Poktanju, not golf
, is the way business and politics gets done in Korea. "Poktan" means "bomb" and "ju" (mekju: beer, soju
: paint thinner, podo ju: literally grape alcohol or wine) means alcohol
. Bomb Alcohol. In the west we call it a boilermaker
. Koreans call themselves the Irish of Asia as they a) are quite emotional and hot tempered
at times b) like to drink a whole lot. Actually given that the only nations on earth that out drink the Koreans are the Russians, Romanian, and Latvians, they'd be better off calling themselves the Former Soviet Lifestyle Types of Asia. Or something. But the Irish of Asia has a nice ring to it. So let's go with that.
Anyway, like your basic boilermaker poktanju is a shot of whiskey
in a pint
. There's no such thing as cheap whiskey in Korea so in less well-heeled circles some native paint thinner
soju is substituted. But you get the idea. Beer is hepped up. There are about 30 different ways of drinking poktanju, some involving chopsticks
, all variations on ways of dumping the whiskey shot into the beer.
For some mysterious reason, the drink became a social lubricant
. It's popularity caught on in the early '80s as Korea was beginning to open up to the world at large. It's conjectured the drink caught on as a way of cutting back on business expenses. If you've got a table all doing straight whiskey shots, it can get expensive where a bottle of the stuff will go for about $100 at a pub. However, if you're cutting it with copious amounts of local beer ($2 a bottle), well, you can stretch out those expense account
In most Korean business and political circles, it's considered down right rude
to talk business or political deal making until you've gotten blind drunk over poktanju. (Naturally, actual talks are conducted at a later, more sober time. First you need to get drunk.) Koreans seem to believe getting blind drunk around each other builds trust. It works a bit like this: You've gotten drunk with a guy you're thinking about signing a multi-million dollar contract with. You've just woken up in a bus shelter
. You faintly recall the meeting. You also notice your wallet
is still in your pocket. The money is still in your wallet. Ah. Your prospective business partner could have easily rolled
you and made off with your cash but he didn't. Trust has been established.
Poktanju abuse isn't just reserved for deal making. One is generally obliged to get hammered with the boss. Family? Kids need help with the math
homework? Your first responsibility is getting hammered.
The upshot is morning walks in Seoul, before the monsoon
rains, are really an exercise in dodging piles of vomit. Of course it makes riding the subway interesting. Nothing like a guy puking his guts out in a subway car. And then there's the mystery of people who seem to get drunk really, really quickly, really really early in the night, and really really early in the week.
It works like this: You're strolling down a subway platform at 7 pm. On a Tuesday. Some salaryman
is discreetly, or so he thinks, puking his stomach contents behind a bench. Now you start doing the math. Okay, this guy say knocks off of work at 5 pm. Which is a miracle in itself. Assume he's got 15 minutes to get from his work to the Hof
, 15 minutes to get from the Hof to this bench in the subway station. Assume 10 minutes to get their order. That's 1 hour 20 minutes for this guy to get puking guts out drunk. That's the kind of dedication you don't see in American workers.