Construction is underway to build an English library for children in Tongin-dong, Jongno-gu, downtown Seoul, left photo, while a memorial stone indicating the birthplace of King Sejong, who oversaw the creation of Hangeul, or the Korean alphabet, stands less than 100 meters away from the site. / Korea Times photos by Kim Joo-sung
By Kim Tae-jong
A plan to build a library of English books for residents in downtown Seoul is drawing huge protests from members of an association promoting Hangeul or the Korean alphabet.
Jongno-gu Office has been building an English library for children in Tongin-dong. Coincidentally the location is ironically right beside the birthplace of King Sejong (1397-1450) who oversaw the creation of the Korean alphabet.
“It’s totally and utterly nonsense,” said Lee Dae-ro, president of the Hangeul Association. “How dare they think it is possible to open an English library near the birthplace of King Sejong?”
Such harsh criticism came as the district office renovates a three-story building, which is located only 100 meters away from the birthplace of the king, to open an English library with a budget of 500 million won.
It plans to open the library in May to house over 10,000 books, and provide English classes by native-English teachers to residents.
The plan also conflicts with the city government’s other plan to develop the area into a tourist attraction to promote hanguel by recreating the king’s birthplace and changing all the English signboards there into Korean only.
“The English library is against the efforts to commemorate King Sejong and his achievements, and therefore they should abolish the scheme,” Lee said.
Lee said his association will join forces with other civic groups to launch a campaign to strike down the district office’s project to build the library.
In response, the district office said they will discuss the issue with the city government, which leased the building to the office.
“We’re now in an awkward situation,” an official from the district office said. “The construction is already underway, and we haven’t yet decided what to do. Considering the opposition, we will discuss the issue with the city government which allowed us to use the property to make a new library.”
The building was initially purchased by the city government last year to be torn down to make a park but the initial plan was postponed due to opposition from residents who believed it would only attract homeless people and juvenile delinquents.
Meanwhile, the idea of an English library draws mixed responses from residents.
“I’m against opening an English library in this historically important area,” Choi Moon-yong, 45-year-old father of two elementary school children, said. “I think a Hangeul society would be better.”
But some other residents welcomed the plan, arguing the educational facility will bring benefits to residents.
“I’m happy with the plan. This area is full of cultural and historical assets, but lacks educational facilities, compared to Gangnam, for example,” a 35-year-old father, who only gave his surname Jang, said.