Seven weeks have passed since my last entry, so it is high time to provide you with an insight of what has happened in the meantime.
After successfully finding a new research assistant, as things with the previous one hadn’t quite worked out, things seemed to move quickly. In no time, we had our first interview lined up. However, we had to cancel it as the interviewee was unfortunately unwell. Right afterwards, the same fate befell my new assistant, who suffered from a serious bout of pneumonia, and so interviews were out of the question for the time being.
At the beginning of December, I moved from my initial accommodation outside of Seoul to my friend Caroline Key who is currently engaged in a film project involving Korean sex workers. She generously has allowed me to stay with her at her beautiful apartment in Ahyeon-dong, a neighbourhood close to Ehwa Women’s University. I am writing this update at a desk in Caroline’s living room, overlooking Namsan or South Mountain, a 262m peak in the heart of Seoul. (see below)
At the end of this month, I will get closer to Namsan, as I will move into a shared apartment in a leftist commune in Haebangchon. It is a neighbourhood that is popular with foreign residents, but my new flatmates will all be Korean, forcing me to step up my Korean language studies.
In the Lion’s Den – Coming Soon!
In the first half of December, I attended an exhibition and a workshop “dealing with issues of sexual slavery, human trafficking, and violence and oppression against women” (quoted from the official description). A detailed description of this event will follow soon in a separate update.
Right before Christmas, my visa expired. Since I am not affiliated with any university or research organisation, I am currently staying in Korea with 90-day tourist visas. Those visas cannot be renewed while you are inside Korea, unless you are in some sort of emergency. Thus, I chose the cheapest available option and travelled via train and ferry from Seoul via Busan to Fukuoka in southern Japan – paid for with my own savings, not money raised from donations, I should add. When I returned to Korea, I received a new 90-day visa that is valid until the end of March.
I only stayed in Fukuoka for two nights, but I caught a glimpse of the entertainment sector in one of Japan’s busiest seaports. The photos below were taken during the daytime in Nakasu, Fukuoka’s red light district. Free magazines, available outside most establishments, show the women that work in them. Since sex work is illegal in Japan, the system usually works like this: customers order food and beverages for inflated prices and can choose the girls that join them at their tables. Anything that happens beyond (and outside the premises) is then subject to negotiations between each customer and his chosen escort. Usually, the women are getting paid a basic salary, with an additional income depending on how much profit they generate for the business. Any money earned from arrangements they make with the customers is theirs to keep, though this depends on each business.
Research and Networking
Back in Korea, I continue to read relevant materials for my project and to network with sex workers and sex work activists abroad. Facebook, with all its shortcomings when it comes to its ever-changing privacy settings, has become a great resource for me to find interesting articles and blogs as well as to connect with sex workers and sex work activists abroad. You can find some of the articles that I read on the Facebook page of Research Project Korea. If you are interested in reading additional materials, please leave a comment below.
Besides myself, the team of ‘Research Project Korea’ now consists of my research assistant Ms. Hanna Park, who functions as an interpreter and helps to arrange the interviews, and Ms. Haeryung Choi as additional assistant based in the UK, who helps with transcripts and translations. I am now looking for a new graphic artist to join our team (see below) as the previous one had a change of heart. In addition, I will explore the possibility of a sex worker joining our team if any will show an interest.
Artist wanted for Graphic Novel Project
Task: Develop a graphic novel alongside my research project into sex workers’ human rights
Requirements: Creative input for story development based on stories from sex workers (prostitutes); Comfortable to communicate in English; Reliable and honest; Female artist preferred due to the nature of the project.
Please leave a comment below for further information.
Finally, I would like to give you a brief outlook how the project will proceed. Our first interview is finally scheduled for the coming weekend. I will use the feedback from our interviewee to add or discard topics from my list of questions for interviews with sex workers and sex work activists, which represent the first phase of the project. I already received a positive feedback from a European sex worker and before proceeding to arrange more interviews, I will now double-check with a Korean sex worker that none of the topics is likely to cause serious problems during an interview.
The second phase of interviews will involve representatives of the Korean government and relevant NGOs. The questions for those will be developed based on the findings of the interviews of the first phase.
The first phase will likely take until well into March and the second phase I intend to conclude by the end of April. The publications based on the findings of this project are planned to be completed by the end of June. More details about the publications will follow in a separate update.
If you expected the project to wrap up much sooner, then you are not alone. I had imagined concluding this project by February maybe, but due to the changes in my team and other circumstances, the interviews have taken much longer to arrange.
I admit that it has been frustrating at times but I remain fully committed to the project. Due to the delays and complications, I named this entry “Up-and-Downdate”, but actually, “Down-and-Update” would better fit the circumstances, as things definitely look up now that I got two qualified and pro-active assistants.
I welcome any questions and comments both here and on my Facebook and I appreciate any support, be it by recommending my Blog and Facebook page to friends and colleagues, by sharing relevant materials with me, or by donating to my fundraiser.