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`Nam nam buk nyeo`

Posted November. 04, 2011 03:27,   


The phrase "Nam nam buk nyeo," which literally means "men from the south, women from the north" in Korean, first appeared in a book on Joseon Dynasty women called "Joseon Yeosokgo" by historian Lee Neung-hwa. It used to mean that most beautiful Korean women lived in the northern part of the Korean Peninsula and the most handsome men in the southern half. Nowadays, the phrase refers to marriage between North Korean women who escaped from the Stalinist country and settled in the South and South Korean men. Between 300 to 400 such couples are formed in Seoul alone every year. Just like the Korean blockbuster movie "Shiri" and the TV series "Iris," love between North Korean women and South Korean men seems to have become reality.

As of January this year, 77 percent of the estimated 20,000 North Korean defectors in South Korea were women. The number of such women has dramatically increased since 2000, surpassing 50 percent in 2002. Those in their 20s, 30s and 40s are deemed as marriageable (including remarriage) and account for 59 percent of the North Korean women. They are at the center of the "nam nam buk nyeo" marriage trend. For North Korean women, getting married to South Korean men is the best way to settle down in the South.

An estimated 15 matchmaking agencies specializing in North Korean women have sprung up in South Korea. They include Namnam Buknyeo Marriage Consulting, which started in 2006. Its CEO Choi Yeong-hee says, "North Korean women are highly likely to be matched because they value the character of their spouse and are less picky about age, vocation and academic background than their South Korean counterparts." As North Korean women are considered submissive, South Korean men find them likable. In a TV program on matching single men and women aired Wednesday, a North Korean woman was popular in being courted by three of the six South Korean men on the show.

A 35-year-old South Korean man met a North Korean woman through a matchmaking agency and got married early this year. He happily said, "I had worried a lot because we grew up in different environments, but I didn`t have to. She`s very nice to my family." The rise in the number of such couples is definitely welcome news for the prospects of a reunified Korean Peninsula. South Korean women in cities, however, usually do not seek to marry men in rural areas and seem even more reluctant to get hitched to North Korean men. Of course, if the two Koreas are reunified earlier than expected, North Korean men who left the North and resettled in the South will be ideal bridegrooms for North Korean women.

Editorial Writer Bhang Hyeong-nam (hnbhang@donga.com)