Shortly after making the decision to avoid seeking long-term retention to my imminently fading job, I told the executive in charge of the my company’s takeover about my intentions to leave a little prematurely to commit to a full-on Southeast Asian adventure. It may have been the nostalgia that welled up him when he heard I was going in the direction of his homeland of Delhi, or more likely the tequila, but he looked at me, smiled sweetly and enthusiastically, and proudly, and almost jealously, and encouraged me on my decision.
“Oh yes, I would do the exact same thing if I were you.” He said, lifting the weight of reemptive regret off my shoulders.
“Just prepare for a culture shock like you cannot even imagine.”
That warning has been ringing in my brain ever since, subtly shaping every vision I’ve had of what exactly this trip is, what it can, and what it will be.
The first culture shock came already, sharply at the gate in SFO, when arriving early, I saw a group of beautifully dressed Asian ladies standing as a group with their luggage; gorgeous, with matching outfits, I assumed they were dancers. Or perhaps actresses coming back to Seoul from a stint at the Golden Gate Theater? They couldn’t be geishas, could they?
A group of four impeccably groomed Asian businessmen walked up to them and immediately started joking and laughing with them–that’s it, they must be geishas. THEY ARE geishas. I sat and watched as they boarded a half hour before everyone else… first class. Of course–these businessmen are clearly footing the bill for their first class suites! $10,000 a seat? No, $25,000 each; this is a deluxe jet to Seoul, city of industry, pioneering new business and technology! Hellooo, culture shock!
I typically wait to board planes last to avoid lines (and babies), but this time there was a tinge of the Economy-Blues, after seeing those high rollers leisurely stroll in ahead of us regular folk–I’m not worthy. Upon stepping into the cabin, I craned my neck to the left to see if I could catch a glimpse of the ultra-ultra-first-class ballrooms they must have slipped into. Yes, there was first class over there, but there were no private suites; no business tycoons sipping vintageYamazaki with their ladypets.
It was at that point that I really had a true culture shock–in my attempt to truly be culturally shocked, I overlooked the fact that these VIPs were simply Singapore Air’s impressively well groomed flight attendants.
One of them just gave me peanuts.