This year marks the 22nd anniversary since Seoul’s Yongsan district and the Vietnamese port city of Quy Nhơn started bilateral exchange. Yongsan and Quy Nhơn, with 280,000 residents, began to develop relationships through the South Korean Army’s Maengho Unit. The Maengho Unit was established in 1948 as the Capital Defense Command in Samgakji, Yongsan, and was renamed the Sudo (Capital) Division during the Korean War. Then the Maengho Unit was deployed to the Vietnam War and stationed in Quy Nhơn where it was seen to have displayed robust combat capabilities from South Korea’s perspective, but was considered an object of fear and resentment among Quy Nhơn residents.
Since South Korea and Vietnam established diplomatic ties in 1992, the Yongsan district office became the first among South Korean municipalities to visit Quy Nhơn in 1996. The two sides had been in relationship of animosity during the war, but formed a sisterhood relationship, pledging to create a new future for younger generations.
Friendship was not strong in the very beginning. Elderly people in Quy Nhơn had negative sentiment towards South Korea. Yongsan started a campaign to open the heart of Quy Nhơn people, by offering scholarships to Vietnamese students and building homes.
A critical factor that helped Quy Nhơn people to open their mind was cataract, a vision-blurring cloudy spot on the lens of the eye. Many people in Quy Nhơn were suffering from senile cataract due to overexposure to strong sunlight there. Upon learning about this, the Yongsan district office opened the Quy Nhơn Cataract Center in April 2013, and sent a medical team twice yearly, to provide surgery on patients and transfer medical technique to local medical professionals. As of October last year, more than 2,600 people received surgery and overcome the risk of complete sight loss.
Since 2012, the Yongsan district office has been inviting female students in Quy Nhơn to study at Sookmyung Women’s University located in the district. Two students, who came to South Korea in 2012, took a year-long Korean language course and earned master’s degrees in economics and bio system in four years, respectively. A total of three students graduated through last year, and additional three are currently studying at the university. Another student will also come to the school in June. When these students return to Vietnam, they will serve as messengers who will communicate positive images of South Korea to Vietnam while working as teachers, civil servants and trading company officials.
The Yongsan district office opened Sejong Academy in Quy Nhơn last year to help local residents to learn the Korean language and Korean culture. The library has materials regarding hallyu, or the Korean Wave, and runs a monthly Korean food cooking class.
Quy Nhơn people are also positively responding to support from the Yongsan district. They named a road in Quy Nhơn “Yongsan Street” in 2016. They erected a stone monument on the 20th anniversary of friendly exchange, which has inscriptions of the two countries’ national flags, in place of a stone monument of resentment sitting there in the past. Quy Nhơn City Hall and Yongsan Ward Office have also launched exchange program by dispatching 2 civil servants each other.
Jie-Hyun Roh firstname.lastname@example.org