He helps women defectors find mates

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He helps women defectors find mates

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NNBN CEO Hong Seung-woo, right, with his wife Joo Jeong-ok, a North Korean defector. The two married in 2012.[NNBN]

Hong Seung-woo is a matchmaker whose speciality is finding husbands for young women from North Korea.

“North Korean women crossed the ‘death line’ to seek freedom,” Hong said. “If they can do that, they have to be mentally strong and healthy.”

Hong is CEO of Nam Nam Buk Nyeo (NNBN), which helps connect single South Korean men and North Korean women. The 45-year-old started the business 10 years ago after learning that there were a lot of female defectors from the North in China, where he was operating a trading firm. Many of them were single.

“I saw these single women living lonely lives even after going through hell,” he said. “I wanted to help them.”

According to South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, women accounted for as much as 70 percent of the total 28,795 people who have defected from the North as of late last year.

Hong has managed to connect about 550 couples so far. He charges a fee of 3 million won ($2,500) from each male client. For the women, his services are free.

“It wasn’t easy doing business in the early stages because of discrimination against women defectors in South Korea,” he said.

Some people doubted Hong’s real motives and criticized him for “playing around” with North Korean women.

But business got smoother as perceptions about defectors started changing as they appeared on TV shows, and the public gained respect and sympathy for them.

Hong created a mini-industry. There are now more than 20 matchmakers for women from the North.

“The kind of bridegrooms desired by female defectors has changed noticeably over the past 10 years,” he said.

These days, North Korean women prefer salarymen rather than entrepreneurs.

“It is understandable that they want to have spouses that bring a high degree of stability,” he explained, “considering that they risked their lives to come here.”

Male clients prefer women from Pyongyang because they have soft accents and are thought to have grown up in a relatively comfortable environment.

Among women customers, about 70 percent of the total come from North Hamgyong, since it is the closest province to the border with China.

Hong himself got married to a North Korean woman in 2012. His wife, Joo Jeong-ok, 42, was born in Chongjin, North Hamgyong.

Hong believes his business could be a cornerstone for unification of the two Koreas in the future.

“We shouldn’t think of the people as we do the regime,” Hong said. “Female defectors could become female leaders of our society like German Chancellor Angela Merkel did.”

BY KIM YOUNG-MIN[song.suhyun@joongang.co.kr]

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