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Getting Wasted

Unless you have tight connections to the Russian Mafia, a Turkish sailor, or some local English teachers that do, your chances of finding any hashish are slim to none. However, it is around. Just be careful and keep in mind that this is not your country. Excuses about cultural differences will not keep you out of prison. Many foreign stoners avoid hash altogether. This is a wise choice.

A sweet local homemade wine found in quaint little huts and served out of clay bowls is dong-dong ju. This is a delicious rice wine. It’s distinguishable by the chalky, silt-like texture and the floating bits of rice covering the top of the bowl like so many maggots. But don’t be dissuaded. It’s excellent. Drink it slowly, because with the heavy sugar content it packs an impressive hangover.

The local beers such as Hite, Cafri and OB make Budweiser almost seem palatable. Korean draft is even worse. Both have a heavy formaldehyde content (the draft has the most) that serves to pack one whopping morning headache, so drink carefully and choose Heineken or Budweiser if it’s available.

For those looking for a potent psychedelic trip into the netherworlds of Asian liqueur that’s completely legal, the national drink soju is cheap, common and well worth a try. This clear liquor comes in small green bottles at about a buck a pop. Dip into the nearest LG Mart or 7-11 and buy a bottle or two, along with some bags of dried squid for a side dish. Then take a seat outside the store, right next to the open sewer, and enjoy watching Korea hurry past. This is Korea at its finest, with public drinking and drunkenness acceptable and even condoned. Don’t be surprised if some local college freshmen stop for a few shots with you so they can polish up their conversational English before classes begin. For those interested, here are some tips on soju drinking methods and etiquette:

  • Squid is the dish of choice with soju. If you want to try some of the squid with your soju make sure you have a lighter. You have to heat up the tentacles before eating them or you’re likely to chew a tooth or two right out of your head. Heat it until it starts to char and curl up, and there’s the strong scent of burning hair. These signs indicate the tentacles are ready for mastication.


  • The squid will need some mayonnaise and pepper paste to hide the actual taste of the squid. This usually comes in little disposable dipping cups meant just for such an afternoon of squid and soju debauchery. The clerk may offer you some. Take it.


  • Make sure you’re pretty far gone before trying the squid.


  • When you offer somebody a shot of liquor and they don’t accept, that’s just to be polite. Keep pressing them to drink. Don’t worry – it’s a Korean custom – if necessary, wrench their mouths open and pour it down their throats. Don’t be surprised if you receive this same treatment from random drunken locals.


  • Always fill up your drinking partners’ glasses if they’re empty, and if they’re older do this with two hands.


  • Receive drinks with two hands and bow a little.


  • If you smoke, make sure you spit an awful lot in your ashtray, big honking lewgies of green phlegm, to help put the butts out. Don’t be afraid to hack up a wholesome amount of phlegm to spit on the street in front of all those pedestrians too. And don’t be shocked if people spit in front of you. Word on the street is that this is an unspoken token symbolizing Welcome to Korea.


  • Koreans are famous for being very blunt. Not to worry. This means you can be just as blunt.


Alright, so you’ve drunk three bottles of soju and can’t figure out why you don’t feel a buzz yet, so you buy another bottle but before even opening it you fall down and knock three teeth out, then lay there until morning snoring away in your personal pile of blood and vomit. Then you wake up at noon the next day just as drunk, with people walking over you as if you’re nothing more than a pile of newspapers. Oh yes brothers, it happens all the time. If you don’t fall down then at least don’t be so surprised when your friends tell you the next day how much of an ass you were.

The delayed affect and the prolonged buzz are probably the two most well known but mysterious characteristics of the infamous soju buzz. There are pluses and minuses to this delay. On the negative side over-drinking is very common and the reason for countless wasted men staggering around the streets after midnight unable to locate their feet. The delayed affect is also the reason for the ubiquitous street pizzas, the orange gelatinous piles of vomit found almost everywhere after midnight and up until about nine or ten a.m., when the dirty little street dogs come out to lap it all up or roll in it. Over consumption of soju turns one’s face bright red, sometimes even itchy, and for some people hives are an issue.

On the positive side, this means that you don’t need to keep on drinking throughout the night. Grab a cold glass of water after the first or second bottle and enjoy the buzz that keeps on buzzing. The Noraebang, which is an inexpensive Korean karaoke room minus the hostess hospitality, is a blast after too many bottles of the ju. In this little singing room it’s accepted, even encouraged, that you make an ass of yourself. Soju and karaoke go together like flame-softened squid with mayonnaise and pepper paste. Check it out. Hangovers are not an issue either; plan on keeping your buzz until about noon the next day. On many occasions I’ve gotten up for work still buzzed even though I’d stopped drinking at 11 p.m. the previous night.

What is it that makes soju so strange, so different from other liquors? Nobody really knows. What soju is even made up of is a mystery to most Koreans. Ask a group of Koreans about soju then sit back and listen to a debate that could last the whole night with no solid conclusions. Some believe soju is made from rice, while others think it’s made from millet. Still others say sweet potato and some are certain soju is simply chemically-created liquor, completely synthetic. Whatever it may be made from, it’s definitely not very good for you. Soju is not something you’d want to make a habit of. I suggest an occasional binger, for those occasions when there is no LSD, crack cocaine or refined Burmese heroin to be had.

Mike Best