Dinners at Work

The new semester starts soon and the problem of what to eat for dinner while at the university is coming up again. This is important because I’m trying to lose weight and eating proper meals at regular times is an important part of my diet.

There are five options for eating dinners during the semester, as far as I can see. I’m lucky enough this term to be able to eat at 12 or before on all days expect Fridays, when I finish at 1:00. I can go home then, so Friday is not a problem. Anyway, the options. I can eat at the faculty cafeteria, at an off-campus restaurant, at the restaurants in the student centre, bring something to eat from home, or come home each day for my dinner. There are problems with each of these options, which is why meals are such a hassle while working.

The university has a faculty cafeteria that is slightly cheaper than going to a restaurant and you can eat as much as you like, This sounds ideal, but the food quality has steadily been declining as the price has been increasing. Also, Koreans love seafood and it’s on the menu very often. I can’t stand seafood. The food at the cafeteria also tends to be on the oily side, so not good for people who are watching their waistline. Finally, there are too many suits in the cafeteria. Korea is a Confucian, hierarchical society and there is a lot of head bobbing to seniors and bosses. To me, as a Westerner, the cafeteria has a formal, stuffy atmosphere that it’s difficult to relax in. When I do eat there, I choose a table in the far corner where I can avoid having to be obsequious. To be fair though, as an outsider, nobody expects me to conform tightly to social norms. Neither am I seen as a part of society, but that’s another post . . . .

My second option is to eat at an off-campus restaurant. Something near school because I don’t have a car. There are restaurants near the university, but there are few ‘general’ restaurants, if you know what I mean. Places that serve common Korean meals such as soybean paste soup, gimchi stew, bibimbap, and so on. A lot of places near the university serve things like burritos (awful ones), or fast foods. Some places don’t even open until the evening. I had a favourite restaurant just outside the side gate whee I was a regular customer for years. The food was delicious, the servings were huge (bad for the diet!), the prices were cheap, and the place was a favourite of students so the atmosphere was relaxed. But when construction began on the university’s Olympic stadium a couple of years ago (the women’s ice hockey rink is on campus), construction workers started to show up at the restaurant. Why not? It was right next to the construction site, the food was cheap, and the large portions just right for people who work hard all day. But as the number of workers started to increase, the number of students dropped off. Prices went up and the food quality went down. The restaurant owners must have gotten filthy rich because of the Olympics, and maybe they didn’t bother to try hard any more. This is just a guess, of course. I went there a couple of days ago in the hopes that it had improved, but the stir-fry sauce was watery, it wasn’t cheap, and the place was full of noisy middle-aged men. So, I think off-campus restaurants are out for me this semester.

That was a lengthy paragraph. Where was I? Oh, yes. Option number three is to eat at the restaurants for students in the student centre. These are reasonably priced but, again, there are no regular meals to be found. There’s a fast food place, a terrible grilled sandwich place, a rice bowl restaurant that’s not too bad but I think it’s all instant ingredients, and there is a Korean snack place that’s fine but it’s hard to make a meal out of the selections. None of these places are very big and it’s difficult to find a table unless you show up very early or very late.

The next option is to bring something from home to eat at school like a sandwich. There are no staff break rooms at the university, so what I can bring is limited. Nothing I need to warm up, for sure. A lack of faculty lounges means that I have to eat at my desk, which health professionals say is not good for you. The university has some pleasant outdoor areas with trees and benches which would be lovely places to enjoy a sandwich in warm weather if they weren’t so poisoned with cigarette smoke. Every time the university creates a park-like area on campus it’s immediately taken over by hordes of smokers. I complained a couple of times to the university but their reaction was, “We can’t do anything about that.” Why do they bother to put up No Smoking signs, then?

The final option of going home for dinner is not very practical. It’s only a fifteen minute walk to my apartment, but that’s thirty minutes total and I would have to cook and eat as well. I would get to see the pussy-cat, though . . . .

So, those are my choices for the semester. I think what I’ll do is look around for some off-campus restaurants that maybe I didn’t notice before, turn off my computer and monitor and bring a book to read while I eat at my desk, and go to the faculty cafeteria when there’s no seafood on the menu. And be careful about how much food I pile on my plastic tray while going through the line . . . .

6 thoughts on “Dinners at Work

  1. I’d mix it up a bit.
    I work ‘out of town’ so there’s nothing for a couple of miles near me, so I have to bring in every day.
    I don’t mind eating the same thing either:

    2 oatcakes
    slice of cheese
    peach or equiv
    2 oranges
    2 dates
    dried mango pieces
    2 brazil nuts (or handful of cashews)
    handful of raisins or cranberries or something like that
    and that’s it.

    Oatcakes are amazingly good at filling you up!
    If it is cold or I need more energy . . . more oatcakes. I eat them dry.

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    1. I haven’t tried oatcakes before, but I looked up a recipe on the BBC and they look good. And relatively easy to make, though my first batch or two might turn out to be King Arthur Specials.
      I brought in leftover Sunday Dinner today. It’ll be cold or room temperature at best, so we’ll see how that goes. Mmm, gelatinous gravy . . . . Does your workplace have a kitchenette where you can use a sink and microwave oven?

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  2. That’s a really interesting insight into a part of Korean and also your life. I also go for the sandwich option. We moved into a brand new purpose-built office last year and there are lots of little alcoves and booths where you can squirrel yourself away. So I hole myself up somewhere quiet with my sandwiches and book during lunch. Best part of the day!

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    1. Sounds lovely. Every quiet and pleasant place here has a surly male with a fag hanging out of his mouth in it. I must take some time one day to see if I can find a place that hasn’t been overrun. Maybe the far side of a parking lot where no one goes.

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  3. Good post (even without a snap for us photo-junkies). Ah the complexities of lunch. Takes me back to my days in academia. When we had a Senior Common Room the choice was easy – head across campus and see and chat to colleagues not in our own Department. Then ‘they’ took it away from us…no reason give, perhaps they thought it could be used to spread dissent. You know how revolutionary us academics are…;) So it was back to our Departmental ‘kitchen’…tables for about 8 of us, microwave and kettle. Not bad, but not great either as the colleagues that went there weren’t, how shall I put it, known for their stimulating conversation. And the same ones were there every day, hogging the tables. So most times for me it was find a colleague that I actually wanted to talk to and invade his office with my home-made sandwiches.

    You paint an interesting picture of the average Korean male academic/Uni worker. I’m surprised the authorities don’t enforce Smoking Areas/Non-smoking areas. That will change in due time, of course, but it sounds like it may take a while if the smoking culture in Korea is still strong. If you can’t beat ’em you could always join ’em, of course – and that might help the waistline too, since a lot of people seem to smoke to suppress their desire for food. Although there is the potential for downsides to that life choice, I might add…

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    1. Thanks. Many of the administration are heavy smokers so I don’t think they care. But it’s the same everywhere here. Alleys in the downtown area have lots of no-smoking signs and there are lots of smokers hanging around them. If you say something to them they either just glare at you or act like you are trying to take away their human rights. Joining them might be an idea. I have sometimes thought about finding the most foul weed I can and then blowing it in their faces. But that wouldn’t end well for me……
      Invading a co-worker’s office is a good idea but I don’t know anyone who brings their lunch. Everyone eats at the cafeteria or at a restaurant here.

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