In Seoul, sign boards advertising matchmaking services with Vietnamese girls have been replaced by multi-lingual radio ads promoting help lines for foreign wives.
During a dinner at the Seoul house of the Vietnamese Korean Association Chairwoman Huynh Thi Thai, the hostess surprised her guests with a special dish: Vietnamese chopstick beans fried with meat.
In the land of kimchi, it is rare, if not impossible, to see chopstick beans.
"A Vietnamese girl married to a Korean man in the countryside grows them," Thai said.
"She sent them as a gift to thank me for advising her when she quarreled with her in-laws."
Thai said she didn't feel happy receiving the beans for free so she asked for the girl's bank account and sent her some money.
"I wanted to tell her to continue being happy and grow chopstick beans," she said.
For several years, Thai has been part of an expanding private and government network that provides counseling and other support services to Vietnamese wives.
Women like Thai and her two friends, Loan and Nghin, who have been living in the Republic of Korea (RoK) for decades, say it is hard to be a foreign wife in the RoK.
It was so hard that in 2006, the Seoul government opened the Emergency Support Center for Immigrant Women.
Center Director Kang Sung Hea said though most foreign wives in the RoK were Chinese, it was the Vietnamese brides that called the center most often for help.
"Most Chinese wives come from the China-RoK borders so they speak Korean and have few problems," Kang said.
"Vietnamese brides, on the contrary, don't speak Korean and are young and inexperienced."
Outside Seoul, local authorities have also established Korean language centers, culture and cooking classes for foreign wives, as well as field trips and tours for multicultural families.
But the Emergency Support Center for Immigrant Women is the only place to offer phone counseling services to foreign wives in the RoK.
Kang said next year the government will open similar centers in other cities.
At Kang's center, foreign wives who speak fluent Korean and have successfully integrated into Korean families are trained to become hotline counselors.
"We do everything, from interpreting and arbitrating to answering questions about residency, social welfare and legal matters," hotline counselor Thanh Quy said.
"We also call the police when necessary."
Quy, who has worked at the center for two years, said she has heard many sad stories told by Vietnamese brides.
One was scratched black and blue with a comb by her sister-in-law.
One was forced to work in the field immediately after giving birth.
Another complained her husband's family threatened to deport her whenever she quarreled.
Many who married after using matchmaking services were disappointed to find their husbands were quite old.
Quite a few resented their husbands for not helping their poor families back home in Vietnam.
And others were forced to work hard to make up for the thousands of dollars their husbands had to pay to bring them to the RoK.
"Once, a mother-in-law called to ask why Vietnamese brides were so stubborn and answered back whenever their in-laws spoke," Quy said.
"I had to tell her Vietnamese and Korean cultures are a little different. In Vietnam, daughters-in-law have more of a right to speak."
In April alone, the center received 551 phone calls, a large part of which were about daily problems.
Twenty of the calls were about violence and 22 reported brides running away.
Kieu Oanh, a college graduate who worked for a Korean company for five years before following her Korean husband to live in Incheon city, said over the past two years, Koreans had started to perceive foreign wives more positively.
She said RoK media used to call families with foreign brides "families who have immigrants." These families are now called "multicultural families."
Popular KBS World TV channel have also started two new shows about love and marriage with foreigners.
Director of the Ho Chi Minh City Women Confederation's Marriage Support Center, Nguyen Thi Bach Tuyet, said since 2002 provincial women's associations have been authorized to open marriage support centers to provide matchmaking services for foreigners and Vietnamese.
Many such centers have been opened but most only offer services for Vietnamese.
Tuyet said it was partly because little effort had been made to advertise these centers and partly because many girls still believed it was faster and easier to use private services.
Tuyet said her center now offered language, cooking and culture classes to Vietnamese brides married to foreigners.
"We get them to memorize the Seoul hotline and the Vietnamese Embassy numbers before they leave us," she said.
But she added few of them had used the center.
Source: Tuoi Tre