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Korea: Drinking in the boys' room. Drinking 'cause you have to. It's just like High School!

Tuesday night's dinner would continue the intestinal distress. The VP of the first group I was training takes all the people who work in the group out for dinner maybe once a month--a tradition that I hear is fairly common in the large Korean companies. Jang had said, with a smirk, that he'd be interested in hearing how I handled it. I wasn't sure what to expect, other than that a work-related outing of this sort involves what they call the "il-cha, yi-cha, sam-cha" move--one time, two times, three times.

Il-cha was at the eatery where we had lunch the first day I was there, and a whole table was set up for the group. Mr. VP of the group sat at the center of the table, and everyone else sat in relation to his location--most important to least important from the center outwards. I was seated one seat from center, back to door, which has been described to me as an important position. Dinner was kalbi beef, which are strips of sirloin that one salts and grills on a charcoal grill that's sitting in a recess in the table--very, very enjoyable food.

There was also plenty of soju, and not only soju but a whole ritual involving it. First, one does not serve oneself beverage in Korea--one serves everyone else around the place where one is seated. Second, when serving (and it is only someone else one serves), one must use both hands, with one hand holding and the other hand either holding, supporting your forearm or at least held across your chest in the attempt of using both hands. Third, the VP will start at the end of the table, and one by one says a name. Named person stands, VP serves named one with two hands, named one drinks, then named one serves VP a drink and VP does same. VP looked in my direction and playfully suggested that he hoped I would participate in the tradition. While I won't try to pretend that I know how business in Asia works, one thing I do know is that a playful suggestion isn't the kind of thing you turn down, especially not involving an alcohol-based tradition. To my benefit, soju tastes much milder than Colombian aguardiente, so I really didn't have much trouble drinking it along with the group. I noticed that the younger folks, sitting down the table from me, were very subtly taking the soju and pouring it into a cup they were hiding under the table. Possibly the smartest folks on the table.

Yi-cha was at a beer hall a few blocks away. Copious beer steins were brought out and much talking ensued, many questions about when I was getting married emerged, and I found myself in one of those situations I hate, when being truthful is really not going to do anything for me other than cause the need to explain a big ole heap of stuff in a language foreign to those with whom I'm speaking and who I will never see again, this being my last night working with that company. In those situations, I just choose to use gender nonspecific pronouns to answer truthfully in ways that will not inspire further questions.

I skipped sam-cha; I think it involved a trip to the noraebang or to a Business Club, which from what I understand is somewhere along the lines of strip-club-meets-massage-parlor. I had to return to my hotel room, place a call to my boss, and figure out why two friggin' Palms
Signage in Youido
A Marketplace of Restaurants
Every sign, a potentially tough eating experience

that were supposed to have shipped from the US had not yet arrived. I must say, talking to JR at the end of the day he was just beginning, me fairly blitzed, was an interesting experience. Prefaced as it was with a disclaimer ("JR, I must tell you first of all that I just got back from drinking with them"), we did manage to transact the necessary business dealings with reasonable success.

This all was fairly bad on its own, but Wednesday would prove to add insult to injury. I woke early, President of the company I would be working at for the next three days picked me up at my hotel as planned, and he drove us to the island of Youido, which houses the financial district of Seoul and South Korea's legislature. I began, once again, to teach the course I teach in a combination of somewhat slow English and Computerese (an international language all of its own). In this class, fortunately, the participants were very willing to jump in and explain concepts they finally grasped to the rest of the class in Korean, which was a blessing. Lunchtime involved a trip to eat Korean Chinese food, where Gracious Host offered me jellyfish salad. Being the silly, silly man I proved to be these two weeks, I accepted. Jellyfish is served in strips, and as a food item it is the devil spawn of Gummy Bears and cold glass noodles. Gracious Host ordered some soup for me, which turned out to be a chicken-and-egg-drop broth that, given the ongoing attacks to which I subjected my stomach, was welcome if bland. (Then again, I was eating Cantonese food, which past Dim Sum, I would learn later, is consistently bland.)

One of the employees of the company gave me a ride home that evening, during which I sat in the back seat of the car with the beginnings of a stomachache reminiscent of Monday night's. By the time I got to my hotel, I was probably green and had a headache to boot. The other man in the car graciously offered to take me out to dinner, but I somehow managed to graciously excuse myself.

Once I removed my suit, I felt significantly better. Tight pants?

Pretty bad. But not over yet.


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