Saturday, September 08, 2007

We Should All Just Go Back to Soju

It isn't just me who has had a bad morning after a night drinking car bombs, apparently.

Banning 'the bomb'By Choe Sang-Hun, SATURDAY, AUGUST 27, 2005
SEOUL: Seasoned drinkers, of whom there are many in this hard-driving country, consider it the best way to liven up an evening. They even cite it as a key to South Korea's economic success - a surefire way of building productive camaraderie among employees of the country's mighty conglomerates.

But the object of their enthusiasm also routinely gives numerous office workers hangovers and has ruined the career of many a politician. Committed boozers here, as a consequence, now face opposition from those who assert that this particular drink has come to do South Korea more harm than good.

The fiery concoction at issue is called "The Bomb Drink" - a less-than-delicate beverage comprised of a shot glass of whisky dumped into a brimming mug of beer, a drink commonly known elsewhere as a boilermaker.

Evening in, evening out, office workers chug bomb drinks shouting either "one shot!" in English, or "gun-bae" in Korean, meaning "dry your glass." Then they hold up the mug and shake it like a bell to prove that it is empty before passing it to the next drinker for whom it is replenished.

The ritual takes the mug around the table again and again, turning a drinking session with South Koreans into a true test of stamina.

Knocking back bomb drinks is something of a national pastime in a country where the rate of car accidents caused by drunken driving is about 10-fold higher than any developed country, according to the Global Status Report on Alcohol 2004 by the World Health Organization.

Alcohol-related traffic deaths in South Korea have increased an average of 12.7 percent a year.

Now there is a campaign here to discourage the concoction, which various critics have long condemned as a national scourge - a hazard to health and national productivity and a facilitator of corrupt back-room dealings.

"It's widespread especially among politicians, government officials, businessmen, prosecutors and military officers, among the so-called leaders of society," said Park Jin, a legislator from Seoul and a member of the opposition Grand National Party.

Park initiated the campaign last month among lawmakers.

After an evening of downing bomb drinks, "it's difficult to have a sound and fresh morning," Park said. He should know. Park admitted that he used to drink 5 to 10 mugs of the fiery mixture in one sitting.

"You retch, run for medicine and sneak out to rest in a public bath house. It's not a productive way to spend a morning, whether you are in the government or in a business."

Over the years, studies have shown alcohol causing a significant amount of chronic liver disease among South Koreans.

So far, 40 lawmakers have forsworn the bomb drink in the National Assembly, among whose members the concoction is as much a tradition as are their famous political harangues on the legislature's floor. The country's economy and defense ministers are sponsors of the campaign. Separately, lawmakers are pushing a bill that would tighten penalties for drunken driving.

The abstention drive comes as the drinking habits of some public figures have raised eyebrows. In recent months, politicians, prosecutors, judges and journalists have been humiliated after getting into drunken brawls, being caught driving under the influence or allegedly taking bribes during drinking bouts. In July, the prosecutor general, Kim Jong Bin, urged prosecutors to quit the bomb drink.

Bomb drinks have their die-hard supporters. Hwang Chang Kyu, president of the semiconductor division of Samsung Electronics, was once quoted as saying that the key to Samsung's triumph over Japanese competitors had a lot to do with the drinking culture of Korean office workers, if not with the bomb itself.

"Unlike Japanese workers who are said to go home right after work, South Korean workers come up with various excuses to go and have a few bombs," he reportedly said a few years ago. "Without the bomb drink, I don't think we could have built the teamwork we have. And it's not an exaggeration to say that we used our teamwork to offset disadvantages we had against the Japanese."

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