City misses Umbrella Man, rain or shine
Next to an exit of Yatap Station on the Bundang Line in Seongnam, Gyeonggi, a small yellow shack with a sign reading “Umbrella Repair Service Center” has been closed since last fall. For 32 years, Kim Seong-nam, 82, known as the Umbrella Man, had been voluntarily fixing and renting out umbrellas for free. Kim has put the center on hold as he battles esophageal cancer.
“It’s his third fight with cancer,” Kim’s wife Myeong Hyo-soon, 78, told the JoongAng Ilbo. “He had prostate cancer 10 years ago and colorectal cancer three years later. It is esophageal cancer now.”
Myeong said that Kim is currently connected to a respirator machine at a hospital in Seoul.
Before Kim became known as the Umbrella Man, he used to work as a security guard at Seongnae Station of subway line No. 2 until 1980.
“He always felt sorry for those pedestrians who were standing under the roof of the subway station because they didn’t have an umbrella during a rainy day,” Myeong said.
“He purchased 300 vinyl umbrellas, which cost 130 won ($0.27) each at the time, and lent them for free. He worried about people catching colds, and that was the beginning.”
Kim’s family moved to Seongnam City in 1994 and opened a small umbrella repair shop in Taepyeong and Yatap stations of the Bundang Line. He wandered around Bundang apartment complexes in the evening collecting broken and discarded umbrellas, and fixed them in the afternoon in order to lend them out for free.
As his good deeds became well known throughout the city, support from the Korean government followed. Kim was honored by the Ministry of Public Administration and Security in 2001 for his contributions.
He was able to open another umbrella repair center in Seocho District in 2004 and started an umbrella repair class, which the Seocho District Office orchestrated as a self-support program for the homeless.
“I heard that the homeless students who learned the repair techniques from my husband later opened their own free umbrella repair centers in Songpa and Eunpyeong districts in Seoul, as well as in Guri and Gwacheon City ,” Myeong said.
Kim fixed around 40 to 50 umbrellas a day and has repaired approximately 600,000 broken umbrellas over the last 32 years.
During the summer monsoon seasons, he donated umbrellas to homes for the elderly and distributed them at public parks and concert halls.
“He distributed 3,000 umbrellas at a concert hall in Seocho-dong, southern Seoul, when people were caught in a sudden shower,” Myeong said.
“He told me that he really feels happy when people express their gratitude for his good deeds.”
Myeong said that some people have paid 500 won to 1,000 won to show their appreciation, but Kim never used the money for personal use. All donations were given to the Seongnam city government.
“I really hope that he will conquer the cancer,” a civil servant who visited the hospital said. “I think many people in the city must be missing our umbrella man.”
By Kwon Sang-soo [email@example.com]