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Monday, 30 April 2007

The one...the only...SOJU MAN!

Today is holiday in South Korea. That's why it's 2pm (I normally start work at this time) and I'm blogging. It's May 1st, also known as Labor Day here. The month of May has various holidays with the next day off being May 24th, Buddha's birthday. That's your tidbit of info for the day--let's move on...

Soju is the alcoholic beverage of choice by many Koreans (and foreigners). It's made of rice and other ingredients and the taste is similar to vodka. It's extremely affordable, thus very popular, with over 3 million bottles consumed in 2004. There are certain customs when it comes to drinking soju. I am not a big fan of soju (or any other alcohol for that matter--blame it on the Asian blush) but when drinking it, there are certain customs that should be followed. It's like dining etiquette for drinking copious amounts of cheap alcohol!

Want to learn some soju customs before coming to Korea to travel or teach English? According to Wikipedia...

While most Koreans will understand foreigners are unaccustomed to their drinking traditions, they will generally follow these norms themselves and notice favorably when foreigners comply. Most, if not all, of these customs are applicable in Korea regardless of the drink.

  • Soju is usually drunk in group gatherings.
  • It is against traditional mannerisms in Korea to fill one's own glass. They wait for someone else to fill their empty glass. Others are expected to fill the glass, and are eager to do so as soon as they spot an empty glass.
  • A glass should not be filled unless completely empty.
  • If one's glass is going to be filled by a superior, one should hold the glass using two hands. Similarly, when pouring soju for an elder, one holds the bottle with two hands.[2]
  • If a senior gives an empty soju shotglass (usually his/hers) to you, it means that the person is going to fill the glass and wants you to drink it. You do not have to drink it bottoms up, but at least you have to act like you are drinking it (sipping is okay). And if you drink "the glass" and make it empty, then turn the glass back to the senior who gave it to you. You are not supposed to turn it back soon, but holding it for a long time is considered rude.
  • Koreans say "one shot", a challenge to down your glass in one gulp.
  • When drinking in front of elders (people older than you), you should always turn away from the elder and then consume. Drinking the shot while facing the elder is disrespectful.
  • When drinking among friends of equal social stature, it is often considered overly formal to use two hands when pouring or receiving a drink.
As I mentioned before, soju is inexpensive. It's cheaper than a bottle of Coca Cola and various brands of bottled water. Check out the price for one standard bottle at Homever--that's right, 880w (approximately 90 cents US) or in other words, one heck of a drinking night:

Speaking of getting inebriated, I have never witnessed so many people puking from excessive alcohol consumption in front of my eyes. Don't believe me? Head over to Sinchon or Hongdae on the weekend around midnight and you'll see various people hunched over, throwing up (in Konglish, they called throwing up "o-bite," which is a blend of the words "over bite" which means "over eating"--according to my students) on the sidewalk or down in the subway stations--it's gross! Not that I'm a big fan of analyzing puke, but it always seems to be orange in color--maybe due to the influence of kimchi from dinner? hahaha!

This video was not filmed by me, but by Jessica (also known as HC--hardcore). It's a video of a man on the subway...the best part is how the dude on the right hesitates slightly and pretends everything is fine and dandy, before finally realizing the guy who is falling onto him is drunk out of his mind--that man is SOJU MAN (you can see his lost brother here):

For those in Korea, do you have any soju stories? Have you seen SOJU MAN in your neighborhood?


Jon Allen said...

You realise a lot of it is actually using industrial ethanol ( a waste product ) mixed with water and chemical flavouring.

Anonymous said...

Hey Gdog,

Today wasn't a holiday for everyone. I know my kids went to public school and then our hagwon is in overdrive teaching the middle school students for their exams this week. So, while my elementary schedule was unchanged, the rest was quite crazy. Plus, the head office made the boss fire 2 teachers right away and a third in two weeks. They sent one teacher to help for a week until a replacement will arrive. The turnover rate over that last couple of months has been insane. I really feel for the students who are forced into hagwons of dubious quality. Yet, my students still claim that our hagwon is much more advanced than what they have in their public schools.

BTW, Saturday is children's day, so I plan on hitting the movie theater Friday morning to catch Spider-man 3 (one of the few foreign films that actually opens at the same time here in S. Korea as it does in the rest of the world) because Saturday will be a madhouse. My kids really bent my ear today about all their plans with their fathers on Saturday. I guess their fathers work so much to afford all the various hagwons that they don't spend much quality time with their kids.

Anonymous said...

My mistake. Spider-Man 3 opens today (Wednesday). Earlier than even in the U.S., so I'll be there at 9:40 a.m. I have an early class today, so I might be cutting it a little close, but I need my "Venom," and hopefully "Carnage" soon.


John from Daejeon

Gary said...

Jon: That would probably explain why it tastes like paint thinner. ;)

John: I know Spiderman 3 opened in Hong Kong last Wednesday. Hmm...now that you mentioned it, I might watch an AM flick if I can wake up.

Anonymous said...

I've spent a few nights at Soju tents, all with bad endings.(passing out on sidewalk on way home, only to be woken by early morning rush of pedestrians). Soju is very rough on your body. I only had it once or twice and still cringe at the thought of it. My brother in law (also Canadian) "won" a drinking challenge in a soju tent against some Koreans, only to barely make it home (with my extreme help) He was so sick he lost his "dinner" and let's call it his "stool" at the same time. Like I said, Soju
is very rough on the body.

-Canadian Now Living in Las Vegas.

hirocakep said...

My wife imot wanted to leave comment about this topic. I know what I did after I drink much with Korean colleague.

Do you know how to make good relationship with Korean? Just cheers! I have to drink much saying "Kom Bei!" with senior staffs, junior staffs also. I hate this culture and don't wanna drink cheap stupid alchol SOJU but I have to say "SOJU is very delicious." hahaha.

After drinking and arriving home sometimes I feel very very bad then... Oops

Gary said...

Canadian in Las Vegas: haha, nice story and thanks for sharing. I can only imagine how the overconsumption of soju can wreak havoc on your body.

hirocakep: if it's cheap and delicious, I can see how it's hard to stay away from. However...if it lands you in the dog house with your wife...one might reconsider the frequency of soju parties! ;)

Anonymous said...

i've been watching korean movies and dramas lately and koreans do follow those customs you mentioned but have you seen a woman carried on their back? in their movies men usually carry their loved ones on their back when they had too much soju. i think i haven't seen a movie or drama without someone being carried this way.

Anonymous said...

I had so many Soju nights...I miss them. Hangovers and all...luckily never drank enough to puke it up!

Nelson said...

Industrial ethanol? Where the fuck are you getting your info? Do you know how cheap and easy it is to make soju?

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure on the industrial ethanol but I sure do love soju. I used to be a whiskey and tequila lover but being that the price of whiskey and tequila is so high in Korea, I've moved on to soju. At first its hard to down but once you get used to it, it tastes good. As long as it gets the job done.

Elliott Ashby said...

Nice Blog! Great topic. I was searching for popular Korean Blog on Google and I came across your site. I wanted to share a video with you that I recently posted on youtube about Soju! Check it out and let me know what you think.




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