The South Korean girl who adopted her finest good friend | Arts and Tradition


Seoul, South Korea – Most mornings, Eun Website positioning-Ran begins her day at round 7am by brewing tea for herself and her adopted daughter Lee Eo-Rie*. After a cup of black or natural tea the 2 work in separate rooms – Website positioning-Ran as an essayist, whereas Eo-Rie research for an examination. Round midday, they prepare dinner lunch, then sit all the way down to eat and watch their favorite comedy collection. Quickly, the sound of them guffawing fills the lounge of their three-bedroom residence. Outdoors, inexperienced cabbage fields stretch for miles.

Within the night, the 2 eat dinner, after which do the family chores. On clear nights, the silhouette of a mountain gleams within the distance as they practise yoga earlier than mattress, chatting about mates and work, and winding up one other day of their quiet lives.

“Our lives have change into inseparable over time … Eo-Rie in all probability is aware of me higher than anybody else on the earth,” says Website positioning-Ran, a slight, soft-spoken girl, from their dwelling within the southwestern area of Jeolla.

Regardless of being her adopted daughter, Eo-Rie is 38 – simply 5 years youthful than 43-year-old Website positioning-Ran. The ladies have been finest mates and roommates for seven years. Final Could, Website positioning-Ran adopted Eo-Rie in a determined bid to change into household below South Korea’s strict household regulation. By regulation, solely these associated by blood, marriage between a person and a lady, and adoption are recognised as household.

Strict gender roles and patriarchal household tradition stay deeply ingrained in South Korea. However lately, extra South Koreans have began to problem these norms. They’re more and more pushing the federal government to just accept a broader vary of companionships as household, corresponding to single {couples} or mates dwelling collectively, and demanding rights and providers obtainable to standard household items. Ladies are sometimes on the forefront of this push with a rising variety of so-called “no-marriage ladies” selecting to remain single, defying the standard stress to marry, and take care of a household.

The story of how Website positioning-Ran and Eo-Rie turned household represents this need to problem—and reimagine—what it means to be household in South Korea.

From a younger age, Website positioning-Ran knew she didn’t wish to get married [Photo courtesy of Eun Seo-Ran]

‘My mum toiled for many years’

Website positioning-Ran grew up close to Seoul in a middle-class household with a working father, a stay-at-home mom and an older brother – a nuclear family that by then had changed the standard multi-generational dwelling. However regardless of the fast shift in household construction, customs embedded inside it modified extra slowly.

Ladies have been nonetheless largely anticipated to give up their jobs upon marriage and change into lifelong caregivers for his or her in-laws. Positioned on the backside of the pecking order of their husbands’ households, they have been normally relegated to the kitchen throughout household gatherings, together with historic rituals to honour lifeless ancestors. Known as “jesa” or “charye”, the ritual is noticed through the Chuseok harvest competition, the Lunar New Yr and on lifeless kinfolk’ birthdays and girls are anticipated to arrange meals for days. The customized is so resented by many ladies that the variety of divorces rises after each conventional vacation.

“My mum toiled for many years to serve my father’s household, together with making numerous jesa preparations every year. However my father is a really patriarchal individual, and by no means confirmed any gratitude for what she did for his household,” Website positioning-Ran displays.

“Having watched all of this, I’ve by no means had a fantasy about marriage – or having the so-called ‘regular household’,” she explains. Her mom, hoping Website positioning-Ran would reside in a different way, wouldn’t even let her into the kitchen whereas she was rising up.

“Don’t reside like me,” she would say.

Over time, some traditions diminished – however many stay. In the present day, ladies in double-income households spend 3 times extra hours every day on childcare and family chores than males. Actually, even ladies who’re breadwinners nonetheless spend extra time on chores than their stay-at-home husbands.

South Korean models demonstrate "charye", a traditional ritual service of food and offerings to thank their ancestors, ahead of the Lunar New Year's Day holidays, at a showcase traditional village in Seoul on January 12, 2009. The Lunar New Year, which falls on January 26 in South Korea, sees tens of millions of Koreans travelling to their hometowns for family visits.
South Koreans showcase “charye”, a conventional ritual service of meals and choices to thank their ancestors forward of the Lunar New Yr’s Day holidays at a conventional village in Seoul. Ladies are historically anticipated to prepare dinner for days for such rituals [File: Kim Jae-Hwan/AFP]

‘Why aren’t you married but?’

From a younger age, Website positioning-Ran knew she wished to stay single in a society the place many nonetheless see courting as a prelude to marriage and having kids.

“Plus, I’m a really freewheeling individual. I’ve wanderlust, I like to journey spontaneously, and I don’t like kids,” she says shrugging. “I believed marrying could be an irresponsible factor to do for somebody like me.”

After graduating from faculty, Website positioning-Ran picked up workplace work as she moved throughout the nation – from the southern island of Jeju to a far-flung mountainous village – eager to be nearer to nature, and away from air air pollution that exacerbated the power eczema she’d had since childhood. However she by no means felt she belonged.

“An single girl dwelling alone in a small village attracts limitless gossip, matchmaking gives she by no means requested for, and undesirable sexual advances,” she explains, rolling her eyes.

As soon as, a drunken landlord tried to interrupt into her home in the midst of the night time – simply one in all a number of break-in makes an attempt she skilled. In a rustic the place many single folks reside with their mother and father, younger ladies dwelling alone are sometimes susceptible, stereotyped as being sexually obtainable and 11 occasions extra seemingly than males to expertise break-ins.

On numerous events, village elders requested Website positioning-Ran if she was married – and berated her for “going towards the character of the world” by remaining single. Many urged her to marry their sons or males dwelling within the space. “‘The place is your husband? The place are your kids? Why aren’t you married but?’” her neighbours would ask her.

Fed up and exhausted, in 2016 Website positioning-Ran moved once more, this time settling within the rural county of Jeolla with a inhabitants within the tens of 1000’s, which gave her a way of anonymity. Quickly after, she found that one other girl was dwelling alone subsequent door.

That was Eo-Rie, who had additionally moved to Jeolla to flee metropolis life. With lots in frequent, together with a love of crops, vegetarian cooking and DIY, and discovering solidarity of their determination to stay single, the 2 shortly grew shut.

Quickly, they have been sharing dinner each night time. A 12 months later, Eo-Rie moved in with Website positioning-Ran.

3-6. Eun Seo-Ran talking at a book talk event in South Korea (provided by Eun Seo-Ran)
Website positioning-Ran bonded with Eo-Rie over shared pursuits and views together with discovering the standard household unit to be oppressive [Image courtesy of Eun Seo-Ran]

‘An actual household’

The choice was partly for defense as Website positioning-Ran felt unsafe on her personal – two ladies dwelling collectively would appeal to far much less undesirable consideration.

“However greater than the rest … Eo-Rie and I talked so much about easy methods to reside effectively and fortunately in previous age, and concluded that dwelling with a like-minded good friend could be among the finest methods to take action,” Website positioning-Ran explains.

It took months to search out the appropriate stability. Eo-Rie, who likes to prepare dinner, discovered it tiring to prepare dinner for 2, whereas Website positioning-Ran admits she is “a bit obsessed” with cleanliness – she showers as quickly as she will get dwelling – as a consequence of her pores and skin situation. They determined that Eo-Rie would prepare dinner much less and observe Website positioning-Ran’s bathe behavior.

Their totally different personalities – Website positioning-Ran is delicate however outspoken whereas Eo-Rie is extra easy-going and nonchalant – complement one another effectively, Website positioning-Ran says.

“Eo-Rie accepted my hyper-sensitiveness with ease, and even joked as soon as, ‘I really feel like I’ve a high-end dwelling cleaner’,” she says, laughing.

Their dwelling life turned “joyful, peaceable, and comforting”.

“I got here to consider that an actual household is those that share their lives whereas respecting and being loyal to one another, whether or not or not they’re associated by blood or marriage,” says Website positioning-Ran.

A number of years later, with the association working so effectively, they determined to purchase their residence collectively. However then, after Website positioning-Ran, who suffers from different well being issues like power complications, was rushed to the ER a number of occasions, they began speaking about how in the event that they have been household they might signal medical consent varieties for each other. South Korean hospitals, fearing authorized motion ought to one thing go fallacious, typically refuse to supply pressing care – together with surgical procedure – until a affected person’s authorized household provides consent.

“We’ve helped and guarded each other for years. However we have been nothing however strangers once we wanted one another most,” Website positioning-Ran explains.

3-6. Eun Seo-Ran talking at a book talk event in South Korea (provided by Eun Seo-Ran)
Website positioning-Ran speaks at a guide occasion [Image courtesy of Eun Seo-Ran]

So the 2 began trying into household regulation to see what was attainable.

Marriage was out of the query. “We’re not romantically concerned or attempting to get married. And even when we’re, we wouldn’t have the ability to marry since same-sex marriage shouldn’t be authorized in South Korea,” Website positioning-Ran explains.

“So the one method left for us was this unusual choice of me adopting Eo-Rie,” she says, her eyebrows furrowed in frustration.

Below South Korean regulation, an grownup can simply undertake a youthful grownup with each events’ consent—an association normally utilized by these marrying somebody with grownup kids or amongst conservative households with no sons who undertake males inside the prolonged household to proceed “the household line”.

“What we wished was easy issues – to handle one another, like signing medical consent [forms], taking family-care depart from work when one in all us is unwell, or organising a funeral when one in all us dies later,” Website positioning-Ran says, sighing. “However none of that’s attainable in South Korea until we’re a authorized household. So, we determined to reap the benefits of this authorized loophole, nevertheless unusual it might look.”

Some a million Koreans in a rustic of fifty million lived with de facto household – mates or companions – as of 2021, however they can not entry reasonably priced state-subsidised residences or housing loans, shared medical insurance coverage, tax advantages and different providers obtainable to married {couples} and households.

If a dwelling companion dies, bereaved companions or mates are left with few rights – they’re extra susceptible to eviction if they don’t personal the property and might face myriad authorized hurdles to obtain inheritance.

In 2013, a 62-year-old girl who misplaced her flatmate of 40 years to most cancers jumped to her loss of life after leaving her dwelling throughout an inheritance dispute together with her flatmate’s household.

Though each Website positioning-Ran and Eo-Rie’s households have accepted their way of life, and the ladies collectively personal their dwelling, they wished equal authorized safety and rights.

On Could 25, 2022, the 2 walked into a neighborhood administrative workplace, their palms clasped collectively, and filed adoption papers. The subsequent day, they formally turned mom and daughter.

“In South Korea, Could is stuffed with celebrations for households, like Youngsters’s Day [May 5] or Dad and mom’ Day [May 8], so we selected Could to have a celebration of our personal,” says Website positioning-Ran with a mischievous grin.

8-22: Gwak Mi-Ji posing at her home with her dog (By Hawon Jung)
Gwak Mi-Ji, who hosts a podcast referred to as Behonsé, at dwelling together with her rescue canine Jeong-Received [Hawon Jung/Al Jazeera]


Website positioning-Ran’s story – which she chronicled in her 2023 memoir, I Adopted A Good friend – is the nation’s first publicly identified case of an grownup adopting a good friend to change into household.

However the variety of South Koreans exploring – and endorsing – existence exterior the traditional household unit is rising. The variety of one-person households and people comprised of legally unrelated folks hit a report excessive of almost eight million final 12 months or greater than 35 % of all households.

Gwak Min-Ji, an outgoing, pleasant tv author in Seoul, is one such “no-marriage” girl. Practically each week, the 38-year-old information her podcast, Behonsé, from her eating desk.

Min-Ji started her podcast—based mostly on the Korean phrases “bihon (no marriage, or, willingly single)” and “sesang (world)” with a nod to Beyonce and her track, Single Girls – from her lounge in 2020, uninterested in isolation through the pandemic and hoping to succeed in out to different ladies like her.

“We’re nonetheless a minority considerably underrepresented on tv and within the media. My aim was making us extra seen by sharing the tales of our on a regular basis life,” says Min-Ji in her cosy, two-bedroom residence within the fashionable neighbourhood of Haebangchon. “In a world that appears to scream that getting married is the one proper reply, and that it’s unseemly to be a single girl until you’re wealthy and profitable, I wished to point out that there are numerous single ladies on the market dwelling mundane, peculiar lives—and that it’s completely okay!”

The podcast covers a variety of subjects from books, relationships and psychological well being to easy methods to survive holidays with prying kinfolk, and the perfect single-women-friendly neighbourhoods. Min-Ji has interviewed single ladies of all ages and from all walks of life.

“Not all my listeners are towards the thought of marriage. A few of them are in a relationship, and a few take heed to my podcast with their boyfriends,” Min-Ji says. However the extreme twin burden on working moms and the relentless social stigma on divorcees, “forces many ladies to surrender on marrying”, she provides.

Min-Ji’s podcast attracts greater than 50,000 listeners each week. Some have shaped their very own golf equipment through cell discussion groups. When Min-Ji organised a chat present occasion in January, the 200-odd tickets bought out inside seconds.

“It felt as if everybody was so hungry for an opportunity to search out one another,” Min-Ji says cheerfully as she reveals me round her residence. Her bed room wall is plastered with photographs and postcards from her travels to Europe and her fridge is roofed with letters from mates and followers.

“My podcast has change into a platform the place no-marriage ladies can join with others like them and do issues collectively,” explains Min-Ji, stroking the pinnacle of her solely full-time companion – a small rescue canine – sitting subsequent to her on a settee.

Yong Hye-In is formally submitting her proposed bill to widen the definition of family to the parliament office
Yong Hye-In submits her proposed invoice to widen the definition of household in parliament [Courtesy of the Basic Income Party]

‘The precise to not be lonely’

However, like Website positioning-Ran, Min-Ji and her single mates face a key query: Who will take care of them once they develop previous or get sick?

“It’s one of many hottest subjects amongst us,” Min-Ji says. “We’re critically discussing the place and easy methods to purchase homes collectively, or easy methods to handle one another once we fall sick.”

For now, they’ve created a “breakfast roll-call” group on the messaging app KakaoTalk the place they test in each morning and go to those that fail to reply for 2 days in a row. However in the end, Min-Ji and a few of her mates are contemplating dwelling collectively.

These concerns have a far-reaching implication in a rustic going through what many name a ticking time bomb: South Korea’s inhabitants is ageing sooner than every other nation’s, whereas its birthrate is on the world’s lowest degree (0.78 as of 2022). By 2050, greater than 40 % of the inhabitants is projected to be older than 65, and by 2070, almost half of the inhabitants shall be aged.

South Korea faces the key coverage problem of easy methods to take care of its aged inhabitants, particularly because the variety of folks dwelling on their very own grows.

In April, Yong Hye-In, a rookie South Korean lawmaker took what she described as a key step in the direction of addressing the care disaster by proposing a regulation that may widen the authorized definition of household.

“Many South Koreans are already dwelling past the standard boundaries of household,” defined Yong, a bespectacled 33-year-old lawmaker with the left-wing, minor Primary Revenue Occasion. “However our legal guidelines have did not help their lifestyle.”

Yong, a minority within the parliament – ladies account for simply 19 % of the 300 seats, and the common age is about 55 – has made a reputation for herself as a vocal supporter of the rights of girls, kids, working-class folks, and different politically underrepresented teams.

Promoted below the slogan “the right to not be lonely”, the regulation would profit mates or {couples} dwelling collectively together with oft-neglected aged people who find themselves divorced, widowed, or estranged from their kids, and individuals who reside alone, Yong advised me from her workplace in Seoul.

“As our society quickly ages and extra folks reside alone, so many members of our society reside in isolation and loneliness, or are on the danger of doing so,” Yong defined. “We should always permit them to share their life and type solidarity with different residents … and assist them handle one another.”

Her proposal resonated with many because the nation faces the rising downside of “lonely loss of life”, the place folks’s our bodies stay undiscovered for a very long time after they’ve died. South Korea recorded almost 3,400 lonely deaths, or “godoksa”, in 2021, a 40 % rise in 5 years. The overwhelming majority of them have been males of their 50s and 60s.

Yoon Suk-yeol
After Yoon Suk-Yeol of the right-wing Folks Energy Occasion received the presidential election final March, the nation’s gender equality ministry abruptly cancelled plans to recognise a wider vary of companionships [File: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg]

Conservative backlash

However Yong’s invoice drew a storm of protest from conservatives and evangelical church teams with huge political lobbying energy who accused it of “selling homosexuality” by probably giving homosexual {couples} related standing as heterosexual {couples}, thus, they stated, successfully permitting same-sex marriage.

Yong obtained lots of of indignant calls and messages.

The “evil invoice” will “destroy” the establishment of marriage and household and break the lives of kids by permitting same-sex marriage and inspiring births out of wedlock, some 500 conservative teams stated in a joint assertion.

“Aside from same-sex marriage, it’s exhausting to grasp why individuals who reside collectively demand the identical authorized safety as regular households,” a Christian Council of Korea (CCK) spokesman who requested to not be named advised me. “In case you are sick and wish medical remedy, your actual household ought to come immediately and signal [the medical consent form], irrespective of how far they reside. Why ought to anybody else do the job?”

Yong’s invoice faces an unsure future, ignored by most lawmakers and publicly rejected by the ruling right-wing authorities, which is backed by many evangelical church teams.

Min-Ji and Website positioning-Ran, each vocal supporters of Yong’s invoice, have confronted public criticism for his or her existence. Interviews Min-Ji has given have drawn a torrent of on-line abuse from those that stated she was not fairly sufficient to get married anyway, or swore she would face a lonely loss of life. Others say her “egocentric” way of life “disrespected” married folks—an accusation Website positioning-Ran additionally confronted after publishing her guide in July.

30-35 Gwak Min-Ji (the one with the red outfit) talking during a meeting with the listeners of her podcast held in Daejeon in October 2023 (by Park Hye-Jeong)
Min-Ji, in purple, speaks throughout an occasion with listeners of her podcast in Daejeon in October 2023 [Courtesy of Park Hye-Jeong]

A feminist healthcare cooperative

With legislative and authorities efforts to deal with loneliness and the dearth of care largely stalled, some ladies have begun taking issues into their very own palms.

Salim, a grassroots social and healthcare cooperative based by dozens of feminists in Seoul in 2012, is one in all them.

Salim’s assortment of clinics is situated in a high-rise constructing within the northern district of Eunpyeong, one of the vital numerous but quickly ageing areas of Seoul the place one in 5 residents is aged.

“You don’t really feel like a affected person right here, however a part of a close-knit group,” Kim Ye-Jin, 31, a former tv producer and cooperative member, explains.

Feminist docs and activists – lots of them no-marriage ladies – started the group to permit folks to “develop previous collectively by caring for each other,” in keeping with Salim co-founder Choo Hye-In.

Salim, which implies “saving” in Korean, is open to anybody for a minimal charge of fifty,000 received ($39). It started with some 300 members and a small household drugs clinic headed by Choo, herself a health care provider and no-marriage girl. However over a decade, it gained a fame as a spot welcoming not solely ladies and Eunpyeong residents but in addition folks with disabilities, victims of sexual assault or home abuse, sexual minorities, and migrant staff who could also be shunned by clinics or not correctly handled as a consequence of a language barrier or lack of insurance coverage. In the present day, it counts almost 4,200 members and has grown to incorporate gynaecological, psychiatric and dental clinics, in addition to a daycare centre for aged folks.

It’s the type of “group of people that may defend you while you’re sick and lonely,” Ye-Jin explains, including that Salim is among the primary causes she and her mates wish to develop previous within the district.

Eunpyeong is dwelling to many NGOs, ladies’s rights teams, and social enterprises and has been endorsed by Min-Ji’s podcast as among the finest neighbourhoods for single ladies as a consequence of its vibrant group.

Outdoors, Ye-Jin weaves previous workplace staff, moms with prams, middle-aged ladies with canine strollers and aged males on walkers as she heads to a bakery, common amongst her mates, the place a number of books about ageing and community-based care sits subsequent to piles of croissants.

Ye-Jin is an energetic a part of the local people, having based Eunpyeong Sisters, a membership for single ladies, whose dozens of members get collectively to play sports activities or share meals whereas chatting consistently on cell teams about every little thing from inventory funding to women-friendly pubs.

“My hope was constructing a loosely related group the place ladies can really feel secure, supported, and revered, whereas having enjoyable doing actions every of us can’t do alone,” she says.

GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 15: People walk through the seafood area of Jungang Market on February 15, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea. Open permanently since 1980 and located close to Gangneung Olympic Park, Jungang Market is one of the largest markets in the area and is popular with locals and tourists alike.
Folks stroll by the seafood space of Jungang Market in Gangneung in jap South Korea. By 2050, greater than 40 % of the nation’s inhabitants is projected to be older than 65 [File: Carl Court/Getty Images]

Snapshots of the longer term

Social experiments like Salim and smaller, informal teams like Eunpyeong Sisters based mostly on solidarity and mutual help can reveal easy methods to sort out loneliness and isolation as society adjustments and other people reside for longer, stated Jee Eun-Sook, a researcher on the Institute of Cross-Cultural Research at Seoul Nationwide College who research the lives of single ladies and networks like Salim.

“That’s why the federal government must pay extra consideration to what these ladies do. Their efforts may present snapshots of the longer term to come back—and potential options to resolve the challenges that lie forward,” she stated.

Whether or not such efforts will stay experiments or result in actual change stays to be seen. However Website positioning-Ran is upbeat, saying adjustments are already afoot amongst many peculiar South Koreans. She says she shared her story to assist folks like her who don’t wish to marry however may wish to know easy methods to type a household. After her guide was printed, many single ladies dwelling with mates wrote to say they have been contemplating the same transfer whereas others thanked her for displaying they weren’t alone.

“I hope that my story serves as a wake-up name for the federal government and our society,” says Website positioning-Ran.

Round Website positioning-Ran and Eo-Rie’s first household anniversary, the ladies took a weekend journey to Anmyeondo Island, identified for its scenic seashores dotted with pine tree forests, with Website positioning-Ran’s mom and grandaunt—a vacation for, at the least on paper, 4 generations of girls.

For a very long time, Website positioning-Ran’s mom wished her daughter to marry, nervous she’d be left alone after she died. However now she says she’s relieved that Website positioning-Ran is completely happy and has shaped her circle of relatives. “Now, I’ve a granddaughter,” she jokes.

“You two don’t must care in any respect about what the world and others say,” she advised her daughter. “Simply reside your life absolutely.”

*A pseudonym as requested by Website positioning-Ran

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