Defector’s dating service unites North women with South men

Joong Ang Daily
Choi Hyun-jung

Kang Hak-shil left a husband and a child in North Korea when she defected here in 2002. Completely alone, she hoped to remarry to settle into Korean society.

However, the men she met often lied about themselves, she said, some pretending to be single when they were married. A friend finally introduced her to her husband, whom she married in 2005. She decided to help North Korean women like her.

In July 2006, she established the Korean Council of Human Rights Solidarity for Women Out of North Korea. Finding many female defectors, she also established a matchmaking agency.

She named it Nam-nam-buk-nyeo, ― South man, North woman ― which is an old Korean saying claiming that men from the South are good-looking and women from the North are beautiful.

The company provides services pro bono for more than 500 North Korean women, but male patrons have to pay 1.3 million won ($1,390) when they find a match.

She strictly checks the identification of the men before accepting them as members because, she said, they often lie. Therefore, in order to be considered for membership, men need to bring ― among other things ― personal identification papers, family registration papers and proof of education and employment.

“I think the fundamental idea behind this company is good,” said Park Jung-ran, of the Seoul National University Institute for Unification Studies.

“But it is likely that the matches will fall apart if South Korean men have the wrong idea about North Korean women, and vice versa. Participants must try to look beyond stereotypes and strive for a true understanding of one another.”

According to Ms. Kang, most of the men who join the service are over the age of 30. They work in various fields and come from various backgrounds. “The men are often not good enough for our women,” she said, smiling. “These ladies are domestic, pretty and ready for marriage. Sometimes the men are not as nice.”

Currently, there are 30 male members, and 20 successful matches have been made.

One such couple is Park Su-yong and Hong Seung-woo, both 39. Park Su-yong crossed over into South Korea from Cheongjin, North Korea, via China with her father almost five years ago. At first she settled in Ulsan and worked at a noodle shop. She met two or three men, one of whom hid the fact that he was divorced.

She had known Ms. Kang from her days in Hanawon, the government-run rehabilitation facility all defectors go through before being released to South Korean society. When she learned Ms. Kang was running a matchmaking company, she sought out her help. She met her husband, Hong Seung-woo, through Nam-nam-buk-nyeo.

The couple dated just three times before tying the knot two times, once in October at a small ceremony with family members, and again in December at a joint wedding with other defector couples.

“Neither of us is that young, so there were none of the love games that you normally have to go through. We knew each other’s objectives clearly enough.” Mr. Hong said.

Mr. Hong, who works as a bus driver and can speak Chinese, had initially thought about marrying a Korean-Chinese woman or taking a foreign wife. When a friend introduced him to the matchmaking company last year, he was delighted with the results. He had divorced his wife in 2004 and lived with his two sons, aged 7 and 9, and his parents before meeting Ms. Park. The couple now lives in a small apartment complex in Incheon.

Although the boys acknowledge Ms. Park as their stepmother, they do not know she is from North Korea. The couple feels the boys are not yet ready to handle the truth. They will tell them when they are ready. When Ms. Park occasionally lets slip a North Korean word, the kids assume it’s because she’s a foreigner.

“She is very pure of heart, and she’s very domestic, unlike many South Korean women these days,” Mr. Hong said of his wife. He said she was the first North Korean person he had ever met. People he knew were equally fascinated with the nationality of his new wife. “My friends want to know what she’s like. I teach them a new North Korean phrase every day; they love it.”

Ms. Park emphasizes that when North Korean women defect, most are all alone. “Because we are in South Korea, it’s natural for us to look for a South Korean husband,” said Ms. Park. “Marriage has helped me adjust into Korean society,” she said.

The two do not plan to have any more children, and said they are happy. “We have no reason to fight,” Mr. Hong said.

When Ms. Kang’s younger sister crossed over into South Korea, she also got married through the company. “No one wants to be alone when they cross over. They are all looking to settle into society and the best way is through marriage,” she said.


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