Wednesday, May 2, 2007

An oldie but a goodie.

My first crazy adventure this year would have to be Korea. I went to Seoul for 2 days of sales meetings in February; yes, I work for the man. This was kind of a whirlwind stop [as usual] where I arrived on a Wednesday night, had meetings on Thursday and Friday, and flew out on Saturday.

A number of people have heard this story now, but there are many who have not, so I am re-printing dispatch excerpts from the meetings that I sent back to the office:

A Day in the life of our Korean friends

6:30AM- Time to wake up. Always fun to have that split second where you have to register where you are. Oh yeah, Seoul. Another place my Blackberry doesn’t work.

7:15AM- Runny eggs. I need to see a list of just who was colonized by the limeys. I know Korea wasn’t, but I blame the British anyhow. Buffet also had something that looked like porridge, broccoli and French fries. I may just need to start packing cereal for these trips.

9:30AM- Show begins and about 5 minutes after the start, the place is hoppin’. 7 or 8 different people show up, many of which are wearing familiar gear.

Despite Mr. Lee saying that he was not sure if anyone would show up for this show (one of his negotiation tactics when we were trying to pick a date), it is packed in the conference room. He asks if I am satisfied, at one point. Countering, I ask if he is. He never really answers. Funny.

11AM- The expectation is that the dealer will write paper at the end of the walkthrough. [The company] has 5 people here to assist, sit with the dealers, answer questions and help write. Seems pretty well organized. I initially tried to jump in and help customers by showing features, but I think they all find me too distracting to look at the garment. Eventually, I sit in the background and let the pros do their work. I do help how I can; mainly by re-racking pieces and sprucing them up. It is good to watch people check items out and watch the reactions, trying to see what people gravitate towards.

There are certain customers that receive folded envelopes. I would guess it is a monetary gift, as they check a list to see what customers ‘qualify’. I’ll need to get an explanation on this one.

Still early but it seems that they are taking a good number of orders.

An older woman walks up to me wearing [a jacket], grabs my hand, and puts it into the handwarmer pocket. After some Korean I don’t understand, I realize she is telling me that the pocket is not deep enough. 10-4, lady.

12:30PM- Go to lunch with Mr. Lee and one of his sales guys. It is cold outside. We go for Japanese. Sushi, sashimi, kim chee, a whole fried fish, some sort of rice ball wrapped in rice paper with a ball of wasabi in the middle (hey, surprise) and a type of sweet corn and egg scramble. Mr. Lee says he is surprised and pleased by the turnout, and with this precedent, we’ll have to do this every year. If the overall order proves big, then I must concede defeat and admit he is right. He is collecting a lot of orders as people file in and out.

1:30PM- A bit slower around lunch.

Mr. Lee sits to look through the orders he has received. I can’t read Korean, but I see lots of numbers. The stack is probably
15 packets deep. Not a bad morning.

Oh, and it turns out those envelopes I mentioned earlier are reimbursement for travel costs to come see the line.

4:00PM- Things become considerably slower than earlier. 4 sales guys and the 2 girls that generally assist sit around a table and munch on cookies.
The show lasts until 6:00pm. I asked Mr. Lee earlier if he expected Thursday or Friday to be the busiest day. “Like [US] show,” he replies “day one busy, day two dead.” Perhaps tomorrow will be a better day to go outside, then. I sort of forgot was outside looks like.

5:50PM- After catching up on email in my room, I return to the show to find 3 guys, each from different shops, checking out the gear. One knows a scant amount of English, and tells me that he went to the [tradeshow] in SLC once 3 years ago. After I talk to him a little bit, it becomes clear that we are now best friends thanks to our conversation. At 6:00, Mr. Lee, who is out doing something or another, calls to tell me that he will meet me for dinner around 7pm. The company rep and these guys have a big conversation, then tell me to come with them. I am assuming that because a company rep is with us, he will update Mr. Lee on what is going on and he’ll meet us. We go to a Korean barbeque place and have a sit on the floor. The company rep then waves at me and leaves. Huh? Soju and beer show up immediately and these guys start pouring drink after drink. Food follows.
One guy wants to know why we have a flower on our women’s jackets. He says people will confuse us for [an Italian brand]. Try explaining that background to someone who speaks little English. I nurse my beer very slowly as I try to figure out how to escape; I am pretty sure that Mr. Lee is still going to want to meet at 7:00.

About a half hour after sitting, the company rep returns and begins to tell the other guys that I must leave. An argument ensues, as these guys want me to stay longer, but the rep insists, and I don’t wait around to have him change his mind. As I shake hands when leaving, one guy leans to me and says “You do better business without [company]” and scratches the palm of my hand with his index finger while we are still shaking hands. Yikes.

The rep speaks on his cell while we return to the hotel. I thank him for rescuing me. He laughs. I try to ask if I will still meet with Mr. Lee at 7:00. He says “Meet at show tomorrow at 9:30.” Roger that.

7PM- I have now been in Korea for 24 hours. Settling into the hotel room, the phone rings. It’s Mr. Lee. He wants to know if I am ready for dinner.
I think there has been a communication breakdown.

8PM- After my second Korean barbeque and beer dinner, Mr. Lee asks if I want to get an after dinner drink. I ask how he feels. Mr. Lee flew into Seoul last night, just like me, so he has to be tired, just like me. He says “One drink.” Okay. We walk to a place next to the hotel, and before we enter, Mr. Lee asks if I like “younger or older girl.” Oh crap, THAT kind of drink. Again.

We are seated in a private room where a woman speaks with Mr. Lee about something. I will assume it has to do with the drink or the girls. Shortly after, a bottle of whisky appears. There is a karaoke machine in the corner, and the background images it plays on the flat tv as it scrolls through songs choices is insanely random. One series goes from some pretty tropical beach, to Dan Marino’s retirement ceremony, to an anime cartoon of people getting shot. I guess this makes you want to drink? Two women, one 22 and the other 26 I later learn, come in. While not an accountant, I quickly deduce that 4 people (two of them smaller asian women) and one large bottle of whisky does not equal 1 after dinner drink. I’m scared.
Then, the women pour shots.

I could write a whole story just on the conversation you have with a 22 year old Korean woman who speaks little English but keeps pouring shots. I do know her name is Seong, that she is 22 (that’s 24 in Korean; they count time in the womb as age in Korea…how those 9 months give you an extra 2 years is beyond my ‘solve for x’ mental skills, so I don’t argue). I also know she is married, has never left Korea, and likes to watch the show ‘Sex in the City’ (she can recite the names of all the characters). She also has a Pug and asks if I have a pet. I show a picture of my cat that is on my camera. This makes her very happy as she giggles, claps, and pours another drink.

We finish the bottle eventually, much to my relief. And then a second one comes in and Mr. Lee does not flinch.

Somewhere in the middle of bottle number two, I tell Mr. Lee that he should sing a song. He looks at the machine, his companion, then me and says, “this song popular when I in high school.” Then he goes to the machine. Seriously. I figured for sure he wouldn’t do it. Half way through the song (which he sings while slow dancing with the girl), I realize that I am witness to a true event in my [company] history. He’ll sing two more that night, with his companion singing two, my companion singing two, and myself doing one. Later in the evening, Seong says, “Do not forget me” and I tell her not to worry, as it is not a forgettable night.

In the end, we cleared three bottles. Ridiculous. The good thing is that my size allows me to outpace my Asian hosts yet again. This is a pyrrhic victory, however, as I am still plowed beyond belief. Thankfully, we did not talk business. We exit and find it is about 15 degrees outside. Brrr.
Mr. Lee heads for home and I get back into the hotel at about midnight.

The mail will not allow me to upload photos, but they do exist.

I will not be writing about day 2. It might hurt.

Mr. Tifighter


As crazy as it ended up, this is not the first time something like this has happened to me. My last trip to Japan had an evening like this too, so my 'freak-out' level was reduced. A little.