sip”, “seep”, “ship”, and “sheep” differently.

You might say, “it’s not a big deal. People understand what you mispronounce from context, right?”

No, it’s not a big deal.

Unless you’re a pimply 14-year-old Korean kid, and you have to say the words “sheet”, “beach” and “teeth” in a room full of 8th graders. Those words come out as “shit”, “bitch”, and “tits”.

Then it’s the biggest deal ever.

It was in a middle school English class; my family was living in Maryland at this time – not even a year into our American life. I haven’t made a whole lot of progress with the spoken English. I was extremely shy at this time because of this.

My English teacher was determined to have me speak in front of the classroom. She told me to talk about what I did that past weekend. I really did not want to do it, but I knew it was not really an option. She said she was trying to help me get over my shyness, but I knew she was going to break me.

It first began with my heart. Even before I got up from my desk, I could see my chest pounding through my t-shirt. My hands got sweaty, and my legs turned rubber. I was not feeling well, when I noticed that I had stopped breathing. I had to manually breath if that makes sense at all.

I looked at my classmates.

The only ones who looked eager to listen were the mean ones who would laugh at the first opportunity. Were it was a trial by jury, that would have been grounds for dismissal. However, an eighth grade English class is much more cruel than the criminal justice system.

Now, I have learned the trick to speaking a foreign language: think in the language you plan to speak in. I had yet to learn this though. That day, I had to compose my thoughts in Korean, translate into English, and then say it. It happened such that my family had gone out to the beach that prior weekend, so I decided to talk about that.

“Rast weekend…”

“my famiry…”


“go to…”

My teacher interrupted, “my family drove car to.”

“Rast weekend…”

“my famiry…”


My teacher again, “yes, my famiry drove car to.”

“Rast weekend…”

“my famiry…”




“the bitch.”

I finished my first sentence. A true sucess by any means!

I started thinking about what to say next, ‘Aujin and I had caught crabs at the beach.’ Before I had time to translate, the whole class erupted. Some were laughing. Others were pointing finger directly at me while saying, “oooooo, you’re in trouble!”

I did not know that there was another word which resembled “beach” in sound or that this word mean “qualities belonging to a female dog.”

I was innocent, and the eight graders let me have it despite that. The teacher was helpless herself, and the teacher from next door came by to check on the commotion. I thought I was going to die right there; I certainly wouldn’t have objected to a heart attack. My heart kept pumping. I was going to survive. Nietzsche was right. God was dead.

Everything became detached, and I had an out of body experience where I thought I saw myself from the ceiling in back of the classroom. I was looking down on the floor, and my face was lit up.

I don’t remember how I got back into my body, nor back to my chair for that matter. All I remember is that the humiliation continued long afterwards. I felt that everyone was watching the back of my head.

I laid my head on the desk between my elbows and waited for the moment to pass.

So that’s “Bitch.”

I would tell “Shit” and “Tits”, but it’s basically the same story – I said something I didn’t mean to say, and people had a good laugh.


I had a good laugh, too.

Mine were just about ten years later than theirs.

Tamil Sun, Jesse of South Christiana

Tamil sun
in relentless pursuit
drove swamis naked in madness
In front of our eyes
Just like the Greek priests
and Roman clergymen.
The same priests who,
disrobed us for raw selfish gratification
who, from unhealthy fear of Yaweh,
robbed us of our innocence.
Left us blind
trembling naked,
Pitiful offerings suitable only
for the altar of angry god of capitalism
That which Jesse called Wal-Mart.

Meaningless sacrifice
base and crazy.
By chance or by heart
Escape church and state

Run east
Swim ‘cross the green ocean
Past the Roman clergy
and Greek priests
Dry yourself and run again
This time east, east, south.
Stopping only at the sour aroma of iddly

Tamil sun
Burn away shame and ignorance
Holy incinerator for all things unholy
Standing naked myself before the Indian gods
Vishnu, Krishna, and the elephant with eight arms
Vowed never to return to that old Greek pederasty
Granted a parole from the spiritual penitentiary
Returned to the United States
of “Go-back-to-your-country!”
to my roommate,
Jesse of South Christiana
Accomplice to crime of blind-leading-blind.

I told Jesse,
“I wont miseducate no more.”
And also to fuck off
for the years of lies he’s told.
And to go to hell
ask for forgiveness
from all the people he’s damned.

Blue eyed Jesse,
gentle in his way
and weary of crazy naked men,
took my suggestion seriously.
Only to find out,
all children of god are
ineligible for admission.
“You are not welcome here.”

My friend!
No longer willing
to participate in the pederasty himself
in the kingdom of his heavenly father
One dreary morning,
Suddenly left to Tamil Nadu,
Leaving the following list of things:

1. a short note Which said
“Remember to feed my brothers”;

2. a drawer full of expired coupons
For large water pales
And plastic bowls and utensils;

3. his recipe book
Including his favorites
“Fish and chips for 5000 people,” and
“The easiest fucking moonshine you’ll ever make.”

Left me,
Hungry and lonely.
Without much recourse
But to go to hell myself.
Where, on a delayed arrival,
I found family and friends,
Few conscionable capitalists.
Blue collar workers,
Colored people,
Young dead soldiers,
Dead soldiers who used to skate board.

On top of this heavy Tamil sun,
Not really hell,
But not rally heaven, either.
Waving ecstatically at the only blued, eyed Jew in India:
Jesse of South Christiana.
He, completely naked except for his sunglasses,
Riding a 150 cc Nor’east
Towards an Afghani cave,
In search of ancient herb,
Meant for Osama
which apparently never got used
and by this Karmic failure
leading to an unholy Jihad
Of amputation of phallic structures
theretofore double-penetrating the New York skyline.
Now gone,
like our clothes of innocence.

Our American hero rests,
In the cool alcove
Where, Coca cola and the American corn has never set foot
Where, the erotic autoasphyxiating priests
can no longer molest either his genitalia
nor his tender heart.
Where, yin and yang are suspended in pure orgy
every thursday night.

Tamil Sun
Burned away
Priestly robes
stained with blood
and other unmentionable bodily fluids
of One Jesse
of South Christiana.

My American Dream: 1. Being Born Again

[Picture of us standing in JFK]

My South Korean family, sans mother, arrived at JFK International Airport on December 28th, 1993. Though it’s been fifteen years, I still remember certain details – such as wheeling everything we own in three large “immigration bags” on a cart or smelling wet carpet odor for the first time.

My father left me in charge of the luggage and my younger brother, Aujin and Maim, and disappeared into an elevator to find our uncle, who was supposed to pick us up.

Aujin and I anxiously awaited for his return with Maim – a baby not even a year old, then – between us. Every time the elevator rang, we jumped up in anticipation of our father only to be disappointed by the sight of foreigners appearances different from our own.

I remember, particularly, this one giant dark-skinned man. English, as he spoke it, had strange noises which formed into something completely incoherent to my ears. Sometimes I try to remember what it was he must have said to me, but to adopt Osler’s words,

“What the mind does not know, the ear cannot hear.”

However, I gathered from the man’s gestures he was concerned given there was no adult around. I told the man, “No.”

I pointed to the ground, “Father” to signal that I was waiting for father to come back to the spot where I stood. (I often tell my friends that back then I only knew three expressions in English – yes, no, and thank you – but this is not completely true. There were occasions when I blurted out words I thought I didn’t know. “Father” being the first of such kind.)

He seemed a bit concerned but shrugged his shoulder and continued on with his day and the rest of his life.

I watched him walk away. Then my father reappeared through the elevators much to our relief, and we continued on with our own American life. Soon I forgot about the scary encounter with the big “black” man.

I did not appreciate the significance of this little encounter until many, many years later.

That moment was my truly being outside of the Korean mono-culture for the first time in life, when I stood face to face with another human being and could not say what I wanted to say.

At the age of 13 years old and of sound mind, I had to learn to speak all over again.

I can’t exactly remember the term used to describe this phenomenon, but in Rwanda, there is a social system of crime awareness in the way of loud yelling which propagates through the community until the cause of yelling sound is identified and addressed.

Oakland with the high crime rates can use a real-time reporting system for crimes via use of twitter and other social networking media. The advantage of having real-time information is useful for law enforcement, hospitals, and most importantly citizens.

This is only possible with your help. By updating everyone else on what YOU think may affect  others’ safety, you help the community, public service agencies, and most importantly yourself.

Few suggestions for reporting:

  1. @okalandcrime – just so we know this is an intentional report of safety issue. We intend to use search/filters so it would really help to have @oaklandcrime tags to decrease the number of false search results.
  2. What did you hear, see? – heard gunshot, saw a car crash, felt earthquake, suspicious activity, etc.
  3. Where did this happen? – closest crossroads. lakeside & 2nd.
  4. How many people are involved? Number of people involved. If you are guessing, put a question mark in from of number. Example: #2 hurt, #1 dead, ?1-5 hurt, ?>10 hurt, #>10 hurt, #3 cars.
  5. Optional – How long ago? 1 min, 5 min, 10 min, 1 hr. If no time, twit is assumed real-time.

A practice session taking example of this, let’s make a series of @oaklandcrime twits which may have come from multiple twit users driving down highway:

@oaklandcrime | saw police car chase a blue minivan northbound I-5 near Maxwell. #1 driver #?around 1:30pm.

@oaklandcrime | a blue minivan sideswiped pickup. police chase. northbound I-5 at Hwy 32 overpass. #2 cars around 1:50pm.

@oaklandcrime | vehicle overturned. person lying on grass. police blocked traffic. I5 N, at Adobe road. #1 person. [since no time is reported, this is assumed to be real time.]

Please share twit with your local twitter friends. Let’s make Oakland a safer community.