New beginnings – March has been a month of new beginnings. The new semester started for me on the sixth, the first Tuesday of the month, and it has been a rather hectic two weeks. With our graduate school beginning-of-the-semester event on Friday, though, I think we can say that the semester is now officially in full swing. Things generally start to get busy in the lead-up to the new semester, in the last week of February, and remain busy at least through all of the events in the first couple of weeks. Things will become busy again in April when we enter dissertation season, but for now, at least, I can take a deep breath and start taking care of things I haven’t been able to give my full attention.
Many of my colleagues told me that teaching classes again after a year off was going to be difficult, and it has indeed been a bit of a readjustment to teach again after not doing so for an entire year. That being said, though, it feels like I found my groove relatively quickly, and I think teaching has ended up being the least difficult thing to readjust to after my sabbatical. This might be because I have never found teaching to be all that stressful. It is physically demanding, mind you, and on Tuesdays—when I have a graduate seminar in the morning and an undergraduate class in the afternoon—I am pretty wiped out when everything is done. Prepping for classes also takes a good deal of time, naturally leaving less time for other things. But teaching doesn’t stress me out. If anything, it might even relieve stress.
It’s actually all of the other things that I’ve been finding it difficult to readjust to. There are the things that are naturally part of my life as a professor, there are certain things that just happened to have come up this semester, and there are other tasks outside of my usual responsibilities. On top of that, there were certain aspects of Korean culture that I didn’t have to deal with at all last year, and it is only now that I am remembering how much stress those aspects have always caused me. Or perhaps it is only now that I am realizing the extent of the stress, due to the contrast between last year and this year. I suppose you could say that I’ve gained a little perspective. I know I am being vague here, but that is deliberate; suffice it to say that I have had a lot of readjusting to do so far, and there is a lot of readjustment still left to do.
One of the things that I did not have to deal with for most (although not all) of last year was having a car. I have a confession to make: I don’t like driving. I do it when necessary, but I don’t get any real enjoyment from it. That might be because driving in Seoul is like repeatedly stabbing yourself in the face with a broken bottle. I seem to remember that driving around New Zealand, for example, wasn’t nearly as stressful and quite a bit more enjoyable. Even then, though, I drove because it was the only viable way to have any sort of freedom in our travels.
Before we left for the States last year, we junked our previous car. I think we had driven it for about fifteen years, and it was already used when we bought it, so it was well past its prime. I imagine we might have been able to drive it for a little bit longer, but not much. We had gotten all we could out of it, and all that was left was to sell it for scrap. Upon returning to Korea, we knew that sooner or later we would have to buy another car. Most of the time we don’t need one, but having one for our weekly trips down to church on Sunday, the occasional trip to HJ’s father’s house, supply runs to Costco or similar stores, and the even rarer trips outside of Seoul makes things a lot easier. We considered getting another used car, but that requires doing a lot of looking around, testing out various vehicles, etc. As I noted above, I’ve been rather busy, and thus I haven’t had a lot of time to invest in looking for a used car. So, instead, we did the unthinkable: We bought a new car. This is the first new car I’ve ever owned, and I have to admit that it is kind of nice. Driving in Seoul is still awful, of course, and I will only do it when it is the only viable transportation option.
In the interest of ending this entry on a more positive note, there is one another new beginning worth mentioning. This past week, the weather suddenly got a lot warmer—I think it actually hit 20 degrees C on Wednesday—and amazingly enough the air quality has stayed relatively good as well. This was unexpected, since the general trend so far has seemed to indicate that the AQI (Air Quality Index, in which higher numbers indicate worse air quality) is in a direct relationship with the temperature. But both Wednesday and Thursday were warm and clean, and after a rain for even more cleansing of the atmosphere, Saturday dawned crisp and clear. So HJ and I decided to embark on a project that we have been wanting to undertake: hiking the Seoul Dullegil. “Dullegil” translates to something like “circumference path,” although “perimeter trail” would probably be more accurate and less awkward. It is a long trail that runs around the outside edge of the city of Seoul, and yesterday we decided to hike a section that begins not far from our apartment.
We have actually hiked this section of the trail before, but this time we were armed with the official Seoul Dullegil stamp books, and we got the appropriate stamps near the beginning and end of our hike. Hiking was something I was looking forward to getting back to upon returning to Korea, but yesterday was the first day that the weather was both warm enough and the air clear enough to do so. The trail does not go up to any mountain peaks, but there are still plenty of steep sections, and it was not an easy hike. But it wasn’t a very difficult hike, either, and probably a good place for us to start our journey. I don’t know if we will be able to finish the trail before the weather gets too hot—we really only have Saturdays to hike, and we are at the mercy of the weather and the air quality—but we are going to try to get as much done as possible. We will leave the flatter and less strenuous sections for the warmer days, so we will be able to hike in the evening when it is cooler.
I did take a lot of pictures on our hike, and at some point I will probably put up a “theme” gallery for the Seoul Dullegil, which will be updated as we hike the different sections. I will discuss the trail in a little more detail in the captions to those photographs, so I will leave my comments for today at that. The semester ahead is going to be a very busy one, but hopefully my readjustment will continue and I will be able to successfully ease my way back into life here.