I had known for a while that New Zealand is a place where Koreans have been travelling – and settling down – for a number of years. At the BFI London Film Festival in 2004 there was a short film entitled Eating Sausage (Zia Mandviwalla, 2004), about Korean immigrants in Auckland; while Bungee Jumping of Their Own (Kim Dae-seung, 2001) features New Zealand as a known tourism destination – at least for adventure sports.
Since I was in Auckland recently on vacation I thought I’d check out evidence of Koreans in New Zealand’s most populous city. A Korean friend of mine in London grew up there, so before I went on holiday I emailed her for some tips, but unfortunately I didn’t get an answer before I got there (understandably – she was on honeymoon). But evidence was not hard to find:
Korean students in the streets and on the buses, a noraebang in Queen Street, a couple of restaurants near the New Gallery on Wellesley Street, a Korean supermarket near the city hospital in Grafton. And that was just on the basis of a random walk round the downtown area.
I was expecting more obvious evidence of Korean businesses in Karangahape Road, the main ethnic street, but couldn’t find any. I suspect, though, that a number of the Japanese restaurants, as in London, are in fact Korean-owned.
New Zealand is a popular place for Koreans to study, but despite the numbers it’s not always easy to adjust – at least that’s the explanation reportedly given by a community spokesman for a recent nasty incident picked up in the Chosun Ilbo.
A youth court in Auckland found six Korean girls aged between 15 and 17 guilty of detaining a 16-year-old girl, also Korean, for more than an hour and burning her with cigarettes outside a supermarket in Auckland in February.
Getting into the more touristy parts, one third of the passengers on my flight1 down to the beautiful lakeside town of Queenstown were Korean. And back in the North Island, the volcanic Maori centre of Rotorua is also a popular destination for Koreans as for many others. It was there that I got chatting to a Kiwi in the travel business who had some interesting (and unprompted) observations about the behaviour of Korean tour groups compared with the Japanese or Chinese. Let’s call it a combination of risk-taking and entrepreneurism, but Koreans are
- More likely to injure themselves – and others – on the jet skis
- More likely to try to avoid paying for things
- More likely to be ripped off by their own (Korean) tour guides (Korean tour guides are notorious for charging their customers a fee to enter a (free) public park).
At least, on the evidence of this sign, they are no more likely than the Chinese to damage the silver ferns in Rotorua’s Redwood plantation:
Koreans have, apparently, been travelling to New Zealand since the early 90s, both as tourists and on business. Often business is mixed with pleasure, as when people in the fruit business are brought to New Zealand by the big kiwifruit marketing company, Zespri. Apart from fruit, I’m told that deer antlers (for traditional medicine) and honey are popular exports to Korea, but forestry is the biggest commodity export. In fact, Korea is New Zealand’s 6th biggest export market and FTA talks may soon start between the two countries. Prime Minister Helen Clark is currently in Seoul to promote the idea of such talks.
As I left Auckland, once again it was hard to avoid things Korean. In the Air New Zealand lounge, the only non-Kiwi newspapers and magazines on display were Korean: the Hanguk Ilbo, the weekly Economist magazine plus a Korean golf magazine, while the Taste of New Zealand duty free is blessed with four very pretty Korean shop assistants.
I’m looking for someone to provide some funding so that I can go back and do some more in-depth fieldwork. New Zealand’s a great country.
- Helen Clark’s speech at New Zealand-Korea Business Breakfast, May 16. Silla Hotel, Seoul.
- New Zealand Herald website
- South Korea’s Wild Geese – photo essay in New York Times, and related article – For English Studies, Koreans say goodbye to Dad – about Koreans learning English in Auckland. 8 June 2008
- It’s hard to be a Kowi, but fun too (Kowi = Korean Kiwi) – New Zealand Herald, 24 June 2008
- Travel tip – always fly Air New Zealand rather than Qantas for internal flights. The former have all the navigation equipment for taking off and landing in the frequent low cloud, and hence flights get canceled much less frequently than Qantas