By Kay (HyunKyung) Lee
Edited by Marcio Noguchi

Figure 1: SeJin Park (12 years old) next to his mother Kay (HyunKyung) Lee


I am the mother of SeJin Park, a 12-year-old boy who loves Origami. We live in Seoul Korea. Perhaps you know the place GangNam from the song “GangNam Style.“ Yes! We live there! SeJin started folding when he was 6 years old but at that time he wasn’t too interested in it. However, since a year ago he became crazy about Origami, and he did a good job on his own at home. He folded many models by the great masters. So, as his mother, I started to think more about a wider vision of the world of Origami.

Decision to attend the New York Convention

We have known the Korea Origami Association (KOA) for a short time, and there we learned about the biggest convention in the United States at FIT. Much bigger than the KOA convention (which we participated in a year ago), and it was already fantastic. We found that conventions offer a great opportunity to open your eyes and learn so much about Origami in so many different ways. So, we decided to go to New York in 2012 because it is SeJin's last year as an elementary student, and it is very hard to get free time in middle and high school in Korea.

As we decided to go to New York, I also planned for SeJin to give an Origami workshop at the Children’s Museum of the Arts, where I volunteered my thesis project when I was a student at the Pratt Institute. We knew it would be a good opportunity, participating at the NY convention and giving a workshop at the Children’s Museum of the Arts, but we were anxious since we did not know the language or culture well.

What if we made mistakes with the registration? In fact, as a foreigner we had difficulties with the registration form. We were overwhelmed with so many options and so much information, that it took us several days to read and re-read until we understood well enough to proceed with the registration. After the registration was complete, we were even more anxious. Could we really enjoy the convention? Could SeJin and I understand English well enough? What if SeJin’s Origami works were too humble for the Americans? And how would SeJin feel if they were? Would he be able to give a workshop in English? And so on…

Fortunately I met Marcio Noguchi, a board member of OrigamiUSA, at the Kyushu Origami Convention which was held a month prior to the New York convention. I got some information about New York. We learned about: Origami meetings every Tuesday and Thursday night in downtown Manhattan (run by OMG NYC); the unofficial ‘Paper Tour’ a day before the convention, organized by OrigamiUSA member Linda Yau; and finally, the post convention Fold and Feast hosted by Mark and Arlene Kennedy, which happens about a week after convention. All of them sounded to good to miss!

Since we were used to traveling, I thought that we could overcome jetlag easily. What a mistake! The time difference between Korea and NY is 12 hours, so when it is day in one, it is night in the other. The worst feeling was arriving at exactly the same day and time in the afternoon as when we departed in Korea! We couldn’t sleep on the plane because the plane followed the sun. We fell asleep right after we arrived in our hotel, and then it took us more than a week to overcome jetlag.

Tuesday, June 21st, 2012: OMG - What a fantastic Origami meeting!

Figure 2: Thursday After Work Origami Lovers (AWOL) meeting at Cosi.

We sent a RSVP for the meeting at the Origami Meetup Group (OMG) website. When we arrived, a few people were already there and folding. I found American folders of various age ranges. We introduced ourselves and started folding too. Then, a few minutes later, the table was full with folders. Many were individually repeating simple designs. They explained that it was for the Origami Pin Trade. What a fun idea!

Figure 3: Pin trade preparations

OMG NYC origami meetings happen every Tuesday and Thursday at 7 PM. Sok Song started these meetings about four years ago. He also managed the Origami magazine called ‘Creased’. The meetings are free with attendance ranging from just a handful of folders to more than 15 occasionally. SeJin and I were worried about our first meeting but they all treated us like old friends. They gave us paper then asked to fold paper together. Soon SeJin got used to such an atmosphere. From that day on, we attended all meetings until we went back to Korea. As a result, SeJin started expressing interest in different folding designs.

Friday, June 22nd, 2012: Paper Tour (Thank you, Linda!); the convention begins

Figure 4: Pre-convention paper tour lead by Linda Yau

The convention would start with the registration and exhibition setup on Friday at 5PM. But before that, Linda Yau, a volunteer, guided us to paper stores in Manhattan. Many folders from outside and foreigners (like us) joined the tour. We took the subway and visited several stores that carried different Origami paper in Chinatown and Soho. The tour ended at a bookstore called Kinokuniya, where Sok Song organized the ‘Origami Day’ introducing and teaching Origami.

Figure 5: Origami Day with Sok Song at Kinokuniya

Kinokuniya is a Japanese bookstore in Manhattan where many Origami books and paper can be found. Sok, standing in a black shirt, organizes Origami events, like the Origami Day at Kinokuniya, the Tuesday and Thursday meetings, the Oversized Origami competition at several conventions and managed the Origami magazine, ‘Creased’. He helped SeJin and I in many ways so we thank him.

After the paper tour SeJin and I ran back to our place to get his Origami works. I had registered for an exhibition space on the website to display his works. When we arrived, there were already people gathered at FIT. We set up SeJin’s Origami works at the exhibition space. The exhibition hall was huge, and we could see many fabulous Origami pieces created by famous artists. The exhibition was held in an indoor basketball court so it was quite big. There were works of the guest artists Sipho Mabona and Dennis Walker, in addition to works from Robert Lang, Won Park, etc. There were 62 exhibitors including these artists, but also the Origami by Children (OBC) exhibition, and a space for Origami Artist Trading Card (ATC) trading. We found so many unique designs that it made us think the US has as many artists as it has land scale.

The convention had also different areas like a store for selling books and paper (The Origami Source), auction room, pin trade, accessory sales, etc... It was quite interesting for us because we haven’t seen anything like that before. SeJin was so excited that he couldn’t decide which one to go to first.

Figure 6: The Exhibition room

Figure 7: SeJin’s 3mm x 3mm crane viewed using a magnifying glass.

Figure 8: Folders gathered at the Great Hall, also known as the Hospitality Room.

Figure 9: Class Model display at the Great Hall.

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012: Attending classes

Because we were from abroad, the convention was kind to give us a good priority number for choosing classes. Even though there are many classes, popular classes sold out quickly. There were limits of students per class that ranged from 12 to 15. American friends envied us when the classes sold out one by one. The classes were divided into three levels: simple, intermediate, and complex. The simple classes could take 1~2 hours, intermediate took about 2 hours, and complex took 2~3 hours. So normally attendees could take 2~4 classes a day.

Figure 10: Sipho Mabona’s Rhino class.

SeJin said that all classes were fun but he really enjoyed the informal teachings at the Great Hall. The huge hall space was crowded with people, all of them folding Origami together or simply talking. We had never seen such a scene before, where a large group of people get together for one common interest: Origami! SeJin was a shy boy, and he did not speak English well. Before going to NY, I was worried that he might find it difficult to join people. But there was nothing to worry about. In that hall, there were locals and foreigners at same table, and after a quick “Hi!” they would show their works, give us some paper, and ask us fold something together. In a few seconds, it was as if we were good friends! We had a wonderful time with not only the Americans but also people from many other countries. The classes ended at 5 PM, but no one left FIT. All folders gathered at the Great Hall and they folded and folded and folded… until midnight.

“Please go home and come back tomorrow!” one board member announced to the folders. But they continued folding. Finally one board member counted down 20 minutes before 12 AM, and then people started leaving. SeJin and I also left at that time, but he still wanted to fold some more Origami. Later, we learned about the late night folding where some folders gathered in a room at the FIT Dormitory across the street and folded for a few hours more. We didn’t know that because we stayed at a different place. For me, a non-folder, this was a different and odd world. But for SeJin, as a crazy folder, that was heaven!

Figure 11: The Great Hall.

Figure 12: SeJin and Won Park

Sunday, June 24th, 2012: More classes and oversized competition.

It was the third day of convention. It was even more crowded than the day before. Many people came with their family members. OrigamiUSA officers called class priority number 1000!

We noticed a quiz included in our convention pack that allowed first timers to win a gift as they obtained signatures of various people that fit the description requested in the quiz. For the first timers, it was a good chance to meet new people. A yellow ribbon on the nametag also identified the first timers so that veterans could help them (as a tradition, the first timers all detach that ribbon at the Monday night dinner reception, having completed their first convention). Another fun game was folding some models to tell a story within 10 minutes using Origami. Many children participated, and SeJin’s team won an Origami Source gift certificate.

The Sunday classes were fun but at the end of the day we had a competition of oversized Origami. Applying for the competition was simple and anyone could participate, family or with friends, as long as you applied as a group. Each team was tasked to fold a model from a 3m x 3m (9' x 9') square within 45 minutes. Luckily, Sipho Mabona asked SeJin to join in his team. Then they asked Won Park and Diego Becerra to join as well. They called the team ‘international’, because all were from a different country: Sipho from Switzerland, SeJin from Korea, Diego from Colombia, and Won from Hawaii, USA. What a perfect name! After a long discussion they decided to fold Diego's creative model called ‘Spider on a Leaf’. The competition started with the sound of the whistle, when one of each team members ran to pick a long roll of paper. SeJin was one of them, and he quickly grabbed the gray paper. And then the team of four members ran to the end of the hallway, took their shoes off, and the folding began. They did not know it was going to be so difficult to fold large Origami. It was not easy to turn over or folded it in half. After 15 minutes of intense folding they were all gasping for breath as if they had just finished a 100 meter sprint. Then, after a deep breath they folded carefully. 30 minutes later, many teams were nearing completion. It seemed that our team could not finish in time. Even the audience who just watched was feeling the tension. Fortunately, they end with five minutes left on the clock. The finished model of each team was great because each one had a unique theme. Awards were given in various categories. Best Teamwork, Most bizarre, Most complex, Most original, Best action, Cutest, Most whimsical, Most creative, etc. SeJin’s team won the award called ‘Model the judges would most want to learn how to fold’. They received the longest applause. It seemed to be the best moment for SeJin during this entire convention.

Figure 13: Diego Becerra, Sipho Mabona, Won Park and SeJin Park at Oversized Origami competition

During the Convention, a morning “newspaper” was issued each day. It provided general information about the convention, details about the special guests, the schedule of the day, and picture of the previous day.

Monday, June 25th, 2012 - The last day of convention,… so we folded until dawn

We slept late because we stayed up till midnight at the Great Hall with many folders. Most of the classes on Monday morning were taken when we arrived at FIT. Monday’s classes are workshop on techniques and not on how to fold a particular Origami model. It was difficult to understand how to choose the classes only with the timetable and without sample models.

In the end SeJin decided to take ‘Craft Robo (Craft robo Intro and Workshop)’ and ‘Cut and Tuck Ornament’ while I took lecture classes ‘Introduction about Origami database’ and 'Origami paper cutter'. 'Craft Robo’ is a cutting machine connected to a computer. So the Origami lines would be drawn on the computer, and the cutting machine would score the pre-folding creases. Circle or wave pre-crease lines could facilitate a variety of three-dimensional folding.

On Monday night, the convention dinner party was held. We met a lot of friends and had a great meal. Some of people in the party visited the Convention in Korea the year prior, and some had plans to go Korea. I said that I would help them if they visited Korea, so they were all happy to hear that. Diego from Colombia explained about Convention in his country, Oliver and Susanne from Germany said they would provide accommodation at their house if we visited the German Convention, and Nicolas from France suggested SeJin to come to the Lyon Convention as a complex folder. It was great to meet those who live in other countries and become friends so that we can continue to bond and relate.

After the party was over at 11 PM, we let the building thinking about going back to our place when someone told us to go to the FIT dormitory building to do some more Origami. When we followed them, we found the room used for late night folding. Oh my god! It meant that they continued to fold there after they folded until midnight at the Great Hall. I was thankful that SeJin didn’t know about it until the last day because he is too young to stay up all night. But, on that night he folded with OrigamiUSA friends until 2 AM.

Figure 14: Late night folding

Memories of the Convention on the return home

We did a lot in New York. We participated in many activities, met a lot of new friends and had many experiences. It was much more than just a set of convention classes. It was the relationship with people. SeJin and I were very impressed with all the OrigamiUSA friends’ willingness to help and with great enthusiasm. They were not necessarily lead organizers in any official sense, but they all had pure love towards Origami. It seemed the convention was like a playground or a party to them: like relaxing and resting after work, or the unlikely friendship between a 5 year old boy and a 80 year old grandmother, or having fun until midnight, only to find another place to do more after… These are the unforgettable memories that SeJin and I have from the OrigamiUSA convention in New York.


May 3, 2013 - 10:27pm malachi.brown

It was a pleasure to meet SeJin. I was also on the paper tour on Friday and I still enjoy relating the fantastic story that I noticed, as we walked around New York City, SeJin was doing something with a small piece of paper. Later, while we were riding on the subway, I saw that he had folded a tiny fighter jet with exquisite precision, yet only around 1 inch long. I believe it later found its way into the exhibit hall. Simply astounding. (I believe it is the one on the right.)

May 6, 2013 - 9:09am sejinpark

How are you? We still remember your smile. Hope to see you again this year at FIT!

May 4, 2013 - 10:23pm kathy.knapp

It was a delight to read about your time at the NY Origami convention. Thank you for sharing, for others, like me, have not attended this convention. The more I read, the more I feel a bit like I have been there.

May 6, 2013 - 9:02am sejinpark

It was great experience for us too.