personal, time capsule

*KD Dallas–Singin’ the SAT Blues

Karen Dillard’s College Prep–THE SAT, ACT, and college preparation company that’s been in the DFW area for more than 20 years now. A staple in the eyes and ears of the blessed children of Plano, Dallas, Colleyville, and Frisco. The ubiquitous yellow binders signify an era of intense competition in the noxious college app environment, the pervasive anxiety in middle-class circles, and the indelible socioeconomic inequality in the US that starts from the womb and ends at the grave.

It’s been around a month since the KD Dallas office closed. I started going to this location since the summer prior to freshman year. Although it seems ironic that I’ve developed such an attachment to this tiny elitist prison (Lilliputian doesn’t even begin the description of each room), I have made new friends, both peers and teachers. I’ve matured mentally here, grown up here; and learned just a bit too much about the state of standardized testing here. At this turning point, I’d like to take a wandering stroll down Memory Lane for a second or two.


My first day is hard to remember. It all started out with the view from the picture below. The “Command Central” consists of two to three people standing at the front desk ready to help, albeit usually talking amongst themselves most of the time. (This desk seems cute in comparison to Plano’s.) On that fateful day, I coincidentally saw two of my classmates, which helped soothe my nerves. After getting set up, I headed down the hallway shown below to my first ever experience here: orientation, which took way too long for a restless middle-schooler. Workshops? Practice Tests? Classes?? Vocab “lab???” I felt even more enervated. All I could do was read each email KD sent me over and over again. I hoped for the best.

Unexpectedly, I did receive the best. That summer I started classes at KD. They were rather uneventful; however, the school year brought new friendships with the instructors and strengthened old ones with classmates from school. Sometimes after workshops, my friends and I would go to Subway, where we would laugh and talk until our parents grew antsy and picked us up.

Sophomore year came along; these are the times that I remember most clearly. I got to know more of my instructors even better and gradually began to joke around with the “command central” (i.e. front desk) workers and even directors. Waking up early Saturday mornings to eat breakfast at the nearby Einstein’s and later to attend two-hour workshops and became a part of my weekly routine.

One day, I was mindlessly working on the vocab lab, which I had already completed through once, when I bumped into one of my closest friends–surely enough, as in a chain reaction so familiar to us chem geeks (we met in freshman chemistry), more and more of my classmates started to come to KD as well (probably just part of the mold we’re subjected to in HP)! I realized that workshops were so much more bearable with friendly smiles, so we created a group text to coordinate our attack on the SAT. The hours spent in this prison (Exhibit A: grey-painted brick on the interior) turned around from near dread to delight.

(Side note: this place reeks with the stench of the classic SAT: the restrooms are decorated with erudite vocabulary words that high school students used to memorize. Glad those days are over!)

 And here we come to this day, a new leaf has turned… or more accurately, has moved twenty miles north into the heart of Texas-sized suburbia. Ever since the Dallas KD location closed, I’ve been stuck at the Plano location–a giant icebox full of teenagers on the brink of bawling out the next Biblical flood, according to one of my Dallas instructors who moved with me to Plano. (A note about the temperature: when I say it’s freezing, I mean you could store ice cream and it wouldn’t melt. In each room, the AC is cranking out a cool 60 degrees, and a ceiling fan AND sometimes a side fan are on full power. If they paid less for their energy bills, maybe we could pay less as well!) Every so often I get to see a familiar face: ANYONE from Dallas I welcome with a smile, greeting, or even a warm hug. It’s hard to find sane people in that strip mall, but we’ll deal (hopefully) until the end of this year.

To end on a positive note, I have met some amazing and über-qualified teachers, whose professional experience ranges from copy editor to mechanical engineer, some of whom have been teaching for decades now. I’ve met even more great people on my test prep journey… and perhaps a penguin here and there.


Note: Some of my favorite teachers include: the WS game lady who lowkey got fired and who I saw at Einstein’s more than once; Bryn, whom I am friends with on Snapchat and who carries a sizzling watermelon purse; York, the one and only chill teddy-bear; Donna, my lovely Southern jean-jacket wearing snail; Debby, the one with no chill whatsoever; Michael Wang, who’s lowkey intimidating 🙂


Bonton, Take 2

Recently, I visited Bonton Farms again (for the original blog post on Bonton, click here). In the last seven months, a lot has changed; I feel like I’ve been swept under the feet!

This time, our (HPHS Student Council’s) visit was much more organized; the farm has been absorbed by a church organization, and this Saturday was called “Restoration Saturday,” in which some regulars split a group of around 70 sleepy volunteers to walk the goats, clean out the pigpens, lay out hay for the upcoming winter in the barn, and harvest the vegetables, which were sold to local chefs. I chose to help out with plucking leafy greens under the direction of our fearless team leader, who owns a farm!

Much has changed; there are now turkeys (!!), wall art was added, and covers for the garden were put up. Even in the garden itself, there seemed to be more plants ready to harvest; months before, the sea of green was merely a plot of dirt. It’s refreshing to see some positive change, especially in this food desert; I can’t wait to see the effects felt years after I stepped onto this farm.

While I was working in the garden, I talked to a radiologist who accompanied her son on this service opportunity; chatting with a doctor (and kale connoisseur) for this future doctor was pretty cool. She was very agile, quick-minded, and inquisitive–character traits I’d like to develop more in 2016! Working with her, her son, and our team leader, we made our way through the aisles quickly, sampling a few plants along the way; the mustard green-collard green hybrid exploded my mouth and nose with spice, a sensation I’ll never forget.

In the very beginning of the day, the coordinator Darren told us that we were to leave Bonton with a new relationship built–it doesn’t matter what else one did (or did not do), everyone was to make a new friend by the end of the day. Needless to say, I think I accomplished that task!

After the “day” of service ended, we headed to the rec center down the street, which functioned as the community living room. All the children were in the gym, playing basketball or football or making Christmas crafts. The adults were starting to eat lunch, and laughter filled the air. As each member was to donate a toy, StuCo amassed a roomful of toys for the local children, who will receive these presents in a special Christmas Day dinner. I wish all of them and my readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!



Ivy Mania

For the top 3% of America, the question facing high-school seniors isn’t “Should I go to college?”; rather, they ask: “Where should I go to college?” More often, they shoot for stars rather than Mars.

It’s a tortuous and “torture-ous” journey, high school. With four years of community service, extracurriculars ranging from honor societies to clubs to sports and music, and (of course, least importantly) grades in twenty different AP/IB classes, it’s no wonder why people jet off for college without a skip of a beat. High school for the scions of the nation’s most well-off involves a personal chauffeur (aka “Mom”) shuttling around to soccer practices and building houses and SAT tutoring… all for those fateful few months of senior year.

When I hear or read about stories of children whose parents have cherry-picked every activity since middle school, organizing sailing camps during the summer or teaching “those poor Guatemalans,” I start to doubt whether this entire system works–what is the purpose of these events if the children aren’t the ones who initiate? What use will going to one of the world’s most academically-rigorous learning institutions if children have been led to believe that May 1st was the end of their woes and their life? As I delve deeper into the murky depths of this thing we call high school, especially in such a privileged area, I start to notice the toxicity of such an environment. Where bragging rights are from who sleeps the latest, who has the highest GPA, who has the most b.s. leadership positions in clubs that meet only for the yearbook picture. It feels like I’m wading through a combination of quicksand and vomit. Gross.

It’s become so deeply-ingrained in the minds of rich whites and Asians that the panacea for all wounds, for all ailments, is a hearty, quarter-million-dollar education in HYPSMCCBWKSDMC or whatever acronyms float around on CC (you have been warned). Three words for the confused: it will not.

“Well, this must be one of those online rants, isn’t it?  He’s just jealous he’ll never make it. He’s just so cynical, and there are good people in this world!”

Yes, anonymous dissenter whom I will duel, there are good people in this world. There are high schoolers who do belong in an Ivy League school; these are the people who want to make a change in the world around them, not necessarily a fancy diploma or a plain-vanilla, comfortable life with a seven-digit-figure salary. These are the ones who dare to think above “how do I get into an Ivy League;” rather; they are those who say, “How will I make use of my skills and make my impact?”

High school is much more than preparing for college; it should prepare you for life. During these four years, make friendships that’ll carry on until you wear dentures instead of Free People skirts; find what intrigues you and beckons your attention; discover your personal strengths and weaknesses; develop stellar study habits and your own likable personality; and of course, kick up your legs and enjoy the rough yet rewarding cobblestone path that we call life.

Life is no sprint; life is a marathon~~



First off, friends, sorry for not blogging for more than a month. It’s been hectic, a marathon of weekends full of academic competitions (yes, I spend my Saturdays at high schools taking tests.)

In Chemistry I PAP TAG last year, near the end of school, I was taught the self- ionization of water. It was scandalous that pure water wasn’t so pure after all–the concentration of hydroxide ions (OH-) and hydrogen ions (H+) multiply to a slim sum of 1.0*10^-14.

The high school I go to has few people of color, the majority of whom are Asian. This is a direct contrast from the school I used to go to, where there were hordes of Asians in comparison to a few white middle-schoolers sprinkled around like salt on a pretzel.

What I’ve noticed in two, such-differing environments is that Asians tend to stick to themselves–that is, Asians spend time around other Asians (with an occasional white kid), and white children around other white children. Everyone seems complacent; no one complains. It’s been ingrained in our school system almost naturally. Given the emphasis on integration within the late-20th century, it makes you wonder why. 

One hypothesis is that Asians just have more exposure and more in common with other Asians. After all, we frequent the same few restaurants, supermarkets, and bakeries geared toward the Asian community in Dallas.  We’ve gone to the same after-school centers and preschools for years in a row. An early introduction, combined with forced meetings, naturally leads to more natural interactions later on. The more we get to know each other, the more we’re hooked. Once children progress through middle and high school, we’re less likely to make new friends and are more willing to stay with old ones.

Socioeconomic factors may play a role as well. In my former and current community, Asians were less well-off economically; we mostly lived in the cookie-cutter, typical suburban section, while our neighborhood’s white residents lived in older, more-expensive houses. Here in my current community, the same is typically true. Asians tend to focus on academic performance and its accompanying measures of success, such as SAT scores, math and science competitions, and scientific research. While we cram for AMC, an average white kid of the same neighborhood might be working a job, playing sports, lying in bed with friends, or swimming at the lake house.

Whatever the case, it’s important that we meet new people in all stages of life, regardless how cozy we are in our current circles of friends and acquaintances. New people bring in fresh perspectives ranging in a variety of topics; these new friends build up our personal storehouse of wisdom, our jar of memories that we can cling onto for a lifetime.





A Golden Experience

Well, I haven’t blogged in about a month, and I thus apologize! School has been really catching me by the tail, and I will try to make up for my absence in the next week or so.

Last Saturday, my high school invited all alumni who have graduated for at least 50 years to come back to Dallas for a reunion. The old folks were supposed to arrive at around 9:30, and lunch was served at 11, but many started trickling in a hour in advance! The main competition gym was adorned with an exhibit showcasing the school’s history, evolution, and ultimate growth. As there were enough people starting to come, I had the privilege of leading the tour around the school. Many of my guests were well-mannered and made jokes at a pace faster than they could walk–I couldn’t outwit a man 50 years my senior! In fact, the wittiest of them all was the salutatorian of her class! Showing around her and her friends, whom she bumped into, made this experience unforgettable.

Oh my, has ol’ High Park High changed! The students used to be served lunch, ate in the small cafeteria, and headed on to the auditorium (untouched since the 50s) for some postprandial conversations. There were much fewer students, with the average class size of around 430; the high school also only accommodated three grades– sophomores, juniors, and seniors. I’m sure that if these alumni were to visit their beloved high school during passing periods, they would run away in fear of being trampled upon. Those were the golden days…

I enjoyed the tour so much that I took too long–lines were already forming for the fried and roasted chicken and various sides available. During this time, I had no opportunity to rest and continued to serve everyone, even the oldest of the class of 1937. My main job was to refill all the water and tea placed on each table. All of the graduates looked radiant, with florid cheeks glowing in enthusiasm, hearts filled with joy, stomachs full of chicken. 

   After some time, the HP Alumni Foundation president gave a short speech (the perspiration was unbelievable), and Park Version, HP’s elite choir group of around 15 members, sang three songs, including one by the Beach Boys that tugged some tears and elicited the nostalgia that permeated the cafeteria.

If the foundation president is right, then our school district is the only one in Texas or even the nation that conducts such an event. I do hope that I will be able to make this reunion… in 2068!


Be a Stargirl

There’s a new virus these days.

It spreads like wildfire and is deadlier than Ebola. What could it possibly be? Legionnaires? A mutant flu? The triteness of this introduction?

It’s a word we really don’t talk about, probably because not everyone sees it as a problem:


[kuh n-fawr-mi-tee] 
1. action in accord with prevailing social standards, attitudes, practices, etc.
(another cliché here ._.) 
Conformity plagues the halls of high schools everywhere around the world. For example, I attend Highland Park High School. You can count the number of people who aren’t white or rich with your fingers. Due to the homogeneity, we’ve adopted an unofficial dress code starting before we know what a store even is. From elementary school, oversized Cotton Island T-shirts are a must. The number of apparel from Vineyard Vines or Southern Marsh, those GIANT fountain drink styrofoam cups from JD’s Chippery or Eatzi’s, and epilepsy- or mirth-inducing baggy shorts worn by MIS toddlers outnumber the fancy cars and oversized mansions and Spanish-speaking nannies– wealth and “the HP identity” strut across this catwalk of a city. It seems like everyone has been molded into two model citizens–the male and female versions so distinct in their mannerisms and dress and yet so identical in their willingness to suppress their individuality. Walking through the zombie-land hallways of HPHS, Old High Park High, I see nothing but sameness, a sea of whales and ducks and camo, a sea of Seaside and Destin and 30A. Facebook accounts are littered with photo albums all named “freshman year,” “sophomore year,” “$KA” with the same content–Seaside vacations, meet-ups at dance class, happy group of friends in the same few restaurants the entire female citizenry frequents; lacrosse championships, lacrosse in general, football games, football in general, fishing, hunting, big game next to a grinning father-and-son duo. Ah, what else could there be?
An observer may think that only the outside appearances are the same in this second Stepford, but once he talks to one of the students, the chipped gold leaf reveals even more gold. (Although the value of a typical HP pupil is far less than that of gold!) Topics for conversation never change unless the mass changes. Who’s dating who, which athletes got ineligible, who tweeted something hilarious makes up the majority of all conversations in my high school. What is valued is a mentality to be cool (aka drink and do drugs–what the Chinese would call 任性), to enter the decades-old machine line of afternoon football practice, and to acquiesce in a routine siblings and parents have worn out. (Note: I know this blog is list- and cliché-heavy; are you as tired as I am?)

However, that is not to say that some aren’t embracing themselves–their “inner awesomeness.” I see people everyday who don’t conform to these standards, who wear what they want, speak what they want, and do what they want. This silver lining is a community made of those who embrace eschewing the norm and instead rejoice in their own quirks. One day, I hope our high school and community at large can do so as well– a bastion of creativity and of expression of the inner soul, a village of profundity and acceptance. I envision HP as a mosaic of many colors, not just of blue and gold.

High school is a time to discover of who you really are. That takes some courage, some toes into new water. Most importantly, it takes some elbow grease. Failure and some embarrassment add to a man’s experiences, experiences that one person holds exclusively. Without these experiences, man is left with nothing but a corpse.

One of my favorite books is Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. The titular character is a wacky high-schooler attending a school that celebrates conformity. Stargirl is one who doesn’t follow the crowd; she dances in the rain and plays a ukulele every day during lunchtime while singing “Happy Birthday” to kids she has never met. Although some might say Stargirl would never be a real person, she continues to inspire me (and thousands of other teenagers) to pick Dr. Pepper in the Coke vs. Pepsi debate, to think outside of the shackled box we live in– she is a vanguard for those who are willing to take the adventure of free expression of the unique self with its ups and downs.

As a final note, there is no recipe for you to follow; just add in as much of what you like into the big melting pot of life.

(Wow, I even ended on a cliché!)

UPDATE: Ellen DeGeneres won the Choice Comedian award in 2015 Teen Choice Awards. In her acceptance speech, she also emphasized the importance of not hiding who you really are in order to “fit in:”

“I wanna say also it feels good to be chosen but there was a time in my life that I was not chosen. I was the opposite of chosen because I was different, and I think I wanna make sure that everyone knows that what makes you different right now, makes you stand out later in life. So you should be proud of being different, proud of who you are.

The most important thing I wanna say is just really embrace who you are because being unique is very, very important and fitting in is not all that matters. It’s being unique and being who you are.”

creds to BuzzFeed. Those 10:30 trips are really worth it!

personal, time capsule

*Freshman Reflections

It’s the Fourth of July weekend, which means summer barbeques, slices of watermelon wider than your head, a lazy afternoon by the pool, and some fireworks to cap this day off.

This long weekend also means that it has been a little over a month since the conclusion of my first year in high school. I’ve decided to write some reflections, and the * in front of the title means this post will go in the “Time Capsule” category. Hopefully, in a few years down the line, I’ll be able to look back and see how much I will have grown!

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of the past school year is the sheer number of new friends that I have met. I’ve been blessed to meet such wonderful people. It definitely took a while to grow out of that awkward middle school shell I was stuck inside of. Enforced by the traditional mentality of my parents…actually, just my mom, I’ve always been “friends” with peers of my own gender and, on the most part, race. It’s been nothing to think twice about until high school. However, as I acclimated to the foreign environment of high school, portrayed in so many different ways in the media I consumed before freshman year, I began to slip out of my old shell and discovered what was around me. I stopped lying to myself; instead, with my newfound openness, I managed to see the hidden treasures who were lying around me this whole time. More and more of my friends whom I felt I could spend an entire day with. They were also older–the upperclassmen, especially sophomores and juniors, welcomed my spectacular ways and allowed me to see who I really wanted to be. Someone who could see beyond the dizzying display of numbers of high school, the eery GPA, those sneaky grades, the first and second ranks–the data-crunching of our times. Someone who is honest, a bit sardonic, very sarcastic, and with just the right amount of wit. Someone who cares about not only himself and his piece of paper worth more than blood, fresh off the press, to send to various admissions officers who will forget him in a snap. It’s been great, those lunches filled with laughs and devoid of food, the after-school meet-ups at the local favorite, those discussions, wacky or not, we had everywhere in the school building.

Immediately after that thought came the next one, hand-in-hand with the previous one: how much have my classmates changed! Some have for the better (as you’ll see in the next paragraph), some for the worse (unfortunately, the more common of the two). It has been a gradual process, like prisoners digging a hole to escape with a single spoon. Just like this scenario, the effects are long-lasting and felt throughout the prison, or school (they’re basically synonyms). The hallways of the school are filled with rumors of every sort: who’s doing what for extracurriculars, who has the highest grade in bio, who’s smoking, who’s planning to take this-and-that course the next year… the list goes on and on and will do so until my classmates find something better to do. Such rumors have been drilled inside their heads as well, like a woodpecker, biting into the flesh and fabric of our unity as friends or even just people who can stand being in the same room. The grade-chasers, just as eager as the tornado-chasers of our Tornado Alley, hunt down every piece of juicy gossip and every way to bump that 96.6 to a 96.7–because that .1 difference will catch the eye of everyone who passes by and will drastically change your life. The lies, the back-stabbing, the back-talking throughout the school year could easily be part of the plot of a cheesy daytime soap opera. Except in real life, when Steve kisses Ashley, Debra can’t just kill Steve or she’ll go to DAEP; she has to spread rumors like butter on toast until everyone can feel the unctuous effect of the knife that kills all.

However, the Polaris of my path for understanding high school was also the last period of each school day: Chemistry I PAP TAG. It’s in this thriving environment in which I seek solace. It’s in this classroom in which I met so many new and interesting people whom I can connect to, including two of my fellow freshmen. I could write another blog post about this class, but I’ll just leave off with one word: life-changing.

Finally, a note about band. It was great for the most part, but I never felt quite included as the other kids. There were mentors and laughs along the way, but cookie crumbs can’t substitute the cookie. It’s time I see what life is like without.

Here’s to a merry year, a year of laughter and hope and friendship for all.