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Play Shows Life in Korea for Foreign Wives

Posted March. 04, 2009 07:43,   


At the theoretical performance center Greenpig in the Jeongneung district of northern Seoul, a dozen expat women in their 20s and 30s immersed themselves in play rehearsals late last month.

When the director asked them to exit after talking to each other, a couple of women asked in chorus, “In our language?” referring to Korean.

Though hailing from countries such as Mongolia, Turkey, Peru, Sri Lanka, Russia and Vietnam, they all called Korean their mother tongue.

Two Vietnamese women appeared on stage. Limping along the stage, the first Vietnamese said, “I feel pain.”

The other asked with a look of worry, “What’s the problem?” and brought her a chair.

When they left the stage, a Sri Lankan woman appeared and peddled rice cake. When her accent sounded awkward, the other women burst into laughter.

○ Joy and sorrow of migrant workers

These migrant workers were rehearsing for a play to mark the founding of the theatrical troupe Salad by Migrant Workers Network (www.migrantsinkorea.net).

The troupe will perform plays and musicals to show the hardship faced by migrant workers in Korea.

Network chief Park Gyeong-ju said, “The Korean people’s perception of migrant workers is distorted. We will portray the suffering of migrant workers here in Korea without reservation.”

○ Need for intercultural understanding

After three hours of practice, they sat in a circle to share their experiences of living in Korea. Though used to the Korean way of living, they had lots to complain about.

A Turkish woman said, “Korea’s education craze is really surprising.”

“Korean children spend too much time studying. Parents struggle to pay for private education and their children are under stress.”

A Mongolian woman chimed in, saying, “Because of excessive study, children have no time to learn how to perform household chores and share less time with their mothers.”

A Vietnamese said, “A daughter-in-law (in Korea) cannot express her opinion to her mother-in-law.”

The topic then shifted to Korean husbands.

“Korean husbands rarely take care of their children,” a Sri Lankan woman said.

A Russian woman agreed, “In Russia, spouses share household chores and childrearing. But Korean men have little interest in domestic tasks.”

“I accompany my husband when he meets his friends, but he refuses to meet my friends together.”

She also cited lack of understanding of each other’s culture, saying, “My husband’s family is reluctant to embrace my native country’s culture, and asks me to adapt to Korean culture because I live in Korea, not Russia.”

“The problem is that a Korean husband and a foreign wife don’t know each other’s cultures. They quarrel due to gaps in age and culture. For an international marriage to be successful, a husband should learn about his wife’s culture, and vice versa.”

○ Still a Korean

When the conversation was over, all of them except for the three Vietnamese went home. The remaining women decided to talk over dinner. While ordering “cheongukjang (Korean fermented bean soup)” and panbroiled pork, they laughed, with one saying, “Korean food tastes better than Vietnamese food.”

One Vietnamese woman told the other, “You’re lucky,” meaning the latter had a good husband and mother-in-law and a decent job.

The Vietnamese woman in question came to Korea in 2003 as an industrial trainee for a company in Gwangju, Gyeonggi Province and met her husband. In contrast, the other Vietnamese met her husband who came to Vietnam through a matchmaker.

The former industrial trainee said, “I’m happy here in Korea but feel embarrassed when I cannot be understood due to my clumsy Korean.” She said Vietnamese couples are often at odds with each other due to financial difficulty.

When they said goodbye after dinner, one woman handed over clothes she no longer wears to another, a familiar scene in Korea.