[FOUNTAIN]Intestinal fortitude

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[FOUNTAIN]Intestinal fortitude

In the spring of 1996, as mad cow disease swept the European continent, Sainsbury's, a well-known supermarket chain in the United Kingdom began to sell beef at half price. "Brave" customers swarmed into Sainsbury's stores and the chain recorded its best sales in history. Those customers included a lot of Korean businessmen and Korean students who worked and studied in the United Kingdom.

One of my Korean acquaintances at that time smacked his lips saying, "One of the great pleasures for me is enjoying an expensive sirloin steak that comes from a black cow in Scotland."

Korean stomachs can absorb almost anything. When blood poisoning traced to fish became a significant medical problem in East Asia, Korean mouths continued to water for sushi and clams. Moreover, when people around the world avoided eating pork for fear pigs were infected with foot-and-mouth disease, Koreans filled their bellies with pork ribs.

The heavy drinking habits of Koreans and Korea's place as the No. 1 trader of futures and options in the world's financial markets might also be a reflection of the sturdy innards of our people.

Korean guts have long supported spirit and determination, but our cast-iron insides often appear to be reckless and imprudent, too. The collapse of the Seongsu bridge in 1994 and the Sampoong department store in 1995 likely resulted from some Korean construction firms' heedless impatience.

Some say that Korea developed this inner strength because of hardships suffered during the Japanese occupation and the Korean War. Others say that our strong guts come from years of military dictatorships, which emphasized citizens' will and high achievements. Other scholars mention Lucien Pye, an authority on Asian politics and one of the first to point out the existence of Korean guts. Mr. Pye said that Koreans have a "risk-taking culture."

North Koreans' guts appear stronger than those of South Koreans. The North recently acknowledged a nuclear weapons development program. The North's guts to provoke never cease. Its Navy vessels have again intruded the Northern Limit Line. And we in the South apparently continue to give the North reasons to display its "guts" by ignoring all apparent dangers.

The writer is a deputy foreign news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Noh Jae-hyun

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