Two less eyes continued….

Four months now and my vision isn’t completely back to normal.  I can read my computer just great, can watch t.v., and read.  Vision beyond 8 feet is still a little blurry.  I can’t yet read street signs from a distance, so driving is still out of the question.  At my last check-up, the doctor told me my astigmatism was corrected and he was confident that in one more month I should be seeing 20/20, as there has been measurable improvement each month.  After all this time, I’m both pessimistic yet also hopeful.  My vision is definitely better than it was prior to lasek surgery, but because the previous condition was corrected with glasses or contact lenses, it effectively feels as if there’s been a degradation of vision since the vision can’t be corrected while it is stabilizing, and the whole point is to rid oneself of correction anyway.  So it’s like needing glasses but walking around without your glasses for all that time…Blurriness becomes the norm, and you start to get used to seeing only what’s in front of your face… I just have to be patient and wait…

So, to go into more detail about the operation and recovery:

Prior to getting your surgery, you are given information sheets on what to expect, and you are also sent to the nearest pharmacy to purchase the medications you will need for post operative care.

Then they have you robe up prior to going into the operating room.  The operation itself was a breeze.  You lay on the table and scoot back until your eyes are lined up with the laser machine overhead.  They give you some local anesthetic numbing drops, which are totally 100% effective, and then put some contraption on your eyelids to hold them open, which you can’t feel at all.  The laser machine emits lights as it maps your eye.  If you get the M-lasek, which is for faster more pain-free healing, they will add more liquid, which feels cool, and you can smell the alcohol.  The one freaky thing occurs as some blunt instrument painlessly moves across your eye.  You know it is scraping the top layer aside, but you can’t feel anything – only you know when it is making contact, as it causes an aqua-colored impression the shape of the implement:  it’s pretty disconcerting just because the idea of what they’re doing is icky.  After that is over, you’re asked to look at a green light and the machine pulses, and then you smell something like burning hair.  Then they add more drops.  They ask you how you’re doing and then they put protective contacts on you.  All of the above only takes about five minutes, and then you’re done!  The surgery itself was not a big deal.

I can’t remember if it is before or after the operation where you have to sit with some test strips of paper stuck between your lower lid and eyeball, and that was a tiny bit uncomfortable and also dries your eyes out.

You can’t see much afterward but feel pretty good.  As the anesthesia wears off, it just feels like your eyes are red and dry.  Prior to surgery they told you to bring sunglasses, as your eyes will be super sensitive to glare for quite awhile.

You walk out feeling somewhat handicapped but not totally disabled and it is possible to bumble your way home if you’re by yourself, though reading signs is not easy.  Supposedly the second day is the worst, but it didn’t bother me too much.  They give you anti-inflammatory drops and antiseptic drops to take four times a day, some numbing drops for when the pain is bad, and you are supposed to bathe your eyes in prescription wetting drops as much as possible.  However, you should wait at least five minutes after the anti-inflammatory drops before using any wetting drops.  They also give you a cold eye pack to reduce swelling and pain.  I was feeling pretty invincible on the second day, as the pain wasn’t too bad at all, and I thought maybe I was blessed with my high pain threshold and looked forward to a painless recovery. It WAS really irritating and nothing really improved that, but it wasn’t unbearable, though being half blind also doesn’t help…

My friend Joyce came over on the third day because she had found that during her recovery it was difficult to cook, etc. for herself that first weekend.  She was sick at the time, and I think she was in more pain than I was.  However, in the middle of the night I woke up with SEARING pain.  Because I couldn’t find my antiseptic drops or numbing drops in the dark, and it hurt so bad, I started to panic.  I half-heartedly went to wake up Joyce, who was sleeping the sleep of the dead, with no success.  So I just kept groping around in searing pain, panicking.  Until finally I shook her awake, my moving her out of the way to see if my eyedrops had landed underneath her.  It was pretty terrifying, that panic!

The following day was pretty painful, even after I’d found the drops.  I found the only relief was numbing drops and the cold pack.  So I was down for the next two or thee days doing nothing but laying there, trying to get relief by sleeping before the cold pack got warm, throwing it in the freezer long enough to cool off, throw in numbing drops, repeat from across.  Fortunately I had the week off for winter vacation.  Joyce had to go straight to work, and I can’t imagine that…Vision was at about 50% during that time.  I could see the television okay, but was unable to read, do anything on the computer, or much of anything useful.

After that, the pain gradually decreases and your vision will slip in and out of varying degrees of improvement, each eye responding differently, so it’s hard to measure if you’re making much progress or not, as it’s so gradual and inconsistent.  You have to constantly add the wetting drops to sooth the irritated feeling of dry eyes and feeling as if there are foreign bodies there.  As time marches on you run out of the drops.  Both of us resorted to buying over-the-counter wetting drops, but was later told not to use them, as too much exposure to the preservatives can exacerbate the drying.  However, purchasing the preservative-free wetting drops is really expensive without a prescription, so you have to go back and ask for another prescription so the government health care plan will pick up some of the cost.  After your first eye check up, a week (?) after the operation, eye check-ups occur about once a month.

The prescription drops come in single-use plastic ampules.  Even after the end is nipped off, they don’t leak due to capillary action, and it is possible to get several applications out of each one.  The pharmacist warns not to re-use the ampules because they can get contaminated.  But they’re so expensive and your prescription never covers the amount you’d need if you used each ampule for only one application.  So I split the difference and, if they are kept clean, consider using one ampule multiple times within an hour perfectly acceptable.

As your vision improves and you get accustomed to the discomfort, it gets easy to forget your regime of applying the drops.  Mornings are especially dry, sticky, and blurry, though.  The doctor said my eyes were especially dry and he said that recovery takes longer in the winters, as the air is dried out due to heating. Keeping well hydrated with drink and moisturizing the air with a humidifier also help.

Soooo, it’s a long process.  Five months instead of the three that is in the literature you read.  I think it was worth it.  It will definitely be worth it if I reach 20/20 next month.  I can totally see why they push the lasik operation with the one day recovery, though.  Because when they say the lasek is painful it’s kind of an inadequate description for the long period of discomfort you go through.  However, I also think we were wise to be conservative and get many consultations because with my uneven eye surface and Joyce’s scarring from previous infections, as it would have put us at risk to get the lasik surgery other less conscientious clinics suggested we get.

I guess the moral of this story is to understand that this is a long uncomfortable process.  But like all things worthwhile, it has an end – and doesn’t seem so bad in hindsight!

TIP:  If you have a kitten, hide your drops because they look like toys and cats like to bat them under furniture, which is hard to find when you can’t see…

Society’s going to hell

And it’s about time!

Tonight, after waking from my dubu kimchi coma, I flipped through the usual suspects to land on Fashion N in the middle of an interesting documentary.

The great thing about syndicated western t.v. is Korean networks can buy shows and expose (gasp!) a whole lotta fashion forward and also emancipation forward ideas to Korean women (and men, as I suspect a lot of Korean men watch these shows too).  I’ve been really pleasantly surprised to see all kinds of topics covered that introduce ways of thinking that are kind of as unthinkable to halmoni as men giving birth.

Anyway, this documentary was called Maria the Korean Bride’s 50th Wedding.

After turning 30 and, irritated and by the constant pressure by her family to get married, Korean-American Maria decided to represent for unmarried Asian women everywhere with performance art.  Over 9 years she traveled to all 50 states to explore the institution of marriage by having a fake wedding in each.  On her travels she meets all kinds of non-traditional families who express their values and give opinions on the meaning of relationships and the relevancy of marriage.

A cool project in America, but for me it was even cooler to watch it in Korea, with all its dialogue subtitled and the narration all in Korean.  Yes, Korea, people can live with each other without marrying and be happy.  They can have babies without marriage and be happy.  Or they can have children without men and be happy.  Or they can be divorced and not married and be happy.  They can be divorced and remarry and be happy.  And they can be married and not be happy.  Or they can be married multiple times and think they are happy for now.  Or they can be gay and get married and be happy.

It’s wonderful antidote to see an alternative to the above examples of grooming your appearance to literally become a doll, such as the hostesses of Gossip House, perhaps THE most annoying show on Korean t.v., which makes me embarrassed to be of the same gender.  It makes me grind my teeth in pain…

Anyway, do go check out Maria’s website.  And here’s the whole show, (narration in Korean – but most of the dialogue is in English, so you’ll have no problems watching it) which also showed on KBS  part 1 and 2, respectively.  Enjoy!

Older adoptees Pt.2

Here are some of my suggestions for improvement to Post Adoption Services…

KCARE is the government-funded institution set up to eventually become the “Central Authority” – supposedly an independent body – to satisfy the Hague Convention’s requirements in regards to protecting adoptee identity.  It replaces GAIPS, the previous failed attempt to centralize services for adoptees.  Essentially, it is the same as GAIPS and uses the same inadequate database and methods.  The only thing central about it is that it supposedly contains information on all adoptees in one location.  However, the contents of its database tell the adoptee nothing they don’t already know:  the adoptee’s name, the adopting parent’s name, birth date, adoption date, the country the adoptee was sent to, and which adoption agency facilitated the adoption. Case workers who handle Birth Family Search requests for adoptees can do nothing more than ask adoption agencies for an adoptee’s records.  On occasion, individual workers have advocated for adoptees by being persistent when information was withheld, but those individuals no longer work there.

Problems that need to be addressed and how it needs to be improved:

Adoption advocacy is impossible – with no power to directly access files, case workers must maintain friendly relationships with adoption agencies because any sharing of file information is a gift of cooperation from the adoption agencies.  Therefore, adoption agencies can continue to arbitrarily withhold information when it suits them.  All power over adoptee identity is held by private corporations, and the good relations required to maintain cooperation weakens advocacy attempts in contentious cases.

Outreach is terrible – none of the agencies or organizations refer to KCARE, so there’s nothing central about their “authority.”

Their website user interface is terrible and no instructions are given for adoptees to follow on basic information, such as how to conduct a Birth Family Search or how to get your case posted in their on-line registry.  Like many websites in Korea, they utilize images and programs which render the Korean language portions of their websites untranslatable by machine translators such as Google Translate.

Up until just recently, Korean families registering their searches for their lost children were LEFT IN KOREAN, so adoptees couldn’t access the information, destroying any effectiveness or even the point of having a registry.  As of this update, only 2 pages of 6 have been translated into English.  Many adoptees who have registered have yet to have their cases even posted.  Translation services and website entry are obviously understaffed.

Services are not central – Take Birth Family Search away from adoption agencies.  The search landscape is splintered, confusing, and arbitrary.

Birth Family Search (BFS) is that portion of Post Adoption Services (PAS) that the government subsidizes.  Because International adoption negated the need for the Korean government to include adoption as part of social welfare programs, the government can only allot grants to parties (adoption agencies and organizations) who propose to care for our welfare.

BFS funds can be better spent – agencies manage their funds poorly and provide weak services.  In the past they have misappropriated funding earmarked for BFS as well.  Holt spent BFS money on pro-adoption campaigns recently.  Despite receiving large sums of money, when adoptee searches extend for upwards of nine months, they complain that the blame is in lack of funding.

I say it’s THEIR RESPONSIBILITY, and it (and other post adoption services, such as culture programs and counseling) is part and parcel of pronouncing a child adoptable.  If they can’t provide for their responsibilities towards a child subject to adoption, then they should get out of the business.  I feel taxpayer money to private interests – especially with such a history of mismanagement and misappropriation – is tantamount to corporate welfare.

Now, adoption agencies claim they must control adoptee files in order to insure protection of those parents who they signed relinquishment contracts with.  Holt used these arguments with me to rationalize not giving me my full records, even though I was abandoned so there never was a relinquishment contract.   They also used this argument to rationalize why they don’t send an adoptee’s full file to their partner International adoption agencies.  I and many other adoptees subject to being denied access arbitrarily feel that the government is the only institution we can trust to arbitrate our cases fairly for the best interests of all parties, as they have no conflict of interests.

Culture Programs are part of Post Adoption Services and were instituted to give adoptees a sense of Korean identity.  It has been argued in the past that this was done as part of the counting of all diasporic Koreans to strengthen the relevancy of Korea politically.  Whatever the reason, it has resulted in subsidizing of culture camps and homeland tours as mandated by the Korean government of the International adoption agencies.

Programs for adoptees who choose to live here are nearly non-existent – They are not much better than for average tourists.  Fulbright scholars get much richer, more in-depth cultural experiences than adoptees do, as well as home-stays and job opportunities.  Korea could create a program like Vista where we could actually directly help improve Korean society while learning about it and getting enough to survive on.

Language programs are a serious need for adoptees, as we are not given the same amount of grace that non-native foreigners receive, and some of us may end up living here permanently and/or becoming full citizens.  However, instead of increasing funding for these programs, they are being cut.

Programs are too overwhelming – In addition, language programs scholarship are arduous full commitments that don’t allow adoptees enough time or attention to support themselves.   I, personally, have no desire to learn language to the level of being able to write a scholastic paper in Korean.  For me, I needed (still do) classes on basic survival Korean, do-able with m and it would have been great to have had that when I first got here, so I could have gotten off to a running start.

Programs discriminate against age – The NIEED scholarship has a cut off age of 40, so older adoptees (who have many valuable years left, I might add) are left out.

Finding Employment in Korea is, as my readers know, challenging.  One of the few jobs available to foreigners is language education, and adoptees are consistently passed over by Caucasian foreigners or Korean foreigners who are bi-lingual.  Our non-native English speaking European/Scandinavian brothers and sisters are especially effected.

Our talents are unrecognized and we are undervalued.   A lot of adoptees come value-added and we waste our skills here in Korea.  A civil servant at the Employment Office should be assigned to adoptees and hopefully match us with businesses that could benefit from our skills.  Copy-editing is always in need of improvement here  and we could be very valuable as consultants for businesses as Western consumers.

In general, I told everyone that I am socially minded and liberal yet fiscally conservative.  I don’t think the government should create a billion new programs for us, but that they should make the programs they started for adoptees work and incorporate us into existing programs already serving Korean citizens.  They should protect our interests and safeguard our identity documents;  get out of adoption agency welfare and serve us directly.


Older adoptees

I was asked to give a speech at GOAL’s Post Adoption Survey final forum on the topic of adoptee identity from an older adoptee’s perspective.  I thought I’d share it here.

I don’t remember where I got all the images.  If you’re an image owner and protest its use, I will gladly take the image down.

Here it is, paraphrased (with the odd thing I forgot to add during the speech):

For the first waves of adoptees, we were scattered across America, predominantly to small towns.

These were insular communities, unaccustomed to and fearful of foreigners and devoid of people of color.

Our peers looked much like the students in this class photo.  Note not one ethnic face.  This was typical outside of cities.  It was all WE saw, and they saw us as something totally different.

Back then, there was little or no vetting of adoptive parents.  The only requirement was that they had an income, they professed to be Christians, and could get personal references.  As a result, many of us were sent to religious extremists.  Some were even sent to cults.  Jim Jones adopted from Korea.  Adoptees sent to cults have told me of parishioners being encouraged to adopt as many Korean orphans as they could.  They were exposed to cruel physical and emotional abuse.  Other adoptees have told me of being used as farm labor and experiencing physical abuse.  Our isolation allowed these things to happen without intervention.

Because we were a minority, oftentimes the ONLY minority, we experienced a lot of cruelty.  All adoptees have experienced some racism, but back then it was extreme.  The year I graduated from high school, in a town near mine, Vincent Chin was beaten to death with a baseball bat by unemployed autoworkers, simply because he was Asian and all Asians reminded them of the Japanese stealing their jobs.  His assailants got 2 years probation and a $3,780 fine.  The climate of racism was a very real threat.

And so we carried on as best we could, in our all white communities, with our all white friends, like this church youth group of the 70’s.

Naturally, since this monoculture and monorace was all we were exposed to, IF we happened to meet an Asian, we were afraid of the way they looked and how to deal with them.

IF we saw other Asian youth, we noted how our community regarded them, and we didn’t want to be regarded the same way, so we avoided them.

Even though we made white friends, we were aware that we never really fit in.

Later, IF we saw Asian American youth and their tight communities, they seemed impenetrable to us.

We never felt like we could belong to any of them.  A lonely, scarey place to be.

Growing up, there wasn’t any literature for children about adoption.  Only about orphans.

Not like today, where there are all kinds of books about being adopted.  (although I prefer P.D. Eastman’s book Are You My Mother, because at least in that book the orphan isn’t really an orphan and finds his real mother – while many of these books over emphasize the child’s specialness and the agenda to be grateful strongly permeates between the lines)

We didn’t have adoptee groups or culture camps either.  We had to deal with our uniqueness on our own, and we couldn’t (and oftentimes were discouraged from) talking about being adopted or of a different race with our families.  We had to censor what we said so as not to appear ungrateful.  The result of all of the above meant we had to suppress our feelings about what happened to us and how we dealt with being different/ being adopted.  Isolating our inner selves became our way of being.

Our isolation was complete due to the times and location.  We barely use cell phone or computers.  (we had no computers growing up and were late to accept technology.  Very few of us use social networking.  Many are just now discovering the internet.

Searching for us is especially problematic.

Because talk of adoption was off the table, many of us had to wait or continue to wait until our parents pass away.  In my case, I had suppressed the fact that I was an adoptee so thoroughly that I didn’t even look at the files that were sent to me when my parents passed away.  They sat unopened for years and I didn’t discover them until after I had later decided to search, having completely forgotten they existed.

IF we finally recognize that our adoption is an issue that needs to be resolved, then finding out about our past enters our thoughts.  For me, it took a personal crisis. By that time, we don’t know anywhere to look except the adoption agency we came from.

That is, if we know.  If we don’t know, there are so many to sift through.  Quite often, these adoption agencies fold and their files are sent to other agencies, or their names change…

Then, you can only get your files from your adoption agency IF your state has open records laws.

And/or, if you were not adopted directly from one of the major international adoption agencies, then you have to find out which one of them your local agency brokered with.

Then you find out that your international adoption agency isn’t the last word source for all your records, that there is another entity in Korea.

OR, if you were adopted privately, you have to hunt down the lawyer who drafted your adoption, if you can find him and he’s still alive.

Only then you might realize that your International agency is actually a “partner” of one of the four licensed Korean adoption agencies allowed to send children abroad.  If, like me, the International adoption agency in your country fails to advocate for you, then you have to try and get your files yourself from one of the four Korean adoption agencies who are licensed to send children for adoption abroad.

Remember, this is the older isolated adoptee who has grown up fearing Korea.

Many older adoptees are easily dissuaded at the first setback.  Because our cases are more likely to have irregularities, we are often more likely to experience arbitrary treatment or withholding of documents by the adoption agencies to save face and reduce public exposure to just how many mistakes and/or ethical violations occurred back then.   And so, we are an especially vulnerable population.

If attempts to get your information is unsuccessful from the country you were sent to, then a trip to Korea is in order to try and see if you can get more personally.   Then, of course, if you are older the odds are smaller that any information which can lead to search and reunion will appear and if it does then you’ve not much time to search.  Time is the older adoptee’s greatest enemy.

Then you must take what little facts there are and investigate if there is some hope of local records or a person who can provide more information or leads.

Unfortunately,if you are older, most of the orphanages do not exit.  And many hospitals also no longer exist.

Then there is always the option of going on t.v.

Obviously, this is a confusing and arduous process.  The Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare provides funding to adoption agencies and organizations to help us sort out the maze, but it’s often not in the adoption agency’s interest to help us.  Instead of this maze, we need to have one central place where anywhere we inquire will point to.  I was not born to the country of Holt, and my identity documents should not be in the hands of a private corporation. They should be in the hands of the country I was then a citizen of, who can protect those who want to remain anonymous just as well and who there is no doubt there is no conflict of interest. We are tired of being the victims of adoption agencies saving face for past mishandling of cases. We have no confidence in them.

Now, when we come to Korea on this life-changing identity exploration, we don’t want to be treated like tourists. We don’t want the Korean government’s money spent on programs which give us such a superficial view of culture.

Instead of pity, we would prefer sympathy.  We want to be welcomed and included.

I also left copies of this wonderful dialogue that transpired between myself and the daughter of an aging adoptee, perplexed as to why her mother was so inaccessible when the topic of adoption came up.  I hope it sheds some light on what peculiar creatures we can be at times.

Next post I will go over my suggestions on how I’d like to see Post Adoption Services monies spent.

All of the flavor, none of the fat

I just spent ANOTHER ENTIRE DAY with nothing to do but sit at this desk and stare at this screen.  Today there are no submissions, so I’m just goofing off, and here is the result:

As you know, due to my being isolated in the country and being held hostage from any gainful activity due to my attention-hogging cat, I have become far too much of a couch-potato t.v. watcher, and I have become addicted to competitive reality t.v. shows having to do with artistic expression, such as:  Korea’s Top Model, Project Runway Korea, and Super Star K  and also the American counterparts, including X-factor and Work of Art.

But right now I’m obsessed with the Voice of Korea.  The Voice programs globally are great because we don’t have to suffer through the painful preliminary competition, we don’t have to be exposed to reality t.v. drama, and we don’t have to witness ugly back-biting competitiveness of performers OR their judges.  Instead we get exposed to more of what we tune in to hear: and that is inspired people with skill extending themselves to be and do their best.  And it’s really interesting that the judges in this case make their decisions blind (which is a pleasant change for this country where the superficial is celebrated many times over content) and eventually will have to perform with their coaches as well as demonstrate the ability to perform songs they have written themselves.  I know this Korean version is modeled after the U.S.’s The Voice, but for once I actually prefer the Korean version.  I know the U.S. singers have a home advantage to singing soulfully, and there is a greater diversity of genres, but it’s really interesting to see how well some of the Korean singers are picking it up.  It’s also interesting to me to hear so many soloists singing Korean pop songs and ballads and finding that in the hands of people interested in artistry, they are not making me want to hurl like most Kpop does.  It’s also interesting for me because I get to hear what seem to be iconic pop songs of the past which obviously greatly move all Koreans (as everyone knows the words) and for which I otherwise would have no exposure.

Here is an introduction to the four mentors:

Shin Seung Hoon 신승훈

Here he’s pretty impressive singing some songs you’ll recognize on a Japanese t.v. show

Baek Ji Yeong 백지영

She appears to be the queen of drama soundtracks.  Not a big fan of this breathy, dramatic style.

Gil 길 recently with Leessang 리쌍

Pretty much everything these guys do is great

Kangta 강타 formerly with boy band HOT

He’s very pleasant to my eye and ear, but this song  sounds too sappy for me.  I have yet to check out his work with HOT, but I’ve heard they were to die for back in the day


If you can’t get it where you live, just type in  Mnet “보이스코리아” in Youtube’s search engine or go to the website and click on Voice of Korea, which is fun to poke around.

Here are some of my favorites (indented is the write-up from Mnet about each artist)


Geun Suk Bae

This boy blew me away when he came on.  Not for his artistry, which would require a different song, but his voice carries in a super-human way that is like a gift from the Gods or something.  I don’t like Kpop in general, (think it has a very dated, retro sound actually) but admit that it’s catchy, and this guy’s version is, I think, better than the original.  And his timing and delivery are spot on.  I mean, this boy’s voice is money.  Absolutely golden.  I look forward to seeing how flexible he can be and what more he can do with that gift.  But when it comes to being “the Voice” of Korea, I think he could represent well.  And, as you can see everyone was quite taken aback that the voice belonged to a boy.

Geun Suk Bae, the owner of mysterious voice which makes us wonder about his sex! His amazing talent and the fact that he was from England left coaches no chocie but to turn their chairs! Among four coaches, Geun Suk Bae chose post Korean producer, Gang Ta!!


Shin Choi

Here’s a more contemporary, indie-sounding singer-songwriter who also made some gender-bending waves because she sounds like and dresses like a boy.

There was a transition in the satge of her whose face as well as her voice seemed like a man! The transition was the fact that she was ‘Miss’ Shin Choi!
The appealing androgynous voice of Miss Shin makes us anticipate about her next stage^_^ Shin Choi and Gill, way to go!!


Woo Hyae Mi

This girl has a really sexy texture to her voice and she has great potential for great versatility if she doesn’t limit herself to the jazzy stylings.

Miss Woo absolutely changed Kwang Seok Kim’s ‘My Song’ with unusual instrument and arrangement. Every coach agreed that she goes well
with hip hop maestro coach Guil so she joined the Coach Guil’s crew. She has unpredictable character and cute face, which keeps us anticipated about her next move!


Kang Mi Jin

This girl was kind of a surprise, because she’s got a fragile voice but is more rock and roll.  And her sound dynamics were awesome.

Kang Mi Jin, one who debuted as a member of ‘Sprinkler’ in 2007,has a pain of wearing mask while she sang. Maybe that is why all the coaches turned their chairs.
And the chosen coach was sentimental vocalist, Baek Ji Young~!! Congratulations


Yoo Sung Eun

jazzy, soulful textured voice.

Yoo Sung Eun, the one who turned coaches’ chairs in 10 seconds, not in 10 minutes by newly arranging ‘ ten minutes). Although
she was flattered by Gill who said that she reminds him of Jill Scott, her choice was Coach Baek Ji Young! Sing us more good songs in the futrue!~


Lee So Jeong

I love the vibrato of this girl, and how effortless she sings.  I keep hitting replay on this one.

Every coach pushed the button for Lee So Jeong who sang completely new version of Gill’s I am not really smiling’
without rap! It’s been also said that she participated in Superstar K~!!
We can’t wait to hear her voice toghether with Coach Shin Seung Hoon’s in the voice of Korea!

Here’s the original (by one of the coaches, Gil and Leessang)


There’s more I like, but I need to get up out of my chair.  With that I managed to while away the better part of a day.  Hope you enjoyed it.

The mother lode

As self-soothing for having to stay another year, I spent the week indulging myself.  I’m broke but very happy about it. Aside from another bad haircut experience, I must say the rest of my forays were very exciting!

My entire fashion experience all this time has been extremely frustrating.  To begin with, I had brought stuffy fancy or conservative clothing I hate to wear to Korea in anticipation of what I’d read about Korean society.    Only, come to find out I was reading about corporate culture, not popular culture.  It served me well at my first public school assignment, as it was a very conservative religious school.  But dressing up  quickly became unsustainable, simply because it became a daily battle with my inner nature.  Plus it wasn’t conservative enough and I didn’t have enough items.  Then my budget took a nose-dive and it was obvious I had no money to replace the clothes I had brought.  I also hadn’t anticipated the drastic difference in seasons and found myself by necessity being forced to buy something/anything to account for the weather.   And thus, my wardrobe consists of the cheapest clothing bought in times of emergency on impulse.  Not a good situation.

At first I was giddy about how inexpensive the clothing at Dongdaemmun (and many other places, such as Express Bus Terminal underground shopping or Gangnam underground shopping) was.  But then I realized the clothes are just CHEAP.   They are made like crap and are basically disposable and don’t fit well.  And they are everywhere, so it’s like back when I was a kid and I went to school and everyone KNEW that my mom had dressed me at K-mart’s.  It’s okay for basics that won’t last more than a season, but for anything else it should be avoided.

In the states, basics cost a lot more but they are made better – even if they are made in China, somehow the standards are better.  People select clothes with durability in mind.  There are less really stylish clothes in America.  They aren’t awful, and they aren’t anything you’ll see on a runway either.  Whereas the clothes here in Korea are a lot more stylish and trendy.  Which is great if you’re willing to spend big bucks, and many do, but lousy if you can only afford knock-offs.  There is no middle-class clothing in Korea – there are price tags for the nouveau-riche or price-tags for the working class.  I have learned the hard way that there is little benefit to buying these poor knock-offs and am sorry my wardrobe consists of so many basics that everyone knows cost 10 bucks or less.

All this time I’ve been dying to go second-hand store shopping.  For ages I wondered why I couldn’t find any.  Everywhere one goes, Koreans are immaculately dressed.  Even if working class, their clothes are never holey, frayed or dirty, covered with lint or wrinkled.  I kept asking myself, “Where does their old clothing go?”  Surely there must be second-hand stores somewhere, but the only thing I could find were VERY high-priced vintage stores and no second-hand stores.  But it turns out I just wasn’t noticing them:  they were invisible to me, but now I notice them everywhere:  little shops with store-fronts and displays that are similar to shabby boutiques, with way too much stock.  But upon closer inspection, the clothes are not current and so you walk in.  The problem with these second hand stores is the clothing is priced too high and it’s all arbitrary.   Maybe 10-15 bucks for a sweater is not so bad, but for a used sweater that is obviously not new it’s not such a great bargain.

Where DO all those clothes go?  The answer is they go into drop-box bins all over Korea.  The one by my house has a handicap symbol on it.  There are also bins by E-marts.  And probably at a lot of other places I don’t get to.  Most of the clothes go to sorting warehouses like this:

The used clothing trade in Korea

where it is bound up in bales which are sold wholesale, many of them being sent to third world countries. I’m sure this is where all the local second-hand store proprietors get their clothing as well.  These probably wouldn’t work too well for import to the U.S., because the sizes run too small.

Then I read about the “Beautiful Store” and me and Joyce headed there this weekend.  I’ve been looking fruitlessly for a place where the clothes were so cheap I could select some solely for cutting up for sewing projects, and finally I’d found it!  I scored big and got some Merril boots for 3 bucks, some Toms espadrilles for 15 bucks (they go for 90 to 120 here) a sweater for 5 bucks and some sweatshirts for 3 bucks.  I will definitely go back next time I want to sew. What’s also beautiful about the Beautiful Store is that its proceeds go to charity and its staff are volunteers.  Joyce told me the newly elected mayor of Seoul was involved in its operations.   There are about 100 of these stores located all over Korea.  We went to three:  one was a “boutique” and had really high prices for designer old stock and some new stock, another was a small shop by a temple, and another was a mid-sized shop with a good selection.   A few of the shops are labeled book stores.  And a few random household goods can be found, but primarily it was clothing.

But the mother lode – the lode which would make any second hand rose drool – is Gwangjang Market.  (Jongno 5-ga, exit 12)

Back in the day when I was taking Korean classes, one of my classmates – this short hipster guy from Canada – was telling me he could find vintage clothes there for cheap, but he couldn’t tell me how to get there and I forgot about it.  Well, I remembered and headed over there and was blown away: It’s not just a second hand shop, it’s over a hundred second hand shops all on one floor.  (the second floor, to be exact, closer to the Jongro 4-ga end) The prices are about 10 bucks an item on average, so nothing you want to cut up, but there are lots and lots of vintage goods and it’s a great source for edgy urban chic:  used Doc Martins, for example.  My friend and I spent a long time in one stall which was stocked about 70% with vintage dresses from Japan.  The owner said she got new stock every week…If you live in Seoul and can avoid going on Saturday, that would be better, as it’s packed.  The amount of shoppers didn’t make much of a dent in the stock, so no need to feel competitive as there are plenty of finds for a wide variety of tastes.  In fact, there was an air of desperation about the shop-keepers who would offer discounts before you were even thinking about haggling.   And while the prices were not as cheap as I’d like, the quality and uniqueness of the items made it well worth it.  And the selection of vintage clothing was exciting.

from Seoul Art Fiend's blog

That’s only one part of Gwangjang’s 2nd floor (I avoided the street food, as I’m done with fried Korean food, even though this is purportedly the best street food in Korea.  Another trip…):  the other part was devoted to hanbok shops.  The difference was that these hanbok shops sold remnants of their fabrics.  There must have been about forty of these shops.  So now I can source all the scraps I want to make my own pojagi before I go.  Really really exciting to me.

Just past the hanbok section (if only the Chinese girl in this video had kept going) is the fabric section.  It’s a little smaller than the hanbok section, but still quite extensive.  Unlike at Dongdaemmun, there are no vendors selling pre-orders of fabric to wholesalers by swatch selection.  And though there are a few at Dongdaemmun who sell off the roll, here everyone sold off the roll and – what’s better – is that here they sold remnants.  A lot of the fabrics were not currently in vogue, you could tell.  But a lot of them were classics and would serve anybody’s needs.  It put Joanne Fabrics to shame, at any rate, and it’s a lot more manageable and less intimidating than Dongdaemmun.

Gwangjang Market almost makes me want to live in Korea forever.  Maybe next month I’ll tackle Salvation Army and Goodwill, but they are not convenient for me to get to.

I was even inspired to do some sewing this weekend, though I was worried because Momo kept un-pinning everything and I had my hands full making sure she wasn’t going to swallow a pin.  I managed to make two t-shirts out of one and some harem pants out of a dress as well as peg some pants.  If only I had another room so I could work in peace and Momo had a cat buddy so she didn’t feel neglected…