[Outlook]Less is more

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[Outlook]Less is more

In March, last year, a sports arena with a capacity of 35,000 was completed in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province. It’s called Wa Stadium. In Korean, the word “wa” is an exclamatory expression. It can also mean “Come here!”
It was Park Joo-won, the mayor of Ansan, who gave the arena this interesting name. The tale of how he came up with it is even more intriguing.
In the winter of 2006, the city was looking for a fresh name for the stadium. A women’s football match was held, and Mayor Park was going to deliver a congratulatory message during the opening ceremony for the event. As the football players were shaking in the cold and growing tired because of the length of the proceedings, Park said, “It is very cold today so I will make my speech short.” The players and spectators shouted, “Wa!” with joy.
At that moment, Park was inspired to make the sound from the excited spectators the name of the arena. This is how it came to have the name Wa. The City of Ansan has taken the concept and run with it, saying that as the stadium’s name starts with a “W,” slogans which start with the same letter, such as “Wonderful Ansan” or “Welcome to Ansan,” can be adopted.
It sounds like it just might work.
Last month, Gangnam District Office in Seoul sent bulletins to media outlets titled “Removing the excessive bureaucracy of public administration of the past 50 years.” It explained what happened at a sports event that the office held on April 22. The opening ceremony used to take 30 or 40 minutes and it was mostly for ceremonial purposes. Endlessly VIPs were introduced one by one and each gave congratulatory messages and speeches. But this year, as the Gangnam District Office works to minimize ceremonial practices and events, such superfluous practices were stopped. Only important parts, such as the declaration of the opening of the event and explanations of the regulations, were left in. As a result, the opening ceremony only took five minutes. Participants welcomed the change and complimented the district office.
Park Hi-su, the head of the sports team at the culture and sports department of the district office, deserves the credit. He organizes more than 50 sports events a year. He felt something was wrong when the athletes, who are the main participants in sports events, had to remain standing during the boring speeches while the VIP guests sat down. If the person who was introducing the guests forgot to mention one person by mistake, a staff member of the district office had to apologize for hours. That was also less than pleasant.
The sports department at the Gangnam District Office resolved to make a change.
They started to study similar events in other countries. They sought advice from professors at Seoul National University research centers who had studied in Germany and the United States. The professors said that they had never seen such ceremonial events at sporting events in advanced countries.
They also confessed that it took time for them to get used to Korean-style opening ceremonies after returning home.
The sports team members reported their study to Maeng Jung-ju, the head of the Gangnam District Office, and got to work. First, they visited the district’s representatives, Lee Jong-koo and Gong Sung-jin and explained what they were intending to do and why. The lawmakers said it was a good idea and readily gave their blessing. The civil servants then visited and convinced the district council, the chief of police and the head of the tax office in the district. Those civil workers are elected by voters and as such naturally have their eyes on the next elections, so the sports department staff told them it would be more helpful to their cause to shake hands and exchange greetings with individual citizens than to give speeches while standing on a podium.
As the story of the Gangnam District Office spread, other offices showed interest. Songpa, a neighboring district, Jongno District and municipal offices called the Gangnam District Office and asked how to streamline their ceremonial events. Park sends them brochures of events and adds one piece of advice. “Just think who is the priority, residents or VIPs, when organizing an event. Then, you can find an answer.”
May is a month for families. Local municipal offices have planned festivals, sports events and other happenings. Companies also hold retreats and sports games.
But such events usually include lengthy ceremonial parts which serve only to give the spotlight to people in high positions, wasting time and energy.
Some ceremonial events are needed, but less is more. If you are going to give a speech, remember to make it short.

*The writer is a deputy culture and sports editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Chung Young-jae

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