Single? Unemployed? Need Someone to Take Care of Mom?

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.

5 thoughts on “Single? Unemployed? Need Someone to Take Care of Mom?

  1. Regarding the interracial marriages bit, I have a dog in this fight, as the father-to-be of a “mixed blood” (such an obnoxious phrase!) as the saying is here.

    We’re not sure where we’re going to raise our son, but we’d like to keep our options on the table. I hope that Korea will become a cosmopolitan society rather willingly, along, say, Vancouverite lines, rather than, as you mentioned, going the European route.

  2. Sorry about the obnoxious phrase… I agree it is too, but (a) it’s a term getting common use here on campus (and I’ve heard it back home occasionally), and (b) I think it reflects some of the propaganda about Koreans being “of one blood”.

    For the record, and I’m assuming you’re a white guy, since I’ve never met a black person who was hired as a professor in Korea, the fate of your offspring isn’t among the majority of what I’m talking about. The next wave of mixed-blooded children will not primarily be from unions with Western men and Korean women, but from unions of Korean men and women other other East/Southeast Asian backgrounds. I’m thinking of how half-Thai and half-Vietnamese and half-Chinese kids will fare a generation down the line. Half-white Koreans haven’t always had it easier, but it’s been considerably worse for kids of other Asian descent, from everything I’ve read and gleaned from recent discussions.

    I think the direction that Korea will take will depend on a number of factors, such as who’s at the helm politically, how the economy/job market is doing, what kind of politics this mixed-race generation picks up growing up here, and all kinds of other factors. Plus, as a friend of a friend recently put it in a discussion last night, “The oldest generation will have to die out before significant change happens in that area.” I’m thinking it’ll take more than one generation, but, who knows?

    I’d like to see something more cosmopolitan, but… conservativism runs deep, and people still bring up the Imjin Waeran occasionally. The fact that I even know what that is, without having looked it up, suggests something about the staying power of negative experience.

    (And Korean society isn’t the only one with a pathologically long memory of the past. After all, we bring up the Crusades sometimes, and have still-extant problems with anti-Semitism in Europe and even, at times, in Canada. Now the Arabs are the disliked Semites, but I see a thread running through anti-Semitism that links hatred of Jews and hatred of Arabs.)

  3. “Sorry about the obnoxious phrase.” No worries, Gord–you’re just the messenger.

    As for the Muslim issue, well, it’s your blog! ;-)

    As for my background, you’re not wrong.

    About the African-American professor, I actually have met one: she was at the KOTESOL conference last year that we both attended, and she was a visiting professor of English literature at SNU. She had a Ph.D in American Literature. I’ve since seen other black middle-aged ladies, whom I assume are professors, in various EFL-related events.

    Anyway, I hope that things are going smoothly for you. I’m procrastinating the resumption of my midterm marking: 2 classes down: 3 to go!

  4. “Muslim issue”?

    Actually, come to think of it, I think I did see a black woman at an EFl event, though since she was across the Conference hall, I couldn’t see her clearly and I have no idea where she was working, in a Uni or otherwise. I have met precisely two African-American people in Asia: one was just some ex-pro-ball (so he claimed) nutter who, the first night I met him, proceeded to inform me that no Jews showed up for work in New York on September 11th 2001. He was working in a hakwon. The other was a friend of a student of mine — he’d studied with her in the States, and she had moved to Japan and was teaching at some kind of high-class hakwon-type place, for businessmen and the like. But she wasn’t in Korea.

    My experience means little, though, since I barely ever mix with foreigners around here.

    I am in the middle of marking the second of four written exams. I also have a stack of short essays and a (small) stack of recipes from the Elementary Writing course to mark. It’s gonna be a busy week. But there’s no rush on any of it, and I am definitely going to be done in a few days, in any case. Happily, my last midterm, tomorrow afternoon, is a Public Speaking midterm, and involves only my marking speeches on-the-spot, live. (With, perhaps, a review of the recordings I make on my MP3 player, just to ensure I’m judicious in my grading.)

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