If there was a prize for winning prizes...

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If there was a prize for winning prizes...

Winning a bet on lunch is enough to make you excited all day. Not just because you saved a bit of money, but because you won. These days, there is an overabundance of contests. When you enter, you want to win. If you lose, no matter how small and useless the prize may be, not getting it makes you feel bad. It may be consoling to think that nobody wins all the time. But incredibly, in the world of prizes, there are ever-victorious winners. Two of them are Choi Seong-su, whose photographs won tens of million won worth of prizes, and Kim Min-ju, who started an Internet shopping mall to re-sell some of the prizes she won.

Prizes Mr. Choi has won during two years are worth a total of 40 million won.
Pardon me?
It sounds like a dream for most people, who never win anything in their lives. But this guy won 275 times, netting prizes totalling 40 million won. The lucky guy who wins something every few days is Choi Seong-su, 38, a guest room manager at the Intercontinental Hotel in southern Seoul.
Mr. Choi is a shutterbug who wins lots of photography contests. He takes an average of 1,500 photos during his holidays. It all started when he entered a picture of his 3-year old daughter You-rim in a baby picture contest hosted by a powdered milk company in July 2003. Since then, he has won endless prizes including round-trip tickets to Canada and Saipan. He has also won six digital cameras, two camera-phones, 6 portable audio players, four photo printers, a home theater system, an air-cleaner, a coupon for a LASIK (laser in-situ Keratomileusis) operation and the list goes on. It’s an impressive list, but it doesn’t seem to startle Mr. Choi.
“Well if it’s not an apartment or an automobile, it really is not a big deal for me,” he says.
He says he used to win nine out of ten prizes at his peak. “These days, I don’t really win that many prizes. I’m busy so I just submit old pictures that fall into the right category for a contest,” he says. Yet he still wins forty with percent of the pictures he submits to different contests.
He keeps a record of all the prizes he has won since 2003. Everything from contest title to details of a prize to the valid claim date is written down meticulously. He started documenting it because it’s easy to forget the expiration date of airplane tickets and amusement park passes. But it becomes a lot of work as the number of prizes increases.
“It takes money and time,” Mr. Choi says. “I’m doing it because I like taking pictures and making arrangements with my family. There is no actual benefit in it.”
He says that he’d rather get a certificate than a prize now. His wife particularly likes to travel, so Mr. Choi’s whole family puts such a big effort into contests that award air tickets that he wins 8 or 9 out of 10. But how could a small family of three win most of the time just by working hard? Is he a professional photographer? He started taking pictures years ago for fun. He is just a regular husband and dad who likes to photograph precious moments with his family. And he is a pure amateur in that he never have had a formal education in photography. His photos are always of his wife and daughter.
What is his secret to winning over and over? First of all, props are mandatory for good pictures. He prepares a big bundle of props so that it almost looks like the family is moving out. Then, depending on the topic, he prepares a special prop such as parasol or a tent. When his daughter is having fun, he gets the best pictures. But the most important part of his advice is to do the brain work. He always has a pre-conceived scenario of what his series of pictures will be like. In accordance with his plans, he lets his wife and daughter have fun and he photographs the moments. Pictures become awkward when he gives them specific instructions. Mr. Choi says, “It might sound trite but when people ask me how to take a good picture, I always answer ‘follow your instincts.’ You can never take a good picture without sharing feelings with your subject.”
As for photo contests, maybe he is right to give more weight to affection for his family than his photography skills. If I follow his advice, can I at least get a water purifier?

Kim Min-ju (27) is a prize queen. Kim was in elementary school when she first filled out a small coupon on the package of a snacks and received a big gift set full of sweets from the company ― every child’s dream in those days. She realized early on that there was a way to live life for free.
Entering university, Ms. Kim embarked on an enthusiastic giveaway hunt. Her first triumph was an electronic dictionary, a reward for sending in consumer opinions on the corporate image of a major enterprise in Korea. She became the focus of envy among her friends, even though electronic dictionaries were not the most sought-after item among college girls.
With her first taste of victory, she began to hone her ‘hunting’ skills. The most important part was researching information on the countless giveaway events. She searched the Internet daily, even the advertisement sections that go unnoticed, and subscribed to magazines and tabloids. Nothing comes for free, even in the world of giveaways ― some just involve luck, but others require solving a quiz, sending in memorable photos and stories, or your opinion as a consumer. Ms. Kim zoned in on the latter, with her flair for writing. She enters an average of 30 contests and events per month, and usually wins about 6~7, earning about 300,000 won ($290) worth of products.
Since not many people put in the time and effort for giveaways, Ms. Kim’s chances were inevitably high. The free gifts she has amassed over the years are enormous, from laundry detergents to DVD players. The best one was a free three-day shopping spree in Hong Kong, sponsored by the Hong Kong Tourism Organization. She picked up 800,000 won ($773) worth of products on her trip.
Most of the time, Ms. Kim wins cosmetics. “I don’t even remember the last time I bought makeup,” she said. The cosmetics are useful for her friends’ birthday presents. But even her generosity hasn’t depleted her wealth of winnings, so she actually launched an online shopping mall (www.mjmall.tv) to sell her leftover giveaways. The highest monthly net profit so far has been 1 million won.
With her lucky streak, one would wonder why she has not yet won the lottery. Ms. Kim shakes her head, saying, “Of course, I tend to hit it luckier than most people. Even with beverages I always win the ‘Get One Free.’ The supermarket owner recognizes me by now. But I think that’s as far as it goes ― I’ve never gotten more than three numbers right in the lottery. I have more luck with giveaways because I put in the effort. I read magazine articles thoroughly and critically, taking notes of what I think, and then send in the reader’s opinion postcards regularly. My friends gave up trying to win when they found out how much work was involved.”
Winning the giveaways month after month, she is now on friendly terms with all the giveaway managers of the magazines. “I like the feeling of anticipation when I enter a contest, so I keep trying,” she smiled. Of course, the higher the price of the giveaway gift, the better. “This is a great way to grow your money ― you don’t even need any money to start with!”


by Ahn Hye-ree
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