Attention, passengers: now hiring menIf you’re a regular rider of the rails ― in particular the Saemaeul line ― you may have already noticed that not all of the attendants are women. The line’s managers have broken with tradition (though stayed loyal to anti-discrimination laws) by letting men work as attendents, a career that is considered about as feminine as a masseuse for a women’s bath house. The line, which is faster than the Mugunghwa trains but slower than the KTX, jumped into the terrain of gender equality in the second half of last year, hiring four young fellows.
Some readers might at this point leap to their feat in indignation: “But I’ve seen men working on the trains!” Yes, but those men are salesmen, not company employees, and they work only on the Mugunghwa line, which has only managers.
Although the gender barriers to many jobs have broken down, the service sector in many businesses in Korea is still considered off-limits to men, while the managers in the sector generally exclude women. It’s no surprise to see about six times as many female flight attendants than men on Korean Air, and 13 times more on Asiana Airlines. Even the positions for train attendants on the KTX, which started running in 2004, are still open only to women.
But Korea Railroad Corp. lifted the age and gender limits for applicants in March, after a civic group for gender equality filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission in December, 2004. The civic group insisted that the applications for the position, which had allowed only single women aged 18 to 30, were discriminatory.
Not the fun some people might expect
Previous job: Computer programmer for two years.
Motivation: “I wanted to do something active, instead of sitting in front of a computer all day.”
Work team: “The job is very personal. [The team] is only one attendant and a manager, most of whom are men.”
What’s it like? “It’s not as fun as people might imagine. I sometimes feel a sense of alienation as a minority. If I worked with them, I might have been seniors’ pet.”
“I feeling burdened being the first male attendant. I feel like I have to prove that I do the job better than women, so that the company doesn’t regret hiring a man.”
Disadvantages to the job: “I also have to deal with troublemakers on the train. Once, a man who was dead drunk got on the train, carrying another eight bottles of soju (distilled liquor) with him. On the way to his seat, he fell down because he couldn’t even stand straight. The soju bottles were broken, so he started yelling and accusing a woman next to him of tripping him. I had to take him to another car.”
“Another case was a quite elderly man who was sexually harassing children and foreigners on the train. The victims insisted [that he was harassing them], but the man, of course, denied everything. I had to wait for a while for his next attempt and caught him red-handed. I made him get off at the next stop and handed him over to the security guards at the station.”
The good part? ‘Time for myself’
Previous job: Worked in a printing company for one year.
Motivation: “I thought that working for a public corporation would be good for my name value. I also like taking trains. I think I got that from my mother, who also worked at a train station in Seoul.”
Good part of the job: “I can have time for myself. Because I have times on weekdays when other people are working, I can go to the movies often and take short trips.”
Hard part of the job: “Dealing with passengers over money. Once a middle-aged woman took the train with her son but didn’t buy a ticket for him. If a kid is over four years old, then the kid has to have a ticket. But the woman said the boy didn’t need to, because he would sit on her lap. I had to fine her for violating the regulation, but then she raised her voice, making me feel guilty.”
Mistakes: “I sometimes make mistakes when announcing information for the passengers. One was that I forgot what I was going to say after announcing, ‘May I have your attention please?’ It was dead silent for about 10 seconds, but for me it felt like 10 minutes.”
“One time when it was really cold, my mouth just wouldn’t obey orders from my brain. I mispronounced the station name. It was big mistake for an attendant to make, even though I immediatly corrected myself, because the passengers could get confused and think they took the wrong train.”
Middle-aged women love his looks
Good about the job: “I can see beautiful landscapes from time to time on the train.”
How women treat him: “A woman once asked me, ‘Does your company hire train attendants based on appearance?’ Well, she looked older than me, but, of course, I was pleased to hear that and I jokingly agreed.”
“One other time, a middle-aged woman asked me if I had a girlfriend, saying that she has a daughter. Sometimes middle-aged women ask me to have lunch or dinner together after getting to their destinations and other women joke that I should accept a glass of soju from my future mother-in-law. I feel embarrassed and don’t know what to do.”
How he deals with women: “There are some women who look astonishingly beautiful. Of course, I give those women looks. But that’s it. I don’t forget my role, that I have to take responsibility for the passengers’ safety. Things could have been different if I were also a passenger though. By the way, I do have a girlfriend.”
Train attendant, better for men or women?: “I think it’s better for men, because it requires a lot of physical strength. I sometimes have to carry disabled passengers to their seats or help move medical patients. I also sometimes need to run fast in freezing-cold weather ― which is diffcult for women who have to wear high heels ― to open car doors with my bare hands. The doors don’t open automatically if it’s too cold.”
Half inside, half out, and it’s snowing
Motivation: “When I did my military service in Daegu, I rode the train a lot. At that time, I thought that it would be great to work on the train. Plus, I always wanted to get a job that lets me actively move around.”
Good part of being a male attendant: “Passengers sometakes mistakenly treat me as the manager of the train, and even ask me where the train attendant is.”
Hard part of the job: “Checking out if anyone is trying to get on or get off the train while it’s moving, putting half of my body outside of the train and the other half inside.”
“On sunny days, it’s no problem, but on rainy or snowy days, it’s rather difficult.”
Misunderstandings about train attendants: “People think that we have many opportunities to travel to many cities because we’re always on the go. But first of all, we only go to seven cities: Busan, Haeundae, Mokpo, Gwangju, Pohang, Ulsan and Janghang.”
“Second, we don’t have enough time to travel on our own, even to those seven cities. We have to take another train back to Seoul about three hours after our arrival.”
“Even though we sometimes stay one night at the destination, we usually get there late at night, usually 10 or 11 p.m., and leave at 7:40 the next morning. It’s not enough time to enjoy even the night life. Even worse, our accommodation is always inside the station.”
by Park Sung-ha