Every day around 12:25, I line up my students to go wash their hands for lunch and I go to the kitchen to collect 9 trays, 9 soup bowls, a quart container of soup, and chopsticks and a spoon for me. It used to be that I would also collect dishes of rice, a meat, kimchi, and some sort of vegetable and serving utensils but with the merger, now I’m one of the teachers who gets lunch served to her classroom from a rolling cart.
Either way, it’s the same food, and I’m not really a fan.
I’m not a picky eater, I just don’t like to eat bad food. And I especially don’t like to be rushed to eat bad food. When you’re trying to serve eight 7 year olds, you’re always rushed. They want seconds, they spill things, they don’t want something and try to transfer it to their friends’ trays, they decide halfway through lunch they want condiments because their friend likes it and on and on it goes.
The lunch I photographed isn’t so bad actually. Chop chae is a Korean cellophane noodle and shredded beef and vegetable dish which I like quite a bit. Rice is well, rice. Acorn gelatin is a cool treat but one I need to be in the mood for texturally speaking. Kimchi is ever present on a Korean table and I enjoy it, as long as it’s not too fishy. I’ve even been known to eat the whole side dish of it at a restaurant! Not at school though.
A lot of the meat we get is unidentifiable because it’s been processed or fried beyond recognition, though you can generally depend on it to be pork or squid. Salads are often limp and overdressed, vegetables are oily or have things in them I don’t want to eat like dried baby eels.
Yeah, you read that right. DRIED. BABY. EELS.
As a kid in America I didn’t like school lunch either so I guess it stands to reason that as an adult, I approach the problem in the same way–by bringing my own lunch. It’s almost always a salad or sauteed vegetables or curry I mix with the rice the school provides. Sometimes I follow it up with something like pumpkin seeds or fruit, like plums or melon.
I only started doing this recently and the students act like they’re watching the Discovery Channel. “What is teacher eating?” “Why teacher?” “Look at what teacher has!” “Teacher, why are you eating the same thing for lunch again?” “Is that chicken? I want chicken!!!”
They drive me a little batty at lunchtime.
I really wish that things at my hagwon were how I remember them in the cafeteria in elementary school Stateside; guidance counselors, school nurse, librarians, etc would rotate cafeteria shifts and the classroom teachers would get a break to plan and eat their own lunches. Oh if only!
Hopefully you all don’t see this entry as too whiny. I do love my students. I do appreciate the job perk of a free lunch. BUT teaching 7-9 classes a day plus serving morning snack and lunch is a lot and a quiet lunch would be a shining gem in the middle of it all.