Wed, Oct 04, 2017 - Page 5 News List

FEATURE: Vietnamese brides say ‘I do’ to S Korea

AFP, CAN THO, Vietnam

Vietnamese Huynh Thi Thai Muoi, right, looks on as her South Korean husband, Kim Kyeong-bok, talks on a mobile phone after their arrival at Incheon International Airport in South Korea on Aug. 14.

Photo: AFP

When Huynh Thi Thai Muoi left her home in rural Vietnam to begin a life in South Korea with a man she barely knew, she feared it was a gamble.

She did not speak the language, her new husband was nearly twice her age, and she knew little about her new home, but the 23-year-old high-school dropout was looking for love — and a fresh start.

“I want a new life, I want to challenge myself and see whether I can thrive or not,” Muoi said.

She was introduced to 43-year-old bachelor, Kim Kyeong-bok, through her cousin, who is also married to a South Korean, and the couple wed within days of meeting.

She is one of about 40,000 Vietnamese brides in South Korea, a top destination for women looking for love and a ticket out of poverty. Many know little about the country beyond K-pop bands or South Korean movies and end up marrying virtual strangers.

However, for Muoi, her new life in the city of Gwangju — and her new husband — have, so far, surpassed her hopes.

“My husband really loves me, more than I expected,” she said.

Despite the language barrier, Kim is teaching her to shop and cook, and hopes she will make friends at a nearby community center for foreign brides.

“When I first met her, I thought to myself: ‘This is the woman who will become my wife.’ I was very happy,” said Kim, who had rejected the first Vietnamese girl presented to him as a bride option.

However, Muoi is one of the lucky ones. Many other Vietnamese women have found their new lives are not what they dreamed: thousands have returned home divorced and unhappy.

“The women don’t have enough information about either their husbands or what migrating and living in [South] Korea would be like,” said Youn Sim-kim, director of the Korea Center for UN Human Rights Policy, a non-governmental organization in Vietnam’s southern Can Tho Province where many of the brides come from.

One in five Vietnamese-South Korean couples filed for divorce in 2015, according to the latest data from Statistics Korea.

“I thought life would be okay like it was in Vietnam, maybe the only difference would be the food,” said Le Thi The, a divorcee now living in Can Tho.

The honeymoon period abruptly ended days after she arrived and discovered her husband was not the man she thought he would be.

“I asked him to come home and he got mad at me, he threw all my stuff out of the house,” she said.

Most Vietnamese brides usually settle in rural areas in South Korea, a prospect that has become less attractive to eligible South Korean women who have streamed into fast-growing cities to climb the career ladder. An increasing number say that marriage is not a must.

“In some of those areas there’s a gender imbalance, whereby a lot of the South Korean women who are from the rural areas are migrating to urban centers, leaving a shortage,” said Paul Priest, acting chief of mission at the International Organization for Migration in Vietnam.

The bulk of women filling the marriage gap come from Vietnam’s Mekong Delta or rural China, largely drawn to South Korea’s dizzying pace of development of the past half-century.

Its annual per capita GDP is more than US$27,000, about 12 times that of Vietnam, and comfortably above China’s US$8,000, according to World Bank data.

The headache continues for returnees to Vietnam since their divorces are not legally recognized and their South Korean-born children are not immediately eligible to attend local schools.

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