|A foreign resident is looking at a street bulletin board with employment information in Wongok-dong, Ansan, an industrial town south of Seoul. |
/ Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul
By Park Si-soo, Rachel LeeANSAN, Gyeonggi Province ― Many foreign residents in this industrial town, south of Seoul, live in Wongok-dong, which the local government designated a “Borderless Village” in 2006.The area includes the “Ansan multicultural village special zone,” where nearly two-thirds of the population of 16,500 is non-Korean. Nearly a quarter of the almost 1,400 commercial establishments, mainly restaurants, in the zone are owned by foreigners, according to the municipal authorities.“What you see today in the special zone is perhaps what you will see in many other industrial towns in Korea in the future” said Jang Dong-jin, a worker with the Ansan Migrant Community Service Center.Wongok-dong was the central part of Ansan when it became the site of small-scale factories under a rural redevelopment project launched by the government in the 1980s.Foreign workers started arriving in the late 1990s as Koreans began to shun manufacturing jobs. Ansan now actively promotes itself as a home for foreign workers, with the city administration offering support services.“Foreign workers are crucial for the country’s basic industrial services,” such as welding, molding and surface treatment, said Hur Jai-joon, director general of the employment policy department at the Korea Labor Institute.No company in the nation’s important electronics, shipbuilding and machinery industries can complete their products without these services, Hur said.Hundreds of companies offering such basic manufacturing services are located in Ansan, which has the highest concentration of foreign residents in the country.There were nearly 44,000 foreigners registered in the city at the end of 2012, accounting for 15 percent of the foreign population in Gyeonggi Province and 4.7 percent of the total foreign population in Korea. An exotic feelThe cafes, shops and restaurants that lie along the streets of the enclave evoke the appearance of Southeast Asia. Most of the signboards are written in Chinese, Vietnamese and Indonesian instead of Korean.The restaurants serve authentic dishes from Southeast Asia, which has made the area a magnet for foreigners who cannot taste such cuisine elsewhere in Korea.
|Ariyanto Shi, right, a migrant worker from Indonesia, learns Korean martial art taekwondo under the guidance of a taekwondo master at a community center for foreigners in Ansan. |
/ Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul
Foreign wivesWang Lin from China’s Shandong Province runs a bustling Chinese restaurant. She settled in Ansan four years ago after marrying a Korean man, and said most of her customers are “Chinese who miss the authentic flavor of their hometown food.” “There are lots of Chinese people here,” Lin, 37, adds. “I use Korean only to serve Korean customers, but Chinese is my primary language at work. Despite my limited ability in speaking Korean, I have experienced no difficulty living in Wongok-dong.”Lin is one of many foreign women who moved to Ansan after marrying Koreans. At the end of 2012, there were 5,200 foreign wives in Ansan, some of the estimated 147,600 women from 136 countries who have settled in Korea after marriage and make up around 15.8 percent of the registered foreign population.Other foreigners living in Korea include students, overseas-born ethnic Koreans and children.Public attention is increasingly focusing on foreign wives who are putting down roots in Korea, unlike foreign workers, and are giving birth to Korean children when the nation’s birthrate is falling.Nearly half of the foreign wives come from China and many are ethnic Koreans, such as Li Hong-lian from Jilin, who married a Korean in 2006 and has two children. She wants to pursue the “Korean dream” of living a wealthy life.The 35-year-old laughs when she mentions that lack of money is still a problem, but adds “except for that, I’m happy with my current life.”Her husband, 37, is an interior designer whose monthly income is around 3 million won. Li works at a community center for immigrant women and earns roughly 750,000 won a month taking care of children whose foreign mothers are visiting the center for Korean language and culture lessons.“Generally speaking, Korea is a better place to live than China,” she said. “My husband and I are trying hard to improve our family’s living conditions so that we will be able to live without any problems in the future.”Li is one of the growing number foreign “urban” brides who have replaced the first wave of foreign women who came to Korea in the 1990s to marry older farmers and fishermen.Dark side of diversityDespite the vibrant foreign presence in Ansan, some Koreans still harbor negative views about foreigners because of their reported association with criminal activities such as sex-trafficking and drug smuggling, in collusion with Korean gangs.According to the National Police Agency, the number of arrests involving foreigners across the country rose to 26,915 in 2011, up 16 percent from the previous year.Ansan is not an exception to that trend.According to the Ansan Danwon Police, the number of crimes involving foreigners in the city more than doubled between 2007 and 2011, to 863 cases. The most notorious case in Ansan was the murder by an illegal Chinese immigrant of his Korean girlfriend in 2007.The case garnered media attention because he chopped up her body in an unsuccessful attempt to conceal the crime and the reports created a public perception of Ansan as being dangerous.Some local residents complain about the presence of foreign gangs and the sex-trafficking of foreign women despite the city’s efforts to fight crime.“I lived in Ansan for about eight years, but I moved to Seoul three years ago,” said Kim Young-mi, a 53-year-old housewife.“A lot of foreign people are coming into our county and settling in that area. The streets are getting dirtier and there are a lot of dodgy places like cafes that have sprung up everywhere, which was quite an unpleasant thing for me to see, to be honest,” she said.Kim adds, “I am not a racist, but I feel like foreigners took my town away from me. Some of my friends still live in Ansan and they tell me they want to move somewhere else because they feel unsafe there.”Foreign workers also have complaints about their treatment by Koreans. Official data show tens of thousands of immigrant workers suffer from racial discrimination, exploitation and unpaid salaries.Last year, nearly 3,600 companies were accused of delaying payments to foreign workers, according to the Ministry of Employment and Labor.Data from Statistics Korea show that labor exploitation is still rampant, with 33 percent of migrants working more than 60 hours a week, longer than the workweek of a maximum 52 hours stipulated under the labor law. Another 19 percent work between 50 and 60 hours a week and 37 percent work between 40 and 50 hours.Despite the long hours, foreign workers are often paid low wages. Nearly 70 percent only make between 1 and 2 million won ($885 to $1,770) a month, while 7 percent are paid less than 1 million won.Yoon Young-soon, director of the foreign workforce division at the ministry, said that the government is stepping up efforts to prevent immigrant workers from suffering exploitation, discrimination and other forms of maltreatment. Ansan’s pioneering roleExperts say Ansan’s embracement of racial diversity represents an important signpost to the nation’s economic future.“Immigrant workers form the biggest part of long-term foreign residents and many of them live in Ansan,” said Park Chun-ung, president of the Ansan Migrant Community Service Center, who received the country’s first doctorate in multiculturalism.“Many foreign nationals in other areas are keeping a close eye on how Ansan deals with its foreigners because it reflects the county’s general attitude toward them,” Park said..