Do It Yourself Culture in Korea: A Life Vajazzled

vajzzle-1 By Tyanne Conner

DIY (Do It Yourself) culture has exploded in the last 10 years, probably incited by (ugh) Martha Stewart.  Sure, she had some cool ideas but her presentation often made me want to vomit on my DIY bedazzled shoes ( hmmm…. I wonder if we can we blame Martha for inspiring the current trend of Vajazzling?)  She made it fashionable to make your own curtains, grow your own food, design your own clothes, and decorate for your own parties!  In other words, Martha took ideas that we poor people have been doing for centuries and turned them into fancy things that “anyone” could do. Yet another example of a wealthy figure with status taking credit for “discovering” things that are “no shit” to us real folks down here in the real world.

The DIY spirit has been in my family for generations.  My maternal grandfather was a carpenter in his spare time, designing and creating with his own two hands wooden toys, clocks, tables, and game boards, to name only a few. He also built his own light room and decided to learn photography and process his own b&w images.  My grandmother sewed clothes, grew food, and canned the fruits and vegetables that she and my grandfather raised.  When I was growing up my mother made dolls, clothing for dolls, and to this day, creates fun things to make herself and others happy.  My aunt and my cousins are probably some of the most inspired DIYers I have ever met, making anything and everything you can imagine.

But my father was the ultimate DIYer, much to my chagrin growing up.  When you grow up poor and you wish you weren’t, nothing provides more embarrassment than a proud DIY parent.  Dad would see something he wanted and figure out a way to make it happen for himself using the few resources available.  We lived in a single-wide trailer for years and when Dad saw the double-wides going in around us, he did what any self-respecting poor guy would do… he fucking took a second single-wide trailer and strapped that shit to ours, making probably the world’s first Velcro, duct-tape, and super-glue double-wide trailer home.  When he wanted a tricked out motor home, he bought an abandoned school bus from the junkyard and fixed that shit up.  It had a shower, a full kitchen, a queen-sized bed, and plush couches and carpet. As a kid, it was mortifying.  For a long time I tried to distance myself from poor people, as if it was a badge of shame to be born and raised in a working class family.  Recently though, I have reconnected with that scrappy, creative, DIY spirit born from a life where nothing is taken for granted.  It lives on in me and I take pride in knowing how to be self-sufficient.  And thankfully, I don’t put too much stock in “perfection” so making things myself usually works out pretty well for me.  I’m happy with simple pleasures in life and I take great joy in what I refer to as “accidental awesomeness”- those times where you take a risk to navigate without a map and it pays off in an unexpectedly cool way.

Korea is the perfect incubator for would-be DIYers or those who are seeking to reconnect with something they have forgotten.  Don’t have curtains or a way to put up curtain rods?  Do what the previous foreign teacher in my apartment did…hang some scarves up with double stick tape.  Have a bathroom with seriously old plumbing that smells like a fucking swamp?  Do what I did and close the sink drain and cover the floor drain with plastic bags full of water to prevent the sewer smells from escaping.  Have a creepy neighbor that keeps standing on the a/c unit to look through your window at you?  Yeah, you should probably tell your co-teacher about that one…

Don’t have an oven?  Make bread in your rice cooker.  Don’t have decent yogurt in your town?  Make that shit in your rice cooker too.  Don’t have a decent bakery in town?  Make those tasty treats yourself!  While trapped at home one weekend with an injury, I designed a coconut-chocolate cake on the fly and baked it in my rice cooker.  There are a million things you can do with a rice cooker and the web is full of ideas.

What’s more exciting for me though, is to experiment first without others’ knowledge and experience.  Most of the time, my common sense and spirit of adventure get me through pretty well.  Living in a place where the language, customs and norms are still a mystery to me has only served to spark even more excitement as I navigate through this crazy place.  So get out there, you!  Wherever you are, even if you are surrounded by all the comforts of home, I encourage you to make shit yourself, fix shit yourself, design shit yourself, let your motherfuckingcreativityandzestforlife out!

If you have amazing DIY ideas inspired by life in Korea, share them here!  But maybe don’t share your DIY vajazzling photos… ew…

 Tyanne Conner is a teacher/writer/photographer/sociologist/dreamer.
You can read more on her personal blog at:
You can view her photography at:

4 thoughts on “Do It Yourself Culture in Korea: A Life Vajazzled

  1. What an attitude, M,S. didn’t start out rich, she just took the things she learned as a kid and started marketing them. Don’t be down with your attitude, be thankful that your parents did things to make your life more comfortable .


  2. This ain’t about Martha Stewart, it’s about DIY culture and social class. But Martha does have a way of standardizing what a “nice life” looks like and it does not involve a single-wide trailer!
    Tyanne, I like you talking about reconnecting with the past, what was embarrassing is actually survival. I used to crack jokes about how my mom and grama saved every leftover, maybe even a dozen peas, advantaged people struggle with that, don’t know that we were kids and loved our parents but still had to exist in a middle-class society that does not save a dozen peas or have a notion of the daily grind of poverty. And we live in a world where DIY is something people with money do for fun but poor and working class people do because we have to, and there’s pride in that. Pride in knowing how to whip something up in your rice cooker and not having to purchase “joy” like the middle and upper class do. Working class kids are raised natural (see Lareau 2004) and learn to experiment take risks because of it. That is cause for celebration of our working class culture!


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