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Seoul’s foreign towns flourish

Police fortify security watch for popular destinations

June 12, 2016 - 17:51 By Kim Da-sol
For many Seoulites, a visit to Daerim-dong or Yeonnam-dong would mean a stop in the district’s Chinatown for exotic menus featuring lamb skewers or bubble tea. It is also in such ethnic zones that Chinese immigrants tend to search for an affordable home in their new country.

These tight-knit foreign communities are also found in other areas of the city, including the Vietnamese town in Wangsimni, Nepalese town in Changsin-dong and Mongolian town in Gwanghui-dong. In Itaewon is an Islamic town stretching down the alleys and in Hyehwa-dong a Filipino community market is held every weekend.

The Jongno-gu district office once tried to close down the Filipino market, citing pedestrian inconvenience, but has now turned to protecting the event -- not only for the sake of nostalgic immigrants, but also for the tourist attraction for visitors.

The immigrant towns started to appear here back in 1985, when a group of French people living in Seoul gathered near Banpo-dong after the French International School relocated its building in the neighborhood. The Seorae Village, meaning “those coming from the West,” has since then been dubbed “Little France.”

The number of foreign residents in these regional clusters is quickly burgeoning. According to Yeongdeungpo-gu, where one of the biggest Chinatowns is located, at least 66,000 Chinese residents were tallied to live in the district as of last year.

An alley in Jayang-dong near Konkuk University in Seoul shows a row of Chinese restaurants. (Yonhap)
Kim Seung-su, 28, says that the increasing variety of ethnic food alleys is a big attraction for Koreans who wish to “experience the original taste of foreign countries.”

“I came across a Sichuan-style pork dish in Daerim-dong in Yeongdeungpo-gu, very similar to one I tasted when I was in southwestern China,” Kim told The Korea Herald with his mouth watering.

“I am thrilled to have access to all these original dishes from different parts of the world here in Seoul.”

According to mobile app Poing, a restaurant app for foodies in Seoul, the soaring Thai, Philippine and Vietnamese restaurants have been garnering popularity especially among women in their 20s and 30s. Poing showed that at least 98 such restaurants are scattered around the capital.

But with the rising popularity, the destinations have also become increasingly exposed to crimes.

The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency said Sunday it would designate an alley in Jayang-dong in Gwangjin-gu near Konkuk University as a special safety zone, making it the fourth such district after Daerim-dong, Garibong-dong and Itaewon.

The “lamb skewers alley” in Jayang-dong has become notorious for the increasing frequency of thefts, blackmail and frauds by Chinese immigrants residing in the vicinity. 

“(Although I am Chinese) I am worried about the low security level, so avoid going to those areas at night,” said 28-year-old Lu Han-yen, a Chinese student who has been living in Seoul for five years.

Officials said they are set to tighten their regular patrol, as well as the inspections of suspicious passersby. Supervision on prostitution will also be reinforced.

Some, however, point out that intensified police supervision may not be an appropriate solution to the security issue in foreign towns.

“I think that the measure may be discriminatory against foreign residents in the corresponding areas,” Pao Yuan Chang, a 33-year-old Chinese-Korean, told The Korea Herald.

Police argued that the proportion of crimes by foreigners in these areas under police control is in fact on a downturn, contrary to general wariness.

According to police data, foreign criminals in special safety zones of Seoul stood at 27.7 percent last year, down from 30.8 percent in 2013 and 29.9 percent in 2014.

By Kim Da-sol (