I love eating food with people who can explain what it is to me, it’s so enlightening! But the key to communing with other cultures lies not only in food, but in drink as well. In honor of our successful and finally over conference, we joined our Korean co-hosts for dinner and drinks and a victory party at a lovely restaurant in Itaewon. Geom-bae means “bottom’s up,” so if you are drinking with Koreans, be prepared to roll.
I learned several things, the first of which is that drinking with Koreans is a serious business. Sharing a drink in Korea is a lovely ritual. First, a friend will offer you a shot glass, which you hold with both hands while your friend pours you a drink with his right hand and his left hand touching his right elbow. You drink, wipe the rim of your glass and hand it back to your friend and reciprocate the gesture. The problem for lightweights comes when you are drinking with several friends. We mixed it up a bit and offered some American-style toasts where we all drank together, but when Korean toasting starts, most will want to pour you a drink themselves, and how can you possibly refuse a drink offered to you directly by a friend?
So I took on the appearance of a boiled lobster as I shared drinks and laughs with our Korean friends. And even though I was excused from having to match them drink for drink, I did have to resort to feigning shochu by pouring water in my shot glass to fend off more drinks than I could handle. This drinking is so serious that halfway in the middle, someone ran to a 7-11 to purchase us bottles of Red Bull-like tonic purported to prevent you from getting too drunk if you’re still drinking or to stave off a hangover if you’ve finished. I am happy to report that this worked quite well, because despite my drinking more in one evening than I ever have before I felt well enough in the morning to wake up before nine, which is more than I can say for most days I’m not working. Despite my lack of fortitude in fighting peer pressure, I survived drinking with Koreans. I am so ninja.