Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Glow-in-the-Dark Koreans

Dear Korean,

My boyfriend is half Korean and we’ve visited some of his relatives. On one occasion, there was a great deal of soju drinking and one of his cousins (who is 100% Korean) turned purple. As I was about to administer CPR, my boyfriend stopped me and told me that it was just Asian glow and that it happens to some Asians when they drink. Why does drinking cause Asian glow? Secondly, as it turns out, I LOVE soju. What are some good brands of soju that can be found in the States?

Crissy from Cleveland

“Once you go Asian, you’ll never do Caucasian”

Dear Crissy from Cleveland,

Glad you enjoyed yourself. Soju really is great. It's 21% so it goes down smoother than most other liquors; it fucks you up so fast because you just keep on drinking it. It is somewhat like
watered-down vodka, so you can mix it just like you would mix vodka (although soju traditionalists would be aghast at the idea.)

Soju is such a staple for Korean drinkers that they always come up with new and different types every few months. So it's hard to pick out what the best type is. The most "classic" type would be "cham iseul" from Jinro company. "Ipsaeju" is good if you like your liquor slighly sweet. Lately, the most popular type is "chum-churum".

(The picture is not the Korean's fridge, but it's not a bad depiction of what he would like.)

As to the cause of Asian glow, Wikipedia does a better job explaining the scientific bases than an amateur like the Korean can. (Link here.) If the big words confuse you, this is an easy way to understand it. Basically, many Asians lack the capacity to process a certain portion of alcohol, which manifests itself in reddened face. Although the Wikipedia article describes a lot of scary symptoms like "dizziness, nausea, headaches, an increased pulse, occasional extreme drowsiness, and occasional skin swelling and itchiness", most of these things are just symptoms of drunkenness. Generally, how red an Asian gets has no relation to how drunk he is.

(Here is a shout-out to Margaret Cho, in the form of one of her jokes: "Being an Asian is tough, because you could be at a party, and this ditzy girl could come up to you and ask, 'oh, are you sunburned?' And I have to say, 'No, I'm fucked up.'")

Asian glow is not the only physical thing that manifests predominantly with Asians. Many Asians are lactose intolerant, condemned to paying extra for Lactaid milk, or having the shits all day for having a bowl of cereal. The Korean himself has both Asian glow and lactose intolerance -- another reason why the Korean is a such a representative Asian, deserving to write columns like this.

Got a question or comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@hotmail.com.


  1. That pic is AWESOME.

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  3. the soju that u get at gs25 or family mart is basically manufactured and not brewed. Its basically synthetic grain alcohol, water, and TONS of msg and phenylalanine ie nutrasweet. Basically its the msg and phenylalanine that gives you that really dirty drunk feeling.


    Get yourself the real deal soju: Andong soju. Its made from sweet potatoes and is about 90 proof. Its more expensive but your liver and brain cells will thank u for it.

    Oh yeah there are two brands of soju that you can only get on Jejudo and they are pretty low on msg and nutrasweet. One of them is called something like Hallasan and the other I cant remember. But like I said you can only get them on Jejudo

  4. Andong soju tastes like ass. And I don't mean that in a good way.

  5. Do yourselves a favor and get on some Baek Sae Ju. You feel like superman, gets you feeling faaaaaantastic, and because of the ginseng, wake up feeling like a million bucks.

  6. That, sir, is an awe-inspiring refrigerator.

    Oddly enough, when it comes to lactose and alcohol, I feel very isolated because 1) I am not lactose intolerant and 2) I do not get the Asian glow (not only that, I have a demonstrated ability to handle more alcohol than pretty much anyone else at any party I've been to, which is troublesome because I got sick once after getting into a drinking contest - usually people are nice enough not to goad me any further)

    Personally, I think the Asian glow is useful because other than the occasional individual who is unaware of said phenomenon, most people will know when to draw the line. I'm pretty much the only Korean (indeed, only Asian) I know who doesn't have this occurrence (at all).

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  8. About soju,I love it!
    About the Asian glow, one of my korean friends has it, and another korean friend of mine has some other side efects. But I did'nt know it had a name.
    About Baek sae ju, it rocks!
    And about your blog, dear Korean, I'm absolutely in love with it! ^.^

  9. I'm half Korean and luckily don't suffer from the glow, although my mom does seem to have a minor version of it. She also can't hold her liquor, giving me the lecture of never exceeding a two drink maximum as I went away to college. I soon discovered that I inherited my father's liver, and when on a roll, can drink more than most girls my size. I've seen myself after a hard night of drinking and I seem to lose all color. It's not pretty, looking like death at the bar. I'm not lactose intolerant, but neither is my Korean mother so we scream for ice cream.

  10. OH! My aunt is half Japanese and whenever she drank wine she would turn bright red. he family didn't know what it was so she just goes for lighter drinks. Hehe! So she has Asian Glow? Hahaha!

  11. oh no ...

  12. @Charles I don't get the alcohol blush either. To other commenters discussing taste qualities? Ever tried makkoli? That's some tasty stuff...

  13. complete readiness for all-out-drinking

  14. Rob is 100% right. The cheap soju you buy all over Korea and that 99.999999999% of Koreans drink is borderline toxic garbage.

    It is ethanol and water, at its safest and ethanol and water + some random chems at its most dangerous.

    One of my closest friends is a general manager of OCI (Dong yang Hwa Ha)- Oriental Chemical Company. He explained the chemical composition of soju and how it breaks down in the body. I can't get into it, but soju is basically poison water.

    I recommend Korean makolli, or Chinese "soju" 70-90% alcohol, over Korean soju. It's pure and safe for consumption. It is strange saying something from China is safe for consumption, lol.

    That funky feeling you get from drinking a 12 ounce bottle of Jinro Soju is poisoning. Look up the liver failure rates of Koreans. Of course, most are attributable to 'fan death', but that's another story.

  15. I'm hapa...and a VERY cheap date and I mean that in a way that it doesn't require much alcohol to get me buzzed. I hate the way it feels though...I get hot, my face turns red (eventually it covers my whole body)I can feel the pulse in my head - but I did find out that after about 5 beers - though I am still red..the crappy feeling goes away!

  16. One of my Japanese buddies gets hardcore Asian Glow after about two beers. It's hilarious.

    Keep up the good work. Love the blog.

    Also, that fridge is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen in my entire life. Better looking that Dambi, Hyori, and SNSD combined. Just get some beer and you can make some delicious 소맥!

  17. I don't want to be a kill-joy but it's determined that the deficiency leads to buildup of acetaldehyde which is a known carcinogen. I'm curious if people in Korea don't know about the negative health effects or just ignore them due to the social pressures of drinking.

  18. Hah, I gave never heard of the "Asian glow" until just now.


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