[VIEWPOINT]Drink, the elixir of conversation

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[VIEWPOINT]Drink, the elixir of conversation

Ko Eun, the poet, recently criticized our society for knowing neither how to invite others to drink nor how to drink properly. A drink during the evening is a solemn feast of everyday life, I recall vividly the poet proclaiming before thundering out, "Poet, here's a drink for you!" -- an offer that was gratefully accepted. There is the soul of a poet in every heart.

I am not a fastidious person when it comes to drinking with others. The social act of drinking almost always makes me happy. Nowadays, however, there are times when I find I am the eldest of the group and, thus, unable to act as freely as before. Not only that. Whenever my son comes home from the army, he calls from the little store at the entrance of the village to ask if there is any cold soju in the house. My daughter told me giggling that those who knew our family did not think it strange that she could drink so well. "Is drinking a hereditary trait?" she asked me. All this induces me to make a few comments on the drinking culture of our society.

I like drinking and I drink frequently. However, I prefer small groups where one can have intimate conversation. I despise the old practice of forcing a latecomer to drink three glasses in a row in order to level the tipsiness of everyone in the group. It is a dastardly practice of making everyone stagger equally. Filling the glasses of those who cannot drink very well is a remnant of this dastardly practice, which should be discarded.

I also think the practice of using any excuse to clink glasses is evil. One clink is enough. There is no need to disrupt a smooth flowing conversation and bring it back to the starting point by clinking glasses repeatedly. A feast of drinks should be a feast of words. Yet what a poor feast this is. People just sit around blinking their eyes before going for a round of gostop -- a Korean card game.

The practice I hate the most at drinking sessions is passing aro-und the glass. My distaste for this has nothing to do with sanitation. The intention is to root out the weaklings, or see who falls first after an equal amount of drinking. I suspect the intention is also to end any conversation, because they themselves have nothing to say. Some people need to get drunk to talk. Is not wine the gift of gods to loosen the tongues of the foolish?

I do not like the sadistic habit of forcing drinks on women who biologically lag behind men in their drinking capacity. I have been treated like a fool a few times for treating the ladies who professionally serve drinks and keep one company in saloons with civility and offering them drinks politely.

It requires some effort for me to acknowledge the empty glasses of those drinking with me. Even when I see the glasses empty, I prefer not to fill them again. It is not that I am lazy or because I do not know that is the correct thing to do. A person knows his or her condition best and he or she can fill his or her glass best. I do not mind others filling my glass, though. That allows me to continue babbling after giving them a slight nod of appreciation. I hobnob for conversation, not for drinks. If it is a drink I want, I do not need a friend to help me.

We say we "have lost our appetite for drink" when something disgusts or displeases us when we are drinking. What we really lose, however, is the appetite for people, not for drinks.

A friend once accused me of discriminating among friends because I got up to leave early when drinking with him, whereas I stayed up until 2 in the morning with someone else.

For such a friend, I do not even need to quote the following lines from an ancient Chinese poet, Lee Bai.

"Should I get drunk and want to go to sleep, you would leave.

"Should you still wish to drink tomorrow morning, come back with a lute."


The writer is a novelist and translator.

by Lee Yoon-ki

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