Paid wedding crashers and other odd Korean gigs
We work to put food on the table and take care of our families. In this respect, all jobs are equally important and honorable. Despite this truism, some jobs or temporary occupations can still take us by surprise.
A number of job opportunities cater to Korean culture and traditions, from hiring designated drivers to motorbike quick-service deliverymen. Once there used to be “push-men” at subways, who literally pushed people in so that more passengers could be squeezed into a subway car during rush hour.
Here are some odd jobs that give a taste of the very Korean employment climate on the peninsula.
Parking lot attendants
You are driving into a department store and people in uniforms come into sight. Just like sailors drawn to the mythic siren, you are mesmerized by their flamboyant uniforms and moves while led to an empty spot in the parking lot.
This is a common tale at large discount stores or department stores, where so-called parking lot attendants greet customers by ushering them into vacant parking spaces with their hard-to-miss hand gestures.
Depending on where the service is provided, parking lot attendants’ dances and gear varies, ranging from cowboy hats and Russian fur coats to what look like Canadian mounted police uniforms, but the most ubiquitous item of clothing is surely the pair of white gloves.
Their hand gestures are sometimes so theatrical and ostentatious that they remind us of kids’ exuberant performances at school plays. The over-exaggerated moves may look a little silly to some, but they are a definite attention-grabber for those in need of directions.
Most big retail shops and discount stores in Korea tend to hire these parking lot attendants as a sign of their commitment to customer service.
In Seoul, where traffic is congested even in parking lots, the animated dance moves of the fashionable attendants, coupled with the inevitable background music, help alleviate the boredom and frustration of drivers sitting at a standstill. After all, a happy shopper will spend more money!
The attendants’ dance moves used to be far more intricate and over-the-top, mirroring the popular choreography of the time, like the current horse-riding dance craze, but the once flourishing trend is now giving way to simpler and more modest styles, as business owners worry more about their corporate image.
As the old Korean saying goes, “A soft answer turns away wrath.” It’s an amusing welcome for a shopper to encounter smartly-dressed dandies at parking lots greeting you with a big smile and some sharp moves while leading you an empty parking space and directing traffic at peak shopping times.
It’s a win-win for everybody involved.
Proxy wedding guests
When it comes to ceremonies, Koreans traditionally put formality first. Why does an elementary school sports day have to open with a long ceremony full of speeches and introductions, and a bunch of people in suits and white gloves cutting a ribbon? These are events for the greater community, not just the students involved.
This extends to weddings, which are events for the entire family, not just the bride and groom.
On their wedding day, the number of guests attending the big event does matter to a marrying couple and their family. It’s not only about friends and family wishing for their happiness, but also about how guests will judge their wealth and social status. Many factors will affect their judgment, from location to the quality of the meal, but the size of the group photos is extremely important.
Rooted in this belief, a new but growing industry has been born - proxy wedding guests. These people have no ties to the families, but are paid to attend a wedding and hold the fort throughout the ceremony as a friend of either the bride or a groom. Considering the labor intensity, which usually involves sitting, clapping at the right time, eating a free meal and then posing for a few pictures, the payment is quite handsome.
It might sound like a sweet job to the employee, but imagine looking at your wedding album years later, and nobody can recognize the people in you photos!
The body scrubbers
If Turkey is famous for its baths and Finland for its saunas, then Korea should be well-known for its full-body scrubs. By scrubbing off dead skin cells with a coarse cloth called an “Italy towel,” Koreans fastidiously clean their bodies and obtain remarkably soft skin. At public bathhouses, there’s almost always a staff member dedicated to exfoliating full-body scrubs.
These scrub masseuses were long regarded as occupying a low social position. But thanks to changing social conventions, a new focus on health and well-being, and more rigorous training, younger people are jumping into this new path.
More and more foreigner visitors, especially Japanese and Chinese tourists, now visit Korea in order to experience the unique bath culture or to get vocational training.
Although anybody could scrub themselves raw with a coarse towel, it does not mean that they can have the job. Only trained and licensed practitioners are qualified to provide the service. So, as the demand for this position increases, many scrubber-masseuses provide not only exfoliating massages but also acupressure, reiki, Swedish and other types of massages as well.
Skilled body scrubbers begin by exfoliating the arms and legs first, farthest away from the client’s heart, and then move along the chi flow. Scrubbers work in swimsuits, while bathers receive the service in their birthday suits.
Sometimes customers in bathhouses help each other by soaping and scrubbing each other’s backs, which many North Americans find shocking!
If there’s another job that has surprised you, try to learn about the background and the reason why it has become a unique career in Korea. Who knows - you might build a career that you could only have found in Korea!
By Michelle Kang, contributing writer [email@example.com]