A message of care, respect of diversity

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A message of care, respect of diversity


Jasmine Lee prepares to deliver a public lecture at Gwanghwamun Plaza, Seoul, on Tuesday. She spoke on the importance of embracing diversity. By Oh Jong-taek

Jasmine Lee, a symbol of Korean multiculturalism, is a woman of rare spirit who shows a smile even in the darkest of times.

Lee, an immigrant wife from the Philippines and a former Grand National Party candidate for the Seoul Metropolitan Council, has been grief-stricken after the death of her husband in August.

She overcame her grief to stand tall at Gwanghwamun Plaza, Seoul, on Tuesday to deliver a speech about the upcoming G-20 Seoul Summit.

Lee delivered a message of care and respect for Korean society, while embracing diversity.

It was a part of a celebrity lecture series that started Oct. 1 and runs through Oct. 30, sponsored by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the Seoul Metropolitan Government.

The series of lectures has involved influential figures such as Joo Chul-hwan, production director general of JMnet (JoongAng Media Group); Lee Sang-mook, a professor at Seoul National University; conductor Gum Nan-se; musician Sean; and Han Bi-ya - who is the leader of the emergency relief team at the NGO World Vision.

Lee landed in Seoul in 1995, marrying Lee Dong-ho, a seaman who had been staying in her hometown of Davao, the Philippines in 1994.

Since moving to Korea, she has worked in broadcasting and has provided lectures and translated for multicultural families.

But in August she endured a terrible tragedy when her husband drowned after successfully rescuing their daughter.

Following the tragedy, Lee shut herself indoors. Insomnia and anorexia set in as she lost 10 kilograms (22 pounds).

But she turned her life around thanks to her two children.

“Seeing my children off to school, I felt hungry for the first time since my husband died. I thought I could no longer just lie in bed,” she said.

Lee has now returned to work.

In her G20 speech, Lee talked about “Ajummas of the public bath.”

For Lee, the weirdest place in Korea when she arrived was a public bath house.

It was quite a culture shock for her when she had to undress and take a bath with total strangers. She couldn’t even get out of the bathtub.

Then, an ajumma patted Lee on her arms and said, “I will scrub off your back, and please do mine.”

The ajumma handed Lee a cup of plum tea after they took their bath.

“A public bath is Korea, and the ajumma is the Korean government and Korean citizens,” said Lee.

After 20 years, one out of 10 households in Korea will be a multicultural family.

By Kang In-sik [enational@joongang.co.kr]
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