Sunday, September 28, 2008

Back in the Bay, briefly

I managed to end my business trip in SF, which was great. I did learn a lesson the hard way, LA and SF are a lot more than 4 hours apart. (It might have helped if I had learned this earlier than the day before). A 5.5 hour drive, which began at 7:45 pm, and ended at 1:15 am. Ouch. I was highly tempted to stop at a Motel 6 on the way, several times! But it was great to get to my sisters and to wake up at 7 am the next morning (okay perhaps not the last part, but I did get to see my nephew before he went off to school!) It was great to see my sister and nephew, lunch, coffee and just hanging out. That night included seeing my business school roommate and his name baby boy Luca. Then it was off to dinner for my friend Rajiv's birthday party. The night included a nearby club, and then a nearby apartment, ending at 4 am (this was NOT ideal, but the guilt trip from my friend Seth summed it up: "come on, how often do we get to see you?") I didn't easily roll out of bed the next morning at 9, but I did manage a nice family breakfast and then off to the airport and a 12 hour flight home. A great stop-over in the bay, too short, but I will take what I can get!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Stocking up on all things US

It was so great to be able to buy things I wanted to buy, and I made the most of trips to local stores (and food like Chipotle). The best though was the 11:30 pm trip to CVS where i bought half of the vitamin section. Getting most of these things in Korea is sometimes possible (plus the 30% import tax), but trying to find them (and working through the language barrier just isn't worth it!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Seeing friends in LA

It turned out that I had a lot less in LA than I expected once I found out our shoot was east of LA. But I did get a great dinner with my cousin Sasha, met up with my college friends Eddy and Juan Carlos on another night, and my friend Ben made it out to the shoot in Malibu. It wasn't easy to meet with folks though when I realized I had approximately 1.5 nights total in LA! What can you do?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

First TV shoot!

I went to the US to shoot a TV commercial for the cell phone I am working on. I am not in any of the scenes, but it was a great experience to be "the client" and have approval over the look and feel of the commercial. Overall I think it will be a very cool commercial, and I wilil definitely share it when it is finished!

My general thoughts of the TV commercial experience:
-- Food on the set was amazing (ie we stuffed ourselves silly at every meal and grazed between meals). There was a traveling catering company with us, fantastic ribs one day, a chicken wrap the next =)
-- The the whole I only a slight idea of what I was doing. Or at least that is how it felt at times. I learned a bunch, and added feedback where I could, but it did help to have the ad agency around to provide a bit more context when I needed it! The funny thing? The copywriter for the ad agency -- his name was Angus.
-- We definitely explored some of the local flavor in Lancaster CA. The actual shoot took place outside of LA (with lots of driving between locations). We saw salt flats, joshua trees, and a bunch of sets which looked like rundown motels (and apparently make most of their money by being porn sets, DO NOT sit on the couch!) Really cool locations, and some of the places we stayed were very entertaining (ie getting food at the local bar in Lancaster was a trip in and of itself, this bar probably had never had an order as big as ours, ie 8 people).
-- Dealing with the Korean workday did NOT help (8 am Korean time was about 5 pm in the US, so I was up until 1 am a few times...) It doesn't help that I have multiple stakeholders, and the end goal is always to figure out what the executives want, what the local markets will think, and then what I can tolerate. The actual customers? The customer research would be nice, but that would require actually making the TV commercial a couple of months earlier, and given that the product is still being changed slightly, an earlier TV commercial is not likely. Exciting? Yes. Easy? No. On time? We hope.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A whirlwind trip to DC for a friend's wedding

I made a way too fast trip to DC for a colleague's wedding. It included two of the worst airline experiences I had encountered in years (reminding me that international flights just get better service, and that I now hate United). I learned the hard way to never choose an exit row on United if it is the first row of seats, ie in seats that do not recline and having the added insult of being next to someone with terrible elbow etiquette (aka woke me up less than 1 hour into my sleep on the red eye). The trip back was a mere 3 hours delayed.

All of the travel issues aside, the trip was great. I saw Michelle's place in NJ for the first time, and we spent a day relaxing, going apple picking, and doing a bit of shopping. They had some of the best little chocolate creations near the mall in her town (little donkeys and elephants, very well designed!)

Then it was off to DC for less than 24 hours for the wedding. We debated for a while which side of the church we should sit on. It is my colleague, but Michelle has hung out with his wife a lot, and I like both of them equally. We did have some crazy small world experiences though, someone Michelle went to college with (they were in the same chemistry class) was a bridesmaid. And one of my business school classmates is the cousin of the groom (I knew this before we arrived, but boy was she surprised to see me at the wedding!)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Long weekend

Korean thanksgiving was a great little break from the craziness in Seoul. The roads were practically empty, and driving time in taxis was at least half of it usually is! The funny thing, I spent a bunch of time cleaning my apartment (the cleaning lady had not shown up in 6 weeks, and I have given up). The VERY next day, she came and cleaned the apartment. I give up.

I went out on Friday night to Hongdae, and some of the craziest connections. One of my friend's friend was at a live music club, and we met up with him there (I was coming with about 10 friends of mine from GSG.) Who do I happen to see there, but a friend of a different friend, named Asia (yes, an Asian girl named Asia, no further comments). Total small world experience, I could barely believe it! I ended up calling the night around 4 am, my body just doesn't recover in the way it used to, especially with the commute to Suwon starting so early in the morning!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Another baby

I saw one of my co-workers at the gym on Saturday night, and he said he and his wife were going to enjoy one last dinner before the baby came out. It wasn't due for another week, but lo and behold, the newborn came on Sunday afternoon.

Crazy traffic

In general traffic has gotten worse over the past few months (and the bus lane is still not "in effect" yet, literally a 6 month trial before they actually penalize people, wtf?!? BUT two days in row of the worst traffic I had experienced in Seoul. We had a 3 day weekend (Korean Thanksgiving), and the Thursday before it started (ie most people were still working on Friday), it took about 2 hours to get home (a full hour more than usual. This did not help us as we were trying to get to a friend's bachelor dinner. (That night turned out later than ideal, as I left at midnight, thankfully. Everyone else looked terrible the next day at work, absolutely terrible!) The following day did me no favors as the bus to get to Suwon never showed up, and I spend too much time transferring between trains and taxis to get down to Suwon. Another 2 hours I would love to get back. Sigh.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Funny signs

We keep finding new good signs, such as the drink "Jack and Cock" I thought I would attach this link below for a few more.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Team off-site

We had a great team off-site yesterday, having a nice lunch and dinner together, plus a trip to the Samsung museum (that has both modern and traditional Korean art). It was nice to be in Seoul at a reasonable hour, and to be able to take a taxi home! Everyone on the team is really nice, and we had a great time until close to 10 pm. It seemed that most people were in good shape today, thankfully this team doesn't have the crazy drinking culture that Korea is known for (ie I would not have wanted to have called a sick day!) The funny thing was that as I was leaving, I ran into a friend of a friend who teaches at Yonsei University here. Small world, I hadn't seen him in about 6 months!

My Korean classes have been derailed

So I have been trying to learn new Korean phrases from colleagues, and in the middle of one meeting (all in Korean of course), I attempted to pick up key words. The words I picked up either are not common or I misheard them. Our senior manager said he needed to fix the words I was learning ;)

I was given a new word, an actual Korean nickname. An KoSong (which means something like Maestro or Big Star). The funny thing is that An (a Korean last name, which correlates to Angus, and friends of mine) also means Not. So I either have been complimented, or insulted ;)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Training, Entertainment and Pandora's Box

We had three days of training last week, ranging from presentation skills to intercultural readiness. We definitely learned, and we also had some fun. My favorite moments.

Teacher: "Person Y, how would you feel if Person X was getting paid $10,000 more for the same job as you?"
Person Y: "I would be happy for him"
Needless to say, other than the fact that compensation might be a touchy subject based on all of us just having our performance review, that question couldn't have hit the nail on the head more closely. Of course following that was a description of an experiment illustrating that even monkeys react negatively to unequal compensation...

This was one of a few sessions that came very close to Pandora's box. It was just classic when the teacher would ask a question and there would be silence on our end. It wasn't that we didn't have an opinion, it was that we didn't feel like saying what we really thought...and in some cases, when we did, the point did not very clearly make it to the management (I will censor those stories). It did make us wonder at times who really needed the intercultural readiness though...

And last but not least, how to be an agent of change:
Teacher: "How do you tell them to do something different?"
Student: "I tell them Nokia/GE/Apple is doing it."
Ah yes, the world of the fast follower. Logic is less important than what our competitors are doing. But that is what keeps it interesting in a large corporation, right?

50+ cooks in the kitchen

How many cooks can you physically have in a kitchen? Making everyone happy is physically impossible over here, but man I am probably losing hair trying to do it (I will learn one of these days, I hope...but I do remember the Douglas Adams quote: Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so)

Recently I have been trying to navigate timing of our marketing launch, a TV shoot and vacation days. But somewhere in there you realize, that there is ALWAYS too much work, right? That and you need a vacation at a certain point after trying to navigate through all of these people and keeping them happy.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Michelle visiting

One of the benefits of the living in different countries can be different holidays. Michelle made the most of Labor day and flew out on a last minute flight to Korea. It also REALLY helps that her boss is flexible and allows her to work remotely (this concept is more foreign than I am in Korea). So she came here for about 5 days, and we spent half of the time relaxing (watching movies like Kung Fu Panda, which is hysterical) and then the other time exploring a bit and seeing friends. It was too short of course, especially the weekend, but what can you do?

Talk about the long way there

So I went off to a friend's 30th birthday party, and she picked perhaps the most obscure place to go. Now cab drivers regularly do not know where to go, but this was a first. After asking a couple of different people for directions, the driver dropped me off in the middle of a parking garage. "Just go up the elevator" I was told. Needless to say, it was not even the right side of the street, you couldn't get into the elevator without a key card...I waited for a resident to arrive, and then over to a 7/11 to have the clerk call my friend to figure out where the heck i was...Only 30 minutes late for dinner, doh!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Biking along the Han

After a 2nd night until 3 am (part of this was due to getting up super late on Saturday), I went out to the park along the Han river (which runs through Seoul). I rented a bike, which conveniently was about 6 inches too short and had only 2 gears that actually worked. It was great to be outside, and the weather was warm and not too hot. Really an ideal time to be in Seoul. The only downside was being passed by half of the population who actually had working gears. It was funny to see people totally covered (including bandannas over their faces due to the lovely Seoul air). I was just happy to feel the wind and the sun!

Monday, September 1, 2008

First year anniversary

Yup, I have been in Korea for a year officially now. And as the new hires (aka 1st years) come on board) we are looked to for advice. Apparently we are wiser. Very strange, I don't feel any more mature or knowledgeable ;) We apparently are not in any better shape as we lost in soccer to them in a shootout. But almost all of us were exhausted after the first 10 minutes, so it wasn't exactly the highest quality of play...

Friday a group of the recent hires came out to our colleague's "see you soon" drinks. (He is moving to LA for a 6 month project). This was combined with the birthday party of one of the new hires, and they created quite a flaming concoction, stacked high 4 levels and ended up with a large glass with a significant amount of 151. And he was unwise enough to respond to "one shot!" and downed it. He wasn't quite the same for the rest of the night...It was entertaining to go out with them on Friday night. Stayed out until 2 am, was about the latest I had been out in ages (yes I am an old man). It was nice to let loose, party a bit, and see the new hires meet all sorts of new people.