Learn from history
Korea began its relationship with Vietnam when it participated in the Vietnam War. Thanks to that, the nation was able to achieve striking social, economical, political improvements.
The country even attained better international relations and a higher standard of living through its participation.
It is evident that the bilateral relations have been improving. The two countries are to start talks on a proposed free trade agreement (FTA).
Interracial marriages between Koreans and Vietnamese are ranked the second highest in Korea, only behind Korean-Chinese marriages. Even the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) will add Vietnamese to its foreign language section starting 2014.
As exchanges and interactions between the two countries increase, Korea is becoming more intertwined with Vietnamese society. Given all this exposure to Vietnam, a country that acted as a humongous stepping stone for Korea’s splendid growth, the question is how Koreans feel about Vietnam and its people.
When I first came to Vietnam six years ago I observed that the Koreans who resided here had a tendency to belittle Vietnamese people because of Vietnam’s economic situation _ it somewhat resembles Korea’s economy back in the 1970s to me.
This attitude is often subconsciously expressed in daily routines such as bossing a Vietnamese waitress around in a misogynistic manner while at a restaurant and shouting at a Vietnamese housemaid when giving instructions.
In fact, I have done a survey only to discover that all Koreans I interviewed consider themselves to be superior to the Vietnamese. Not only do Koreans not have a justifiable position to believe so and should not have such a negative attitude but they should be apologetic to Vietnamese people because Korea committed many “sinful” actions toward Vietnamese people during the Vietnam War.
Some examples include massacres of the innocent by Korean troops and irresponsible births in Lai Dai Han that included the desertion of mothers and offspring by Korean men. As proof and commemoration of these heinous acts, the Vietnamese people have built “Korean hatred monuments.”
They illustrate and depict the crimes committed by Korean soldiers against the Vietnamese people and names of the victims. A lot of Koreans don’t even know that the Korean hatred monuments exist because Korean education only narrow-mindedly states Korea’s achievements and the concomitant benefits extracted from the Vietnam War.
Korea has an obligation to teach students its collective history, even the darkest bits. The point lies not in slandering its ancestors but in acknowledging their meritorious deeds and heinous sins to reflect global honesty. In order for the two countries’ relationship to genuinely improve, it should begin with Korea telling the truth.
On the other end of the spectrum, current Vietnamese views about Koreans are much rosier. At least it is in Ho Chi Minh City, a major city in the south of Vietnam. Vietnam has gradually been opening its doors to foreign investments and is making great leaps in economic growth beyond my expectations from my impressions of it six years ago.
Accompanying such growth is Korean culture, a derivative of the Korean presence in Vietnam. Many Korean companies such as restaurants, markets, and even hagwon (cram schools) are pouring into the nation.
Accordingly, the Vietnamese’s recognition of Korean culture and feelings toward Korea has improved favorably: a majority of Vietnamese taxis have digital screens displaying Korean companies like Arirang and many Vietnamese people recognize Korea as the country that gave K-pop and can speak Korean.
The effects of Korean culture can also be seen in high testing rates of the Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK); K-pop stars and Korean music programs’ are making inroads into Vietnam and a staggering 80,000 Koreans reside in Ho Chi Minh City alone. Of course, the perception of Korea in the middle and northern parts of Vietnam would differ sharply.
According to my research about these regions from Vietnamese books, people in Hanoi and Danang have much greater feelings of victimization from the war and an abhorrence of Koreans. After all, there is a reason why there aren’t any hatred monuments in the southern Vietnam but only in those the central and northern parts of the nation.
Nevertheless, Vietnam is appreciative of Korea. As the saying “learn from your history” goes, only self-introspection can achieve improvement in the future. I’m really looking forward to the day when I can feel guiltless and proud to be living as a Korean in Vietnam.
The writer is a high school student at the Korean International School in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. She moved to Vietnam three months ago after spending a year and a half of high school in the global leadership program at Bugil Academy in Korea. Her email address is email@example.com.