Bombed out knights

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 November, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 November, 2004, 12:00am

The 12 'black knights' of South Korea's No1 opposition Grand National Party swore to protect their female leader Park Geun-hye with their hearts and souls. They pledged to help the daughter of former president Park Chung-hee, whenever she is in trouble.

Sounds like dedicated politicians determined to make their boss win in South Korea's turbulent political world? Wrong. The club was formed to help their female boss attend drinking sessions without having to consume alcohol. The first-term national assemblymen plan to drink soju or whiskey on behalf of Ms Park, one of the most promising hopefuls for the 2007 presidential election, who cannot drink much. Her aides say she can have two glasses of beer at most. Yet as the party's leader, Ms Park must attend many functions where heavy drinking is required.

In South Korea, drinking is almost a national religion. People not only love to drink, but also like others to drink. At times, they force others at the same dinner tables to have several 'bomb drinks' - whiskey shots inside beer glasses. There are no exceptions in this male chauvinist ritual. Even those who feel bad or have to report to work early next morning are forced to have the bomb drinks, sometimes several times until they are just short of passing out. It is not clear where this habit came from. Many suspect the military. Military and prosecution offices are now the two most notable places for bomb drinks.

Businesses also partake. With entertainment expenses provided, business people indulge in extravagant drinking binges with their clients. It has become a must as many deals are struck at bars and pubs.

To a lesser degree, South Korea's political world also revolves around alcohol. Politicians are wined and dined. And politicians wine and dine colleagues or journalists. Shady deals are also made between politicians and business people at secret drinking sessions.

The biggest victim of this drinking culture is women. Bound by family obligations, business women usually skip important dinner/drink sessions where major deals are discussed, if not signed. Ms Park must have felt the same pinch.

At official daytime occasions, she could do as well as other political leaders could do. But at unofficial night-time gatherings, she must have had difficulties saying no to persistent requests to drink up or consume a few drinks.

She may have to rely on the 12 black knights to socialise with more people for greater popularity and eventually win the next presidential election. But that may not mean she likes the drinking sessions. The queen might ban bomb drinks and heavy drinking binges if she is elected.