June 15, 2023 08:33
Women from Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia who married lonely Korean bachelors are breathing new life into the countryside's outdoor markets.
An abundance of tropical fruit, vegetables and spices from the mail-order brides' home countries now spill out into the narrow lanes, and are advertised in Southeast Asian languages or English.
One 53-year-old butcher said, "Only elderly people used to come to my store and I was getting worried I might have to close down, but now the foreign women will ensure that I can stay open for another eight or nine years."
The butcher put up welcome signs in different languages at his store. "Around 90 percent of younger customers in our market are foreign women, so I put up the signs three years ago to make them feel more at home."
Another example is the vaulted Dongsang Market in Gimhae, South Gyeongsang Province, which now has a section selling spices and other exotic ingredients to cater to foreign brides. Around 30 of the stores are actually run by foreigners.
The section opened in November of 2017 and set up signs in Vietnamese and Cambodian in February this year identifying stalls and products.
Cho Yong-eon (53), who runs a grocery stall with his Vietnamese wife, said, "I sell coconuts and mangosteens, which are popular in Vietnam. Most of my customers are foreign women. They keep me in business."
"You can tell the multicultural section selling Southeast Asian spices and food products from the exotic smells," said a trader in Dongsang Market.
At Hwaji Joongang Market in Nonsan, South Chungcheong Province, signs in foreign languages are proliferating, including the menu of a Vietnamese rice noodle restaurant.
Park Im-hyang (50), who has been running a fruit store at the market for 22 years, said, "We didn't expect foreign women to become our new customers, but they caused sales to rise around 30 percent. Rural towns' populations are declining, and I was worried I might have to shut my store down, but thanks to these new customers, I don't have to worry any more."
Kang Hyun-jin (60), the head of the market's traders' association, said, "Due to an aging society, our market lost customers, so the increase in foreign brides is a welcome development."
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