Story by: Jongmin Lee, Photos by:
10 of Groove Korea’s favorite featured women, then and now
Over the years, Groove Korea has featured the stories of many women from different backgrounds. Some of them shared their success stories, others the painful life stories that made them strong and independent. Some of them were simply excited to talk about their club activities or sports teams.
From Jasmine Lee to Bronwyn Mullen, each of these women has exhibited something special that has hopefully inspired our readers. We’ve dug through our archives and chosen 10 of our favorite women to highlight what they shared with us back then and what they are up to now.
1 Seoul Sisters November 2010
The mighty women of the Seoul Sisters Rugby Club made a name for themselves — and pulled in a significant amount of funding — by launching a calendar series. A nude one. When Groove Korea visited their photo shoot for the 2011 calendar, the club was teaming up with photographers Penelope Brook and Katrin Guete with a different approach from the previous year. “Compared to last year when it was completely nude, we used props and sometimes clothing this year,” club member Bridget Tunnicliffe said at the time. “I think the calendar is more sporty this time and has a fun feel to it.” Now they have three teams — Touch, Central and West End. Practices are held every Saturday at Jamwon Pitch in Apgujeong.
2 Eshe Yildiz May 2011
Easily the best-known professional belly dancer in Korea, Canadian Eshe Yildiz has returned to Groove’s pages several times for a reason: She is sexy, and she is an inspiration to entrepreneurs and dancers across Seoul and elsewhere in Asia. The Seoul resident received intensive training in Cairo and Istanbul, and her last name, meaning “star” in Turkish, was gifted by the famous Roman Turkish belly dancer Sema Yildiz. Now she teaches at her own Dream Dance Studio in Seoul and directs two performing troupes, Navah and Mahadevi. She told Groove Korea that her ultimate goal is to popularize belly dance as a rich cultural and moving artistic phenomenon. Recently, she performed at Shake Shop 13, a concert series presented by Korea Gig Guide and Dream Dance Studio, collaborating with local indie bands.
3 Mini Han November 2011
Mini Han has become the face of transgender beauty in Korea after being crowned winner of Miss International Queen 2010 at the world’s most prestigious and largest beauty pageant for transgender people. Held in Pattaya, Thailand, the objective of the pageant is to highlight awareness for transgender rights in the international community. As a fashion designer, she also won the award for Best National Costume at the competition. She is now working in Pattaya for Tiffany’s Show, one of the world’s most famous drag cabaret shows with more than 2,000 people enjoying the performances every night.
4 The Roller Derby girls January 2012
Korea’s first roller derby league was founded by four women in 2010. “It was real campy when it started,” O’Neill said of derby’s early days. “As time’s gone on it’s gotten more serious and now it’s really a sport.” The league’s first practice in April 2012 had only 12 members, but now they have local teams in Seoul and Busan. The skaters practice every weekend, alternating between Seoul and Daegu. For team member Monique Dean, a fun part about roller derby is “thinking of a name and alter ego.” On the track, the names they create allow them to express another side of their personalities. One of the sport’s more significant messages, however, is that a woman can be strong and assertive without losing her feminine identity.
5 Krys Lee June 2012
Like many expats on the Korean Peninsula, writer Krys Lee tries to keep a balance between multiple identities in her professional and personal life. Lee is Korean, Korean-American and a writer who happens to portray Koreans and Korean-Americans. Born in Seoul, raised in the United States and educated in the U.S. and U.K., she returned to Seoul in her 20s. Lee’s stunning fiction debut, “Drifting House” (2012), depicts the lives of Korean immigrants to America in both contemporary times and immediately following the Korean War. In an interview with Groove Korea, she said her current obsessions are power, society and the many ways they intersect with class, gender, violence, loneliness and love, religion and the spiritual in general. Lee is a monthly columnist for Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo newspaper and the recipient of the 2014 Rome Prize Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts & Letters. She is currently working on a forthcoming novel about North Korean refugees.
6 Lilly Lee June 2012
Lilly is one of the many immigrant women who have come to Korea to start a new chapter. Her life story, however, is in no way common. Lilly left her native Myanmar in 1987 amid a deteriorating political situation with the 8888 Uprising against the military dictatorship. With the support of her father, she went to India to continue her studies. Then, after struggling through a stint in Malaysia, she left for Korea and met her soul mate, who is now her husband. She pursued her strong desire to go to school in the U.S. and graduated from nursing school in Orlando, Florida. Lilly’s aspirations now rest on hope for her country. She dreams of building a church in her father’s name, and also wants to go back to school to study counseling so she can help immigrant women like herself. Lilly has traveled over 56,000 km in her life, and her passion to journey further has yet to fade.
7 Jasmine Lee May 2013
Jasmine Lee was elected as a proportional representative in South Korea’s National Assembly in 2012. Born in the Philippines, she is the first naturalized Korean to become a lawmaker. In an interview with Groove Korea, she said demographic and economic trends make it inevitable for Korea to embrace multiculturalism. She is also secretary-general of Waterdrop, a charity supporting foreign spouses of Koreans. She has been particularly outspoken in her support for comfort women, who were sex slaves for the Japanese military during the Invasion. She told Groove Korea that supporting a bill to help comfort women was something that she is proud of. She truly embraces not only the rights of foreigners but the rights of women in Korea as well. Recently, she submitted a modified version of a bill regarding the prevention of domestic violence and the protection of victims.
8 Sun Mee Chomet July 2013
Sun Mee Chomet is a Korean-born adoptee who grew up in Detroit in a very liberal family with a Jewish father and a Protestant mother. She was taught about feminism during her childhood and encouraged to go out and play football with her brothers. Eager to seek out her roots, she came to Korea to search for her birth mother in 2009. When Chomet was reunited with her birth family, she found herself trying to become the person they wanted her to be. Instead, she had to discover what being a Korean woman was for herself. She brought these experiences to the stage in a one-woman show, “How to Be a Korean Woman.” The show was a reflection of her search to redefine her identity.
Back in Minneapolis, she has won two prestigious fellowships for her theater work, she is working on a play about her Jewish grandfather and plans to travel to North Korea next year for research toward a future project.
9 Bronwyn Mullen March 2014
South Africa native and multitalented Korean television personality Bronwyn Mullen first came to Korea in 2005 as an exchange student. She has been described as “the darling of Korea” and is popular for her role on the KBS series “Misuda,” a global talk show. Bronwyn confessed to Groove Korea that part of coming to Korea was to get away from her family. A childhood of abuse left her feeling insecure, miserable and depressed, and Korea was an escape that has become her home. She now has her pick of roles with Korea’s countless broadcasting stations, and has hosted health, travel, news and current affairs programs.
10 Anna Desmarais
The petite but powerful Anna Desmarais had never imagined herself fighting in competitions, but now she is a hard-bodied fighter and the founder of Body & Seoul martial arts gym in Itaewon. She admires the spirit of martial arts, mentioning that “the inner confidence, strength and sense of discipline you gain are incomparable to any other hobby I know.” Inspired, motivated and longing for a place to practice her hobby, she founded Body & Seoul in 2010, which has risen as the go-to expat fitness center where English teachers, diplomats, businesspeople and stay-at-home moms all train together, building a strong bond to achieve a mutual goal. As Anna described, the place has become a center for expat life. Boosted by its ever-growing popularity, Body & Seoul opened a new gym in March.