The number of foreigners living in Seoul is very much on the rise, with a headcount of 129,660 in 2005 representing an increase of some 250 percent in the last decade. The lions-share of the overseas residents come from China, the U.S., Taiwan, and Japan followed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Mongolia, Canada, England and France.
As overseas communities have put down roots, it's become clear that nationals from different countries like to gather in their own little corners of the city. The French have claimed the Seocho ward's Seorae Village, the ethnic Korean-Chinese occupy Yenben Street, Garibong-dong in the Guri ward, and Dongbu Ichon is known to be home to many Japanese. With the number of foreign laborers increasing, small international districts are springing up all over town.
◆ Changshin-dong and Sungin-dong Is Nepal Town
Throngs of Nepalese are drawn to the homely sights and smells of Nepalese restaurants like Namaste and Himalayan in the Jongno ward in front of the Dongmyo (Eastern Shrine). It's been three or four years since the opening of Nepalese jewelry stores prompted nationals to move into the area in droves. Soon after, authentic Nepalese restaurants sprang up in the area and the foundations of a community were set. One Nepalese immigrant said, "There must be at least three hundred of us gathered here. Once or twice a year we are treated to shows by famous Nepalese singers who come over especially and this year it will be at Jongno public building." Lee Joo-ho, who runs an Oriental medicine clinic in the area, said "The number of Nepalese using my clinic is rising by the week. it's no longer unusual to hear their language in my waiting room."
◆ Itaewon Is Little Nigeria
An alley behind the Line 6 Itaewon subway station has become "Little Nigeria" with Nigerians beginning to buy items at Dongdaemun and Namdaemun markets for sale in their home country from around the year 2000. There are beauty parlors, restaurants and bars that cater to Nigerian tastes, and one afternoon a group of Nigerians even got together to discuss how to support their national football team. One district official said, "At night the street is pretty much filled with Nigerians. I guess there must be at least 200 living in the area." With the mosque nearby, Friday night also bustles with Bangladeshis, Indonesians and people from North Africa.
◆ Gwanghui-dong's Central Asian Village
Near the Dongdaemun Stadium is Gwanghui-dong, an area known for its central Asian village. In the mid-90s a number of merchants from Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Mongolia began frequenting the area, and now there are restaurants with signs written in Cyrillic and buildings clustered with restaurants, trading companies, and groceries run by Mongolians.
◆ Hyehwa-dong Philippine Market
Every Sunday Filipinos gather at Daehangno in Dongseung-dong. Along the walls of the Catholic Dongsung Middle and High School the Philippine market is a hive of activity. It started to grow three yeas ago when Filipinos gathered for Mass in Hyehwa Catholic Church.
Foreigners make up 1.3 percent of the population of Seoul. As the number from OECD member countries including the U.S. and Germany is falling sharply, the number of people from non-member countries including China is on the rise, according to researcher Yoon Hyung-ho of the Seoul Development Institute.
Between 1999 and 2005, the number of U.S. citizens in Korea has decreased by 39 percent to 11,487 from 18,763. The number of Germans dropped by 25 percent to 753 and French nationals living in Korea totaled 1001, a 15 percent decrease from 1,180. Japanese proved the exception, showing a slight increase of 6 percent, while the number of Chinese residents soared 534 percent to 77,881 from 12,283. Numbers of Taiwanese rose 196 percent to 8,923 from 3,011 and Vietnamese went up to 2,385 from 841. Sharp rises in the number of Indians, Filipinos and Bangladeshi were also evident. People from non-OECD nations increased 280 percent combined, from 26,428 to 100, 421.