Soju and Slides

A short essay describing a Korean company retreat.
8 Jul 2010
Matthew Wilson
CC Attribution-ShareAlike (BY-SA)

I had arrived in Seoul a few days prior. I'd been once before, but only for an interview. Now it was for real. The visa approval red tape had taken nearly six months, longer than anyone had expected, and conincidentally my arrival in the country was just before a "company workshop".

When I first heard the term it conjured up vague images of trust falls and corporate softball teams. This was entirely different. Shortly after getting to the office that morning, we all filed into a couple of large buses. It was a three-hour drive into the Korean mountains where we would spend the night. Along the way a particularly friendly coworker gave me an impromptu Korean lesson. He was very encouraging, even though my pronunciation was (as it would remain) not good.

Our destination was stunningly beautiful. A few cabins and a large meeting room, surrounded by mountains. As soon as we got off the buses we all put on matching company t-shirts and posed for a group photo. Some of my coworkers began playing a game I'd never seen before that looked like volleyball played with one's feet.

That night we had a feast of kimchi, meat, and truly heroic doses of alchohol. I committed a faux pas before the drink had even begun to take hold, by casually mentioning my divorce. My coworkers took it in stride, as they always did, by recoiling a bit and laughing it off. I would go on to err socially many more times that evening as my inhibitions steadily lowered.

I woke up face down on the floor. Not because I'd passed out there, but because it was my designated spot to sleep. Everyone else was still dozing, but I was wide-eyed with jetlag. I climbed the ladder down to the lower level, and went out for a morning walk. It was gorgeous there, and unlike any place I'd ever been. My new boss came and found me, he'd seen me stroll off and was worried until I explained that I was having a fantastic time.

After breakfast, we settled in for the official purpose of the trip: a series of incredibly dull powerpoint presentations. It might have been more captivating if I had been able to understand any of the words. Mercifully we had some really interesting follow-up discussions before we headed back to the buses and sped off toward my new city. I still miss it.