Archive for May, 2013

Twenty Years in and out of Korea

by on Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

An enduring landmark from then and now, the Seoul Tower on the Namsan

George is an old friend from Korea. We talked recently via Skype. He was in Seoul, and I was in Metro Manila.

George’s story

In Korea the business legal environment is much fairer to foreigners than it was in the past, when our attorneys used to be embarrassed. They were truly our advocates, but they’d have to say, “Yes, this person didn’t follow the contract and you are being harmed. But as a foreigner you probably won’t get a fair shot in the court system.” Often we just had to comply with whatever our business partner or supplier or service provider was forcing us to do. Now, the same attorneys in the same law office are more ready to pursue legal action. If we are truly being discriminated against or if the other party isn’t fulfilling the contract as written, we feel we have a much better chance at getting a remedy in the court or in negotiations. The foreigner is not automatically wrong. Sometimes we still feel we’ve got to cater to our adversary, but we’re in a much stronger position than we were twenty years ago.

For example, our company has three drivers. In the past if there was an accident and the other party found out the vehicle was foreign-owned, suddenly everyone in the car had medical problems and needed medical expenses and three weeks’ pay and rehabilitation. That’s $40,000 to $50,000 or more, with the requirements growing as long as we cooperated. In contrast, recently one of our drivers was in an accident where both people were at fault. This time we were able to decide that the responsibility was 50-50, and each company took care of its own medical expenses and repairs.

Even though foreign businesses are treated more fairly, one of the challenges is banking regulations, which sometimes make it almost impossible to invest much in Korea. Let’s say you put $100,000 in the bank to start a company. That 100K must stay in that account for the entire life of the company. You can never pull it out. Any business proceeds—actual cash—you put in your Korean bank can’t be sent out of Korea until you’ve received a tax document saying you paid taxes on it. For instance, maybe you have 300K in the bank from money we made in 2012. You can’t send that money out of Korea until March, 2013, when you file taxes on it. If your company’s home office in the States needs money for equipment or office space, you still can’t access those profits until March. You can move it around in Korea and pay your expenses with it, but you can’t take it out. You’ve got to do a lot of planning to ensure that you don’t need that cash flow for maybe 15 months. That’s very, very limiting. We tried to withdraw money in September, and the bank wouldn’t let us have it.

I’ve only been company president for 26 months. My predecessor had been with the company for twenty years and was a little more old school, very top-down, making a lot of decisions on his own without consulting the senior folks, He’d announce, “Here’s what we’re doing,” and then walk out. Very slowly, I’ve started to make changes in how we operate and how we communicate, which I think helps the group feel more involved. In Korea you’ve got to be careful not to make too many changes too fast. We don’t operate as we would in the States, where there would be more lateral communication at all levels, but we do operate like a US company here. We’re a technical engineering business, and I’m not an engineer. I often call in the team of our eight senior folks, either individually or together, to get as much feedback as I can before I made a decision. We have both Americans and Koreans on our staff, so it’s sometimes challenging to manage the cultural differences. Some of the senior folks, especially the Koreans, are not comfortable being asked to give an opinion because they bear some responsibility if things don’t go very well, whereas formerly they could say, “Well, the president told us to do it that way. I guess it was the wrong decision.” This collaboration is different from the typical Korean company, where the president decides. Not that I always go what the group wants, because they may not be fully aware of the political-social environment. But we’ve come up with our own company culture.

One of the big reasons my wife and I decided to come back was to raise our children in Korea. They’re in an international school where they have friends from Africa, Japan, Canada and the States. We feel the exposure to different ideas and different cultures prepares them for so much more when they grow up. They’re probably going to go to college in the United States, and I can see that they’ll have a much broader world view than students who spent their whole lives in the United States or in their hometown. They’ll know there’s more than one way to do things.

When I first came to Korea in 1993, I had just graduated from college with a finance degree. I had the typical American thinking: we’re the ones with the solutions that the rest of the world needs. I was in charge of a small administrative support department. My communication was aggressive and to-the-point. I wasn’t aware of the context, like delivery style and general approach to people. I’d call people out in public if they were not doing their job. Basically, I was breaking every one of the rules I now try to communicate to my senior staff. I would be screaming and yelling in the hall, which is just not acceptable here. Every day I was in conflict with my staff. It just wasn’t working.

Then I watched Mr. Lee walk into the office, pause, raise an eyebrow and look at something he didn’t approve of. At times he didn’t say a word. The entire office would get together to figure out what Mr. Lee was upset about. People would go to him and ask, he’d tell them quietly, and the entire office would change their approach. Eventually I said to him, “Mr. Lee, I am screaming and yelling every day, and my staff has stopped listening. I get no response. But you walk in, pause and raise an eyebrow, and the entire office comes to you to find out what you need. How do I do that?”

“You know, I can help you, but you’ve got to listen to me.”

“Mr. Lee, I’m ready. Just teach me what to do.”

He had a whole list of people I needed to apologize to that day. I started coming to him, and he’d say, “Why don’t you take this person into your office and ask how you can help with this problem?”

Over the years I was able to model Mr. Lee’s approach. Now I’m the senior manager, and I’m starting to acquire this company. On the organization chart Mr. Lee my vice-president, and I am the president. But I still go to him with all major decisions about very level of the organization. I still see him as a mentor. After twenty years I’m much more like Mr. Lee than I am the old me. I’ve learned so much more from Korean culture than Koreans have learned from me.

You know, in the United States we’re so much more aggressive, much more contract-driven. If it’s written down, that’s the way it is. It’s very black and white. When I went back to the States having learned from my Korean mentor how to think and communicate differently, at first I was perceived as kind of weak. I owned a small business with a partner. We had about 400 employees, with about 20 people at the corporate office where I was the Chief Operating Officer. If an employee didn’t meet performance standards, a typical US approach was to write it down, document it, give the employee a few chances and that was it. My business partner, who no overseas experience, would tell an employee, “You’re not cutting it. If you don’t get better in two days or two weeks, you’re gone.” But I’d become less formal in the beginning. I brought the employee in, the supervisor would also be involved, and I’d say, “Here’s what we see. Are we doing something that’s preventing you from doing better? Is something happening at home?” Some people perceived me as a pushover, but I still thought that was the right approach. When people didn’t respond appropriately I still terminated them. After a year or so the staff realized that they were going to be held to performance standards.

A lot of people truly appreciated the softer approach to management, and eventually our staff would slay dragons for us because they felt connected with me and the company. What I learned from Mr. Lee turned out to be one of our strengths. We had a very tight-knit group which worked very hard to stay in an environment where the management and the ownership felt an obligation to treat them as family, kind of like companies do in Korea, where society is based on collectivism, rather than individualistic all-for-themselves.

In the States, with the black and white, individualistic approach, at five o’clock staff members might feel no obligation to stay late even though we had a project we needed to get out. At some point before I took over as Operations Chief, our managers were going to our employees on bended knee saying, “Look, we’re almost done. Can’t we finish it out tonight?” They’d actually have to pull people back in on a Friday night. But then eventually, as I implemented a more collectivist approach, they felt they needed to get the project done that evening or work Saturday. We didn’t even have to ask them. Because the ownership cared about them, they felt they needed to care about the company. It improved the quality of our product, and we won a lot more work.

Now that I’m back in Korea again, I see a broader middle class emerging than before, a lot of people at a middle level with a lot more means, while I used to see either the very wealthy or the very average lifestyle. The folks we hire are doing better. I’ve also heard that because of social changes some of the older children don’t feel as obliged to take care of the older folks, so we’re seeing the emergence of a few old folk’s homes where the children used to take care of their parents at home. I’m not sure that’s progress.

I’ve seen a pretty dramatic change in the society’s accepting women in more managerial and responsible positions. We now have a female section chief, which never would have happened before. I have a very senior Korean-American in another section who’s been mentoring a female Korean national over the last ten years, a Korean national. He’s about ready to retire, and I’m very seriously considering putting her in as the section chief for our US company, where she would be supervising both men and women. She’s nervous about it, so I’m going to let her decide if she wants the job or not. Unfortunately, in the past I never could have considered putting a woman in charge of a section because the Korean men wouldn’t have tolerated having a woman placed over them. We’ve probably prepared the battlefield, in that she’s been here ten years and her technical capabilities have earned respect. We’ve continued to nurture her professional growth by paying for her to go to classes and getting her registered as a professional engineer within her industry. So it’s been a joint effort, and she’s kept up her end of the bargain.

In the past the women employees would never have come into my office to share what they wanted changed. If a female employee was disappointed with her pay or her working hours, she’d just resign. So we’d lose a quality employee because she was afraid to come and talk to me. But in this last year I’ve had two instances where a female Korean has come to me and said, “I think I’m really doing a lot, and I would really like to make more money. Here’s what I plan to do.” Then we put together a six-month plan which could give her the raise she wanted.

The business is improving because the quality of life for foreigners has also improved dramatically. Ten years ago, if you needed a product like a mop, as a foreigner you probably had no idea where in Seoul you could find it. Each industry or each product had its own little section of town. Everything was condensed into one area: mop heads in one place, sewing machines in another, large pots to boil food somewhere else. Now just down the street from us is a mall where just about everything can be found. The grocery stores are providing much better food—still at a higher price than we would pay in the States, but at least it’s available.

Those things are really important when I’m recruiting and retaining staff, especially from the United States. Before, they found it hard to find what they felt they needed to live comfortably, particularly food products. It’s strange what people miss—like frozen peas. In the past, a person might have been here for two months and gotten tired of being yelled at by taxi drivers and kicked out of taxis in the middle of nowhere. The significant difference in housing made their frustration rise. Well, you know, the standard Korean apartment or villa [house with a few large apartments and balconies], has no walk-in closets. Some folks have lived in a four-bedroom, 3800-square-foot house with three and a half baths and two living areas and walk-in closets. Especially when the spouse comes over, they start adding up all these frustrations, and at some point they just say, “This isn’t worth it, I’m leaving.” That’s happened three or four times with very senior people. But it’s not happening anymore, partly because we’re doing a better job of explaining what to expect before they get here. We take the gloves off and say, “Here are the good things, and here are the bad things.” But it’s also is much easier to live here now than it was before.

Korean job applicants are much better at communicating than they used to be. Their English may not be better, but they seem more comfortable interacting with me during an interview. In the past, female candidates would come in, put their hands on their laps and look down the entire time. They wouldn’t elaborate on anything. They would say yes or no or give no answer at all because they were too afraid of making a mistake. Now I see folks who are much more comfortable trying to communicate, asking questions and answering my questions. I guess that’s just the social change that we’ve seen over the last ten years. Some entry-level people still lead the interview by asking about the salary, but they don’t anymore at the mid and upper-level positions in the engineering industry. Or at least it’s not their first question.

I think Korea is doing well. The economy appears to be very strong. We want to stay here for many years to come. Personally, we like it here better. I guess the biggest thing that’s changed in Korea over the last twenty years is me. The older I get, the less things are black and white, but a gray area where you have to stand back. Sometimes that’s the hardest thing to do, just stand back and let the situation develop. Often it takes care of itself, and often you have very little influence anyway.

Being comfortable in that ever-changing risk is what separates people who’d rather be employees from the entrepreneurs and those who succeed in business. It’s not easy. I left another company where I had a six-figure job plus benefits—401K, you name it. I went from that to a year of pulling out every bit of our savings, trying to build our business in the States. My salary for the first year was a thousand a month with no health insurance. I had a wife, a 9-year-old and a 7-year-old. Often that’s the kind of risk and commitment it takes. But we were in the right place at the right time and doing the right thing, and in about two years we were able to build it off the kitchen table with no employees to about 400 employees. It was fun. Then we sold our portion of that business in the US to move back to Korea and start to acquire the company I had worked for off and on since 1993. We feel that it was good for the company and good for us. We love Korea.

BodyTalk Access in the Philippines

by on Friday, May 10th, 2013

In 2009, an alternative health care practitioner, Dorothy Friesen, came to the Philippines to teach a healing modality to communities that were suffering from illnesses caused by toxins and hazardous waste left by the US military.  ( Please check out the links at the end of this post.) The technique was called Body Talk. I first learned of it last year when Liza and I were on our way back from a meditation retreat. Later the two of us spoke with Alan, who has been a practitioner of acupuncture and Filipino therapeutic massage for over twenty years. Now he does only Body Talk massage, which is more complicated than the Body Talk Access discussed below.

Alan’s story (with additions from Liza)

There’s a technique developed that a person can learn in a day and practice on someone (or himself/herself) in ten minutes. It consists of tapping the brain cortices and the heart complex—actually, the sternum or breastbone—in order to balance the left and right hemisphere of the brain. Most people use one side of the brain more than the other, leaving the other side idle. But if the left and the right brain function at the same time we can avoid stress and major health issues, and we can focus on one thing at a time. With this technique we balance from the occipital lobe here at the base of the skull, then the parietal and frontal lobes and the left and the right sides of the brain. Those are the parts we need to balance.

I can give you an example from my personal experience. I’ve done acupuncture and reflexology for more than fifteen years. When I got a migraine attack I could use acupuncture to relieve it, but it would come back, especially when I was exposed to sunlight. But since 2009 when I started doing BodyTalk Access on myself I haven’t had a migraine. It’s very effective.

There are five techniques—the Cortices or cortex balancing, Switching, Hydration, Body Chemistry and Reciprocals. Fast Aid combines two of the techniques—the Cortices and the Reciprocals—to help the body recover from minor injuries or accidents. This is the Fast Aid system.

The Cortices technique has to do with balancing the left and right hemispheres so the body can function in the optimal manner. There’s a body-mind connection. What happens to the body affects the mind, what happens to the mind affects the body. Tapping the head is like asking the body’s innate wisdom, “Hey, brain, can you scan this body and find out what’s wrong with this person, or this body-mind, and repair it?” Then we tap the heart complex so it will store the new memory so the body will remember the next time.

The Switching technique is a sort of a de-stresser. When we don’t listen to our bodies and just do whatever we want—like when we’re working all night despite the body’s need for sleep—the body may shut down and our brains switch off automatically. This is the body’s way of protecting itself from further damage. The Switching technique makes us more attuned to our bodies so we’ll be aware when we’re hurting ourselves with what we’re doing. It also raises our tolerance level so we can be very active without feeling tired.

With the Switching technique, you close your eyes until you can see stars. You find the acupuncture meridian points below the collarbone, an inch and a half down and an inch and a half across. You close your eyes and just press a little bit on the switching point here, the acupuncture point, and tap the head while insuring that you breathe deeply and then tap the heart.

The third technique is the Hydration, which insures the movement of the water in the body. Remember, 78% of the body is water. The problem with the majority of us, especially when we’re stressed, is that the membrane of the cells hardens so the water can’t carry the nutrients from the food we eat and the vitamins we take or remove waste matter. Now, if the water’s not moving, even if you drink eight or ten glasses a day, you can be still dehydrated. The hydration technique allows us to avoid dehydration. We soak a cotton swab in water and put it in the navel. Why the navel? This is one of the highest energy centers in our body. With the wet cotton in the navel we do the tapping and the body-mind, or the innate wisdom, scans the level of hydration and moves the water in the body. Afterwards you’ll feel thirsty or you’ll often go to the restroom. After a week of BodyTalk Access, you lose weight because you are not turning to comfort food. We joke that this is also a weight loss program.

The fourth technique is Body Chemistry, which is just like the hydration except that instead of water we use the person’s saliva, which contains the DNA. The body-mind, the innate wisdom, scans the body for viruses, bacteria, toxins, intolerance, parasites and microbes. If it finds those things, it kills them without harming the good bacteria. It’s not like antibiotics, which I call amok medicine [amok is Tagalog for a murderous frenzy or state] because it attacks everything. It says, “This is good, this bad.” A friend observed that these techniques allow one’s own body to produce antibodies for the microbes, parasites, viruses and bacteria it contains—because each of our bodies has a different set. Also, a standard dose of antibiotics may be too strong for some and not strong enough for others. So we rely on the innate wisdom of the body, the inner healer inside the body, to produce the antibodies that are necessary, to eliminate those that are doing harm to the body but will leave the good.

The fifth technique uses the Reciprocals [corresponding acupuncture points]. The objective of this is to address the body structure—the bones, the muscles, the movement of the joints, the whole body, especially the bones. So the spine, the shoulders, the knees, the ankles, the wrist, the carpals and the metacarpals. This technique insures that movement is good. The posture improves. Reciprocals are very important in doing the Fast Aid protocol. For example, if you injure your left elbow we apply Fast Aid to the reciprocal area, which is your right knee.

As another friend observed, this is where you really notice the balancing properties of BodyTalk. Every part of the body has a partner on the other side. It’s always left and right, up and down. You may accidentally bump your hip, and several days later you notice a pain in your shoulder. It’s like a partner or a friend bearing the burden of another.

­I hurt my knee in an accident. I’m now doing maintenance with the reciprocals to maintain the strength and flexibility of my body structure. All five of the techniques should be done, just like taking vitamins every day. I could just do it in ten minutes, but it takes me an hour because I like to meditate at the same time, I combine a focus on breathing with tapping and visualization, like watching the neurons sparking.

The BodyTalk system doesn’t complicate any medication you take or other practice that you do. It only enhances while doing no harm. If a doctor gives you an antibiotic for seven days, BodyTalk will help insure that the chemicals in it don’t harm your body, especially your liver and kidneys.

US Military

Our NGO is campaigning for the clean-up of the former US military bases here, specifically the Subic Naval Base and the Clark Air Force Base in Pampanga. In Clark Air Base the Americans left cadmium, arsenic, hospital waste and mercury from old batteries. The DDT, which they sprayed every day during their stay here, is still affecting the system. It lasts for more than fifty years, and it will pass from generation to generation.

In Subic one of the problems comes from asbestos exposure. Asbestos affects you for twenty to thirty years. It damages the pleural area and other areas, but the majority of the former base workers suffer from lung problems. Here in the Philippines, we don’t have experts to read those X-rays. When a patient has a lung X-ray the doctor says, “Ah, you have a problem with your lungs.” Or, “You have emphysema” because of blah-blah-blah. But if you ask questions you find out he used to work on the US Naval Base in the ship repair facilities area. That’s where they had the most asbestos exposure. Before the asbestos-coated machines could be repaired, the asbestos coating needed to be removed. After the machine was repaired, it was coated with asbestos again. The Americans didn’t tell the workers that this is very harmful.

We have also found a lot of unused transformers, which are very dangerous. They cause cancer, especially leukemia, because of the PBC. If you were exposed to the fumes, congratulations, you are a candidate for leukemia. The effect is still there to the present day. In one barangay [the smallest size district] outside the base there is a suspicious number of childless married couples, which is not common. Among those children you do find, there is a high amount of mental retardation, mental defects and birth defects like having no anus or dual sexual organs. When women are exposed to those chemicals their reproductive system is compromised.

That’s why we think the Americas should clean up their mess. One of the scientists we talked to called it a kindergarten issue. In kindergarten the teachers train us that if we make a mess we have to clean it up. The problem with the Americans is that in the US-Philippines military agreements of the 1940s there is no provision for clean-up. The members of our NGO consist of 1,500 families. Not all the people in that area are members. But among those 1,500 families we’ve estimated that there are four deaths every month. Although I should say that the number is in dispute.

Now, we also have a problem in our government. Unlike the government of Vietnam, which kept insisting that the Americas should clean up the Agent Orange they dropped during the Vietnam-US War. The Americans held out for forty years, but last year they started to clean up their mess in Vietnam. We have a lot of problems with technical sites. We don’t have experts here to test the water, to test the soil, to test people with problems in their blood. Our Department of Health conducted a secret, random test in the community. They collected blood and urine samples and did a lot of tests. Of the 97 people they tested, 47 people tested positive for arsenic and lead. Among those 47 people—mothers and children—four to five mothers had already died. Those people suffering from lead poisoning have headaches, skin problems and digestion problems every day.

We have partners in America. Right now the focus of our campaign is in the United States. One of our partners says that even if you rally every day, even if the American president is an angel, if the US Congress doesn’t pass laws, the Americans will not clean up their mess. Although they should, just like in Vietnam.

BodyTalk helps the people a lot, especially if they don’t have money to see the doctors or to buy medicine. We don’t promise that this technique will solve their problem, because the practitioner knows that we also need doctors, hospitals and laboratories. This is only a practice that can mitigate those illnesses. Among the children from newborns to seven-year-olds in this area, more than 60-70% have lung problems, asthma, skin asthma. There are a lot of people born with mental disabilities. Maybe I’m also a candidate because I’m so absent-minded that when I was in Pampanga I forgot where I was and drank the toxic water.

We started the clinics in Pampanga in 2010 because of the toxic waste issue. Dorothy Friesen brought us BodyTalk Access in 2009. Then she trained I think less than 100 members. Those people do the technique themselves, but we encourage them to practice outside their own families. We conduct clinics. We invite people in the community to come to this house, on this day, at this time. When people know there’s a clinic, they come. The BodyTalk system is gaining popularity, especially in Clark, where people are sharing their stories.

“Oh, your complexion is very good now. What happened? Did you take medicine?”

“No, just like this—tap, tap.”

In Pampanga they say it’s just like a crazy person tapping your head. But they share their stories. One of the recipients had been taking medicine for hypertension for more than thirty years, but after regular BodyTalk Access now he doesn’t need it.

BodyTalk is truly holistic, including the physiology, the emotions, the whatever. The majority of kids who had BodyTalk have improved their focus in their school, and their grades have gone up. The mothers are thankful. “My kid was ranked number two in her third grade class.” “Thank you, Body Talk. My daughter got five medals in her class.”


Turning the interview, Alan demonstrated by tapping on my head. I immediately knew he was good at massage–something about magic or magnetic fingers? A doctor I talked to says this happens in the Philippines. Maybe it’s the same energy Buddhist monks use when they heat a cup of tea by holding it in their hands. Recently I’ve become one of Alan’s massage clients.

For one-on-one Body Talk healing sessions, contact:

Liway Arceo (09159805604), Hermee Morales (09189118638), Didi Estipona (09064734038)

Quezon City:
Annie Lao (09178219587), Girlie Villariba (09178445516),Alan Along (09233154530)

Myrna Arceo (09272037705)

Davao City:
Chic Ramoso (09177071241)

Related links:

A reader writes:

Carol, fascinating piece. I’d like to look into Body Talk.