Sunday, April 10, 2011

Change in the Land of Morning Calm

Much like the last time I lived in an apartment I really liked doing something I enjoyed to the fullest, I live a few minutes' walk from a Burger King, the way I did in the year 2005. I don't really like to eat there except for breakfast, some of my friends having discovered my fondness for a hot breakfast in harsher circumstances than others.

It's not that Burger King is my first choice and while I could cook at home, I run a finely-tuned morning routine with all the give and go of a just-in-time supply chain. I sit around for 30 minutes reading news or streaming TV reruns before heading out for a run of 30-45 minutes, ideally taking 25 minutes to get ready for work before completing my 3-minute commute that gets me to work 2 minutes early.

Running the same route to wander the hills and paths of Kyung Hee University (also accepted: Gyung Hui, Gyonghee, Kyeonghui, etc.) is interesting because I pass the same people everyday. There's the pimply high school boy with glasses who I imagine to be quite smart, the homeless woman who walks around the neighbourhood trying to sell gum and chocolate to people, the street cleaner who acknowledges my efforts in the way I acknowledge his, and so on.

While some things never change, other things never stop changing, namely the overnight staff at this Burger King. I like to finish runs there to buy a coffee and a croissant sandwich of egg, cheese and questionable taste, walking back home because running with a cup of coffee is not feasible, as I've learned.

In the year and change that I have been living in this neighbourhood, I have probably visited that Burger King at least 50 times, if not closer to 100. While I get the same thing every morning, they still ask me if I would like to stay or to have it to go. That's largely because of the amazing turnover I see. It's hard to tell because they tend to hire tall, mature-looking university students with pleasant voices, but I don't think I've ever seen the same person there more than a few times, which is kind of surprising since they all seem to start at the position of assisant manager and then, presumably, move up.

My time at Burger King in the mornings has become a giant experiment of sorts, since the only variable is the person who takes the order. I always come in at the end of a run between 7:15 and 7:25 and pay by card. Western breakfasts aren't really popular (read not at all popular) here, so most of the people who come in really just came in to get a Whopper. As you might imagine, the number of people who want to eat a croissant or a Whopper at that hour is rather low.

Some employees enjoy the time to chat with the coworkers they barely know, others give off the impression of soldiers standing at attention. Some try to speak in English, others refuse to speak to me at all and treat the transaction as a non-verbal event, while most speak in well-rehearsed phrases without concern for whether I understand or not.

With the exception of the guy who looks like a Japanese policeman and has been there for some time, I would have trouble identifying the person who helped me at 7:15 if they fell on top of me at 7:45. I sometimes wonder where they go; generally I imagine that being paid $4 per hour to work the overnight shift at a 24-hour fast food restaurant in a university district produces a high turnover rate, though I suppose anything is possible.

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