Karaoke and beer mugs

Seoul, a major supplier for Solid Stone Fabrics, offers some of the comforts of home

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce

Luke Harris, vice president of manufacturing for Solid Stone Fabrics Inc. in Martinsville, knows exactly what to sing when he’s called on stage for karaoke in Seoul,  South Korea. “My signature track is Stevie Wonder’s ‘Sir Duke,’” he says. “If you have a problem standing up in front of people, Seoul is not the place for you. Korean men love karaoke as much as American men love football.”

Harris travels to Seoul visiting mills and factories regularly for the company, which sells specialty stretch fabrics. They are used in a variety of clothing, including costumes, dancewear, swimwear and lingerie. “In my career, I have traveled to Seoul more than 100 times,” he says.

South Korea and Italy serve as the company’s major fabric suppliers. Manufacturing is done here as well, along with a location in China.  Fifteen percent of Solid Stone’s sales are international; 85 percent are domestic. “We sell to Germany, Italy, England, France and Hong Kong — countries around the world,” says Harris. “We’ve sold a mix of products globally from the start.”

A world traveler, Harris has learned the cultural dos and don’ts in South Korea. “For example, you never write in red pen because it’s bad luck, and you always bear gifts when you meet someone,” he says.

He suggests that anyone doing business in Asia “do whatever you can do to bring yourself up to speed with the cultural etiquette. Things that are accepted here are not accepted in Asia.” For example, you always beckon a person with your palm down. “You never point at anyone,” Harris says. “Also, don’t refuse any food no matter what it is. Just eat it. You will need an iron stomach.”

Another piece of advice: Never leave your chopsticks standing straight up in a bowl of rice. “That is very disrespectful,” Harris says. “It’s a bad luck sign. Also, never point your chopsticks at anybody.”

He’s also found that South Koreans play golf almost as much as they sing karaoke. “They are a golf-crazy nation, fanatical,” Harris says. “If you have a good game, you will go far.”

Because it is the capital of South Korea, Seoul is a world-class city filled with culture, history and modern-day skyscrapers. One of the newest shopping malls, Times Square, holds the Guinness World Record for having the world’s largest cinema screen. Look for upscale shopping in Myeongdong, which is not far from the city’s oldest continuous market, Namdaemun Market. You’ll also find more than 100 museums and a variety of parks in the city, including Seoul Olympic Park, home to the 1988 Summer Olympics. 

The city’s economy
As the capital of South Korea with a population of more than 10 million, Seoul has seen its economy shift from agriculture to manufacturing to services. Industries include electronics, steel and shipbuilding. The city produces a variety of items, including semiconductors, automobiles and wireless telecom devices. South Korea, which ranks third in the world for its semiconductor industry, also exports items such as mobile phones, memory chips, computers and monitors. Companies headquartered in Seoul include The Korea Exchange Bank, Korean Airlines, Asiana Airlines, Kia Motors and cosmetic company Amore Pacific.

Where to stay
Harris suggests the trendy W Hotel on the slope of Mount Acha overlooking the Han River, the JW Marriott in the heart of the business and entertainment district or the downtown Westin Chosun hotel where you’ll find South Korea’s “best Irish bar, O’Kims,” says Harris.  Frequent customers even get their own beer mug. Harris’ No. 26 mug hangs on the wall — a welcome piece of familiarity when he’s far away from home.

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