[FOUNTAIN] The Changing Culture of Drinking

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[FOUNTAIN] The Changing Culture of Drinking

Li Po, the master Chinese poet and one of the most famous imbibers in Chinese history, often celebrated the joy of drinking in his poetry. In one of his poems, he sang that flowers bloom while people exchange wineglasses. Flowers bloom everywhere in spring, and we can be all drunk only with the fact that spring has come. Spring induces people to forget what we gain and lose in this secular world.

The bright spring has finally come in Seoul, with the publication of a new book, "The Romantic World of the Bac-chants." Nam Tae-woo, a professor of Chung-ang University, well known for his in-depth knowledge of alcohol, writes about the changes in Korean drinking culture. Mr. Nam refers to the time from the Japanese annexation of Korea until 1960 as "drinking in a sense of futility." Koreans, he says, drank alcohol in order to ease the grief over losing the nation.

Mr. Nam calls the period of economic development and military dictatorship in the 1960s and 1970s "the era of drunkenness." As economy grew, alcohol use was widespread at various events, and people were subconsciously encouraged to drink in order to erase political issues from their minds. People drank large amounts of alcohol in a short time and got dead drunk, rather than enjoy drinking slowly. Moreover, people were treated relatively leniently for mistakes made while drunk.

The 1980s is labeled as "the era of drinking to serve guests." As bars became larger and more luxurious, people started drinking in order to show off their vanity rather than enjoying the true taste of alcohol. Economic gain without cultural background caused a drinking culture to bubble up. Mr. Nam believes that in the 1990s a new drinking culture has emerged. Considering food, people started to put more value on quality than quantity, and on diet than nutrition. Along with this change, people are showing a clear tendency to consider their health when drinking.

Gaston Bachelard, a French philosopher, once said alcohol was like burning water. It is widely believed that "Sul," a Korean word for alcohol, originated in the Chinese characters meaning water and fire. Although alcohol is similar in form to water, mind and body are set on fire after drinking. It plays a role as lifesaving water for passive people by making them active, but excessive drinking is like taking poison, which makes a person lose control. There is an old saying that more people were drowned in the wineglass than in the rough sea.

A popular etymology of the word "sul," holds that it is derived from the expression "sul sul," meaning going smoothly down the throat. In these bright spring days, I wish the tangled threads of our hardships might be straightened out smoothly.

by Lee Kyeung-chul

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