I am sitting on the floor with nam-dong-seng, who is giving me a very enthusiastic lesson in Korean history as I try to follow the broken English mixed with Korean and hastily-drawn maps and diagrams.
Then Japan eat Korea, he says, drawing a threatening-looking arrow on the map and changing the country’s name for the millionth time.
Erm… not eats, I say, somewhat at a loss for the correct word since I’m not very well versed in battle terminology. Japan invades? Takes over? I pause to cough pitifully, my body racked with painful spasms. I have still not managed to completely convey to awma that I’m suffering from air allergies and not a permanent dose of the flu, and I think she suspects I have next to no immune system. She appears by my side now, having been busy in the kitchen since I arrived in my coughing-and-sneezing condition and was ambushed by nam-dong-seng.
Take this vitamin tablet, she says in Korean. Not that I’m able to translate, of course, it’s just that she’s pressing a tablet into my hand and reaching me a glass of water, and the Korean word for “vitamin” happens to be “bee-ta-meen”. I decide it can’t hurt, and then when I take it I realise I was wrong, as the tablet is huge and my poor throat is raw and swollen and dry. I start to cough even more vigorously, and now I’m turning purple into the bargain. Awma looks alarmed, and reaches for the next item on her tray. It is a small cup of steaming water, into which she is stirring some dark brown, sticky stuff from a bottle that does not look as if it contains a pleasant-tasting beverage.
I manage to pick up the words “hot water”, “ginseng”, “good”, and “medicine” from her explanation. Nam-dong-seng looks up from his diagram of bloody-looking soldiers. Noona, that tastes very very not sweet, he says in that delightfully Konglishy style of speech, looking truly sorry about the fate that has befallen me. Bitter? I ask, looking dubiously at it. Awma is standing over me with her hands on her hips. You better drink, advises nam-dong-seng, in the voice of one who has previously tried to resist. I look at awma’s stern face, and hastily take up the cup and knock back the ginseng potion, which tastes like liquorice only even nastier, if possible. Grooooogh! I exclaim miserably, gagging.
Nam-dong-seng tries to smuggle a piece of chocolate into my hand, but awma is waiting with the next dose: drugs. I am not sure that I should be taking drugs when I can barely read the packet they come in. Awma is prepared for this refusal, and she sets the Korean-labelled box aside and produces one that nam-dong-seng tells me they got when he was sick on holiday in France. The instructions are in French. This is better. I look admiringly at awma – the woman thinks of everything.
Successfully drugged, I return to my history lesson, only to be slightly confused to find awma pulling the cushion out from under me. It turns out that she has brought me a heated floor cushion. One with a cable and a control pad, which plugs into the wall and heats my bum as I sit on the floor. And then she brings a tray of fresh, sliced fruit, and a pot of coffee.
So, Japan takes over Korea… says nam-dong-seng, returning to the lesson as if nothing has just happened. I return my attention to his enthusiastic story-telling, and smile gratefully at awma as she comes past and wraps a blanket around my shoulders. I’m not sick, but I don’t feel great, either, with this horrible allergy stuff. I’m not sure how much good any of awma‘s fussing will do me in terms of health. But the TLC goes a long way.