Gift sets, juices make for choice holiday presents

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Gift sets, juices make for choice holiday presents

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Customers look over holiday gift sets at a department store. [JoongAng Ilbo]


In our daily lives, there are often things that we do not take notice of or appreciate until they are gone. Once you leave you hometown or country, you soon recognize them as something essential and realize how great it is to have them in your lives.

The unique trends we encounter in Korea are no different, and here are some examples of the mental keepsakes that will help remind you of the good times you had during your stay in Korea, should you leave this beautiful land of kimchi.

Different drinks for different occasions

As the weather gets chillier, you bundle up in layers inside and out, and the more time you stay indoors, the drowsier you feel. It would be simple to reach out to a freshly brewed cup of coffee, hoping for an instant jolt of energy. But if you are caffeine-intolerant or just seeking a healthier option to help you stay focused, it is good to know that tasty and healthy Korean beverages are available at convenience stores and pharmacies throughout the country. Obviously, the size and packaging of drinks manufactured in Korea are different from those in Western countries, but one of the most distinctive differences is the huge range of options you can choose from.

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A vitamin drink, left, and a hangover cure, right, are two popular drink choices in Korea. [JoongAng Ilbo]

For each different occasion, you can pick something your body requires, from drinks with general nutritional properties to beverages with specific functions. Koreans are by and large health-conscious and beverages that are made with nonartificial components or based on organically grown ingredients sell like hotcakes. One example of a popular nutritional supplement is based on ginseng. This functional drink contains red ginseng concentrate, and appeals to consumers with its numerous benefits. It is known to fight off fatigue, improve the immune system, lower the cholesterol level in blood and helps the liver metabolize alcohol.

While ginseng-based drinks are relatively expensive, cheaper drinks are also greatly favored by many in Korea. As a token of appreciation or to return a small favor, it’s a common practice to give drinks, especially in work settings. One especially popular choice is named after a Roman god of wine, Bacchus. Although it contains some caffeine, it’s high in vitamins and helps counter stress and reduce tiredness. This epitome of energy drinks has long dominated the market, but is now being challenged by a new rival product in a bottle featuring pictures of a well-known K-pop girl group. This vitamin drink has the same general taste and effects as its competitor, except it’s caffeine-free.

Reflecting Korea’s high rate of alcohol consumption, it’s no surprise that hangover cures are readily available as well. The main ingredients of hangover tonics usually include the roots of birch trees or oriental raisin trees, or aspartic acid extracted from bean sprouts. Unlike the other beverages described above, these hangover drinks can’t be described as tasty. However, they are known to alleviate, if not prevent all together, hangover symptoms like headaches, thirst and nausea. You can drink it either before or after consuming alcohol to get the full effects.

Another unique drink is aloe juice. The delicious juice has small chunks of aloe gels floating in a green bottle. Aloe, which is rich in minerals, calcium, potassium and vitamins, is good for symptoms of digestion problems.

So, the next time you spot a coworker dozing off or looking a bit under the weather, leave one of these healthy drinks on his or her desk with a sticky note that says “Fighting!”

Ready to pick holiday gift sets

While it is a major religious and family holiday in many other countries, Christmas in Korea is fairly low-key. It’s a day for friends and lovers rather than a time for families to gather. Instead, New Year’s Day is Korea’s big winter celebration, full of festive cheer. If lights and carols are a prelude to Christmas, the huge displays of packaged gift sets lining the shelves of department stores and supermarkets is a sure sign that one of Korea’s biggest holidays is on the horizon.

Along with Chuseok, Korea’s autumn harvest festival, New Year’s Day is a time for gift-giving. You have probably seen people carrying big rectangular bags in the streets and on the subway around holidays, or perhaps you were carrying your own. Let me guess what you are most surprised to see in nearly every store. Gift sets of a dozen tins of a certain shoulder pork ham, in those familiar blue and yellow cans? Usually the gifts are of a practical nature - toiletries like shampoo and toothpaste, household goods including soaps and detergents, or foods such as dried fish, fruit and, yes, canned meat. It’s easy to forget that while Korea today is a technological and IT powerhouse, just a couple of generations ago it was one of the poorest countries in the world. Gift sets are not only useful, but they are symbolic of the incredible advances Korea has made in the last 60 years.

As Koreans cherish the value of sharing, the give-and-take between family and friends, and have a history of helping out their neighbors in times of trouble, you will probably get a small gift when the holidays occur. For busy Koreans, personalizing each gift would be impossible, so assorted boxed sets are ubiquitous at stores across the country.

Besides the canned ham, popular gift set items vary. If you are giving presents to your boss or to someone from an older generation, hangwa, a traditional Korean confectionary, is a good option. I would recommend a more classical gift such as honey, medicinal mushrooms or dried fish, such as corvine or anchovy. Korean ginseng and Korean-bred beef are regarded as top-quality gift items that most people will be more than happy to receive. Other unique gift sets include personal hygiene products such as toothpaste, shampoo and soap all in packages of a dozen or so. It might sound like a strange gift to buy for your bosses or in-laws, but I know many people who live off gift sets until the next holiday, without having to run down to the nearest convenience store because they ran out of toothpaste one morning. The price range varies of course, but I would much rather get a set of cooking oils that will last for months than a tray of fruit that cost more than a plasma TV.

It’s the thought that counts, not how much money you spent. If you are not sure what to get, cash gifts are always welcome in Korea and nowadays, gift sets are sometimes replaced with gift certificates issued by the majority of specialty or department stores.


By Michelle Kang contributing writer [michykang@gmail.com]
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