Would You Like Wine with That?


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November 12th 2006
Published: November 20th 2006
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Saturday, November 12, 2006-- a chilly autumn day. In fact, one of the chilliest since I've been in Yeosu. I woke up on that day at a bright and early 7:00. A non-working day, but, for me, a day soon to be filled with hard work, wine, and plenty of cultural lessons.

7:30 a.m., my co-teacher picked me up to go to the bus station to then go to the Suncheon "marathon" (as it seems all distance-running races are called here) where I would run a 10k (along with about 6 or 7 other teachers, most of whom were running the 20k or half marathon). I was excited to be running again (in races at least), and ready for a good (though cold) day.

Only one other teacher was running the 10k with me, so we decided to pace together once the festivities started. He doesn't speak much English (a little, though!), and I don't speak all that much Korean, but I enjoyed being accompanied by him on the run.

The run went well. I almost reached my goal of doing a 10-minute mile, and I was pumped to begin training for a half-marathon (which I hope to do next spring... we'll see). So I was excited as I crossed the finish line and went to receive my after-race nourishment.

That's when the confusion settled in. As in the one half-marathon I've run before, afterwards we received juice and carbs (in this case, a custard-filled donut). But, that's where the similarities ended. I had juice, a donut, and a sip of water, but after that, the real food and celebrating began.

We waited for the half marathoners to finish, and when they did, we all ate the race-provided kimchi, tofu, pork, and-- as I realized later, a good-ole racing standby-- makkoli, or rice wine.

I was very confused at that point. I'd had a sip of water and was hankering for some more. But then, my glass was filled with rice wine. Wine? I mean, to a certain extent I suppose it can be refreshing, but all I'd read about exercise before said that alcohol dehydrates. Well, evidently, rice wine in the past has often been used to refresh farmers amidst a hard day's work. So, why not runners, right? Perhaps it is something I'm just not accustomed to, because perhaps it did refresh the other runners. But, I was left dumbfounded and could only laugh to myself about the different racing cultures.

I managed to drink two glasses (or so) of rice wine (Dixie-cup style). I ate my kimchi and tofu (I was happy for the tofu-- great protein!). But then, they said not to eat any more because we were going to lunch. Lunch, I thought. Restaurants! They always have water.

We went to a beef restaurant (delicious food) ate up a storm, and, of course, drank alcohol. Soju, in fact, which is about the most alcoholic of alcohols you can get. I sipped mine and tried to supplement with the water I'd stockpiled at my end of the table. I had to laugh, again, to myself, knowing that after a race in the US, well, maybe you'd go drinking-- but it would be to celebrate that night, not the lunch after. Still, I had to laugh even more to myself because, although I couldn't understand much of the conversation, lunching together, eating and drinking (even alcohol) was a whole lot of fun, and I wouldn't have traded that moment for any other water-logged moment in the world.

Maybe American races have something to learn...

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