Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Crow 31 Days: Day 10: A Dozen Doughnuts and Korean Diplomacy To Go

For the month of May I am sharing stories and experiences of the tremendous contributions of the Asian American members of our community. For this next post, I turn to a guilty pleasure--for better or worse, that we all have: the Korean-run doughnut shop in your neighborhood.

I'm not sure when Korean bakers seeded the thousands of donut stores in our region, but the chances are good that if the doughnuts are fresh and delicious, the entrepreneurs making it all happen are a hard working nuclear family with Korean heritage.

My doughnut store of choice is Paradise Donut in Lakewood Village next to Sugar Bacon. It's run by Sophia Yunsun Park, her husband and her daughter. My boys now 9 and 10 and I have been going for as long as they could toddle in and mash their dimpled hands on Sophia's always spotless bakery case. Sometimes we would stand for too many minutes while Edward would decide, un-decide, decide and un-decide on sprinkles, or a twist or a bear claw. Sophia (unlike me) never lost her cool. Our exchanges are always warm and elegant if not luminous. Except for one morning.

It was April 17, 2007, the day after the tragic shooting at Virginia Tech, by the hand of Korean-American student Seung Hui-Cho. I was walking out with my Saturday donuts and I stopped at the news stand just inside the door: jolted by the images of the students on campus and the aftermath of a terrible day. I heard Sophia sniffling behind me. I turned around, and they: mother, father, daughter, stood behind the counter crying. "We are so, so, very sorry, they said. We are so sorry".

We were alone in the store--tears welled up in my eyes too. I'll never forget the chill of their emotion: a family carrying the responsibility of a murderer in a state hundreds of miles away. Of course I expressed my understanding and sadness and we talked it through --the unimaginable. I've felt closer to them ever since. I was astonished at how connected it all was for them: as if he'd be their own blood relative--to them he was.

The Parks' business continues to thrive. A recent turnover in ownership of the property threatened to shutter the business. I learned through the social media posts that the Parks live in Southlake and commute--in the middle of the night--to serve donuts to a lucky 100 or 2 in East Dallas. She thought of retiring (and probably could) but the public outcry was louder than her wish for quiet mornings at home. The Landlord resolved the issue and the Parks continue to glaze and welcome and glaze and welcome. Their generosity is beyond measure--we always leave with more doughnuts than we paid for.

If you've spent time in line at one of the many doughnut stores in Dallas you can experience what these families have created for us: community. Bulletin boards are full of photographs of families, drawings and Christmas Cards. The coffee isn't great but we drink it anyway. Or, if you're at Abrams and Mockingbird you run in Starbucks before heading to Donut Palace. It's a place for littles and bigs--everyone loves a doughnut. And especially when it's fresh from the fryer--chocolate glaze dripping onto the box.

This very American experience is made possible by a devoted, early-rising Korean-American Family: one who works hard to keep the store spotless, the donuts plentiful and the joy endless. The very American experience happens every Saturday morning in every Big City and small town across the country. On a recent road trip my companion and I noticed a doughnut store in every East Texas town we ventured through.

Several years after the Virginia Tech moment I shared with the Parks, I started asking her to teach me a few Korean words: we started with Thank You:

Thank you. 
I now use this gesture of gratitude anytime I visit a Korean-owned establishment. I bow slowly and say Gamsahamnida and the response has been one of surprise, honor and appreciation. The return bows begin instantly, and suddenly we are just two women in Texas connecting over the universal language of happiness, coffee and really good doughnuts. 

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