MB Kim, 50, a South Korean businessman came to India in 2002. He wound up his business in London to come to Delhi. And seven years on, he says he made the right decision. Kim owns two factories in Noida — that manufactures plastic components for LCD TVs and computer monitors and employs about 400 people — almost all of them Indians. “Initially, life in Delhi was tough. The weather was harsh and I longed for Korean food and people. But now I have settled and it will be tough for me to go back and live in Seoul,” says the soft-spoken Kim, sitting in his spartan office in Noida. He passes instructions to his staff in a mix of Hindi and English, as he talks about life here.
Kim is not an exception. Today, there are about 5,000 Koreans in Delhi and the National Capital Region, most living with their families in south Delhi colonies such as Vasant Vihar, Anand Niketan, Hauz Khas, Green Park and Safdarjang Enclave. While a majority of them work for Korean corporate giants like LG, Samsung and Hyundai, many are entrepreneurs.
Koreans: Punjabis of East Asia?
kimchi and butter chicken to.
Keeping up with the Joneses is a religion: My Lexus and Louis Vuitton are bigger than yours. Everything has to be larger than life.
Will out-eat and out-drink almost everyone they know. If they can’t, they’ll die trying.
Love talking and singing, louder but as off-key when drunk. Both are temperamental and aggressive.
Dramas set fashion and lifestyle trends. Korea is perhaps the only country where women queue up for hours to buy Chanel at full price.
In fact, there are about 180 companies owned by Koreans in the NCR. They are running consultancies, travel companies, restaurants, furniture stores and art galleries. The city also boasts of a Korean superstore called A Mart (see Gung-ho dining) — where all groceries are imported from Korea.” It’s nice to live in Delhi; it has a rich history, a vibrant culture and now there are so many Koreans here that I do not feel like living in a foreign country,”says YH Park, general manager, customer care services, Hyundai Motors India.
Food, clubs and rounds of golf
The family spends the weekends trawling the malls, watching Hindi movies and playing golf. “We all enjoyed Ghajini a lot,” says Park, who relishes Indian food, especially naan and dal makhni.
Park’s wife and daughter (who studies at the American Embassy School in the capital) are in Korea at the moment for the summer holidays. So, these days Park heads to the city’s Korean restaurants to eat as well as socialise.
HS Jang, who runs the Restaurant de Seoul in Ansal Plaza says 80 per cent of his customers are Koreans, and “they come here to taste authentic Korean food and catch up with fellow Koreans.” He started the place five years ago. While talking to Jang, I meet a lot of young people, all Koreans, trooping in. Kim Mi-Na who works as a graphic designer, tells me that she hits the city nightclubs every Saturday night after work, “but Seoul has a better night life,” she says.
Another favourite weekend activity is golf. “Koreans are very passionate about golf, especially as playing in South Korea is pretty expensive compared to India,” says M.B. Kim. Go to Jaypee Greens in Greater Noida and you will find that the majority of golfers are Koreans. Many Koreans take memberships of golf courses in the NCR, and also get to bond with their people on the fairway.
Also in the capital — in a rather slick location in Hauz Khas — is the office of the Korean Association in India (KAI). MB Kim heads this organisation that hosts a cultural festival once in two years. There are also classes held for children and housewives. A topic of one such class: ‘maintaining health and hygiene in Delhi’.
There is also a monthly magazine, Namaste India, in Korean, that has news about happenings within the community. Namaste India has articles by Koreans from all over India and is distributed to various Korean companies.
Other than KAI, Delhi University also has a Delhi University Korean Students Union (DUKSU). There are about 90 Korean students enrolled in university, many of them pursuing certificate courses in Hindi. Says Jin Bum Kim, ex-president of the union who passed out of Ramjas College last year, “The idea behind the union is to give Korean students a platform to help each other by sharing experiences, exchanging notes from seniors and helping them overcome the language barrier.” Most Koreans, Kim says, have a problem with languages, both Hindi and English. “And Korean students enrolled in undergraduate courses often fail in the first year because of language.”
Besides the union, DU also has a Korean band called Soeum, meaning noise, and a football team to boot.
The Koreans’ struggle with English and Hindi has created a huge demand for interpreters in Delhi. In fact, there is no dearth of institutes and individuals promising to make you proficient in the language. “I work as an interpreter for Korean companies such as LG, who hire me regularly on contract basis,”says Bhanu Pratap who runs Korean Solutions, a Delhi-based interpretation and translation service. Go online and you will find any number of individuals who offer services to Koreans on the internet. Last year, Union tourism minister Ambika Soni also released first Korean-Hindi dictionary during her visit to Seoul.