Graduation marred by unwelcome guests
Street vendors occupy university campuses to enjoy their own feast
By Yun Suh-young
February is a month for commencement ceremonies. College campuses are bustling not only with students and parents engaging in their own celebrations, but street vendors enjoying their own feast as well.
They sell all kinds of items ranging from flowers, cotton candy, walnut snacks and balloons, and make their way around people trying to attract customers. Photographers offering to take pictures for families are crowded in front of the auditorium trying to coax fathers into paying for their child’s photo.
Graduation days are market days for these vendors.
Graduations are a peak season for vendors and photographers. Their presence may be helpful to some, but to others, they are unwelcome guests.
Not only are they entering school grounds, they are also crowding the streets outside _ at times getting into conflict with shop owners.
A quarrel broke out between a flower vendor and an employee at a jewelry shop in front of the subway station at Ewha Womans University, Monday, before the school’s graduation ceremony.
“Please move your stuff and go somewhere else. You’re disturbing our business,” the employee told the flower vendor. The vendor pleaded for his understanding saying she will just be there for a day, but to no avail.
Flower vendors like her were lined up along the streets up to the front gate of the university, shouting out prices in competition.
Inside the school, dozens of street vendors had set up stalls in front of the auditorium.
They were from all over the city.
“I came from Shinchon. A graduation ceremony was also held at Yonsei University today. I was there this morning and came here after it finished,” said a vendor selling walnut cakes inside the school.
A balloon vendor said she came all the way from Mokdong, west of Seoul.
“I have a different job, but I come to graduations to sell balloons as a part time job. I know most of the vendors because many of us meet at the same occasions,” she said.
Photographers were walking around with placards and flags offering photo services starting from 50,000 won ($44).
Students, however, are unhappy about the touting occurring in their school grounds.
“I felt very uncomfortable when a photographer came up to me trying to persuade me to take a photo. He told me my hair was untidy and tried to fix my graduation cap, which was a kind gesture to coax me into it. I kept saying I didn’t need his service but he kept following me around,” said Choi Seung-eun, a student who graduated from Ewha.
The situation is similar at other universities as well.
A student who was at the graduation ceremony held at Yonsei University the same day said, “There were a lot of vendors inside our school, especially flower vendors. The school gets really crowded with them.”
A recent graduate from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (HUFS) also said, “Our school campus is very small so when vendors set up their stands, it gets really crowded. We even have snack carts at the graduation where they sell bean and rice cakes. There weren’t that many at this year’s graduation but I heard there used to be a lot more. I guess the school decided to clampdown on them because they were disturbing people.”
Hard to tackle
It is hard to control and restrain the vendors from merchandising in schools, officials say.
A security guard at Ewha said, “The situation is not new. We try to stop them from coming into the school but they still do. It’s been like that for decades. It’s like we’re playing hide and seek with them. It’s hard to spot them if they don’t enter through the front gate. But we’re trying our best to stop them because they’re not allowed in school.”
HUFS managed to reduce the number of vendors only with the help of the school president.
A security guard from HUFS said, “There used to be quite a lot of carts in schools until a few years ago. But since the school president changed, the number of vendors reduced because the new president tried to make a car-free school ground. Street vendors couldn’t enter the school with carts ever since.”
Vendors, however, still manage to enter other schools every year because people tend to either sympathize with or overlook them.
“My parents don’t care because they’re here just for a day,” said Choi from Ewha. “I felt uncomfortable but at the same time, I felt sorry for them. The photographers, I heard, used to earn a lot when they came to graduations. I bet they’re doing this in memory of the good-old days.”
Choi Ji-hye, a student from Yonsei University, said, “I do think there are too many vendors crowding the school grounds, but since it’s just for a day, I think I can understand. Flower vendors can be useful for people who haven’t had time to buy flowers.”
The vendors continue to make visits to schools because people don’t report them.
“We haven’t received any reports. It wasn’t until the president took action that the situation was taken care of,” said the security guard at HUFS.
Cycle will go on
The vendors know their “seasonal” trips don’t really help increase their revenue.
“We don’t earn that much these days. I’m just here for fun,” said a photographer.
A balloon vendor said, “I usually sell cotton candy. But at graduations, I sell balloons. It’s not profitable, but I still rely on those who like taking pictures and those with young children in their families because they’re the ones who buy them. I like moving around like this because it’s better than staying unproductive.”
Students also say it’s become like a tradition and question whether it will ever come to an end.