From Korea with Love

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How Koreans Can Stay Safe in the Philippines

Six months ago, I wrote a post as a reply to an article I read in The Korea Times entitled “Philippines Turns into Death Trap for Koreans”. The article talks about the growing concern among Koreans after news of the death of a Korean student who was abducted in Pasay City hit the headlines. Prior to the tragic news, there had been a number of crimes committed against Koreans living in the Philippines that has brought trepidation to the Korean community.

In September 2011, a 59-year old Korean businessman named Hyun Hur was shot and killed, while his Filipino driver was wounded after they were attacked by two men on a motorcycle along Ortigas Avenue. In March of last year, the lifeless body of a Korean man, identified as Kim Ji-hun, 38 years old, was found inside a water tank at a condominium in Paranaque. He was last seen in the morning of March 26 running barefoot outside the condominium unit he shared with his Filipina live-in partner. In April, another Korean died and two were injured in a shooting in Angeles City. The victims were all businessmen involved in currency exchange  and were believed to be carrying a lot of cash at the time of the crime. In 2013, 12 Koreans were reportedly shot or stabbed to death, but to this day, the suspects remain at large.  According to the Foreign Ministry, 44 percent of 160 murder cases of Koreans residing abroad happened in the Philippines. This year, there have already been reports of nine Koreans murdered from January to July and two cases of abduction.

It’s no surprise that according to the data compiled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Philippines is the most dangerous country for Koreans in 2013, with a total of 780 crimes committed against them.

SOURCE: The Korea Times

A recent article from The Korea Times says, this the first time since 2011 that crime rates against Koreans in the Philippines outnumbered those in China where there are more Koreans visiting every year.

The data compiled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs showed that the number of crimes against Koreans in the Philippines stood at 128 in 2009, 94 in 2010, 774 in 2011, and 628 in 2012.
The figures in China were 1,024 in 2009, 944 in 2010, 731 in 2011 and 759 in 2012.

Crimes in the Philippines last year included 13 murders, 12 robberies, 678 thefts, two rapes, nine abductions, 12 physical assaults and 10 frauds.

 An average of 15 million Koreans traveled overseas each year, while another 2.6 million Korean nationals live outside the country, according to the government. It also said the number of Korean tourists to the Philippines this year hit 1.16 million as of Aug. 29, up from 830,000 in 2011.

Twenty five percent of the 4.7-million tourists who arrived in the Philippines last year are Koreans. Most of them are students who have come to the country to learn English. Korean parents send their children here to learn English, because the tuition fee is more affordable compared to other English-speaking countries; nevertheless, it offers the same high quality English language education. As the number of Korean residents grew over the years, many Korean entrepreneurs started businesses here that cater to fellow Koreans. Now you can find a lot of Korean restaurants, grocery stores, shops, salons, hotels, academies, churches and other Korean-owned businesses anywhere in the Philippines. In Angeles City’s Korean Town alone,  there are about 150 business establishments owned by Koreans.

One of the several Kprean marts in Angeles City's Korean Town (Photo taken from

One of the several Korean marts in Angeles City’s Korean Town (Photo taken from

The cost of living in the Philippines is cheaper than in Korea, so some Korean families settle here to enjoy a more affluent lifestyle. As my husband puts it, the savings of a typical “salary man” in Korea can go a long way in the Philippines. This is also one of the main reasons why retirees from Korea, who are on fixed pensions, come to live here. Some Korean residents in the Philippines are missionaries; some are employees of big companies owned by Koreans.

Although Koreans still top the list of foreigners coming to the Philippines, the number of Korean visitors dropped this year. Obviously, some of them no longer feel safe in this country… and we can’t blame them. To be honest, when my husband decided to start a business in the Philippines and stay here for a year, I was concerned for his safety. My apprehension doubled when several shootings targeting Korean businessmen occurred in my hometown.

I used to tell Koreans good things about the Philippines every time they ask me about my country… and yes, there are so many wonderful things about this country and its people that a foreigner will learn to love… but is it safe for Koreans? Is it safe for outsiders? Now I don’t think that I can say yes, because the truth is, even Filipinos don’t feel safe in their own country anymore. There is just too much criminality and injustice that the leaders can’t iron out.

Though the Korean Embassy in Manila has already expressed grave concern over the increasing number of crimes against its citizens and sought the help of the Philippine government, no “real” solution has been enunciated. I am not trying to dissuade Koreans (or any other foreigners) from visiting the Philippines, but I would like to remind everyone who comes here to be MORE vigilant.

Here are some ways a Korean can stay safe in the Philippines:

  • If you are a first-time tourist or a solo traveler, stick to your itinerary. It is best to have a qualified tour guide or a friend to show you around.
  • Avoid going to unfamiliar places, but if you really have to go to a place you have no idea about, let’s say, you are looking for an adventure and you’d like to go backpacking, NEVER do it alone. It is much safer traveling around the Philippines (or anywhere in the world) in groups or with a friend… and as they say, the more the merrier.
  • Make friends with Filipinos you see on a regular basis, like a classmate or a teacher in school, an office mate  a church mate  etc., NOT just anybody you have met on-line, in a bar or at the mall. Filipinos are known and loved for their amiability and hospitality, but sometimes these can be used as lure by swindlers. I know most Koreans would rather have Korean friends to hang out with than socialize with the locals, but having a trustworthy Filipino friend can help you understand Philippine culture better.
  • If you are coming home from school late at night, have a friend walk you home, or ask a family member or your guardian to pick you up. Avoid taxis or tricycles if you are by yourself. If this isn’t possible, call someone you know; give that person the plate number of the taxi or the tricycle that you are riding. Let the driver know that you are informing someone of the vehicle’s plate number or make the phone call while inside the vehicle, so the driver can hear the conversation. That way, he won’t do anything foolish, because he knows he won’t get away with it. This may be offensive to drivers who don’t have any hidden agenda, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
  • Flashing your smart phones and expensive gadgets in public places is a big no-no. In Korea, you can use your phone anywhere and no one will give a damn, but if you do that in the Philippines, you will be attracting thieves.
  • If you are withdrawing a huge amount of money from the bank or changing your foreign cash to peso, make sure that no one is following you. Have someone assist you, so this person can act as your second pair of eyes.
  • If you are withdrawing money from the ATM, use ATM’s with assigned security guards or one that is within the bank. ATM’s in the mall are no longer safe because of scammers posing as shoppers. My sister almost fell victim to a modus operandi while she was withdrawing cash from an ATM in a shopping center in Angeles City, but good thing she knows better.
  • Be wary of strangers who are too friendly, for instance, those who offer you free stuff or promos. They could be scammers, too.
  • Avoid crowded places and packed public transport. They are magnets for pickpockets. My brother-in-law and his wife, both Koreans, have been in the Philippines numerous times, but it was only two years ago when they encountered pickpockets in the mall, and they don’t even know how it happened! Nearly 600 USD was stolen from them. Last year, my husband and I were victimized by sneak thieves, too. We were riding a jeepney on our way home. One of the passengers sitting in front of us asked my husband what time it was. Oblivious to what the man was really trying to do, my husband answered him. After a few stops, the man and another passenger sitting next to my husband got off. Later, my husband realized that his wallet was empty.

(Just so you know how skilled and creative pickpockets are here, watch this video. This was in the news a few days ago. The incident happened inside the mall.)

  • Do not get wasted outside your home. If in Korea you can get drunk, sleep anywhere and remain unscathed, here in the Philippines, you will only endanger your life if you do that.
  • Don’t make enemies here, especially among your fellow Koreans. This year, a Korean was kidnapped and killed by a fellow Korean in Cavite. According to the investigation, the victim, Yang Kwang Sung and his companion, Jeong In Seong, double-crossed their employer, Shin Beom Sik. With the help of his Filipina live-in partner, Shin hired Filipinos to abduct, beat up and shoot the two Koreans. Jeong survived the ordeal. Shin and his live-in partner are in police custody, but authorities are still looking for three others involved in the crime. Last year, the arrest of some of the members of a Korean kidnap gang in the Philippines made headlines. The group’s modus operandi was to offer their services as tour guides to fellow Koreans who want to visit the Philippines, and after gaining the tourists’ trust, they would kidnap them and ask their families for ransom.


Chuseok Blues

Last night, I was reading an article about fake casts for daughters-in-law in Korea who want to avoid Chuseok chores. According to the article,  the fake casts sold like hotcakes. Women wear them on Chuseok and pretend that they are injured, so they won’t have to help around the kitchen. One may ask, “Why do these women resort to deception just to shun house work?’ I may not have the gall to wear a fake cast and lie to my parents-in-law like these women, but I am one of the many myeonuris who dread having to do chores on Chuseok.



Chuseok (추석: Thanksgiving Day) is one of the biggest and most important holidays in Korea when families visit their ancestral homes and gather to share ceremonial feasts, but for a myeonuri (며느리: daughter-in-law) like me, Chuseok is more of donkey work than a celebration of gratitude for a bountiful harvest. I don’t mean to sound so negative about Chuseok, but when this holiday comes, it’s impossible to enjoy my days off because of all the chores that I have to do.

Chuseok holiday period lasts for three days, but this year, it is from September 6 to 10. Imagine five days of agony! It’s not that myeonuris work continuously all those days, but we just can’t get over the so-called “daughter-in-law holiday syndrome” until Chuseok is officially over.

Lucky for me, I am NOT in Korea, so this year, I was able to evade all the chores and the stress that come with Chuseok. All I had to do was to call my parents-in-law in Korea and greet them.



Because Chuseok is a big celebration, there is a lot of food that needs to be prepared. My husband comes from a traditional clan, so the women in the family are the ones obliged to do all the work in the kitchen, while the men play Go-stop, watch TV or enjoy their chitchat. As much as I loathe the chores, I hate the fact that women do all the tedious work while men have all the fun.

Photo taken from The Korea Blog

The unfairness of Chuseok preparation as illustrated here (SOURCE: The Korea Blog)

Our Chuseok chores begin the day before the actual celebration. We wake up early and go to the eldest uncle’s house to prepare the food for the next day. Most mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law work together, but my Omonim (mother-in-law) is always busy with her business, so she never comes to help. My husband has many uncles, so their wives, the older myeonuris, do most of the cooking, while my sisters-in-law and I, the younger myeonuris, help with the preparation and do most of the cleaning. I always volunteer to cook jeon, because it seems to be the easiest thing to do… and I like arranging them nicely on a tray once they are cooked. Mind you, I’m not talking about frying four or five kinds of jeon for a small family. It’s for the whole clan! It takes me the entire morning to finish the task. After tidying up the kitchen or washing the dishes, I’m free to go… but NOT really free, because there’s work that needs to be done in the house, too.

Jeon, also known as Korean pancake, is served as an important food for jesasang (제사상) ceremonial table setting for ancestral rites.

Jeon, also known as Korean pancake, is served as an important food for jesasang (제사상) or ceremonial table setting for ancestral rites.


As Christians, we don’t perform ancestral rites on Chuseok called charye (차례), so we don’t have to prepare an elaborate ceremonial feast. In the morning, one of my husband’s uncles, who is a pastor, leads worship. After that, the women will be busy in the kitchen. The men are served breakfast. Abonim (father-in-law) and the uncles get to eat first, and they always have the best seats in the house. Omonim and the aunties rarely eat together with their husbands. I’ve noticed that the older women are more concerned with refilling their husbands’ bowls than minding their own food. This isn’t the case with me and my sisters-in-law. We eat at the same table with our husbands. (Sometimes it’s our husbands who serve us. ^^)

Maybe because we are much younger, we have learned to do things differently. We cater to our husbands, but at the same time, we take care of our needs. Serving

the elders, however, is A MUST.

Myeonuris are expected to stay in the eldest uncle’s house for the whole day. We take our lunch and dinner there, but most of the time, we cook, serve and clean. In the afternoon, the men go to their ancestors’ graves to pay respects, while the women chat a little or take a rest.


An elaborate ceremonial table called Jessasang (Photo taken from ChosunIlbo)

Ceremonial table setting for charye with various kinds of traditional dishes (SOURCE: The Chosun Ilbo)


My first Chuseok wasn’t so bad. I was interested in learning how to cook traditional Korean food, so I didn’t mind working in the kitchen… but when I was left to wash tons of dishes by myself, I felt like crying. My husband must have known how upset I was, so he came to help me. The aunties teased him, because he was the only man in the kitchen. That is probably why he stayed away from the kitchen from then on.

'What's your washing dishes got to do with human rights?'

Last year, my in-laws decided to have our own Chuseok gathering in the house besides the one annually hosted by the eldest uncle’s family. I didn’t fancy the idea, because it meant more house work having two gatherings in one day, but what can a myeonuri do? I have two sisters-in-law who also help with the chores, but their responsibilities begin with setting the table and end with putting away the dishes. They never stay too long in the house, I guess because they know what awaits them when the party’s over. It’s usually the eldest son’s wife, the older myeonuri, who has to do most of the work, but in my husband’s family, it’s the other way around. My husband is the youngest son, which makes me the youngest myeonuri, but we live with the in-laws, so most of the older myeonuri duties are given to me.


The truth is, my Chuseok chores are nothing compared to those of other myeonuries. Some myeonuris I know spend days making Chuseok preparations, while mean mothers-in-law constantly hound them. I am grateful for my Omonim, because she doesn’t pressure me. My husband’s relatives are kind, too… at least this is a consolation.

Some myeonuris have to endure hours of travel time to get to their in-laws’ home provinces only to work like slaves in the kitchen. My husband’s paternal relatives live nearby, so we don’t have to travel far. What irks me are the work load and not being able to spend the holiday as I please.

Before marriage, I was told that foreign wives are usually given less work, since Chuseok is something new to them, but I never believed that. I have always known that being a foreigner does not give any daughter-in-law in Korea an excuse for failing to fulfill her duties as a myeonuri, especially on important family gatherings when all eyes are on us. Foreigner or not, married women in Korea are bound by the traditional role of an obedient and diligent daughter-in-law.


Now that Chuseok is finally over, let me congratulate my fellow myeonuris for making it through another year of “forced labor”. I know that most of us rarely get thanks or thumbs up, but everyone knows that Chuseok won’t be possible without our hard work.



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