07:48 (GMT +7) - Wednesday 12/12/2018

Vietnam Today

Home away from home

Released at: 07:50, 24/12/2017 Vietnam - South Korea Relationship

Home away from home

Photo: Viet Tuan

Many South Koreans living and working in Vietnam bring their food and culture with them.

by Ngoc Lan, Hai Van & Le Diem

When Mr. Kim Heyon Seok, a 40-year-old South Korean businessman, moved to Vietnam seven years ago, his greatest difficulty was the language. Everywhere he went, people only spoke Vietnamese. That’s all changed now, as he lives in an apartment in the My Dinh area of Hanoi’s Nam Tu Liem district, where Korean culture is becoming increasingly popular and made life so much easier for Mr. Kim and his compatriots.

People visiting My Dinh or streets in Cau Giay district like Do Quang, Nguyen Thi Thap, Hoang Ngan, and Hoang Dao Thuy may find themselves lost in the two “Little South Koreas”, with restaurants, shops and luxury hotels highlighting the presence of Korean culture in Vietnam’s capital. 

Little South Koreas

The number of South Koreans living in Vietnam, primarily in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, has increased nearly 50-fold in less than a decade, to an estimated 100,000, according to figures from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

In Hanoi, the better off among the South Koreans working in the city tend to live in the My Dinh area. A “Little South Korea” began to form in My Dinh about ten years ago and in recent years has become more bustling and crowded, with South Koreans in the area coming together in a broad community. 

The increasing number of South Koreans in Hanoi paved the way for diversified types of services being offered to them, such as luxury shops, cafes, beauty salons, and international schools. Many streets in My Dinh and Cau Giay district are lit by signs in Korean, with bold and bright lettering. 

Many South Koreans in the My Dinh area live in luxurious villas or apartments in urban areas such as The Garden and The Manor or at Keangnam Landmark72. On weekend evenings at the The Garden, South Koreans stroll around or get together to chat, drink wine, play chess or take part in sports. Mr. Kim said that prices here are a touch expensive, but it’s peaceful and security is not an issue.

The South Korean community in Cau Giay district, meanwhile, is livelier, as the area is more modern and has a younger population. Streets are lined with South Korean restaurants, more often owned by South Koreans than Vietnamese. Ms. Pham Thu Huong, a waitress at Ssam Dak restaurant, said that most customers are South Koreans. There are also stores selling different types of Korean food and drinks, such as Maxim coffee, Barkey tea, Soju wine, Hite beer, canned food, soy sauce, vinegar, instant noodles, and snacks. The Cau Giay area also provides different types of entertainment for South Koreans, such as billiards, karaoke, massage, and coffee. Shops have signs written in both Vietnamese and Korean.

In both “Little South Koreas”, food and beverage establishments are plentiful. Mr. Kim said that South Koreans spend a lot of money on food and drink and other entertainment. “After work, many men like to go drinking and sometimes sit in bars until late,” he said. This is a cultural trait of South Koreans worldwide. 

Cultural similarities and differences

Most South Koreans say they are satisfied with their life in Vietnam. Mr. Chang Oo Sik, who works at Shinhan Bank, said this is his second year in Vietnam and he’s found Vietnamese to be friendly and the cost of living to be lower than in his homeland, though the bank does provide support. 

“Vietnam and South Korea have similarities in culture, like holidays such as the Mid-Autumn Festival and the lunar new year, so I don’t feel like a stranger,” he added. There are many activities for South Koreans in places such as Tran Duy Hung, Keangnam Tower, and the Lotte department store, which makes many feel at home in the country. Whenever they miss South Korea, they can go to such places, meet up with South Korean friends, or catch up with Vietnamese friends who love Korean culture.

Many find Vietnam to be a beautiful country. In his two years in Vietnam, Mr. Jun Soon Sik, who works at the Lotte department store, has travelled around to discover the country’s landscape and diversified cultures, visiting Ha Long Bay, Tam Dao, Nam Dinh, Da Nang, Nha Trang, and Ho Chi Minh City, among others. Da Nang left the greatest impression, he said, and he hopes to return to the central coastal city many more times. “Da Nang is a beautiful city, with great seafood and good services,” he added. “I like the white sand of its beaches. Just nearby, in Hoi An, you can sit and enjoy a peaceful atmosphere amid picturesque scenes of old houses.” 

Although Vietnamese and South Korean culture are similar in some regards, both are unique in their own way. South Koreans share their culture in two main ways, their furniture and their food. “South Koreans are proud of their food and our family often cooks food from home and introduce it to everyone,” said Mr. Kim. “We also explain our special dishes to Vietnamese, such as why we always eat kimchi.”

Though some South Koreans have lived in Hanoi for some time, many remain unfamiliar with Vietnamese cuisine. Ms. Kim Hye Won, a student at a high school in Cau Giay district, said that South Koreans are fond of hot, spicy flavors and so only eat Korean food. Many South Koreans in Vietnam stick within their own community, with few learning Vietnamese and not all speaking English. “I like to be with South Koreans as we have many things in common,” said Mr. Kim Joong Seok, a chef at a Korean restaurant on Tran Duy Hung Street. 
Cultural exchange

South Korean culture has been popular in Vietnam for some time and especially over recent years, as evidenced by the burgeoning number of South Korean restaurants in large cities, with many customers being Vietnamese. Ms. Nhung Dao, an English teacher in Hanoi, said she and her friends love South Korean food and go to the Gimbab restaurant on Ngoc Khanh Street a couple of times every week. “I love South Korean culture, from its music to its fashion and food,” she smiled. “It’s elegant and cute.”

She first took a liking to South Korean culture as a young girl, when she heard the music of the bank SNSD. “I spent my first salary on buying tickets to their concert in Hanoi,” she remembered. Many South Koreans, meanwhile, are surprised that Vietnamese love their culture so much, with Mr. Chang questioning why Vietnamese love South Korean singers. “They know more about K-pop bands than I do,” he laughed. Fan clubs in Vietnam for K-pop idols have huge numbers of members, which update and share information and music via social media. 

The similarities between the two cultures will only grow given such interest and the increasing number of South Koreans coming to live and work in Vietnam.

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