Expat Voice: Peace Among Chaos
Young Seaon Park moved to India over two and a half years ago to set up the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency in Kolkata that aims to facilitate trade between the two countries.
“I stayed in Delhi for one and a half years and then moved to Kolkata in January 2017 to set up the office,” Young, who has previously stayed in Poland and Thailand, tells Little India. The agency is under the Embassy of the Republic of Korea. “Our main goal is to promote trade and investment between Korea and foreign countries,” he adds.
Young, who lives with his Thai wife and 10-year-old son in Kolkata, tell us why he likes the West Bengal capital more than Delhi, driving on the chaotic streets of India and the popularity of Korean pop culture.
Adjusting to Life in India
Delhi has a strong Korean community because of which it was not difficult for us adjust or make friends there. However, things got slightly difficult when we moved to Kolkata.
Our family moves around a lot because of which we do not carry a lot of furniture with us. We prefer renting a fully furnished apartment. When we rented a place here, it was an unfurnished one. So we told the landlord to furnish the apartment before we move in.
However, when we moved in, a lot of furniture was missing. The landlord kept saying that the things were on its way but they never arrived. Things work at a slow pace in this city.
Women’s Place in Society
My wife initially did not like coming here because most people here consider women to be inferior to men. Their lifestyles, opportunities and activities are also very different. But she eventually found some friends and her own area of interest. However, she liked Delhi more because she had friends within the Korean community there.
I hardly have any Indian friends but there is one person, Rajive Kaul, who I am thankful to because he helped me a lot when I moved to Kolkata. He is the Honorary Consul General of the Korean Embassy and also the Chairman of the Nicco Group.
Difference between Delhi and Kolkata
Delhi is a bigger city with better infrastructure than Kolkata. However, it is easier to connect with the people here than in Delhi.
There’s more pollution in Delhi so it was difficult to live there. It’s pretty much the same in Kolkata too, especially during the winter season, but the monsoons balance it out.
I personally like Kolkata more. It is difficult to identify with a city like Delhi and find friends there. Kolkata has a smaller community and has a laidback attitude. It has a unique history as it was the capital of India during the British rule. I feel like I belong here. It is easy to make friends in this city.
I also feel that the people of Kolkata are more liberal and tolerant than people from other Indian states with regard to religion and food habits.
Driving is Chaos
Driving on the streets in India is a chaotic affair. When I was living in Delhi, an auto rickshaw hit the back of my car, causing a dent. Then he just ran away instead of apologizing or helping out.
If something like this happens in Korea, we usually exchange name cards, take a photo and call the insurance company which deals with the matter. But there is no systematic system here. They just argue and leave.
South Korea Vs India
South Korea is a very homogenous society where people live with the same identity. Here, there are so many diverse cultures and identities which makes it difficult to understand all of them. It is a country of extremes.
Seeing the living conditions of the poor in India was a different kind of an experience for me. In Korea, most people belong to the middle class background. The poor have equal right to enjoy all the facilities and infrastructure that the government or the society provides. They are not barred from entering any particular place. Here, the scenario is very different.
The caste system that is so prevalent here also existed in Korea at one point of time. But now it doesn’t. I see people in this country marry in their own community or caste, something that does not happen in my country.
When I first came to India, all Koreans I knew experienced stomach problems called the ‘Delhi Belly’ but you eventually get used to it. Sometimes, we don’t get the ingredients required to prepare Korean food here. So we travel to Bangkok a few times in a year to buy the ingredients.
Perception about India
I read a lot about Gandhi as a child. Many Koreans are Buddhists – a religion that originated in India. So Koreans have always been familiar with the country.
In Korea, we had a picture of the Taj Mahal in our textbooks. People in my country have always wanted to visit Agra to see the monument. I had read about it as well as a child. So when I came here, I went to Agra with my family to see the monument. It felt very good.
Two Sides of a Coin
Newspapers mostly publish negative stories about India. But when you begin to live here, you see both sides of the coin.
Before I moved here, I was told to be careful of a few things like not drinking water from just anywhere, not to walk along the streets at night or take trains for fear of things getting robbed. So I created my own safe zone.
I have also read about some villages in the rural areas not having toilets. I would sometime like to visit such areas and see how people lead their lives.
I have not experienced it first-hand but people have told me about the discrimination that exists in the minds of some people here with regard to Nepalese people or those who come from the states in Northeast India.
Korean Pop Culture
India itself has such a strong media culture in terms of Bollywood that it is difficult for Korean pop culture to penetrate. But it is slowly happening.
I know that people from the Northeast watch a lot of Korean drama while other cities have these small groups of people who have shown interest in Korean pop culture and drama.
I’ve also read that a few Indian films have been inspired from Korean movies. In 2016, there was a film called Rocky Handsome, which was an official adaptation of a Korean film called The Man From Nowhere.
Incredible and Gratifying
When I came here, there were aspects of my life I was not happy about. But when I walk on the streets every day and see so many poor people, I feel lucky to have had the opportunities that I had and appreciate the life I currently lead.
Living in India has expanded my horizon in many ways. It’s been an incredible and gratifying experience so far. I came here as an outsider but now I feel like I belong here. This place feels more like home now.
The interview has been condensed and edited.
Expat Voice is regular column on expats in India. Email us at email@example.com to nominate yourself or another expat for the column.