I don’t mean “Soju rules!” like “O’Doyle rules!”, because it really doesn’t. For those who don’t know, Soju is the Korean drink of choice at basically all social functions. It was discovered by the Mongul’s in the 14th century, and Korea has decided not to look back.
So what is this shit? Well, it’s somewhere around 21% alcohol (so we’re told). It’s sort of like a watered down vodka with a worse taste. Mixing it with cider (7up) or a fruit juice can make it okay, but that’s not how Korean’s drink it. They drink it straight, always.
How often do they drink it? Always. Go to any restaurant here, and there will be at least 2 bottles of soju on the table with a family. Bunch of men? 6 bottles. It’s very important for building relationships (I’ll elaborate in a minute). It’s so important to Korea that there has been a price limit put on this stuff. If you go to a grocery store, you can get it for ₩900-1000 (less then $1). Corner store is maybe ₩1200, and at a restaurant ₩3000 at the most. It’s cheap and everywhere.
Building relationships? This was explained to me my first day of school when our staff went out for dinner. Drinking Soju with someone is important. It makes a connection with that person, so they say. I actually really enjoy this aspect of the experience. The older person (remember, age is important) will pour the first drink for the younger person (me). I take the shot glass from the older person with two hands and hold it out for them to pour. I say thank you and shoot it. Then, if I have a napkin close, I wipe the rim of the shot glass and hand it back. They hold it out with two hands, and I pour them a shot into that same glass. They drink it. That’s the special connection Korean’s make, sharing the same glass to drink. I find it charming.
How special is it? Pretty special. Last night, one teacher from my school retired and our vice-principal moved on to be principal. Obviously that called for a party. For the teacher retiring, every staff member wanted to do a Soju with her. She got drunk. For the vice-principal, he wanted to thank every teacher, so he went around a did a Soju with everyone (oh, we have almost 70 staff..). He got drunk. But, he must do one with everyone. It’s a great show of respect, and people respect him for it. That first staff dinner when I arrived, we were introduced to our new principal for the year. He HAD to do Soju with everyone. On his very first day with the school, I witnessed him being carried out because he was so drunk. People respected him for that.
After Soju, how do you feel the next day? Terrible. Just terrible. Basically everyone, at least once, will drink it and go “this is easy to drink”. They’ll drink more. And more. And be smashed, get the very strange Soju Drunk and, well, have a terrible, FEARful next day.
That’s the reality living in Korea, you basically have to drink it. It’s disrespectful to say no, especially if your a man (and I’m a MAN!). And, well, hey… Soju girls?