Dinner with a Korean Friend: A Life Lesson You Can’t Fake

Back in my days of real estate sales, I had a certain Korean client who loved to play golf.

I knew, or at least I assumed, his interest in our community had little to do with his prospects of buying a home. He was well aware that a ride through the neighborhood to look at homes culminated in a free round of golf. I saw it as a chance to sharpen my sales skills, so I would entertain his request.

A few months of this back-and-forth led to an invite I wasn’t expecting.

In very broken English he said, “My cousin own sushi restaurant. You come as my guest, yes?”

At the time, I wasn’t particularly keen on sushi, but I figured it would be interesting to say the least.

When we pulled up to the restaurant, I was beginning to second guess myself.

Photo courtesy of The Bento Box

Photo courtesy of The Bento Box

This wasn’t your chain-style sushi restaurant, it had a certain authenticity that was new to me. It was the real deal.

As we sat down at a private table, the server asked for our beverage preference. My friend, who insisted I call him “David” began speaking in his native tongue and I sat still watching the exchange.

He quickly turned to me and said, “You order beer.”

His command caught me off guard and not knowing what to select, I saw a Yuengling poster on the wall which led me to quickly blurt it out.

Before I could set my napkin in my lap, his cousin – our chef for the evening – delivered an assortment of sashimi-style sushi. I was comfortable with seared tuna, but the octopus, eel, and squid provided a texture I was not used to. My only solitude was my Yeungling.

Not wanting to reveal my weak stomach or be disrespectful, I began washing down the fish, not completely sure it was dead yet. I wrestled six pieces down before they delivered an order of tempura vegetables and shrimp. This was more my style. I attempted to cover the taste of the raw fish with tempura batter. All the while, washing it down with Yuengling.

Seaweed salad and soup were next on the menu. Then, David said, “We have meal now.”

“Wait, what? Meal now? What do you call the last 30 minutes?”

“That just appetizer.”

Before I could process what was happening, the server sat down a tea kettle in front of us. James picked up the kettle and began speaking. I had no idea what to expect and I just hoped my nervousness wasn’t showing by the look on my face.

“In my home country Korea old man serve young man saki as tradition to begin meal. Then young man serve old.”

What a very cool moment as I felt welcomed into his tradition. He invited me into his culture.

I didn’t have time to relish in the moment because the chef delivered a decorative platter containing ten different sushi rolls. These were some of the most intricate designs of food I have ever seen. Some of them were smiling at me and others terrified me.

One bite into the second sushi roll and I had to surrender.

“I can’t eat anymore David. I’m so full.”

“Oh, I know your problem.”

“No, no. No problem. The food was good, I’m just..”

“Too much Ingreng.”

I’m thinking, what is Ingreng and why have I been eating it.

“Too much Ingreng make you full.”

The beads of sweat had to be evident as I said, “David I’m not sure I understand you. What is Ingreng?”

“Ingreng. You know, American’s Old Brewery. Ingreng beer.”

“Oh Yuengling!”

“Yes, Ingreng.” David’s smile and delivery made me laugh out loud at the table.

Looking back on the experience, one characteristic shines through:


In life and leadership, there’s no substitute for authenticity. You can’t fake it, you can’t manufacture it and you can’t buy it. Authenticity is only revealed.

When I experienced an authentic Korean dining experience, I knew it.

In our high-sales culture, we have come accustomed to being sold with inauthentic motives. As soon as another’s interest outweigh their desire for our own, we flip the switch. We can easily sniff out a phony.

As a leader, as soon as you sacrifice authenticity for self-gratifying motives, failure is imminent.

If you long to be a better spouse, parent, salesperson, or employee strive for authenticity.


It starts with knowing yourself. Ask yourself questions about your motives. Challenging, but necessary.

Within this self-reflection you will start to see where your motives outweigh helping others. This honest assessment will, in turn, lead you further down your path to living richly.

By the way, my Korean friend David never bought a home. I could have been angry about that, but only now am I able to see:

“Man who focus on self, miss much opportunity.”


How can you create more authenticity today?

Thank you so much for stopping by www.mattham.com and the Live Richly Community. About a month ago, I put three words down that I wanted to embody in my writing: Authentic, Helpful, and Engaging. Today we discussed authenticity. Keep an eye out for discussions on being helpful and engaging as we continue the conversation.

See you again soon!


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