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SNU Professor Publishes Diary Written over 70 Years

Nov 22, 2016

Professor Kim’s notebooks
Professor Kim’s notebooks

In today’s digital world, anyone with internet access can easily search all kinds of information. But what about details from one’s own life, such as the number of books read during high school or what happened on a random Sunday 20 years ago? For most people, such minor daily life events from years back in time are permanently lost: nearly impossible to remember and nowhere to be found in any data storage that modern technology has to offer.

The case is different for Emeritus Professor KIM An Jae (SNU Graduate School of Environmental Studies), who has documented details of his daily activities every single day for the past seven decades. Professor Kim’s records include not only important official events, but also how much money he spent, how many cigarettes he smoked and how many hours he studied for each day. According to the professor, who will celebrate his 80th birthday next month, the most difficult item to keep track of used to be how many steps he took per day. Fortunately, a pedometer he bought in Japan 20 years ago immediately solved that issue.

Professor Kim in 1977 at an international conference held in Japan
Professor Kim in 1977 at an international conference held in Japan

Professor Kim first began recording in September 1949, when he was in fourth grade, after realizing that he was reading a book he had already read before. As he did not want to waste his time, he started keeping a list of all books he finished reading. At first he recorded only a few items about his day, but the number of items increased as time passed. “I went through many trials and errors in recording and organizing this information,” Professor Kim recalled. “Now I can teach others how to it systematically.”

When asked if recording all sorts of details every night before bed felt tedious at all, the professor replied, “How would it feel to start off your day without brushing your teeth? It would feel uncomfortable and unpleasant, wouldn’t it? I feel the same when I don’t document my day. It’s a mechanical process.”

What is more interesting about Professor Kim’s recordkeeping is that he publishes every bit of it so that everyone can read about the tiniest details of his life. In celebration of his 80th birthday in December, the professor plans to publish the fourth version of his diary. These publications mean that even very private aspects of his life such as his fortune and real estate are open to public, but Professor Kim does not mind at all. “As I record my day I remember many embarrassing moments, and think to myself, ‘Let’s not repeat my mistakes tomorrow.’ As long as you don’t repeat mistakes, you will have become a better person. Recording gives you that power.”

Each day of Professor Kim’s 70 years of documentation has been done with pen and paper. The sheer amount of decades of documentation – literally amounting to tons according to the professor – was impossible for him to store in his apartment. In 1998, he let Jeonju Paper Museum borrow many of his documents – which include pictures and certificates – to display in exhibitions. Experts praise the professor’s meticulous recording habits, which offers glimpses into the past. For example, the SNU tuition for the Spring 1957 semester was 21,215 KRW, while living expenses were 36,368 KRW.

Professor Kim says that his recording habits are especially unusual among Koreans: “Although the situation is clearly different now, the illiteracy rate during the Joseon Dynasty was high. … Koreans are also not willing to reveal their inner weaknesses to the world,” he explained. He also suggested that Koreans have historically avoided documentation as records have frequently served as evidence for corruption.

Professor Kim emphasizes the value of recording in enhancing integrity and using time more efficiently. “In today’s information age, we must devote ourselves to self-management more thoroughly than ever.”

This article referenced:

Written by YOON Jiwon, SNU English Editor,
Reviewed by Professor Travis Smith, Department of Asian Languages and Civilizations,