A man walks past a property office that mainly serves South Koreans in Wangjing, northeastern Beijing, on Nov 19. The area is home to about 30,000 South Koreans. Wang Jin
South Korean student Shin Hye-young used to live it up.
The 24-year-old undergraduate at Beijing`s University of International Business and Economics (UIBE) had a single-bedroom apartment in the well-heeled area of Wangjing all to herself. She would eat out at restaurants five days a week, indulging in the choicest cuts of beef in Korean barbecues with her friends.
Since she arrived in the capital in 2005, cabs had been Shin`s main mode of transport. She would think nothing of spending 40 yuan ($6) on a single trip.
This lavish lifestyle was made possible by the monthly allowance her parents in Cheongju, about two hours` drive to the south of Seoul, would transfer to her Beijing bank account - more than 5,000 yuan, or about twice the amount what a migrant worker would make a month on a construction site in the city.
But the good times are over for Shin, and other South Korean students like her.
The current global financial crisis that started in the United States has struck the South Korean community in Beijing particularly hard, with the value of the Korean won plummeting from about 1 yuan exchanging for 130 won in 2005, to almost half at 1 yuan to 220 won now.
Shin feels she has become "poor overnight", a nightmare shared by many of her compatriots in recent months.
As the president of the South Korean society at UIBE, Shin recalled what she did when the crisis first hit home - getting everyone together to find "ways to survive in these times".
There are more than 80,000 South Korean students studying in China and most of them are from middle-class families, said Professor Huang Youfu, director of the Institute of Korean Studies at the Central University for Nationalities.
Almost 800,000 South Koreans are in China, Huang said, adding that it was the Asian financial crisis in 1997 that helped them become one of the largest foreign communities here.
"The previous financial crisis attracted a large number of Korean enterprises to invest in China," Huang said. Trade volume between the two countries boomed from $10 billion in 2000 to more than $160 billion last year, he said.
Wangjing in northeastern Beijing, or "Korea Town", is said to be home to about 30,000 South Koreans, housing one of the largest numbers of the group in the capital.
The shops that line its streets sport more Korean signage than Chinese ones. But recent media reports said many South Koreans had left the area since the financial crisis broke out.
A real estate agent was quoted as saying that close to half of his South Korean customers had canceled their housing rental contracts recently. Another agent said he lost half of his South Korean customers.
"The sharp devaluation of the won means Korean investors would have to pay much more to do business than before. For some of those entrepreneurs who need continuous investment, it is unbearable," Huang told China Daily.
At a South Korean restaurant in Wangjing, waitress Li Xin said most of her diners are students. But there have been visibly fewer customers since October, she said.
"Normally, we have five or six tables full at noon every day. Now, there are just two or three at the most," Li said. When China Daily visited the 4-year-old restaurant, all of its 10 tables were empty.
For UIBE student Shin, meals now consist mainly of rice and a simple soup she cooks herself. She has moved into a smaller apartment, shared with another student.
She also takes the bus now, for trips between her favorite haunts in Wudaokou in northwestern Beijing and Wangjing.
"It`s only 1 yuan for the bus fare," she said.
Shin has also come across many of her South Korean friends taking the public transport from home to campus. "That has never happened before," Shin said.
Shin considers herself one of the lucky ones.
"We had already paid our tuition fees and rent in advance, before the financial crisis," she said.
Back in Cheongju, her father works at a TV station. Her mother, a piano teacher, said she has fewer students since the financial turmoil started.
Faced with a plunging home currency and higher tuition, a number of South Korean students are said to have headed home.
Shin said a college mate was thinking of going back to South Korea to join the army before his scheduled 2-year army conscription, continuing with his studies only when the crisis is over.
South Koreans in other parts of China are also apparently struggling to stay afloat in these times.
In Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, a local newspaper reported that a Korean student was planning to open a language course to earn money.
Many South Korean investments in China had actually met with difficulties way before the crisis, "especially in Qingdao, Shandong province, which attracted a large number of those enterprises in the past years", Huang said.
In Qingdao, 87 South Korean entrepreneurs fled their businesses late last year, Xinhua News Agency reported.
Rising labor costs, especially since the implementation of the New Labor Law, was a major reason behind the demise of such businesses, Huang said.
"The won`s devaluation has made the problem worse and we`ll see more Korean entrepreneurs leaving in the short term," Huang said.
Still, Huang said all is not lost. The low value of the won has already "bottomed out", he said.
"In about one year`s time, I believe the exchange rate will be restored to about 1 yuan to 170 won, and some of those South Koreans who left would come back," he said.
Before the financial crisis, the South Korean embassy expected the South Korean population in China to be as large as one million by 2010. Huang said this number should be possible, despite the current challenges.
"Life will definitely be much easier if the won went back to 170, even 180, to 1 yuan," undergraduate Shin said.