Sea Breeze Helps Korea's Mongolians Speak with One Voice

      March 30, 2005 16:55

      When we arrive at the Mongolian restaurant Attila in Myeonmok-dong, Jungnang-gu, Seoul, two or three little girls are skipping about. Seven members of the Sea Breeze Association, who sit around chatting, greet us, their faces lighting up. The Dalain Salkhi or Sea Breeze is an association set up last month by Mongolian expatriates in Korea with the purpose of giving their community here a single voice.

      Korea is home to more Mongolian migrants than any other country. In Japan there are about 2,000 Mongolians, and in China there are about 1,000 - excluding, of course, the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region. But Korea is home to close to 20,000 Mongolians. Dalain Salkhi wants to speak for their interests and already boasts about 1,000 members.

      A photo exhibition entitled “Mongolia - the descendents of blue wolves” by photographer Kang Jong-jin is being hosted by the Embassy of Mongolia in Korea at the Chosun Ilbo Gallery in commemoration of the 15th anniversary of diplomatic ties between South Korea and Mongolia. The picture shows Mongolian men on their way back home from hunting.

      Zorig, a 40-year-old journalist for the Mongolian newspaper Today, said he initially had a tough time adjusting to Korea's hierarchical social structure. "In Mongolia, people with five years age difference still speak to one another like equals, but in Korea even if a person is just one year older than you or started working for the company one month earlier, you have to treat them as a superior," he said.

      Mongolians gather in the Attila restaurant in Myeonmok-dong, Seoul, on Sunday. Almost impossible to distinguish from Koreans by appearance, some 20,000 Mongolians live in Korea.

      Inkjechek, 30, who will marry a Korean in May, chipped in saying Koreans are polite to Westerners but cold to their Asian neighbors. "Maybe it's because of the country's rapid industrialization that Koreans are a bit distant and have little interest in their neighbors," he said.

      All of them agreed, however, that Korea was Mongolia's role model. They said Koreans work hard, and care about next day's work even while they are drinking. Batgerel said it seemed Korea's success was due to the hard work and efforts of Koreans. The oldest one at the meeting, 55-year-old Tonggarrak, after spending much of his time quietly listening, said, "Mongolians need to learn the Koreans' passion for learning." He said Mongolians placed importance on letting children grow up freely, but parents needed to pick up the desire to teach their children.

      The group's most pressing concern, however, is the difficulty faced by Mongolian migrant laborers. Everyone present agreed that the most urgent task was finding a quick resolution to the problems of laborers, who cannot find new jobs easily and often have trouble with residency. They hope the Mongolian embassy will help.

      Dalain Salkhi is aware of the cultural differences Mongolians living in Korea face, but the members stress that the two countries are inseparable neighbors. They point to similarities in language as an example. Thus the word for Chinese cabbage, "bachu", is similar to its Korean name "baechu", while Mongolian for "right side", "barun jo", is very like the Korean "bareun jjok".

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