Living in weird drinking culture
The average breadwinners in today's society, mired in their own tasks, may struggle to get through a hectic day.
Not to mention the usual burden of working overtime, they cannot overlook the designated meeting to drink with their coworkers. Plus, there is the physical inconvenience of the side-effects of a hangover the next day such as headache, stomachache, dizziness, nausea and feeling drained.
In Korea, the average worker cannot dare to break an appointment to go drinking without considerable offense or excellent excuses. If they frequently fail to attend without legitimate reason, they will feel isolated in the office.
As this invisible pressure escalates, it is difficult for to concentrate on work. Thus, we breadwinners tend to go out drinking for the benefit of psychological stability.
Once drinking begins, in my view, people divide into two types. One is the “hippopotamus,” rapidly gulping down the contents of the glass. The other is the “buffalo” sipping his drink, pretending to reflect on its taste, and delaying consumption.
They encourage, and even push, colleagues to drink more while going around the table, holding a bottle of deluxe alcohol.
I witnessed this culture because I once worked for a trading company. In spite of being an awkward drinker, I had to attend the nights out because the absence of a rookie was regarded as a kind of revolt. The weird culture inexorably requiring me to drink drove me crazy. After all the rookies confessed their alcohol capacity, they had to prove it by capping the empty cup over their head.
It was the first gate of the ceremonial passage to be assimilated into this weird culture. This ritual separated the rookies into the offspring of the hippo or the buffalo. The latter, to which I also belonged, was treated like an ugly duckling.
Whenever the time to drink came around, I was worried but tried to gulp down the alcoholic beverage, closing both eyes. However, I often failed to do so. Some belonging to the hippo circle used it as an opportunity to exhibit their own masculinity and drinking prowess.
Veteran drinkers dominated the group, taking advantage of their easy inebriation. Those frequently offering different views were among these candidates. Finally, they responded to the hippo with violent rage. A serious quarrel occurred. A few people came out as a mediator whose behavior seemed like that of Falstaff from Shakespeare’s ``Henry IV,” a drunkard, a glutton and an opportunist.
It seemed that they had an innate sense of whom they should back up. They thought flattery required delicacy and skill in choosing the right moment to deliver the customized encouragement to the bosses. They always spoke the sweet words each one yearned to hear. On the other hand, a few outsiders often changed into a hulk, venting pent-up complaints.
The cowardly looked on at the hard drinkers' confrontation, bewildered and alarmed. At that moment, I was often dragged out of a pub by a senior hand. He softly patted my upper shoulder to try and alleviate the feeling of nausea. Finally, I vomited.
Though today's drinking kaleidoscope is rather different, it doesn't seem to have changed to the core. Obviously, the first reason to drink together is to seek unity among co-workers. However, another underlying cause makes it possible to address each rung of the hierarchical ladder in the process of passing the cup. While doing so, all the participants will call each other as an elder or younger brother.
The fraternity in being a sworn brother immediately gave me a swelled up feeling beneath my throat. However, I was greatly frustrated to see my boss boasting of his military career in the Marine Corps becoming a bully again. Nighttime buddies and brothers showed the boss craven subservience again. It rolled and slipped off the tip of my tongue. But it did not fit my temperance. To make matters worse, the symptoms of an ulcer were aggravated as time went by.
So I decided to quit the company after a few months. At that time, if I was supporting a family as the breadwinner, I could not have resigned so easily. In fact, those not adapting to the weird drink culture in Korea need to be rather brazen faced to survive. A maternal uncle of mine died of lung cancer long ago. Likewise, a coworker, a physics teacher, died of stomach cancer. They were too naive to dispel the consistent demand to drink. Heavy drinking was the cause of their death.
Whenever I commuted to the company by subway, I had to walk at a trot to press forward as a multitude of commuters moved to their own destination. It often occurred to me that the long line of exhausted inmates in Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s ``One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” was similar to those stuck in the rush hour commute. I was marching like them without knowing where or why, rather feeling the remnants of the previous day’s drinking. To young eyes, the line between life and death seemed too thin.
This was a sad portrait of mine, once addicted to a weird drinking culture about 25 years ago, but I cannot still look away from this culture prevalent around Korea..
The writer is a girl’s high school teacher in Bucheon, Gyeonggi Province. His email address is email@example.com.