Ten­sions in Lon­don’s Koreatown

Ten­sion pal­pable dans le quar­tier co­réen de Londres

Vocable (Anglais) - - Édito Sommaire -

Dans le quar­tier de New Mal­den, la com­mu­nau­té co­réenne est di­vi­sée.

Le quar­tier de New Mal­den, dans la ban­lieue lon­do­nienne, abrite la plus grande com­mu­nau­té co­réenne d’Eu­rope. « Koreatown » est donc l’en­droit idéal pour dé­gus­ter un Bi­bim­bap, boire un Bubble tea ou écou­ter de la K-pop. Mais ce quar­tier en pleine évo­lu­tion est aus­si très im­pac­té par l’ac­tua­li­té géo­po­li­tique in­ter­na­tio­nale.

As di­ners de­vour scor­ching por­tions of bi­bim­bap from stone bowls, with pain­tings of South Ko­rea de­co­ra­ting the walls around them, vi­si­tors might think they were in Seoul. But this is New Mal­den, south-west Lon­don. More than 10,000 South Ko­reans have li­ved in Lon­don’s “Koreatown” since an ini­tial wave of im­mi­gra­tion in the 1970s. Now, those from the south in­crea­sin­gly find them­selves jost­ling with mi­grants from el­sew­here. 2. Over the din of sizz­ling rice, sounds of Man­da­rin emerge from the res­tau­rant’s kit­chen. One of the wai­tresses is a Chi­nese-Ko­rean from Liao­ning, a Chi­nese pro­vince by the North Ko­rean bor­der. The chef, meanw­hile, is from South Ham­gyeong, in the north-east of North Ko­rea. She speaks fluent Man­da­rin at work, as “it’s the on­ly way to com­mu­ni­cate with the Chi­nese-Ko­reans in my job.”


3. In the past, the main di­vide in Koreatown was bet­ween old-ti­mers and youn­ger, more li­be­ral recent mi­grants. One South Ko­rean re­sident des­cribes New Mal­den as “more conser­va­tive than Seoul”. “Wo­men stay at home, their kids have to do what they are told to do, they have to go to uni­ver­si­ty,” he says, ad­ding that re­si­dents need not speak En­glish. Koreatown, which com­prises three or four streets off a main drag filled with res­tau­rants, food mar­kets and tra­vel agents, has thus main­tai­ned tra­di­tio­nal conser­va­tive va­lues that have been ero­ding in Seoul.


4. Now, ho­we­ver, a big­ger di­vide is ope­ning up, cau­sed by the gro­wing mix­ture of South, North and Chi­nese-Ko­reans in the com­mu­ni­ty. Some 600-800 North Ko­reans live in Bri­tain, making up what is thought to be the big­gest dia­spo­ra out­side Asia. Ma­ny come via Chi­na. Other North Ko­reans come af­ter spen­ding time li­ving in the South. Al­though Seoul may seem gla­mo­rous upon ar­ri­val, it is of­ten hard for nor­ther­ners to fit in. Be­cause they are Ko­rean, they are ex­pec­ted to act Ko­rean. But the cul­ture of the com­mu­nist North is now so dif­ferent from that of the freew­hee­ling South that this is ea­sier said than done. Some opt to move fur­ther afield, where no one ex­pects them to be like their neigh­bours.

5. Ten­sions oc­ca­sio­nal­ly arise in Lon­don’s Koreatown. “South and North Ko­reans try to get along, but there are good and bad people eve­ryw­here,” says one North Ko­rean li­ving in New Mal­den. Ano­ther says that, while she was ha­ving her first meal at a

Ko­rean res­tau­rant in Bri­tain, the South Ko­rean wai­tress re­co­gni­sed her North Ko­rean ac­cent and sug­ges­ted that she be gi­ven the lef­to­vers, which she would be used to ea­ting in the North.


6. Mat­ters are fur­ther com­pli­ca­ted by the gro­wing num­ber of Chi­nese-Ko­reans, known as Jo­seon­jok. A big strain on re­la­tions bet­ween North Ko­reans and Jo­seon­jok is the asylum sys­tem. Ma­ny Jo­seon­jok fal­se­ly claim to be North Ko­rean, ho­ping to im­prove their chances of being gran­ted asylum. North Ko­reans great­ly resent this, on the grounds that it risks ge­nuine North Ko­rean re­fu­gees being re­jec­ted. In 2013, 30 ap­pli­ca­tions by people clai­ming to be from North Ko­rea were re­jec­ted.

7. Im­por­ted po­li­ti­cal dis­putes are ano­ther source of fric­tion. Whe­reas ma­ny South Ko­reans ap­prove of Pre­sident Moon Jae-in’s en­ga­ge­ment with the North, some North Ko­rean exiles see this as si­ding with the ene­my. “Moon Jae-in told the world he was a hu­man-rights lawyer when he vi­si­ted the White House” last year, says one North Ko­rean in Bri­tain. “But now he has stop­ped the work of hu­man­rights ac­ti­vists,” ban­ning the sen­ding of lea­flets tou­ting the be­ne­fits of free­dom to the North. As for Do­nald Trump’s recent mee­ting with Kim Jong Un, “all hope was lost,” she adds. The fu­ture of north-east Asia is being wat­ched clo­se­ly in sou­th­west Lon­don.

Im­por­ted po­li­ti­cal dis­putes are ano­ther source of fric­tion.


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