[FOUNTAIN]Promises, promises

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[FOUNTAIN]Promises, promises

In a famous O. Henry short story, two friends part in New York, promising to meet each other 20 years later. Twenty years later, one friend waits for his friend at the promised spot. At the promised hour, his friend does not come but he is accosted by a policeman who soon leaves. When his friend appears a little later, the man is so excited that he doesn't realize until they reach a street lamp that it wasn't really his friend he had been talking to. His real friend, however, had kept his promise. He was the policeman who had stopped by to talk to him. Recognizing him as a wanted convict, the friend had sent a fellow policeman to arrest him because he couldn't bear to do it himself.

There is another story with a 20-year-old promise that was made among three Korean artists. Ewha Womans University professors Lee Jong-mok and Cho Duck-hyun, and Choi Gene-uk, a professor at Chugye University for the Arts, held an exhibition called "Twenty Years Later" in 1997. Having all entered Seoul National University in 1976, they had promised as art students to hold an exhibition 20 years later.

Keeping one's promise is a virtue whenever, wherever. Yet this is easier said than done. The Chinese characters for "human" and "words" -- which is what a promise is -- form the character for "trust" when placed together. Yet human words cannot be trusted these days. Indeed, they burst more easily than bubblegum.

This is all the more true with politicians who eat one's words as they eat rice. Not since liberation has a single politician's promise, either to the people or among themselves, been kept in good faith. The mother of all political lies was Park Chung Hee's rewriting of the constitution so that he could stay in office for three consecutive terms. Another broken promise was the breakup between Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-pil after the former became president.

There are rumors that the union between Roh Moo-hyun and Chung Mong-joon is already starting to go awry. Were these two wise in promising each other that the final candidate would be decided by a poll? What if they both get the same amount of support? Far-fetched as it may sound, that happened two months ago in Germany. If it happened in a country with 60 million, it surely might be possible in a poll of only a couple of thousand respondents at most. What would happen then? Would the two decide by playing a game of rock, scissors, paper?

The writer is the Berlin correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Yoo Jae-sik

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