Empire of the Ring

Chapter 14
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Chapter 14: On the Move (3)

Mustafa, who was drinking a canned beer that Youngho offered, asked Youngho directly, “I want to know what Margos had requested of me. Before you say anything, I’m telling you that I’m just a normal businessman living in Turkey.”

Not wanting any trouble, Mustafa indirectly asked Youngho not to pull him into danger.

“It’s not a big deal, but if you don’t want to hear about it, I won’t say anything.”

After thinking for a while, Mustafa opened his mouth.

“If... it’s not something dangerous, I will help you.”

“The militia wants to buy Turkish military combat rations in large quantities. Do you think it will be a problem if you introduce me as a buyer?”

“You want to buy combat rations?”

“Yes. Even though the combat rations are a military supply, they are produced by a private company. I heard that they can produce them for civil use. In Korea, they sell combat rations to civilians, and campers are the main buyers.”

Turkey was widely known for kebab, which they used as combat rations from the time of the Turkish Empire. Their combat rations were known to be trustworthy. Even though there existed the US combat ration, Meal Ready-to-Eat (MRE), they could not provide it to Armenian militia. If the fact that Armenian militia was using MRE was leaked to the world, it would cause political problems, so they wanted to buy them from Turkey.

“How are you going to explain that Chunho Merchant is the buyer?”

“You know how young travelers from all over the world come to travel around Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, the major three nations of the Caucasus mountain range? I’m going to say that I will be selling them to the travellers. For travellers who go to remote areas, it is the perfect food for them.”

“I’m talking about the quantities. You need at least a few 10,000, and they are not just for a day or two’s use.”

“My company has a branch in Armenia. We’re retailers; we can make up a ton of excuses.”

Mustafa’s face brightened as Youngho gave him a rational excuse.

“Very well. It’s all connected here in the market. I will see what I can do. I’ll give you a call soon.”

Walking out from the room, Mustafa stopped and talked in a relaxed manner.

“I will tell others I was introduced to you by the Korean embassy. By the way, my dad was a veteran who served in the Korean War. He even received a medal.”

Turkey favored Korea to a great deal since they only used the word ‘kan kardeş’ to Koreans, which meant ‘blood brother.’

Their favor of Korea was not only because historically, the two countries were descendants of the Goryeo Dynasty, but also because the Turkish people had great pride in fighting and shedding their blood for Korea during the Korean War, deployed as a United Nations ally. They believed that Korea had come this far with their help.

***

Two days later, Mustafa introduced Mehmet, Eti the food company’s head of sales department. The company recently gained popularity for their new diet food.

Young Turkish people were obsessed with diet foods because the adult disease rates were high. Their meat-based meals and high-calorie foods were driving them into adult diseases.

Excluding other diseases, the statistics showed that people who suffered from high blood pressure comprised more than ten million in the whole Turkish population, which totaled eighty million. This was becoming serious.

At the hotel café, Youngho met Mehmet, a fat man in his forties. Youngho felt it ironic that a big guy like him was the head of the sales department of a company that sold diet foods to people.

“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Lee. I was intrigued by your idea that you want to sell combat ration to travellers. Even if you’re buying our products in low quantities, the head officials had decided it can be a great opportunity to advertise our products worldwide. Before we talk, can you tell me how many quantities you wish to order?”

He unexpectedly had a delicate voice. Having been in the sales for so long, his ingrained gestures and voice felt even cute.

“I will import 50,000 first.”

Mehmet was surprised. He expected Youngho to buy 10,000 combat rations at max.

“Wait, do you think you can sell that many products? We’d love to trade such high quantities since we will be able to run our production line properly, but I’m worried about your business, Mr. Lee.”

“I have connections with the governors of Azerbaijan. I can easily get help. If I can’t sell all of them, I will ask them to use these as military supply.”

Mehmet smirked, as if he liked Youngho’s confident attitude.

Mehmet did not know that this little quantity was only going to supply ten meals for 3,000 militia members. Youngho also added that combat rations could last a few years, so he would be fine with them.

Eti invented three different menus of their combat rations, and Mehmet brought a sample which was the Turkish army’s favorite. They asked for hot water from the kitchen and tried the sample meal together. Within the vacuum packaging, the meal had lamb’s meat, rice, and vegetables mixed together with some spices. It contained high calories and tasted great.

Youngho contracted with Eti the food company.

They agreed on using English and Russian for the instructions on the package and agreed on buying it at the military supply price, which was eight dollars for each package. Youngho opened a Letter of Credit from an Ottoman bank. They arranged the shipment of the products to be delivered in twenty days to Poti Sea Port in Georgia. It was a safe place, since Georgia was comparatively friendly to Armenia.

Mustafa brought the $20,000 that he received from Eti for his agency role in the business. Youngho asked if he had brought it because it was too little for him.

“Mr. Lee, we Armenians don’t use the money that’s been stained by our own nation’s blood. Instead, we give it back to the nation. The number of Armenians who are living in foreign lands is more than seven million now. It is more than more than three million people living in Armenia.”

Mustafa, whose excitement disappeared from his face, continued, “Our poor nation could make it this far because the Armenians living outside have been supporting the country. Even a foreigner like you is helping out our country despite the dangers. How can I use this money for myself?”

Youngho could not even imagine how big their love must be for their country. They did not care about their economic status but worked hard to send more money back to their country. And people who had influence would try to let the public know about their country overseas.

It was because of their efforts that Armenian-American governors in the States raised more than a $10 billion loan for Armenia. In 2010, Armenia was so poor that the gross domestic product(GDP) per person in Armenia was $2500, which was a third of Azerbaijan’s GDP.

“That is fine. I am buying all of it with the money provided by the CIA. That money is your portion for your role as an agency.”

“Then can you use this money for the orphans in our country?”

Mustafa wanted to help orphans made by the frequent wars in Armenia.

“Then I will donate this in your name.”

“No, please don’t. An anonymous donation is good as is.”

Youngho was touched by his humble heart.

That night, at a pub in Beyoglu’s Mesrutiyet Caddesi Street, two East Asians and a Turkish man were drunk.

“Big brother Mustafa, take one more drink. It’s all on me tonight!”

Park Jongil’s tongue was twisted from raki, a strong traditional drink with alcohol content of 40%.

After drinking shot after shot, they all got plastered. It was after ten o’clock in the night, but the street was still crowded with people enjoying the night culture.

The trigger of the night party was Jongil, who was touched after hearing about Mustafa’s donation to the orphans of Armenia. After having a few shots with Mustafa, Jongil and Mustafa became brothers already. Mustafa was also impressed by the two men who worked as drill instructors for the Armenian militia.

Youngho, at first, withheld his desire to drink, but eventually he was carried away by the atmosphere and ended up pouring alcohol down his throat beside Mustafa and Jongil.

Because they talked in English, they were seen as foreigners by others. The owner of the pub and other people around them were nice to them.

However, as they became louder and drunker, people began to stare at them. When the owner came to give them a warning, Youngho told him that they came from Korea and they were having a drink with a Turkish friend. As soon as he heard ‘Korean,’ the owner changed attitudes and asked for a shot from everyone in the pub, saying that Koreans were ‘kan kardeş.’

***

In the morning, Jongil, who suffered from a bad headache, talked to Youngho while drinking coffee from a big mug.

“Lee Youngho! You should have stopped me, but you got drunk just like I did! You’re supposed to be my boss.”

“Shut up, dude, don’t talk too loud. I feel woozy. Man, I swear I’ll change my name if I drink with Jongil one more time.”

“Coming from the guy who kept asking for another round, I don’t believe you.”

Youngho did not remember.

He was fully drunk, and the only thing he remembered was entering the hotel lobby. His money was safe in his wallet, so he figured Mustafa must have paid for the last round.

They asked for Korean ramen from the hotel kitchen and went to the hotel’s traditional bath house to wake up. Inside the bath house, there was hot marble to sit on while waiting for your sweat to come out. The place was warm, and it had a subtle firewood scent. Except for the fact that you had to cover your important body part with a towel, the place was perfect for Koreans who liked spa. It was known as the Turkish pool by Koreans. Youngho and Jongil came out feeling fresh from the bath house.

When Youngho was having a short nap after coming out from the bath house, Mustafa called Youngho’s room.

“Youngho, what are you doing? Come down, let’s go eat something for your stomach.”

How come he is so fine after all that drinking? Youngho shook his head.

Youngho and Jongil went down to the lobby. Park Jongil greeted Mustafa with his specialty friendliness.

“Big Brother Mustafa, will we keep running today?”

Not understanding what that meant, Mustafa looked at Youngho.

“It’s a Korean expression. Heavy drinkers say ‘keep running’ instead of ‘drinking.’ His English is poor. You can just ignore him now.”

Mustafa took them to a boat at a dock in Karakoy of Bosphorus Strait separating Asia and Europe. After eating the kebab that Mustafa cooked for them on the boat, Youngho’s stomach became better, just like Mustafa promised.

Mustafa showed them around downtown and then to the Ortakoy flea market. Little did Youngho know that a destiny was waiting for him there.

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