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[Opinion] Dial 114 and 129

Posted November. 03, 2005 07:19,   


Before computers became part of everyday life, telephone operators had to have one basic skill: memorization. Back then, a good telephone operator was somebody who was able to memorize many telephone numbers. If a caller asked about the number of a certain institute at 114, the directory inquiry service, the answer, amazingly, came right away. Sometimes, the operators listened to broken-hearted young men saddened by breakups or the drunk who expressed anger at them. It is said that not a few men asked them for a cup of coffee or to marry them.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of 114. It has developed into a sophisticated service even providing not only telephones but also navigation services and information necessary for life and about regions. The number of monthly users amounts to up to 70 million won.

The triple number 114 entered service in 1935 when the telephone transfer method of the Kyung Sung Central Telephone Service became automated. It was also at that time when the emergency 119 phone number for fire accidents and emergencies was introduced. The two numbers in Korean sound like “looking for numbers” and “coming to rescue,” respectively.

As of now, there are about 70 special phone numbers publicly managed in Korea: 110 for phone break downs, 111 for terrorism, 112 for reporting crimes, 113 for reporting North Korean secret agents, 125 for reporting on smuggling, 127 for reporting on illegal drugs, 131 for weather forecasts, 132 for legal service and 134 for tourism information. The most recent special phone number, 129, entered service on November 1. It provides information and counseling services on secured income, welfare service, healthy lifestyle and emergency aid. It is intended to provide practical help to ordinary citizens.

However not many people keep these numbers in mind. In fact, most of the numbers have fewer than 10,000 users a month. That is why some people argue that the numbers with similar usage rates, like 111 and 113, should be integrated. In the U.S., there are only eight simplified phone number codes that use the “-11” prefix, such as 911 for fire accidents and emergencies. I think in emergencies, confusing numbers should not aggravate the situation.

Song Young- eon, Editorial Writer, youngeon@donga.com