Blog: Boot's on the other foot for Sole trader

Simon Warburton | 18 February 2010

Politeness can get you into all sorts of bother it appears.

A mystery in South Korea that would grace an episode of Scooby Doo has finally been solved with the tracking down of some 1,200 pairs of stolen shoes in the capital of Seoul.

Theft on such a grand scale could be thought the work of shadowy gangs of underworld villains, but in fact turns out to be the brainchild of just one man, operating under the brief name of Park, who half-inched only the most expensive boots for his second-hand shoe operation.

The 'Soeul' theft reportedly preyed on the local habit of respectfully removing shoes at funerals.

In an enterprising - if clearly criminal you understand - move, Park would lurk surreptitiously at the back of various funeral homes - sans his own boots - and while mourners were paying their respects would select what he felt to be the most up-market slip-ons, make his excuses and leave.

Park was only caught when, flushed with success at his audaciousness, he selected three brand new top-end varieties with a reputed value of around $1,700 and had his collar felt by the boys in blue.

It must make a change from the normal lost property collections of umbrellas and sunglasses in the South Korean capital, but the Seoul police have neatly laid out the massed ranks of 1,200 pairs of shoes with owners apparently coming in their droves to reclaim their pride and joy.

Shoe habits are a peculiarity of different cultures of course. The UK goes all terribly British about it, with guests nervously unsure about whether to offer to remove footwear and houseowners desperately wishing they would.

And who can forget the memorable sight of former US president George Bush ducking - pretty impressively as it happens - not once but twice as shoes were hurled in his direction by an irate Iraqi. Staying in Baghdad, television screens in 2003 were also full of angry locals beating the prostrate statue of Saddam Hussein that had been torn down - the highest expression possible of their disapproval.

A curse of modern life is also the insistence at most airports now to remove footwear - a tiresome kerfuffle if there ever was one but which came about following the notorious attempt to blow an aircraft out of the sky by igniting shoes.

A polished pair of shoes indicates smartness, values and respect. Most western armed forces require boots to be burnished to within an inch of their lives - the opposite would indicate a lack of attention to detail and sloppiness.

It appears the mysterious Park only picked out the shiniest examples with which to melt away. Perhaps, when he emerges from whatever punishment the Koreans deem fit, Mr Park might consider a career in the his country's army. Boot camp first of course.



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