Photojournalist Yeon-Ung Yang talks to a student after his seminar Nov. 29th. Yang presented his work on “Bus-kkun,” a photo essay that documents Korean and Chinese immigrants traveling from Flushing, New York, to various casinos to make money. (Samuel Henry/B&W Staff)

Photojournalist tells story of the bus-kkun people in documentary

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Yeong-Ung Yang, a New York based photojournalist, spoke about his latest project, “Bus-kkun,” at a documentary screening Nov. 29. The project shows the life of the Korean and Chinese homeless and jobless individuals who bus from Flushing, New York, to the local Sands Casino.

Yang said these people, who he observed and grew close to while creating the documentary, spend 15 hours a day in the casino and on the bus combined. They take these trips for the free gambling and meal vouchers.

“It’s an ongoing practice, and it’s going to expand,” Yang said.  “I saw it in Seattle and San Bernardino. I see this everywhere. And the more (the) Asian population expands in the states, the more buses there will be.”  

The casinos have made a national marketing strategy by implementing bus routes in cities, especially near Chinatowns. The “bus-kkun,” or people who ride buses to casinos, use the buses as shelter. Through his documentary, Yang built relationships with some of the bus-kkun, many of whom have broken relationships at home and have no other way of living.

It is estimated around 80 percent of the bus riders are homeless. Yang said he hopes to see the trend end at some point, but it does not seem that the bus trips are stopping.

“There’s a lot of multi-layered sub cultures behind this whole trip,” Yang said. “Mental health issues, addiction. I learned why casino gambling upgraders target the Asians — because they make a profit.”  

He said one of his bus-kkun subjects told him he does not worry about making a living thanks to the casino.

At first, Yang only observed these individuals because he wanted to portray their actual experiences. Yang said he wanted the people to become familiar with his face and presence in their routine. After three weeks, Yang began to shoot videos.

“I had a very small camera, and I finally got onto the bus with it,” Yang said. “I began following these people and going to the bus stop to talk to these people. Eventually, I followed them onto the bus.”

During his time spent making the documentary, Yang saw many of the elder Korean and Chinese people die of diabetes and cancer. He said their mental and physical health is a large concern.

Yang said one of the bus-kkun told him the only way he could be treated was if someone from the casino called an ambulance for him, because he could not afford to go to the hospital and pay the expenses himself.

“I’ve never been to Sands, but it’s eye opening to see what’s going on,” Demetri Greco, ‘20, said. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t even know that this problem is happening.”  

Yang’s project started as a photo essay, but it later turned into a multimedia piece. He developed short clips and videos, which help viewers visualize the bus trip and casino visit the bus-kkun experience every day.  

“Publications want to know how to get the narrative right and get to a group of people or situation,” Yang said during the presentation. “I want to make a narrative that is visually consistent, and I want to have a strong story.”

Yang said he feels as though his work has brought attention to the situation and the bus-kkun people.  

He said he does not feel other photojournalists in the field are his competitors. Yang continues to work on his longest-lasting project, which he said has opened up his career path.

“We’re helping each other out and broadening our scopes,” Yang said. 

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