When tricks are the trade, it’s survival of the cleverest

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When tricks are the trade, it’s survival of the cleverest

Moxie is not traditionally considered a positive character trait in Korea. Known as “janmeori,” which usually means skills to deceive or manipulate others without having to take responsibility, it implies a strong sense of chutzpah. These days, however, trickiness is viewed more as a knack for survival, a creative flair for business. The emphasis is on practicality and flexibility.
Interpark (www.interpark.com) is one of the many popular Internet shopping malls in the country. Since the “e” and the “r” are next to each other on a keyboard, a lot of people tend to accidentally transpose the two letters when they type fast, writing “intre” instead of “inter.” Yet somehow they wind up at the right place.
Little do they know that their poor typing skills are money in the bank for Shin Yeong-gwon, 28, owner of the “intrepark” domain name.
Mr. Shin bought the rights to the domain about seven months ago. Yet instead of creating a faux online shopping mall for the typing-impaired, he approached Interpark with a proposal: he would redirect his site visitors to the real Interpark for a small fee.
The shopping mall agreed to pay Mr. Shin 1 percent of the profit from each transaction logged by a customer who was redirected from his site.
Mr. Shin bought the domain address for only 19,000 won ($19). He now makes 100,000 won a month off the Web site. A man who knows an easy deal when he sees one, Mr. Shin went on to buy seven more addresses similar to the Intrepark address, earning him an extra 4 million to 5 million won a year.
Mr. Shin says he developed his cleverness through his job as an event producer at COEX, Samseong-dong, Seoul. He has to work with a variety of people while managing several diverse projects at once. If he weren’t clever, Mr. Shin says, he’d be out of a job.
During the interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, Mr. Shin mentioned that before the interview he was taking a group of Australian performers who had worked at his company's event to the airport, but the private bus they were riding got a flat tire in the middle of the highway.
“At first I thought of calling a new private bus,” he said, “but instead, I suggested that the tall blond women performers stand on the highway. We managed to get a ride on a public bus and saved a lot of money that otherwise would have been spent getting a new private bus.” The group was nowhere near a bus station, but presumably tall white women in Korea have no need for such formalities.
The job, however, only honed what appears to be an innate wiliness. Clever ruses, Mr. Shin said, were just as useful when he was in the military. One day during his stint in the army, he was carrying wood blocks used to construct temporary bridges during training. He suddenly got an idea: the blocks could be used not only to build bridges but also to make nice audience seats for the upcoming “mini-Olympics” at the military base, near a mountain village in Gyeonggi province.
His commanding officer agreed. Not long after the event, Mr. Shin’s reputation for cleverness spread, and he was ordered to build a temporary stadium at the Seongnam military airport for an event to celebrate a national holiday. He was exempted from military service for the two months of scheduled work on the event and afterwards given a four-day vacation.
Mr. Shin has endless episodes of such inventive ideas. He once collected 400 large plastic bottles, used them to build a raft, and gave it to a friend who wanted to go river-rafting.
“Jameori, when used for good purposes, can make people happy,” Mr. Shin said.
The trickster industry is only beginning to develop. One business, “Callbada,” provides a variety of background sounds for cell-phone users who want to lie about where they are. Bada means sea in Korean.
For example, a husband can lie to his wife, saying that he’ll be home late because he has to attend his friend's funeral, and can use the service to make it sound like people are crying in the background. The company, which has offered the service to KTF users since 2003, also provides sounds of the subway, an outdoor market, a baseball stadium and the beach.
Company workers are also increasinly mustering their moxie. The use of the “Alt-Tab” combination on the computer keyboard to instantly switch between windows, for example, is a common way for people to covertly engage in computer gaming while at work.
Spam-mailers are the kings of clever. Since people have become wary of e-mail messages with titles like, “Congratulations, you won a gift from our company,” or “Hey, want to go out with me,” senders have begun writing, “Data you requested,” or “The money has been sent.”
Another example is telemarketers, who now call random cell phone numbers and hang up after one ring. What for? The person who missed the call will see the number and call the telemarketer back to see who it was.
Who are the champions of chutzpah? According to an e-mail survey of 1,028 participants from July through early August, conducted by Joblink, a portal website for job information, office workers have the biggest reputation for trickiness.
To a question, “How clever are you?” only 4 percent said they don’t try to rely on cleverness, but “work honestly.” About 42 percent said they occasionally resort to trickery, while 17 percent said subterfuge was their standard method of operation.
Asked how they used their moxie, 31 percent said they used it to goof off at work, while 26 percent said they did so to make excuses to skip group gatherings such as office parties or company picnics.
“To cover up mistakes made at work,” and “to get vacation time from the boss” were other common answers. Only 4 percent thought that being clever at work was bad and hurt others.
Maybe even that small group was just being tricky. About 13 percent of the respondents said “it’s okay for me to be clever, but not for other people.”

by Namkoong Wook
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