Sunday, October 31, 2010

"Damaging" Hospitality

Out of my 6 days in Busan, Korea, I only managed to get myself one souvenir - a Starbucks mug that prints the original script of Hunmin Jeongeum/訓民正音 ("The Proper Sounds for the Education of the People").

And out of my 6 days in Busan, I only managed to steal one 30-min break from the endless meetings, conference sessions, eat-outs and drink-outs. And it was the only 30 minutes out of the whole trip where I had no company insisted upon me, no random chit-chats to attend to, no mental confusion over which language to speak in - Chinese, Japanese, or simple English - and no need to put up a composure or facade. I walked out of the campus compound, went across the street, browsed at some of the shops and eatery places, poked my head in one of the side alleys, and then, it was time to go back.

Even the Starbucks mug was bought in a hurry during one of the friendly "exchange" times over coffee with 2 professors. In retrospect, I am so glad that I didn't hesitate to buy it at the moment or let that - well, I'll just grab it later - kind of thought won over me.

Again, blown away by Korean hospitality, for both good and bad reasons.

I first arrived at my destination thinking that I was going to attend one conference, make one presentation, and undergo some initial discussions on an cross-campus exchange opportunity.

Wrong - I arrived realizing that I was going to attend 3 conferences, make 3 presentations (all on different topics of course), and undergo a serious discussion on the exchange program.

Worst of all, the whole "3 conferences/3 presentations" deal wasn't revealed all at once. The 2nd conference and 2 presentation was discovered on the morning of the 3rd day when I had sit myself comfortably in the lecture hall and finally got a copy of the full conference schedule.

"4:10-4:30 ..." I saw my name and the title of my presentation printed right there. And I literally thought my eyeballs were bulging out like some crazy cartoon characters.

Then of course, the 3rd conference and 3rd presentation had to be informed to me only 2 nights before.

"By the way, we've scheduled you to talk for half an hour on Monday afternoon. The conference will start at 2pm so please speak at 2:30pm after so-and-so alright?" - in that casual, having a light pad put on your shoulder, type of way.

So one precious lesson learned - never bring your travel-size laptop with no previous power point presentations stored. Otherwise, expect an all-nighter till 5am while a phone call could still wake you up at 9:30am just to tell you that a sudden lunch meeting is scheduled just 3 hours away (in other words - you better get up right now to finish whatever that you couldn't finish at 5am).

"What in the world is going on?" I had screamed quietly yet numerous times during this 6-day trip when another phone call or another pad on the shoulder type of thing informed me of yet another last-minute schedule change, a sudden lunch/dinner thing, a meeting that I absolutely have to attend even though just a few hours ago, I was told that I had the entire morning free.

"What in the world is going on? Well, I can only tell you that it happened to me all the time whenever I went on business trips to Korea. There's few prior scheduling effort or checking to see if the other party is comfortable. Even if there are prior arrangements, well, they are bound to change. You thought you are going to visit client A but on the way there, they called, no one answered, so they turned around and said, 'oh well, let's go visit client B.' You chase after them to confirm tomorrow's schedule; tomorrow comes, they seem to have forgotten what they said the night before ..." my friend shared, laughing hard at whatever "grievances" that I claimed to have during the trip.

Then there's the drinking thing ...

In one sitting, the Koreans can go from having the first toast in beer, the 2nd toast in soju, the 3rd toast in beer and soju combo, the 4th toast in makkori (rice wine), then the 5th toast back to straight soju or beer, to the 6th and 7th toast staying with makkori or makkori and soju combo.

And I'm only talking about the 1st round of drinking.

2nd round, at a different restaurant with a whole set of dishes or delicacies decked out, another round of drinking begins. This time, they probably just avoid beer all together and start with straight soju and makkori. "Add some soda into makkori! It dilutes the taste so you can drink up more easily!" They told me.

Oh yeah, did I mention that "cheers" = "bottom up" here?

3rd round, they proudly present the "bomb drink" (for that's literally how they call it) - beer and whisky combo. With 5 beer glasses fully filled at the bottom and 4 whisky shot glasses fully filled on top, "Professor Shaw, bomb the drinks now!" they urged me. So with one shot glass of whisky in hand, I hit the rest of the 4 into the beer glasses in a domino-effect fashion, and poured my whisky shot into the remaining glass of beer that hadn't been bombed. "Hurray!" They yelled and clapped. Then the bottom-up rituals began again.

Hence my very first puking experience from drinking on my very last night in Busan. Other than vaguely remembering sitting on the floor of some random public bathroom falling asleep post-puking, everything else went like a blur.

The good thing was, I did manage to wake up on time in the morning so that I could still make it to a morning coffee invite at 9:30am before heading out to the airport. I even managed to take out my contact lenses and change into PJ the night before even though I had no recollection at all.

"Can't they just leave some personal time and space for their guests? I mean, I'm perfectly fine with eating alone sometimes and walking around the city alone," I complained.

"Did you recall seeing anyone eating alone in any of the restaurants that you'd visited?" My friend asked.

Ok, I got your point.

"They think they are taking good care of you, really." My friend reminded me.

"But seeing their guest puking in a public bathroom? Don't they feel bad about what happened?" I contested, still feeling so incredibly embarrassed for what happened.

"Feeling bad? Well, tell me, what was the first thing that they asked you in the morning the next day?"

I had to scratch my head a bit. "The next morning ... They only asked if I'd had breakfast ..."

"There you go. Did that sound like an apology to you? Why should they apologize for having done such a good job entertaining their guest and having a good time together?"


The day after I got back from Busan, I got this email from a Japanese professor whom I met during this trip:


韓国でのダメージから回復なさいましたか??? 私はしばらくは

In essence, this Japanese professor was shocked to see the energy of the Korean people and was wondering if I'd recovered from the "damage" in Korea ...

Well, I could only tell him that after this trip, I caught a terrible cold and am still not fully recovered yet.

At least I'm a lot more prepared for my next trip to Korea - in less than 2 weeks.

梅ちゃん at 12:49:00 AM



at 10/31/10, 9:29 PM Blogger EJ said...

Get well soon!


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