KUNGHANG, South Korea — With his clean white university sweatshirt and shiny cellphone, Lee Chang-shik looks the part of a manager at a condominium development company, the job that he held until last year’s financial panic — and the one he tells his friends and family he still holds.
But in fact, he leads a secret life. After his company went bankrupt late last year, he recently relocated to this remote fishing village to do the highest-paying work he could find in the current market: as a hand on a crab boat.
“I definitely don’t put crab fisherman on my résumé,” said Mr. Lee, 33, who makes the five-hour drive back to Seoul once a month to hunt for a desk job. “This work hurts my pride.”
Tales of the downwardly mobile have become common during the current financial crisis, and South Korea has had more than its share since the global downturn hammered this once fast-growing export economy. But they often have a distinctly Korean twist, with former white-collar workers going into more physically demanding work or traditional kinds of manual labor that are relatively well paid here — from farming and fishing to the professional back-scrubbers who clean patrons at the nation’s numerous public bathhouses.
Just as distinctly Korean may be the lengths to which some go to hide their newly humble status.
Mr. Lee says he carefully avoids the topic of work in phone conversations with friends and his parents, and dodges invitations to meet by claiming he is too busy. He gave his name with great reluctance, and only after being assured the article would not appear in Korean.
Another former white-collar worker who now works on a crab boat in the same village said he could not tell family and friends, and told his wife only via e-mail after arriving here. Yet another tells his parents that he is in Japan.
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