An academician in South Korea, a country known for its K-Pop culture, is a surprising admirer of the Malay jawi script.
This writer had the opportunity to talk to Prof Dr Kang Kyoung Seok of Busan University about his views on jawi script, which is synonymous with Malay society.
Dr Kang, 57, who is fluent in the Malay language, loves any subject that delves into jawi script, which he describes as "beautiful."
"The Malay culture, from its songs, its lingo, which is so fine and soft, makes me fall in love with the beauty of jawi script," said Dr Kang.
Dr Kang's love affair with jawi began in 1974 when he was a student at a South Korean university.
"My lecturer at that time told me that Malaysia has a beautiful script known as jawi, but when I asked what it was, he replied that he did not know.
"There was no book on jawi in Korea at that time, little reference. But this did not stop me from studying the script," he said.
In 1982, Dr Kang met Abdul Ghani, a Muslim scholar from Pattani, Thailand, in Busan, and this was the start of his love affair with jawi script.
Through Abdul Ghani, Dr Kang began to know jawi and its writings. The book "Sejarah Melayu Pattani" (Pattani Malay History), which is written in jawi, became his favourite book.
This inspired Dr Kang to fly to Malaysia to learn more about jawi. In 1984, the academician received an offer he could not resist to study at Universiti Malaya (UM).
But the perception of South Koreans toward Malaysia was a major challenge to Dr Kang at that time.
"At that time, South Korea was not familiar with Malaysia, not like what it is now, where we are good friends. Koreans viewed Malaysia as an undeveloped country with many poor people and problems.
"My parents cried as they did not want me to come to Malaysia, but as I loved jawi script I insisted," he said.
After studying jawi script for some time, Dr Kang was attracted to the Quran, which he describes as the priceless gift to all Muslims in the world.
"I am fascinated by the manner of the jawi scripts in the Quran, which are able to produce such a melodious recital. I used to hear the Quranic reciters assembly and it is beautiful and brings peace to my soul," he said.
Dr Kang said the present young Malaysian generation are not aware that they have inherited a unique heritage that is their identity and legacy.
"The condition of jawi scripts now is critical, as not many among the young generation know how to write and read jawi. There are not many jawi experts now, as those I have known have retired without anybody replacing them," he explained.
Dr Kang joined Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) as a lecturer in 2010.
"UPSI is a university for teachers. When I teach them jawi scripts they will in turn teach their students so that more will come to know and use these scripts," he said.
Dr Kang called on education authorities to revert from the Za'ba system to jawi spelling, which is simpler and easier to understand.
He said the media has a significant role to play to ensure that jawi is widely used.
Jawi newspapers such as Utusan Melayu should be given new life in order to attract Malaysians, he said.
He also called on institutions such as the National Translation Institute and Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka to produce more books in jawi.
MALAYSIA A UNIQUE NATION
When he first came to Malaysia, Dr Kang said, he realised that it was wrong for South Koreans to believe that Malaysia was undeveloped.
"When I emerged from the airport, I saw development everywhere, tall buildings and all. I saw many luxury cars such as BMW and Mercedes," he said.
Dr Kang said he is attracted to the plural society in Malaysia.
"When I first arrived in Malaysia, I was attracted to this concept , which was absent in Korea then. But as the world changes, more people of other ethnicities are coming to Korea.
"Therefore Korea learns to adapt to this, while in Malaysia it has been existence for a long time, and I learned from Malaysia," he said.
Dr Kang is fascinated by the marriage of cultures that gives birth to a race that in turn has its own identity, such as the Baba and Nyonya in Melaka.
He said Malaysia is a country rich in various arts and culture, inherited from many centuries ago.
"And in the middle of all of these (cultures), we have the Malay culture that binds all. It attracts many researchers, including me," he said.
He had this message for the younger generation of Malaysia: "It is good to like other cultures such as K-Pop, but there is no need to exceed the boundary, as there is the culture of our own to cherish."