I am originally from South Korea. I have been living out of the country for 20 years now. At my last family visit, I noticed a growing population of Vietnamese women migrating to Southern rural area of South Korea. While driving around the countryside, I noticed a small banner written “Vietnam bride” with mobile phone number in the middle of nowhere. I got curious to find out how would a Vietnamese bride adjusts her life, e.g. Korean language barrier, family culture, and social stigma, in homogeneous society of Korea. For a long time, I myself had to understand and deal with them when marrying a foreigner, my husband. I immediately got interested in these Vietnamese women, in their environment, experiences, dreams, hopes and motivations.
I called and contacted Korean families through city hall and community center, but social stigma prohibited these newly wed women to speak to outsiders. It was quite impossible to gain access to the Vietnamese women in Korea. I have made some contacts with several Vietnamese journalists and then travelled down to Mekong. I found this small island, Tan Loc, which locals indicated that many girls from that island had married to foreigners. Hence, it has been nicknamed as “Taiwanese Island”.
For about 3 years I have visited and photographed in that island every 6 months. At each of my visits, I stayed in a local house that allowed me to get to know their daily life. As I felt comfortable with the community of people on the island, they gradually opened up their minds. They allowed me to photograph in their houses and helped me to create some panoramic shots by posing in front of my camera. Some of the images are staged but they are not completely fictional.
In documentation of the people and place in this island, I intended to capture these young women’s environment (people and places) and state of mind. While working on this island, my initial misconception of the international marriage changed: young women and family were quite well informed by difficulties of the international marriage, however, they chose to leave their home country for better life opportunities and for supporting their family left behind in Vietnam.
This series of photographs was developed in the Mekong Delta area and constitutes a collaborative effort between the photographer and these young women. Instead of focusing on the hardships that push these young women to seek expatriation, the project aims at emphasizing the beauty of what they intend to leave behind, which includes their environment, the landscapes, their family, their friends, in other words, people and places with which with they have grown up and which form part of their identity. What is left behind is the known and where they head constitutes the unknown, places where everything will be different, from the climate and landscapes to the language, culture, and people.
Oh Soon-Hwa is a photographer, curator, and lecturer. Her interest in her photographic works is issues of identity, gender, and human condition. Currently, she is an associate professor at the School of Art, Design and Media, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.