Thursday, October 13, 2005

What's the rumpus?

Another Friday morning, feeling swampy-headed and unsteady on my feet. Andy's greeting for me this morning in the staff room: "You're a bad man". Apparently, he blames me for the drink-fest we had last night. Six pints of beer, followed by two pitchers of soju cocktail (one peach, one lemon). Naturally he's feeling a little worse because his kindy starts bright and early at 9:10 am, I've lucked out this week, as my kindy doesn't start until 10:40 am. Chances are pretty good I'll be taking a nap in my classroom shortly, but first I need to down one more liter of water.

For the uninitiated, soju is a wonderful national drink here in the Republic of Korea. Like any country that has a past, to speak of, it has a very cheap, very accessible, drink that people have been poisoning themselves with for generations -- even centuries. Canada has no such drink, unless you want to talk about Crown Royal, but it's far too expensive and it tastes, frankly, like shit. Although, the flavour like most things improves with the quantity drunk.

Back to soju. It's a drink that's colourless, basically flavourless, 20% alcohol, and its available in every shop and most restaurants (from the corner store to the biggest department store). The cost is between 1 and $4 US. This buys you a 400 ml bottle that will melt your socks in no time. Add a bit of cool-aid or whatever it is they use for flavouring and you have a soju cocktail. The only problem with soju is that it doesn't quite sit right in the head. The average sot's mind feels like a quagmire the following day, whereas if the inebriant's drink is a nice single malt scotch, for example, chances are very good that his mind will work fairly efficiently next morning. If soju wasn't dirt cheap, there's no way I'd drink the shit.

Hungary's national drink, Palinka, is an entirely different kind of drink. It's basically the cadillac of schnapps, but, and here is the key, it's not sweet in the least. It's basically a brandy made from fruit -- most commonly peach or plum. The cost as I recall is quite low as well. Even better, while you are in Hungary it's likely that somebody will invite you to enjoy their home made palinka which is always a bit harsh but never lacking in flavour. The top-notch provider of Palinka in Hungary is Zwack, which also makes other fine beverages like Unicum (kind of like Jagermeister but better), St. Huberutus and many more wonderful liquors!

I remember, somewhat foggily I must admit, back in the summer of 2003 helping my then grandfather-in-law harvest plums from a tree in his orchard for some of his homemade, but government sanctioned, moonshine. His English wasn't so great and my Hungarian was just a little bit rusty. He told me to hold a bucket and then he climbed up in a plum tree. Honestly, I thought he was going to toss some plums into the bucket but then he said "move back". He proceeded to grab onto two central branches of the tree and shake furiously. It was at this point that I realized the wisdom of his words as the plums began to rain down. We collected a few buckets full and then proceeded to a distillery where he showed me how that amazing breakfast bracer I'd been drinking ever since I arrived in this wonderful country was made. Yes, that was indeed a lovely time. Each morning my then father-in-law would rouse me at around 9 with a steaming hot cup of espresso and then motion towards the palinka. I'd shake my head, indicating that I needed to, against all tradition, wake up a bit before I started drinking. By about 10 or 10:30 I'd share a couple of shots with him and chase them down with a beer. Round about lunch time I'd usually make my way toward the house of some relative or other drinking more of this delicious distillate. Only to find myself in tremendous need of a nap at around 2pm just like the old days when I worked here back in 1998. Hungary I miss you so.

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