A Foreigner’s Journey to Understand Makgeolli

Hankyoreh intern Dan Sizer set out to understand just how Koreans perceive makgeolli. Here are a few excerpts from his charming and insightful article:

“To find out just what people thought about makgeolli I set out on my bicycle. My first stop was the stream where I met the two Korean men, who, before I could explain that I only wanted to ask them a few questions, put a paper cup in my hand and filled it to the brim. Thus began my journey.  

The next day I returned to the stream with a sign that read in sloppy Korean, “What do you think of makgeolli?” I talked to many amused Koreans who stopped to check boxes indicating how frequently they drank makgeolli. Most of the people who passed me stared, some made a small comment, others laughed and went on their way. Nearly everyone I talked to was over 50 years old. By the end of the day I had a surprisingly cohesive picture of one of makgeolli’s largest consumer groups…

Over the course of four hours I surveyed around fifty Koreans, most past middle age. Except for the man who had stopped drinking, all of the males responded enthusiastically and said they drink makgeolli often. Most elderly women also said they drink often, while middle-aged women were more opposed, many preferring beer…

The university students were less talkative, but like the people on the stream path there were similarities that ran throughout their responses. They did not speak of makgeolli’s health benefits or proudly relate its long history. There was no mention of the countryside or farmers. Instead, when asked what they associated with makgeolli, they answered rainy days, pajeon, a Korean green onion pancake, and headaches…

By the end of the day I had surveyed 88 students. While ten, including three exchange students, reported never drinking makgeolli, the rest were split almost evenly. Half answered to frequently drinking makgeolli, and half responded in favor of other alcohols. University students’ preconceptions of the drink varied from those of their grandparents. Makgeolli seemed less culturally significant to the students. The adjective I heard most at the stream was, “refreshing.” On campus the prevailing word was, ‘hangover.'”

Read the whole article at The Hankyoreh here.

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