Between Worlds: Korean-Born Children in Vietnam

    May 09, 2008 07:29

    "Lai Han Quoc" is the Vietnamese phrase referring to children born to South Korean fathers and Vietnamese mothers. Their history began in 1992, when South Korean enterprises started doing business in Vietnam after the two countries established diplomatic relations.

    These days, many new-generation Lai Han Quoc's are found in Vietnam. These so-called second-generation Lai Han Quoc's were born to Vietnamese mothers in South Korea but sent to Vietnam because their mothers cannot afford to raise them here.

    The mothers send their children to their own parents' homes in Vietnam, either because they are too badly off to raise their children in Korea or because they are embroiled in discord with their Korean husbands. Although the children hold Korean citizenship, they know neither Korean language nor culture. In Vietnam, they become illegal aliens due to their status as foreigners, and are entitled to neither regular education nor basic welfare benefits, including inoculations.

    Mi-young is a four-year-old girl in a village in the southern Vietnamese province of Tay Ninh. Born to a 40-year-old Korean father, who is a sailor, and a 24-year-old Vietnamese mother, she is now living in Vietnam as an illegal alien. Her parents met through a marriage agency in 2003, and Mi-young was born the following year.

    But they continued to quarrel due to communication problems, cultural differences and monetary issues. In late 2006, the father told the mother to go back to Vietnam with Mi-young. Since then, the girl has been staying with her maternal grandparents in Vietnam. After bringing her daughter to her parents' home in Vietnam, her mother returned to Korea to make money.

    Without Korean citizenship, she asked her husband to vouch for her visa extension, but he refused. She then had to move from one workplace to another as an undocumented worker but was finally apprehended by law enforcement officers in April this year. She has since been held at the Seoul Immigration Office in Mok-dong.

    A year and a half after she was parted from her mother, Mi-young also became an illegal alien in Vietnam. Her mother left her behind in Vietnam and returned to Korea with her daughter's passport, promising to come back soon but could not keep her promise, nor could the daughter extend her visa in Vietnam.

    In her maternal grandparents' home in Vietnam, Mi-young likes to look at a stack of photos that show her father smiling and hugging her mother in a park overlooking the sea off Busan, or Mi-young herself nestling in her father's arms on the rooftop of their home in Busan.

    Her 50-year-old maternal grandfather said, "That little girl likes to look at the photos for hours." While looking at the photos, Mi-young exclaims, "appa, appa!" (Korean for "daddy"). A year ago when she first came to Vietnam, the little girl cried, saying, "bap, bap!" (Korean for "rice" or "food"). But except for "appa", she has now forgotten her Korean vocabulary, She is not entitled to attend kindergarten or school in Vietnam, nor can her maternal grandfather, who earns a mere 50,000 dong (equivalent to about W3,100) a day, afford to send her to an expensive Korean school in Vietnam.

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