They pay you to do what?You’re at the wedding of a couple you think you know fairly well. But a lot of the guests are people you’ve never seen before.
Maybe they’re distant relatives, or old classmates, or just people you never happened to cross paths with. But there’s another possibility: They could be getting paid.
That’s right: In Korea, there’s such a thing as a wedding guest for hire. Park Su-hyeon, 28, is one of them.
About two weeks before a wedding, the company she works for will brief her on the bride and groom, providing such information as names, ages and hometowns. At the ceremony, she’ll go all-out playing the part of a friend, sometimes complimenting the bride in the waiting room on her dress and makeup.
Ms. Park boasts that each wedding she attends nets her not just 20,000 won ($17) to 25,000 won, but a free lunch.
People seeking part-time employment have plenty of options besides flipping hamburgers. These days, young people make money by trying on underwear, letting manicurists practice on their nails and even serving as a test subject for medications.
Some young people choose to live on a series of part-time jobs rather than look for a permanent one. In the local vernacular, they’re called “freeters,” a combination of “free” and “arbeiter,” which is German for “worker.”
Holding down an unusual part-time job might be something to brag about to friends, but there are, of course, drawbacks. Despite their relative freedom, some young people who live this way say they’re depressed and uneasy. And underpaid.
Jane of all trades
Jo Mi-yeon, 25, who graduated from college in February, has already held down more than 20 different temp jobs. She’s surveyed voters near polling places, gathered opinions about new products and been a guide for Japanese tourists. She hopes to go backpacking in Europe this fall with the money she’s saved.
She’s enjoying her laid-back lifestyle, but she worries about the future.
“When I was in college, I worked as an intern for an advertising agency,” she said. “But contrary to my expectations, the work was too hard and the pay was too low.
“It won’t be easy to continue switching from one part-time job to another much longer, but I’m not so sure I want to give up my freedom to have a regular job,” she said.
Lee Yeong-uk, 26, seems more content. Mr. Lee’s most profitable part-time job is styling hair into corn braids, something he’s been doing for five years. For each job, he earns 200,000 won to 300,000 won; he’s made as much as 1.5 million won per month.
“My friends who are office workers envy me, because I work at my own leisure and do what I like,” Mr. Lee said.
Lee Gyeong-suk, 27, owns a small clothing shop, but supplements that income in a fitting room at Namyang L&F, an underwear manufacturer. The designers use her to test their new girdles.
“How does it feel? Does the girdle wrap around your hip well?” a designer asked.
Ms. Lee, who owns a small clothing shop, is paid about 30,000 won per hour for her efforts. She usually puts in at least two hours at a time, twice weekly.
“There are many uncertainties in the retail business, and my income goes up and down,” Ms. Lee said. “When my business becomes more stable, I think I will quit this part-time job.”
The job does offer at least one side benefit: the chance to buy underwear at a discount.
Nails for rent
Kim Ji-u, a 19-year-old job seeker, makes sure to show off her hands from time to time. Nail salon artists preparing for their certification exams look for people like Ms. Kim, who has long fingernails, to hone their skills on.
Ms. Kim is paid 30,000 to 70,000 won for each application, varying according to the time it takes. The perks include free hand massage and coloring, which can cost more than 100,000 won retail.
“Even if I find a permanent job, I would keep doing this,” Ms. Kim said.
A 23-year-old physical education student, who chose to be identified only as Mr. Yun, recently offered up rather more than his nails for money. For two days, he was a human guinea pig for a newly developed medicine, earning 300,000 won for taking four tablets per day.
“I accepted the offer because the pay was good, but although the experimenters assured me of my safety, I was anxious,” Mr. Yun said. “I don’t intend to do it again.”
It gets no worse than this
Goyu, a horse who’d just won a morning race at the Gwacheon race track south of Seoul, was being skittish. Seong Nak-hyeong, a 25-year-old student at the Seoul National University of Technology, watched anxiously.
Following his supervisors’ instructions, he whistled, trying to calm the horse. She became still. Mr. Seong approached, holding out a stick with a plastic cup at the end.
The horse suddenly winced, and Mr. Seong jumped back. Persistent, he whistled some more.
After five minutes or so, he got what he was after: a urine sample. Mr. Seong is one of four part-timers hired by the track to take samples after each race, so the horses can be tested for drugs.
Granted, most freeters have better jobs than Mr. Seong’s. One might even say that every freeter has a better job than Mr. Seong’s. But they all share the uncertainty that goes hand-in-hand with freedom, especially when it’s freedom that doesn’t pay very well.
“Friends of mine with full-time jobs envy me for having a lot of free time, but I have a different view,” said Kim Mi-gyeong, 25, who’s worked as an interpreter for a number of employers since graduating last fall.
“When people my age call me ‘part-timer,’ I feel miserable,” Ms. Kim said. “... I think few young people would stick to part-time jobs if they could find a real one.”
by Kwon Hyuk-joo