Strong oriental smells greeted me as I was ushered in. Taking in shallow breaths in her living room while Mrs Suh (pronounced suh rhyming with uh!) bowed and courtseyed to me in welcome and with a wide grin showed me her day’s labour. Big basins of fermenting cabbage with red spices sticking to the shards and that ‘radishy cabbagey’ smell in a centrally air-conditioned house. “I making ‘Kimchi‘”-she indicated. I gave an enthusiastic nod as she was my professor’s wife and I was to assist her with her spoken English.
Her endearing ‘susumita sista’ was a nick name that stuck to me even as University got left far behind. A strong and confident Korean lady with gentle manners and words, she wanted to converse easily in English. Respectfully bowing and saying ahn-yong hah-say-yoh ,she would welcome me for the classes. It was always a new lesson for me too,as somedays she would show me her self stitched traditional hanbok or her kitchen full of hundreds of Korean youngyang chaltteok (sweet rice cakes) for the embassy party. I introduced her to the sitcoms Friends and Baywatch,which was lapped up by her,even without sub titles running at the bottom of the screen. She got me into understanding the vividness of ginseng tea, kimchi and her Cello. Yes, she played beautiful cello with its reverberating boing boing notes!! Her English was just waiting for some confidence boost and wicked company, as it became wackier by the day and Mrs Suh started retorting in English!Once when asked ‘to hold on’, by the taker of her call, she counter questioned in her broken English “already hold on phone, what more hold on?”!!😅
I couldn’t guess or pre-empt a bow, ever. Sometimes I got a full bow in return for a grateful smile from me. I had to immediately stand up to receive it and return it! The ‘bow’ I mean. She was a hit with my friends too,who dropped in at her place on the pretext of picking me up, and got treated to her freshly baked scrumptious apple pies. Once I got a panic call from her at my hostel. She was stuck at a beauty salon with the wrong lock of hair chopped off! She wanted me to berrate the beautician in angry words, as I had not yet taught her to be angry!
There lives a smart old lady in Busan, who is fondly remembered even now.