Interview with Interesting Korean-American #7, Boram Nam (most recently founder of Boram post-natal retreat in nyc and formerly a founding member of Drama Fever)

Boram Nam

(Thanks to my lovely friend Dylan who connected Boram and I).

It took a particularly patient person, that Boram revealed herself to be, to not only Zoom with me for more than an hour during what was for her a busy work day but patiently wait for me to wade through a morass of scribbled questions.(Unfortunately for her, despite my recent hours devouring Sean Evans’ Hot Ones interviews, I lack his grace and ease and I assume, his research prowess).

ME: As someone obsessed with Kdramas, I am grateful to you for your role in giving us access to a bounty of K-dramas. Tell us about Drama Fever and your role there.

BN: I am proud to say I was a founding member along with my husband of Drama Fever, one of the first streaming sites for Kdramas, so we had at least a part in bringing Korean content to the U.S. and around the world. I started working at Drama Fever in 2008 as VP of marketing, licensing and business development. We were the first to distribute Korean content to Netflix and sold our business to Soft Bank in 2014. I’m happy we didn’t have to compete with Netflix!

ME: As someone who has had the same job for an unusually long time and is risk averse, I admire entrepreneurs like you. Looking back, were there tell-tale signs that you’d be your own boss?

BN: My parents, both professors in Korea, saw that I was not so obedient in school and sent me to the States for my education–high school and college. I was basically dropped off to live on my own in the U.S. This independence may have prepared me for an entrepreneurial lifestyle.

ME: I read your husband and you have worked alongside each other on multiple ventures–a fact that I find beguiling. Do you believe as I read Koreans do, that blood type reveals personality? What blood types are the two of you?

BN: I think it’s fun to think about but It’s not always accurate. I’m type B, which supposedly means I am aggressive and blunt. So that is right. My husband is type O, which means welcoming, patient and warm and he is definitely those things. He’s the one who cooks, is hands-on playing with the kids and affectionate. I am the one who organizes and cleans the house. The combination works well.

ME: Favorite Korean dramas:

BN: Crash Landing on You, Iris and It’s Okay That’s Love are some I’ve enjoyed.

ME: Your latest venture:

BN: Boram Post-Natal Retreat emerged out of my own personal experience as a new mother. After my son was born in 2014 through a planned C section, my recovery was challenging and I didn’t have the right supports physically or emotionally. It took me two years to feel better. At the time, my friends in Korea were checking into post-natal retreats(sanhujoriwon) and i realized that we don’t have these hotels here for new mothers and there is a need. I had the perfect name for my business-Boram, my own name. Boram is Korean for”the fruits of one’s labor.”

What we offer is a luxurious, carefully researched retreat for new mothers at the Langham hotel in New York City. We have the ninth floor including 16 rooms for guests, a mother’s lounge and a nurse’s station where nurses are on site 24/7 to care for babies and provide post natal education. It’s unique for combining hospitality with a nurse station for 24/7 baby care, which allows the mom to have quality time to bond with the baby, receive education about post natal care and have time for herself. We provide 3 chef-prepared meals a day with special foods for new moms, post natal massage, SoKo Glam beauty products for guests, and education about lactation and self-care etc. (Though there are post-natal facilities in L.A.’s Koreatown and other places, they are focused on new moms who are Korean).

ME: This sounds idyllic. I love my kids but I would have sent them spinning on a platter to that nursing room to get some sleep/mental rest weeks after childbirth!

As someone who struggles to find community, I heard about your retreat and thought it sounded like a luxe kibbutz (minus of course, hard labor). I could have used a support system/community as a new mom. Seems your retreat would be a good way to make mom friends and start creating some community. Is that another goal of this space other than supporting moms individually?

BN: Glad you asked that. Definitely. The mother’s lounge (that is stocked with healthy snacks new moms need), is a place for movie nights, education about post natal care and lots of bonding. It took me a year to make mom friends so I recognize the need to foster that bonding early on.

ME: Do you offer any Korean fare at Boram Care?

BN: We offer seaweed soup and bone broth that is so nutritious for new moms.The menu isn’t specifically Korean but is nutritious, tasty and chef-prepared.

ME: Seems like a great moment in time to shine a spotlight on post-natal care (or lack therof) in this country of ours. I like how you frame the post natal period as “the fourth trimester.” For me and many women, it’s the hardest one!

I’m intrigued that Korea has many of these post-natal retreats for new moms, some of them less costly. Can you imagine a world where there are these retreats for all new moms?

BN: We’ve been in talks with various employers to see if they would provide the retreat as part of employee benefits and want down the road to work with insurers to see if we can provide services to a wider group of mothers but i realize the necessity for all new mothers in this country.

ME: Do you think the prominence of Korean culture (beauty, food, music, films and shows etc) is accurately described as a wave (the Hallyu wave)? Wave kind of implies a sudden emergence that sounds fleeting to me.

BN: What you have to remember is it did not come suddenly. Korean beauty has been around forever. Kpop has been huge in SE Asia and therefore Asian-Americans have caught on for a while and of course social media brought all of this new exposure. Korean dramas have reached beyond Korea for a long time. I like to call it a network effect and mirror exposure–it was a slow progression of things that came together in one fruition. I think it’s here to stay.

ME: I like to joke that one indicator of the Hallyu wave is there are a lot more Asians white people can mistake me for now. Ever been mistaken for an Asian celebrity and if so, who?

BN: In college, Lucy Liu was pretty much the only well know Asian female celebrity so I remember people telling me I looked like her, which I found offensive because i don’t look anything like her; we both just have long black hair.

ME: She must have shouldered some burden as the sole Asian-American household name. Poor Lucy!

Let’s test as a reflection of the rise of Korean culture today, how many Korean-Americans you can name right now on this Zoom:

BN: I’m bad with names but I can name Juju Chang, a news anchor I like, Steven Yeun from Walking Dead, Chloe Kim and Daniel Dae Kim of Lost are what come up fast.

ME: Not bad! Better than it would have been ten years ago, I imagine.

I don’t know about you, but my tolerance re being mistaken for other Asian women is wearing thin. What’s your reaction to mis-recognition?

BN: I find it annoying when it happens to me but when it happens to my son, i am offended. At school, teachers have repeatedly mistaken him for other Asian students. My son gets offended. I tell him to correct the teachers and he says has already done that. He asked me to complain so I did and the school apologizes but it does offend me. But we just have to stay positive and try to educate people.

ME: My kids who are half Caucasian and half Korean struggle to feel Korean as I don’t know the language.(I’m adopted). How do you keep your kids immersed in Korean culture? Is that seamless or do you have to make a big effort to expose them?

BN: I try to speak to them only in Korean but they are at the ages when they want to speak only English. I take them to Korea once a year, enjoy Kpop with my daughter, feed them Korean food every day and take them to Korean church on Sundays. My son also takes Taekwondo.

ME: I see. This is admittedly troublesome to me; even two straight-out Koreans your husband and you have to make such Herculean effort!

Tell me some things you like about being Korean:

BN: The culture, the food, the respect for elders and jeong, a Korean concept that is hard to translate but basically means a deep connection,affection for others that is built over time and through shared experiences. My friend Charlotte Cho (co-founder of Soko Glam) wrote a wonderful and short book about jeong that I highly recommend. It’s called The Little Book of Jeong.

ME: Things you dislike about being Korean:

BN: We are feisty, get angry easily and we do it collectively. That can lead to a bully culture, which is the side of Korean culture that is not the best.

ME: Indulgence:

BN: Wine. I’m pretty health conscious and do Pilates but i drink wine.

ME: What is something you are not good at?

BN: Cooking and I am also too blunt.

ME: Favorite Covid-era craft you have tried:

BN: None. I am bad with my hands. Even doing my daughter’s hair is a struggle. I am good at cleaning and organizing.

ME: I recently read some young Koreans are questioning the Korean use of honorifics, do you get offended if honorifics are not used for you?

BN: If it’s a Korean person who understands honorifics, yes I like their use.

ME: I am not in that category so I won’t attempt using honorifics today but know that if I understood them, I’d use one that shows my humility to you for spending your time with me ( but also highlights the fact that you are younger than I).

As i’m too old to have another baby, I can’t aspire to stay at Boram Care myself but I will spread the word to expectant moms I meet because it looks incredible and unique. Thank you for your generous time Boram. xoxo

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