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U.S. soldiers sit down to a lunch of marinated barbecued beef during a tour in South Korea on Friday. About 90 soldiers joined the tour.

U.S. soldiers sit down to a lunch of marinated barbecued beef during a tour in South Korea on Friday. About 90 soldiers joined the tour. (Hwang Hae-rym / S&S)

ICHEON, South Korea — An association of businesses that run 242 bars catering to U.S. troops in South Korea took 90 U.S. soldiers on a tour Friday to help introduce them to the country’s culture.

Kim Won-chul, president of the Korea Foreigner Tourist Facility Association, said the goal was to show the soldiers there is more to Korea than the bars outside the bases and to strengthen Korea-American friendships.

The soldiers and 14 guides packed onto three buses early Friday morning for a long, rainy ride — more than two hours — to Icheon in Gyeonggi Province. Many had traveled from outlying bases, some from as far as Taegu in the southern part of the peninsula. Some said they volunteered; others said they were volunteered.

The first stop was a tour of an “OB” Korean beer factory, something the soldiers appeared to enjoy.

After touring the factory’s world beer museum, and laughing at Korean beer commercials displayed on monitors, the soldiers walked through the entire brewing process, from fermentation to filtration, brewing to bottling.

The tour was followed by an “all-you-can-drink” session and beer drinking contest. The winners received engraved metal beer-drinking cups.

Spc. Jordan Heinz, a 21-year-old soldier from Duluth, Minn., said he had toured a beer factory at home and wanted to see if there were any differences. It was pretty much the same, he said, “but the beer factory in my home town doesn’t have this kind of pub. It is a little more different than I expected. I had a lot of fun.”

Next up was lunch at a Korean restaurant of bulgogi — thin strips of marinated, barbecued beef, served with about 10 side dishes of seasonal vegetables.

Then the soldiers visited the 19th Incheon World Biennale, showcasing select international ceramics. The Americans joined thousands of elementary and high school children on field trips as they trooped through more than 30 buildings.

The kids appeared fascinated with the soldiers and took the chance to practice English and have their photos taken with the Americans.

Cpl. Stanley Eding, a 24-year-old soldier from Flint, Mich., said the trip was the best time he’s had in his 18 months in Korea. “To try to interact with people, especially kids … is just great,” he said.

Spc. Lonnie Brown, 28, of Las Vegas, called the museum interesting, the beer really good and the people very kind. “To wake up really early in the morning to experience a lot of Korea culture” off base was a good choice, he said, adding that he’d recommend the tour to his friends.

Pfc. Erin Schrader, 21, of Binghamton, N.Y., said she’s been in Korea two months. She said she was impressed with the politeness of the children encountered on the tour — and laughed when they told her she was beautiful.

“That was a lot … of fun,” she said.

Most of the soldiers fell asleep on the bus ride back to Yongsan Garrison.

Kim said his organization and the Korea Ministry of Culture and Tourism financed the $8,500 tour. If the reaction was positive, he said, he hoped to conduct future tours.

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