If you spend any time at all outdoors after dark in Korea you’ll quickly notice that the usually fairly clean streets are suddenly littered with large immovable objects. They lie on benches, curbs, sidewalks, streets, subway platforms and anywhere else large enough to accommodate them. If you move in for a closer look, you’ll have no trouble identifying them: Korean men.
They come in all shapes and sizes, dressed in everything from shorts to business suits, but they all have one thing in common: a belly full of soju. For those who don’t know, soju is a distilled beverage that tastes like a sweetened version of the cheapest vodka you can find (in other words, it’s horrible). Despite the taste, it is widely consumed in Korea due, in large part, to the low price: a 375mL bottle costs as little as one US dollar.
Soju generally contains about 20% alcohol and Koreans suck the stuff down like they’ve been lost in a desert and someone handed them a bottle of kimchi flavored water. Then they pass out. On the spot. Wherever they happen to be.
Name a place and chances are, I’ve seen a Korean guy passed out there. Benches, sidewalks and the like are common, but I’ve seen guys sleeping in parking spots, using the curb as a pillow and I’ve even seen a few balancing lengthwise on the parking lot curbs themselves.
I once saw a business man lying in the middle of a fairly busy street as cars drove by on either side of him. After a few minutes, a cop car pulled up and two officers got out and began nudging the guy with their feet. When he didn’t respond, they kicked him a bit harder. No reaction, so they picked him up by the arms and legs and carried him over to the sidewalk. They laid him down gently, leaned his briefcase against his lifeless body and drove off.
I guarantee you when he woke up in the morning, that briefcase was still there and that’s perhaps the most unusual part of this story. In any other country not named Japan, passing out in public would, at the very least, cost you your phone. In many countries, you’d wake up in your underwear and perhaps your socks. In Seoul, I regularly saw guys passed out in business suits next to their laptop bags. Remember: this is one of the world’s largest cities.
The best (or is it worst?) one I saw was actually up and moving, although not on his own. He looked like a college student who had passed out somewhere, but who had friends to watch over him. They had obviously decided to drag him home and when I noticed them, they were at the top of the stairs leading into the Hongdae subway station. Anyone who’s been to Hongdae on a weekend night knows the mass of people streaming up those stairs and the difficulty you’d be faced with in trying to drag a limp body down them.
I was one of the five thousand or so people slowly making their way up out of the station, when I heard shrieking and noticed everyone near the top clearing out. I have no idea how they managed to find the space to go anywhere other than where they were being carried by the mass of people, but lucky for them, they did. No sooner had they moved to the side than the limp figure hanging onto his friends’ shoulders lifted his head and exploded, spewing barbequed meat marinated in soju, digestive acid and kimchi several meters down the stairs. Amazingly, only a few people were hit and even then, they weren’t direct hits.
Reading this, you might think I’m exaggerating, but the number of Korean guys you’ll see passed out around Seoul is so high, that there’s even a website dedicated to publishing people’s photos of them. It’s called Black Out Korea and hilariously carries a warning not to pose for photos with a blacked out Korean (or to at least blur out your face if you do pose with one) as that is apparently frowned upon.
I don’t know if many people are aware of that fact, because posing in front of a passed out guy seems to have become a tourist attraction in its own right. So come to Korea, come for a night out in Seoul, pose with a few dead-drunk soju victims and perhaps even have a few shots of soju yourself. Just don’t overdo it or you might find yourself starring in a new section on that website: “Blacked-out idiot tourists.” And perhaps you’ll even be joined in the photos by large groups of smiling Koreans flashing peace signs in front of your lifeless body.