|Chinese tourists take pictures near a popular wall of pear blossom engravings at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. (Ha Ji-won/The Korea Herald)|
Kim Jung-woo, 61, sells street food at the bustling mouth of the road leading to Ewha Womans University in western Seoul. His cart is decorated with banners that flash Chinese characters saying “the best-tasting cup chicken.”
“Most of my customers are Chinese, Hong Kong, Taiwanese and Japanese tourists,” Kim said. “Since there are so many Chinese tourists, my dakgangjeong (Korean fried chicken) sells pretty well.”
He added that his son, who currently lives in China, told him there is no such snack in the country and helped his father make the banner. The local market is seeing a revival with the rush of Chinese tourists to the area surrounding the nation’s top women’s university.
A number of food stalls and budget shopping streets were established around the university about 20 years ago, which rose as a hotspot for college students along with the Hongdae and Sinchon areas.
However, the commercial supremacy of Ewha, where shopping is the main attraction unlike Hongdae and Sinchon, began to wane as Dongdaemun began to lure local customers with wholesale clothing.
Ewha began regaining its reputation after China’s CCTV included the university on its “Nine Tourist Attractions of Korea” list.
The “Ewha sensation” took off as posts about the women’s college with its beautiful scenery and gardens flooded Weibo and Baidu, a Chinese social networking service and major search engine.
Popular accounts of the university’s significant engraving of pear blossoms on campus topped off promotion as beliefs emerged that taking a photo against the wall would bring one fortune, a boyfriend or even a husband.
The increasing number of Chinese tourists in the area not only visit the university campus, but also flare out to shop on the streets around Ewha.
|A street food vendor along the street of Ewha town with Chinese placards (Ha Ji-won/The Korea Herald)|
“We shopped first at the shopping streets and came here (Ewha Womans University) to take pictures so we might get boyfriends,” Chinese tourists Ma Dan, 24, and Zhang Siyuan, 23, from Beijing, explained as they stood against the wall.
“I like the campus. It’s really beautiful, but I see more Chinese than Koreans,” Zhang said, pointing across the campus.
According to local tourism data, the number of Chinese tourists almost doubled in the first half of this year from the same period last year. Up to June, about 2.67 million Chinese tourists visited Korea this year. Last year, 4.33 million Chinese tourists visited throughout the year.
The rise of Chinese tourists, more than half of them women, sculpted the Ewha district’s market. Other than dakgangjeong and chicken skewer stalls along the streets, most of the stores are occupied by cosmetic shops also sporting Chinese signs that read “buy one, get one free” and “we welcome tourists.” Nearly all the stores hire Chinese-speaking clerks.
|A cosmetic shop at Ewha town advertises promotions for Chinese tourists. (Ha Ji-won/The Korea Herald)|
“I bought facial masks, lotion and a lot of beauty products from all the stores along the street from Ewha Station to the main gate of the university,” said Zhong Hongyun, 40, from Shanghai, showing off her bags of cosmetics. “I bought in bulk because Korean products are cheap yet high quality, and most importantly all the stores have giveaways and samples.”
As Ewha enjoys the boom thanks to the influx of Chinese tourists, merchants and students have opposing reactions.
Merchants hope more tourists come, while Ewha students are calling for restrictions and regulations.
The students contend that they are suffering from the large number of camera-happy tourists on campus. Controversy recently erupted after a well-known Chinese blogger posted thousands of pictures taken on the sly of students.
“I have never experienced being traumatized with cameras or bombarded in the lecture room, but there are just too many Chinese (tourists) on campus,” said Ewha student Lee Ji-won. “Since I am in my last year of college, I don’t really mind, but if I think of my juniors, I feel that something should be done.
“But I don’t think my school can do much else than dispatch bodyguards and install card-operated gates at campus complexes since those tourists spend money in the area,” she added.
By Ha Ji-won (firstname.lastname@example.org)