There’s a saying in Korea about “Southern men and Northern women.” Basically, it says that men from the South of the Korean Peninsula are handsome and women from the North are beautiful. My grandmother tells me that way back when, it was favorable for a man from the southern region to marry a woman from the northern region. Apparently, people thought that northern women had the full package. However, lately, it seems that this belief is coming back.
Last year in 2011, about 2,737 defectors entered South Korea. 69% of those defectors were women. Many of those women come to Seoul as single ladies and sooner or later may want to start a marriage. Now, I have a few friends that are defectors and from what I’ve seen, it seems that the trend is to date and marry a fellow defector. And this does make sense. If you were to spend the rest of your life with someone, why not do it with someone who knows where you came from, shares your experiences, and understands you all the better because of it? I mean, it is more common for people with similarities to find love, is it not?
In most cases, yes. But that’s not how it always works. Sometimes two persons with completely different backgrounds are able to find love too. We see it all the time. Inter-racial marriages happen all over the world. And it happens in Korea too, and I am a living testament to it. But it’s not the inter-racial marriages that I would like to focus on. I would like to bring attention to the marriages of people who are so much the same yet so different.
According to a matchmaking company in South Korea, 208 men of 320 (65%) asked for a second date after having been set up with a defector. And 1 in 3 defector ladies that are registered in their company have married South Korean men. When I first saw these numbers, I couldn’t help but be a bit surprised because I had never met a defector who had married a South Korean, and with my line of work I meet a lot of defectors. But this is not to say that it doesn’t happen. The numbers show that it does. And these statistics are only from one company. If all the data were to be collected, the numbers may be a substantial amount.
However, this new trend seems to apply more towards defector women than men. According to a survey taken by the North Korean Refugee Foundation during July and August of last year, of the 8299 defector survey participants 10.2% of the men married South Korean women and 32.7% of the women married South Korean men. This may be because South Korean women tend to be pickier, more so than men, when choosing their marriage partners. Women are typically concerned about the man’s education, place of work, salary, hometown, family members, outer appearances, etc. and unfortunately, it’s harder for North Korean men to fill these “requirements.” South Korean men, on the other hand, are usually just looking for a wife and it turns out that North Korean women make excellent wives.
In an interview conducted by the defector-run news website, New Focus, Mr. Suh, who had met his North Korean wife through a friend, was asked how he had decided to marry a defector. He replied by saying that he fell in love with his wife on their first date when she walked with him for several blocks to a coffee shop in the dead of winter without one complaint or a single frown. He said that he likes that she appreciates even the small gestures he does for her and considers love more important than money. He also bragged that she even makes breakfast for him every day, kind of like women from his mother’s generation. It’s hard to find women like that nowadays. Personally, I probably won’t make breakfast for MY husband when I get married. I mean, it takes A LOT of dedication to get up extra early every morning to cook. I don’t have this dedication and that is why I don’t eat breakfast. But to men, and especially to Korean men, breakfast is important. But that’s enough about the importance of breakfast. Going back to Mr. Suh, he finished by saying that it seems that North Korean women are not the types that fall in love at first sight and then fall out of love just as quickly. Instead, you find that your love continues to grow as the days go by. And what better love than this?
In a different interview, Mr. Lee described his North Korean wife as having a sort of “taintlessness” that is hard to find nowadays. He said that she was extremely thoughtful of others and is full of vitality, possibly because she had such a rough past. Mr. Lee explained that he was reluctant at first when he was told that she was a defector but changed his opinions when he met her.
There is still quite a bit of bias when it comes to defectors here in South Korea. But defector or not, South Korean or North Korean, there is no difference. Well, there may be a difference in one’s past experiences but isn’t that true for all human beings? North Koreans and South Koreans falling in love and building families – it’s things like these that prove that unification is bound to happen. And in a way, I would say that this is a small form of unification in and of itself.