As I walked to work on a Thursday morning, I realized why everyone advised me not to visit Korea in July. It’s monsoon season here, or jangma, and when it rains, it pours. Picture an epic clash between Zeus and Poseidon, both of whom are displaying their devastating powers on this tiny peninsula with a torrential downpour and an awe-inspiring light show. At least, that’s my version of the weather here. The next few of days are said to be worse with almost 200mm of rain in the Sinchon area.
At the Graduate School of Public Health, Juleon and I worked on data we collected at the nightclub the other night. (For privacy reasons, I will refrain from being too specific with the location.) I was relieved to have put up our first set of monitors, the filter badges that will be used to analyze the nicotine in the air. It’s not easy to suggest to a manager that I’d like to place plastic objects in areas that might disturb the aesthetic setting. But, by far, the hardest part was obtaining hair samples from the employees. With nervous hands, it’s difficult to cut only 30 to 50 strands of hair. I was afraid I would accidentally make a bald spot on their heads. And, if you’ve already read Juleon’s previous entry, these aren’t the type of people you want to infuriate.
Despite the weather, though, Korea never seems to sleep. At any given day, the nightlife here begins at 10pm, and clubs remain packed until 4 in the morning, at which point the men and women decide on where to go to eat. If drinking, not dancing, is the main point of the night, friends or coworkers will start their evening with Il-cha, or round one, which will involve dinner and some form of alcohol. Then, after a couple of hours, they will call for Ee-cha, or round two, at a new location where they will order more food and drinks. This sequence of events usually continues till about Ssam-cha or Ssa-cha, round three or four, respectively. At this point, people are singing in the streets and stumbling to their cars or taxis.
Now, here are three tidbits I’d like to share about Korea. First, unlike in America, every new location requires customers to always order food. It is rude to sit down at a bar and order only a glass of beer or a bottle of soju. This food is referred to as anju, a word that refers to Korean side dishes served with alcohol. Anju can range from dried squid or fish to a plate of fried chicken and kimchi stew. The second thing is that no one should leave a tip. This goes for any restaurant, bar, and even taxis. Tips are considered rude and they are typically frowned upon. The final thing that must be understood is that, despite the incessant drinking in Korea, drunk driving is still illegal. But, rather then having designated drivers who cheer with a glass of water, everyone drinks and then calls hired drivers to drive their cars home. How these drivers appear and disappear in the middle of the night is something I still need to figure out, but this system of hired drivers is a concept that should be adopted in the states. Not only will it prevent accidents, but it will also create jobs for many people.