As I mentioned in my last posting, a couple of themes emerged as I listened to Dad’s recorded letters for the first time in fifty years. One topic I didn’t mention was how differently business was conducted then.
But let me back up: Several readers have asked me what kind of work my father did that caused him to spend so much time in the Far East. In 1959 Dad was put in charge of the International Banking Department at Seattle First National Bank (Seafirst)—the state of Washington’s largest bank at that time. Funds were available to loan to countries that were increasing or developing trade with the U.S., and Seafirst, situated on the edge of the Pacific Rim, was in a great position to build relationships with banks in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan--and probably a few I've forgotten.
Building relationships was a strong suit of my dad’s, and when he replaced the retiring manager of what was then a stagnant International Department at Seafirst, business soared.
Dad’s work in the Far East was essentially conducting meetings with other bankers, to let them know the ways that Seafirst could help them increase their business. He made appointments for one-on-one presentations, spoke to clusters of decision-makers at a given financial institution, entertained its key players at lunch and sometimes dinners. After his daily appointments were complete, he sent off letters and reports to his office by 'snail mail.' Then he was free until the next day.
In reading and listening to letters from four years of travel (’59 to ’63), I have found reference to only one successful Long Distance phone call home! In those days, a long distance operator placed the call, and the few times he tried to call home (in cases where he'd received a letter from home with concerning news), the operator wasn't able to locate a cable clear enough for verbal communication.
But even after faithfully writing (or dictating on the SoundScriber) long letters to his family several times a week, he had more leisure time than business travelers do now. He didn’t have to answer e-mails, transmit text messages, contend with poor cell-phone reception or Faxes that were malfunctioning. He wasn’t obliged to “touch base” with anyone back home. He couldn’t be tempted to Tweet or post his experiences on any social network, and he couldn’t grab a quick news update from CNN, or even be tempted to catch the latest episode of a favorite TV show.
After his work was done, he explored his host country, and because Dad was curious about, and enthralled with, whatever country he was visiting, he participated in the local scene as much as he could. He used his free time to sightsee and attend concerts, dance programs, and to visit art galleries and museums. He accepted invitations to business associates’ homes. In the process he endeared himself to many people he met and became increasingly fond of his associates-turned-friends with each trip.