Wednesday, March 18, 2015

"But what of the ordinary North Koreans’ drinking habits?"

Somewhere in the lengthy canon of the television series M*A*S*H, Hawkeye Pierce is trying to find the words to describe the foulness of something, and comes up with it being similar to liquid traveling through rusty drain pipes fixed to chicken coops, to be filtered through dirty socks.

Such was the only North Korean beer I ever drank, as presented to me in bottled form circa 1989 by Kim Wiesener, one of my Danish friends, who had a relative working for Aeroflot (Soviet airlines). She brought it to Kim, and he saved it for me. It was very, very bad.

And yet, that very same year, I briefly had a booking to visit Pyongyang. In a mailing, the organization called Volunteers for Peace offered spaces at the International Youth & Student Conference, held in the North Korean capital. I signed on and anted up, only to lose my spot when the youth section of the Communist Party USA demanded accreditation rights, and got them. I wanted to go to Pyongyang, but couldn't make the case that I was a Commie.

So, I went to Moscow instead. Too bad about missing the chance to drink in North Korean beer halls, even if the beer was wretched.

The whole article is worth your time.

Homebrew and house parties: how North Koreans have fun, by Daniel Tudor and James Pearson (The Guardian)

Despite restrictions on money and free time partying is integral to North Korean culture. But how does it compare to cutting loose in the South?

 ... But what of the ordinary North Koreans’ drinking habits? It is impossible for the average North Korean to afford the tequila enjoyed by Kim Jong-un. Most will only have had state-produced drinks like Yangdok-Sul or the famed Taedonggang beer on special occasions , and will probably never have tried any of the powerful fruit-based brews (such as Paektusan Blueberry Wine) that can be bought by foreigners on visits to the country.

Other spirits on sale to tourists include a strong, hangover-inducing pine mushroom soju, and a peculiar alcohol that is apparently made from seal penis ...

... According to one defector, around 80-90% of North Korean men drink every day. There is even a popular song, “Weol, hwa, su, mok, geum, to, il Banju”, which can be translated as “Drink on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday”.

A world away in the capital Pyongyang, the growing elite means that new bars and restaurants are springing up all the time. There are several microbrewery bars that produce their own lagers and ales on site.

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