Business Practices
by Dave Bonner
In South Korea, what goes better together than kimchi chigae and rice? Business and bribes. If you want to add another then I would say sex, business and bribes. That’s the way that business is done in Asia, especially in South Korea.

I moved here in 1995. I got a job working at an event company and one day we had a business meeting with a few clients (ajussi’s - age 30+ Korean men). We were planning a concert for the coming summer, but needed to work out an agreement with the promoter. There were other companies bidding on the concert. It was the first time to be in a real business meeting setting. Work and decisions are not made during the daytime, unless people are playing golf. Most of the major decisions get made in saunas or in room salons. I assume that everyone knows what a sauna is, but a room salon or ‘Karoke’ is a place where gentlemen can get together and pay for overpriced whiskey and 2 week old fruit. Young ladies will come in and join us for atmosphere.


This was my first time at the room salon and it was educational. I had this young lady next to me who couldn’t speak any English and I couldn’t speak any Korean. I thought it was so funny that these women had to sit there and entertain us. While we talked business and sang, they clapped and danced and kept pouring us drinks. We were treated like kings. My boss was treating our clients to drinks and some friendly company. After a few hours of singing and drinking it was time to leave, but instead of walking to our cars, we walked upstairs to rooms where our “partners” accompanied us. It was my first experience with a prostitute and I didn’t know what to do so I just told her to leave. She was thrilled at that since she had been paid already. When my boss found out that I didn’t sleep with her, he got really angry at me since it cost him about $400 (and English teachers here think they make a lot for doing privates . . .) and I let her go! Our clients… they left very happy and I guess a little sleepy.

Did we get the contract? Of course we did!

It’s now 2004 but nothing has changed here. I am now working for a few US companies as their sales rep in Asia. I had a meeting with a Korean company last week and met with the purchasing manager. He basically said, “What are you going to do for me?” I asked him, “What do you want?” Some people ask for cash, some people want to play golf or go drinking all night, and some want women.

In the States is it much different? I don’t know how different it is, but, with all the companies being investigated these days, I’m sure something’s going on. It’s just more out in the open here in Asia. Is it right or wrong? Business morals, is there such a thing in South Korea? I haven’t seen any so far.

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