A Coat From Korea
I heard it tear as I shoveled. I am not sure how or what movement caused it to tear. And as it turned out, what tore wasn’t essential, ruinous, or irreparable. But it did scare me initially out there in the cold, huffing and puffing as I threw snow into piles on either side of our driveway.
The torn flap of my beloved coat’s front pocket, it fortunately came right off, without ruining the foundation of the coat. For symmetry’s sake, I took off the other pocket flap.
Maybe you got stuck on "beloved coat." No, unlike Dolly’s coat of many colors, my mother did not make it for me. But there is a memorable if not unexciting origin story behind the coat. Maybe the better term is ownership story and not origin story. The story is not about the coat's creation. I'd love to know that origin story, but never will. The story I share is one involving how I first came to own the coat.
I was in Seoul in the early Spring of 2001 with Holly and a mutual Korean friend. It was the Hongdae shopping district. They were shopping. I was mostly people watching, something I tend to do wherever I am. It was a grayer, cooler day, and the crowds weren’t overwhelming – something unusual for busy Seoul. As we walked along, there in the middle of the walkway was a box with a coat hanging out. The box had a handmade sign – 10,000 W (Won), the rough equivalent of $10.
I noticed the lining of the coat first. It was beautiful! Very Korean in style. I stopped the two shoppers - Holly and our friend - to do some temporary shopping of my own. I picked out the coat, tried it on, got my friend’s approval, and bought it straightaway. 10,000 W - an unbelievable deal that ever since I've bragged about to every complementer and admirer.
Coincidentally, the name of the company that made the coat is DanPol. The “dan” in Korean is pronounced like my name. And the "pol"? Well, I am proudly Polish-American. Yeah – the connections are a stretch, I realize.
What’s clear, the coat remains maybe my favorite purchase of all time. The coat is one of my favorite possessions, and I am not someone who values possessions all that much.
So, hearing that tearing of my DanPol coat – it was a horrible sound. A worrisome sound. Was this the end of this part of me?
Yes, as you might guess, it goes deeper than just a coat.
I lived in South Korea for about 18 months. Enough for me to experience the culture in a deeper way. I came to be a kind of Koreaphile, I'd say.
After getting my Master's degree in 2004, it was my hope to do PhD study, focusing on Korean language. I was awarded a six-month language fellowship at Yonsei University in 2005. I completed 3 months of it. The Korean language proved too hard for ADD me.
My parents got divorced while I was there, throwing my family into upheaval. And Holly’s biological clock was ticking resoundingly. I needed to be home. I decided to go home, leaving my hopes of PhD study in Korean religion mostly behind.
I haven't been back since the summer of 2005. Some 18 months later, my son was conceived. I eventually chose ministry instead of academia. I have no regrets, really.
I retain memories. I have photos and a few items – a tea set, a couple framed-prints, some books – from my/our time there. But it is this coat that connects me most to my time in the Land of Morning Calm some 20 years ago.
I bring it out in the winter, wear it when the temp is really low, grateful for the warmth it provides despite the cold. I will continue to wear it through the winter despite the flaw of two pocket flaps missing. In the spring, I will take it to a tailor to get the flaps put back on as well as get it dry-cleaned. Then I will put it away, sort of like the memories it conjures.