The past few weeks have seen me in a state of constant change. In a mere 14 days, I traveled nearly 14,000 miles and crisscrossed half the globe. I experienced a 26-hour day, and skipped another one entirely. So, as the title of this post suggests, I’ll fill you in on the past two weeks, what’s going on right now, and what’s in the books for the near future.
January began my winter vacation. After completing the semester and saying farewell to my students, I packed my bags and hopped a flight from Seoul to my hometown in Pennsylvania. It was here that, due to the extreme time difference and the International Date Line, I had the enjoyable experience of living Saturday, January 18, twice. I left Seoul at 6:15pm local time, and arrived in Philadelphia a mere three hours later, or so the clock said. Don’t let anyone tell you differently: 26 hours of travel is just wrong.
The prodigal son had returned. It was an adjustment returning to life in North America, even if for only a short time. And I don’t mean just getting over the jetlag. There’s no way around it: daily life and culture in Asia are different than in North America, and I had gotten used to doing things the Asian way. So I had to un-teach myself to bow to everyone I meet. I didn’t have to give and receive everything with two hands anymore. Probably the biggest adjustment was suddenly being able to understand everything I heard on TV and in the streets. After a year in Korea, hearing English outside of my own apartment was such a rare occurrence that suddenly being inundated with it was sensory overload! How I had gotten used to the quiet.
It was great to see friends and family again. I could play with my nephews, read them bedtime stories, go out to lunch or dinner with friends who I hadn’t seen in forever. And this says nothing about the food! Oh, to have real cheese again! Burgers and fries, pizza with no corn or potato wedges on it, and my mom’s lasagna…I’m still amazed I didn’t gain 20lbs while I was there. The only regret I have is that there simply wasn’t enough time to see everyone and do everything I wanted to. Two weeks can fly by when you’re not looking.
I managed to sneak away for short periods and reacquaint myself with North America’s avifauna. In Ottawa, I spent a morning with one of my old birding friends and we were able to scour the area for snowy owls…I couldn’t miss the chance to see these magnificent birds while I was back in Ottawa, especially with the irruption year still going on. While visiting my sister in Rochester, I managed to get my first photos of white-winged scoter, a diving duck that is usually found only over deeper water a distance from shore. Although it wasn’t the purpose of the trip, I managed to tick off nearly 40 species for my year list, and I was just shy of my January 125 Species Challenge, ending the month with 122 species.
I no sooner acclimatized myself to my old way of life, then it was time to return to Korea for another year. Another long, long flight awaited me, and this time I almost completely skipped Sunday, February 2. I had a few days to recover from the jetlag (again), and it was back to school for another week before graduation. This is a bittersweet time: due to budget cutbacks, I will not be returning to my current middle school, but will instead take on two new middle schools as a native English teacher. The Office of Education will not be hiring any new native teachers this year, so those of us that remain in Gwangju must be spaced out to fill the vacancies. Melanie will be staying at her current school, and will take on my position at my school as well. So come March, I will have to new students and new schools to get to know.
I’ve made efforts to get out as much as I can. The weather in Korea is not nearly as cold as it was in North America, and the birds are still out and about, if you have the patience to look for them. I’m quickly running out of year birds now, waiting impatiently for the spring migration to begin in late March. Until then, I’m trying to focus on photographing as many of the common resident species as I can, before the arrival of the summer breeders diverts my attention.
When Melanie and I decided to re-sign our contracts and stay in South Korea for another year, we were entitled to a one-week paid leave as a bonus for doing so. We’ve decided to go to Cambodia for this vacation, hoping to soak up some sunlight and warmer temperatures before the new semester begins in March. I haven’t made any reservations with a birding guide for this trip, but I’m still hoping to add “a few” lifers while we’re there. Stay tuned for a complete summary of the trip when we return at the end of the month.