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16 Sep

Coming up for air – It’s finally over. At least for now. When the semester started two weeks ago it was like someone let loose the hounds of Hell. There was the joy of going back to class, plus all those vitally important meetings that crop up at the beginning of the semester. It wouldn’t have been that bad except I had arranged to meet my professor on Thursday to discuss problems with the manuscript, and I still had quite a few hundreds of pages left to proofread.

“When the semester started two weeks ago it was like someone let loose the hounds of Hell.”

This manuscript I refer to is the translation of my professor’s book on Korean literary history, which I have mentioned in passing a number of times here at Liminality. I finished the translation some time ago and had planned to use the month of August to proofread it before the semester started. Well, needless to say, that didn’t quite go according to plan. Part of it was that the first part of the manuscript was in the worst shape. When I translated that part I was still trying to get used to the project, and it wasn’t nearly as good as what I did at the end (which turned out to be the middle of the book). It was also the part that we skipped the most content. The original book is five volumes, and in an effort to cut it down to size we decided to focus more on the later volumes and only do the important parts of the first two volumes. This meant that the first part of the manuscript was a motley collection of bits and pieces with no real coherency.

As if that wasn’t enough, we had not heard from any of the foreign publishing companies that we had contacted about publishing the book. So in the middle of August my professor emailed me and said that we might just have to go through a Korean publishing company (I won’t say which one). That depressed me immensely. I felt that to publish it here would be to doom it to some discount rack at Kyobo Bookstore—forget about distribution overseas. When I heard this news I pretty much lost all desire to finish the manuscript.

Then, at the end of August, my professor emailed me again to let me know that a foreign publisher wanted to publish the book (Again, I’m not going to say which publisher because details haven’t been finalized yet). Things turned around overnight. Suddenly we had a publisher who wanted to see a manuscript. I slogged through the rest of that initial hellish part of the manuscript and made it to volume 3, at which point I realized that from then on it was going to be a lot easier. But I still had two-thirds of the manuscript left. I told my professor that I thought I could have it done by mid or late September, and I was shocked when he said, “OK, let’s meet on the 14th.” That meant I would have to get the manuscript done on the 12th so he would have at least a day to look it over. I looked at my calendar and crossed out all the days I had classes or meetings. I think I had maybe six or seven days (including two Sundays, half of which are taken up by church.) to proofread about six hundred pages of manuscript.

Apparently, though, my parents weren’t lying when they used to tell me I could do anything if I put my mind to it. At 23:00 on Tuesday (the 12th), I emailed my professor the manuscript. Like it had been no big deal. The next day I had classes all day, and on Thursday I went to school to meet my professor. The meeting went well and things are looking pretty good. I have a bit more translating to do to fill in some patchy spots (the translation equivalent of “pick ups” in the film industry), but that shouldn’t amount to much more than a few pages. That’s the easy part, actually. Then I have to figure out how to stitch this all together into one cohesive whole. We decided to abandon the original organizational structure and go with something that works for the content we have. It will be great when it’s all done, but it’s going to be something of a pain in a neck to restructure it. And then there’s the hardest part: preparing the index. The page numbers will come much later, of course, but I still have to go through the text and make a list of all the terms, titles, people, etc. that are mentioned in the book. Oh, did I mention that the manuscript is over a thousand pages long? Yeah, this is going to take a while. But at least I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Thursday, of course, was not the end of my week. Yesterday I had to take my “dissertation qualification exam.” This is a test that you have to take before you write your dissertation to make sure you’re qualified. I guess. I really don’t know what the deal is with this test. You would think that your academic advisor would know whether or not you are qualified, but apparently that’s not enough. So anyway, the test normally consists of a major part (that is, a test on your major), an English part, and a second foreign language part. Obviously I don’t have to take the English test, and a Korean test is substituted for the second foreign language test.

The Korean test was held for one hour beginning at twenty after nine in the morning and the major test began at half past twelve and ran until two. So I arrived at school early, ate a quick breakfast, and then went to take my tests. Believe it or not, I was more worried about the Korean test (although I didn’t realize this until after the Korean test was over and all of my nervousness vanished). I suppose it makes sense. After all, I haven’t actually studied Korean in quite a few years, and I had no idea what was going to be on the test. As it turned out, the test wasn’t that difficult, but it was still stressful sitting for it.

The final part of the test was an essay question (my favorite type of test question), and when I saw it I had to stifle a laugh. The question was: write about some difficulty you’ve experienced while living in Korea. I read that and thought, “Man, where do I begin?” So I decided to go with a recent difficulty, one involving my alien registration number and the fact that it is pretty much useless when registering for some web sites. The main thrust of my essay was that Korea prides itself on being one of the most (if not the most) connected nations in the world, but if it really wants to be a true internet power it needs to start taking care of foreigners and not just its own people. It was a rant, but it was logically organized and coherent, so I have no worries about that part of the test. And I was thankful that the testing people gave us all a chance to vent a little.

When I was finished with the Korean test I had about two and a half hours before the major test, so I went to study a bit and then had lunch. I wasn’t paying attention when I grabbed my side dishes, but after I sat down and started eating I realized I had chosen a seaweed (miyeok) side dish. There is a superstition in Korea that you’re not supposed to eat seaweed soup on the morning of a test. The reason for this is that seaweed is slippery, and the Korean colloquialism for passing a test is “to stick to a test.” You can’t very well stick to a test when you’ve gone and eaten something slippery like seaweed! I am not superstitious, but I think it’s funny that the first thing that came to mind when I realized I was eating seaweed was, “What was I thinking when I picked this up?”

As it turned out I didn’t have anything to worry about. Unlike the Korean test, I had a pretty good idea of how to prepare for the major test. It is one question, an essay, and I figured it would be one of a small number of possible questions. So I prepared notes for answers to these questions and memorized them. Sure enough, when I got the test it was the question I thought most likely: briefly describe the current scholarship on division of tales and discuss the problems with this system of classification. Needless to say, this is pretty basic stuff for an oral literature major. The hardest part of the test was having to write it all out by hand. First of all, my penmanship sucks, and I have to write slowly to make sure everything is legible. So I wasn’t able to write as much as some of the others taking the test. Secondly, it’s an hour and a half of writing by hand. I thought I would never be able to stretch my hand out again when it was all over.

The end of the test meant the end of a very rough two weeks. I still obviously have a lot of work to do, and with the semester now underway I’ve got class assignments as well. But hopefully things will be a lot less hectic now. So no deep insights or thoughtful essays for today’s entry. Just a little unwinding after a long couple of weeks. I’ve still got photos to put up, and hopefully with my next journal entry I will be back to form.

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