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The Korean Konnection

한국 text by Greg Lypka

The Kang clan

While China might

Estimations for the number of Koreans currently living in China reach 700,000 with projections of 1,000,000 within the next two years. It is believed there are around eight to twelve thousand living long term in Dongguan or regularly traveling back and forth between here and their home. While some cultures come to China seeking a better life, most Koreans, like most Westerners, have come for the business opportunities. Those not working for the large corporations like Samsung and LG are opening their own small businesses such as restaurants, grocery stores and hair salons. Indeed, many Koreans, mostly from the South, consider Dongguan not only a place to make a living but also a place to raise a family. One such family is the Kang Family.



With a history dating back to 2333 BC, Korea has had plenty of time to clash and reconcile with its bigger brother China. Any two countries that share a land border are bound to have disputes, and these two countries are no different. In 668 A.D., what is now known as Korea was twice its size before a small southeastern province named Sin la joined forces with the T’ang Chinese in the north to conquer the entire country, then known as “Coguryo.” What is now the most northeastern part of China was traded for the safety of the Sin la.

In 2006, Mo Hoon Kang’s position at Dae Guang, an LCD Display company, shifted to full-time. With no one else to fill it, Mo Hoon made the decision to move his wife, In Suk Choi and three sons, Hyun Seo Kang (Isaac), Hyun Jun Kang (Jun), and Hyun Min Kang (Hunter), all to Dongguan. When asked if he felt Dongguan was an acceptable place to raise a family, Mo Hoon responded, “Dongguan is just a lot cleaner and nicer than Beijing, Shanghai or Chongqing.” Although considered cleaner and nicer than other major cities in China, when fourth child, Hyun Ji Kang reached her third trimester, In Suk took Hunter back to South Korea for the birth. As to why Mo Hoon felt it was important for his first daughter to be born in their family’s homeland, he had this to say: “In Korea it’s very important for the mother’s mother to be with her at childbirth. It was also important for me that she be able to communicate with the hospital staff.” When asked if there would be any more additions to the party of six, Mo Hoon chuckled

The power of language Directly across from Smile Mart is Ma Sha, a Korean-owned and run Hair Saloon. We spoke with the saloon’s owner, An Qing Shu, and the advantage of knowing the local tongue was clear: to communicate with An, she spoke Korean to her translator, who translated to Chinese for our translator, who then translated to English for us. After being open for business for a month, she admits the language barrier is what makes things most difficult to run a business here. However, she is finding learning Chinese very interesting.

As a joke, I asked Mo Hoon his favorite food, “Of course, Kimchee!” I then asked Mo Hoon where he bought his Kimchee and he told me the Smile Mart on Dongcheng walking street has all the best stuff. When “micro” becomes a community Yean Shun Gi is from Shen Yang, an island between China and the Korean peninsula that for many years has been heavily contested as to which country owns sovereignty over it. As a result, Yean Shun speaks fluent Hangol and Mandarin. She feels it’s because of this that when she took over the Smile Mart in 2006 that she prospered. After hearing of the growing Korean population here, she quickly saw an opportunity for a small supermarket. We asked Yean why there were so many specifically Korean supermarkets in many cities around the world. “The Korean diet is very different from any other diet, and requires a completely different food base. The Japanese diet is similar though; many people from Japan also shop here.”

images by Rowan Bestmann

not be where many were born, it’s certainly the adopted home to many happy Koreans. As Dongguan continues to develop and grow in population and diversity, so do its micro communities. The countries of origin may be different but the opportunities offered by the city are the same.

and shook his head, at which point Isaac, who had been translating the entire time, turned and said, “Hunter was supposed to be the last, but we wanted a girl.”

Besides occupying the niche market of Korean foods, The Smile Mart is considered the top of its kind in the city. Yean Shun cites her knowledge of the local tongue as the main contributing factor in that achievement, but added she did strive for excellence in and out. She went on to say, “With the large number of customers I have, I’m able to buy more fresh items because they sell faster. I also make regular donations to community sponsored activities.” The Smile Mart isn’t the only Korean store to be found at Dongcheng walking street. Right next door is the Korean-owned and run Pizza King, followed by a store that was clearly Korean when it was still open for business. Next to it is a very nice flower shop run by a very nice Korean women. There are then three Korean restaurants that reportedly decline in quality the farther they are from the flower shop. The seven or eight shops seem to have been the original “Korean section” for some time. More Korean stores however are appearing on walking street. After Korean restaurants and supermarkets, the next largest kind of small business seems to be the Korean Hair salons.

“Coguryo” was later shortened during the “Coryo” dynasty in 918 A.D., which would later be the source of the name “Corea.” This would later be changed to “Korea” during the Japanese occupancy that ended with World War II. The occupancy would spread into mainland China, and now with both countries forgiving the atrocities of a common enemy that occurred less then 100 years ago. Most feel any remaining grudges from the Sin la land loss have been gotten over by now.

As most Koreans don’t speak Chinese, a good number of businesses struggle when first getting started. Signs of the Korean community helping each other are clear as flyers for many Korean owned restaurants could be found on the counter of the salon. Establishment owners have numerous ways of overcoming difficulties, whether it’s to learn the language, change locations, or feature a completely different style. Korean-owned eating establishments One restaurant that has thrived in Dongguan is located on Dongcheng West Road, on the 4th floor of the Hai Lian Building. In 2000, the owners of Koreana, who speak fluent Mandarin, saw the increasing number of Koreans doing business in China and especially Dongguan. They also predicted a growing market here and became the first in the city to offer traditional Korean dining. For those who have never had it, this would be a good place to try authentic Korean Barbeque. There are numerous Korean restaurants in Dongguan, so numerous in fact that after contacting the owner of Jing Fu Gong, which is located an hour away in Huangjiang, we discovered the reason he opened his spot so far from the large Korean population in Dongguan city was the large population itself. He felt this area and Shenzhen already had too many Korean restaurants for him to open another one. Martin Cha worked in the Beijing and Shanghai Hyatt and Grand Hyatt for 15 years before deciding to move to Dongguan permanently. Trained as an Italian Chef at the Golden Bull food academy, Martin also felt Dongguan was saturated with Korean restaurants and chose to open Martin’s House, a western-style restaurant. Martin, as a Korean-born, Italian-trained chef, broke further away from the norm by being the first western restaurant in Dongguan city to offer high-quality food at low prices and in a casual, family-oriented setting. We asked Martin how active he was in the Korean community in Dongguan and he said he regularly attended the monthly meetings of the Korean Dongguan Association. HERE! DONGGUAN | MAY 2008


Pearl River Delta is in high demand, as 50 to 80 % of all Korean products are shipped through Hong Kong. This is why prices in some parts of Shenzhen are double and even triple. Mr. Baek commented, “If a company went to Dongguan and Shenzhen with the same amount of money, the Dongguan branch is simply going to be able to do twice as much.”

Small Korean Business to Large Korean Business Small restaurants and supermarkets are just the tip of the iceberg when looking at Korean and Chinese business ventures. Reportedly, there are 400 Korean companies, including registered small businesses, in Dongguan right now. However, there are many more unregistered businesses, such as small restaurants and hair saloons. Other towns in Dongguan that have a high number of Koreans are Houjie and Liaobu. It was felt that the best way to monitor and help all these companies was to form a Korean Chamber of Commerce in Dongguan that would represent this area to the head office based in Beijing. That office would then report to the national Chamber of Commerce in Korea. With the businesses linked at a local, national and global level, what was left was to connect the local community with the global business world. This was achieved with The Dongguan Korean Association. The Dongguan Association: Business Side The association currently has around 150 Korean companies involved, with many members employed to such large Korean multinationals as Samsung and LG. We met with Mr. Loy Baek, Deputy Chairman of the Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Mr. Baek stated how it was ten years ago that many Korean companies such as Samsung and LG moved their factories to this area – and with many subcontractors doing almost all their business with these companies, they had no choice but to follow. “Where Samsung and LG go, so must we (the subcontractors).” We asked Mr. Baek why he felt that the major Korean corporations favored Dongguan so much. His response was that their main trades were electronics and electronic parts, something the PRD is getting known for producing at increasingly better quality. This area is also becoming known to have local molding and shaping manufactures that have vastly improved in the past three to five years. He added, “With other areas in China having such a hard time, many Koreans don’t want to do business anywhere else.” Mr. Baek continued on to say that while Liaoning and Shangdong find 30% of their Korean companies struggling, Dongguan appears to be doing better. It’s not just Korean businesses that struggle in China of course, but he’s still very positive about this area. Despite its proximity to Guangzhou and Shenzhen, the prices her are still so much lower. The entire



China and Korea have such a similar culture that 50 percent of the Korean Vocabulary is derived from Chinese loanwords. Most Koreans born before World War II would be able to write in Chinese, but it was after the Japanese suppressed the use of the native Hangol that its major reemergence occurred and it was adopted as the official National Script.

Kimchee, or Kimchi, is most commonly made with Baechu, a kind of Chinese white cabbage, radish or cucumber. A good source of Vitamin C in a diet already known for being one of the healthiest in the world, Kimchee will be served at virtually every Korean meal all year long and is also used as a common ingredient in other Korean dishes. To this day, the many varieties of Kimchee are often homemade.

In spite of the difficulties, the Korean Chamber of commerce is trying to make things work by moving around and using diversification. Mr. Baek stated a phrase that will ring true for anyone doing business in China, “you can do anything in China, but you can’t do anything.” The Dongguan Association: Community Side KoCham, who Mr. Baek was representing, is the group in charge of managing and linking the Korean Chamber of Commerce of Dongguan to the Korean Association of Dongguan. There is a small fee for membership with the association, but about two thirds of the Korean community has joined. When relocated for business reasons, Mr. Baek confirmed that Koreans are much more likely to bring the entire family. With many of the men at work all day and the kids at school, the wives and mothers are left with little to do. The cultural center was put in place for people to meet, mingle and take classes in traditional Korean cooking and arts, Hangol, English and Mandarin. It provides opportunities for Koreans to socialize and discuss important matters. Recently the center even put on its own lecture to discuss the newly passed Chinese Labor Law.

BBQ, the traditional meal, is a grill in the center of the table that cooks different kinds of meat. After the meats are cooked they are cut in to small pieces and then wrapped in fresh leaves of lettuce. Raw, cut vegetables, thinly sliced garlic (Korea is the world’s top consumer of Garlic) and other seasonings are then added. The grill is surrounded by numerous side dishes called Banchan with the most famous being the Korean food staple of spicy fermented cabbage known as Kimchee.

Our images show Jun and Isaac Kang with their father Mo Hoon, an impression from Smile Mart, chef Martin Cha in front of his restaurant, deputy chairman Loy Baek (center) with chamber auditor Mr. Kim (right) and secretary general Mr. Bae of the Korean Chamber of Commerce, An Qing Shu at her hair salon, a lovingly arranged Kimchee dish and Koreana owner Jung Hyun Hwa (right) with her nephew and restaurant manager Hung Guen Park

Other concerns are if Korean children are learning Hangol and getting a good Korean education here in China. KoCham does their best to give educational opportunities. Every weekend, 250 kids of all ages come to the center to learn Hangol. The school opened last March and they are receiving good reactions. When asked about the closeness of the Korean Community, Mr. Baek explained, “Much like the Brazilians and local Guangdong people, we are a conservative community that sticks together.” Clearly from global business to home cooking, the Korean Community is looking out for each other.



The KoreanKonnection  
The KoreanKonnection  

While China might not be where many were born, it’s certainly the adopted home to many happy Koreans. As Dongguan continues to develop and g...