Friday, August 25, 2006

Fliday Frashback: Rock And Rock...

I bought some of these little storage containers yesterday. They're called Lock and Lock, and they're filling a need in my endless pursuit of an organizational panacea.

From the website, I saw that Lock And Lock is a Korean product. This got me to wondering if Koreans call it "Rock and Rock". I mean, what's with that "R" and "L" mixup anyway? Koreans...mixing up the "R" and the "L"... Plesto, we have oul Fliday Frashback!

For some reason, I have this strange history with Korean people. I'm not really sure why, but there is some kind of "Korean magnet" inside of me that pulls Korean people from far and wide. Oh, and by the way, this magnet only seems to work in the U.S. because I don't know even one Korean person in Europe.

It all began with our Chicagoland dry cleaner - Soo. Soo was born in Korea, but she actually moved to Chicago when she was very young. I'd joke around with her when I'd pick up and drop off the dry cleaning, and she was good about taking a joke and giving it right back.


TBF: "Hey Soo...You say you're Korean. How come you don't mix up your Rs and Ls.

Soo: "Because I learned to speak English at an early age. Wourd you rike me to speak rike a Kolean."

TBF: "Naaah. It's the only way I can tell you apart from all the other Koreans who work here!"


At this point, I'd grab my clothes off the hook, and run out to the car with Soo in hot pursuit trying to hit me with a rint lorrel...I mean, lint roller. Don't believe me? Ask Mrs. TBF...she witnessed this banter many times.

One day, as I walked into Soo's place, I noticed that everybody in the back yelled something in unison. It was kind of like when Norm walked into Cheers and everybody would simultaneously yell "NORM!". I asked Soo what they were yelling, and she told me that they were yelling "GUMBO!". Now, it's possible this means something like farkwad or assmunch, but Soo insisted that it was a term of endearment that meant something like "happy, big person". I asked Soo how to say a greeting in Korean (long since forgotten), and from then on I would reciprocate with this greeting and a deep bow. They loved it, AND I loved the "Gumbo"recognition after a long day of pretending I was working hard. This exchange ended up going on for years. But, my Korean journey, at that point, was just beginning.

I worked for many years as an account manager in the transportation industry. My last sales territory, right before retiring and moving to Switzerland, was the area right around O'Hare Airport in Chicago - probably one of the most dense distribution areas in the world. It was a good territory. I liked the fact that I could call on manufacturers, distributors, warehouses, etc., etc.

One day, I decided to make a cold call, and I walked into an office with Korea posters all over the wall. I said my Korean greeting, bowed deeply, looked up, and saw three Korean men standing there with their mouths wide open. "You speak Kolean?", one of the men asked. "Only what you just heard" was my response - a beautiful business relationship had been forged. Little did I know what I was in for...

I got to know Mr. Kim (what a surprise...a Korean named Kim!) well. So well, in fact, that soon every Korean freight forwarder in my territory was calling me. I became an expert at understanding the Korean accent. Seriously, it got to the point that the phone at my desk would ring, I would see that it was an internal call, and the conversation would go something like this:

TBF: "Yes?"

Office clerk: "Hey, [TBF]...this Asian guy is on the phone and I can't understand one word he's saying. Could you speak with him and find out what he needs? Actually, he might be wanting to speak with you...I'm not sure..."

TBF: "Sure. No problem put him through. (click) Hello, this is [TBF], how can I help you?"

Korean customer: "Herro...you [TBF]?"

TBF: "Yes I am. What can I do for you?"

Korean customer: "My name is Kim. Mistel Kim say I should spreak with you... We cullentry use a L & R [Honest to God...there was a competitor called R & L and the Korean guys called it L & R] and Mistel Kim say you bettel and give me good plice..."


And so it went...on and on...

One day, I received one of those "Korean network" phone calls, and it was from a person (Mr. Cho) at a company that I knew had a lot of business. I told Mr. Cho that I had noticed a Korean BBQ restaurant, and that I'd like to go, but I wanted to go with a Korean person because I had no idea what to order..."How about if I buy you some lunch", I asked, "and then you can explain the ins and outs of Korean cuisine?"

The next day, I picked up Mr. Cho and his assistant (Mr. Kim...figures!), and we went out for an excellent Korean BBQ meal. If you've never had Korean BBQ before, I highly recommend the experience. We ate some good food, we talked "some shop", and ended up agreeing to do some business. Unfortunately, I found out the next week that Mr. Cho's office would be moving to a new location that was just outside of my sales territory. So, being the good company man I was (and having too much business to handle anyway), I turned the account over to another rep.

I didn't really hear anything about Mr. Cho's company until about a year later. One day, the rep who now called on Mr. Cho came in and told me that Mr. Cho was getting married and "...get this. He's inviting you and [Mrs. TBF] to the wedding." WHAT?!?!?!?!? I thought my colleague was joking, but about two minutes later my phone rang and it was Mr. Cho (any call from an Asian person was now automatically sent to my phone, or my cellphone when I was out of the office) basically giving me this speech about "...being honoled if you and youl wife wourd attend my wedding." I thanked Mr. Cho and told him that my wife and I would be honored to attend the wedding.

The big day came, and Mrs. TBF and I pulled into the church parking lot for the service and reception. We had no idea what to expect. Just as I was getting out of the car, I heard a familiar voice in the distance. It was Mr. Cho, and he was calling us over to a side door of the church so that we could meet his parents. I gave them my "Korean greeting" (Man...did I get a lot of mileage out of the greeting throughout the 90s!), and introduced Mrs. TBF. Then, they lead us to a pew that was right at the front of the church really close to where the parents of the bride and groom were sitting.

We enjoyed the ceremony very much, and I was surprised to hear that parts of it were done in English. I asked Mr. Cho about this later, and he said that he had asked the minister to do this specifically for us and the very few other non-Korean people who were at the wedding.

After the wedding, we were led to a "table of honor" right in front of the wedding party's table so that we'd have a good view. We were introduced to the officers of Mr. Cho's company (Mr. Kim, Mr. Kim, and Mr. Lee), and then escorted to the buffet table where I loaded my plate down with things I had never seen before in my life. At one point, one of the ladies asked me: "Do you know what you eating???" When I told her no, she and the other ladies just giggled. You know what? Sometimes ignorance is bliss, because it all smelled and tasted great. We enjoyed the food, I introduced Mrs. TBF to a bunch of other Korean customers who were at the wedding, and we ended up having a really nice time.

When the evening finally came to an end, Mrs. TBF and I got into my car. After the car doors closed, the conversation went something like this:

Mrs. TBF: "Wow...that was weird. What was with the special introduction to the parents, the pew of honor, the church service in English, meeting the officers of the company, the reception table of honor...and who were all those other people who knew who you were? How well do you know this guy?"

TBF: "Before this evening, I had met with him three times in my life."

Mrs. TBF: "What??? They were treating you like you were some kind of V.I.P."

TBF: "I know...What can I say? Koreans love me."

Mrs. TBF: "Yeah...apparently!"


It's funny. I haven't really thought about this whole part of my life since moving to Switzerland. Maybe it's the fact that I don't really come into contact with many Asian people. Who knows? But you know what? Maybe I'll look up some of my "Korean fans" when I go to Chicago in November.

Gumbo rikes the V.I.P. tleatment!

11 comments:

The Medium Swede said...

I used my favorite site http://babelfish.altavista.com to try to translate gumbo. I was not successful. The translation was... gumbo.

I just enjoy the thought of Koreans fawning all over you. Of corpse.

The Big Finn said...

TMS -
Who knows how it's really spelled, or if they were really saying "gumbo". However, it sounded like "gumbo" to me.
BTW...I thought The Big Finn's Big Blog was your favorite site.

Michael said...

That's hilarious TBF!

The Medium Swede said...

2nd favorite site.

CanadianSwiss said...

If you had stayed in the "hood" a bit longer, you could have met a few and started a new "Kolean fan crub"

The Sour Kraut said...

Dat was an excellent story.

The Sour Kraut said...

This reminds me of last April when TMS and I went downtown to see "Rent". While dining before the show, a group of Koreans walked into the restaurant. TMS, in a Korean accent, proceeded to imagine what their conversation was at the time.

Is bout aids? I tought we come dowtow fol Lent?

p.u. said...

Blah, blah, blah. I have my very own blog now. Check it out (and make sure you enter www):
www.puffapu.blogspot.com

The Medium Swede said...

who is this P.U.?

Expat Traveler said...

LOL - now that was funny!

Samantha said...

haha, great story!