Monday, November 24, 2008
I've Had My Fill
I dreaded the coming of that particular Wednesday because I knew I’d be carrying a larger than usual chunk of the workload. A pair of my fellow foreign copy editors at The Korea Herald, unsaddled by my low expectations for our established politicians, felt they had reason to celebrate. Their cause for exultation was, as my fellow editor Bart articulated, “No matter who wins, no more (adjective that rhymes with ‘shucking’) Bush.”
On that morning, I arrived to work at 11, as usual, the same time as my coworker Paul, who was relatively happy with the prior day’s events, but as a Brit takes a slightly more restrained view of who wins elections in the Colonies. Bart, a fellow Yank who was due to arrive at 10 a.m., however, had sent out a text message that morning reading “Over-celebrated … gonna be a little late.”
Some might nit-pick as whether or not “an hour and a half” constitutes “a little,” but his message was otherwise accurate. However, even Bart was surprised at the effect that the prior night’s jubilation had on Matt, our Canadian colleague who, apparently sensing a pending uptick in North American relations, celebrated so much that he was tardy in starting his 2 p.m. shift.
Usually Matt and Bart wait until their work week ends before engaging in a productivity-stultifying celebration such as these. I never do, at least not anymore, and sometimes I envy those who occasionally feel free to ingest a not-insignificant amount of alcoholic beverages.
Mostly due to my Seventh-day Adventist upbringing, drinking has never been part of my lifestyle. This is not to say I’ve never done it, but unlike many of my peers I never had a mental calendar on which I wrote “This Saturday, get drunk.” This greatly contrasted me with many in the senior class of Henry County High School, for some of whom drinking was the main topic of conversation come Monday morning. Actually, their discussions generally consisted of three mini-conversations: A) the quantity and variety of alcoholic beverages consumed, B) the things they probably did but can’t remember because they were so drunk, and C) classmates of theirs who said they could put away whole shopping centers worth of Anheiser-Busch products but were lying.
There were times when I envied the camaraderie they shared, as well as the fact that they always had something to talk about (by Thursday or Friday they were in future tense, discussing the means and quantity of drinking to come). Risking my health and legal record just to put large quantities of a beverage I would later violently expel was something I was unwilling to do in order to gain their fellowship, however.
Furthermore, knowing how Henry County’s future physicians, mechanics and insurance salesmen spent their high school years, I resolved that I would be meeting my medical, automotive and insurance needs in a different locale by the time I reached my 30s.
Then, during college days, when people redouble their efforts to fit the contents of entire six-packs in their digestive tract at one time, I attended an SDA institution where I had a good excuse not to drink: It could get a student expelled. It didn’t stop everyone, but the drinking was clandestine and occasional, rather than weekly and in buildings with easily identifiable Greek letters.
It was after college, when I returned to Henry County as a news reporter, that alcohol became a somewhat regular part of my life. It was only friends’ houses, only when I spent the night there, and only after our major local events, such as the county fair and the annual World’s Biggest Fish Fry. I didn’t drink in great quantities; certainly not enough violently expel anything and then forget doing so.
At the time, events such as these seemed appropriate prompts for drinking, as A) they required a great deal of work, B) they were a county fair and a fish fry parade, and yet were the biggest events in my hometown, and C) I was covering them, instead of digging up tales of corruption regarding politicians in Washington’s highest offices. SDAs likely to be disappointed in my behavior ought to take comfort in the fact that I wasn’t swallowing sleeping pills.
In the latter half of 2005, I had a good reason to stop again; I had become a missionary teacher at the SDA institute in Korea. There, I was not only to teach English, but attempt to serve as a good example of well-being in a country full of people living the lives that my high school classmates only bragged about. The exploits of the Korean ajossi, or middle-aged married male, are legendary: The older they get, the more bars they’re capable of visiting in a single night, and the more soju (a distilled Korean beverage that is anywhere from 20-45 percent alcohol) they’re willing to consume.
And unlike my classmates, they often don’t bother to wait for weekends. Tales of ajossi drinking soju and beer throughout the night and coming to work the next morning are part of local lore. I don’t know how they do it, but my theory is that it’s for the same reason they can dip an already spicy pepper in a dish full of chili sauce and then eat it without sweating: Their intestines are lined with a sterner stuff than mine.
I’ve been offered the chance to join them on many occasions, but have declined. I never really enjoyed drinking, my church is against it, and one night with the ajossi is probably all it would take to end my days on this earth.
But I have learned that drinkers like Matt are people just like us who no longer do: like me, he’s a foreigner with a Korean wife, and I’m sure their family has the same concerns and cares as ours.
Well, my wife never calls in the middle of a workday to tell me that I broke one of her plants when I came home drunk, but otherwise we’re pretty similar.
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