How to take your job, shove it, and chill outSome people call them lazy, even though they only sleep 12 hours a day. Other say they’re moochers, just because they borrow money and never pay it back. They’re sick of the stereotypes people have of baeksu, the perpetually jobless, and they’re organizing ― very gradually ― to do something about it, maybe.
They are the 5,000 members of the National Jobless People’s Association, with a history that goes as far back as 1998, at the height of the economic crisis. And with over 400,000 people currently out of work in Korea, they have a large pool of potential new members.
At the center of the organization is Chu Duk-han, 36, the chairman. Mr. Chu, a history major and a former portal web site designer, became unemployed in 1996 after working for two years for an Internet company (“I didn’t like them and they didn’t like me,” he said of the company). He has since gone on to write a book on the art of joblessness and create the association. He says that being unemployed isn’t bad, and actually has its advantages.
When the JoongAng Daily reporter met with Mr. Chu, he had just come from a government-run class for the jobless. He said he was learning how to open a new business.
He was wearing a bright colored T-shirt and jeans and carrying a backpack. He never stopped smiling, except to look wistful when discussing the sad state of baeksu who have not yet mastered the art of the easy life.
Mr. Chu said he had tried other jobs: he was a party planner, delivery man, film extra, and kitchen helper on holidays. But he says he is just as busy, or even busier, now that he doesn’t work.
“Beginner-level baeksu tend to be restless and nervous,” he said. “They still set their alarm before they go to bed. They don’t go to video rental shops or grocery stores during the day. When they are asked what they do, they blush. These people have a long way to go to find inner peace.”
After this initial phase, Mr. Chu asserted, baeksu reach a higher level where they no longer mind having lots of free time. They learn to sleep for at least half a day, at least once a week. They form intimate relationships with their local video shop and comic book store owners. They always have the national anthem, which plays four times a day on television stations, stuck in their head.
Mr. Chu said that he’s gone through those stages before and emerged a happier, more productive person. His baeksu status no longer depresses him. The association’s thousands of members make sure he’s never lonely. When he needs money, he works part-time. He also has a source of supplemental income: his book, “170 Ways to Enjoy Life, Discovered Over a Can of Beer.” The guide to life as a baeksu has so far sold over 30,000 copies.
He said he wants to tell jobless people how to be happy. Take care of your health, he advises. Eat well ― avoid ramen, which is really easy to make. Sleep regular hours. Don’t play computer games all day. Instead of staying home and watching videos, go to museums and take trips.
Mr. Chu attributed the increasing number of jobless people to Korea’s radical social changes.
“The book, ‘The End of Work,’ by Jeremy Rifkin, shows how more companies will need fewer workers,” Mr. Chu said. “I think it is important to change our perspective on jobless people.”
“We Koreans are obsessed with work,” he continued. “We always feel that we should work. Really, it’s not all that bad to be jobless. One of my friends who only works part-time jobs and travels recently met a beautiful Brazilian woman and got married. He seems to be very happy. That kind of freedom is the privilege of the jobless.”
He said the best way to take advantage of the freedom is to travel. Last year, he and several other association members stayed in Tokyo and Osaka for 40 days, socializing with members of “Dameren,” a Japanese club for the jobless. “I wanted to learn what jobless people do in foreign countries,” he said.
According to Mr. Chu, the jobless in Japan actually have many jobs ― all part-time. They make less money but they spend less, while trying to travel as much as possible. These people call themselves freeters, a combination of the words “free albeiters (worker, in German).”
Japan is notoriously expensive, but Mr. Chu said he spent only 300,000 won during the trip, not including airfare. The trick was to ride everywhere on a bicycle and copy everything the freeters did. He ate at university cafeterias. “Since the cafeterias are made for students, they tend to offer quality meals for cheap prices,” he said. He was particularly impressed with the food at Tokyo and Waseda universities, Japan’s two most prestigious educational institutions.
He said he has a list of where to get drinking water for free, a bowl of noodles for only 100 yen (87 cents) and discount outlents that sell food extra-cheap around closing time. He even knew the cheapest way to find a place to stay the night.
“For those who are doing a tight budget travel like me, I recommend spending the night at an Internet cafe. They’re open around the clock, and some have small beds, too. It’ll cost you only about 800 to 1,000 yen for a night.”
“A baeksu is not a person who does nothing,” he said. “Many are doing things ― working part-time or doing job-training. They shouldn’t be ashamed of their status.”
Mr. Chu said he’s planning to build an information center for jobless people. Being a baeksu, after all, gives a person lots of time to think of business ideas, such as horse-drawn carriages.
“I thought the carriage used in Princess Diana’s wedding was so pretty. I want to buy carriages in the Philippines and use them for weddings in Korea,” Mr. Chu said.
Love, after all, is not limited to the employed. Mr. Chu, who says he has a girlfriend, is perhaps most passionate about the subject. “We should not be afraid of dating while we are jobless,” he said. “This is the perfect time to fully devote yourself to your loved ones. Don’t be afraid to love.”
Top Tips for the Unemployed:
1. A professional baeksu always has something to do.
2. Participate in marketing events as often as possible. Answering questionnaires on postcards or giving ideas to companies looking for names for new products can earn one free gifts.
3. Make sure to have close friends in the neighborhood so that you can borrow at least 50,000 won ($48) if there’s an emergency.
4. Whatever you do, always make it look mysterious.
5. Remember the exact paydays for all of your friends.
6. Have lots of friends of the opposite sex. You can always call them up for a bottle of soju on rainy days.
7. Try to visit your friend’s houses around mealtimes. You should never have to go hungry.
8. Always carry business cards with your home address on them. Put them in boxes at restaurants or marketing stands. You might receive free meal coupons or even plane tickets.
Keep yourself entertained! (Cheaply, of course.)
1. Visit show houses. While you wander around the interior, make small talk with the models there. Make sure to ask questions, to make them believe that you are actually interested in buying the house.
2. On windy and gloomy days, go to the court. Watching trials is fun and a good way to learn from other’s mistakes.
3. If you are bored and edgy, go to a palace. Following around the newlyweds taking wedding photos until they give you nasty looks can be really fun.
4. To read comfortably in some place with an air conditioner, go to banks. They have newspapers and magazines, and nobody bothers you.
6. If a big construction project is going on by your house, go observe the process. You can feel better about yourself knowing that you’re on guard against poor construction techniques that might endanger people’s lives.
What Not to Do When You’re Out of Work:
1. Don’t just sleep. If you have nothing to do, find something.
2. Don’t go into debt with your neighborhood stores and video rental shops. You need their friendship.
3. Don’t wait around for people to call you.
4. Don’t steal money from family members.
5. Make sure to change your underpants at least once a month, and other clothes once a week.
6. Remember that even though cooking is work and eating alone is depressing, you still need to eat.
Provided by Chu Duk-han
by Choi Sun-young