The fabric of civilization

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The fabric of civilization

“North Korea is a man wearing a coat, and we want him to take it off,” my friend Ki-tack told me the other day while explaining the wisdom behind President Kim Dae-jung’s sunshine policy. “If we keep blowing a fierce wind, he won’t take it off ― but if we give him sunshine, he will.”
Coats, wind, sunshine ― they all make for a nice analogy, but I told Ki-tack that I wasn’t really swayed.
But that reminded me of something: I’d planned to buy a suede jacket this winter but hadn’t yet. Suede is in right now, my fashionable friends say.
That reminded me of something else: Unlike that analogous North Korean man, I live in a crass, shallow, materialistic culture and have been brainwashed to believe that consumption equals happiness.
So off I went to Itaewon’s main drag to get a new jacket. An hour later I’d bought two. I felt a bit guilty for consuming more than my share of the world’s cowhide resources. And I also felt guilty because I had tried on and taken off about 10 jackets in the process. That seems obscene compared with the North Korean man, who can’t even take his one jacket off after Kim Dae-jung sends him boatloads of cash, er, sunshine.
Itaewon is a great place to buy leather jackets, of course. Walk the boulevard and every third shop you see sells them. But suede leather jackets aren’t all that easy to find, surprisingly.
In fact, after fruitlessly searching for a suede jacket for about half an hour, I gave up and went to my favorite tailor to have one made. Once you get a favorite tailor, of course, you never go to anyone else. My guy is Mr. Kong, at the Korea Custom Tailor shop, across from Itaewon’s new Outback Steakhouse restaurant. In no time Mr. Kong was drawing up a sketch for a light, brown, fake-suede jacket, and I was plunking down bills. Synthetic suede is really in nowadays, too. The synthetic cows aren’t too happy about it, though.
I should have quit there, but I decided to try one more place, the Underground Market behind McDonald’s. That cellar of sellers has a few good leather jacket purveyors. Sure enough, in one I found just the jacket I wanted, with real suede, and unpocketed another chunk of change.
With heavy shopping bag in hand, I stepped out into the actual sunshine and the hordes of mindless consumers out on the street. Then I started speculating about the sunshine policy. Maybe it works, I thought. North Korea is certainly taking its jacket off to get the briefcases and secret bank accounts full of sunshine. But when saying “North Korea” it’s useful to distinguish between its paunchy dictator, Kim Jong-il, and his emaciated subjects. Yes, Kim Jong-il has taken his jacket off (Warning: Though this is a metaphor, do not attempt to visualize it), and he’s out on his front lawn, basking in the green sunshine. But then there’s the 22 million oppressed North Koreans, who would really like to take off their jackets, too. The problem is, Kim Jong-il has them down in his basement, locked in his icebox.
I don’t think that my friend Ki-tack considered that part of it.
Otherwise, though, it’s a real great analogy.


by Mike Ferrin

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