Winging it: a conversation with 'Mr. Butterfly'

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Winging it: a conversation with 'Mr. Butterfly'

In his senior year in high school, Oh Hae-yong came across the book, "Korean Butterfly Illustrations." He was completely taken by the splendid colors of the wings, by the delicate beauty of the flying insects. That was 12 years ago. Today, he works at a securities company, but every weekend he leaves the bustle and the clamor of the stock market in search of beautiful butterflies. He's "Dr. Butterfly."

At home, he has 60 specimen boxes accumulated over the years, all filled with butterflies, pinned neatly in place. When his elderly mother complains, "Why don't you find a girlfriend instead?" he replies, "The butterflies are my girlfriends."

It was 3 p.m. on March 27, the day the stock index reached 900 for the first time in two years. The stock market was just about to close and the Bulgwang branch of Meritz Securities, where Mr. Oh works, was about to burst with incoming calls.

"Yes? You wish to buy 100 shares of [XYZ] Telecom?" Mr. Oh says, "I will handle the purchase in 10 minutes." In the midst of the chaos of calls, one can hear the soft but clear voice of Mr. Oh. He is wearing a blue-striped shirt, dark blue tie and gold framed spectacles.

"Today is a good day," he says, "but as you know, last year, the stock market was really bad. With one rumor, money would come and go in an instant. By looking for butterflies in the wild, I was able to find some peace of mind."

Mr. Oh got his "Dr. Butterfly" nickname from his ability to know the name of almost any butterfly merely by glancing at its wings. Since he fell in love with the fluttering insects, he has regularly gone to the mountains to seek out new ones whenever he can find the time. Even during his military service, he kept catching all the butterflies he could.

His passion continues, even as a worker in a securities firm. Last year, when he won an award for being the best performer in his branch, he was given a chance to go to Singapore. Of course, he used the trip as an excuse to pursue his hobby in another country.

In his house, his boxes and boxes of butterfly specimens are piled high all over the place. His mother complains about this hobby, which costs around 5-10 million won ($3,800-$7,600) a year for various catching, displaying and other equipment.

But her son is nevertheless happy to have a hobby that has given him a passion and helped to bring him out of his once reserved shell - much like a butterfly from a pupa.

When he started his hobby, he was so shy about catching butterflies that he used to hide his butterfly net behind his back when he came upon other people.

Then in 1996, he joined the Korean Butterfly Academic Society, which gave him the opportunity to meet fellow enthusiasts, many in their 60s, who taught him about nature and life. "There are butterflies," he says, "that you just cannot catch unless you are at a specific place, time and date. Mother Nature is different from the capricious stock market, where variables rule."

While showing the various colors of the butterflies, Mr. Oh says, "When these were alive, they were astoundingly beautiful, especially in the light."

Which makes one wonder why he didn't leave them alive in the wild.

"It's my vanity," he says quietly. He did not give any excuses, merely the vivid details of when, how and where he caught the butterflies.

Mr. Oh opened his homepage back in 1999 (, and his club now has 623 members. He leads expeditions and even plans to hold an exhibition as well as publishing an illustrative book on butterflies.

His mother approaches him from behind and says, "the colors on the bottom are wonderful," and smiles gently.

by Gu Hee-ryeong

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