So tonight was my first "corporate dinner" in Korea.
It started out with several of Andy’s colleagues meeting me at the office to escort me to the restaurant. Right away, I could tell who the jokester was – he introduced himself as the CFO. This guy was the “Andy” of the group.
Then: “can I take your bag?” it wasn’t a question because I said, hey no, it’s really okay, I can just pull the handle out and drag it. Well, they wouldn’t take NO for an answer. They just took my heavy laptop bag right off my shoulder, then tried to take my purse, but I felt silly for them to carry my purse. But, this is how it goes. I could get used to this.
Kinda like my finance counterpart in APAC who didn’t go to work today because he was sick and apologized to me on Skype about 20 separate times for not coming to work. Dude, you can’t help it, you’re sick. But, still, the nonstop apologies. I thought I was the only one with this kind of people-pleasing complex. Maybe it’s in my blood.
So, we got to the restaurant and immediately everyone took their shoes off at the door so the hostess could neatly put them in rows on the shoe shelf. Thank god I’d put new foot deodorizers in my shoes this morning, otherwise my normally raunchy foot stank would’ve insulted the entire restaurant. Still, I was embarrassed. My feet sweat a lot and they were sticking to the nicely washed and polished wooden floor while everyone else seemed to glide along in their socks and stockings. I should’ve looked behind me to see if someone was wiping up my sweaty footprints.
We sat down around a long table with 4 big wok/grills. Not like a normal Korean BBQ grill – more like a big wok where you can cook meat as well as soup.
There was laughing.
There was drinking.
Soju (potato-based liquor, like vodka but not as harsh) and Hite, one of the 3 major local beers. Better than any American bitter beer, although it ain’t hefeweizen (then again, what is? I actually used to think that Widmer and Pyramid were real hefeweizen.)
And, the food. Oh, the food. Korean bbq beef, mushrooms, garlic, onions, and the million side dishes which no one but the Koreans eat. Then, when I thought we were all done, there was an after dinner spicy soup. And, a side bowl of rice. Then, watermelon. Then, green tea. I thought I was going to give birth to a big, fat rice baby. I’m still burping and gassing it up (or out) as I write this.
Afterwards, all the men carried the women’s bags and purses back to the hotel. Well, all the Korean men. Andy had his own bag to carry and certainly wasn’t going to carry mine. I told him to take some lessons from the Korean men. He ignored me.
The men would’ve carried our stuff all the way up to our hotel rooms if we hadn’t stopped them from getting on the elevator. It’s okay, we said – you don’t have to carry our stuff all the way up, you have your own homes to go to, which are probably 45 minutes away, at least. They weren’t sure. This would be impolite. But, we reassured them that we could survive and would be okay to drag our own rolling bags.
Drinking with colleagues, as in other cultures, is really important. You can bridge many differences just by sharing food, alcohol, and charcoal pills (yes, I introduced them to these anti-hangover pills, and unlike my skeptical European friends, the Koreans were all over those pills – hey why not, they said as at least half of them just swallowed them down without caring if they were really laced with LSD). Especially in an environment like this one where you’re integrating one company with another (Gmarket into Internet Auction Co. (eBay Korea for the lay person)), it’s important to bring the people together. Important for the working relationship, so important for business. And, it was lots of fun.
I’m paying for it now though. BBQ beef + beers + soju + spicy soup = ethanol. Maybe this can be fuel of the future.