rain over there = wrinkly pink piggies

as we were taught since wee kids, i often ask strangers and friends alike, how things are going. and it's amusing where that simple stock question may take you. just a while ago, so casually, over the time zones and a small puddle of water called the atlantic ocean and such, one of my friends (who i still have to come up with a code name) answered THE stock question that his feet are wet. as i was ready to make fun of him for drinking his pints with his shoes, he jumped the gun and explained that the situation was entirely nature-induced, that it was simply raining outside. okay, you drew faster than i. i will not give you a hard time. so what are you doing to get dry? and he mentioned stove. burning things inside of a metal chamber, creating heat and warmth (that is so much greater than the hallmark imagery that we are all desensitized to). you mean you have a old school stove?? and the answer was.... yes, lump coal stove!!

we used to have coal stoves when i was growing up in seoul. my father went over to the middle east, working for hyundai construction during the late 70s and early 80s. sending the money home and coming back only twice a year (we, the three kids are exactly two years apart and i dont think it's all just a chance-operation, haha), mom/dad saved up enough to buy a lot and build a house. in traditional korean houses, back in those days, often had the old school coal stoves, especially in the living room. the stoves i see now in north america tends to be more square or rectangular, burning mostly woods or gas. these stoves were round, like a oil barrel, had opening on the belly, to stack the formed coal blocks, like the ones in the picture, round, may be about a foot tall, with air holes going through it for oxygen circulation. with a gigantic black wire tong, you have to carefully stack them inside and switch them out once in awhile to keep it going. if it gets ridiculously cold, often mom or dad have to get up in the middle of the night to switch the coal batches.

so it burns coal. which means it need vents. unless we all wanna create a cult, collects thousands of dollars, and go purchase nike sweatsuits, then die from carbon monoxide poisoning. actually if i remember correctly, every year, there would be handful of people who would die from accidental CO leaks from house stoves. ooops. shouldnt joke with things like that. anyways. the vents were made of thi metal pipes, probably made from galvanized tins or something. the joints were sealed with those very thin metal tapes. i used to get into much trouble for peeling them off from the joints. all i wanted to do was have some piece of it to practice origami (those sheets fold wondefully, holding onto all sharp lines and edges etc), and i knew nothing about CO poisoning. i swear. i didnt like my siblings so much, but not as much to create a mass death scene. and believe it or not, there was a period when i was just a simple child and didnt know anything about CO poisoning.

one of the fondest memeory of my childhood involves that coal stove. when winter approaches, the stove would be put out in the middle of the living room. they brought in workers to install the vent system; the coal delivery man came once in two weeks i think, and he would deliver stacks and stacks of those coal bullets, and in my house, they were stored in the unfinished basement.

hot water was still relatively expensive thing, so back in the days, my mother would wash all three dirty kids in succession. and this is very amusing for me, because we mustve been really little to be washed all simultaneously. esp. with the cutting edge sharp gender separation policy of eastern asian culture. anyways, so after some romp in the snow, we were all gathered to the bathroom. unlike the western house bathrooms, where there is no drain hole on the floor, the korean bathrooms have the drain on the floor so you can splash as much water as you would like without wrecking the house. which i still miss to certain degree.

so after the a la ford process of soap, lather, buckets of hot water (now lukewarm), we would be sent to the living room, wrapped in little towels to be dressed.
and depending on how mom or granny felt, there would be an extra kick: sometimes they would hang jammies around those vent pipes, holding them together with clothpins, so that they would be all soft, warm and slightly toasty cottony. up to this day, one of my favorite texture is the dryer-fresh thick cotton jersey. they rest on your skin almost weightlessly, but with enough body to feel substantial.
anyways. so if you are lucky, not only you get to throw your wet winter boots and jackets on floor, soaped and somewhat dried, then put onto now vent-toasted jammies.

and i remembered, myself, a small child, sitting on a chair, stretching my feet out to the stove to dry them. the toes were all wrinkly from the moisture of wet winter boots and the shower/bath. like prunes. but much more pink and smaller. little wet wrinkly piggies on my feet. and you try to spread the piggies separately so that every square mm of your little feet are dry. and if you are around for the right time, granny or mom, sometime dad will come around to switchout the coal blocks. and they would come out no longer black, but glowing light pink, ready to crumble into pile of ashes. they were put on the side of the stove, left to cool. then once there is enough, they will be moved to outside, right by the garbage cans.

oh let's not forget toasting things on these stoves. see, around the winter time, traditional korean food includes rice cake soups. they punch the wet glutinous rice into pulps, and keep beating them until they turn into this soft, sticky goo. the village mill (yes, we did have such things still) would do this using the machine, but if you are around the traditional holidays, you will still get to see all these grown men, beating a pile of sticky rice with big wooden hammers with long handles. when they are sufficiently gooey, quickly it is rolled out and cut into squares, or put through a machine, pushing out as thin ropes. the ropes are then cut into these oblong shapes, commonly used in rice cake soups. this is nothing like the crunch, bland, airpopped and glued-together-with-cornsyrup western rice cakes, the crunch kinds.

so around dinner time, if mom's willing, we will be given scrap pieces of rice cakes from the kitchen, and we toasted them on top of the coal stove, using our fingers, flipping them more than necessary just because it was fun. i never really got into toasted rice cakes, but boy i burned a lot of them. they are white, but they will eventually turn brown from toasting, often having these little blisters from the air bubbles trapped from the initial beating process. they show up like pimples, small rise on surface- then all the sudden, blow up to a size, then pops off to an empty crater. i still do the same with marshmellows. wont really eat them for some reason, but will toast. slow, long, toasting, until the outer shell barely holds. and pop, the skin falls, and it's all goo. fun. though they can really stick to your fingers and burn. ouch.

three kids. toasting their feet on the coal stove heat. all about the same heights, all with pink, soft, wrinkly piggies on their feet. hahaha. small enough to all fit into a love seat with room to spare, no problem.
sometimes i think things got real decadent with introduction of cheap hot waters and abundance of house heating devices. too decadent in a sense that everything is instant and sort of average. an electric coil heater will never give out heat like gas or coal stove. but that's supposedly better for some reason and that's what we get now. yay for central heating.


what a pleasure it is that you grew up with real fire, my friend said. and ya. i know exactly what you mean by that.

just because it rained on the other side of the atlantic, i got to re-live the glow and warmth of old school coal stove technology. not exactly the most linear progression of thoughts, but im now going to bed with the memory of watching my own wrinkly piggies drying out, remembering the slight anxiety, worrying about the possibility that they will never dry out completely, that they may stay wrinkly (as one of my evil cousins have suggested as a joke). and may be sometime one of those tomorrows, i will toast my wet piggies together w stove owner , and try to warn about the impending dangers of permanently wrinkled piggies, toasting and burning all kinds of things on the top of the stove.

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