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Thursday, June 24, 2004

Increase in soju sales (alcohol and social stratification)

Soju is the "ordinary people's" (sômin / seomin) drink, goes the common Korean perception. While the traditionally more middle- and upper-class drinks of whisky and beer are having trouble nowadays, soju sales keep on increasing (Yonhap, through Hankyoreh, and Chosun).

Soju sales in the first third (Jan-Apr) of 2004 are up 7.6% from the same period last year; the number of sold soju cases (30 bottles) was 33 888 000 as against 31 480 000 cases last year. That'd mean, by my quick count, 64 bottles or 23 litres of soju per ROK citizen a year. In 100% alcohol, it makes some 5.5 litres in soju alone.

The parties concerned think that 2nd and 3rd rounds in drinking binges are getting fewer, and people continue instead drinking in one place, which often is a restaurant where soju has been drunk with the meal.

I forgot to add that originally the alcohol tax has been decided on the social and economic class of the drinkers of the particular product, not the alcohol content. Soju, being the ordinary or poor people's drink, was taxed lightly, while beer and others were levied a heavier tax. (Around 1930, one bottle of beer cost twice the daily wage of a skilled worker and four times the daily income of a chige carrier, tells the book Modôn ppoi Kyôngsôngûl kônilda - click the red book in the sidebar under the header "reading" for the book details.)

Update 2.
More on social stratification and morality associated with different kinds of alcohol.
The minister of education and the highest education officials have been taking a lot of criticism for having drunk heaps of Western liquor (yangju) in an expensive restaurant while "the whole nation" was mourning Kim Seon-il who was murdered in Iraq. (Chosun Ilbo; the number of "100 character comments" for this short piece of news went over 350 in 7 hours; Ohmynews, as a top article on Friday afternoon Korean time.)

(Yangju 洋酒 means normally colored Western liquor like whisky or cognac. Once asked if vodka is classified as yangju, but the person couldn't really say. I think vodka is not yangju, since it's not that much associated with foreignness and the rich and the powerful.)

Update 3!
The ministry of education and Ulsan education officials have released material which should have proved that the minister and other top notches were not having expensive foreign whisky but Korean-made whiskey instead (through Naver News). They also claimed that the food and drinks did not total over 5 million won [3300€] but only 2.84 million [1900€]. The problem was that the emptied bottles of 17 years old Ballantines were visible in the video, apparently shot by a mobile phone. (One bottle of Ballantines was 250 000 won [170€].)
Bottles of Ballantines drank by high education officials while 'the whole nation was mourning Kim Seon-il'. Linked from Naver News.
As much as the killing of Kim Seon-il is/has become/has been made a national Korean issue, the people in high places drinking foreign liquor at a wrong moment has become an issue.

별것들 다 있네.

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