Author Archives: francisleet13

Life back home – is it different?

I have been back in Korea for almost a week.  When I landed in Incheon Airport, I admittedly have to say that I have never felt so glad, grateful, and relieved to be back home.  Now that I have settled down and had some time to reflect on my time in India and comparatively live in my motherland, I think I can give a more thoughtful and unbiased view of what I have experienced for the past few weeks.

I apologize in advance if the reader was looking for more insight or cultural experience in India, for this is going to dwell on my inner thoughts and learning (relatively void of references to India).

I often heard people say “have appreciation for cultural differences.”  I, 100%, agree and that’s the attitude I have armored myself going to India (and few other countries I visited prior to India).  What people may forget is “appreciation for the familiar.”  After India, I have become even more keen to the details of comfort that I have been surrounded by.  From a well-lit, heated public transit (or even the existence of it!) to eating without fear of any food (there’s a facebook picture of Korean and American T’13s eating street food in Seoul after I got back), there’s a plethora of luxury and safety that I had taken for granted and normal.  I am enjoying and grateful for this heightened sense of observation and appreciation for my surroundings; though I know it will fade away, I hope I can retain a good dose of this perspective for as long as I can.

The second perspective I have gained is to look at the environment from an outside-in view.  In India, I looked at India as a foreigner.  There are some local customs that I had hard time adjusting to (i.e. little regard for personal space or staying/getting in line) and I admittedly erred on the side of “that is rude” than “wow, that is fascinating.”  Coming back to Korea, I started evaluating what Koreans (and myself, including) deemed as a normal course of life; as little detail as getting jam-packed in the subway during the rush hour to yelling out for service at any waiter walking by, I asked myself “how would a group of foreigners respond to this?”  I had always thought that Korea is a westernized and developed place – besides the language issue, any foreigner could live here easily.  When I looked at these little details, there are issues at which a foreign would have had hard time adjusting to, just like I did in India; I was blind-sided or rather numb since I grew up in this culture and thought only natural.  With that, I felt a little dose of embarrassment and guilt that crept up on me for having thought the way I had in India.  It’s amazing how things can go from negative to neutral or positive or visa versa with the flick of a perspective.

Overall, I really appreciated my experiences in India.  It was a learning experience as well as a bonding experience.  Phil, Sewon and I still exchanged few jokes when we met yesterday; and I am sure my whole group have a lot to catch up when we head back to Hanover.

Safe travels and see you all back in Hanover.

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A visit to Fifth Avenue, an apparel sourcing management company and retailer

If the past two days were learning about the history and the culture of India, today was introduction to the vibrancy of commerce in India.  After enduring through a typical traffic jam during the morning commuting hour, we arrived at the office building of Fifth Avenue.

What I instantly noticed was that the streets were cleaner and less congested with the tuk-tuk (a three-wheeled open air taxi) and motor cycles.    We were warmly greeted by the Fifth Avenue employees and to an open office space, displayed with few samples of clothing that the Fifth Avenue manufacture on behalf of other Western clients (Diesel, Replay, etc.) and strategically placed chairs that had obviously been prepared specifically for us.  We were also served tea / coffee and snacks, a practice that we saw repeatedly and appreciatively during our visits to households and companies.

The talk with the Chairman and the person in charge of the Indian retail operation was a great stethoscope to hear the beat of vibrant, yet unpredictable Indian commerce.  My scant suspicion of the business climate in India, marked by lack of infrastructure, bureaucracy, and corruption, was confirmed and filled with more details and color.  I wondered for a moment what more potential this country can unlock or boost the Indian economy could get if the country can solve these issues as the country shifts into a higher and more developed political setting.   A speculation at this point will not do justice as I am barely knowledgeable; I’ll just have to wait and see.

What astounded me was my second finding: how far along the developmental stage that India is at in certain industries.  On my bus rides from one place to another, I had been constantly reminded how developing this country is; the streets are characterized by hazardous motor cycles, constant honking,  scarcely paved roads spotted with holes, people walking on the streets and animals roaming and lying in the middle of the roads.  Frankly, this was exactly what I imagined India to be, inspired by fictional movies, anecdotal stories, and my past experience growing up in South Korea (a developing country in the 1980s).  So, my natural stereotype was that India is a country of cheap labor where all Western firms outsource their service-oriented operations (a typical example of call-centers) and manufacturing.  According to the Chairman, India’s clothing manufacturers are considered one of the higher tiers, compared to the likes of Bangladesh, Pakistan and other developing nations.  Fifth Avenue had grown out of simply manufacturing apparels for its clients; the firm is bringing value-added service component, which is designing and identifying products and trends that clients may want.  His statement had screamed two implications.  First is the speed at which this company, and the apparel industry at large, had raced through just being the outsourcing producer and transformed into the next stage.  Second is the beginning of high-value service component (fashion design and merchandising, which is predominantly done in the New York and Paris of the world) that the likes of Fifth Avenue are slowly developing and eventually competing against other Western industries.  The apparel industry has largely been aided by and ushered into meet the needs of and serve the developed Western world.  Internal demand is fueled with the recent success of India’s economy and will continue to grow.  This can only mean bigger and better prospects for the likes of Fifth Avenue who successfully served as an outsourcing producer of the Western clients and now begin to develop expertise to compete at a higher level as a stand-alone.  Again, I’ll have to wait and see.

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