Thursday was Hangeul Day, held in commemoration of the founding of the Korean alphabet. More about the script, which has four distinct seasons, on Wikipedia.
If you can't get any photos of white people eating kimchi, the next best thing is white people writing Korean.
The Korea Herald had a little article about Hangeul's increasing visibility in fashion and art, but since that generally unreadable paper doesn't permit links to articles and forces you to pay to read anything older than a couple of weeks, I'll direct you to a reprinted version here. A few excerpts, out of order for my convenience:
"I wonder how many people have their own writing system and language. I think sometimes Koreans forget how precious and beautiful their language is because they take it for granted. I wanted to let all the people in the world know its beauty through my design," [fashion designer] Lie said.
. . .
"The lines found in Korean are very different from those of Japanese or Chinese. They are subtle and elegant. And these are great advantages when developing a typography and other product designs," he said.
Lee Sang-gyu, director-general at the National Institute of Korean Language, says the geometric beauty of the Korean language is broadening the influence of Korean culture.
. . .
The number of Korean speakers has also grown among non-ethnic Koreans. Applicants for the Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIC) grew to some 150,000 people in 2008, up more than 100 percent from 72,300 a year earlier. The test, which started in 1997, is conducted twice a year in 31 countries, including Turkey, Laos and Indonesia.
These days, Korean is not only a means of communication but also an inspiration for artists and manufacturers. Wearing a T-shirt or a dress with Korean on it is now considered cool among many hipsters.
Lie Sang-bong, a renowned fashion designer based in Seoul and Paris, features Hangeul in his design. He said it is not only a language but also an entity that represents the nation and its civilization.
"When I was at the Moscow collection last year, clients came to see the show in clothes featuring Hangeul," Lie said. "I can't express how touched I was to see them. Can you imagine people walking around with our language printed on their shirts and pants?"
. . .
Um . . . Yes, actually. Knock it the fuck off already.
Here's one more:
He also urged the need to preserve and protect the language amid an era of globalization and multiculturalism.
점점점 You can read that a couple of ways. It sounds problematic given Korea's increasing multiculturalism and its role as a player in the global economy. In fact, I wouldn't put it past anybody to want to protect the language from barbarian use. But to look at it another way, the way he'd say he intended it if he was ever pushed for clarification, I'd like to see more hangeul used on signs and stuff, rather than English letters or random gibberish.
The Starbucks in Insadong, the only one with the name written in Korean. Popular opinion says it's because of restrictions in the neighborhood to keep the traditional feel of the street intact, but I could have sworn I saw an article disproving that theory. Anybody have it?
Hangeul is nice and convenient and everything, but these kinds of articles turn people off. Yes, we occassionally see Hangeul used on designer clothing, but it's not necessary to constantly compare it with Japanese and Chinese, as if it's a contest. The journalism gets even worse when it comes to comparing traditional clothing, with little jabs thrown at Korea's two neighbors. Given the sometimes strained relations between all three countries, throwing in a line or two that makes the Korean product look good by making the foreign product look bad isn't an accident.
The commentors on that Expat Korea thread raised a few good points. It's a little condescending to always attribute foreigners learning Korean to the quote-unquote Korean Wave of entertainment. Moreover, foreigners aren't studying Hangeul, they're picking it up along the way as they study Korean. And no doubt there are some interested in it purely because of its design, but I'll bet most people don't really think about it, and just use it as a means to an end. In fact, and given Korea's relationship with English I'll bet many don't want to hear it, but Korean is becoming an economic necessity to the increasing number of migrant workers and international brides who go on to become residents and citizens.
I don't want to editorialize too much here, and make it look like I can't let a holiday pass without comment. But, the love affair with the Korean alphabet can feel pretty over-the-top. Take, for example, the dance troupe whose act is based on writing the letters with their body. What type of insecurities do you need to have in order to turn the ABCs into high art?
And, it goes without saying that every textbook, in English and Korean, and just about every website gushes about how scientific Korean is. I'm tired so I'll just plagiarize myself here:
I also wonder where they get "scientific." I'm not being (too) skeptical, I'm just curious. Is it because the letters were designed to resemble speech organs? Is it because some think the language was designed by committee? Because it was simply an attempt at writing Korean without Chinese characters? When my former students were writing essays about their favorite person in history, those who didn't choose Yi Sun-shin and his Japanese-killing ways chose King Sejong, and they all mentioned how scientific Korean is. In fact, many of their opening paragraphs were nearly identical, so they clearly memorized the tract from somewhere else, and I suspect that nowadays it's a hollow phrase Koreans repeat, like "we have four distinct seasons" or "Korean food is so spicy." I'll have to ask about that, though I wonder if they think "scientific" is a synonym for "easy" or "efficient."
From that same December post comes this introduction to a textbook for learners of Korean, brought to us via Occidentalism:
Language is the first precious intangible cultural properties in this world.
Writing is the first valuable tangible cultural propertie in this world.
Amog the rest, The Korean Language and Korean Writing are the greatest cultural inheritance of everything in the world.
Of course, there are only their language and writing in other country, too.
But their language and writing cannot express perfectly each and every.
The Korean Language and Korean Writing can express perfectly everything, everysound, all of thinking, and all of feeling of this world.
Like this, The Korean superior culture be Known to the general public, the foreigners are learning The Korean Language and writing, is getting more and more many.
This book is wrote for the sake of them.
Holy fuck, dude!!! And, a recommended blog post on Yahoo Korea this afternoon tells us that Korean is superior to Japanese and Chinese for representating foreign languages. An excerpt:
중국: 麥當勞 漢堡 (마이당로우 한뽀우)
일본: マクドナルドハンバ?ガ? (마꾸도나르도 함바가)
한국: 맥도널드 햄버거
(보다시피, 한글은 중국 일본어의 엉터리 영어 발음까지 정확히 표기해 주고 있다.)
Hanbbou, hahahah, such 엉터리 영어 발음, and clearly nowhere near as cosmopolitan-sounding as "haembeogeo." The paradoxic focus on poor Japanese pronunciation of English was featured in the rap song "Fuck Zapan," big a few years ago:
I am Korean! (I am a Japanese!)
Hey, you, try saying “Al lo byu!” (I rob you!) *1
No! It’s “I low byoo!” (I rob you!)
Are you retarded? Can’t you even pronounce that? (Hai!)
Are you really retarded? (Hai!)
Isn’t your country just fundamentally retarded? (Hai!)
But, I don't want to rain on anybody's parade, or ruin anybody's black panther party, so I'll leave you to your own thoughts on topics, and plagiarize myself again:
But it's bizarre to be met so consistently with dual feelings of inferiority and superiority, and anymore I can't tell if people want to teach us about Korea or pity us for not knowing.
I was saving a lot of that reasoning for the "Why do expats complain so much" meme, now in developmental hell. Regarding hangeul in fashion, here's a more informative article on the topic from Korea.net last year.
Anyway, my Hangeul is pretty good for a white man, but a little on the messy side I guess. I know I write better than my middle school students, though.
I'm pleased with my penmanship, but some of my friends are annoyed because I don't follow the stroke order you sometimes see proscribed. I learned about it in one book ages ago, but found it cumbersome, so I made a few adjustments. When I write "ㅆ" instead of writing two "ㅅ"s side-by-side I draw two diagonal lines first and cross them both with the same stroke. Same for the "ㅉ." When I draw "ㅈ" I write "ㅅ" and then add the horizontal line to the top. Back in the day I thought my ㅈ looked too boxy, plus I remember reading somewhere that ㅈ evolved from ㅅ, so I guess that's why I do that. When I write ㅃ I start with three vertical lines and cross them with two horizontal ones. I also write ㄹ with one stroke.
In conclusion, Korea is a land of contrasts. Thank you for reading my paper.