Saturday, October 2, 2010

Catie: Sick days and socks

I've been sick.  Not super sick, just a sore throat and some coughing, but enough to make me unable to sleep for more than a couple hours at a time and enough to make me miserable.  I woke up yesterday morning, fully intending to do nothing all day but take Mucinex and lay on the couch.

But then there was a knock at the door, and, as is his custom, Han Sam came galloping in, merrily shouting, "Anyanghaseyo!" (Hello).  He just wanted to get the money for the water bill, but he also wanted to talk.  These days, he cares less and less that we don't speak Korean, trundling ahead with hand and full body motions to rival a mime.  We love him.

Good thing, too, because he always manages to burst in at the worst possible moment.

Yesterday, he wanted me to:

A.) Go to the hospital for my cough.  It's just down the road, he said.  Very important.  It was easiest, so I told him I had already been (I hadn't and would never go for a cough this minor...) and that everything was fine.  The more I respond affirmatively to everything he says, the less he repeats himself.  Although... that means I end up in some crazy situations sometimes.  It's pretty fun for me, though, who am I kidding?

B.) Come downstairs to knit with Oenni (say it: oh-NEE).  That's what he calls his wife (to me).  It's not her name, but it's the affectionate Korean word for a woman who is older than you.  I didn't feel like knitting and was still in my pajamas, so I made lots of faces and told him I was in no condition to go out.

This did not deter him, however, and he started saying, "Sigsa, sigsa!"  Which, for our purposes, usually means, "But we'll feed you!"

They know I love food.

I gave him no definitive answer, although I was trying to say no, and he left to get us change for the water bill.

Next, Oenni showed up.  With a bag full of yarn and knitting needles and our water bill change.  This time, it became apparent that she wanted to me to knit with her.

"But I'm sick and I look terrible," I said.

"But I'll feed you!" she said.

We repeated this back and forth, several times.  I gave in.

It should be mentioned that, with me working, all we have in the house for food right now is kimchi, yogurt, peanut butter and a heel of stale bread (and a lot of ingredients that I wasn't up to cooking), so their offer to feed me was entirely unfair.  There was no way I could refuse.

Plus, she makes good food.

So, I got dressed, took my knitting and went downstairs.  The food was delicious.  A vegetable, meat (beef or pork?) soup, kimchi, several other fermented side dishes, and rice.  They didn't have enough rice for me, so Oenni ran next door to our neighbor's restaurant and got me a little bowl.  Rice is often considered the main course in a meal, so it's very important.

I was sick, as I had said over and over, so they dumped a bunch of dried seaweed into my rice.  I am quite partial to the right sorts of seaweed and, thankfully, this was the right sort.  Salty, a little bit sweet, with toasted sesame seeds.  Delicious.  What am I going to do without Korean food?

After dinner, we had coffee and songpyeon (gluey rice cake).  I normally don't like songpyeon.  It's not entirely unlike trying to eat a rubber bouncy ball.  Although, to clarify, it sticks to your teeth in ways that a rubber bouncy ball could never.  So, maybe more of a rubber bouncy ball crossed with a marshmallow.

Songpyeon, with pine needles

But it's a Korean delicacy.  They think it is so delicious the kids can sometimes hardly breathe when they talk about it.  It is like holiday pie is to me.  A-mazing.

It sometimes has funky flavors that make me gag (on top of the fact that you can't actually chew it, you can just kind of chew on it), but this was straight out of the pot, with sesame seed filling that tasted like peanut butter.  We had to pick off all the pine needles, one by one, that are there to keep the pieces from sticking together.  A sticky process, but a good cultural experience.  Songpyeon is also much more delicious when homemade, I think.  When homemade and still hot.

All through dinner, they were talking about knitting, pointing at their feet and saying things real fast in Korean.  I was supposed to understand something, but I was sick and still coming off the Mucinex I'd taken the night before.  It wasn't clicking

After dinner, Han Sam left and Oenni and I went out front, to the ginseng shop, to knit.  At this point, it finally became apparent that she wanted me to teach her to knit socks.

Out of crochet cotton.

On size 8 circular needles.

"Okay, this isn't going to work," I said.


"You can't use these needles," I said.  "They're too big."

"Go get yours," she said.

So, I went and got some needles and, while I was at it, some leftover sock yarn because I couldn't, in good conscience, try to teach someone to make socks out of shiny, crochet cotton.

I showed her how wool yarn is able to stretch - boing, boing - and cotton doesn't - snap - so, wool is better.  She's a good knitter, and got it right away.

Interestingly, this may have been the easiest time I've ever had, teaching someone to knit socks.   So many people think socks will be a good first knitting project (they aren't, just some FYI) and there's not a LOT to learn when knitting socks, but you do have to be able to do about 4 basic things that can be a stretch for someone who's never encountered them.

So, she already had the actual knitting knowledge, all I had to do was show her a funny cast on, and try to explain that you increase twice, at either side, every other round.  It took her some time to get it (I don't know why, I kept saying it over and over again in English!!), but when she did, her whole face lit up and she smiled real big.

"You mean you (a bunch of Korean)!"

"Yes!" I said.  And hoped that all that Korean had meant, "Increase twice, at either side, every other round."

She was very excited and, when Han Sam invited all the other women shop keepers over for the songpyeon leftovers, Oenni was proudly showing them her sock toe, and they were all aghast.  Korea doesn't really have double pointed needles, especially not in Song Gang-dong.  And no one has time to knit, especially not socks, which you can get on every corner for about a buck a pair.  So, everyone was very interested.

"Knit your own socks?  Crazy!" they kept saying.

But, as Han Sam pantomimed over and over again, hand knit socks are much better (thumbs up) than acrylic socks (frowny face, shaking head).  Even his toe socks, which he adores and wears on a daily basis, got a frowny face.  He told me that hopefully Oenni will knit him socks now and also that pink (the sock yarn I gave her was pink) was his favorite color.  An admission that is evidenced by the fact that she's also knitting him a pink and green striped, cabled sweater right now...  It's awesome.

Anyway, it was a really, really marvelous sick day, in spite of the fact that I felt terrible.  They also gave me some sort of pink, hot tea-ish drink.  But more in the vein of citron "tea" (which is like orange flavored honey mixed with water), so not really tea at all.  It tasted like cranberry juice, maybe, or cranberry apple.  It probably comes from one of the red boxes that line their ginseng shop shelves.  I think it's for sick people because it made me feel better.  But then, I think ice cream is for sick people because it makes me feel better...

Oenni sent me home with the leftover songpyeon and told me she would let me know when she was ready to turn the heel.  She made sure to say, "Thank you!" in both English and Korean, multiple times.

It may have been the best day I've had in a while.