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 country’s top court has sentenced a South Korean man to 12 years in prison for attempting to murder the U.S. ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert.
The Kim Young-ran anti-graft law is taking in effect starting today. The law aims to prevent government employees and various officials from receiving bribes.
Busan Subway Lines 1, 2 and 3 have begun emergency services today due to a general strike of the Busan Metro Labor Union.
Schedules are up, books are printed and available, and tickets go on sale this Thursday at 2 p.m. It’s time to pull out the scratch pad and start planning your week.
Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart have been confirmed as guests for the 21st Busan International Film Festival.
The Busan One Asia Festival is offering free admissions to Taste Busan and the Korean Wave Star & Beauty Collection for foreign guests at BEXCO.
Cancer remained the leading cause of death in South Korea in 2015, with fatalities from pneumonia rising sharply amid a rapidly aging population, government data showed Tuesday.
The Busan International Food Expo 2016 will be held in BEXCO from October 6th to the 9th.
Pei Wei Asian Diner is set to open a location in Busan by the end of 2017 according to a company press release.
A new survey by MasterCard shows that Seoul is once again the 10th most popular city for travel in the world.
Busan’s neighbor to the north has a lot going for it for a fun weekend that’s not so far from home.
While many head to Thailand in search of its magnificent culture, Chiang Mai is a great place to start and one of her best offerings are her awesome temples, known as “Wats”.
North Korea’s goalkeeper gives up one of the worst goals ever — to the opponent’s goalkeeper in an AFC U-16 championship match.
A 29-year-old woman was seriously injured this month when a bungee jump operator failed to secure her rope to the safety hook.
Suyeong-gu Office runs the Stand Up Paddle Board Academy at Gwangalli Beach in September and October.