June 04, 2012 07:43
A 600-m street near Konkuk University in eastern Seoul is lined with shops and offices featuring Chinese signboards. This small Chinatown started to form around a decade ago as droves of Chinese people landed jobs at sewing factories clustered in Hwayang-dong, Seongsu-dong and other local neighborhoods.
But the demographic has been changing from laborers to students in the last few years. Now the town has drawn over 5,000 Chinese students who attend neighboring universities such as Konkuk, Sejong and Hanyang, as well as more than 20,000 Chinese students who live in other pockets of the capital.
The change has caused stores and businesses there to become more active in catering to these young Chinese students. A growing number of restaurants offer discount prices or "buy-one-get-one-free" menus. Some have replaced traditional floor cushions and low tables with the kind of chairs and large round tables preferred by Chinese customers. More Chinese are moving to the area to cash in on the area's growth.
The move to attract Chinese students is also visible at Korean stores in the area. Estate agencies, karaoke parlors, cosmetics shops, and cellphone stores put up advertisements in Chinese or signs saying they can communicate in the language.
Many young Chinese students who come to Korea grew up relatively well-off in an expanding Chinese economy, so they tend to spend big. They have now emerged as a key customer base in the area, said an estate agent nearby. "Some 70 percent of our customers are Chinese these days, and about a third of them are students."
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