중앙데일리

Chinatowns: Not just places to eat

Feb 20,2008
Lau Yan, the head of a Global Village Center in Chinese-heavy Yeonnam-dong, central Seoul, offers help to a Chinese resident visiting the center. [NEWSIS]
Why is Chinatown all about food? That is the question Lau Yan, 35, a former medical doctor in China, has posed for the past five years in Korea.
Lau, who hails from the northern Chinese city of Tianjin, says Koreans think of Chinatowns as urban enclaves where Chinese restaurants line both sides of the street like in other countries.
But Lau thinks Chinatowns can be a channel for cultural as well as a culinary exchange, an idea that she is now putting to the test.
Lau was recently appointed as head of the Global Village Center in Chinese-heavy Yeonnam-dong in central Seoul. The center, which opened on Jan. 31, is the first of five Global Village Centers that the Seoul city government hopes to establish this year to help foster six special foreign residential areas.
“The Seoul city government is in charge of turning Mapo District into a Chinatown, and the Global Village Center in Yeonnam-dong can support this move,” Lau said in a recent telephone interview conducted partially in Korean through an interpreter. “But, within our ability, we want to do our best to help create a Chinatown as a cultural exchange venue between Chinese and non-Chinese people, including Koreans.”
Late last month, the capital city government announced it will establish six foreign villages in an effort to upgrade services for foreigners and thus help to attract more foreign investors and tourists.
In addition to Chinatown, there are plans for a Japan town in Ichon-dong, Yongsan District; France town in Seorae Village in Seocho District; America towns in Itaewon and Hannam-dong, both in Yongsan District; and a multinational town in business-heavy Yeoksam-dong, Gangnam District.
The Seoul municipal government said it will open global village centers in these five areas, including one for the two America towns. The other four village centers will open in April, the city said.
The global village center in Yeonnam-dong, located in a 48-square-meter office on the second floor of the Yeonnam resident center, is in charge of issuing 319 licenses and certificates related to residential registration, immigration processes and tax payments for foreign residents in the Mapo District.
There are around 3,400 Chinese living in the district including neighboring Yeonhui-dong, according to officials from Seoul city government.
The center is also expected to provide information on volunteer programs and tips on living in Korea. In addition, it will provide foreign-language services to help residents deal with bills, notices and administrative paperwork.
According to an official of the city government who requested anonymity, several other Chinese residents applied for the job, but Lau was hired because she suggested a number of ideas for creating the best Chinatown, the official said.
The ideas include language and cultural exchange programs, according to Lau.
“We will begin Chinese language courses for Koreans and Korean language courses for Chinese in March,” said Lau, adding she could be one of the Chinese instructors.
She plans to launch a cultural experience event in April or May. “This event could involve Chinese people touring Korean cultural heritage sites or Koreans learning about Chinese cooking. Anything that helps Chinese and Koreans understand each other’s culture will be useful,” she said.
Opening a flea market in a park adjacent to the center where Chinese and Koreans can exchange information is another plan slated for the spring, Lau said.
Born into a family of doctors, Lau graduated from Tianjin Medical University. She met her Korean husband while he was studying in the Chinese city. They married in 1998.
Since coming to Korea in 2003, Lau has worked for Samsung Tesco and LG Electronics as a Chinese language instructor.
Her medical license obtained overseas is not acknowledged in Korea.
“It could be better if I were allowed to practice here as doctor,” Lau said. “But I enjoy my job as a Chinese language instructor. It is rewarding to teach Koreans about Chinese culture through Chinese.”


By Moon Gwang-lip Staff Reporter [joe@joongang.co.kr]


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