We Drank Nothing But Tea
Coca-cola was introduced to our family in July, 1951, during the Korean War. It was a gift from two American soldiers, total strangers we met at the beach. In spite of their kindness, we didn’t fall in love with the American drink. In fact, I still don’t touch it, although I am an American citizen now.
That year in July, truce-talks between the United Nations and the Chinese began. The intense fighting we'd suffered through the preceeding year had finally subsided, giving some anxious refugees time to leave our town of Pusan, to check on their homes and missing families. The beaches, once closed and opened, it was time to enjoy life again.
One Sunday afternoon we were among Korean families enjoying the cool ocean breeze on a sandy beach.
Nearby, army tents were flapping in the wind as dozens of American soldiers swam, played volleyball, and sunbathed.
While our family was eating lunch, we had visitors. Two American soldiers, each with a six-pack of Coca-cola bottles, greeted our father in English.
Father was baffled. “Are they trying to sell the drink?” he asked my eldest brother, a high school student, who was learning English at school.
“No," my brother answered. “They're giving it to us for free," he said.
Father smiled. He took the six packs from the soldiers and said “Tank you!” the only English he knew.
“Enjoy! Enjoy,” the soldiers seemed to say, smiling, as they left.
My brother opened a bottle. Brown bubbles crawled up.
Father looked worried. “Is it safe to drink?”
“Of course it is,” my brother said. “Americans drink it all the time.
My brother lifted the bottle to his mouth with a certain air of pride and began drinking it.
I watched him with envy. In our family, we never drank anything but Barley Tea.
Something went wrong: my brother began to spit up the brown, bubbly liquid, hiccupping. The liquid dribbled from his mouth and nose.
“Are you all right? You look sick,” Mother said.
My brother wiped his mouth and grinned awkwardly. “It’s pretty good, really! It pricked my throat like hell, but I’ll drink it again.”
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