I thought I left drinking games and chugging races behind with my backward hat and Limp Bizkit CDs. I played a few rounds of flip cup after graduation and then figured I was retired.
Then I moved to Korea, where drinking games are common with the young and the old.
Most English-as-a-second-language teachers are recent college grads. I thought, "Alright, I'll play some king's cup or beer pong." While some of the kids played those, I wasn't really ready for the Korean games. They're cool and pretty easy to do but hard to explain in a 500-word column. So just go there and find out for yourself.
Booze is a huge part of Korean culture. Pound for pound, Koreans drink harder than anybody I've partied with - more than Polish, Australians, Americans or Canadians. I worked in bars and never drank as much as I did in Korea. I hate to be the guy that brags about his alcohol tolerance, but I thought mine was high — until I clinked glasses with Koreans.
I hung out with some young Koreans, and we played 3-6-9, aka the chopstick game. Then I met up with some older Korean businessmen, and they played the exact same games.
A big part about Korean drinking culture is the hierarchy. As with most Asian cultures, you respect your elders a lot more than you do in Western countries. I'm happy to treat older people nicer than others, but I never expected it to be like this.
Just like in a fraternity or sorority, you're supposed to drink when your elder or boss tells you to. It doesn't matter if this is the head of the class or the head of the company. You'll see middle-aged businessmen in suits getting commanded to drink by a CEO.
But that's not all.
Often the boss will take his underlings out for Korean barbecue and drinks after work. It's not a requirement, but it's pretty much a requirement. This sounds all good and dandy, but when you've spent an hour getting to work then 12 hours at work and have another hourlong ride home, the last thing I'd want to do is hang out with my coworkers. I'm sure some of these guys want to hit the gym, see their families or just sleep.
The boss may pay for your eats and ethanol, but he's also going to tell you when to drink. Sometimes it's to the extreme. "Drink your drink, you middle-management monkey!" It's not a rare sight to see a nicely dressed man passed out at a bus stop or laying on the ground. It's even considered bad manners to wake him up or move him out of harm's way.
Luckily, as a foreigner, you're not expected to follow most of these rules. You're kind of the dumb little baby at the adults' table. But you still have to drink if you screw up a game.
Well, those are my 500 words of the day, so it's time for me to find somebody younger than me, order them to drink cheap beer and then tell them to clean my apartment.