If you’ve been around Korea for any length of time, you may have noticed that the expats here like to drink. (Full disclosure: Yoo hoo!) It’s not unique to Korea, nor is it a recent phenomenon. In the Roaring ‘20s, Ernest Hemingway propped up Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, where Ezra pounded absinthe in the corner. A generation earlier, Rudyard Kipling shed his white man’s burden with the help of Singapore Slings at The Long Bar in Singapore. During his 1784-89 sojourn in France, Thomas Jefferson amassed an epic collection of wine and was known as an enthusiastic and gracious connoisseur.
I’ve often wondered if the expat tendency to hang around bars all night doesn’t spring from the same urge that led you to move abroad in the first place: that nagging feeling that if you don’t, you’re going to miss something. Of course there are other reasons. For the English-teaching crowd, many of whom are fresh out of university, drinking in Korea is sometimes an extension of the free-swilling culture of college life. For those in the business world, drinking can be a feature of their very jobs here to keep the wheels greased, the gears turning and the road smooth.
Regardless of one’s occupation or age, we also drink for the reasons that people everywhere drink: life is tough sometimes and for expats often more so. Outside of your element, the early weeks, months and years present a myriad of challenges, snafus, snags and hurdles that must be grasped and dealt with. Commiserating over a cold one has long been a way of solving or mitigating life’s troubles, or when all else fails, of drowning them in pleasant company.
Drinking also serves as the first window many of us have into Korea. Excepting the Muslim countries and the dry counties of the American South, drinking is a universal human occupation and thus often functions as the great bridge spanning even the greatest cultural divides. Language barriers melt away, cultural differences collapse, and we find ourselves on common (if slightly wobbly) ground with people we have otherwise struggled to understand.
But drinking isn’t nearly the whole story. For those of us living overseas, the pub itself serves as a vital institution. In Korean cities, expats tend not to cluster in the same neighborhoods – there are no Canadatowns or Little Englands – so we rally around other institutions, like churches and bars (and very occasionally both), as the locus of our new communities. Much as the writer Samuel Pepys considered pubs “the heart of England,” many local watering holes are now the heart of the expat scene, and as such, the attraction goes far beyond food, beer and darts. Pubs host poetry readings, book swaps, craft markets, live comedy, open mics, fundraisers, film screenings and writers’ workshops and provide venues for everything from performance art to punk rock.
Pubs are now also one of the ways that expats are pressing their cultural stamp on Korea, as their unique food offerings and eclectic brews both excite the palates of locals while pushing local publicans to expand their palettes. Like the Koreans in my hometown who planted their stake with dry cleaners and grocery stores, pubs are the obvious beachhead for this new class of expat-cum-immigrants dreaming of bigger things for themselves and their young families in their adopted home.
That said, I would be remiss not to emphasize one of things I love most about the pub scene in Korea in the year 2015. I leave you with the words of the immortal Homer Simpson:
The Latest Haps
The amount of the food allowance in the Kim Young-ran law may be altered from March in order to help domestic demand.
A South Korean man who was reportedly kidnapped in the Philippines in 2016 was recently found dead by local authorities there.
This Friday, January 20th, at HQ Bar KSU sees the return of the monthly Ha Ha Hole, Busan’s only live English comedy show.
Legendary K-pop boy band Shinwha is performing a concert in Busan on February 11th as part of their “Unchanging” tour.
The Busan International Film Festival will begin a little later than usual this year because of the Chuseok holidays.
Watch an episode of Al Jazeera’s 101 East which focuses on why Korea’s youth are fleeing their home country for life and work overseas.
The Korea Grand Sale is underway until February 28th and offer great discounts and cultural performances for visitors.
Are you wondering where the cheapest places food are to buy food for the Lunar New Year’s holidays?
Sulbing, Busan’s famous patbingsu dessert chain, will open its first location in Fukuoka on February 3rd.
Hard Rock Cafe Busan is offering a Wednesday night “Global Day” discount for foreigners.
Gorilla Brewing Company is hosting an “all-you-can-drink” event tonight at the brewery in Millak-dong.
Take a look inside the traditional cultures of the Vietnamese highlands
Officials said today, starting in April, South Korea will check information on inbound air passengers to sort out potential terrorists.
The ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships 2017 is taking place February 16-19 at the Gangneung Ice Arena.
Infielder for the Lotte Giants Hwang Jae-gyun has decided to leave the Korean Baseball Organization to challenge the Major Leagues.
The sports ministry said that South Korea plans to spend 937.2 billion won (US$779.7 million) this year in support for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games preparations.