Crouching tigers, hidden Christian message

James Pearson

While world media attention was heavily focused on the Olympics this summer, another Olympics of a slightly more wordy nature may have escaped your attention: The Alphabet Olympics, that saw representatives from over 26 nations flock to Bangkok for “The Second World Alphabet Olympiad’’ ― a linguistic marathon, designed to sort out (once and for all), who has the “best’’ alphabet.

The event, held by the Committee of the World Alphabet Olympics, invited experts from the U.S., India, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Portugal, to judge the quality of different orthographies based on their structure, number of letters, ability to express sounds, and other highly subjective and irrelevant factors. After much deliberation from the international and allegedly impartial panel, the gold medal went to, yes, Hangeul, the Korean writing system ― news that was announced just in time for Hangeul Day, the commemorative day created to mark the invention of Korea’s native alphabet.

Raphael Rashid

Following the announcement, Korean media and netizens alike were quick to pick up on prowesses of their home vernacular script: “Let’s be proud of Hangeul and use proper Korean,” “Hangeul can express every sound you can imagine. I’m not surprised,” and “I’m glad to read this article on Hangeul Day. It’s my honor to use this excellent script as our own! I’ll try my best to use proper Korean with this beautiful Hangeul. Thank you, King Sejong the Great,” said another.

Whether or not Hangeul actually is the greatest writing system of the world is probably a debate best ignored for now. There’s no denying it brought literacy to millions, but certain words, like “Hufflepuff,” which is admittedly not a proper word, is rendered in Hangeul as… “hupeulpupeu,” which sounds more like a failed attempt at beatboxing.

But the Alphabet Olympic organizers, who are Korean, were grateful for another reason: the spread of Christianity. According to the official website of the committee, the organization’s mission is to “disseminate the Korean script and Christianity across the world.” This odd but fairly important point, however, was not pointed out by the media, preoccupied with the fact that the Korean script appeared to be getting worldwide attention.

The website also states that: “Without Hangeul, the March 1 Movement and Korea’s $10,000 GDP per capita would have been impossible. The distribution of this wonderful writing system is attributed to the early Korean Christians. Now it is the mission of the Korean Christian community to make Hangeul an international writing system.” Ironically though, it would seem that none of the judges were able to read enough Hangeul to understand the undertones of the controversial event before they got there.

But the Olympics are a celebration of the achievements of mankind, where three shades of metal are awarded to mankind’s most incredible athletes. It is a time for the whole world to unite in just one city, transcending borders and putting cultural, political, and religious barriers aside ― if only the same could be said about the Alphabet Olympics.

But this isn’t the first event with a ninja Christian message that’s somehow attracted the attention of the unknowing masses. Just last month, Seoul’s Olympic Stadium was packed with confused but excited people for the Mannam charity’s (read: cult) “World Peace Festival” and estimates suggest crowds of roughly 100,000 people assembled to promote the event’s message of “peace to the world.”

Unsuspecting expats were recruited to participate too, from university students to teachers and office assistants. During the spectacle, that included a giant human LCD board of uncomfortable similarity to what goes on in Pyongyang, Mannam’s very own “Dear Leader” Lee Man-hee literally emerged from a cloud of smoke, to the sound of trumpets and a dazzling display of pyrotechnics. Well, this is the man who claims to have met Jesus, so maybe he called in a favor.

Koreans and expats alike were taken aback ― unaware of the Mannan cult’s bizarre and religious overtones, and the fact they were participating in the “Shinchonji Church of Jesus the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony’s” very own mass games.

“By this time, listening to the hosts talk about religious themes and reading the overtly religious words plastered across the TV screens, we knew this was not some U.N.-related peace event; it was a religious celebration that had tricked us into attending,” said J. D. Benavidez, a blogger who was “Mannamnapped” for the event.

“The other foreigners all seemed to be enjoying themselves. [We] looked to be the only ones not smiling. Honestly, it started to seem a little creepy. I thought we were brought over to be spectators.”

So next time you get accosted in the streets to participate in the declaration of world peace _ at an event of Olympic proportions, make sure it is not a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Be careful where you walk, you might get Mannamnapped! <The Korea Times/James Pearson and Raphael Rashid>

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