The Big Issue : Edition 475
THEBIGISSUE9–22JAN2015 23 wandering around the street trying to get a meal. There’s a place that provides food and someone was there giving out leaflets about The Big Issue and how it can help get you back on track. This really interested me, so I called the office. It has been four years since I started selling. There’s a government-sponsored program, where if you work for The Big Issue for more than six months and save more than SKW1.5 million [$1580], then you are qualified to apply for rental support. I submitted an application to the district office, which was accepted. I am now able to rent an apartment in the western part of Seoul. From there I commute to The Big Issue office, buy magazines for the day and then come to the terminal where I sell. Having stable shelter has changed my life. I have my own things in my house, can buy things I need and when I go to sleep I can think about the future. In the past I didn’t, because I had no hope. It has made a big difference. TODAY I’VE ALREADY sold seven editions, which is really good. On average I sell 30 starting around 5pm when people finish work, selling at Exit 8 of Seoul’s Express Bus Terminal. Some people already know about The Big Issue and buy it frequently. They ask how selling is going, and sometimes also offer me a snack – when that happens it’s really nice. I am originally from Incheon [west of Seoul]. I left school in 1986 when I was a middle-school student. After I dropped out I was very stressed and it was very hard for me to go out and socialise, so I stayed at home for a long time. My father said ‘Why don’t you just go out?’, so I worked for a factory, but then it went bankrupt. I later got my driver’s licence – my father ran a business going to rural areas to buy chilli to sell in the city. Because I could drive I helped him. Then my father became ill and soon the business failed. One thing led to another and I became homeless. One day I was I live alone, but had a chance to be on TV because of The Big Issue, and my brothers noticed me and found me. I had become disconnected from my family for a long time. I met my brothers and my mother – it was fantastic. I’m a baseball fan so if I have free time I go to the stadium. My team is Nexen Heroes, the local team. And I take ballet lessons on Sundays with other vendors. Regarding the future, the Seoul city government has provided space in a metro train area for The Big Issue to transform into a coffee shop. The plan is for vendors to train as baristas and work in the cafe. I hope to learn about coffee and work there once it’s up and running. They are working on it now. » Translated by Claire Kang. Patrick Witton is The Big Issue’s Contributing Editor. He travelled to South Korea with the Walkley Foundation Australia–Korea Journalism Exchange, with support from the Australia–Korea Foundation and Korea Press Foundation. PHOTOGRAPHBYPATRICKWITTON Postcard from Seoul VENDOR PROFILE THIS MONTH, The Big Issue Korea publishes its 100th edition. In less than five years the magazine has not only built a solid readership, it has helped vendors across South Korea – a nation that has rapidly become an economic powerhouse, yet remains beset by homelessness and unemployment. Each night in subway stations across the capital of Seoul, those without shelter can be seen carefully staking out sanctuary with rattan mats and cardboard. Government assistance is limited, but The Big Issue Korea provides housing and employment support for vendors, and arranges cultural activities such as singing and even ballet lessons. Plus the magazine looks great, too. Patrick Witton recently visited Seoul, where he met Big Issue vendor Mr Oh – also known as ‘Killer Smile’. This is Mr Oh’s story.