Wednesday, March 19, 2008


New Apartments Come With New Questions

Since I started working for the Seventh-day Adventist Language Institute in Korea two-and-a-half years ago, my housing has been acquired, provided and maintained for me by the institute itself.

When most of the institute’s staff arrives at the place where they are going to work, they are informed of the location of their housing and someone usually helps them to move in. The rent is paid for us, as are nearly all of the expenses. The only bills we have to pay are for Internet service and cell phones, should we request them, and even if we do the institute helps us keep the bill relatively low by ensuring that we work inventive schedules, some of which start at 7 a.m. and ending at 9 p.m.

Also helpful is the church deaconess who comes in to clean once a week. This is especially helpful for male teachers, because by the time the deaconess comes around our sinks are usually about to overflow with dairy-encrusted kitchenware and the contents of our laundry hampers are about to suffer permanent mildew-damage.

There are disadvantages to this arrangement, however. For one thing, those of us who are unmarried have no control over who our roommates are. We know that they will be a) of the same gender as us, and b) Adventist, and not much more than that.

SDA church members are different from much of the general public in that we have a preponderant taste for products made of tofu, but within our membership there exists the same colorful cornucopia of characters. As such, one’s next roommate could be a) a kindred spirit who complements your personality spectacularly, or b) the guy whose hobbies seem to be 1) clearing his throat at all hours of the day and 2) singing The Greatest Hits of Boyz II Men in the shower.

Also, there’s the fact that when your employers own your apartment, they are in complete control of where you live. Certain factors, such the departure of a certain number of male teachers and the arrival of a certain number of females can cause our employers to come to us and say, “Can you pack all of your things and move to this apartment by tomorrow night?”

Also, the departure of a teacher in another city can cause our employers to come to us one day and say, “Can you pack all of your things and be ready to move to this institute four hours away by the day after tomorrow?”

So, this year, after having a lifetime’s worth of living arrangements provided by my family, my university, and my employer, I have resolved to control my own housing destiny. The first thing I needed was a roommate, so, to make a sustained story succinct, I got engaged.

That out of the way, I thought it would be best for me and my future wife to obtain living quarters of our own that my employers couldn’t move me out of when it was convenient for them. And so I began the process of apartment acquisition, by which I, 1) told the future wife that we should get a place, and 2) observed while she acquired it for us.

Since we’re in Korea and she’s a native, I assumed that she’d be better access to the classified ads. Also, I assumed that since choosing a house involves both shopping and large numbers, I’d be useless at it.

So now we have our own apartment in Chuncheon (and since I know certain Adventist church members are reading this, I should now take this time to specify that only she’ll be living in it before the wedding). It has everything a young couple in Korea could want: two bathrooms, a kimchi refrigerator, and a dishwasher, which is a kind of luxury item in this country.

With it also comes the benefit, if it could be called that, of managing one’s living space.

Okay, I guess it can’t be called a benefit. The euphoric heights of apartment ownership are quickly dampened by that epic journey that all new home owners must face eventually: the first trip to the department store in search of supplies.

While my fiancée searched for items such as a shower curtain, nails used to hang objects with, and ornate placement holders for soap, many queries were spoken aloud, such as: “Is this big enough?” “Does this fit?” and “Is this the right price?” Since we were shopping and Korean prices look the same as their American counterparts, only with three additional zeroes, I was not particularly useful at answering any of them.

Besides, internally I was pondering a question of my own: “Is this actually happening to me?”

Before I could solve it, this question splintered into several more smaller but equally complicated dilemmas, such as: “In less than six months time am I really going to have both a wife and a home to take care off?” “Can I make my wife happy enough that we will both feel like living in it?” “Is having to take more responsibility for your home a worthy trade-off for having a place of your own?”

Suddenly, I was interrupted from my inner debate: “Do you want ice cream?” my future wife asked.

Finally, an answer I could give definitively. I suppose all the other answers will reveal themselves in time.

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