Since moving to Asia it has been slammed home to me that there are fundamental differences between each country and culture. Even within countries massive differences can be detected; just think of Hong Kong and the Mainland.
And the question is, what is the best way to investigate this? I think I have found an answer in the ubiquitous small business of convenience or corner stores. Forget Starbucks in the U.S., Asia has been scatter bombed by high capitalistic yield convenience store cluster munition. And the differences between each of them tell you about the Korean ἔθνοςor or race. Hence convenience store ethnography or ethnology: the study of the origins, distribution, technology, religion,language, and social structure of the ethnic, racial, and/or national divisions of humanity through convenience stores (copyright pending TomEats).
So Korea like any Asian country has dowsed in convenience stores – multiple multiple multiple ones to every street – and they can tell you a lot about the Korean race. Well not really but it is fun to look anyway.
First, the wake-up. If you are a seasoned Korean expert or have ever met a Korean, ever, you will know drinking is a frequent occurence.
Luckily FamilyMart absolutely caters for when you wake up in the street after a night drinking having not been home and needing to be in work shortly. See Blackout Korea for more details.
You can buy all the supplies necessary to cleanse the smoke, alcohol and room salon debris off you and almost appear human. One use toothpaste, shaving kits, hair products, underwear; the lot.
Second, the staying awake. Coffee is a way of life in Korea from the ubiquitous coffee shops which now compete with convenience stores for space to the shit-hole canned stuff you find here in the refrigerators.
Any convenience store worth its salt will have diabolical over sweetened but quite potent concoctions to keep you awake. I find them most effective at 4:00am when you are doing an all-nighter at work.
Third, the cigarette.
Korea seemingly has no restrictions on advertising. You can buy a Cuban mojito cigarette. Seriously. Want to buy a cigarette with advertising featuring a race car, or even a cat; no problem.
And because of this Korea has the highest adult male smoking rate in the OECD with 42.6% of men smoking and a similarly high level of women (though under-reported due to gender pressures – see here).
Fourth, time for some cheap snacks.
How about seriously depressing looking but quite tasty convenience store kimbap or some heinous packaged meats? Meats which look so rank even the Polish would say no? Done.
Fifth, time for lunch or dinner and that means Korean style ramyeon.
Now you have all heard of ramen but the Korean stuff is substantially spicier and – quite honestly – dirtier. But in a good way.
Sixth, the getting drunk again so you can rely on FamilyMart’s extensive array of alcohol recovery tools. Somaek or soju and beer.
This is a must. Either separate, combined but a necessity before and after everything you do and also whilst doing anything. And the best thing is you can drink the alcohol you buy in FamilyMart right outside on the chairs every convenience store provides. Cheap and easy.
Drunk and fat?
Korean culture is based around food and drink together. It is very rare to see people drinking without some kind of food. This is one reason Koreans always hold it rather impressively together.
Definitely far better than my ἔθνοςor (the British) who by 7:00pm on a Friday night are so drunk they can’t stand and when they can stand they are fighting.
Slight preventative measures
I’ve already done a post on Korean hangover cures but the real skill is having them during a ‘session’. Or it is just very effective marketing.
But what you are meant to do is have one of these little bottles for every bottle of alcohol you have. I think that would probably kill you but a couple here and there may well help.
So this is my first convenience store study. Hopefully Hong Kong, China, and Japan to follow on holidays soon… Oh and America. What has it taught us about Korea: well somaek is good.