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2 Mar

Winter miserableness – I suppose I should have known that it was going to be one of those days when I woke up this morning. I didn’t check the weather forecast last night, so I was surprised to look outside and find a good amount of snow on the ground. “Good amount” is relative, of course—it was only maybe five or six centimeters, and was what we would have called a good start back in New York. Here, though, five or six centimeters is a big deal.

“I don’t like winter very much, and I don’t think winter is all that fond of me, either.”

Winter is cruel. I don’t say that because of the snow and sleet and cold and general miserableness. I say that because winter waits until you grow complacent, until you are convinced that spring is coming along any day now, and then it jumps out from around the corner and dumps six centimeters of snow on your car. Take last year, for example. It was the fifth of March, our wedding anniversary, and my wife and I were planning on taking a trip. When we woke up that morning, though, what do we find but white stuff all over the ground. So instead of taking a trip, we made a snowman. I don’t like winter very much, and I don’t think winter is all that fond of me, either.

Anyway, today was the start of a new semester, and it so happens that the one class I am taking starts at nine o’clock in the morning. On a normal day, I could get away with leaving the house at seven, but today there was snow on the road, so we left early. I don’t know what it is about Korean drivers and snow. I mean, it’s not like it never snows here. You would think people would get used to it after a while. Yet everyone insists on rolling along at an excruciating crawl. The main road was mostly free of snow, with just a little slush on the road surface, yet people were still crawling along.

A week or so ago, during the Great Internet Blackout of 2005 (also known simply as “The Great Darkness”), I was driving home from the gym. It had been snowing that morning, but the roads were mainly slush. There is a brief portion of my trip where I have to take the main, two-lane road, and as I approached it I saw a line of cars that stretched on for as far as the eye could see. I only have to travel 0.8 kilometers on this road, yet that 0.8 kilometers took me 9 minutes. Technically that’s about 5 kilometers per hour, but the speedometer needle never rose above zero the entire time. Fortunately, this morning wasn’t as bad, mainly because there were fewer people on the road, and we got to Ori Station with plenty of time to spare.

I arrived at the subway stop near my school at around 8:30 and met my friend Gyeonghui. It turns out that she is taking the same class. We took the shuttle bus to school (The school is not right next to the station) and went to the classroom. It looks like there are going to be six people in the class, which is a good number for a Ph.D.-only class (mixed M.A.-Ph.D. classes obviously have more students).

At about quarter past nine we started to wonder where the prof was. At half past we tried to call him. We eventually got through, and he told us that class would start next week. No, “Sorry, I can’t make it today.” No explanation. No nothing. I was annoyed, to say the least.

My wife says that this is not typical Korean behavior. That may be true. Yet while this may not be typical Korean behavior, the students’ reactions (mine included) were typically Korean. We were a bit annoyed at first, but everyone laughed it off and thought no more of it. After all, he’s the professor, and we’re just students. What can we do? I have a feeling the reaction would have been different had the same thing occurred in the States. I’ve never attended graduate school in the States, though, so I don’t know for sure. Maybe this is the way things are done.

I still respect my professors, of course. The student-teacher relationship just aggravates me sometimes. When I told another friend which class I was taking this semester, she said, “Oh, but isn’t Professor So-and-So scary?” Had I never heard this sort of statement before, I would have given her a strange look. To be honest, I really don’t know what my friends are talking about when they call a professor “scary.” Does he hide behind the classroom door and then grab students when they enter the room? I don’t get it.

Scary or not, professors here are highly respected individuals. This makes it difficult to have a close student-teacher relationship, at least on the level that is possible in the States and elsewhere. I probably have the “closest” relationship with Professor Cho (whose book I am translating), but even in that relationship there is still a distance. That distance, of course, no longer seems odd to me, and in fact I would probably be a little uncomfortable if it wasn’t there, but I can remember being very close to some of my professors in the States as an undergrad. Part of me thinks, “Gee, it would be nice to have that sort of relationship with my professors here,” while another part of me thinks, “My goodness, how indecorous I was back then.” I guess those are the American and Korean parts of me, respectively.

So, I don’t really have a point here. I was originally planning on writing an entry today anyway, I had just thought it would be about the class and the new semester and things like that. I am actually looking forward to this class. It is a study of sijo and gasa, two forms of traditional Korean poetry that I have never really studied in any sort of depth. Not only will it help me in translating Dr. Cho’s book, but it also plays into my rekindled love of poetry. Hopefully next week I will have some good things to say about the class, and about school in general.

There’s not much else going on right now, no exciting new developments. I did get a brief letter from my youngest brother, Matthew, who is currently in basic training. Had you asked me a year ago if I thought Matthew could make it through Army basic training, I would have laughed. But, as I have mentioned before, Matthew is probably the best cut out for the military in our family (with the exception of my dad), and I have no doubt that he will make it. I hope that we’ll be able to see him when we visit this summer, but I’m not sure what his schedule is going to be like.

I guess that’s about it for now. Not much of an entry, I know, but I kind of wrote myself into a funk, and I wasn’t in the greatest mood to begin with. C’est la vie, as they say over there in the land of freedom fries and freedom toast.

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