On the last morning I attend a presentation about Shanghai’s recently announced Free Trade Zone and the opportunities it will offer foreign banks. The presentation takes place during a breakfast meeting of European bank country managers represented in the European Chamber of Commerce in China.
At this moment it is unfortunately still unclear what the exact goal of the Shanghai FTZ is. Is it about further nationalising the Chinese currency, the renminbi? Attracting foreign companies? Facilitating the export of Chinese companies? Or a combination of all three?
The same day, the FTZ is also discussed during our conversations with subsidiaries of several American clients. Here too the feedback is that the exact plans and regulations are still unclear. However, we agree that the spectacular growth of the Chinese economy is behind us and this growth is set to stabilise at around 6 to 7% in the medium to long term. During the transition to a new phase in economic development one of the reasons for the FTZ would indeed be managing the exchange rate, alongside further opening up the Chinese market. Personally, I believe that the FTZ is a next step in the right direction of further opening the Chinese economy. Although it happens at the pace determined by the bureaucrats in Beijing, the introduced reforms are being pushed through.
Looking at the growth in the number of skyscrapers in Pudong – the growth phase is over. Although the Jinmao and Shanghai World Financial Centre towers in the Lujiazui district will soon be accompanied by the largest skyscraper in China – the Shanghai Tower, which will reach a height of 632 meters in 2014. It appears that the ground under Pudong is sinking several millimetres per year, but my local ING colleagues ensure me that the current towers are well anchored. They also told me that there are only two(!) fire trucks with ladders able to reach the 29th floor in the whole of Shanghai. I might stay a few floors down next time, although the view from the 84th floor is magnificent in the morning.
The development of Pudong only started in 1990. Back then, the area was made up of rice fields and a few buildings east of the Huangpu river, looking over the city Shanghai on the other side. Now, 23 years later, the district has one of the most impressive skylines in the world. The developments around the FTZ have led to strong price increases and according to several real estate agents this is set to continue for a while. Nevertheless, several studies praise Shanghai for its regulations which at least ensure an orderly increase, even though that was around 100% for land prices near the FTZ!
The journey continues to Hong Kong where there is also plenty to do around the property market. In the back of the taxi on the way to the airport I realise that I should take the Maglev again next time, that’s a lot faster. The Maglev is the magnetic levitation train between the airport and Pudong, which covers the 30-kilometre track in 7.5 minutes. My taxi driver is stepping on it, but a top speed of 430 km/h is not an option!
During the flight from Amsterdam to Shanghai the smog above northwest China was very visible, a current topic that is often brought up about China. It is a major problem in a number of regions. In Shanghai however it was sunny and we could easily see for 5 kilometers from the 84th floor, while the Shanghai Daily showed a photo of the storm in Amsterdam, which our flights has just narrowly missed.
Back to the Chinese smog and air pollution. Pollution, in the north in particular, has become a growing problem during the past ten years because of the rising number of factories. With winter around the corner, and the heaters on again, the situation just becomes worse. For example, air pollution measurements in Harbin, a city of 11 million inhabitants in the northwest, show particulate matter of 1000 micrograms per cubic meter.
In comparison: the WHO advises that the amount of particulate matter in the air should not exceed an average of 20 micrograms per cubic meter, while 300 is considered hazardous for one’s health. (Studies have shown that Chinese inhabitants living in the north have, on average, a shorter life expectancy of 5.5 years due to the pollution.)
The Chinese government is very aware of the problem and hopes to improve the situation by reducing the burning of coal, promoting cleaner industrial processes and getting tough with industrial polluters. A balance between growth and pollution will remain a challenge.
The next morning, running a lap along the river from the hotel is a good exercise. You need to be on time to avoid the rush hour traffic chaos. Serious trouble breathing isn’t a problem, but you can’t avoid regular coughing. It’s a by-product of a city with an official population of some 23 million, yet it could also be 28 million according to estimates…
There is a handy app that can be downloaded that tells you what the air pollution measurements are. Today they were 50 and 99. The first measurement is according to the Chinese government, the second from the American consulate.
My day is then primarily devoted to visiting the Chinese subsidiaries of our international clients. During these visits it appears that the competition from their Chinese rivals is becoming tougher. While having a good brand, an original product and great service used to be sufficient, now the local needs of the Chinese customer must be catered to. Although Chinese consumers love Western luxury brands, they are increasingly comparing these with good products produced on home soil.
Foreign products are after all more expensive and if they can get a better local product for a lower price they will increasingly continue to do so. An Apple phone costs around 800 dollars in China, while a secretary earns about the same amount per month. For a quarter of the price you can buy a Xiaomi phone that is identical in appearance and functionality. Think global, act local, is therefore becoming ever more important for Western enterprises in China.
The international press is currently paying a lot of attention to the Chinese government’s tackling of foreign companies. Apple, Samsung, VW and also Starbucks have negatively appeared in the news. In the international press it sounds like the Chinese government is only focusing on foreign companies. In Shanghai the image is more nuanced: successful (international) companies are indeed being examined, but the rationale is that consumer programmes, such as Kassa! in the Netherlands, hardly exist in China, or not at all.
Now that consumers can finally raise their voices via the Chinese media, the international public opinion suddenly takes issue with this. To be fair, in the case of Starbucks the criticism is a bit bizarre: the coffee is too expensive! There are also other coffee companies where you can grab a latte, cappuccino or macchiato.
To wrap up, a note about the local housing market in Shanghai. While we have experienced a dive of 20% in the past five to seven years in the Netherlands, people in Shanghai faced an increase per square meter off almost 6% this week! Perhaps it will be up another 6% next week, or perhaps it will dip. Who can say? The ‘good’ news is that there was a 63% growth in new housing in just a week’s time.
For the average employee purchasing an apartment is an almost impossible financial task. A mortgage usually covers 70% maximum and the rest you have to pay yourself. Add to that the weekly fluctuations and you reach the conclusion that you need nerves of steel to enter the housing market. The next blog about Shanghai will be about the new free trade zone initiative, then on to HK!
Although I have made various trips to Japan, including visiting some of the major cultural highlights in Kyoto, Nara, Tokyo and Hiroshima, somehow it never worked out to visit a sumo wrestling match. During my last trip it turned out there were tickets for a Friday afternoon match. Surprised it was not sold out, my Japanese colleagues mentioned that after a long history of Japanese sumo champions the sport is now completely dominated by foreigners, including a Bulgarian, an Egyptian (nicknamed ‘the sandstorm’) and several Mongolians wrestlers. One of the most famous and successful foreign wrestlers is Akebono, Hawaiian Chad Rowan, who became a yokozuna, or grand champion, in 1993. Apparently the last time a Japanese wrestler wan, was in 2006, and since then Japanese public interest decreased.
Attached short movie I found on Bloomberg – including footage on one ‘Morning Blue Dragon’, the Japanese name for Davadorj Dolgorsurengin. He was a very successful sumo wrestler and invested his fortune in various Mongolian industries.
Similar to Davadorj, one of the little sumo wrestlers in Ulan Bator wants to invest in his Mongolian sumo stable if he becomes a champion.
Not far away travelling this week, but giving a guest lecture on doing business in Korea closer to home. This is because of a request from the University of Applied Sciences (HvA), with which we have a partnership, to tell students about my experiences. According to the organiser, his students had never listened this quietly and attentively – something that doesn’t happen to me at home very often!
I highlighted several themes that formed a comprehensive list of important focus points. There is no secret code to doing business in Korea, however, thorough preparation goes a long way.
If you can’t beat them, join them! That certainly applies to the major Korean chaebols (Samsung reported a record profit last week), that are become more active and successful worldwide. Whereas people in Germany, until a couple years back, thought that Hyundai was from Japan (which was convenient to the Koreans as the perception of Japanese quality was very high), it is now clear that Korean cars and mobile phones are taking a leading position.
Catching a ride
To be able to ride along on this success, a long-term relationship is key. Dutch suppliers to these large players and also to other Korean companies should have a long-term focus on cooperation. Koreans are networkers at the core. Often, our local colleagues at ING branches in Korea and our customers know each other from military service, hometowns or university. A senior manager in Korea can rotate within the marketing department, yet be active in finance a year later. Maintaining relationships over long periods is very important.
What is also very important, as it appeared during the recent trade mission to Seoul, is the concept of loss of face and etiquette. Stemming from Confucianism, there is a strict social hierarchy, which means that seniority matters during delegate introductions. The first to introduce is the highest in rank, then the next, etcetera.
At the conference table it’s the same protocol, only the highest in rank sits in the middle, the second on his right-hand side, the third on his left and so on. When you introduce your delegation, you do so on the basis of seniority, with people on the other side of the table looking from left to right and right to left until everyone has been introduced. And the same goes for the other side of the table.
Diplomacy at its best
Two weeks ago something nice happened. When introducing the Dutch delegates – guests may go first – this did not happen according to the protocol above, as the highest in rank first introduced all members to his left and then to his right. The Korean CEO then did exactly the same, against protocol, out of respect for the guest. This was diplomacy at its best.
Queen Wilhelmina once did something similar during a banquet with Paul Kruger, President of the Boers in Transvaal, South Africa. Kruger drank water from a silver bowl that was meant to cleanse your fingers, not to drink! To save the face of her guest, the Queen also drank from the bowl.
Finally, I have some examples of the group v.s. the individual, avoiding conflicts and respect. The picture of Bill Gates holding his left hand in his pocket while shaking brand new President Park’s hand with his right, was vastly commented on mainly outside Korea. It indicated a lack of respect to greet the President of Korea like this. Personally, I believe the Koreans will not have held it against him, because he is not Korean. However, showing you have studied Korean culture and Korean manners is appreciated.
In addition to the Amsterdam students, there were also a number of Korean participants in the forum. Just to be sure, I have checked whether they agreed with my observations about these particular Korean ways of doing business. After sharing some memories about Seoul, they said they recognised the truth in my remarks about doing business in Korea. This felt reassuring. Or was this a case of saving face?
This is the third and final blog following a trip to North East Asia mid-September
From Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to Gimpo in Seoul, the smaller airport close to the city centre. Although landing on hypermodern Incheon airport is no burden, as your suitcase is usually on the belt before you even have a stamp in your passport (no, that doesn’t mean the queues at immigration are terribly long… but the drive to the city is). It is now over a year since we moved from Seoul to Amsterdam, and I enjoy coming back every time.
This time, I arrive in South Korea as a participant of the Amsterdam trade mission led by Mayor Van der Laan. Together with companies from the region, including Deloitte, Kia, AKD, Schiphol, AON and start-ups DriveUgo and The Student Hotel, in addition to the Amsterdam Chamber of Commerce (KvK) and the VU University, the most important goal is to strengthen ties with a large number of Korean companies that have picked Amsterdam as their European business location. In addition, we would also like to attract Korean businesses, students and talent to Amsterdam.
We visit eight South Korean companies, where we are received will the utmost esteem and jointly discuss new plans for European expansion, exchange gifts and have our picture taken for the archives. Most CEOs express their appreciation for the fact that the Mayor of the Dutch capital personally comes to thank them in Seoul for their investments in Amsterdam.
The usefulness of this type of mission is often underestimated in the Netherlands, as the presence of the considerably heavyweight dignitaries, together with the local Dutch ambassador, ensures that the entire management teams of severalchaebols (the large industrial conglomerates) are present at the other end of the table. This doesn’t happen very often in normal meetings. As we conduct business on an international scale with most Korean companies, particularly in Europe, these visits prove most useful to perpetuate relations at a high level.
From a macro-economic perspective, mainly middle-sized Korean exporters suffer from the cheaper yen (see Abenomics in the previous blog about Japan) and the therefore more expensive won. Of all the Asian currencies, the South Korean won has increased most in value, while almost all other emerging market currencies decreased in value compared to the US dollar.
There are indeed positive reports from larger steel factories that are seeing an improving market in ship construction. In addition, Korean conglomerates remain internationally active in securing gas and oil, as the country has no natural supplies of its own. They way in which the government cooperates together with banks, credit insurers and other private sector players works like a well-oiled machine. Perhaps an export model to also explore in the Netherlands?
In addition to the meetings with companies there was a grand networking dinner (150 guests) with classical and modern Korean musical entertainment. From the 22nd floor of the Plaza Hotel across the newly renovated City Hall – one of the few older buildings to have survived the fury of the Korean war – I looked out over the wide boulevards where pop star PSY performed before 80,000 fans. In the distance, set on the slopes of the Blue House, lays the official residence of the President, and behind those hills is the Pyeongchang Dong district, where we happily lived for 3.5 years.
This is the second of three blogs following a trip to North East Asia mid-September
After an hour-and-a-half delay in the airport of Ulan Bator due to strong winds (enough for a large windmill farm!), I arrive in Tokyo. It immediately strikes me how energetic and organised Japan is – from the customs officer with his fingerprint machine to the friendly man at the luggage belt, ensuring that cases don’t land on each other and the taxi driver who opens and closes the passenger door with a lever next to his chair.
Now 22 years ago, I did an internship in Oita, a city on the southernmost island of Kyushu. During those six months, I learned the ins and outs of a Japanese company and since then I have had a special bond with Japan. I also speak the language a bit, which is always highly valued in meetings with clients. When I lived in Singapore and Korea with my family, we visited Japan to see its highlights.
From my hotel room in Tokyo, I can just look beyond the skyscrapers and cranes above the constructions sites to see the imperial palace. In this metropolis of 38 million people (!) there is a serene tranquillity within the walls of the palace and its perfectly manicured gardens. The film Lost in Translation with Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansson is a perfect representation of the energy and simultaneous serenity that can thrive in a city. Estimates vary, but EUR 50 billion is a good indication of the value of the huge piece of land underneath the palace.
Over the course of three days, I will be visiting – along with Japanese colleagues from the local office – several of our large international clients with whom we conduct business all over the world. It is of great importance to visit these clients with local colleagues, due to the cultural differences in business and the language barrier. Usually, English is the language of communication, but older Japanese clients in particular prefer to speak their own language.
Talks with our Japanese clients, such as so-called sogoshosha (trade houses), are mainly focusing on international projects, in addition to other current affairs. We intensively advice and arrange project financing in sectors in which Japanese trading houses are globally active, such as, oil & gas, offshore activities and other energy sources such as wind. Developments in Mongolia and shale gas in the US are high on the agenda, as these have impact elsewhere, for instance on decisions about the construction of industry complexes in the Middle East. Perhaps, it is becoming economically more attractive to produce in the US, as energy is becoming cheaper.
Abenomics, the monetary easing installed by current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is working out well for large exporting companies in particular. They are benefitting from the cheap yen which makes them more competitive. But apart from temporary monetary measures, structural changes are needed, especially bureaucratic changes. Political instability (seven Prime Ministers in seven years), low productivity of Japanese SMEs and uncertainty around nuclear plants, are impeding investments. Add to that the rapid aging of the population, and it become clear that monetary easing alone is not enough.
It is also becoming clear that the majority of the Japanese is positive about bringing in the 2020 Olympics Games.This means a boost for the construction sector and tourism, in which the government has set itself ambitious targets – 25 million foreign visitors in 2020, compared to just over 6 million in 2011 (in 2010, Japan had 10 million visitors, demonstrating the impact of the Fukushima disaster). In addition, there will be an increased focus on sports performances from now on, in order to set a new medal record in Tokyo. The United Kingdom set a new record in London last year: 65, of which 29 gold! The highest score since 1908.
The week ended with a dinner with American friends from Seoul at Gonpachi, the restaurant where Quentin Tarantino shot a scene with Uma Thurman for his film Kill Bill. The Japanese food was delicious of course. Tomorrow, I’m heading to Seoul to join the delegation of the Amsterdam mayor Van der Laan.”
This is the first of three blogs following a trip to North East Asia mid-September
En route to Japan and Korea during my weeklong Asian business trip I’m stopping over in Mongolia. In Korea, I will join the trade mission of Amsterdam mayor Van der Laan. But first up is a country with vast steppes, the Gobi desert and a giant vibrant capital where business is thriving.
Mongolia is booming, something you notice in the plane from Moscow, which is filled with European businessmen and entrepreneurs, including from the Netherlands.
The timing of my visit is perfect, as it coincides with the five-year anniversary of the local ING office in Ulan Bator. In addition to a press conference and reception for clients and other guests, there are meetings scheduled with local and international companies. It’s a good opportunity to gauge the mood in the country after my last visit about 18 months ago.
A Dutch exporter of truck tires tells of an upcoming mining trade show later that week in Ulan Bator.
With its huge reserves of coal, iron ore, gold, silver, copper and other precious metals, Mongolia is a particularly interesting market for suppliers to the mining industry. The investments in Oyu Tolgoi and Tavan Tolgoi are the flagship projects, accounting for 17% growth in 2012. But recent disputes about these projects have led to a sharp decline in growth figures. Where does Mongolia stand?
Landing at Chinggis Khaan international airport you’re immediately struck by the large numbers of ‘gers’ (traditional nomad tents). A nomadic people, Mongolians travel around in these felt tents, that are quickly built and broken down to head off with the cattle. However, the recent economic boom has led them to flock to the capital in droves. But the city can’t cope with the mass influx, which is leading to major traffic jams. Russian planners had devised the city for 250,000 inhabitants, while the estimated number is currently at 1.3 million.
Although new roads have been built in recent years, they’re not enough to cope with the crowds and no construction can be done during the winter months when temperatures can drop to -40 Celsius. Another challenge of camps without facilities around the city is pollution. Coal is widely available and is extensively used during the harsh winters, which is creating a blanket of smog. The last time I was here in February 2011 I could barely see the city between the hills, as it was covered under a thick layer of smog.
In response to the mining boom, hotel chains began building huge hotel and shopping complexes. But in the last 12 months some of these projects have been delayed due to the stagnation of mining complexes that were being developed in the Gobi desert. This was partly due to lower exports to China, but also due to the change of government. Uncertainty about foreign investments, ownership and the role of government, resulted in a sharp downfall of foreign investments – crucial to an emerging market like Mongolia.
During our well-attended reception there is ample opportunity to hear what local and international companies think about how Mongolia is doing. Yes, there are still obstacles, and yes traffic is a thorn in the side. A couple of journalists are at least an hour late for the press conference due to traffic. But overall people are positive about Mongolia’s future prospects.
The government is working on implementing new investment rules that should enable money flows towards the country. In addition to mining, the government is aiming for several new sectors that offer many opportunities for Dutch businesses, such as sustainable energy, livestock and greenhouses. At end-September, a Dutch trade mission is coming over to explore several of these possibilities. Institutions such as FMO and Triodos have been investing in Mongolia for some time, making our country the third largest investor in the country after China (50%) and Canada in 2012. Mongolia has only 2.7 million inhabitants and is four-and-a-half times the size of Germany – plenty of space for Dutch cows that can deliver both meat and milk to Russia and China. With the harsh winters – in 2009 25% of livestock died due to the cold – it is key to invest in better stables and management.
In the field of renewable energy, there is also heavy investment. In a country with severe and constant winds, leading to a heavy delay on my trip back, and a great need for energy due to mining, there are plenty of investors willing to invest in wind farms. FMO has, together with an American party, invested in a farm that already supplies energy. Local parties have plans to build wind mills with a capacity of 1 gigawatt. Like the cows, electricity can also be exported to neighbouring countries.
Finally, Kentucky Fried Chicken opened its first drive-in restaurant this summer. I quickly went to see – without eating because I prefer local restaurants – but they have found themselves a challenge after a very successful opening just before the summer. In Mongolia people mainly drive imported cars from Japan and Korea. Japanese drive on the left, while Koreans drive on the right, with corresponding drivers’ seats. To which side should the checkout for the drive-thru be?
Tonight, I’m heading to Japan to talk to our contacts there. How would large Japanese companies look at the economic developments now that the Shinzo Abe government is finally trying to shake things up with his Abenomics?”
Colourful, slow moving, ever honking traffic, red tape, stray dogs, crossing cows, majestic festivals, fantastic food and smells and landmark buildings, and 1.2 billion, mostly younger, Indians….ample opportunity one might say?
Visiting multinational companies’ subsidiaries last week in India, Pune, Mumbai and New Delhi, this recent trip provided for a perfect opportunity to gauge the economic situation and India’s prospects. Most of you will have read of the Indian rupiah being one of the worst victims of the recent exodus from the emerging markets with the currency falling from 55 to 68 against the US dollar over the past four months.
Twin deficits, current and trade accounts, coupled with major spending by the government in the form of petrol, fertilizer and wheat and rice subsidies for the rural population while the global situation is not helping either. US easing is prompting huge flows away from India and other emerging markets while the uncertainty around Syria is driving oil prices up; India spends up to 33% of its imports on oil. On top of that, S&P has announced a possible downgrade of the sovereign rating as well, the first of the so called BRIC countries that would hit junk status. With only 4.5-5% growth forecasted, hardly compelling for foreign investment.
With elections in early 2014, the mentioned populist subsidies are increasing rural consumers spending which is appreciated by most of the retail focused (food, drugs, cars, clothing and phones a.o.) companies I met with; annual growth around 30% appears to be common. However, on the longer term focused industrial manufacturing side, companies appear to focus on cost cutting, efficiency and calling off investment programs. Lack of clarity and timing on government plans, spending, unclear taxation, legal disputes and corruption are not really inviting major foreign direct investment into India.
With the current cheap Indian rupiah, exports should be soaring. Sadly, no major Indian or international companies have been investing and structurally improving the country’s industrial base over the past 8-10 years. On the contrary, the country is sitting on the world’s third largest iron ore and second largest coal reserves. Due to several conflicts, legal disputes and other ill-conceived measures, the country was a net importer in 2012 of these commodities next to the major dependency on oil. Apparently shale gas is available in India as well, however, swift action is not foreseen in this area either.
So it is all gloom and doom? During the same week I was visiting India, Dutch foreign trade minister Ploumen, accompanied by around 40 business men and women, met with various Indian companies and institutions exploring options in various industries. Their feedback was quite positive, as some contracts were signed and over 300 meetings took place with local Indian companies, mainly in the area of urbanisation and various topics around food. Most of the participants also noted the required long term view.
Also last week, newly appointed central bank governor Rajan announced a couple of measures which reverted the slide of the Indian rupiah as well as the major equity indices.
Announcements should be followed by actions, including by the new government that is expected to be formed in Q2 of next year. Any S&P downgrade, action in Syria, uncertainty about global easing couple with less than real and effective tackling of the twin deficits provides for a gloomy short to medium term prospect for India.
My short-to-medium cooked delicious tikka chicken again made me eat too much…..a good reason to come back soon to India!
Preparing for an upcoming trip to Mongolia, where I will be participating in the celebrations around the 5- year anniversary of our local representative office, I reviewed some interesting articles commenting on the pick up in foreign direct investment (FDI) into Mongolia recently. Most people are aware of the large scale metals and mining investments which easily run into billions of dollars, but also on a smaller scale are there ample opportunities to invest in the country of Genghis Khan.
Following the 17% growth of GFP in 2011, it fell to 12% in 2012 and meager 7% in the first quarter of this year and up growth of GDP (still considerably larger than any economy across Europe!). This decrease followed ample uncertainty on the investor climate as the government was keen to renegotiate terms and conditions with Rio Tinto on their investment in Mongolia. Also, there was the global slump across commodity markets which hit Mongolia hard as well. Following the inauguration of the new president, Elbergdorj, there initially was a fear for new, investor unfriendly, laws including granting local villages the right to allocate exploration licenses. However, in April of this year we saw an uptick in FDI after it became clear that the sharp edges had been removed. The Mongolian government appears to balancing the interests of the local population and foreign investors better these days.
An interesting investor into Mongolia recently is Yum brands, better known for one of its flagship brands KFC (see one of my previous blogs on statistics in China). They are looking to open up some 15 restaurants across the country after a very successful launch in May of this year. The country is depending on a lot of imports to support the investments in the Gobi desert. Next to that it has decided on a couple of sectors where the Mongolian government needs foreign investors to assist in building knowledge as it wants to decrease it dependence on importing. These sectors include infrastructure, agro- and horti-culture as well.
Another indication that confidence is returning is the increase of direct flights to Ulan Bator from Bangkok and even the US as previously the most common route was indirect via Moscow, Beijing or Seoul. At the same time ample interesting hurdles remain in this emerging market and long term views are key to a successful venture as various short term investors noticed last year.
An interesting ‘hurdle’ for KFC will be how to figure out the next step in its service offering: driving through. Most cars are imported from countries that have the steering wheel on either sides, Japan and Korea. Unfortunately it is apparently an even split: 50:50, so KFC needs to find another solution here!
During the summer our oldest son experienced his first summer job, doing the dishes in one of the beach clubs in Cadzand, the Netherlands. As he is saving for a scooter he was very happy to get his first salary payment plus sharing in the tip pool, which turned out to be quite decent as the summer weather meant a lot of customers!
His first summer job reminded me of another project he and his little brother set up when we were still living in Seoul. Close to our house, which was situated nicely in the hills outside the city, a lot of Koreans hiked, the national pastime, their way during the weekend. A small table was set up, a menu in English and Korean, translated by my secretary, where they offered soft drinks, cookies, candy and fruits. While the little, blond brother attracted hiking customers by addressing them with ‘annyo haseyo’, the older one was busy explaining the various candy and soft drinks. It turned out to be a very successful venture which was invested in Nerf guns amongst other things!
Next to the fact that his current summer job was great to learn to keep up in a very busy beach club kitchen, it also taught him to make arrangements with the rest of the team and show up on time in the morning during his holidays. In Seoul, their little venture taught them to invest in products Korean hikers would buy of them and while candy and soft drinks were in pretty heavy demand, the apples and bananas did not go well. Turned out Koreans preferred their fresh fruits to be packed instead of being offered without plastic.
While they did not work Korean hours, they spent a decent amount of time during their Saturday afternoons marketing to Korean hikers, learning about their tastes and preferences. While he is only 14 and does not know yet what he is going to do later in life, his summer job skills coupled with Korean marketing experiences will suit him well!