Chapter 9: City of Wind, Baku (1)
With a population of over 2.1 million people, Baku was the largest city near the Caspian coast. Located at the edge of the Caucasus mountain range, the capital of Azerbaijan was a city of beautiful women and night views.
Because it held an abundant amount of oil deposits, the oil industry was widely developed, and it was the richest country among the three countries near the Caucasus Mountains.
High prices, corruption in the government officials, and serious income inequalities made economic gaps between the rich and poor, but the people here were innocent and naive.
With the help of his employee Karajan, Youngho just finished the establishment report for Chunho Merchant. He needed to apply for a long-term visa, but it was automatically resolved with the establishment of his business branch. Being a large city within which a quarter of the whole nation’s population lived, Baku was full of opportunities.
“Boss, I got you a driver. It’s my cousin-brother, and he just lost his job because the furniture company he worked for just went out of business.”
Another cousin again? thought Youngho for a moment, but it was not going to be an obstacle for him. He accepted her request without hesitation.
“All right, I will pay him just like you for $1,500 a month.”
“That is too much, boss. I don’t feel comfortable either.”
In here, $1,500 a month was what a major company’s executive made. It was more than two times a regular man’s salary. Youngho considered the fact that his company was a foreign one, and for Chunho Merchant, he wanted create an image of a successful foreign corporation. He had to seem that he was establishing a decent company site in Baku.
The reason Youngho suggested a huge salary to Karajan, who just got out of college, and the driver was only because they could speak English fluently. He said he would hire the driver, but he also interviewed him. From conversations, Youngho got to know his character. Youngho liked his honest personality, even though he was a cousin of the director.
Karajan’s cousin Gerhardt was a married man in his mid-thirties, and had two children. Even in a country where the social security system was comparatively well-established, if one spent months unemployed, it would not be easy to save one’s face, especially if you were a dad.
Youngho felt like a lifesaver sent by the heavens to Gerhardt because he was hired for several times more money than he used to make in the furniture company.
The cost for a used car, especially a sports utility vehicle, was extremely high here. Youngho purchased a used Korean H brand SUV for $10,000. The poor quality of the public transportation system and the conditions of the outer roads made him splurge. An SUV was the best car you could get considering the road conditions here.
Having a Russian or Korean car made you middle-class here. Youngho was happy to have his own car instead of taking inconvenient taxis all the time. He chose a high quality apartment room about 1,067 sq. ft. near his office to stay in. The monthly rent was a million in Korean won. He had earned some money from the instructor payment and information payment, so he was able to live without struggle, but if he could not receive any more orders, he would have to ask Edward for help.
All the luxury was inevitable because he needed to maintain his identity as a well-off foreign businessman.
The director ordered new security systems like CCTVs and monitors to newly install around Main Police Department.
It was the first order Youngho received in Baku. He was going to make only about 5 million won, but his future was looking bright. Allegedly, in the near future, Baku was going to be covered with security cameras. Expecting that he would get more orders, Youngho sold his products cheaper than other European companies.
Now that the company was doing well from the past orders from the militia, Cho Sangchun, who was in Korea, also agreed to earn their trust first rather than making huge amounts of money now. He shipped quality products to Youngho.
Youngho learned a tip while dealing with the Armenian militia. In the three nations along the Caucasus mountain range, foreign clothes were sold in high prices. He planned on setting up a clothing store or an import agency, for they would guarantee high profits.
Fortunately, Yunsuh had lots of connections with clothing companies since she majored in fashion.
Clothes from foreign brands cost three times more than Azerbaijani clothes. Even though Korean clothes were not as cheap as ones made in China, they were high quality with cheaper prices compared to European brands.
Karajan, who was looking at a sample clothing line shipped from Korea, was almost in shock. She kept asking if she could have a few undergarments. Her reaction was proving the quality, so Youngho asked Karajan to contact local clothing retailers.
The image of Korea here was quite favorable.
A few years ago, the Korean president had visited the place with some businessmen. People here thought of Korean electronics as high quality, like other European products. Especially Korean cosmetics, which were considered as the best.
Recently, K-Pop had gained popularity as well. That was why people viewed Korea like advanced European countries.
The attitudes of the retailers that Karajan had contacted were not at all bad. Baku had a subtropical climate, but the mountainous areas around caused nine different climates. Because of this special climate, people needed diverse clothes to prepare for diverse weathers.
Youngho told Yunsuh that he could buy up to $50,000 worth of clothes from the three clothing retailers they had contacted if the quality of clothes was as good as the samples, under the condition of buying the clothes that did not sell in discounted prices. In the clothing business, you could earn the cost of production when selling only 50% of the products.
A clothing supplier at Dongdaemun* said they would sell clothes if Chunho Merchant paid them ahead, so that was what they did.
This could be an adventure, but Youngho thought it was an easy profit since all he had to do was sell 50% of the products. All of this was possible because Chunho Merchant had seed money from the militia orders, which was the price for Youngho’s beating.
Clothes were sent from Korea.
The first samples Youngho received were from the clothing factory at Dongdaemun. From underwear to shirts and pants, he sorted out 100 different types of products and sold them to local retailers. He used the Chunho Merchant as the name of the brand. Yunsuh had designed the label. It had a four-leaf clover on it with Chunho Merchant written in English.
Youngho picked out some items and sent them to the director’s house. The director had helped him with the clearance process, so Youngho wanted to make a good impression for the future.
When Youngho appeared in two months, his friends complained and asked if he had been seeing a girl. Youngho had nothing to say to his friends’ simple minds. Youngho helped their training as an instructor at the assault course for fifteen days.
As the weather got cold, the mountain-climbing gears that Youngho traded were found to be useful. The militants all rated high for their insulation, permeability, and other categories. The militia commander was touched by the gloves given as gifts, which he never expected, and the militants were satisfied with the quality.
Karajan called Youngho from the office in Baku. She was in a rush.
“Boss, the clothes are all sold out at the retailer. I just ordered the same items worth $400,000.”
“Karajan, just email the Seoul head office about the items and quantities and they will do their job.”
After Youngho calmed down Karajan who was too excited, he called Yunsuh to tell her the good news. Yunsuh was happy to earn 30 million won for the recent order, but when he told her that there was an additional order, she almost leapt with joy.
For Dongdaemun clothing suppliers, an order worth $400,000 was like a rain during the drought, something good in the current economic recession. Winter was a slow season for clothing suppliers. They welcomed Chunho Merchant, who paid them in cash ahead of production.
Yunsuh complained that she was too busy because the clothing suppliers kept calling her to treat her.
She was expecting at the end of March. Even with that big belly, she was still strong enough to wander around everywhere for the business. When Yunsuh had just hung up the phone, she saw Sangchun entering the office.
“Hey you, Cho Sangchun. Where have you been without telling me?”
“Ha, now that you got some money from clothing, are you now becoming bossy?”
“What is it? What order did you get?”
“Youngho told me not to tell you. He said you might be shocked.”
“Really, you’re not telling me?”
“Let me just tell you that I’ve been to Ministry of National Defense. That’s all I can say.”
Yunsuh stared at him and continued pushing for more information, “Are you trying to be a universal provider? Selling weapons, now?”
“No, that’s not true. The US CIA has requested to buy items for the Armenian army. I went to find out if they were exportable goods.”
Sangchun tried to cover up for Youngho, but Yunsuh did not stop there.
“Why are you trading weapons? It’s too dangerous. We have enough businesses now. We’ve got the orders for the militia and for the clothing.”
“It’s not weapons. It’s helmets and night vision goggles.”
“Honey, I don’t feel good about this. Aren’t we going to be in trouble getting in-between Azerbaijan and Armenia?”
Yunsuh worried if Youngho became too hungry for money, dealing with dangerous businesses.
“Honey, who’s Youngho? Don’t worry about him. He has planned out everything. He would refuse to trade weapons, but as a merchant, there’s nothing wrong with selling personal equipment. You’re overthinking.”
Sangchun, who was drinking coffee in a relaxed manner, quietly began to talk, “By the way, Youngho has been pushing me to move to a different place. He said our room won’t be enough for a baby. What do you think?”
“He has been doing that to me too. Our apartment is so small that he can’t come visit us.”
“Let’s move, then. I always felt sorry for giving Youngho such a small room.”
“All right, honey, we made a billion won this year. I think it’s time to enjoy. Let’s move the office and hire some more people too.”
Until then, the three of them lived in an 850 sq. ft. apartment room. It was very inconvenient for all of them. Now if they sell the apartment room and pay some more, they would be able to get a room more than 1,420 sq. ft.
Chunho Merchant’s clothing, which arrived through air shipping, was selling like hot cakes. There was some stockpile left, but the local retailers did not try to buy them for a discounted price and did not delay the payment because they did not want to lose money by offending Chunho Merchant. Chunho Merchant’s clothes were highly competitive with other European brands.
Chunho Merchant made a good profit for the recent trades, and Yunsuh agreed to become solely in charge of the clothing business for the upcoming orders.
“Oppa, why are you not asking us to send money to pay for your living cost and for your employees?”
“Yunsuh, I receive some money for looking after some jobs for the American government here. And you only pay a quarter wage of what you pay in Korea. If I don’t have enough, I’ll ask.”
“Oppa, it’s not something dangerous, right?”
Youngho had to explain to Yunsuh, who was still worried, that he was getting help from the director of Main Police Department, and that his position was secured here.
“I’m not even married yet, why would I do reckless things?”
“I still don’t feel good about it.”
Since they earned some money, Yunsuh wanted Youngho to get out of dangerous matters. Now that they already earned the amount that could cover their living for the next few years from trading mountain-climbing equipment and clothing, she wanted him to take it slow.
“Are you coming back?”
“When you move.”
“We are moving next month. Our room was sold for a good price.”
“That’s great. I will be there for New Year’s Day**.”
“Okay. Take care and eat well, oppa.”
Youngho was glad to hear that they were finally moving to a better place. It was due to everyone’s hard work.
An unsuccessful business trip to a disputed territory and getting abducted by the militia had gotten his business expanded like now. It was worth it to get beaten after all, thought Youngho.
*Dongdaemun- a region in Korea famous for its shopping attraction. Many clothing manufacturers are gathered in here.
**New Year’s Day- Chinese or Lunar New Year, usually in February of each year
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