Superalloy Furnace, Korea
The superalloy furnace in Korea was ready for start-up in late 1985. I purchased first class round the world tickets on Korean Airlines and Northwest Airlines for Vera and myself. I paid for Vera's ticket, but an enterprising businessman can always find ways to recover expenses on a long trip. These fares were very economical and allowed as many ports of call as you wished for one year on those airlines, as long as you departed on the first leg on the day arranged at least twenty-one days in advance and continued the trip in the same direction in which you started. The rules required the first leg to be flown on the date booked. The Koreans had delayed our arrival for a week. We flew east to Frankfurt to start the westbound trip around the world. This was allowed because it was the nearest point from which Korean Airlines departed to the West.
Korean Airlines flew the longer polar route to Korea because they did not have an international agreement to use Soviet airspace. East and west can become confusing at the North Pole. A few years ago a Korean pilot was confused by the compass at the pole, since all directions are south from the north pole. Soviet military aircraft forced the pilot to land in Siberia.
With a week to kill, we rented a car and drove to Munich to visit Vera's friend from Moscow. I met with the German carbon producer (SIGRI) to discuss becoming their supplier in place of the Japanese supplier. We were competitors, and the meetings were not very useful.
We were the only passengers in first class when we departed Frankfurt on flight number 007 on December 7,1985. Vera and I were in Moscow when the news was flashed over Soviet television that Korean Airlines 007 had been shot down a year earlier. The Koreans were still very angry with the Russians for the useless loss of their citizens. It was not the best of times for a Russian to visit Korea.
This was my first visit back to Korea since 1951. The change was so dramatic as to be a shock. They were preparing for the Olympics and the outward quality of life was approaching that of the Japanese. Vera became very friendly with the company's technical director. He helped her find a Korean doctor who was world-famous for his acupuncture methods of healing.
The doctor agreed that Vera did indeed have a serious problem with a backache that was the root cause of her migraine headaches. The doctor saw her daily; since we were only planning to be in Korea for four weeks. Vera became extremely popular because she could read their future in the tea leaves and the palms of their hands.
Koreans work very hard and long hours, which is the main reason for the remarkable progress of their economy. The other reason, of course, is the billions of dollars the American government has pumped into the economy. Highly educated metallurgists are paid a fraction of what their American counterparts receive. During private conversations with the people, I got the feeling that they were no longer going to tolerate a dictatorship but were not willing to come out in the open at that time due to fear.
My task was to start up a 3000-pound vacuum melting furnace and to teach the methods of producing superalloy. A proper license had been obtained for this purpose.
Christmas was a working day. Vera and I had dinner with the chief engineer of the Korean company and his family at their home. He could remember a little Russian. As a boy in North Korea he told Vera about shining shoes for the Russian soldiers stationed in his village.
The startup was reasonable. This was the first time in my life to be in charge of melting this group of ten alloys. I used their two highly-educated metallurgists as my technical base. I learned more about the process than my students. It is only in these situations that I can carry out experiments. We were taken for a tour of the region and a full Korean dinner on one of the Sundays.
1985 had been an interesting year. I lost my sales territory, but events in history clearly showed that American/Soviet relations would improve. This New Years Eve was the first one in my memory when I had no definite plans for the New Year.
New Years Day 1986 was the only day we took off from work. During the evening the chief metallurgist invited me to have dinner with the President of the firm. We had a feast, but I did not care for the Korean vodka.
Vera had completed her shopping for clothing that she would later market. I felt my stay had been very useful for the customer. We spent the last night in Korea at a five star hotel. We had the best tasting Peking Duck of my life in the hotel restaurant. We departed Korea for Tokyo on January 11. Vera's suitcase was filled with a fur coat, sweaters, and other items she had bought on this trip.
Vera met her Russian girlfriend before we departed Tokyo. The purpose of the trip was to help our agent understand carbon insulation.