Tim Alper is a Seoul-based British writer and columnist who has lived in Korea since 2007.

Hangeul, the Korean alphabet, will always hold a special place in my heart. I am not alone. Even travelers who spend the briefest of sojourns in Korea notice how attached people here are to the 24-letter alphabet.

The ruler who introduced Hangeul to Korea, King Sejong the Great, is the country's only monarch to have a statue of himself at Seoul's central plaza of Gwanghwamun. The magnificent bronze statue sits in front of the former seat of Korean kings. At its base are the letters Sejong unveiled to his nation on Oct. 9, 1446, in the document Humin Jeongeum (The Proper Sounds for the Instruction of the People).

The statue is proof that it was Hangeul that brought him the adulation of generations of Koreans. Most of his other deeds are otherwise long forgotten.

My own love affair with Hangeul began in 2005, when I was living in London. I was planning to visit Seoul, and a Korean friend offered to teach me how to read and write the language. It sounded like a formidable task. I knew nothing about Korean writing, and imagined that just like many other Asian scripts, this would be exceptionally difficult to learn.

But I was shocked when it took me just a couple of hours and only a modicum of effort to learn how to write my name, address and a few basic words in Korean. I had made giant steps toward learning the language. Suddenly, learning Korean seemed a lot less daunting. This early step gave me the confidence to persist with my study of Korean, to the point where I eventually became fluent.

Even today, when I visit my native Europe, people say they are amazed that I can speak Korean. But they are even more shocked when I say I can read and write the language, too.

They ask, "How did you learn those hieroglyphics?" They are unaware, as I once was, that unlike Japanese and Chinese, which use complex pictograms and other hard-to-remember symbols, Korea's alphabet is as easy as A-B-C.

Although Hangeul calligraphy can be beautiful, the alphabet's appeal does not lie in its aesthetic value. In my opinion, quite the opposite is true: Korean is made up primarily of circles and horizontal or straight lines. This is a writing system designed for practicality, not decoration. Some historians say that when Hangeul was introduced, the then-powerful intelligentsia scorned it, calling it ahaetgeul­­, or "children's script."

But this pejorative term just proves how accessible Hangeul is. Pre-schoolers can read and write it with aplomb. They enjoy it so much that large groups of excited 4-5 year-olds regularly come to the interactive National Hangeul Museum in Seoul on kindergarten outings.

Sejong's project met centuries of resistance but was ultimately a massive success; the country's literacy rate is now 97.9%. Koreans of all ages can type and read with breathtaking alacrity. Again, Hangeul is the key.

Few other countries have their own alphabet, and fewer still have so many tales to tell about it – or even a national alphabet day. Korea marks Hangeul Day on Oct. 9.

The only other country I have visited where folks celebrate an alphabet with a national holiday is Bulgaria, where the missionary Saint Cyril and his brother created Cyrillic in the ninth century. This alphabet revolutionized Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and is still in use in modern Bulgaria, as well as Russia, Mongolia and 47 other nations.

But in many ways, I find Hangeul's journey more incredible even than Cyrillic's amazing adventure. Based heavily on Greek script, Cyrillic was intended primarily as an evangelizing tool, a means of spreading Christianity among the Slavs.

Hangeul, meanwhile, was introduced more recently, relatively speaking, in the days when the country had a well-established writing system. It was introduced for entirely secular reasons – and it bears no similarity to any other alphabet on earth.

A number of fascinating novels, movies and TV dramas have dramatized Sejong's Hangeul quest including the series "Sejong, the Great King" (2008) and movie "The King's Letters" (2019), which speculates that Buddhist monks played a secret role in developing the Korean script.

Many Koreans even know by heart the famous first paragraph of the preface of The Proper Sounds for the Instruction of the People (penned by Sejong himself). And if you look carefully, when they recite the last line of that paragraph – "My hope is that every Korean will become familiar with the newly created letters and use them daily in an intuitive manner" – you will see their eyes well up with national pride.