top of page
  • Writer's pictureKirk

The Korean Shoeshine Man

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

I was attacked! Yes, on the streets of Seoul I met the Korean ShoeShine Man. I approached with a smile and he engaged me. It is unusual I would be wearing shoes, as I normally wear sandals, but it was cool in Korea so I put on my Doc Martens to walk the streets.

I asked him how much and he pointed to a 10,000 KWN bill ($7.40USD). I knew that was high for Korea so I shook my head no. At that point he grabbed me and began to physically move me to the chair. Before I go further you need to see the guy:

He was a diminutive man, smaller than me (yeah, that's possible), and older too. When he began his "assault" on me, two young Korean men were passing by. I looked at them as I was being manhandled by the Korean ShoeShine Man (I'll refer to him as KSSM from now on), and said "Help, help, I'm being assaulted!"

I must have engaged with one of the only 10 Koreans in this country that understood English. One of the men looked at me with an expression of surprise, then he looked at this frail old man and said to me, "Just go!"

Why didn't I think of that! Of course I was joking but this young man was dead serious. I smiled and told him I was kidding and he quickly dismissed me with a scorn expression. That didn't go over well.

Now I'm seated and KSSM is untieing my shoe. I asked again the price and now it's 6,000 KWN. That's a 40% discount from his original. Sure! Let's do it. These 15 year old Doc Martens could use a good buff.

Now the fun began. This was a colorful character. He was engaging with me and others that passed by. But I've not found many Koreans with a sense of humor. They would look at him like an old kook and quicken their pace. Not even an acknowledgment of the KSSM.

But he did a friend that came and visited during the shine:

But even his friend had no real sense of humor. Even though, the KSSM never stopped working the whole time. He spent about a half hour on those 15 year old scuff marks.

If you do a blow up of this photo, you can perhaps see how really scuffed up these old Doc Martens were.

It seems like on many of my posts lately, I've been coming back to Tom T. Hall. I couldn't get that song of his out of my head as KSSM was doing his work.

"I'm a shoeshine man number one in the land,

A shoeshine man make you shine where you stand.

Leave me a tip, if you can I'm the shoeshine man."

The man was certainly as colorful as a Tom T Hall song.

He asked me where I was from, and I said Florida, but he didn't recognize the state. So I told him the only city in Florida that it seems like everybody in the world knows, Miami. From there on everything was "I love you Miami." I think "I love you " and "where you from" were the only English words he knew.

While shining my shoes he gave me some dingy flip flops to wear and a Korean newspaper to read. Nice touch KSSM, but what am I supposed to do with that? It was probably even yesterday's paper:

He finally finished and we took a few photos together:

I paid him his 6.000 KWN and added a 2,000KWN tip, even though you don't tip in Korea. He happily took it (some here see tips as an insult, as though you're saying they're not paid enough).

I walked down the streets with my new looking Doc Martens and we parted ways. He was back in search for his next victim, I mean customer. What's life without a little fun?

BTW, those Doc Martens have their own story. 15 years ago my flight was cancelled and I had to spend the night in Nashville. The airline gave me $150 in compensation because I had no clothes. I spent all of it on those shoes. When I got home and my daughter saw them she said, "You know that's what the Goths wear, don't you?"

I never felt so cool.

18 views4 comments

Recent Posts

See All

The Improbable Universe

Last week we looked at traveling to different universes. We looked at The Many Worlds Theory and found that many prominent physicists believe that other universes exist. Not just a few, but countless

bottom of page