Hangul helps Korea build better relations

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Hangul helps Korea build better relations

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As ethnic groups go, the Cia-Cia tribe in Indonesia seems about as unlikely to learn the Korean language as any.

But last summer, the Cia-Cia, a group of about 60,000 people based in the southern part of Buton Island in Southeast Sulawesi Province, adopted the Korean alphabet of Hangul to transcribe its aboriginal language. In so doing, the Cia-Cia, which previously didn’t have an official writing system, has preserved its language.

The Hunminjeongeum Society, a Seoul-based linguistic research institute devoted to the spread of Hangul, led the effort to export the language. Hunminjeongeum is the original term for Hangul and literally means “the correct sounds for the instruction of the people.”

And teach Korean it has.

On March 29, Korean teacher Chung Duk-young began teaching elementary and high school students in the city of Bau-Bau in Buton. According to the Hunminjeongeum Society, Chung handles about 130 students across all levels and teaches 14 hours a week.

The official Internet home page of Bau-Bau is available in two languages: Indonesian and Korean. The Korean section opened on March 28, and it provides tourist information, a history of the city and the latest news on the growing ties between Bau-Bau and Seoul.

In December last year, a few months after the Cia-Cia tribe decided to adopt Hangul, Bau-Bau Mayor Amirul Tamim led schoolteachers and students on their first trip to Korea. During their visit, a private Korean organization called the Wonam Foundation said it would build a Korean culture center in Bau-Bau. The foundation said the center would help spread Hangul and Korean culture in the region, and the Hunminjeongeum Society joined the effort.

The foundation said it hoped the center would be “a landmark” in Bau-Bau. The construction work is expected to be finished within the first half of this year.

Indonesians have been interested in learning about Korea and its language for some time. According to the Foreign Ministry, three universities in Indonesia run Korean studies and language programs.

The University of Indonesia, considered the most prestigious school there, became the first university in the country to open a four-year Korean studies program in August 2006. The Gadjah Mada University, which has the biggest student body in Indonesia, set up a four-year Korean language program in August 2007. Nasional University has been running a three-year diploma Korean language course since May 2005.

Elsewhere, the Hasanuddin University offers an elective Korean course and plans to open a full department in 2011.

Korea and Indonesia don’t boast a long history of relations. Their consular ties were set up in August 1966, according to the Foreign Ministry here, and Korea opened the consulate general in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, four months later.

The formal diplomatic relationship was established in September 1973. Korea and Indonesia have since enjoyed close relationships in energy and construction cooperation and in cultural exchanges. In 2007, the two countries agreed to a strategic partnership.

The Foreign Ministry in Seoul noted that Indonesia has shown a growing interest in Korean pop culture, too. In 2007, the Korean dance performance called “White Noise” was the finale at the 2007 Art Summit Indonesia, an international contemporary performing arts festival held every three years. Indonesian television stations have been carrying Korean TV dramas and films since 2002.

Speaking of film, the recently-wed couple of actor Jang Dong-gun and actress Ko So-young, known here as the Korean “Brangelina,” honeymooned on the Indonesian island of Bali.

The island is a popular tourist destination for Koreans, especially newlyweds. It has local travel guides who speak fluent Korean and they are the ones who greet arriving honeymooners, holding signs showing their names in Korean, outside the Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali.

But there is no word yet on which of the Korean-speaking Indonesian guides met Jang and Ko at the airport.


By Yoo Jee-ho [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]
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