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Friday, January 26, 2007

An Excellent Student

Here's an embarrassing admission: This post is about Horyon, so I wanted to post a picture of her. I started looking through our photos and this is a rough breakdown of subject material:

Just Maxine 83%
Me with Maxine 5%
Other people with Maxine 5%
Horyon with Maxine 1%
Other People/Stuff 6%

I didn't count or anything "factual" like that, it's just my impression of what we've done with our camera. So I gotta get busy, because even the few pictures of Maxine and Horyon together are mostly at home, and she would not be one bit happy if I posted pictures of her in her house clothes.

So back to my original topic, Horyon's new sewing lessons.

Horyon bought her first sewing machine shortly after we got married. She had just quit her job, and was spending three months or so just living at home. She had gotten interested in quilting from a friend of hers (Young-ah, I believe), and thought it might be a worthwhile purchase. It has proved to be so. That original machine is long gone, sold to a coworker who was interested in sewing as a hobby.

Horyon isn't interested in it as a hobby. It may be a fine line between hobby and obsession, but Horyon definitely crossed that line in fairly short order. She bought a better home sewing machine, freeing up the one she gave away. In 2004 she decided that she needed something a bit more powerful, so she bought a low-end Brother industrial sewing machine.
It comes with its own table with fitting to attach the motor, which alone is as big as my head, as well as being just a bit harder. It was set up by a professional, because it was a bit beyond my level of setting up, as well as being to expensive to risk leaving to me. I'm fine for hooking up your stereo, or getting your printer to work, but this machine is something else. Your run-of-the-mill home sewing machine needs to be oiled from time to time, like most machines. This sewing machine has an oil pan, like your car. It is capable of sewing so quickly that sometimes your clothes go back in time a little bit. It takes four minutes for the motor to come to a stop after being turned off. It is so cool that you can buy an optional little tray for it on which you can burn incense and sacrifice small animals.

It took Horyon more than a month to stop making happy noises whenever she used it, and for allowing this purchase I was generously rewarded. But that is neither here nor there.

What's there is that she took sewing lessons from a woman with her own little sewing studio. The sewing teacher had a handful of students, and taught classes at the Lotte Department Store for their sewing machine customers. (The sewing teacher has since moved to Seoul and is seriously considering getting married to her troglodyte boyfriend, which is why she keeps popping up in the past tense.) The sewing teacher specialized in female clothing. Basically, she didn't know much of anything about men's clothing. Her style and taste in clothing was very different from Horyon's, but Horyon still learned a lot from her. Horyon studied with her up until the summer of 2005, just a couple of months before Maxine was born.

She had always had in mind to study sewing more before we left for the States, and this winter vacation was the last chance to do so. She found a tailor with a little shop in her parents' neighborhood, and asked about studying with him. He had never taken on a student before, but he agreed, and she started in January. They agreed on something like $400 for a month worth of studying, five days a week, no set hours.

Horyon came home from her first lesson day like a kid coming home from the first day of school. She couldn't wait to tell me some of the things she had learned, and how clever her new teacher was, and how much fun she was having. Actually, she didn't directly say that she was having fun, but it was obvious just looking at her. I hadn't seen her in this kind of mood for a long time, not since she first started learning sewing. But this was even better, because the tailor also happens to have the gift of teaching.

For those of you who have not spent time teaching, you may not realize it, but being able to teach well is a combination of skills and talents. The skills can be gained by anyone willing to invest the time and energy, but the talent is harder to come by. During my years learning foreign languages, first in Nepal and now in Korea, I have found that very few people are just naturally good at teaching. With adult conversation classes, I used to ask them to teach me Korean when we went out to celebrate the end of the session. They are usually very excited to do so, figuring that finally the uncomfortable shoe will be on my foot. They quickly discover that the teacher shoes are the four-inch stilettos compared to the students' Nikes. A good teacher makes it look effortless, like Babe Ruth knocking one out of the park. In my role as student, I don't even have to feign confusion or stupidity to frustrate the newly-appointed teachers. It just comes naturally to me.

Horyon's new sewing teacher, The Tailor (yeah, I think he deserves to be capitalized), has the skills to do and the talent to teach. This is one of his standard methods: He demonstrates how to do something while she watches. He then has her take out the stitches and redo it on the same garment, while he looks on occasionally, possibly giving advice. He then has her take out her own stitches and resew the garment again.

Her first round of practice is mostly on garments that customers have never picked up, but she has altered a couple of pairs of her father's pants, and some of her own clothes, too. Last week she was especially proud that The Tailor let her do the work on a current customer's pants. Earlier this week she fixed a jacket of mine that has not been wearable for years. The Tailor did a couple of days on zippers, which are apparently complicated enough to warrant a couple of days of their own. My Grandma Euler had given me a lovely, deep blue jacket that I wore every fall and spring until the zipper gave out. I just couldn't get rid of it, because other than that it was in good shape, but I somehow got a replacement jacket before I was forced to hunt down a tailor to get it repaired. And now I am happy, because Horyon got to fix it.

So that is what Horyon has been doing since early this month, laying a path for her future. We hope that there is enough business in Lawrence for her to supplement our income significantly, but that is not really the long-term goal. Horyon enjoys making clothes, and hopes to spend more time making than repairing. She has especially enjoyed making clothes for Maxine, and hopes to make dresses for girls on commission. She figures that grandparents are pretty likely customers for that sort of thing, but I can think of a few other outlets for that kind of product, never mind the scope of customers she might be able to contact through the internet.

One small worry I have about this particular direction relates to the title of this post, "An Excellent Student." Horyon loves learning new things. She spent a lot of time learning English before she met me, and has continued to improve since then. And though she is a teacher now, she doesn't really enjoy teaching as much as learning. It enables her to be a good teacher, because she thinks like a student, but the administrative pressures simply don't suite her, and neither do the teaching goals imposed on her by the education system.

And so the worry is this: what if she has enough of sewing and wants to go on to something else? It's a small worry, because as I have noted, her stubbornness and desire to help provide for this family will be enough to make her continue to work. But I don't want her to continue to do something she doesn't like just because we need the money.

Of course, even as I write this I can hear my Dad saying, "If it were fun, they wouldn't call it 'work'." True, but you spend so much of your life working that it is a shame if you can't do work that gives you satisfaction. In my experience, that is part of the American Dream; you don't have to do what your parents did, though you can. You don't have to study what everyone around you pushes you into, though many people do. Most people don't box jobs into different classes, always struggling to move up and scorning those who are lower on the scale.

Korea is no Nepal, but it still has vestiges of a caste system. White collar workers in general don't acknowledge the presence of blue collar workers. The cleaning staff, waiters and waitresses, people doing manual labor, they are all moving in a different world from the businessmen, teachers, and managers.

The last time Horyon and I were in America we met Mom and Dad for lunch at Wendy's. (Oh how I miss that cute little redheaded mistress of hamburgers!) Mom came from her job in the laboratory at Cushing Hospital, and Dad came from working on a deck. To me they are a matching pair no matter what they wear, but Horyon was struck by their different appearances, and even more so by the complete lack of reaction from anyone else. This was simply not a scene that one would expect to see in Korea. Americans have a healthy respect for anyone willing to get their hands dirty, whereas Koreans... don't.

Enough already. If I'm not careful, I'll end up setting this aside and posting it a week later without adding anything of substance. So at the risk of causing heart failure in anyone who keeps track of how often I post, this is going up.

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A Brief Introduction

Roblog is my writing lab. It is my goal to not let seven days pass without a new post. I welcome your criticism, as I cannot improve on my own.

Here is a link to my cung post, which remains the only word which I have ever invented, and which has not, as far as I know, caught on. Yet.