Play in forthcoming anthology


excerpted from: PLAYS FROM THE KOREAN DIASPORA IN THE AMERICAS (Duke University Press, ed. Esther Kim Lee)

NOTE: for performance/production information, contact:




a play by Edward Bok Lee


K, an Asian prostitute, near middle-aged, on her final night of work


Time & Place:

In an Asian country, near a U.S. military base


I. Vanity Dressing Table
II. Rack of Dresses
III. Night Club
IV. Love Motel





a vanity table covered with old jars and tubes of cosmetics.

K enters in robe, takes seat, staring front into "mirror."

organizes makeup, etc. a ritual.

eventually begins to apply foundation. 

sees postcard in top corner of mirror. removes and stares. lips its written words to herself.

eventually removes cassette from drawer, places it in cassette player on dressing table and pushes play.
while applying foundation to face.

tape: "Bonjour "

she repeats the French in heavy, artfully "Asian" accent.

            tape:  "Good day."

she repeats the English in heavy artfully "Asian" accent.

                     tape: "Je m'appelle Jacques."

she repeats the above.
                  tape: "My name is Jack."
she repeats the above.
                  tape: "Quelle heure est-il?"

she repeats the above.

                  tape: "What time is it? "

 she repeats the above.
                  tape: "Voulevous du the?"                                                   

she repeats the above.

                             tape: "Would you care for some tea?"

she repeats the above.

                      tape: Mon cles quiav . Jai leur eu ici. Je detest najer dans l'eau foride. La Bretagne est la premiere province francaise qu'on ait dotee d'un progamme d'acgion—

she hits stop, staring front for some moments, looks at postcard again, turns it over and stares at picture, reads.

Arc D'Triumph

Arc D'Triumph

finishes applying foundation; powders throughout rambling.

Arc D'Triumph. Ah. Ah. Ah
Deu. Deu. Deu
Peu. Pheu. Pheu. Peu

stops, closes eyes.

Apport. Apport
Of a share issue bid for investor. Apport

resumes powdering face in "mirror."

Apport. Apport. A - pp - ort



Purchase of

Nearly. Instantaneously...

In one market...


pleased, begins makeup again, continues for some seconds, examining face.

Of purchasing additional shares when...


frowns for a moment frozen, finally remembers.

To bring down...

Nearly instantaneously...

To bring down...

To averaging the...


resumes makeup for a time.

Averaging. Averaging. Is he averaging, Mr. Lee? Is he averaging again? I'd like to average that. Could we average that, Mr. Lee? Arbitrage. Averaging. Avis d'attribution. Avis d'attribution. Avis d'--

pause. she then begins to search drawer for Dictionary of the Securities Industries, locates it, reads.

See Allotment letter

turns pages.

Successful applicant for a new share issue...see allotment...will receive...

turns page.

an allotment letter

contemplates vacantly, then slams book shut, staring front for a moment into "mirror," touches face.

Arc D'Triumph


beat. in darkness, K turns on pink lamp at table and begins powdering while speaking.

(begins in "daughter's" voice.)
Come live with me in Paris, she says. Earned a little money a dancer and all of a sudden a queen. Queen of France. Not twenty years old. What would I do in France, really, what could I do, did you ever think of that, so young, you can't be so naive, not there, do you know how old I've become in the meantime, did you stop and think, have you ever stopped to think, what I would do there, ever, stop to think, at my age, be someone's maid, or nanny, good for nothing else, tongue all shriveled, eyes weary, wash hardwood floors, on my hands and knees, an immigrant, scrub till my blood and bones are so thin I am part air, do you think of me that way, your own mother...

ceases, has over-powdered.

a ghost already?

observes, sees postcard, places back in top corner of mirror.

applies eyeliner.

But then when did you ever think ahead from the time a small girl in coasters, so morose, that button nose, not like you to consider me, across the sea, no, me who did the best she could under the circumstances, yes, all she could, alone in those days, oh yes, no, oh yes, what days they were to have to do all you, gods of fire in the fabric mill leaping from such high high windows

pause. lost in thought. resumes eyeliner.

Never thinking ahead, nearly run over, twice that summer, in the street, by the pier, almost fell in looking, your first word: go, flat on her face, crying, laughing, who could tell, quiet child, crying outside while laughing inside, who could tell, by the pier, so fucking morose, then suddenly, did you ever hold such a fucking morose child? a sack of rice full of...buttons...grasshopper legs...then, one by one...teeth

different eyeliner.

Go go go through to rough years, more alone then ever, no comfort, not a soft moment, stinky pillow, and her, you, Magical Orchid, so silent like sickness, short hair, long hair, old enough for what, short hair, long hair, curly hair, long hair, bleached for a week, scurrying around the house, rabbit, rabbit, maybe you don't deserve to eat, disco queen be inside the head with a hot tip, scalding, because your hair looks like shit, comb it, then yes, go set it on fire for all I care

Cry cry cry

Crazy girl, crazy mother? I want to be a singer, she says, a singer on the base, crazy girl, or in New York or Paris, pipe dreams, sniper sniping cheese, want to sing, so sing, I said, only you'll need a visa, and there's only two ways for that

long pause.

What would I know in France, what will I ever know, do, where would I go, music like the teeth of some foreign animal swimming through the air

staring front into "mirror."



Did all I could to brighten your moods, even bought that pink terry-cloth summer dress, yes, yellow sandals, a red ice-cream cone in her little hand, melting, traffic passing, how she beamed that day, remember, remember, could have passed for anyone's child on the street, not just mine, not just half mine, around the eyes, the nose



could have even left you there

searches for mascara, applies for several seconds in silence.

Because they go. Leave

Ah, but a son. A man to hold up your tired bones, maybe dance with you, the cologne you've bought him for his first girlfriend like wings that will bring you grandchildren

But a girl, and one with such a country name. What's so magical? What thinking, like a farm-girl, not thinking, not properly at least, orchid. Magical Orchid. Stupid fucking country name

closely examines face so far, left to right, front.

Because, really, how's she going to be a famous picture star with such a country name, I didn't have to, all the girls, suckling, tit metal and bleeding, what were you thinking, not thinking, Katherine, Marilyn, Genevieve, anything, what were you thinking, because how will she ever become anything better with such a country name and big eyes, to big for her button nose

And no father

Like a stalk of cattail torn open in the wind

resumes lipstick.

Dead log floating home

Rice patty groaning with fallen leaves

stops. face now almost freakishly white, pressing lips until pleased. rises and exits. returns in sunflower hat on head, adjusts it, returns. adjusts hat, examines self in mirror. adjusts hat.

You want them all to be

And yet none can see



'Upper class lady!'

And me placing a coin in his sweet sticky little palm, filthy little begger boy, and he, smiling, and I, and we giving more to one another than a shiny coin

Through the eyes

stares at self in "mirror."

Did I dream him?

Little beggar boy, little small greasy child, and me in my orange dress, such dead black teeth, spaces, where new ones should be coming in, the old falling away

'Upper-class lady!'

Am I a dreamer?

Because I'll suck your eyes out, I swear, she said



Do I dream too much?

Little boy with the face of a dog

Maybe dreaming right now...

stares at self in "mirror" for a long time. then:

Flight in the eye already, child, same size, a stick of peppermint in one hand and my crepe yellow church dress underneath my blue school uniform, and what kind of hat? And black lacquer box, lit on the topside, mother of pearl, inside no jewels, but photographs, tens of them, twenty-nine, who are they, stuffed into my canvas knapsack, one American dollar against hipbone, sewn, RUN!!!

beat. calm, in child's voice.

Father, where are we going?

opens eyes.

No reply

Earthen jar of honey, fallen to polished hardwood, crack of a man's skull with rifle butt in the rainy lot, see the trail of ants, sniffles, a little cough hardly louder than itself, in the next room, baby brother's, sick in the crib, jail-faced, head of dark lychee fuzz

in child's voice.

Where will be when we get there?

No reply

seated, begins brushing hair, marching legs in place.

Soldiers' legs redoubled in the street puddles

Olive green trucks, well-weathered, tanks, what little boy, where? charred, rusted underbellies and mud-caked hulls, aching, ticking

stops brushing, stares.

Father, look at the red stars

brushing and brushing. eventually, she seeing all her hair in the brush's teeth; stops, gathers it all in her fist, then places it, ceremoniously, in ashtray, and lights it on fire with a match.

it burns fast, then smokes, she sniffs as if remembering something.


Don't point don't look don't think don't feel the cold in your toes anymore, the holes in your socks, boiled grass wadded in your bloated stomach, clumped like a stone, cold and plummeting, nights shrinking days the waiting and frozen waking in darkness and snow warm to numb limb, tanks, Russian, numb, scarring the rice fields that autumn, Father, numb, searing wind with black singe, communism in the nostrils



Things stick to pricks inside you, Mother always said

picks up curling iron, fingers iron part, pulls away quickly, then grasps the metal in her hand, holding it around the metal, drawing it closely to her face as if about to also burn out here eyeballs. reads:

Made in... Taiwan

hurls inoperative curling iron across the room.



Stupid girl. Because what would I know in France, what will I ever know, do, where would I go, music like the teeth of some foreign animal swimming through the wet filthy air....




photo 1 (left to right on top banner) by David Huang
Photo 2 by Charissa Uemura
photo/artwork 4 and 5 by Michael Hoyt  |
Copyright © 2005. All rights reserved. Ed Bok Lee
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