Podding All Over Town

by Liam Ring
Groove Korea (groovekorea.com)

It’s a chilly afternoon near Anguk Station and a small yet determined group are stamping their feet and rubbing their hands together as they wait for a straggler. Recording equipment, cameras, (and even in these so modern of times) pens and paper are all stowed away for a journey of discovery into one of Korea’s better known – even infamous for some – libations. Among these adventurers is podcaster, associate producer and Koreascape reporter and guest host GP, who will be joining Veronica from Gastro Tour Seoul on a brewmasters tour. The last person finally arrives and they are off. The time is now. The mission is soju.

California native GP’s somewhat circuitous route from the EFL classroom to the TBS studio would never have gotten off the ground had a previous employer in Ulsan not made the decision to downsize, leaving the San Josean considering his stalled career as a hagwon legend, and pondering the bright lights, big city vibe of Seoul. “I assumed,” he remembers thinking, “that I might find new ways to challenge myself and new hobbies to pursue.” A serendipitously discovered guest spot on a radio music show followed, and a podcasting / writing / hosting / associate producer was born. Legend status may still prove elusive, but if unique, discussion-provoking content is what you strive for, the g1pdcst will steer you right.

However, this evening’s goal isn’t just any, regular, green-bottled type of soju that goes well with sangyeopsal. The history of homebrew in Korea is a long and varied one, and by the end of this evening in northern Seoul, GP and his listeners will have discovered plenty about what goes into a different type of liquor. This latest podcast is part of what is a growing array of episodes about Korea that few expatriates would even consider – GP himself admitting that he had never encountered this type of soju in his six and a half years in the country – and the route from the station to the brewery brings those thirsty for knowledge through sections of the old city that leaves everyone well-prepared for an evening steeped in tradition. Upon finally reaching the destination, all are immediately hit by the fragrant, pleasant aroma of … well… soju. But promising a taste experience quite unlike what springs to mind from the aroma that usually hits you in a Line 1 train carriage on a Saturday after a day’s hiking has finished.

GP initially started the podcast in order to prevent his live radio abilities from fading when he wasn’t behind the microphone. Considering that very first episode, he can see how things have changed as he has become more adept with the myriad skills required to bring a successful podcast to the airwaves. “If you listen to each [episode],” he promises, “the growth is tangible.” Since those early steps, he has chaired a panel discussion on sex in Korea (with a follow-up planned for the coming months), interviewed a K-Pop songwriter about existing in the belly of the beast, and even fed the impoverished elderly. The plight of Seoul’s older residents proved a massive eye-opener for the Californian. Known as the forgotten generation, an evening spent interacting with them and hearing their stories left little doubt as to what people mean by first world problems. “It isn’t at all a revelation to say that most Western expats are very fortunate, but it’s never been laid bare to me with such brutal contrast.”

After meeting the brewmaster – a designated national treasure from the Seoul metropolitan government – the ingredients and process are explained in detail. Cultural experiences are discussed and the effort and time required to make traditional soju is gone into in great detail. Comparisons with makgeolli (the drink of the people) and regular soju are made and the difficulties of producing such soju is discussed; an enjoyable, cultural and information-fuelled evening, topped off with sampling a sweet beverage which tops the 40% alcohol mark. Ouch!

Perhaps surprisingly, the technical side of recording a podcast is among the easier things to do. One challenge that GP has found is in a remaining stigma behind the podcast concept itself. “There’s a hesitation that my content won’t be worth their [the listeners] time.” Also, the very egalitarian nature of podcasting means that with so many choices, how is a listener to know which podcasts are really worth listening to. With so many content creators in Seoul, “people assume you’re only as good as the next one.” On this, he assures me, “they’re dead wrong.” Language can also be a factor, with many Koreans still shy about speaking English, thus a lot of thought-provoking insights are lost to the expatriate audience.

There is of course much more to the podcast than just a wonderful evening with Gastro Tours, with tons of research into both the history and modern place soju has taken in society. The podcast’s journey will ultimately be spliced with sections explaining the history of the product, voxopops on pricing and expert interviews – with a soju brewer living and working in New York. You can even find out why soju is so often found in green bottles. All done with a wry sense of humor.

Looking ahead, GP feels that the podcast offers him the freedom to address issues not possible on traditional radio, and has finally developed his podcast into a bi-monthly edition “created specifically for the Korean expat.” The wheels never stop turning for him, and he often finds himself awake in the middle of the night jotting down ideas for future episodes. “There is,” he insists, “nothing I’ve deemed undoable.”

Words of wisdom for any wannabe podders? GP believes that anyone can podcast. No expensive equipment, software, soundproofing or excuses is needed. “The first step,” to crib from former Fresh Prince Will Smith, “is you have to say that you can” and the message and the courage to publish is everything. “Remember,” enthuses GP, “nobody starts perfect, and nobody ends that way either.”

Check out https://soundcloud.com/g1pdcst for more of GP’s Korean adventures.

Head to http://www.gastrotourseoul.com/ to find out more on Seoul’s wonderful eats and drinks


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