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Monday, February 16, 2004

(Korea nostalgia) Drinking with a retired ship captain...

... or how I almost got a man killed by soju.

There was this small restaurant (see the small picture) in the neighborhood where I was staying during my research time in Seoul and where I've kept going back every time I've returned to Korea. Usually I didn't do much drinking in that neighborhood, since keeping one's head clear is the best way to make sense of what people say, and too drunk people are usually of no help for anthro fieldwork. Appropriate amount of drinks are of course a different matter, and I very rarely chose not to go to drink and snack sessions (see the picture) with a certain circle of neighborhood ajôssis. They were people who mostly drank moderately, especially since many of them needed to get out early. The rice mill keeper (whose head looks like growing out of my shoulder), hosting the gathering in the picture, is usually before 7 at his shop.

Anyway, I was having a late afternoon lunch in this small restaurant, when an older man approached me and invited me to his table. He turned out to be a retired sea captain, who was happy to see a European; he had been given such a good treatment as a captain of a ship in Europe, compared to the low status of his occupation in Korea. "Sônjangûn sangnomida" (sea captain is a low person), is what they think in Korea according to him. [Here's the almost compulsory Korean social structure part of this post.] He wanted to treat me well, as if repaying the esteem he had been given in Europe and elsewhere, so there was no end to the flow of meat and soju to our table. Next time I went back to the place I was told we had emptied 7 bottles. I was also told that the retired sea captain shouldn't have been drinking in the first place because of his heart condition, and that he had been really ill after treating me and himself. I never saw him again. (Let's say I was pleased that nothing more serious was supposed to have happened to him.)

And now? I don't even know what's a fair price for a pint of beer anymore. (And this is what many around me are happy about.)

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