Sex, booze and karaoke: doing business in Asia

A belly full of beer is a pre-requisite for negotiating deals in South East Asia.

A belly full of beer is a pre-requisite for negotiating deals in South East Asia.

Jim Morgan in Hong Kong

The evening has been a roaring success. You took your customer to a suitably expensive restaurant and managed to eat the jellyfish and chicken's feet without openly grimacing. The subject of karaoke was brought up, and you faked enthusiasm admirably. Now, after your third rendition of My Way you're deep in conversation with the MD, who screams at you from a distance of six inches.

"I have many mistresses," he confides at the top of his voice, beaming from ear to ear. You are gobsmacked. "Ah, good," comes your incisive and witty reply. "Lily here is my girlfriend as well," he continues. "Would you like to take her friend home?"

Business entertainment is, of course, done in very different ways in each country - lunch and a couple of pints in London and the high-powered 20-minute Starbucks express in the US must seem equally odd to the outsider. But in Asia it is elevated to an art form.

The Japanese are well-known business drinkers. It is virtually compulsory to go out and get drunk with your colleagues every night after a 12-hour day, rolling out of the bar just in time to catch the bullet train home, repeating the whole thing the next day. The same courtesy is extended to business partners, so expect to be going over the finer points of your contract with a belly full of beer.

A friend of mine recently went to Taiwan, where the deal can take, well, as long as you've got really. He made the mistake of letting his hosts know the time of his flight home, which meant they knew how long he had to sign the deal. As a result he spent three days being whisked around Taipei without even a whiff of business talk.

On the fourth day, with an incapacitating hangover, sleep deprivation beginning to kick in and three hours before he had to leave for the airport, he found himself trying to negotiate the contract. The terms were not all he could have wished for, but given the circumstances he was pretty much at their mercy. Next time, he vowed to lie about the time of his departure.

And then there are the women like Lily. All I can say here is that infidelity is not viewed in quite the same light in Asia as in the UK. In fact, more women equates to more money and more power. My other bit of advice is not to pick up the tab unless you have a very good relationship with your CFO, who will let a £400 bill for Mrs Wong's Fish Bar slide.

As for Lily's friend, you'll have to make your own decision.

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