July 22, 2011

same same... just korea (pt. X)

Stay Fashionable

Korea is not a fashion runway like countries such as Italy, but Korea is a country full of people who are dressed great, all the time. The days of the week don't seem to make a difference in the way that Koreans dress. Whether it is the weekday or weekend you are not going to notice a huge variation in terms of dress. It's easily become one of my favourite things about this country. Not like what you'd expect to find in most of North America where people love to dress down when they are not on duty.

Perhaps my favourite part of the whole thing is that they dress the way I'd like to. I've never really been much of a shirt and tie person. Yet recent months and my current work environment have broadened my horizons. I'm at a point where I feel that one should be dressed well, no matter the occasion, or period of time in your life. I spent the 4 years leading up to my Korean experience in University, and my fashion outlook couldn't be any further from where it now resides.

How bout U?

Wandering around the hallways of my U(niversity) rarely resulted in seeing people dressed great. I usually saw a lot of sweatpants and Uof L stitched across girl's asses. Hoodies and sweatpants (later including yoga pants) became the unofficial student dress code. There were usually set times during the course of a semester where'd you could tell it was presentation time, but that was about it.

I loathed waking up for early morning class, and thus often skipped them. BUT when I did attend I would often arrive in my pajama pants. The rest of time I could be spotted wearing jeans and a hoodie (I never really liked sweat pants, although I once found a pair of lululemon pants I did like. They were technically girls pants, it was at a party, and that is another story). The fact that I was a business student didn't mean shit to me. I never wore ties to school, how could I? (I didn't own one: asked and answered) I remember hearing about universities with business casual dress codes, and I remember being appalled. I felt that because I was paying the university, I could dress however the hell I wanted to. Being expected to conform was never one of my strong suits.

Korea couldn't be more different. The attire worn around universities would have made me uneasy only a few years ago. At that point I still rarely wore a collared shirt, and even if I did seldom tucked it in. I always wanted to be comfortable while awkwardly rustling around in my seat. The comfortable look however, doesn't really go over well in Korean universities. I asked a friend about the differences between Universities both here and in the states, she said that she liked how comfortable people dressed in the US, and that there wasn't a certain expectation to dress up all the time. She said that in Korea it doesn't matter if your class starts at 9am or noon. There is an expectation that you are going to show up dressed well.

The women (or girls in several cases) that attended my university rarely dressed up. In fact I'm fairly sure they are the ones who helped implement, and maintain, the unofficial dress code. Ponytails were often the most common hairstyle, and little effort was put into their attire. I didn't viewed it as a bad thing, it never bothered me. Girls would often take their time to get ready for the bars, instead of wasting time for a lecture. It seemed to be for this reason that every club, and the university itself sold tracksuits. Also many guys welcome excuses to check out the walking club adverts.

According to my friend most female Korean U students wear heels, everyday. I think that is pretty much all you need to know to establish the rest of the outfit. Only on 'People of Wal-Mart' would you find people mixing heels with sweatpants. The result is a female populous that is dressed to kill. If the effort put into their hair, makeup and outfits doesn't do you in, being stabbed by their stilettos will.

Just like in western U's fashion is cyclical, and there are times when the fashion changes. Around exam time (presentation time in N/A, when western students dress to impress) Korean's will often study so hard that they slack off in the appearance category. I've been informed that if you show up to school in 'comfortable' clothes, people will ask, and assume that you've had to study hard for an exam. Thus the only excuse a Korean might have to dress down is when the pressure to do well on an exam outweighs the social pressure to dress up.

Pressure U say?

Among the many pressures that face Korean students today, I think at least part of the excellent fashion in this country can be attributed to the pressure to fit in. With this possible explanation group mentality has to be at play here. My friend doesn't know why people dress the way they do at school. She simply proclaims that "everyone does it, so everyone just does it". Although I wonder if students in N/A can truthfully come up with a much different answer.

While the end result is different, and comfort requires a lot less time to prepare for, So N/A students perhaps may have more solid against being collectivist. There is a very real fear of standing out in Korean society, much like any culture who values the group as more important than the individual. I will say this though, I'm very impressed with this group of individuals who are dressed to conquer the world, even if they are only learning about it. The residual effect has created a workforce, and city, that values the way it looks.

July 09, 2011

liquor love... and a little history...

Drinking is a past time in Korea that is taken somewhat seriously. In average yearly alcohol consumption Korea ranked 12th in the world (using WHO 2005 data, I know it's old but it's the latest data). For most people that rank means nothing, but that position is higher than both England and France (and of course multitudes higher than the US and Canada). If you are more into pictures check out the graphic aid!. It doesn't fully demonstrate their rank, but it's got pretty colours!

While South Korea sits 12th in the world in total alcohol consumption it ranks first in the world In spirit consumption (Spirit: a strong alcoholic drink such as whiskey or vodka). While whiskey is becoming more popular in Korea, the most common, and most enjoyed spirit is soju. I've mentioned soju before, and even shipped some home for my parents, I figure I'll give a (somewhat) researched history of it. Soju dates back to the 13th century and the Mongol invasions of the country. The Mongols learned how to distil from the Persians, and introduced the concept to Korea upon their arrival. Traditionally soju was made from rice, but from 1965 to 1999 the Korean government prohibited soju to be made from rice due to national shortages. This forced soju manufacturers to switch from rice and start using other common starches, such as potatoes. While the ban was lifted in 1999, competition and price battles kept it more economically viable to keep producing it without the use of rice (more on that in the next paragraph).

Soju is often compared to vodka, they share the same clear form, and a bit of the taste, although soju does taste sweeter due to the fact that they add sugar. The alcohol content of soju usually ranges from 18.5% to 45% (where most vodka's are around the 40% mark, another difference). The varying alcohol ranges can be attributed to price. Instead of raising the prices of soju, manufacturers have started to lower the alcohol content. It's because of this practice that the government requires a minimum 40% level for all soju brewed using rice, thus keeping traditionally brewed soju, traditional. Producers of the drink are fine with this, and feel that they have created a new market for the drink with a lower alcohol level. The lower alcohol allows soju to be enjoyed on a broader scale, and lower alcohol content also allows for higher unit sales.

The leader of the Korean soju market is a company called Jinro. The company currently owns a 55% market share, and is the most popular brand in Seoul. It isn't the leader seller in other markets, as soju is often considered a regional drink, and different regions of the country prefer local brands. The competition is rather petty as Jinro owns a 58% market share. Believe it or not, Korea and soju are major players in the world spirit market.

The market share (58%), coupled with the Korean population (approx 48.8 million), and a first place ranking in spirit consumption allows Jinro to become the highest selling spirit brand in the world. It outsells all other spirit brands, such as Smirnoff, Jonnie Walker, and Bacardi in case sales. While the top rank in sales is a great title, Jinro fell on bad times and due to mismanagement in the 90's Jinro was sold to another major player in the Korean alcohol industry in 2006.

Beer is becoming more and more popular in Korean society, and a major player in that market is the Hite Brewery Company. The brand currently produces two of the most popular beers in the nation, Hite and Max are ranked #1 and #3 in sales. These two brands account for 55% of the market share. The portfolio of the Hite Brewery company is impressive, and leads to a literal monopoly of the alcohol industry in Korea. They own Jinro (58% market share in soju), Hite & Max (combining for 55% market share in beer).

The merger of these two companies took place in 2006, and that has since led to The Hite Brewery Company to produce the majority of the nations alcohol. While controlling one liquor industry is not unheard of, Anheuser Busch as an example, no other company in the world dominates both the beer market & the spirit market. Since the merge The Hite Brewery Company has continued to enjoy growth in both sectors, and Jinro has been the leading spirit brand in the world since it`s acquisition.

I have mixed feelings about The Hite Brewery Company. I quickly grew tired of Korean beer after I arrived in Seoul, although I`ve become much endowed with soju. While I`ve made a decent effort to stay away from their beer, my recent enjoyment of soju keeps me coming back. I wrote this post because I feel it`s interesting to know where things come from. I then found it extremely interesting to know that the Korean market is dominated by one producer, and yet price isn`t a concern. Prices for Hite, Max and Jinro are comparable to the other brands in the market, cheap, despite their clear dominance in the industry. I commend this action, and find yet another reason to thoroughly enjoy everything and anything Korean.