Although UWCSEA school plaza’s tent fortunately protected me from scorching sunlight, it could not improve neither the hot weather nor the suffocating haze from Indonesia, as long as I was outside. The fact that I had to wear jeans for the conference did not improve the situation.
Round Square Conference is an annual conference that prepares students for the future. Every year, a different school is given the responsibility to ensure a successful and memorable conference, and numerous representatives from approximately 150 schools from different countries attend the conference. United World College South East Asia— the school I attend— was in charge of the 2015 Round Square Conference
Colors of Kattike, a student-led group that raises awareness and funding for non-profit organization in Nepal, was running a small hotdog stall during the Round square Conference, but did not have enough volunteers. As a member of both Round square’s leadership and sponsorship committees, I would have to be present at school for the conference during the weekend; so, I volunteered. It had been a long time since I interacted with middle schoolers, so I thought it would be interesting. After all, they would likely not talk about academics as seriously as those in my year. Moreover, I had zero experience with any cooking; sooner or later, I would have to learn how to cook for myself, so this interesting opportunity was “killing two birds with one stone”. But on Sunday, the event turned out to be slightly different from what I had expected.
Firstly, there were no juniors; instead, there were six teachers from the service department. None of the volunteers were able to be present for personal reasons. Therefore, the adults volunteered to help. Secondly, it wasn’t just a small hotdog stall that you would expect to see on Orchard street; it was actually pretty huge. It was the biggest hotdog stall I had ever seen in my life. Lastly, I realised that I was expected to serve a much larger amount of people than I had initially assumed. When I signed up, I thought I would be able to learn cooking little by little while serving about 100 people at most; now, I was told that I had to serve close to 1000 hungry delegates over three hours. The unexpected increase in workload was overwhelming, and I honestly felt rather nervous. It was almost as if my orchestra conductor suddenly nominated me to play an unfamiliar solo piece on the day of the performance. Yet, this was a great challenge. It was a rare chance to test my teamwork with adults. After all, not only were we so understaffed that I was selected as one of the main members of the cooking team, but we also had countless people to feed so we had to cook continuously.
By the time Ms.Jane finished informing me, my senior staff members and I had less than half an hour to start cooking the meat. Every delegate was listening to a keynote speaker in the sports hall; the presentation would not end for another 25 minutes. During the first 8 minutes, with the staffs’ guidance, I figured out the basic process of cooking garlic and onions; during the next 10 minutes, I attempted to perfect the art of grilling pork and chicken sausages as much as possible. Throughout the entire process, my eyes teared up three times because of the onions. Whenever this happened, I chuckled because the situation felt so surreal. I felt incredibly out of place because I was the only teenager. In addition, I was the only one with no cooking experience at all. Yet, I was now partly responsible for cooking for 1000 people, when I had only just learned how to properly cook a hotdog several minutes ago. I loved this sensation of absurdity and challenge; it was the essence of youth I had been seeking.
Initially, although there was a hint of panic in the atmosphere, everyone’s movement was coordinated and efficient. I thought we could finish the preparation with no problems; but soon, things went haywire. In an attempt to clean up the surface of our grills, an elderly female teacher carefully placed a pile of tissue papers on them. As a result, we suddenly had massive clumps of burning paper next to our sausages.
By the time we had solved the issue, we only had 3 minutes to rest before facing a wave of starving delegates. Most of us were still trying to gather ourselves from the fire and were hardly prepared to begin calmly distributing food. Despite this, I felt a strong rapport between my fellow volunteers, regardless of our age gap. I already felt glad I chose not to stay at home. I would probably have spent my time either sleeping or just surfing the internet in my room alone.
As a student of economics, one of the first concepts that I learned was supply and demand. As the price of a good rises, the quantity demanded decreases and supplied increases; it is the basic rule. After all, economics focuses on the optimum allocation of resources, and nobody would be willing to give resources for free. However, my situation was an exception to that rule. We were planning to provide 6 boxes of free hotdogs to approximately 1000 delegates, when there are not many other rivalling food stalls. Now, imagine the quantity demanded…I literally could not see the end of the customer line.
If there had been no deafening EDM (Electronic Device music) from the speaker above me, I would not have lasted that long. In front of me were three connected tables, on which hotdogs were piled up like gargantuan meat pyramids. They were separated into three categories: pork, chicken and vegetarian. Behind me were two barbecue grills. I was so close to them that I could clearly hear the sizzling meat, occasionally tempting me to look away from my work station. However, the demands of the ravenous horde were much louder.
Unlike my time at Koi Cafe, there was no air-conditioning; instead, we were honoured with the presence of the Indonesian haze. Moreover, the customers did not come in regular intervals; they arrived in one large wave. Yet, I felt alive; I felt more alive than I had ever had in the last few months. I was excited from the frantic energy of the situation. I lost count of how many customers I had served. I was working at the same pace as the other staff and received equal respect from them. I was accepted. This sense of achievement acted as a powerful drive. I consistently greeted, served, and thanked the delegates as I served them their food. Similar to my time at Koi Cafe, I encountered an incredibly wide range of people from different countries. While some customers were very amiable and smiled at me, several people did not even look at my face. Moreover, the delegates from my own Bazara group, a group that consisted of delegates from other schools, did not even notice that I was there. Yet, the experience was refreshing, as I met countless new people. Certainly, there were moments when I almost felt overwhelmed; however, there were also plenty of moments that revitalized me, such as my meeting with a Japanese delegate’s daughter, who gave me the brightest smile I had seen in the last two years and reinvigorated my desire to become a teacher.
After three hours, there was no more food; yet, the line was as long as it was three hours ago. I chuckled. What an experience it was.
“Sorry, everyone. We are out of food now. I sincerely apologise for the inconvenience.”
After this announcement, the line dispersed as quickly as it had appeared; and in a few minutes, there was no trace of anyone. The BBQ event was finally over, but my heart instead felt hollow.
After thanking the other staff members, I called for a taxi. As we departed, I noticed the driver turning on the air-conditioning to maximum level. Noticing my stare, the driver laughed,
“You had a sport day, right? You deserve it.”
I was confused by his comment only for a moment. After seeing the condition of my jeans, I understood, without looking at myself through the phone camera, what a mess I was. I was literally covered in grease and sweat; I also smelled like a combination of three different sausage types; but I never felt so alive since I started IB. All I needed was just a cool shower.