Caveat: Certain Uncertainty

I was so angry yesterday. I was told (not consulted, simply told) that I would have to move out of my apartment at the middle of next week. And that my new apartment wouldn't actually be ready for me to occupy until sometime in early June; consequently, I would have to live in "temporary housing" for around 2 weeks – I guess the school's teacher/staff dormitory. I got to see this dormitory – it's about like my apartment in Ilsan (a small single-room studio), but it seems I will be sharing the space with other employees-in-transit. This was not entirely clear.

I suppose, as I reflect on this, that I brought this on myself: the main thing (really, the only thing) that I complained about, at the start of my job, was the quality of my housing. So for all I know, this little nightmare is the consequence of some bureaucrat in the administrative office getting wind of my complaints and trying to "help" me. I don't feel helped.

First of all, I had worked out a sort of peace with myself about my apartment. I dealt with the filth by buying lots of cleaning supplies and scrubbing the place industriously over the last several weeks. And so part of my resentment now is over this "wasted" investment. Also, I'd been getting comfortable with the positives of the apartment – its large size, it's unique configuration, its very convenient location in downtown Yeonggwang. Mostly, I was just glad to be having a place that I could call "home" again.

And now that's all messed up.

Living and working in Korean society sometimes reminds me, quite a bit, of military life: the sudden, unplanned-for changes in course, the arbitrary announcements, the disconcerting mixture of carrots and sticks, arranged so differently than in American life. So they throw some new thing at you, and you just have to cope. I have been in the habit of calling this "Confucian Immersion Therapy" – but now, I'm not so sure. I'm not so sure how Confucian it all is – a lot of things that make Korean society and culture are attributed to the 500+ years of state-sponsored, orthodox Confucianism (hence the moniker you hear sometimes: more Chinese than the Chinese).

But this pel-mel, from-the-top style of people management doesn't really match my understanding of Confucianism. I think it must arise from something else. My guess is the centuries of oppression, both by conquerers and an internal, highly entrenched and privileged elite, have led to a culture of "adapt to the moment at all costs." And, just like the military embeds uncertainty in its culture as a kind of semi-intentional means of ensuring preparedness among the troops, I suspect Korean society may embed the same sort of military-style uncertainty, for similar reasons: you never know who might come over the mountain next week.

What Confucianism offers (and, prior to that, what Buddhism offered, and, more contemporarily, what Christianity is offering) is a sort of equanimity for dealing with this certain uncertainty. A reason. A why and how for coping. But the uncertainty itself, so prevailing, so dominant, so universal – that's just plain old Korean.

I believe in the selective evolution of cultural traits – so I assume that this arose in Korean culture because it was selected for, by historical factors. Now, it is deeply embedded, and, vis-a-vis the broader, emerging, global culture, it offers both advantages and disadvantages. It makes Koreans great entrepreneurs when they are the minority (think of the millions of Korean diaspora, successful small business people all over the planet). When they're the controlling, dominant majority, as in their own country, it can make the whole enterprise seem a bit… well… challenging to deal with.

Back to my dilemma: I've made my frustrations known. I explained my feelings to a coworker this morning: "I feel like furniture." This simple sentence seemed to be something he could wrap his mind around, and made clear that I was unhappy. But he only shrugged, and said, "sometimes it's like that." See? Equanimity.