In the vibrant streets of the Soho district, there is one shop, at the top of a fairly steep alley, that you get to by winding your way down another side street. That shop belongs to The Umbrella Man.
The Umbrella Man is apparantly very well known in Hong Kong based on his expertise and fairly unique ability to fix broken umbellas. He has been fixing umbellas for over 50 years, including those owned by Governors as well as those of the poorest of the poor.
What struck me about this shop was not that it was drastically different in character from any of the others set up in the nearby streets, but that someone has built an entire career – and a widespread reputation – on his ability to fix something that we Americans don’t think twice about tossing after they get turned inside out by a strong wind.
Now, I’m sure there are a few people in Hong Kong that throw away their umbrellas too but when I saw this stand, it reminded me of what a throw-away society we’ve become. There is something very real and obviously sustainable about taking the time to fix a broken umbrella rather than simply buying a new one. But it’s more than just fixing umbrellas – it’s the fact that someone cares so deeply about something that seems rather trivial to many – that caught my attention.
I didn’t get a chance to meet the Umbrella Man – he takes Sundays off – but he left a lasting impression on me. I’ve thrown away plenty of umbrellas in my lifetime, and I’m sure I’ll throw away a few more before I’m done, but I’ll never toss another one without thinking of The Umbrella Man in the streets of Hong Kong.