Japan from the inside out

Snake soju headed for US!

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, May 13, 2007

BEAT-ERA NOVELIST William S. Burroughs used a technique he called “cut-out” to write Naked Lunch, his best-known work. He typed out the sentences on a sheet of paper, cut them up, and rearranged them at random.

After reading this story in the Daily NK about Pyongyang soju, don’t be surprised if you find yourself wondering whether the reporter used the same writing technique. It’s not often one sees this combination of nouns and noun phrases in the same place at the same time: snake venom, potency, prison camps, soju, used bottles from China, and exports to the U.S.

Here’s the story in brief: Pak Il-U, a Korean immigrant to the United States, has formed the Chosun Pyongyang Trading Company with the permission of the North Korean government to export Pyongyang soju, an alcoholic beverage, for sale in the United States. (Read this previous report for some details about soju.)

Pak explains his inspiration:

“When people drink Pyongyang Liquor, a traditional liquor of Korea, they will think of Korea and chat about the history and traditions of the nation. That’s why I made this decision.”

That’s perfectly understandable. Whenever Americans sit around and drink beer, a traditional liquor of Germany, the conversation naturally veers toward Bach, Goethe, and Otto von Bismarck.

The potential exists for plenty of other subjects to arise, too. One of the ingredients in the liquor is poisonous snakes. After the snakes are caught, they’re starved to force the poison to rise to the top. Then they are immersed in alcohol, and the drink is allowed to age in the traditional way 170 meters underground. The Russians in particular like this drink because it is “known to be good for male stamina and hip aches”.

Catching those snakes is dangerous work, however, and in other societies they might find it difficult to hire a snake crew. But according to the Daily NT, Pyongyang has no problem rustling up the manpower for the job—they just use the inmates of their political prison camps. This has several advantages: there’s never a personnel shortage, the workers don’t file grievances, and the government doesn’t have to worry about liability insurance or disability payments.

Still, the article does raise more questions than it answers. For example, who is actually going to drink this, other than Korean immigrants or college students looking for an exotic buzz? Assuming for the sake of discussion that the snake venom does boost “male stamina”, why would anyone (other than Russians) choose liquor as the delivery mechanism? Isn’t that like staggering one step forward and falling five steps back?

The biggest question of all is what Americans will think. Some activists already are upset at foie gras consumption because the product is created by force feeding geese and ducks to enlarge their livers to their maximum size. Those poor serpents are starved before being pickled in the soju brine. Then there are the activists who rail against Nike and other companies for the salaries they pay employees in Third World factories. Would those activists think Pyongyang’s political prisoners are getting satisfactory remuneration? And of course, catching deadly snakes raises concerns about job safety.

The Chicago Tribune is also running an AP article with the news, describing the hoops Park jumped through to import a product from North Korea. But here again AP’s credibility problems come to the forefront. Take the first sentence:

A traditional North Korean liquor that is clear and tastes smoother and sweeter than vodka is reportedly expected to hit the U.S. market as early as next month.

Soju smoother and sweeter than vodka? That doesn’t sound like any soju I’ve ever had.

It must be all that snake venom.

7 Responses to “Snake soju headed for US!”

  1. Matt said

    This particular Pyongyang Soju has a strong smell that turned me off trying it. However, I will take one for the team and try it next week.

  2. yasuyasu said

    It is a severe opinion to liquor as ever.
    Would import from a terrorism support country be admitted?

  3. James A said

    I’m surprised nobody has tried to export Okinawan Habu-shu to the US yet. It’s very similar to this Snake Soju. Sometimes they leave the snake in the bottle! Plus it would avoid the whole ethical dilemma the snake soju has. Well, unless you’re PeTA.

    I’ve tried Habu-shu twice and it can give you a good buzz. It was a lot smoother than I throught it would be though.

  4. ampontan said

    Yasuyasu: The Chicago Tribune article linked in the post talks about that. Generally, no they can’t, but they can if they get approved for a special license.

  5. yasuyasu said

    Ampontan:Special license?
    An action of U.S. Government and a tangle in U.S.A. are too complicated, and I cannot understand it.
    Thanks for your commentary.

  6. David said

    Let me see…

    I can either choose to enjoy a nice cold pint of beer, the golden nectar of the gods (made of water, malt, hops, yeast and magic) or a bottle of North Korean snake poison?

    This will be a “tough one” for Pak Il-U’s marketing team.


  7. […] EDIT: According to independent reports, this particular brand of soju contains trace amounts of poisonous snake venom which is caught using […]

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