Chan Il Park, Esquire Korea

“I hereby officially give up on my war on fat”

I have nothing personal against the actor Seung Ryong Ryu. In fact, I have always thought that he has a distinctive style and charming eyes. But it was something else as he frequented on the ad panels in metro stations for a mobile food delivery app ‘Baedal Minjok’(“The Nation of Delivery Food”). Now, I understand that public activities of famous actors in Korea are determined by their agencies. But just in case Mr. Ryu ever runs into this piece of writing, I would like to tell him that modeling for an exploitative mobile app service, which snatches some 10% of sales of cheap food deliveries as commission, is a bad move if what he desires is to become a well-respected public figure.

Running a dining business in Korea is tough. I am a rather well-established chef running my own high-end restaurant, yet a 10% profit margin is not easy no matter how hard I work. There is no way for me to reduce costs by using mediocre quality ingredients, when hundreds of hawk-eyed customers are ready to unleash complaints over my dish via smartphones in their hands. Ingredients, utilities, wages, monthly rentsㅡhardly 10% is left when all these are deducted from hard-earned revenue.

No wonder the comments are wild over how fried chickens and jjajangmyun deliveries tend to be sub-prime when orders are placed by mobile apps. These are humble to-go restaurants that worry about how to pay their rents next month. They probably run two used scooters: one by the father and the other by an elder son, carrying those stainless delivery boxes from alley to alley through the snowstorms and pouring rain, while the mom’s desperately frying wings in boiling oil to meet the next order, sucking in its greasy fumes. At least twice a week, they would distribute paper leaflets and perhaps gift can openers along with them in apartment complexes, risking that angry janitor will come after and grab them by their collars; yet this is the only way good enough to draw some phone calls placing an order of $7~$10. This is the only way they can make a living. Sure, since the motto for those delivery apps is “Now, you don’t need to advertise every time!”, such may be no longer necessaryㅡin exchange for giving all that is barely left away for the mobile service charges.

tough life

After all, who would prefer finding the pizza numbers among those refrigerator magnets, getting annoyed by an occasional unfriendly call operator? Why would you even bother getting your order potentially mixed up due to some miscommunications over the phone line when an app on your fingertip can skip all these hassles at once? I do not even intend to discuss what’s just and unjust here. I simply wish that ahjussi, who runs a small pizza delivery franchise around the corner, would safely bring home some bacon at the end of a long day on his scooter. Laugh all you want at my anachronistic, melodramatic take on this inevitable digital evolution in the age of capitalism. You, too, would feel different when you notice the burns on the ajumma’s forearms from frying that drumsticks you had for lunch.

The market value of those mobile apps within the 10 trillion won-food delivery industry is roughly about 1.5 trillion won, suggesting there is a capless room for future growth. It is also well-known that foreign capital is the major shareholder of those major Korean delivery apps. By no means I try to appeal to some righteous protectionist doctrine here. But seriously, Goldman Sachs-style portfolio speculation to this humble arena of dented stainless delivery boxes? The glitzy dollars really have to sweep up those tiny profits through service commission? I know money is heartless. That yuan-denominated fund you invested is a congested hopes and dreams and worries of peoples of China, who have disposed their houses and went all in to Shanghai Composite Index, in a number form. But none of that catches in your radar of course. You simply want the Index to go up so it suggests you may buy a new car, treat your friends to a posh dinner and whatnotㅡsuch is capitalism.

In the meantime, another delivery app commercial appears on the television. It is Dong Seok Ma this time. I wonder who the next actor/actress will be.



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