Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Chopping Makgeolli

Now we get down to the nitty gritty of Korea. Our flight hit the ground in Seoul at 4:00 am Korean time, which was something like 6:00 pm New York time. We had about a four hour bus ride ahead of us, during which I most certainly wanted to sleep. Greg, in his quick-thinking way, decided the best way to accomplish this goal was for us to split a bottle (a tiny bottle, but a bottle nonetheless) of soju at five in the morning in the Seoul airport. Remember when I said this stuff was cheap and everywhere? Well, that's the truth. The convenience store at the airport had soju for less than a dollar. Remember when I said that South Korea has no public drinking laws and everyone is constantly drunk? Well, that's also the truth. No one gave us a second look passing around a bottle of soju at five in the morning in an airport. And thus began my Korea trip.

Korea wasn't all drinking. I just want to say that now, lest anyone think I travelled across the globe just to drink. In fact, drinking generally was confined to the hours of 10 to 12 pm, the bulk of the day being spent site seeing and doing Korean stuff. But, as it so happens, this is a beer drinking blog and that's what we talk about here. So while I do have a bunch of fun anecdotes about Korea generally, the ones you'll get here should be exclusively alcohol related. Anyway, back to my first day in Korea.

We arrive at Tongyeong at about noon, all of us pretty beat. We went out and got some food and walked around a bit, but the bulk of the day was spent just trying to stay away till 8. Back at Greg and Britney's apartment, while playing some Scrabble, I had my first Korean beer. Well, it wasn't a Korean beer, rather it was the first beer I drank in Korea. You know what it was? A Budweiser.

I'll give you some time to wipe the brains off your computer screen, because I'm guessing that just blew your mind. Surely I didn't travel all the way to Korea just to drink some U.S. macrobrew? Surely Greg and Britney wouldn't be such poor hosts to both stock and serve that swill? Well, let me tell you a quick, completely true, story. Budweiser, the name, didn't originate with the Anheuser-Busch company. As a matter of fact, the original Budweiser brewery opened in 1785 in Bohemia. They begin exporting to the United States. In 1876, the evil A-B in America says to itself, "Hey, that's a pretty sweet name. Let's use it for our awful beer that we're inappropriately calling a pilsner!" Meanwhile, a Czech brewery Budvar, starts making an actual pilsner and names that beer "Budweiser" as a means of indicating where it's from. This is all a little complicated, I know, but as things stand in 1911, there are two "Budweisers," the awful, fake pilsner, A-B one and the real pilsner, Budvar one. As you can imagine, the good people at A-B didn't want someone mistaking a good beer for one of theirs, so they reached an agreement with Budvar that Budvar could use the name Budweiser in countries outside of North America and A-B would be able to use in in North America. Well, long story short (too late!), the beer I had was a Budvar Budweiser, and it was pretty good.

Monday I faired a bit better. I slept for about 14 hours Sunday night and woke up around 11 on Monday refreshed and ready for what Tongyeong had to offer. After lunch with Greg and Britney, Liz and I went to hit up the cable cars, which take you to the top of this mountain where you get sweet views of the surrounding islands and can even see Japan! Anyways, two quick stories from this adventure. 1) When we got to the top, some Korean woman took Liz's glasses off her face, put them on her own face, and then started having people take her picture while wearing Liz's glasses. That was kind of weird. 2) We went to the mountain at about 3 in the afternoon. After you get off the cable car, it's still quite a hike to get to the top. As a sign correctly pointed out "Hiking to Top Not Recommended for Out of Shape People." Well when we get to the top of the mountain, what do we see? Middle aged Korean men in business suits sitting around drinking soju of course! Why wouldn't you climb to the top of a mountain during the middle of work day in your business suit just to drink soju? It makes so much sense, as does everything in Korea.

After we get back from that, we nap and then meet up with Greg and Britney at 9 when they get off of work. The whole lot of us heads to this restaurant to get some makgeolli (rhymes with broccoli). Makgeolli is a traditional, unfiltered Korean rice wine. It's pretty good, except for the actual grains of rice that can be found in it. Throughout dinner/makgeolli drinking, a few of Greg and Britney's friends and coworkers show up and we order a pitcher of beer. When I first started this 1000 beer year, I was thinking of ways that I could game the system without cheating. I figured I would go to a bunch of different beer tastings where I'd get smaller amounts of beer, go to McSorley's a lot where their mugs are demonstrably tiny. Turns out, the best thing I could do to game the system would be move to Korea. The glasses they bring out with their pitchers were super tiny. I mean like, 8 oz, 10 oz at most. Also, the pitchers are pretty cool. Check out this pitcher picture (homonyms! sort of!) that I did not take:

They are insulated to stay cold! America, get on this! Anyway, throughout the evening I have roughly 6 glasses of beer, which seems like a lot, but due to the tiny size of the glasses, it turns out to be about three pints worth of beer, but I get to count six! Korea is great! Liz, in a rare turn of events, had way more beer than me that night because she decided to get into a drinking contest with a 45 year-old Korean woman. A losing proposition but Liz, being a trooper, certainly held her own.

Man, I wanted to get through Tuesday, but I think I'm posted out for now. Looks like Korea will be a four-parter! Lucky you! See you tomorrow! Or later today! Or whenever I feel like updating more!

1 comment:

  1. Believe it or not, when Brandon and I went to Italy for our honeymoon, they had the awful A-B version of Budweiser EVERYWHERE. One of the older guys in our tour group would only drink it. Don't know how you can go to Italy and only drink the pisswater beer of American-brewed Budweiser, but he did. Thought you'd love to know that tidbit. :) --Lynne