It was during my first summer in Korea back in 2009 that I had my first encounter with the phenomenon that is commonly referred to as desk warming. I must admit in the run up to my first school vacation I had been wondering what the school intended to do with my time. You see, in the contract it is stated that we should get 18 days of paid vacation, eight days to be taken during the summer break and ten to be taken during winter break. But, with the school closing for two months in the winter and six weeks in the summer, I struggled to see what they were going to do with me.
I was soon to find out........
It turned out that the first two weeks of vacation were set aside for camps. One week at each of my two schools. Yeah great! I thought to myself, they are going to set up tents in the playground and I am going to have supervise.
"So what do I need to do on the camp?", I asked my co teacher.
"Just teach like normal", she replied.
"Will there be tents?", I asked, with genuine confusion in my voice.
"No", she said "just teaching".
I left it at that.
"But if camp is for two weeks what am I supposed to do with the remaining time?", I asked her.
"You must come in and sit at your desk", came her reply.
"Yes, but what will I do there?", I inquired.
"Planning", she replied as quick as lightning.
Once more I left it at that and decided to wait and see what happened when the summer holidays came.
Camp it transpired was just a fancy name for baby sitting. The kids were on vacation and their parents hadn't got a clue what to do with them, so they carted them off to school for the native English teacher to entertain them for four hours a day. No wigwams, no tee pees and no tents. A rather lame excuse for a camp I'd say.
Things were to get even more weird. With the two camps over, it was time to sit at my desk and "plan". But plan what? Plan what I was going to have for dinner that night? Plan where I was going to go on my holidays? Plan how I was going to sneak out of the back door when everybody seemed to have gone home? Well, that's essentially what it was. Nothing to do, but sit there and warm your desk whilst racking your brains about what to Google next
I was sitting at my desk on the second day, still trying to wrap my head around the purpose of desk warming when dark clouds passed over the school. I'm talking real dark clouds here, not metaphorical ones. The office in which I was sitting was suddenly enshrouded in even darker misery than normal. Quickly, I jumped up, ran into the corridor and flicked the light switch on before my mood took a nosedive. But instead of light, all I got was a hissing noise, followed by a sudden cloud of smoke and an overwhelming stench of electrical burning.
"Shit! Shit!", I shouted, as I hopped from foot to foot, unable to think of a solution to this problem. Before rushing off in search of anybody with more knowledge on this subject than myself. Which pretty much meant anybody; women, kids, special needs, the list is endless. Unable to find anybody in the school I darted off into the playground. After a few minutes search I found the janitor and charaded him my dilemma. Judging by the look on his face he thought that I had gone quite mad, so I decided to run back into the school instead whilst beckoning him to follow.
I half expected the school to be on fire when I arrived back at the teacher's office, but fortunately this was not the case. I was only grateful that the smell of electrical burning still lingered in the air, so that I did not appear to be completely insane. The janitor took one look at the switch, gestured that I should not touch it again, and headed off from whence he came. Problem sorted I thought as I headed back to my desk.
Two minutes later my mobile started ringing, and I answered it.
"Andy, you are in very big trouble", my co teacher shouted down the phone.
"What! Why?", I responded.
"You switch on lights and make many problem", she told me.
"Yes, I tried to switch on the lights, and smoke came out", I cried.
"Principal very angry", she replied, "you must go and sit in his office for the rest of camp", she informed me.
As you can imagine, I was dumbfounded. There I was, a man of 40 years old, being told that I must go and sit in the principal`s office so that he could keep his eye on me. Undoubtedly that'll teach me not to turn on the lights again.
Fuck it! I thought (after a moments contemplation), I'll go. Yeah, I'll go there and try and make the principal feel more uncomfortable than I am. So I went, and I sat on the desk next to him. A desk with no computer, or any other form of entertainment. Or I should say, any other form of entertainment other than irritating the principal by my presence. Which turned out to be great fun. His discomfort with the situation was a pleasure to witness. I even threw him a few questions in English to make him squirm. Obviously he hadn't got a clue what I was talking about (since he spoke no English), and that made it all the more entertaining. "How's the missus?", "You been getting any lately?", I inquired.
Eventually, unable to deal with my presence (in his immediate vicinity) any longer, the principal got up and surreptitiously left the room. A minute later, I received a call from my co teacher.
"Andy, the principal says that you can go back upstairs now", she told me.
"Oh really!", I replied with fake shock in my voice. "I thought that I had to stay there till the end of camp?"
"No, please go back upstairs but don't touch the light switch again", she warned me.
So, I went back upstairs and sat at my warm desk, in a dark room, for the remainder of the camp.