Decision time at lunchtime
It’s lunchtime. And just like a flock of sheep leaving a barn, office workers pour into the streets of downtown Seoul. On my way to a nearby restaurant, I always run into a few ladies handing out fliers. They are advertisements for 5,000 won ($4.73) lunch buffets, newly opened fried chicken or pizza joints and health clubs with gyms and yoga studios providing towels and gym outfits for 30,000 won a month, “Lowest in Seoul.” Sometimes, I take the fliers, but when I am running late I often ignore them. Other people would nonchalantly walk by, but they always spot me several steps away.
A colleague said his daughter had worked part-time handing out fliers when she was a college student, and she asked him to always take them. The wife of a National Assembly lawmaker said she would go back to get one if she had passed by without noticing. She had handed out the pamphlets and fliers for her husband during the election campaign. Many threw them away as soon as they received them, and some even trampled on them. She would pick it up from the ground and shake off the dirt. She feels for the ladies on the street distributing fliers.
According to Statistics Korea, the five-year survival rate for newly opened restaurants is 17.9 percent, meaning four of five restaurateurs close within five years. The lives of a baby boomer retiree and a part-time woman worker depend on fliers. Incomes vary depending on the size of the flier, but on average the distributor gets paid about 30 won per flier. You can make 30,000 won for handing out 1,000 fliers, which would take five to six hours. It is not an easy job during the winter.
Outdoor billboards have evolved over time. When I was in elementary school, I had already figured out that grown-up men have five worries, thanks to the advertisements on utility poles, which read: “Solve Men’s Five Problems at Once.” Whether it is a poster, a banner or a flier, all unauthorized advertisements are illegal. Moreover, entertainment quarters in big cities are seriously polluted by indecent illegal advertisements. Many local government agencies are working hard to remove and collect them. Some offer compensation to senior citizens for bringing in illegal posters and fliers. Students receive community service points from their schools. But advertisements for services targeting adults may pique curiosity in youths. So the city of Namyangju, Gyeonggi, abolished the community service point system early on - in 2009 - out of concern for harmful side effects.
About 1 p.m., streets get crowded as workers go back to their offices, and the ladies distributing fliers are alert once again. A lady in thick outerwear and wrapped up in a scarf approaches me. Her face is red from the cold. Should I take it or not?
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Noh Jae-hyun