By NARA KIM
The Big Issue Korea
When Young-Cheol Kim, a South Korean Big Issue vendor, suffered a bone fracture while he was training for the Homeless World Cup football tournament, his regular buyers were worried about him. The absence of the "Big-Pan" (Korean slang for a Big Issue vendor) at the Express Terminal tube station in Seoul was noted. Now, Young-Cheol is back selling The Big Issue but in a wheelchair, and reassuring his regular customers that he will be free from his plaster cast in nine weeks.
"Because I am in a wheelchair, often people will rush away without taking their change. Frankly, it makes me feel uneasy as I am proud of what I do," he said when I asked him what the most difficult thing was about selling the magazines.
He said he used to always make a point of returning any change to his customers before he had the injury, however it isn't easy for him in a wheelchair to chase his customers to give them their change. For Young-Cheol a few words of encouragement are the only 'tip' he needs.
"It would have been my first time to meet others abroad [at the Homeless World Cup], and gain more confidence and courage, so I still wanted to go, even with my plaster cast!" Moreover, he felt guilty as he thought he had destroyed the high morale of his team, and let down his teammates. However, while he was recovering in hospital, in time he became positive about the experience.
"At that point, my Big Issue sales were growing, I was building up my savings, and I felt better about my life. On reflection, I think that my injury might have saved me from losing focus."
Despite his efforts to strictly follow the rules of Big Issue sales, and build his savings, Young-Cheol, role model at the Korean Big Issue sales department, feels uncertain about his future. Young-Cheol lost his job during "the IMF foreign exchange crisis" in the late 1990s, and has suffered repeated ups and downs for the last 10 years. He often wonders and worries about whether he will ever become financially independent, but what makes him stay strong are the kind words of encouragement from the people he meets at the Express Terminal Station.
"People who share warm words with me make me passionate about what I do. One day, a lady who usually passes me around 10 o'clock each morning, brought me some Gimbap (a popular Korean dish). People told me they were impressed with my work, and even gave me a handshake, and promised to buy a copy of the Big Issue whenever they see me. I was really overwhelmed."
When Young-Cheol first joined the Big Issue, he received ten free copies of the magazine and was told that there was no obligation to continue the work. Now he visits shelters and homeless people and acts as an ambassador for the magazine. Young-Cheol will soon enter rented housing and he is planning to look for a new job as soon as he is settled in his new home. While he really wants to change his life forever, in the meantime he enjoys being a "Big-Pan," meeting people, and hearing their kind words at the Express Terminal station. His closing words remind us again, a few words of encouragement are the only 'tip' he needs: "Please, readers, don't forget to take your change."
Young-Cheol's tips for street paper vendors around the world:
1. Punctuality: regardless of sales opportunities, being at my location on time builds trust with my customers
2. Draw attention: draw the attention of people as they approach you, for instance people opposite you at a pedestrian crossing. It might not lead to a sale, but they might remember you next time
3. Networking: be friendly with people in your sales area such as security guards, cleaning ladies and free paper distributors, so you will feel more comfortable while selling
4. Pride: being proud of what you do helps maintain the standards and values of the Big Issue, and gives the buyer confidence
Translated by Trent Kim from Korean to English