South Korean mother-in-law treasures Vietnamese bride as own child

By Hai Hien   November 18, 2023 | 12:00 am PT
South Korean mother-in-law treasures Vietnamese bride as own child
Le Thi Huyen with her mother-in-law Bong Yul during her wedding in South Korea in 2020. Photo courtesy by Huyen
Three years after her marriage, Le Thi Huyen remains thankful for becoming Bong Yul’s daughter-in-law.

Bong Yul cherishes Huyen like she were her own daughter. Huyen, 30, was born in Nghe An Province.

She met a South Korean tourist named Jung Young Ho in 2019 when he traveled to Vietnam.

After finding they had feelings for each other, they continued to talk even after he returned to Korea. A few months later they officially entered into a long-distance relationship.

During this period, Jung frequently spoke about his girlfriend to his mother Bong Yul who lives in Yangju City, Gyeonggi Province.

The traditional mother was worried about the distance at first, but after realizing the two were serious about each other, she began to support them wholeheartedly.

"There was a time when I had severe pneumonia and was in hospital," said Huyen, "and his [Jung’s] mother would text me encouraging words. Every day she told me that she hoped I would get better soon so I could go to Korea to organize our wedding."

Huyen knew some Korean, at least enough to read it.

Seeing how much Bong Yul cared for her daughter, Huyen’s mother went from opposing the match to supporting it.

She said she believed that "a good mother will have raised a good son."

Huyen and Jung registered their marriage in August 2020.

A few months later the new bride flew to Korea for the wedding.

When she moved to Korea, Huyen was worried that the language and cultural differences would make her relationship with her mother-in-law difficult.

However, her fears evaporated as soon as she stepped on her husband’s homeland.

When she arrived at the airport at 5 a.m., everyone in her new family was there to greet her. At home, the first thing she saw was a cabinet full of hygiene products prepared by Bong Yul, from shampoo and body wash, to towels and menstrual pads.

Since it was the beginning of Covid-19 when she landed in Korea, Huyen had to quarantine for two weeks. During this time Bong Yul would cook her food and drive 20 minutes from home to bring it to her. Each meal would have a different dish for Huyen to try. Bong took note of the foods that Huyen liked and did not.

"Whenever my mother-in-law brought food, she would also take me out to the balcony to talk.

"Besides giving me pointers, she would look at me to see if I’m sick or tired."

In order to help Huyen with her Korean, Bong Yul would frequently go shopping with her, introducing her to Korean culture and showing her how to follow local customs.

As Huyen’s vocabulary was limited, they would use a translation tool to communicate. If they were still unable to understand something, they would resort to gesticulations.

Even then, mishaps could not entirely be avoided.

One time, during her early days in Korea, Huyen threw out all the boxes of kimchi her mother-in-law had made because, from the smell, she thought it had gone bad.

She did not know Bong Yul was planning to use it to make soup. After hearing the news from her husband, Huyen was afraid her mother-in-law would be angry.

"When Young Ho called her, she did not even criticize me, and she even made sure to tell him not to scold me because she did not want me to be upset."

Six months after their marriage, Huyen got pregnant. After hearing the news, Bong Yul carefully chose clothing and toys for the upcoming baby.

She also bought all the items pregnant women need. If her son was busy, she would take Huyen to the hospital.

During her first pregnancy, Huyen had severe morning sickness.

Knowing that her daughter-in-law craved Vietnamese food, Bong Yul learned how to make a few dishes like scrambled eggs and sauteed cabbage while observing Huyen when she cooked.

When her grandchild was born, Bong Yul moved to the couple’s house to help take care of the baby. She did everything from cooking and cleaning to feeding the baby so Huyen could rest after giving birth.

Whenever she had time, she would instruct Huyen on how to change diapers and wash the baby.

Huyen says her mother-in-law almost never let her do anything difficult around the house. She and her son even researched what to buy for the baby, but they also made sure to ask Huyen’s opinion before purchasing anything.

Bong Yul takes care of her grandchildren after Huyen gave birth to a second child in July 2023. Photo courtesy of Huyen

Bong Yul takes care of her grandchildren after Huyen gave birth to a second child in July 2023. Photo courtesy of Huyen

Ever since then, whenever her grandchild falls sick, Bong Yul accompanies Huyen to the hospital because she fears Huyen’s Korean is not fluent enough to fully understand the doctor.

Touched by her mother-in-law’s affection, Huyen once asked her why she did all the hard work.

Bong Yul smiled and said: "You must be tired from giving birth. Just rest so you have the energy to take care of your child with your husband."

When Huyen was hospitalized with Covid-19, Bong Yul took care of her grandchild and sent photos of the baby to Huyen every day to ease her mind.

A year after the wedding, she texted: "Huyen, I was so busy that I forgot your wedding anniversary. Next time I’ll make sure to buy you some delicious food. I love you."

When she received the text, tears of joy rolled down Huyen’s cheeks.

Bong Yul also enjoys writing down everything about her grandchildren in a small notebook – their daily schedules, habits, vaccination, weight, and how much they eat each day – for everyone in the family to read.

She always thinks about her grandchildren’s health, making sure to wear a mask around them if she is sick. She even wipes the books she buys for them to get rid of germs and sanitize them.

"With her in the house, my kids are always taken care of, the house is always clean, and there is always good food on the table," Huyen said.

"I frequently joke that it’s like I have the kind Tam from the Vietnamese fairy tale ‘Tam Cam’ living with me."

This year, during the Mid-Autumn Festival, Huyen used all the Korean she had learned to write a letter to Bong Yul.

In it, she thanked her mother-in-law for her generosity, kindness and love towards an "often clumsy foreign bride" like her.

When Bong Yul read the letter, she told Huyen that as long as she and her husband care for and love each other, they’ll be happy.

Now, with her second child growing healthily, Huyen wants to learn how to cook Korean food from her mother-in-law.

Every night after the children go to sleep, the two of them go into the kitchen.

"I never feel like an outsider when I’m with her. If anyone asks, I always tell them she’s my second mother."

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