This issue of
Citylife

Chiang Mai Citylife > Articles > K-Pat: The Korean expatriate community in Chiang Mai

K-Pat: The Korean expatriate community in Chiang Mai

Thai people love all things Korean: be it the ubiquitous kimchi, the Thai-adapted Korean bbq grills, South Korea’s high tech offerings, and most of all, K-Pop, the highly manufactured boy and girl pop bands which have taken the world by storm. The K-Pop phenomena, along with the popularity of Korean fashion, food, films and TV series, can be lumped under what sociologists describe as the ‘Korean Wave’, and what the press has amusingly referred to as ‘Kim Chic’.

Citylife this month has decided to take a look at Chiang Mai’s K-pats, or Korean expatriates, who are they? What are they doing here?

The Consulate of the Republic of Korea in Chiang Mai recently estimated there are over 2000 Korean expatriates living in Chiang Mai Province. Most Korean expats in Chiang Mai make a living by running their own businesses such as restaurants, tour companies, entertainment venues or property developments or by working for corporate companies. The majority of Koreans live here with their family but there are also a large group of retirees. Citylife spoke with various Korean expats in Chiang Mai who said it was the typical pros of good weather, food, friendly people and a low cost of living which attracted them to Thailand. And great year-round golfing doesn’t hurt either. We are told the international schools are a popular choice for Korean parents, due to decent educational standards, more affordable fees and avoiding highly pressured educational environments such as in Korea.

By plane, Thailand and Korea are separated from one another by a relatively brief journey of less than five hours. There are currently two direct flights per week between Chiang Mai and South Korea, attracting more tourism bound in both directions.

Korean studies have also taken off in Chiang Mai, with various Korean language and culture modules available at Payap University, Chiang Mai University and a bachelor degree in Korean Language at Rajabhat University, which sees annually over 70 students graduate. Many of the younger Thai generation study Korean simply for the pleasure of watching soap operas in their original language!

It was just announced that there will be a new Korean Language course at Chiang Mai University, headed by Prof. Soohyun Jo. The course, which is currently a “selective one semester course”, will concentrate on Speaking and Listening, but will include aspects of Korean culture. Deputy Dean for Academic Affairs, Professor Unchalee Sermsongswad hoped that the course would help lay the groundwork for a future Bachelor’s Degree. In addition to the course, CMU will also be holding a Korean Festival – seems like we weren’t kidding about our love for all things Korean!

It was just announced that there will be a new Korean Language course at Chiang Mai University, headed by Prof. Soohyun Jo. The course, which is currently a “selective one semester course”, will concentrate on Speaking and Listening, but will include aspects of Korean culture. Deputy Dean for Academic Affairs, Professor Unchalee Sermsongswad hoped that the course would help lay the groundwork for a future Bachelor’s Degree. In addition to the course, CMU will also be holding a Korean Festival – seems like we weren’t kidding about our love for all things Korean!

Kim Teak Gon, Music Teacher, Student Counsellor and Bible Teacher at Payap University Church Chiang Mai

Kim moved here 11 years ago, sent by the Presbyterian church he relocated with his wife, son and daughter, he works at Payap University but is supported by Korean Christian organisations.

Kim set up a music club and taught guitar, piano, drums, saxophone and singing to students. Kim even taught one of the Citylife staff, who said he was a great inspiration for learning to play the piano. Kim also teaches bible studies, holds sermons, and works as a student counsellor. Something of an ‘agony uncle’, Kim has students visit and consult with him on a range of subjects. “Students come to me when they are broken hearted. I try to explain to them about the different types of love. They usually only focus on Eros, which involves romance and sexual desire. I try to explain to them the different types of love in Greek philosophy, and the unconditional love of God,” says Kim. Kim uses his Christian faith and Christian philosophy to advise young people, though he does not pressure anyone to convert. “Although some people may criticise missionaries, I am not forcing religion on anyone. I am simply here to offer positive services and people can use them and not even be involved with the religious side.”

The Consulate of the Republic of Korea in Chiang Mai estimates over 150 missionary families living in the province. Missionaries stay in Thailand for any amount of time from one to 20 years or more. In Chiang Mai there are over 30 Korean Christian churches and a large missionary community and organisation network spread across the north of Thailand. “Our main objective in Thailand is to support underprivileged people to develop themselves and their communities,” Kim explains.

Kim has recently opened a new Christian foundation called Eulogia, funded by Korean missionary groups. Eulogia has opened a school in Fah Ham sub-district and offers music lessons, educational courses and other services to young people.

“It was very hectic,” Kim talks of his previous life in South Korea. “I worked from 6 a.m. to midnight. In Thailand life is more relaxed. I adapted well to Thai culture. We Koreans, like Thais, are Asian; we have a similar skin tone and culture, so it’s not that difficult for Koreans to fit in here,” he continued.

Kim Chul Sik, the owner and president of Star In Tour and the chairman of The Korean Association in Chiang Mai

Kim moved to Chiang Mai in 1996, similarly to the Swiss expats featured in last month’s Citylife, Kim believed the Chiang Mai mountains make the area a home-away-from-home for Korean people, who are used to living in hilly environments. After visiting Thailand with a friend, the father of Thai-Korean professional female golfer Aree Song-Kim, he was inspired by the welcoming Thai culture to make Chiang Mai his home. Kim opened a tour company for Korean tourists in Chiang Mai, and a sister company which takes Thai tourists around Korea.

Kim was elected as the Chairman of The Korean Association in Chiang Mai and has held this position for the last two years. “The association’s role is to assist the Korean expat community in Chiang Mai. We try to help people live here more comfortably and give a hand to people with legal, business and property matters. We also hold social events and do fundraising,” explains Kim. Every year The Korean Association of Chiang Mai hosts a thanksgiving party, which involves a singing competition and games like tug of war. “We also get together for special occasions such as the 2010 world cup, when we made a big occasion of it,” says Kim as he recollects the buzzing atmosphere with cheers and waving of fists.

Kim thinks that Thai people began to travel to Korea in droves around three years ago. “They are attracted to the country because of all the glamorous K-Pop, TV series and movie stars. The Thai romantic-comedy ‘Hello Stranger’ or ‘Kuan Muen Ho’ in Thai, was significant, after its release people went crazy and wanted to visit Korea,” said Kim. Travel packages for Thai people visiting Korea consist of itineraries following the paths of where famous Korean movies and series were filmed.

Despite the odd grumble about unplanned development, Kim told Citylife how he truly loves life in Thailand. His only pet hate is coriander. Coriander has been described as Kryptonite for Koreans, because it is not used or grown in Korea, but hey, there are tougher obstacles in life and Kim has learned to live with it.

Won told Citylife how his mother, father, elder sister and himself moved from Gimpo, near Seoul, to Chiang Mai in 2009. Fifteen year-old Won now studies at Nakorn Payap International School and lives at home with his mother. Won’s father supports the family by working in the clothing industry in Korea.
Mi told us, “There is too much pressure on young people in Korea, and therefore Thailand was an attractive relocation option.”

In Korea, Mi worked as an art teacher. Her oriental-styled art is inspired by Korean artist Chadaeyoung, (www.chadaeyoung.com). Mi makes her own paints, by mixing ground natural materials such as plants and mud which create a natural pigment, with animal gelatine. Mi is currently exhibiting her paintings at Sangdee Gallery (Sirimankalajarn Road Soi 5, www.sangdee.org).

Won told Citylife it was not hard for him to adapt to the Thai way of life. “I like my life in an international school environment, I have met people from all over the world, it’s cool.”

Won and his mother told Citylife that compared to Korea, they have more time in Thailand do the things they love. Whereas in their native country, life was a lot more rushed and busy. Won likes Thailand and has mainly Thai friends, which he says are no different from his Korean friends.

We asked Won, being a young person, what he thought about the Korean culture craze in Thailand, he said, “It’s funny to hear Korean music when I am walking through the mall. It’s strange seeing your culture so popular in another country, I feel proud.”