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Photobooth Blackout! , LOL – Bush Blackout! All photos courtesy of Black Out Korea; All rights reserved.

Black Out Korea began as a few photos by a young Westerner in South Korea documenting those who had drunk to excess sleeping it off in public. Witness men in suits lying spread eagle on the ground, mouths agape, sometimes with nearby puddles of vomit.
See couples passed out over food, one on each side of a table in a restaurant, their backs in perfect round symmetry as they recuperate from a night on the town before heading home.

I became familiar with the site while working with Kate Holmes on her piece Drinking in Korea Requires Etiquette and Endurance, who provided a photo from Black Out Korea.

I was intrigued and began poking around the site and got in touch with the blog owner and he agreed to an interview under condition of anonymity. Due to threats he has received, the fact that he is still in Korea, and aspects of the culture there that are touched on in this interview, his identity is not revealed here. On the last page of this article, the man who heretofore will be referred to as BOK tells us about his rationale about anonymity.

And now, the interview:

MatadorNights (MN): How long have you been in Korea?

Black Out Korea (BOK): Since March of ’09, so I suppose that makes it nigh on a year and a half.

MN: How long were you there before you started this blog?

BOK: About 6 months before I got around to actually starting it, but I had been intermittently been taking pictures and marveling at the black-out phenomenon since I got here.

MN: I’m guessing you work there. Can you tell me what you do?

BOK: I’m an English teacher. Tons of foreigners from all over teach English here, and most have pretty boring (and repetitive) personal travel blogs.

Nothing against travel blogs in general, it’s just that when you’re friends with a couple hundred people who all seem to go to the same places in Korea, marvel at the same cultural oddities, and take the exact same routes through Southeast Asia, the concept gets kind of disenchanting. But I digress.

MN: What was your initial reaction to seeing people passed out this way?

BOK: I still can’t really believe it. I’m from the US, and if you are even drunk in public you’re apt to get arrested, let alone if you’re blacked out. And even then, getting arrested would be the best case scenario. People would be robbed blind if they passed out this much back home in the States.

Apparently that’s not much of a problem here, they just have to watch out for foreigners with cameras.

MN: Which is your favorite all time photograph or series of photographs?

BOK: Whew, that’s a rough question.

There are several hundred pictures on the site now. While the photos themselves can be gold, I really enjoy the captions and stories that people send in with the pictures. They really help put you in their situation and give you somewhat of the same feeling of “WTF?” that they experienced when they saw the scene.

For example, this one:

The caption states, “This was taken at about 6:30am by one of the tenants of this apartment. That is the landlord, shoeless, and soaked in his own urine and vomit He was no more than 20 feet from his door.”

I mean, can you imagine seeing your landlord like that? What would you even do? Wake him up? Every time you saw each other for the rest of your tenancy you’d share this silent embarrassment of that one fateful morning.

There are some pretty amazing ones from the subway as well. The best usually involve the subject curled up on the dirty subway floor. I can understand being tired and taking a hunched-over nap (everybody has done that) but these are ridiculous:

For me personally, I’m going to have to go with this one being my personal favorite (so far):

He just looks so resigned, like he said “Forget it, I’ve gotten this far, and I am NOT going up there”

MN: How long was it before you started to receive submissions?

BOK: It was only about a week before they started to trickle in. I told some of my close friends, and posted a couple entries on Facebook. After about two weeks, I was getting a few emails a week, and it’s been pretty steady since. It hit the Korean blogosphere in November of last year, and I suppose that was my 15 minutes of fame when I got the most activity on the site.

MN: Do you reject any submissions? Why and how often?

BOK: It is very rare when I’ll reject a submission. If the person sleeping outside is homeless (there are a lot of homeless folks in Seoul), I won’t post the pictures out of principle.

I’m not a saint, however; early on in the site development there were a few I posted out of sheer ignorance. I also don’t post photos of really, really embarrassing blackouts. Usually these involve nudity and a fair amount of crude poses. Although, once again, I’m not a saint. You can find still a bit of nudity and crude poses on the site. Pervert.

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About The Author

Kate Sedgwick

Editor-at-large, Kate Sedgwick, works from Buenos Aires where she organizes her live storytelling project, Second Story Buenos Aires. Read more about her than you might want to know at her blog, and follow her infrequent tweets @KateSedgwick.

  • Benin

    The more amazing thing is that this person didn’t get all of this in one night. Seriously, Koreans in Korea LOVE to drink, the beer is cheap, soju is even cheaper and readily available. It is not an uncommon sight to see a man in a business suit passed out completely prone in the middle of the sidewalk and a police officer will just “tsk tsk”, tap him awake and send him home.

  • Dertive

    Does blacked-out mean passed out in some country?

  • Sean

    He was interviewed anonymously because if NPA knew where he was and what he was doing, he’d be kicked out of the country for violating those people’s privacy. After a couple of butthurt celebrities killed themselves due to netizen harassment, they made people quit doing shit like this.

  • EvaSandoval

    What a great interview! I hadn’t heard of BOK before; brought back so many memories of the 2 years I spent in Japan. The marmite picture did shock me a bit, until I realized that I’ve seen my brother and his friends (Americans) do something similar, and even more vulgar, to their own passed out drunken friends. Also with Marmite. And Sharpie. But let’s not go there.

    With the site owner 100% on keeping anonymity; shocking that some random girl would hunt down her mother.

  • Turner

    Eh, not so shocking. As long as he stays more or less under the radar, it’s unlikely authorities are going to expend enough effort to track him down. I’ll keep a lookout for photo ops here on the east coast; my apartment is attached to a noraebang.

    Finally, a situation in which I won’t feel uncomfortable not asking the person’s permission to take a picture.

  • Michelle Schusterman

    I remember finding this blog back when I lived in Seoul and laughing my ass off. It’s just so, so common…mostly funny, sometimes sad and a few times scary. They really do take it just a bit too far.

  • Carlo

    Sweet interview Kate.

  • Hal Amen

    SO true. Great find and interview, Kate.

  • Sebastian

    Congratulations Kate, for this original and interesting interview, where I discovered a hidden side I never imagined of the corean culture.

  • Yi

    What an awesome interviewee – well spoken, articulate, lucid and funny! I agree with his stance on the blog; he’s doing this for fun, and highlighting the absurdity of people in drunken stupor. What’s wrong with that? It’s not like any of these people are getting their identity exposed on the interweb, and if they are embarrassed, even better! If they hate these photos, they’ll learn to stop their debauchery.

  • Kate Sedgwick

    Thanks, guys! I was really excited to learn about this balls to the wall craziness.

    I’m fascinated. I gather that there are a lot of restrictive aspects to Korean culture which makes all this make a strange kind of sense. Mr. BOK is really interesting and so’s his take on all this. I’m glad it’s not some clueless frat boy doing this, but someone who has something to say, even if it’s not immediately apparent at first glance on the blog.

    I want to go to Korea 20x as bad now, even though I don’t even drink.

  • Julie

    Ok, this was just crazy intriguing. And actually, I *have* seen my landlord like that (well, the super anyway).

  • Nancie

    I’ve lived and traveled across Korea for the past ten years. This interview is fairly accurate. This is a country wide phenomena.
    However, I think this guy is naive when he says there is no crime here. There is crime here, and a fair bit against foreigners.Crimes range from the private language institute that does not honor a contract to murder. I generally feel safe here, but I use my common sense.

    • Kate

      I don’t know about you, Nancie, but I I don’t want my private language institute honoring a contract to murder.

  • MaryAnne


    • MaryAnne

      The chortle is meant to be a response to Kate’s post about private language institutes not honoring contracts to murder. *again, chortle*

  • traveler

    This is brilliant! I taught English in Korea before there was such thing as a blog and I never seemed to have my camera around at night to record these kinds of things. But yes, it was everywhere every night. The worst was totally shit-faced business men stumbling around the streets because they’d forgotten where they left their car. That made me glad I never drove. Hopefully they blacked out before they found it!

  • Kelly

    I was in Korea for two weeks this April (Seoul, Busan, Gyeongju) and not once saw this, even when I was out with friends and locals drinkin near PNU (one of the the uni’s in Busan with a massive shopping/bar district) until 4am. Im not saying that this stuff doesnt happen (bc clearly it does), but you can go there and NOT see it too.

  • Angry Korean

    Yes, I’m angry.

    We’re tired of you westerners thinking that Koreans are uncivilized and you guys are superior. Drunken people are everywhere all over the world and those people on black out photos aren’t worse than many drug addicts in North America and Europe.

    You said Korea’s xenophobia is a problem. Don’t you think you lit the fire? Your blog is intensifying anti-foreign fever in Korea. Why don’t you realize that your attitude can harm your fellow English teachers?

  • JC

    You see this in every country! Japanese and their businessmen, the French and their wine connoisseurs, Americans and their fraternities and soroities, and the whole Irish population in general!! If you have been to college and have ever been to a party, you would know Americans are not any better at holding their alcohol. You see kids getting naked, sleeping together in rooms, meaningless yelling, and a lot of fighting…

    The only difference is Koreans are comfortable doing it out in public and most people in different countries do it in bars, frat houses, or in their own homes. The reason for this would have to be SAFETY. It is not as safe as before, but the streets of Seoul and other major cities in Korea are very very safe. People don’t worry about getting shot or killed. Because it is so safe, the citizens of Korea are not afraid to get drunk and roam the streets, leading to drunken people falling asleep on the street….

    Also… regarding the blogmaster’s principles on the homeless.. I do not think he can distinquish them. The drunk guy asleep on his website main page is homeless…

    • El Pollo Locro

      Sorry but you are wrong. It is not socially acceptable to pass out from drinking in bars in the U.S. or if you are a “wine connoisseur” in France (whatever you mean by that). This is a cultural peculiarity of East Asian culture. I would recommend that you not search for a way to take pride in it (by saying the reason is low crime rates and safety). You should be ashamed of this. It is a sign of systemic cultural problems. Drinking until you become unconscious is a health hazard!! You need to accept that every culture has it’s own particular weaknesses and social health issues – and that THIS IS YOURS. Work from within to fix it. Don’t make excuses for it.

  • Tim L.

    Has this site been taken down—or banned? When I click on your links I get a prompt to log in with Google, which is odd. But then when I do that, I get this error message:

    This blog is open to invited readers only

    • Kate Sedgwick

      Don’t know. I can check with the owner of the site. Thanks for pointing that out.

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