Several days ago, Thuy Linh, a Vietnamese major in Korean studies, posted a screenshot from a Korean drama titled “Modern Farmer” on her Facebook page.
According to Wikipedia, the show has aired on the channel SBS every Saturday and Sunday at 8:45 pm since October 18.
The program, which stars Lee Hong-gi, Park Min-woo, Lee Si-eon, Kwak Dong-yeon and Lee Ha-nui, revolves around the members of Excellent Souls (ExSo) – a rock band.
The youths decide to give up their life in Seoul and move to a small town in the countryside to farm a plot of land and prep for a special plan.
The scene posted on Linh’s Facebook page features a middle-aged mother trying to wake up her heavily drunk son.
Half asleep, the son says he is set on getting married.
“You always drink everyday, so you couldn’t bring a girl back from Vietnam,” [sic] the mother then tells him, according to the English subtitles.
Linh watched with Vietnamese subtitles and her friend – a Tuoi Tre(Youth) newspaper contributor – later traced the line back to its English translation.
Even though the English translation seems not to indicate any clear offence, the mother’s Korean line does suggest that even Vietnamese women who are believed to be the easiest to marry will not accept a drunkard like him and he thus needs to fight his fondness for the bottle if he is to marry a girl.
Linh’s friends then expressed their frustration as the film airs on SBS – one of South Korea’s major television channels – and is posted online, and its dialogue is translated into different languages of the countries where Korean dramas are watched like Japan and China.
Around a thousand comments from Tuoi Tre readers, including men, have flooded in the past few days, expressing fury and feelings of disgrace at the contemptuous line.
Nguyen Thanh Tuan, one commenter, even suggested that the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicate their disapproval toward South Korea for “insulting Vietnam’s national image.”
He also urged that the Vietnamese Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism not allow the circulation and airing of “Modern Farmer” in the local mass media.
Pham Hieu Thao, another reader, concurred, adding the two above-mentioned Vietnamese ministries should demand an official apology from the filmmaker.
Looking back at ourselves
However, several readers also commented that the line and Korean people’s apparently contemptuous perspective of Vietnamese women are not inexplicable.
“We often see leaflets in Chinese and Korean that foreign men can easily ‘buy’ pretty, fertile, and submissive Vietnamese girls for a certain sum of money,” said Vu Nhu Mai.
She then urged Vietnamese people to look at themselves before blaming the Korean filmmaker.
Readers Huynh Chi Khai and Pham Hieu Thao shared their opinions that Vietnamese people should strive to study and work harder to contribute to the country’s economic and social growth, so that local women will no longer consider marrying foreign men as a way to improve their lives and thus be looked down upon.
They also called for policies to care for and supply counseling to local women who are about to marry foreigners.
Getting married to foreigners
Over the past ten years or so, a large number of young women in poor, rural areas across Vietnam have married foreigners, mostly South Koreans and Chinese, hoping for a better life despite the potential hazards.
They often get to know their prospective “husbands” through matchmakers, websites or other Vietnamese brides themselves, who introduce their relatives or friends to their husbands’ friends or relatives.
Though a number of Vietnamese brides are happy with their nuptial life abroad, many others have faced domestic violence, sexual abuse and even risk losing their own lives.
On December 1, the Vietnamese Embassy in South Korea notified the Immigration Department in Ho Chi Minh City of the death of Nguyen Thi Thanh Ngan, a Vietnamese woman who was killed in a hotel room in Jeju.
According to South Korean police, Ngan married Kim Hyun Jun on April 26, 2012 and the couple went to South Korea in June that year.
Ngan, 22, and her husband divorced later but she remained in South Korea.
The woman then met Kim Hee Cheol, a 41-year-old South Korean man, on November 30 this year.
After drinking liquor with four friends at a bar, Kim Hee Cheol and Ngan went to the hotel, where the man strangled her to death the same day.
Oh Soon Hwa, a Korean photography lecturer at Singapore’s Nanyang University, observed most Vietnamese women wish to marry foreigners as they can hardly live on their meager pay, not because they are work-shy.
Oh previously launched an exhibit on Vietnamese girls in Tan Loc District in the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho who were about to marry Korean and Taiwanese men.
“With better conditions and job opportunities, wise women would never choose to leave their home country and family. The society perhaps has yet to fulfill their needs,” she noted.
The lecturer also wondered how these Vietnamese brides, many of whom can hardly speak Korean, can adapt to culturally conservative Korean society.
“I wish to describe the world the brides will live in before they set foot in Korea. What’s lying ahead is quite new and challenging to them, including climate, landscapes, culture, and people. That’s why I’ve changed my photo taking style,” Oh said.
Korean government also protects Vietnamese brides
Vien Su, a Tuoi Tre reporter, has just returned from a reporting trip to South Korea regarding marriage with foreign people.
He wrote that Korean people admit cultural differences and local men’s patriarchal nature are responsible for most marital tragedies between Korean men and foreign brides.
The Korean government has also opened a number of centers to provide consultancy and assistance for foreign brides and to stop local men from abusing their wives in one way or another, Su added.
The Ewha Womans [sic] University in South Korea recently conducted a study project on the plight of Mongolian brides in the country and their half-blood children.
Su quoted Chung Dawa – head of the Korea Center for United Nations Human Rights Policy (KOCUN), based in Can Tho – as saying that what Korean people and officials care most about is the hardship of the women and their children.
Most expressed their outrage and urged the government to issue policies to aid these poor women and kids.
Vu Minh Nguyet said some of the main reasons behind marital breakdowns are the failure of many Vietnamese brides to integrate into Korean society and the relentless insistence for their husbands to send money to their families back in Vietnam.
Nguyet, also known as Nam Hye Won, is an expat Vietnamese woman who has lived in South Korea for 20 years and worked for a center providing emergency aid for migrant women who married Korean men in Suwon City.
She pointed out that few Vietnamese agencies inform Korean men of the material-seeking motives nurtured by thousands of Vietnamese brides each year.