Thursday, 11 June 2009

Korean Drinking Culture

My course is over and so there was another celebration. I've had at least two farewell parties and several "rehearsals". One of the students was endeavouring to get me drunk! Ha. I said. And so I have survived despite the fact that he and the other students were filling my glass every time I took a sip. I don't drink beer, though would be safe on the local brew, and have been drinking sori. It is like vodka. No taste, but deadly. They have mixed it with Kiwi Fruit (though I suspect it is some sort of Kiwi fruit powder.) Does not appear so deadly and tastes OK.

Still, I remained sober, and with any luck I will avoid any more challenges to my sobriety. I have one more night left in Jeonju.

One starts having dinner, and last night it was in a barbequed pork restaurant where the tiny port slices were cooked at the table on a metal plate over a fire at the table. Everyone helps themselves. There are various side dishes, kimchi, white radish, bean sprouts, lettuce leaves, shredded cabbage and mayonnaise, and other things that I couldn't clearly identify. With the metal chopsticks you select a piece of cooked beef and dunk it in a hot sauce, and then in some soy and vinegar mix and then pop it in your mouth. Or you take a piece of fresh lettuce leaf, add the pork and other vegetables from the side dishes.

It is here the drinking starts. Beer, sori etc.

So when the table is a mess, everyone is ready to move to the next venue. So off one goes to the next place. The drinks come first - the table is soon littered with bottles, and jugs of sori. Then the food comes. Food again???? Well, that is the only way to get to drink in these places. They make money from the food. The drinks are cheap. Not much profit.

Last night an array of food arrived. Some vegetable and seafood mix bubbling on a tray, two trays of boiled eggs, larvae of some poor creature, vegetables, kimchi, and then the noodles, and later "fruit salad" - small pieces of fruit swimming in some sort of savoury dressing which to me spoils the fruit! Later battered fish and chips arrived. The table was covered in bottles and plates of food. The latter is not all eaten.

When I ask about the waste - because at each venue there is so much wastage of food - at no time is it all eaten, the Koreans shrug. You can't drink at these bars unless you have the food.

The bar itself is made up of about 40 small "rooms" - each holding between 10 and 20 guests. Everyone drinks. There is no dancing, but sometimes loud music is played through the sound system.

Later we moved onto the next bar. When we arrived at the bar it was closed. So the others went on to another bar. I walked home. It was a short walk along the street to my house, and after all it was 1 pm. I didn't want to eat or drink, so time to leave them.

I'd guess that they'd drink on to 3 am. Not my style. And all of them have to be at work this morning.

The drinking is alarming. The men in particular drink until they drop. The streets are littered with staggering Koreans, mainly men. Young girls with flimsy clothes strut their stuff amongst the drunks, and some of course end up in "love hotels" where the rooms are available day and night by the hour.

Korean Airlines calls their magazine "Morning Calm" and it is a joke that the morning calm is because everyone is suffering hangovers. I've spoken with a Korean/Australian about the work culture here, and it seems that "work" is very badly affected by the drinking culture. Being out night after night until the early hours, and over indulging in alcohol is not conducive to good work practices. It is not surprising that many Koreans sleep at lunch time. And it is no surprise that many spend their time at work aimlessly watching something (other than work matters) on their computer screen.

I do notice "the morning calm" - it is deadly quiet until after 9 am!

One of my students, who is single and lives at home with her parents describes the days when all family members are hungover. She is a hard drinking hard living lovely girl - but one wonders what they are doing to themselves.

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