of marriage and men and cowboy hats

So.  I intended to offer you up a profound critique of east asian womanhood as post number one, however I’ve realised that if I wait for myself to get around to writing it, I’ll never post again. 

As such, I’ll offer you a brief precis on the migration of southern vietnamese women to south korea.  Since 2001, the number of Korean men marrying Vietnamese women has increased dramatically.  In 2001, there were 83 F-2 marriage visas issued at the Consulate-General of Korea in Ho Chi Minh City, while in 2006 and 2007 more than 6,000 of these visas were issued each year.  Currently there are more than 20,000 Vietnamese women in Korea, having married Korean men.    

The average age for a southern Viet woman migrating to Korea is 22 years old; education level ninth grade.  They are, usually, the stronger willed of the young women in the region, often deciding to marry abroad in the face of opposition of their families – most coming from small rural villages, close knit, with relatives staying close, and grandparents usually closely involved in the raising of the child. 

The most commonly given reason for international marriage migration is to send money to the family (perhaps the basis for another post, suffice to say – a child’s debt to their parents is considered to be immense, and unpayable*).  Other frequently sited reasons include to see the world (this is cited by about 90% of these migrant women, though it’s usually not one of the main reasons given); to marry a “modern man” with more international and contemporary sensibilities (often citing other marriages in family or village) and to avail themselves of better work opportunities.  

Men’s reasons for marrying abroad reflect the social situation in Korea.  Sex selective abortion has skewed the sex ratio, leaving many men unable to find a wife.  The Korean government is providing funding of US$5K (equv) to men to go abroad and find a wife.  Vietnamese women are prized because of their perceived docility, traditional Confucian values and submissiveness.  (Perceptions all around: Viet Nam has had a higher level of female workplace participation than south korea, for longer; the level of female literacy in Vietnam is very high etc.. ).

It is estimated that as many as 70% of these marriages are arranged for men travelling to Viet Nam on week-long wedding “tours” by marriage brokers.    While for-profit marriage brokering is illegal in Viet Nam, there are Marriage Support Centres, operating under the authority of the Viet Nam Women’s Union, which may engage in matchmaking on a not-for-profit basis.  Yes – the Women’s Union can legally run foreign matchmaking services.  Lucky is the international company that pairs with the Women’s Union for their tours!

The cost of a one week “tour” to Vietnam ranges in price from about US$5 – $15 K.  This includes your flights, escort, introductions, a gift to the brides family and all wedding formalities.  A series of “available” young women* are paraded by for the man to chose from (yes, she does have to agree, and yes, men do get turned down), the wedding is consummated; there may be a one day “honeymoon”; the marriage is registered with the Justice Department and the man flies back to Korea while the woman remains in Viet Nam, for approx. three months, while the paperwork is processed.  Once she has the visa, she’s off.  

And so the new life begins…   Now, all things considered, Korea does a not tooooo bad job with international wives – in so far as it occurs within its particular context.  There is much to blame here, however that’s like shooting fish in a barrel.  Take the blaming as read as I say “all things considered”.  In every city, and in most smaller communities, there is an “international migrants centre”.  Wives are provided Korean lessons free of charge; there are extensive internet facilities provided.  There is a magazine entitled “Rainbow” for dual race families, which I think is funded by MOGEF (I am not certain) – that’s the Ministry for Gender Equality and Family (Yeah, the MInistry for Gender Equality and Family.   You get all excited, then they kill it in the same breath.  However.  See above…  Given the Korean context….).  Let’s be clear – there is support, but the idea is to “turn her Korean” – there is no desire for a multicultural utopia; it’s a one way switch that’s expected. 

Sorry..  I was going somewhere with this.. Ok.  The perceived issues form the Korean side is the fear that the woman is “only in this for the money” and will “run away”.  From the Viet side, complaints usually centre around a failure to find a middle ground; the level of expectation of change from her with none other forthcoming.  Survey’s of women going to Korea indicate that, for many, their only source of information on Korea is Korean soap operas, which is rather like watching the Bold and the Beautiful and feeling as though one has garnered a profound view of life in America. Unfortunately, the men these women are marrying tend not to be the idealised vision of the “rich man from the rich country”.  A “marriage market” exists in every culture – you target a particular “bracket”.  Most of the men coming to marry abroad are low income, blue collar workers – those who cannot compete in the highly competitive Korean marriage market.  This can come as something of a shock, if there is no transparency at the time of interaction…

Lord.  I need a break.  Take this as Part One.  I will return to this topic at a later date.  Delighted to answer specific questions, if you have them.  I should stress: this is all utterly blameworthy.  I’m not not blaming.  I shake my fists to the sky often enough.  Consider this a data dump.  We get to the blame dissection later; when the material is available to see the insidiousness of the whole system. 

I do, however, have a request of you, yee of the US.  I go to NY.  I want a cowboy hat.  See this sensational hat.  What’s the chance I can find something even hotter and of equal, gooood quality, for <$75 (i want this baby to last) in NYC?  Or would I need to be visiting Dallas for it even to be worth my while trying, or do I just order?


* denotes more information available on request, I’m just too damn lazy to write it all out here.  including: social norms;  social obligation; children/parents, where the women come from, who recruits them, how they come to be in the city waiting for men to pick em out etc.. 


~ by Jael on August 16, 2008.

One Response to “of marriage and men and cowboy hats”

  1. Oh, honey, no. Buy a cowboy hat in New York City? You’ll definitely do better with internet shopping if you want a hat that will last.

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