Five Steps for Drinking With Koreans


If you’ve ever so much as hung out with a Korean person, you know that they can match drinks with anyone. I didn’t even have to go to Korea to first learn this, as I got plenty of education even in the U.S. on what the phrase “Johnnie Black” means to Koreans. We gave you some advice for drinking with the Chinese, and since each culture in Asia has its own strict drinking rules, we thought we’d do the same in case you find yourself drinking with Koreans.

Without further adieu, here are your five steps to drinking with Koreans:

  1. Never, ever, under any circumstances pour your own drink: Just as you are supposed to be looking out for those around you to make sure their glasses are never empty (please, re-fill them if they are), they will be doing the same thing for you. Play along.
  1. Use two hands: When someone does pour your drink, hold your cup with both hands. This rule actually applies to anything given to you in Korea, and while you will probably be given a pass if you don’t do this out of unintentional ignorance, better to impress your hosts.
  1. Turn your back: I’m not sure that I agree with it, but Korea is still an incredibly hierarchical society. When drinking with someone who is considered a superior—a boss, older person, etc.—you should drink while turning your back from them when you take your sip.
  1. Eat when you can: Very rarely do Koreans drink with only one type of alcohol, and it can be considered rude to turn down a drink (also not sure I agree with this). Generally speaking, a night out will involve the traditional Korean vodka-like beverage of soju with dinner, beer with tasty Korean snacks like fried chicken at the next stop (hint: this is where you may want to load up—on food), a stop at another place for more beer, a trip to a karaoke place where you may end up drinking anything, and finally a trip to a club, where you also may be drinking anything. Food won’t be available everywhere, so to soak up your mixed liquor, eat when you can, even if this requires a quick stop by one of the delicious street food vendors selling tasty treats like ddokpoki in between venues.
  1. Selective amnesia: Depending how many people you’re out with, someone is going to drink too much. On a good day, this will just mean that he or she passes out at the table you are drinking at, in which case you will just see to it that he or she gets into a taxi safely. On a bad day, this will turn into a meaningless fight for no reason at all. Either way, this isn’t necessarily considered shameful in Korea, since it is expected to happen to the best of them at times, and simply means you’re making a noble effort to keep your drinking skills up. But when it does, a true gentleman will never mention it again. You’ll hope someone extends you the same courtesy when it’s you who is sprawled out on the floor of a Korean bar.
Listen to this advice when you're having dinner...

Listen to this advice when you’re having dinner…

...because this is to follow...

…because this is to follow…

Yes, that says 4pm to 9am....

Yes, that says 4pm to 9am….

It isn't going to slow down...

It isn’t going to slow down…


…so eat that chicken when you can…


...because there is more of this to follow...

…because there is more of this to follow…

...with no shortage of options...

…with no shortage of options…'re likely to end up doing some karaoke...

…you’re likely to end up doing some karaoke…

...and then at a club

…and then at a club

Cut some slack to whoever looks like this first...

Cut some slack to whoever looks like this first…









Keeping the Drinks Flowing in Brasil’s Nightclubs


One of my greatest pleasures of traveling comes from picking up nuances from each culture that just seem to make sense. I imagine picking a sort of “all star team” of ideas from each country to create a utopian society, which exists, of course, only in my head.

However, one of the tidbits I’d take home from Brazil would be how their nightclubs keep you hydrated (or, if you actually want to be scientific about it, dehydrated). When you first enter, you hand your ID to a clerk who inputs your information into their database and proceeds to hand you a card, as shown below, that resembles a credit card. Each time you order a drink at the bar, you hand the bartender your card, which he or she scans, and returns it to you. At the end of the night, you bring your card to a cashier, who calls up the record of each of your drink (or food) orders, including any applicable cover charge, and, upon receiving payment, gives you a receipt that you can hand to the bouncer to leave the club.

This drove me mad at first. I thought it was so stupid to actually have people queue up to leave a club. But after a few more visits, realizing how much more quickly bartenders (who do not earn tips, by the way) can serve patrons without having to worry about handling cash and credit card slips, I changed my mind. In the States, it would be unthinkable to be at a popular club on Saturday night without having to wait at least a few minutes for a drink, but the same clubs in Brazil get your glass from empty to full in 30 seconds or less, or so it seems. And while having to line up to leave the club at 5am may not seem like an ideal situation for someone who’s had too much to drink and can’t wait to get home, the fact that they have to wait a few extra minutes to make that decision of exactly how they will get home is not necessarily a bad thing.

So please, give me my card and keep the saquerinhas coming!

I should mention that a similar system is commonly used at bakeries and small supermarkets, although I’ve yet to see the real value it adds in those places.

You won't want to mess with this guy...

You won’t want to mess with this guy…

He'll only let you out once you pay!

He’ll only let you out once you pay!


IDseoul: Spending (or Ending) a Night in a Bathhouse


Among other things, Seoul is notorious for wild nights. By day, Koreans will swear to you through and through how conservative they are. Spend a night out in places like Hongdae or Itaewon, and you know first-hand that isn’t true.

It isn’t uncommon to be in a club until the dawn, but if for some reason you’re feeling a little slow and can’t last, there is a unique alternative: jjimjilbang, or public bathhouse.

The sign you're looking for when you need a rest

The sign you’re looking for when you need a rest

These are a kind of 24-hour spa that feature minimal luxuries: just hard floor mats to sleep or rest in a shared, gender-specific room, a locker for your possessions, and access to some public baths. For your entrance fee of anywhere from 7,000 Korean won (about $6.50) and up, you can rest for several hours or spend the night. They are commonly used by businessmen (and women) who have long commutes home and stay out late drinking after work, but occasionally serve the nightclub crowd as well.

In an otherwise 24-hour city, the subways here close around midnight, and taxis can be expensive. So if you won’t last the entire night at the club, jjimjilbang may be just the option for you, and a cultural experience to behold as well.

Spending a night in a jjimjilbang...

Spending a night in a jjimjilbang…

IDthailand: Full Moon Party



Nearly thirty years ago, a group of 15 or 20 visitors to a little-known Thai beach threw a little party to celebrate the beauty of the evening’s full moon. Today, anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000 people flock to Haad Rin, a little beach on the island of Ko Pha Ngan, to do the same—every time there is a full moon.

With the beach already buzzing full of people and small lamps, the party officially begins at dusk, when the golden moon rises over the white sands of Haad Rin. Over the next several hours, until the sun rises again, the beach turns into an all-out dance floor, as the DJ lineup switches things up from trance, to techno, to drum-and-bass, to reggae, to pop—pretty much any and everything to keep the crowd moving. Some will take a break to eat (there are beach vendors selling all kinds of yummy foods), perhaps take a dip into the warm Gulf of Thailand, or even shoot some of the impromptu fireworks you are bound to see.

All you’ve heard about conservative Thai culture doesn’t apply here—and that’s not surprising considering that very few partygoers are actually Thai. Pretty much anything goes, although police have made an effort in recent years to curb some of the rampant drug use that the party had become known for.

But while you have to keep your wits about you—Thai drug laws are strict (or, more likely, you’ll be expected to pay a hefty bribe) and the parties are often marred with petty theft—the Full Moon party is truly something to experience, unlike anything you’ve seen before or will likely see again.

SKK_1230 SKK_1373 SKK_1181 SKK_1300

IDwashingtondc: Chocolate City’s Surprisingly Unique Culture



Washington, D.C. is famous around the world, and it is known for anything but culture. People come here to see “the most powerful city in the world,” the White House, and monuments upon monuments—usually constructed in honor of political figures. The city is synonymous with politics, with the museums of The Smithsonian being the only exposure to anything that can be considered “cultural” that most visitors are exposed to.

But away from the steps of the United States Capitol building and the National Mall, Washington, D.C. has a unique culture all its own, with a history as rich as any other city in America. With a predominantly African-American population, Chocolate City (as it is known to some locals) has been a hub of musical creativity, Civil Rights activism, and culinary prowess for well over 100 years. To experience this first-hand, get away from the Tourmobile and check out some of these sights and sounds that you may not know as much about:

  •  U Street Corridor:  Once the rival to New York City’s Harlem in terms of cultural influence and significance, U Street was a hub of Civil Rights activism in the mid-1900s and today hosts a thriving social scene full of bars and restaurants.
Night life along U Street

Night life along U Street

Mural of Barack Obama and Bill Cosby

Mural of Barack Obama and Bill Cosby

  • Adams-Morgan:  By night a popular nightlife spot, particularly among younger crowds, by day Adams-Morgan plays host to an eclectic collection of restaurants offering just about any kind of cuisine that can be found on earth.
Cafe patrons at Adams-Morgan's Tryst

Cafe patrons at Adams-Morgan’s Tryst

Enjoying a cuppa...

Enjoying a cuppa…

  • Eastern Market:  A bustling market since 1873, Eastern Market today still plays host to a variety of food and crafts vendors, artists and the occasional musician—weekends only.
An Eastside DC landmark

An Eastside DC landmark

Inside the marketplace

Inside the marketplace

Farmers Market

Farmers Market

Eastern Market blues

Eastern Market blues

  • Dupont Circle:  The hub of Washington’s thriving gay community, the neighborhood surrounding this large traffic circle hosts a diverse variety of cafes, restaurants and night spots despite being adjacent to the city’s primary business district.
Dupont Circle on a nice afternoon

Dupont Circle on a nice afternoon

  • Georgetown:  Like nearby Dupont, this neighborhood is home to cafes, restaurants, but also hosts a major university, lots of shopping, and charming cobblestone streets and majestic homes.
Georgetown's main drag: M Street

Georgetown’s main drag: M Street

Old streetcar line

Old streetcar line

Georgetown's colorful row houses

Georgetown’s colorful row houses


Real Heroes Walk Away…


Not all of Australia’s drinking activities are uncivilized, as you may have picked up from our article about the culture of shouting. But that aside, it is clear that the country still has a major problem when its longest serving emergency department director throws out the “d” word.

“We have developed this incredibly dumb drinking culture in Australia…and it’s a national issue,” said Professor Gordian Fulde of St. Vincent Hospital in Sydney.

Fulde’s comments last year came in light of the estimated 3,500 Australians that suffer brain damage as a result of assaults each year. Approximately 82 percent of these injuries occur on weekends, between the hours of midnight and 4am, and 70 percent of them happened in the close vicinity of pubs or clubs.

While this may shed some light into the macho Australian attitude that I experienced within minutes of landing in Sydney during one visit, especially when fueled by alcohol, it is a serious issue that has many officials calling for even stricter regulations on nightlife (there are already bans in place for serving drinks in glasses after midnight).

The government also launched a multimedia campaign last year, called Real Heroes Walk Away, in hopes of curbing the late night violence.

According to Fulde, the larger problem lies in the culture, how young people have a badge of honor attached to engaging in violence and winning fights. “And we have to show Dad that what he looks like on Saturday morning with a hangover is horrible,” he added.

Courtesy of

IDdubai: Loser’s Paradise!


I’m going to get into a lot of trouble with this post, but as the aim of Initial Descent is to offer a true glimpse into every culture, I can’t mince words. To put it simply, if you are a guy who has trouble with personality, you lack personal style, you’re a little on the chubby side without charm to compensate, or struggle with the opposite sex for any other reason, then Dubai is the place for you. The men who live in Dubai , though very diverse, all seem to have one thing in common: a girlfriend (or three) who would be way out of their league in their country of origin.

See, Dubai (along with counterparts Abu Dhabi, Doha and to some extent, virtually every other major Middle Eastern city for which this post would also apply) is a transitional place for most. It is a place people, mostly men, come from far and wide to make more money than they are probably worth, live a higher class lifestyle than they are probably accustomed to, flirt with more beautiful girls than they would be capable of meeting anywhere else, and ultimately return to their home countries a few years later—with more wealth and more notches on the bedpost. Oh, and in some cases a wife who, as referenced above, would otherwise be out of their league.

On the flip side, Dubai is full of women who come to follow dreams—specifically, in the tourism industry. While not many men do, there are women all over the world who dream of becoming a flight attendant, which in many cultures is considered to be among the more glamorous jobs, or working in an international hotel.  Often, it is a dream that has lingered since childhood, influenced by visions of seeing Paris, New York and Rome—and getting paid for it. This is quite convenient for the men of Dubai (including those male flight attendants who seem to have figured the “fringe benefits” of the job out), as the city happens to be home to one of the largest and fastest-growing airlines in the world. And, having worked for one before, I’d be remiss to say that physical appearance is not one of the critical criteria that goes into the hiring decisions of most Middle Eastern airlines. On top of the thousands of girls Emirates employs, there are the countless hotel and other tourism staff, who have jobs that constitute the next best thing (to flying) for most.

While the simple concentration of attractive women here is the main factor working in men’s favor, the other major piece of the puzzle is that, inevitably, everyone who moves to Dubai for work—thousands of miles away from home for most—gets lonely. No matter where you are from, there is a culture shock, and not many comforts of home. And when loneliness sets in, and we don’t have our closest friends or family to cuddle up with, it’s human nature that we simply are drawn to another warm body to help distract us from our loneliness.  Apply this homesickness to the beautiful women here, who often see the men that chase them around as “comfort zones” that happen to be in Dubai when they need someone in Dubai, and typical evaluation processes take a back seat. The women become attached emotionally; the men seem to be much more motivated by other factors, and usually the result isn’t pretty. But where else on earth do situations exist where men are actually treating women who are actually above their league as completely disposable? This is one of the more amazing elements of expatriate culture here. And yes, as with anything in life, there are exceptions to the general observations expressed in this post.

While there certainly are beautiful people of both genders in Dubai, much more of these happen to be of the female gender, many of whom are lonely, missing home, and looking for emotional support. Do the math, and it means that no matter what a guy may or may not have to offer, he more than likely has a model-looking girl on his arm. 

Just a Ride Home, or Part of the Night’s Fun?


London Tube

It’s 12:30am and the Tube is closed…Night bus time!

London’s Tube closes nightly around 12:30am. Just after midnight you’ll hear all of the Last Tubers saying their goodbyes and referencing their need to catch the last train. But if you aren’t ready to leave yet, and don’t want to spring for London’s pricey black cabs, fret not. Just walk over to Trafalgar Square, and chances are that there’s a night bus going your direction.

As to be expected with one of the most develop public transportation systems in the world, London’s works around the clock, with about 100 lines operating overnight. And I’d argue that you haven’t really experienced a night out in London without sitting upstairs on a double-decker bus with all of the characters heading out of Central in the wee hours of the morning. If a university near you ever offered a “drunk bus” to take you home from a night at campus parties (at my university it was known as “P2P Shuttle”), then this is akin to the grown-up version of that.

London Night Bus

Night bus memories tend to be blurry

Of course, you can experience it the other way as well, if you’re an early riser. As most Tube services don’t start until 5:30 or 6, if you have an early call time at work or an early flight out of Heathrow, you may be able to enjoy the last of the previous night’s entertainers on the way to start your day…

London Nightbus

Having a Shout in Australia!


That Australia is a nation known for drinking is little surprise. It is widely thought that the first Australian settlers drank more alcohol per capita than any other population in history, and understandably so given that the country’s currency for a time was rum.

What isn’t so known, to outsiders anyway, is the concept of “shouting.” Going back through Australia’s long history with alcohol, it has always been considered bad form to drink alone here. And in the old days, when the nation was primarily a land of convicts, people used to buy drinks for others, perhaps as a test for character. If he returned the favor, he was okay—if not, he was someone best avoided.

My friends at Convict Creations wrote a fascinating piece about the social benefits of shouting, and how it has ironically saved a culture known for drinking from some of the catastrophic drinking-related problems of it’s Russian, South American or East Asian counterparts. So please go there for some interesting tidbits, while now I will focus on helping you understand the proper way to shout Down Under. 

  1. There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch:  Maybe you’ve heard this in Economics class, but it holds true here. If you aren’t going to return the favor, don’t accept a drink from someone. And don’t try to say you’ll pay them back next time!
  1. Don’t Knock Over That Man’s Beer:  If you have the misfortune of knocking over someone else’s drink, you had better hope there is another full mug on the table. In some parts of Australia, spilling one’s beer earns the guilty party a punch in the arm from every other member of the group!
  1. Step Up to the Plate:  It is up to you to step up to the plate and volunteer your shout. Nobody else is going to remind you unless it becomes painfully obvious that you’re attempting to breach your responsibilities to the group.
  1. Don’t be the Showy Offy Drink Snob!:  Whatever everyone is drinking, keep it consistent. If you try to switch the good old VB to a round of Chimay because you tried it on your trip to Belgium and enjoyed it, you’ll look like a douche.
  1. Nobody’s Forcing You:  In the event that you are starting to feel you had too much and want to bow out, wait until the end of a round. You don’t want to look like that guy mooching, nor do you want that round’s volunteer to appear cheap by not having to buy the same amount of drinks as everyone else. If you must drop out mid-round, try requesting a non-alcoholic drink. You may get a chuckle, but everyone saves face.
  1. Everyone is Equal:  Unlike in some cultures, here it doesn’t matter who is rich, who is poor, who is man, who is woman. The same expectations and obligations apply to everyone.

Now that you know the rules of the game, enjoy your shout next time you find yourself in Australia, or just drinking with a group of mates from there!

The Mystery of Cachaça’s (Lack of) Global Appeal


I’m on a mission, out for a cause. You see, I like to drink cachaça. And when I leave Brasil, I have a hard time finding it. That’s a problem.

No matter where you are in the world, go to a bar and you’re likely to see the usual suspects—Heineken, vodka, whiskey, the occasional gin or cognac, rum, a few local beers, maybe a Guinness—and that’s what you drink. And I have no issue with that. But I have yet to hear a good argument as to why vodka is deserving of worldwide fame and cachaça isn’t.

Cachaça on the shelf in a Brazilian bar (image credit: Diogo Melo/

Cachaça on the shelf in a Brazilian bar (image credit: Diogo Melo/

With beer, it’s simple. Beer is everywhere, and although there are hundreds of beers around the world that may taste better, Heineken is a global marketing machine, backed by hundreds of millions of dollars of marketing budget. But there is no brand of vodka, or any of the other liquors mentioned, that is ubiquitous. Sure, names like Grey Goose and Jack Daniels make a valiant effort, but it’s the drink itself, independent of brand name, that has the global fame and global reach.

More than 4,0000 brands of cachaça can be found in Brasil, which combine to produce an estimated 1.5 billion liters annually to the tune of approximately USD $130 billion in revenues. And yet, only 1 percent—one freakin’ percent—of that haul is exported (most of this to Germany, a testament to the wisdom of our Deutsch brethren). With that kind of production, consumption and bottom line, you’d think someone would have tried to grow this market outside of Brasil.

As for the drink itself, it is the distillation of pure sugar cane juice—a fresh, fragrant, aromatic and smooth distillate that is either prata (silver, or unaged) or ouro (gold, which the liquor resembles after it is aged)–typically anywhere from 38% to 50% alcohol by volume. The aging process can extend for anywhere from one to 15 years, and because of the added flavor it provides, aged cachaças tend to be more expensive and enjoyed by themselves. Unaged cachaças are most widely used mixed with muddled lime and sugar in the national drink of Brasil, the caipirinha (which happens to be, for my two cents, the best drink on the planet).

The sweet, limey indulgence known otherwise as caipirinha

The sweet, limey indulgence known otherwise as caipirinha

Also known as aguardente (“burning water”), pinga and caninha among other names, cachaça can be considered a relative to rum, except that rum is made from molasses (a byproduct from refineries that boil the cane juice to extract as much sugar crystal as possible), while cachaça is made from fresh sugarcane juice that is fermented and distilled.

So ironically enough, rum is actually a lower-quality offshoot of cachaça, and yet it enjoys global distribution while cachaça remains a Brazilian gem. Is that because of a cost difference? I doubt it, given that a wine-sized bottle of Pitú or 51 (Cinquenta y un), which are two of the most popular brands of unaged cachaça, can be gobbled up at supermarkets in Brasil for 4 or 5 reals, or the equivalent of about $2 USD.

The only conclusion I can think of is that cachaça makers spend their time and effort producing quality cachaça, rather than promoting their brands. Or perhaps this is just Brasil’s way of keeping one of their secret gems amongst themselves to enjoy, just to spite the rest of the world. But I have no doubt that with the right marketing strategy (see our tale about McDonalds’ humble introduction into France), cachaça would become a globally-enjoyed beverage, possibly above all others.

Some of the various brands of cachaça found in Brasil (image credit:

Some of the various brands of cachaça found in Brasil (image credit: