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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Sam Falls in Love, Part 1: Before the Beginning

[Disclaimer here: this series of posts were written fall 2010 but never posted. I’m posting it now because there is a follow-up story. And I can’t post that without first posting this.]

I apologize for the lengthy delay. My excuses: A set of business deals. Several around-the-world trips. An intense affair, a love affair, in fact. These kept me quite distracted.

The deals are largely concluded or now put into the hands of more responsible adults. Go for it, guys.

The three trips around the globe are over. Each involved at least six cities, at least three continents, compressed. Enough already.

And the affair is over. A joyous and painful learning experience. And the topic this entry serves to start.

I will start with a warning. The affair is a recent development. It is recently over. And the emotions are fresh, the endorphins still circulating, the wounds unscabbed-over. My feelings may change later. Let’s put it this way: this entry will be especially subjective.

How do I step into complicated situations like this? And where do I start explaining what happened?

Before the Beginning, Thread One

Yu-na Lee. Ah. How to start, how to start…

Well, let’s start with Jenny, Sigmund’s better half.

Jenny is quite a woman. Hell, she manages Sigmund! Sigmund hasn’t written much about her success. So I will. In some ways more remarkable than his. She hit a glass ceiling in Asian business. Typical for a woman in places like Korea or Japan. So she stepped out of the game entirely and took another tack, not easy in Asia. She used her savvy, personality and looks to earn money as a part-time room salon hostess while she retrained herself through school. Never went out with customers, never accepted extra money, but did network.

She launched her business. Today it serves hundreds of children shunned by Asian society, orphans. It is the most successful organization of its type and is thinking of going pan-Asia. Sigmund would agree: she does all this almost single-handedly, not much help from him.

A few years ago I had an Arrangement. I will write about her some other time. But I’ll say here that Jenny gave this woman the start she needed for her business success. I just connected the dots.

So when Jenny calls attention to somebody she says is a remarkable woman, I listen.

Jenny brought her up in a conversation I had with Sigmund last year (2009). Said she was an intern she had hired who needed experience in youth counseling for her graduate degree. She was going to intern until the fall. Said she was unusually charming, dynamic, smart, somewhat cynical. She said I should look her up some time. Sigmund had never met her, so he said nothing. But I filed the name away:

Yu-na Lee.

Before the Beginning, Thread Two

Spring 2010. I was coming off an international deal that looked like it was busted. It was frustrating. A lot of work sunk into it.

A set of meetings were cancelled, so I had an extra day or two in North Asia. I decided to drop by Korea to cool my heels while I waited for the meetings to reschedule. So without a plan or warning I arrived in the early evening, hungry for food and conversation.

I texted friends. Anybody around?

Sigmund was in London. Jenny was in Tokyo. But Jenny called me back. Recommended a certain place to get some food. It was a private club with a young hotshot chef who had studied modernist cuisine in New York. A venue where Sigmund and Jenny know the owner. Their kitchen was always open for members and had good food and drink.

And Jenny said I should call Yu-na to join me.

I protested that last minute on a weekday night it would be unbecoming. Jenny said that Yu-na was a night owl and almost never went out at night, instead studying or reading. She said she would welcome the company.

I hesitated. I wasn’t really in the mood for a woman. Just some good conversation with a friend over wine and a good meal.

But Jenny was not to be denied. She would call Yu-na and make the arrangement herself.

What could I say?

So I went to the private club. I was greeted like royalty, or, more exactly, a friend of royalty. I was seated at a table for two, one of five or six tables. And I waited for my blind date wondering what the hell I was doing there.

Before the Beginning, Thread Three

Yu-na Lee was born and raised in Korea.  She had a lot of financial responsibility for her parents and an aunt. At least while her younger brother got on his feet. This kept Yu-na from dating and instead forced her into a variety of part-time jobs as waitress, tutor, hotel babysitter, kindergarten teacher and wedding fashions and hair model. She was popular in high school. But when she started modeling in college, the modeling scene made her insecure about her looks.

She had a technical engineering degree in robotics from the second-best technical engineering university in the country. She started a year early. Her senior thesis was in electromechanical feedback-based control systems. She was exceptionally well-read: she favored philosophy and western and eastern literature. She enjoyed music. Her iPod carried over 10,000 songs. She would often attend concerts and opera on her own. She made few friends, three she kept from high school, and still seldom dated. She later would say that she learned to love herself and be comfortable alone, reading a book and listening to music rather than going out on dates or drinking with peers.

After two years at a Korean multinational she found engineering was not for her. She took an analyst position at a major global consulting company. She was 23. At that company Yu-na had a very deep four year love affair with the senior executive in charge. It was her one big love.

But the affair blew up in a very nasty way. She claims it was largely her fault. She said she was “stupid”. She said she lacked courage to make a commitment.

And she was emotionally devastated. After a hiatus she decided to switch gears again, to go into youth counseling, taking a psychology masters degree. During this time she did not date, going four years without dating or sex, always remembering her lost lover, and believing she would never meet another man she would love.

In March 2009 Yu-na had gone to a very famous fortune teller with an aunt. Yes, a fortune teller. She was not a believer in fortune telling. But her aunt insisted. He was paid only to give a fortune to her aunt. But he also gave a fortune to Yu-na. He told her that he knew that she was barren of love for many years. He had surprisingly accurate insight about some past experiences. And then he said that she would find the greatest love of her life in March of 2010, with a stranger. She had just started an internship with a new up-and-coming charity. She was studying courses. She continued a series of part time jobs. How could she ever meet a stranger? She dismissed the fortune, but inside her heart, a spark of hope burned deep and bright.

She went back to her studies, the internship, the jobs. She forgot about the fortune. The year went by.

It was March 7, 2010. The president of the charity where she had interned last spring called her. She had told Yu-na of a man worth meeting, a good friend of hers. Not a date, but meeting a knowledgeable and interesting person. At a private club with excellent food. She guaranteed interesting conversation. And a favor for her, as she was in Japan.

Yu-na took a taxi to the private club.

And that’s where the story begins… in part two.


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