having adventures before 9 a.m.

But when is it not an adventure for an expat living here? I mean really.

This week I had camp at my small school, and I went there every day. Except today, Friday. I was scheduled to deskwarm at my main school today. Because where I’m parking my butt to surf the web and potentially plan future lessons (but mostly idly pass the time until 4:20 p.m.) matters, dang it.

The vice principal here had told me (via my co-teacher) that today, rather than sitting alone in the 4th floor office as I usually do, I should join her and a few other teachers in the 2nd floor office. Okay, no problemo VP. I got this.

8:15 a.m. – I arrive at the 2nd floor office. Most of the lights are off. A lone teacher wanders about inside looking lost. She asks me in Korean if I know where the light switch is. Nope, I do not. Do I know when the VP will arrive? Don’t know that either. We sit in the dark. We wait. She brings me coffee, black. I grasp it for warmth.

8:22 a.m. – VP arrives. Knocks on the normally automatic sliding doors. Lone teacher goes over there. Doors won’t open. Power is off? VP has to sheepishly go around to the other set of sliding doors that are actually working (the ones I fortuitously came through already). This is not a promising start for the VP’s already-normally-unhappy mood.

8:23 a.m. – VP comes in through the working doors. We greet her. She doesn’t know where the lights are either. What the hell? Is there a designated turner-on-of-lights in this office? VP goes to hide out in the break room until help arrives. There is no computer at the desk I was offered. It’s going to be a long day. I sip my coffee as slowly as possible to pass the time.

8:30 a.m. – The turner-on-of-lights arrives. He is one of the head teachers, and he can speak some English, and he and I have had coffee and conversations in the past. I am glad to see him. The lone teacher is glad to see him, too. She tells him how she tried for 30 minutes to find the switch. (Turns out it’s outside the office door. Strange.) He turns on the power for the other sliding doors. She tells him how the VP was locked out. He laughs. She quickly tells him the VP is in the break room (out of sight but not out of hearing range). He laughs again. Brave.

8:35 a.m. – A woman from administration arrives. I’m so relieved. She is a really kind person. I was hoping she’d be working today. Maybe she’ll let me use one of the trillion computers in this office.

8:36 a.m. – VP emerges. She talks to the teachers. She sounds angry. I’m not sure if that’s her normal voice or if she actually is angry. It’s scary. The teachers look like they’re used to it. I look around. I wonder if I can fill the hours and amuse myself by observing the interactions between VP and teachers and analyzing the psychology of it all.

8:45 a.m. – The head teacher who knew how to turn on the lights approaches me. He says I can go to the 4th floor if I want. I murmur quietly, afraid that the VP knows the words “vice principal” in English: “The vice principal told me to come here today.” He understands. He pauses, then dares to ask the VP in Korean whether I can go upstairs. She doesn’t deign to respond. He bravely pushes on: “It doesn’t matter?” She snaps a response. Fear strikes my heart, but the head teacher gives me a knowing nod and gesture. “Go?” I mouth. “Go,” he mouths back. What a hero. I scurry out like a mouse before the VP can change her mind.

8:48 a.m. – I head downstairs to pick up the 4th floor office key from the security/admin office. Usually there is just 1 admin person in there. Today all 5 of them are in, and they’re having a little party and one of them is cutting mangoes. They wave me over and ply me with mangoes and coffee. I say I already drank coffee. “One more,” laughs the older man with salt-and-pepper hair. I accept.

8:50 a.m. – They’re so jovial and friendly. This is in complete contrast to the atmosphere of the 2nd floor office. I feel sorry for those teachers. I feel that working in admin and security here must be nice. They chat in Korean and English. They ask me how old I am, how tall I am. “I’m Tom Cruise,” grins the salt-and-pepper man. “If you’re Tom Cruise, I’m Angelina Jolie,” scoffs one of the women in Korean. Everyone laughs. They ask about my boyfriend. They ooh and ah when I say he’s Korean. They tell me I have Korean mannerisms (I would hope so, after living here this long). The main admin guy, the mango-slicer, explains to them that next year I will only work at my small school. They groan and pout. I’m surprised, since I only see them for 15 seconds at a time, on these deskwarming days of vacation, to pick up the office key. I guess they see me around. I guess they like me. I like them, too. Like a student, the salt-and-pepper man says to me, “I will go to [Small School] next year.” The oldest man in the group repeats in Korean, “Did you say you’re going to [Small School] next year?” Everyone laughs again.

9:05 a.m. – Finally I take the key and bow out of the office. They wave goodbye. What a lovely group of people. I almost wish I could deskwarm in the security office today. But then I get to the 4th floor, and sit down at my quiet desk and remember that it’s pretty nice to have an entire office to myself.

9:15 a.m. – Adventures are not quite over yet. The head teacher (a.k.a. the hero who saved me) knocks on the door. He checks to make sure the heat is on (it is). He says, haltingly, “Maybe… you will be more comfortable here.” I agree. He laughs. He chats with me for a moment about his teacher training this week. I want to thank him for getting me access to this office, but I think he knows I’m grateful. He says, “Enjoy your time,” and leaves me to the silent, comfortable office. As he closes the door, I turn to the keyboard and begin furiously typing up this blog post before I forget the details.

Always an adventure.


Recipe for (almost) disaster

Time: 90 minutes.


  • 18 middle school students
  • 7 gas ranges
  • 7 frying pans
  • 3 or 4 sharp knives
  • Sandwich stuff (bread, ham, cheese, tomato, lettuce, butter, mustard, honey, mayonnaise, strawberry jam, eggs)


  • Preset your students to hungry
  • Combine ingredients
  • Watch carefully, checking frequently to ensure that nothing is on fire, bleeding, or otherwise harmed


  • 1 smoky room
  • 3 open windows
  • 18 happy students
  • 23ish sandwiches


Actually, this was my first attempt at having a “cooking” day during camp, and I was impressed with their skills. Many of them expertly fried their eggs and ham, and even toasted the bread in the frying pan. I was offered several samples of the fruits of their labor and they were definitely successful.

Cleanup was not quite so successful… but watching them gave me flashbacks to when my siblings and I had to “clean the kitchen” after dinner, leaving many a greasy spot and crumb for our parents to re-clean. It’s a blind spot that we can’t really see until adulthood.

As my co-teacher and I re-wiped the tables, she shrugged, “That’s why they are children.”