Jasmine Lee, the Filipina who is being considered as a candidate on the ruling Saenuri Party's party list, came to Korea in 1994 after marrying her late husband, who was a sailor. Lee was attending medical school in the Philippines at the time.
"My husband came into the store my parents ran in Divao to buy a drink. He seems to have fallen in love with me at first sight," Lee recalls. "I watched the store at weekends at the time. He came back again and again to buy candy, beer and other things during his three-day stay. Finally, he asked for my name, address and phone number."
After he went back, he wrote to her once a week. "I considered him as just a pen pal at that time," Lee says. After traveling back and forth from Korea to the Philippines a number of times, one day he returned with two large suitcases and said he would not leave until she married him, even at the risk of overstaying his visa.
They got married in the Philippines after dating for less than a year and nobody from his family attended the ceremony. When asked if she had any apprehensions about marrying a foreigner and living in another country at the age of 19, Lee said, "He promised me we would live in the Philippines. I had to graduate from university. My husband was going to start a taxi company after buying a couple of cars."
So how did she end up living in Korea? "I visited Korea to meet his parents after marriage. My husband wanted me to stay for three months until my visa expired. In the Philippines, he ate because he was hungry, but here he ate because the food was delicious to him. He was pretty quiet in the Philippines, but looked happy and upbeat here. I realized this was where he belonged."
So she returned to the Philippines alone when her visa expired since she had to finish school. "My husband was about to follow soon after, but I got pregnant and returned to Korea to have my child here. That's when I started living in Korea," Lee says.
Lee appeared on a Korean TV program featuring her family where all the four generations including her parents-in-law and her husband's grandparents live under one roof. That led to a flurry of requests to appear on other programs. She ended up becoming a regular on several shows, as well as getting hired to teach Korean, deliver lectures and even land roles in the movies "Secret Reunion" and "Punch." She said she does not think she has a knack for acting, but merely tries to express the feelings and emotions of others living in similar circumstances as she does.
Her husband died in an accident on holiday in 2010 trying to rescue his daughter from drowning in a stream. Lee said she locked herself in a room for a month after he died. "Then I saw children getting ready to go back to school and realized I had to live," she says. When asked if she ever thinks about going back to the Philippines, she says, "Never. People always ask me when I'm going back, as though it's the obvious thing to do."
But that is out of the question. "I am Korean. My children are Korean. My home and my parents-in-law are here. I came here because of my husband at the age of 19 and spent my adult life [She is now in her 30s.] here." She adds, "Korea is the place I know and where I live. My life is here."