IT’S steamy and my glasses are fogging. I’m sitting at a narrow electric-blue bench with thin black legs—one of two that form an L set against the perpendicular wall—just by the girls’ locker room on the second floor. I’m hunched over, fiddling with the ultra-long laces of my industrial kitchen boots that need not one but two knots on its bow. It’s slightly past 8:20AM. I’ve just arrived at school, with only five or so minutes to get my feet into the clunky, steel-tip robot boots before class commences.
The little beads of sweat are breaking out fast and loose—on the temples, in the scalp, before three or four errant ones come trickling down past the brow, going drip, drip on the inside of my glasses. Fuck, I’m burning, as I give that last knot on my right shoe a tight, snug pull, while checking the symmetry of both right and left laces through a foggy, wet smear.
The lone wall fan is whirring like a wimp, its wind so inconsequential it might as well not be there. And why are the locker lights perpetually off? And yes, that’s what they are: switched off, not malfunctioning, as I had first thought they were in my first week at school.
The swearing helps me vent a little, but I’ve already lost my cool, not helped at all by a lousy, clammy feeling that has settled in the skin. Why do girls have to wear bras? And of all shirts, why this one for a uniform top? Black is sexy, but our black polo is just hot, damn hot. Definitely not sexy at all. The makers of our uniform swear it’s 100-percent cotton, though I get the sneaky feeling it’s a cotton-polyester hybrid.
What I don’t have to be doubtful of, though, is that our checkered pants are 35-percent polyester, efficient heat trappers and perspiration propagators, so that I’m doused with moisture around the back of the knees and thighs from the moment I start my 12-minute walk from the bus-stop, weaving past the Bukit Batok MRT and a good three to four housing board blocks before I arrive at this thirty-three-year-old hospitality and culinary institute, the oldest in Singapore.
The shell of my part-cotton, part-polyester pants offers no circulation from hip to toe, so the underwear isn’t behaving nicely either. The fit feels stickier, truly icky, and the bum fabric starts yanking itself into the butt crack.
How am I going to cope with such a sweaty daily prelude? Which does get all the sweatier when the human traffic picks up around our already crowded locker area at that critical hour, not forgetting that we still have to trudge up another two floors by a stairwell that’s air-conditioning-free and equally circulation-starved.
By the third week, I had devised a regime for less frazzled nerves. Why didn’t I figure this out sooner? Just lug the shoe bag to class and do the shoe change right there—there’s air-conditioning, after all, too cold on occasion. This way, I can avoid the locker area entirely, or the changing room, where a short solitary concrete bench sits under two dim spa-like lights. All it can accommodate are two bums and a hurl of a bag and a knife kit by at most two other girls who arrive, spent and sweaty from the kitchen, as they strip their cap, jacket and apron off and toss it in a pile right there.
But I’ve long sworn off the changing room. The circulation is close to nil other than a lone fan working hard by the five-sink wash area, its wind never ever drifting to that bit of precious real estate where you can park your stuff and rest your bum. I’m sure its value would appreciate though, if the facilities folks would just install another fan right there.
But I whine too much. Or perhaps it’s that others are whining silently, thinking that to whine openly is bad manners. After all, we’re Asians. We’re supposed to practice discretion, and to hold our tongues. Gaman shite, as the Japanese would say, control yourself. Or, as the Singaporeans would say, just boh chup lah. In a sense, that couldn’t-be-bloody-bothered attitude may be kinder and gentler to the heart, but not to society in general.
And so, the voice speaks, tosses out feedback, and we only hope they’d get the fan going in the bathroom. For starters, they got the lights fixed by the sweaty, steamy tiled bench. Before, it was just dark; now, at least, we have some spa-like mood lights, more for romance rather than changing.
Just last week, after a mock exam, I had the opportunity to meet with a 1996 SHATEC alumnus at our school deli, The Backyard. The first words Chef Siang uttered to his two hosts from Student Services, while I was working my way through a chicken burger, was an envious “Wah, now got air-con!”
I was hoping I could say the same thing about our locker and changing rooms.
You can soon follow our baking school writings and reflections in a brand new blog to be unveiled end of November.