1987 – Korea, The Dinner, You Can’t Make This Up.

Before I continue with my search for a manufacturing resource I must tell you of one time I went to South Korea.  As I mentioned before I went many times, more than five or six times in two years.  My story is about my first business trip.  What a trip.

By the time I made my first trip to Seoul, the Samsung rep had visited me a couple of times.  He could speak enough English to easily communicate and we had established a good relationship.  When I went, he advised me to fly first class because no respectable company in South Korea would do business with anyone who couldn’t afford first class.  I also had to stay at a five star hotel for the same reason.

On my first trip I was welcomed by my contact at the airport and provided with an American limo.  I was told it was the only American limo in Seoul.  I stayed at the Shilla Hotel a beautiful 5 star Korean hotel.  Before I met with the big wigs, Samsung gave me a tour of the city with my own group of, well kind of body guards.  They took me to ITIWAN, (EEE TEE WAN) a district of stores not unlike Tijuana and crowds that packed the sidewalks.

My escorts formed a V and had me walk in the middle as they kept people away from me.  I was actually quite shocked at this supreme treatment and I wondered why I was getting the big shot treatment.  As I was being driven through town I found myself sinking in the seat so as not to be a target.  I kept wondering what the people must think of me.  Whatever it was I knew it wasn’t true.  I was just Chuck Diaz, an American of Mexican descent.  I never looked at myself as a big shot in any way, ever.

On the second day they took me to the Olympic Stadium grounds that were being completed for the 1988 Olympics.   The entire stadium grounds were surrounded by a very high chain link fence.  They unlocked the gate and about six of us entered the grounds.

I went into the swimming pool facility and stood on the diving board, I stood in the middle of the giant stadium.  Every time I would say something like, “this is very beautiful” or “what a great field this is” my entourage would do about three quick bows while saying “Thank you sir.”  I actually felt uncomfortable with all the attention, but at the same time it was great.

Before I made my first trip I had never cared for anything Oriental.  I didn’t care for Chinese food, art or anything.  My trips to South Korea changed all that forever.  What a great society it is, at least back then.

The next morning we were off to Kumi, a town about three hours south of Seoul by train and the electronics center for South Korea.  When Sung and I got off the train in Kumi I exited the train station and looked out on the streets filled with people, and I felt something was different. At first it was a funny feeling, and then it struck me. I was the only American in a street filled with hundreds if not thousands of Koreans. This was the first time in my life I was where I was the only American in such a large crowd.

At the Samsung plant in Kumi we took time for lunch and the big shots walked me to their cafeteria. It stunk like hell, but I decided to give it a try. As we walked in they started laughing and then took me to a special room for VIP’s. They then fed me a New York steak, medium rare, a baked potato with butter and a salad with Thousand Island. They had noted what I had ordered when they visited me in San Diego twice before. The dressing bottle was brand new. All for me. That’s how attentive they are, they were actually taking notes on what I ate and how I ordered it.

I learned to eat many of their noodles and BBQ meat, but never Kimchi.

Besides the Samsung Plant I visited a company that manufactured television tubes.  You know the big tubes we used to have for TV sets before the flat screens came.  It was there I learned only two countries manufactured TV tubes.  I asked if they were sure we didn’t in the U.S.A., I was sure we did, but we didn’t.  Not anymore.

It was hard for me to believe that America wasn’t manufacturing TV tubes anymore. It seemed all manufacturing was leaving the USA. I immediately thought that the president should issue an executive order, ordering all federal government branches under him to only buy “Made in America.” Not assembled in America, but built from the bottom up.

That one order would restart manufacturing in America.

Later, on the train back to Seoul, I started to reflect on things I had seen but not given any thought to while traveling. Like the night before I was sitting in the bar of the Shilla Hotel. I noticed a German fellow and a French fellow talking to the bartender who was Korean. I observed the German couldn’t speak French or Korean, the Frenchman couldn’t speak German or Korean and the Korean couldn’t speak German or French.

They were communicating in English and I felt a feeling of pride when it hit me that our language is the language used by the world to communicate. If you do much traveling there is another fact you quickly learn. There is only one currency that will never be turned down no matter where you are, the American dollar.  That was 1987 and I don’t think that will be true much longer.

The next night, in Seoul, I was the guest of honor of one of Samsung’s president’s for dinner at a traditional Korean restaurant.  That dinner deserves a chapter of its own.

The limo picked me up at the appropriate hour and I was delivered to what appeared to be a fairly large Korean style building.  As I entered I removed my shoes and was escorted to a large room where the president, my contact and about four other high ranking VP’s or managers were.

The room was about 20’ by 40’ and at the far end there was a rug about 5” by 10” with pillows around it, to sit on, and one with a backrest and armrest.  That one seat was reserved for the guest of honor, me.

It took a few minutes to convince the president that he should sit at that special spot at the head of the rug, but with my interpreter’s help we got it done.  We no sooner sat down when the double door opened and seven brightly dressed young Korean women made their entrance.  They were dressed in traditional Korean attire in the style, to me, as a high end Geisha girl would dress.

The girls each took their place next to each of us and mine could speak a little English, very little.  As soon as they were seated the doors opened again and four men entered carrying a huge 4′ X 8′ table with 10″ legs topped with every booze, mix, peanut, nut type and grape anyone could ask for.  It was the booze table.  For the next hour or so we drank and I got to know a bit about my girl.

The Korean men love Scotch and the Scotch they love most is Royal Salute.  They also thought they must drink an American, (me), under the table.  I don’t drink Scotch or Bourbon or wine or beer.  In fact to this day I have never had a glass of wine and have only had one can of beer in my entire lifetime.

Talking the president into accepting that a shot of Scotch and a Vodka Tonic have the same amount of alcohol was not easy, but he finally accepted I wasn’t doing any straight Scotch.  So the rules for drinking were, we would keep up with each other one shot of Scotch to one Vodka Tonic.  Let the games begin.

After about an hour of drinking and chatting the doors opened again and the same four men entered and removed the booze table.  They returned with a huge food orgy table, the same size, with every meat from beef to chicken, fish, noodles, rice, potato’s, salad’s nuts and grapes.  Both the booze table and the food orgy table were placed on the rug we were sitting around and the tables were only about a foot high.

Korea hasn’t been brainwashed about smoking and the girl would get the cigarette, place it in my lips, light it, peal my grapes, serve my drinks, get the ice, and on and on. I didn’t have to reach for anything. If I tried she would reach out and push my hands down.  I had never in my life heard or seen any of this and I couldn’t believe my own eyes.  I was in a different country with really different customs and was upside down in love with all of it.

After we pigged out, the same doors opened, the same four men entered and removed the food orgy table and the same four men returned with a refilled booze table.  Let the games continue!

Within an hour the doors opened again and a four piece band entered with a karaoke book about a foot thick.  The first person up to sing was a now half in the bag president.  After he sang each of his team sang and we kept drinking.

Finally it was my turn and I made it through San Francisco, barely.

The topper of the night was when the president started barking out orders, in Korean, pointing to each of us and our girls.  I didn’t understand a word he said but the men magically presented a piece of aluminum foil in a very structured traditional way.  They recited some words and held the small piece of aluminum foil and then reached under their girls dress and to my amazement pulled a pubic hair from each of their girls.

This is where I got off the bus and would not reach down a pull one of my girls pubic hair even as she insisted, which she did.  Finally, so I wouldn’t lose face we agreed I would reach under the side of her dress and she would pull her own pubic hair and hand it to me as though as I had actually done the deed.  She even faked the tiny yelp at the right time to appear I did it.

Having accomplished the pubic hair pulling thing, each of us placed the hair on our piece of aluminum foil and our girl lit a match placing it under the foil.  The heat turns the hair into a residue and once complete the next step is to pat the residue into our next glass and then make the next drink with the residue and shoot the mixture.  I was told this gave men some power and was a tradition from hundreds of years of tradition.

It was a wonderfully bizarre night for me and by the time the singing was over and the dancing started the president started going down for the ten count and I believe I won our drinking battle.  I will never forget that night and regardless of how gross you may think the whole thing is, it’s their tradition and I respect whatever they do.  South Koreans are a great people.

The next day, at work, no one talked about the night before as though it never happened.