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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Now in Stereotypical Where Available

I recalled a great story told to me a few years back and I have to share it.   It’s all about language barriers and international travel.   This was told to me by one of the product marketing managers from my previous place of employment.   She was on a business trip in South Korea, meeting with sales reps, and they treated her to a night on the town.  I’ve done my best to recreate this from memory… it’s about five years old… of course, some dramatic license will be taken but the premise is intact.

After a long day of interacting with the sales force and their customers, they all decided to go to a restaurant for a later dinner.  It was a typical place in South Korea, not an Applebee’s or something internationally known.   The place looked a bit dated, but the food was great.  

Knowing that there was going to be a long flight back to the states, they decided to live it up a little and seek some post dinner entertainment.   One of the customers told the reps that this place had a private room that would be perfect.   He went and talked with the wait staff, none of which spoke English.   When he came back, he told the reps, who were bilingual, all about it.   This excited the reps but bewildered the product manager, dumbfounded by the lack of translation.  

They finished up their dinner and a very large man, almost bouncer looking, arrived at their table to escort the party to the private room.  He led them through the kitchen where various cooks and wait staff threw shifty glances.   At the back of the kitchen there was a large metal door.   It creaked open to reveal a dark staircase leading down into the bowels of the restaurant.    Once there, the only light source was the flickering of the fluorescent bulbs.  The poorly kept small tile floor looked like something out of a New York City tenement; missing small pieces of tile every so many feet.   The blackened walls looked as if they were once rich mahogany but had been painted over with thick coats of death.   At end of the hallway there was a door which opened into a single room.    It looked like a boardroom from hell or something out of the first Saw movie.   The same dilapidated flooring and poor lighting extended into the room, which almost cast a sort of blue glow.    There was a large rectangular table in the center of the room with swivel chairs around it.   On the other side, opposite the entrance, another, smaller door sat.

After the group got seated, the secondary door opened and two employees wheeled in a large boxy item on a dolly; electrical cords securing it to the greasy sides of the dolly.     The product manager began to sweat a little.    The scene was very quiet with some chattering of Korean between the staff.  Her focus went onto watching the staff hook up the box.  In international settings, electrical outlets and plugs do not resemble American ones so whatever this hulking black thing was, it looked menacing as it was being plugged into the wall.  

Immediate thoughts were that this was some sort of acetylene torch.  “OH MY GOD!”  She thought.   “It’s that scene out of Hostel.  They’re going to burn out my eyeballs!”   A second later the staff returned with a video camera and an evil looking black case, the size of a pistol.    No explanation for what was going on at this point, just the devices being brought in for what looks to be a videotaped torture.  “This is where I have to denounce the West and my family gets to see my death on YouTube, I just know it.” 

One of the customers, dressed in a sharp business suit, walked over to the AV cart that had been wheeled in and flipped the monitor on.  It remained black for the moment.  He adjusted the camera and began to play with the weapon case.   He opened it and removed a long barreled object, just obscured by the case lid.  “Oh, Jesus!  This is it.”   He pushed record on the camera and walked over to attach the unseen weapon to the black box on the dolly.  

There was a distinct hum.  

More sweat rolled down the back of product manager’s neck.  No one produced any kind of emotion other than stern focus on what was taking place.

Everything just screamed "run" in her mind.   Hopefully, she could make the stairs and be in public view before they tackled her and dragged her back into this death room.  

The customer flipped some switches and more lights flickered on the black box.   He walked over, his back to the table,  and stared at the camera, in view of the monitor, which was still blackened.  Suddenly, noise erupted from the dolly.  

Then, he began…

At first, I was afraid, I was petrified…

"What?" She thought.

Kept thinking I could never live without you by my side.”

"Wait a minute?"

Still going, he walked over, flipped one more switch, and the monitor produced a teleprompter of sorts, displaying the rest of the lyrics to Gloria Gaynor’s song.

Smiles and head nods broke across the rest of the room.


Staff wandered in with trays and drinks, placing down fresh glasses at each place setting.


This became a top five story moment in my life.  I loved the suspense of it. 

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