Tomiko OK Lee
n the early 1970s, Okcha Mun ran one of the most successful and notorious nightclubs in Hawaii. Her story chronicles the journey of an immigrant family from war-torn South Korea who rose from poverty to the glitz and glamor of Hollywood, and, through perseverance, attained great achievement on the island paradise of Hawaii.
Coming of age during the Korean War, a thin and impoverished Okcha would often sneak into the Busan theater to watch Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire films, while the bombs rocked the streets outside. As the roof shook, she dreamed of a land far away called America.
Though descended from a family of former aristocrats, Okcha’s early life was the farthest thing from wealthy. The family fortune had been squandered by her grandparents, who had been unable to break a drug addiction that their own daughter had aided, the curse of which would return upon their descendants in years to come. Neglected by her mother, Ponghwa, and her older sisters, Okcha was raised at Aunty Deoki Gisaeng teahouse, where beautiful young hostesses entertained seedy male patrons. It was there that she learned the dances and allure that would serve her later career in America.
Growing into adulthood, she loved, and was loved, many times, yet none of these relationships brought her peace. Further on in life, though finally rising to a high status in the American nightlife scene, and, later on, becoming the owner of her own hostess bar, that peace still eluded her. Desperately seeking closure, Okcha sought answers from family, friends, and eventually, the church. Through a repentant and remorseful mother’s desperate prayers, she found God, and, through faith, a renewed hope to save her son and family, upon whom the curse of their ancestors was falling. Discovering true strength through spiritual healing, Okcha reconciled with her mother just before her death. She became Eomeoni, Mother, after her, and found herself telling the same stories to her adult children that Mother Pong had once told her. Her inner peace found at last, she dedicated her life to ministering around the world with her son to those children of impoverished countries, bringing her life full circle.
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