Family’s sole concern is Navy cadets’ shoes
“Cadets have to look good from head to toe, and the work of looking good concludes with the shoes,” said Hwang Du-seok, 54. In 1994, Mr. Hwang inherited the shoe repair work from his late father Hwang Young-cheol, who passed away in 1999.
The elder Hwang spent 25 years repairing shoes, and together the Hwangs have shared the bitter sweet lives of the cadets for nearly four decades.
Hwang Young-cheol began repairing shoes for cadets in 1969. And considering the fact that Nam Hael-il, the chief of naval operations and the most senior serving naval officer, was a junior at the academy then, all naval officers on duty have received service from the Hwangs at one point or another ― the younger Hwang has repaired a total of 12,000 pairs of shoes and his father, 28,000.
Hwang Young-cheol used to make handmade shoes in Jinhae, South Gyeongsang province, but when mass-production of shoes started up in Korea in the 1960s he could not compete with the manufacturers.
In the face of the overwhelming competition he switched trades and began repairing shoes, which at least gave him a steady income, in a shop located inside the academy’s grounds.
His son, Du-seok worked as an engineering inspector at Jinhae’s railway station and learned shoe-repairing skills from his father in his spare time. One day, his father asked him to join the business to carry on what had become a family tradition, and the rest is history.
Hwang Du-seok’s dedication to his work is special. He goes to work when the cadets start their day at the academy and when they undergo special inspections on their appearance and attire, he works even longer hours.
Mr. Hwang pays a lot of attention to making repairs because sloppy work could lead to a cadet getting injured.
In 1999, females were allowed to enter the academy, and now there are four types of shoes: black and white for both men and women. “Shoes for women need more care,” he said.
Considering the cadets’ financial situation, Mr. Hwang charges them 30 percent less compared to what regular personnel at the academy pay. He only charges 1,000 won ($1) for fixing a heel and Mr. Hwang’s repair shop has become a place to “hangout” for first year cadets. “It has been a secret and cozy place for the first year cadets who need to fix their shoe heels often because they train a lot,” said a Captain Choi, an academy instructor.
“When I repair shoes for the cadets, I feel proud of working for a few good men in Korea,” Mr. Hwang said.
by Kim Min-seok