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31 July

Catching up with Liminality – It’s amazing how time flies when you have so many things to do—I turn around for a minute and the summer is already half over. We are now settled in our new home, and I must admit I have had little time to write in my journal. I think we are finally settled in, though, and so I thought I’d take the time to catch up on things here. Nothing deep, just something so that the three of you out there who read this journal will know I’m still alive. And I must admit that I’ve been feeling a bit guilty about not writing.

Obviously, the big news is the recent move. After spending four years in a tiny place on the top floor of a building near Seoul National University (my school), we have finally moved into a slightly less tiny place on the bottom floor of my parents-in-law’s house, nestled in a mountain valley south of Seoul. We had never actually intended on staying in our previous home for four years—my original plan was to return to the States for my doctoral work after finishing my masters degree. After much thought, though, I decided that the best place for me to study Korean literature was Korea.

I know that may sound blindingly obvious, but it is not as obvious as it seems. For one, I do plan on returning to the States one day, where I will hopefully be able to get a professorship at a good school. Most U.S. schools, though, tend to look down on degrees from international universities, unless that school happens to be very well known. In the field of Korean studies, at least, SNU qualifies as well-known, so I decided to take my chances there.

There is another issue involved, of course, but I did not think of it when I made the decision. I must admit that it never even occurred to me. I have come to realize, though, that there is a very wide rift between Korean scholars and Western scholars in the field of Korean studies—the two sides rarely seem to see eye to eye. I had heard of the rift, but when I first saw it for myself I was deeply depressed. The field of Korean studies is not all that big that we can afford to bicker and fight amongst ourselves.

At any rate, the die is cast, and I have already begun my Ph.D. studies here, but now I realize that things may be harder for me than I had first imagined. My professors constantly emphasize to me that my role in Korean studies is to act as a bridge over the rift between East and West, and I have often thought of myself in the same terms, but how effective will I be if the people waiting on the other side just throw me back into the chasm? Still, I do not regret my decision, and I will deal with any difficulties that may arise when the time comes.

My original point, though, was that we were only planning on staying maybe two years or so before moving to the States, and so not only did we get a small place, just about every appliance we had was used. After four years, the whole lot was just falling apart at the seams. So when we moved into our new place, we bought all new furniture and appliances: a new television, refrigerator, desk, bookshelves, microwave, etc.—plus a used car, which cost more than everything else combined. In fact, the only major appliance we still have is our computer (and the audio system that we hook it up to). Needless to say, the credit card bills have been a tad on the steep side.

We’re quite pleased with our new location. For starters, the neighborhood is very scenic. Our house lies five minutes down a narrow, winding road that works its way into a stretch of valley embraced by two long arms of a mountain. A brook rushes down from the mountain to the west, falling over a rocky bed only a few meters from where I am sitting (there is a picture of the brook at the bottom of this entry). The sound of the water is therapeutic, and if I get a bit restless while working I can just step out of the door, go down to the stream, and let the cold mountain water flow over my feet.

The air is also very clean, and although that seems like a rather obvious statement, after spending the past eight years in Seoul it’s nice not to have to chew your air before swallowing. I do not miss the dirty streets coated with grime, the faint stench that permeated our old neighborhood, or the constant noise of cars and people—the inevitable products of a densely populated area. Although the houses in our new neighborhood (we live in a mini-development of about seven or eight houses) are fairly close together, there’s still a lot of room to roam. The temperature is also quite nice—it does get hot on sunny summer days, but with no asphalt below to absorb the heat during the day and radiate it at night, and no smog above to trap the heat in, it gets cool at night. So cool, in fact, that we sleep with a down comforter.

On the downside, it is practically impossible to get anywhere without a car. After living right next to a major subway station for four years, it does take a bit of readjustment, but things are not much different than they were when I lived in the States, before I came to Korea. Back then it was natural to drive everywhere, but for the past eight years I’ve relied on public transportation. It was nice not having to worry about a car, but it has once more become a necessity.

Originally, I was opposed to moving here, mainly because it would mean we would be living right below my wife’s parents. I know how that sounds, and I have to say that we actually get along very well. No matter how well we might get along, though, the idea of moving into the place below them did not appeal to me. I wouldn’t want to move back in with my own parents either, to be honest, and I love them dearly. After considering a number of factors, though, including the possibility of future additions to our family, as well as the fact that we would not actually be living in the same house, we decided that we would be better off here.

So here we are, trying to work out all the little things that you never notice until they change. Before we got everything unpacked we were eating with my wife’s parents, and we have yet to cook dinner for ourselves. This is something that I wanted to avoid, I suppose because I am fiercely independent, and I don’t like relying on others (especially parents) if I can help it. My wife, however, sees nothing wrong with going up to her parents’ place for dinner every evening (albeit not for free—she wants to pay them a certain amount each month for food). This is something we still really haven’t come to an agreement on yet, but I’m hoping we can work out a compromise. On the bright side, though, her mother is a very good cook, so at least I won’t be suffering while this compromise is being worked out.

So there it is. I’ve had a lot of things on my mind lately, of course, and I hope to get around to writing about some of them soon, but this is it for the time being. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go out onto the porch and enjoy my new surroundings for a bit.

The stream right outside the door of my study
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