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Mart Drinking June 14, 2009

Posted by jorkat in Seoul.

One of the great things about living in Montreal is the convenience of being able to buy beer at the local depanneur (or convenience store for those of you outside of La Belle Province). Korea offers this same luxury and takes it a step further by offering quality wines and even hard liquor. These establishments are commonly referred to as “Marts” which I suspect is derived from the name of one of the more common chains “Family Mart”.

These marts offer an impressive array of imported alcohol at reasonable prices (bottle of Heineken costs 2,800 KRW which equates to approx $2.50 CAD). They also have a full selection of domestic beer and liquor which are even cheaper. You can purchase a 1.5L bottle of any of the local brands (OB, Hite & Cass) for 2,000 KRW, which is less than $2.00 CAD.  If beer isn’t your thing and you’re looking to take it up a notch, you can take your chances with the Korean’s beverage of choice, Soju. They drink this stuff with almost everything and at all times of the day (ie. at breakfast after a long night of drinking and no sleep). I wasn’t a huge fan at first, but lets just say that it’s an acquired taste. It’s about 20% booze and costs around 3,000 KRW. It’s also great for drinking games and waking up the next morning with no recollection of the previous night.

So yeah, the booze is cheap and it’s easily accessible. We thought we had it good when we were living in Montreal and had a depanneur on the corner of our street, but here in Seoul we can fall out of our front door and spit on the small convenience store located less than 10 feet from the entrance to our building. The irony of this convenient location is that we rarely purchase alcohol from there as we rarely drink at home. With the outdoor temperature having been comfortable since early April, we’ve become avid “Mart Drinkers”.

Most of the larger marts set-up tables and chairs outside for their patrons to enjoy their selections without having to walk all the way home to sit down. Despite being allowed to drink anywhere in public, it’s not that common and is usually only exercised by foreigners who can’t fathom how this is legal and think it’s too good to be true. There’s nothing quite like dropping less than 2 bucks for a beer and immediately cracking it open as you stroll outside on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Or a Tuesday. Wednesday and Monday’s are good too. So are Friday’s. However, as I mentioned, this is rarely practiced by Korean’s as they prefer to consume their alcohol in a more formal or relaxed environment, such as a restaurant, a bar, or sitting on plastic chairs outside a mart.

Aside from the obvious financial benefits and convenience of the mart, it also offers the prospect of something unusual occuring as you sit and watch the world pass you by. This is the ultimate people watching activity, especially if you live in such a concentrated area as we do where there’s a steady flow a foot traffic, and not many cars. Some nights are tamer than others, but when you’re a foreigner in this place, you tend to attract more attention and can often find yourself involved in entertaining or awkward conversations.

A few weeks ago, Katie and I decided to go and have a beer outside the mart near our place, which is called the Mini-Stop. It was a quiet Saturday evening and we had no big plans in mind, just wanted to take it easy and do some people watching. Shortly after sitting down at our table, the two guys sitting at the table next to us started to stare and eventually mustered up the courage to start speaking with us. They asked our ages (a common practice here to see who is the oldest and therefore the most respected), they asked about our relationship status and were impressed when we told them we’re married (another positive status symbol) and told us we were a handsome couple. We exchanged the rest of the usual pleasantries and found out that these guys are actually in a rock band. One is the manager and the other one who looks like the Korean version of Slash from Guns and Roses, is obviously the guitarist. We chat for a few more minutes before they excuse themselves to head to their next gig and invite us to come by if we feel so inclined.


As their walking away, our friend and colleague Naomi passes them and overhears them saying how much fun foreigners can be. She then sees us and comes to sit down with her dinner in hand. Naomi is a Puerto Rican buddhist who was born and raised in New York City. She has been living in Korea for the past three years and has studied hard to learn the language and culture. She’s extremely entertaining and a valuable resource when trying to eavesdrop on a Korean conversation or simply read a sign that we can’t understand. She also isn’t shy about trying new and exotic foods. On this evening she had with her a very popular Korean delicassy – cow intestines. Even though I already had a few beers in me and was feeling a bit adventurous, I wasn’t going near that shit (no pun intended). Katie on the other hand…well, here’s the picture.


Apprently, it tastes just like sausage, but I won’t be confirming or refuting this claim anytime soon.

After watching my wife eat cow intestines, we sat back and listened to Naomi entertain us with her vast array of stories and experiences. One beer led to another and soon I decided to free up some space on the table by arranging our beer cans in a less space consuming arrangement.


What initially started out as us going for a beer at the Mini-Stop on a quiet Saturday night, turned into a quest to build the tallest beer can tower in Mart Drinking history. I can’t remember what the final tally was, but I’m pretty sure it was broken just a few weeks later when we must have set the record for most foreigners mart drinking in one location. Our friends, Meghan and Daryl (who were the couple teaching at our school and living at our place before we arrived) were back for a week in Seoul after traveling for three months.   They made arrangements with many of the friends they had made throughout their stay here, and instrusted them to meet them at the Mini-Stop where we had already assembled the better part of our current teaching staff. The result, 23+ foreigners crammed into an area designed for 2 tables and 6-8 chairs, all enjoying cheap beer, good company and endless stares from the hundreds of Koreans passing by. It was a night I won’t soon forget, mostly because I took this video to mark the occasion. 


1. Jenny - June 14, 2009

Ha ha!!! You guys are the best!! I am going to go drink a beer outside of my local mini mart, in your honour!

2. Sean - June 15, 2009

Amazing! The video is perfect way of showing us what its like. Well done!

3. Mom - June 15, 2009

I thought I always told you ( since you were about 12 ) NEVER to drink on a curbside – to come home and drink with us. Naughty girl – I never could do anything with you! Good talking to you this morning while I had my coffee in bed looking out over Clear Lake. Na Na – Na Boo Boo!!

4. Suranyi - June 15, 2009

such a foreigner…

5. Corrina & Matthew - June 16, 2009

Simply fabulous!

6. Brigitte - June 16, 2009

Nice video! Good times were had 🙂 Just wondering though, weren’t you suppose to grow a beard and your hair?

7. Dyson - June 17, 2009

No comment.

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