What disturbs me about this article Digital Chosunilbo (English Edition) is the mater-of-factness by which the whole “buy-a-bride-in-Vietnam” thing is handled. This guy picks a couple of possibles from a room full of women, all there basically to sell themselves off as brides in the hope of living in, as one girl describes, a “concrete house”. He all but admits to the women he interviews that he needs someone to take care of his mom, and then, after an AIDS test and a quick Vietnamese ceremony, they’re married.
And it’s only then that he realizes body language isn’t going to suffice — you’d think he might have considered that before the wedding! — and goes off back to Korea to add her to the faily register so she can get a visa.
Now, if you’re me, you’re thinking, “Aha! Mail Order Brides are basically just cheap labour. Buy a wife, and she has to not only sleep with you and raise your kids but also do just about any other work you give her, since for her it represents an escape from ginding poverty.She’ll be dependent on him for a residency visa, and likely have few if any connections with a community she can’t communicate with and who, likely, will perpetually view her as an outsider anyway. This labour will be unpaid, of course — many wives’ labour is, yes, but the difference is that most waives, I would hope, are not married in order to provide labour. While it seems ironic that he’s jobless, perhaps it isn’t: buying a bride you never have to pay, whom you only have to clothe and feed, is going to be much cheaper in the long run than hiring a care service provider to help your mother.
And that’s when it hits me why the Mail Order Bride business is such a booming one: it’s because I think, as conservative as many of them are, the fact is that most Korean women probably wouldn’t enter into this kind of a nuptial situation willingly.
The answer to increasingly liberal social values and demands among women is, on some mens’ part anyway, a seeking-out of women from societies that remain comfortably conservative compared to modern Korea; there’s the added advantage that these women will live in isolation, in dependency, and will not realistically be able to remain in Korea after a breakup, but also realistically will not be able to return to life in their homelands unchanged. They seem, to me, well-and-truly stuck, and it’s sad.
But more important for Korea in the future will be the half-Korean offspring. The mixed-race issue has been a big one for a while, and has been gaining interest among young people for a while. My students were writing about for some time before Hines Ward visited, and rightfully so: Korea is going to have to come to terms with the fact that Korean nationality and fullblooded Koreanness are already well on the way to becoming two distinct things in the space of a generation. I do hope they go the way of acceptance, and not the way of the kind of veiled exclusionism I saw in Germans who all agreed that the Vietnamese-German among them — who’d grown up in Germany the same as them — was not “really” German.