I remember one day in July. A monsoon rain was pouring down on Gunsan and instead of heading to the bars like I normally would, I decided to go to the bath-house. I did the normal routine of sauna, cold pool, hot tub, and as I sat in the hot tub I remember thinking that it rivalled a Jameson on the rocks for the best way to spend $6 on a Friday night.The only difference is that one Jameson hardly ever suffices and a visit to the bath-house never gives me a headache the next day.I don’t remember the first time I got drunk in Korea but it was probably with my boss – I had such trouble saying ‘no’ when he’d pour me beer. Once I started drinking here, I was drinking hard and often. Usually on a place the foreigners call Bar Street, in Gunsan’s Naundong neighborhood.
Beer is very cheap. If you’re drinking Korean beer (which is not particularly good) at a Korean style bar, – hof 호프- large pitcher of beer (maybe 3 liters) usually costs around $10, smaller bottles 500mL or 750mL go for around $3 depending on what beers they are or what the place is like. Then there is soju which is also very cheap and also very not delicious – at the market it’s about $1 for a 500mL bottle – but at hofs or restaurants it’s usually twice that. The forgotten stepchild of Korean drinking is rice wine – makgeolli 막걸리 – which is milky sweet and delicious.Then there is the Western style places. They are not so cheap. There a Korean beer will cost at least $4, liquor drinks more than that. But it’s at these places I’d too often end up. It’s here that one can blow through a wad of cash.
Drinking is a huge part of the culture here and if you have any taste for drinking, some money, time, and your mornings off, it’s hard to resist the temptation of the siren song. Add some Irish ancestry and some hard drinking friends and it’s a perfect storm.My drinking probably reached a crescendo towards the end of the summer. I realized then that I had ceased enjoying it and realized how much money the booze was draining from my account. The more I went out the less I actually enjoyed being out.
I remember being at the main western friendly bar and realizing that for all the time I had spent there, I never had an amazing time there. But it’s hard to just stop when so much of your social life revolves around drinking. Even when I was training for my half-marathon, I drank regularly.At this point, in January – I have lost all taste for the Korean drinks. My liver needed a break. I just have no desire to drink. If I were offered a delicious craft beer or a nice glass of wine, I would definitely drink it. But Hite, Cass, Jinro, Charm, no matter how cheap, are not worth the price.