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Tinder Claims It Has North Koreans Users

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
jamesskim@iamkoream.com

Tinder threw a public tantrum on Twitter earlier this week in response to a Vanity Fair article that criticized the app’s hook-up culture and its users.

In more than 30 tweets, Tinder argued in points of 140-character-or-less for why #GenerationTinder is a thing and why having users in China and North Korea somehow validates its product of “amazing experiences” and “meaningful connections.”

Tinder did release a statement acknowledging the outburst and overreacting. But the big question now is then, are there actually Tinder users in North Korea?

Vox Media is calling bullsh-t. For one, North Korea’s only legal smartphone, called the “Arirang,” is quite incapable of doing much other than running an old, probably crippled version of Android and a few rip-off apps. The hardware probably can’t handle Tinder, let alone run Flappy Bird at the proper frame rate.

Any foreign smart devices smuggled in won’t be able to connect to North Korean cell services or Internet-connected WiFi. Currently, only foreigners are able to access WiFi through their mobile devices by purchasing an overpriced SIM card from North Korean telecommunications company Koryolink. Most North Koreans use foreign devices as storage for (often illegal) content, including music, movies and TV shows.

Lastly, it could just be the foreigners in North Korea who are using Tinder. Chinese tourists, who are allowed to use smartphones, or businesspeople spending time in Pyongyang, might have opened Tinder out of curiosity or boredom. That might explain why Tinder was receiving location pings from the area. It could also have been Dennis Rodman.

In any case, the best thing about this has been the memes, especially ones showcasing Kim Jong-un on Tinder. Thank you, Internet.


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Feature image via Run of the Web

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North Korean Defector Joseph Kim Shares His Story in Reddit AMA

by KARIN CHAN and JAMES S. KIM

 

After his father died due to starvation and his mother and sister left for China, Joseph Kim was left homeless as a child. He grew up learning to beg and even worked in a coal mine before he was finally able to escape to China himself at age 16, Kim recounts in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) session on Thursday.

Kim has since resettled in Richmond, Va., where he calls home. He graduated high school and is currently a university student working towards a degree in international relations. He continues to work closely with Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), a nonprofit that helps with rescuing and resettling refugees as well as raising awareness about the North Korean people.

He recorded his experiences in his memoir, Under the Same Sky: From Starvation in North Korea to Salvation in America, which chronicles his will to survive through harsh conditions and dangers of getting caught by the Chinese authorities.

Earlier this year, Kim spoke at a UN panel with other defectors to share their personal stories about North Korea’s human rights violations. Having grown up in North Korea during the ’90s famine, Kim also shared his story in a 2013 TedTalk about building a life for himself in America.

Below are some highlights from Kim’s AMA session. Kim’s responses have been edited for length and clarity.

On what led him to leaving North Korea:

 

I didn’t see much hope to survive in North Korea much longer because, at this point, I had lived on the street as a homeless kid for about three years. I could die of starvation like my father did, or try to escape North Korea for a better life.

On whether the average North Korean believes in the regime’s propaganda:

 

Well, it’s hard to say. Yes and no. Because if you’re talking about nowadays North Koreans, it’s a little bit hard for me to say that a majority of North Koreans believe propaganda.

But I do think that older generations definitely believe in the government propaganda because in the 1970s, the North Koreans were economically better off than South Korea. After the 1990s famine, things have proven that North Korea is not the best country in the world, as the government or state claims. Because how can you accept the propaganda when your best friend dies of starvation?

So I think nowadays, more and more people are critical of government propaganda, but I can’t say what all North Koreans do now.

On what he thought the U.S. looked like before moving to the country:

 

I expected coming to America, thinking that I would end up in New York, with tall buildings, but I ended up going to Richmond, Va., where I realized that I was almost in the middle of a forest.

The next morning I woke up, there was a deer around. That was confusing for me because the America I had imagined was a big city, with really tall buildings. I thought I did something wrong to be put in some other place.

His thoughts on moving from China to the United States:

 

Definitely, the language and cultures were the biggest obstacles, but what really struck me was not knowing what to do with my life. That was the hardest because in North Korea, my daily dream was to find food and have enough food. In some sense, food was the entire dream for me.

But coming to America, I think the food was provided, so in that sense, my dream was already achieved. So I didn’t really know what to look for afterwards. And a lot of people told me I had freedom to do everything, but nobody explained to me what freedom meant. So, I had to figure that out on my own. I think meeting new friends, and talking to older people, helped me.

What he believes has yet to be revealed about North Korea:

 

A lot. I mean, especially in the Western media. So much political conflicts and issues. Just about the leader.

But I think what we are really missing is that because of heavy subjects, we tend to forget that there are people like myself who have hopes and dreams for a better life. And people who want to be happy. But because of all those heavy subjects, I think we sometimes don’t get to see the average North Korean, and you can’t really connect or relate to them because of heavy subjects.

On pursuing a degree in international relations:

 

Studying for undergraduate, it can only give you some tools. But I don’t think I have the solution to make a better place for North Korea overnight. What I believe is that education will help me to be empowered and overcome those issues one day. But as of now, I don’t see much hope. One thing I can do is help make sure that we are prepared for ex-North Korea someday, with education.

 

On North Korean culture aspects he misses and learning what freedom meant:

 

That’s a bit of a tough question. I think one thing that I kind of miss is that back in North Korea, before the economic collapse, there was much more communal sharing. And I feel like everyone was really sharing with each other. I think North Koreans used to be more communal and family-oriented, celebrating the holidays together

When I was in China, I was offered to come to the U.S., and I said “no” because I was told that in North Korea, the U.S. is our enemy state and we have to destroy it someday. I asked [my pastor], “Why should I go to America?” and he said I could continue my education and have freedom. [The latter part] didn’t catch my ear because I knew what freedom was. But until he was elaborating what freedom was—[he said] I could go outside anytime I wanted to go out. When I was in China, I was hiding and stayed in an apartment for long [periods], so going outside was something luxurious. That was a real turning point for me.


 

You can read Joseph Kim’s full Reddit AMA here. You can also purchase his memoir Under the Same Sky through the LiNK Shop, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

See Also

North Korean Defector Joo Yang Shares Eye-Opening Tales In Reddit AMA

DocKim Shares How He Escaped North Korea in the 1950s

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Featured image courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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More Reason for Calm Than Panic in South Korea’s MERS Scare

 

by FOSTER KLUG, Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Sales of surgical masks surge amid fears of a deadly, poorly understood virus. Airlines announce “intensified sanitizing operations.” More than 1,100 schools close and 1,600 people — and 17 camels in zoos — are quarantined.

The current frenzy in South Korea over MERS, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, brings to mind the other menacing diseases to hit Asia over the last decade — SARS, which killed hundreds, and bird flu.

Then, as now, confusion ruled as the media harped on the growing public panic, and health care workers and government officials struggled to understand and contain the diseases, sometimes downplaying the danger, sometimes inadvertently hyping it.

While it’s still early and MERS is a scary disease with no vaccine and a high death rate, there are so far more reasons for calm caution than for panic.

Here’s a look at what’s happening in South Korea.

MERS Cases are Growing

 

South Korea has seen 36 cases and three deaths, the largest outbreak in the world outside of Saudi Arabia, where most of the more than 1,100 cases have been and where the disease was first seen in 2012.

The cases are linked to a 68-year-old man who traveled to the Middle East, the World Health Organization said this week. When he returned and became sick last month, he visited two hospitals and two outpatient facilities, “creating multiple opportunities for exposure among health care workers and other patients,” WHO said. The man wasn’t isolated because it wasn’t thought at first that he had been exposed to MERS, which is from the same virus family as the common cold and SARS.

“Further cases can be expected,” the U.N. health agency said.

MERS’ mortality rate is an estimated 30 to 40 percent, according to Nicolas Locker, a virology expert at the University of Surrey.

The symptoms are fever, cough and shortness of breath, with an average incubation period of 5 to 6 days. Transmission comes through close contact with people — from living with or caring for someone, for instance — but camels are also thought to spread the virus.

Viruses like MERS “remind us all that the globe is indeed a small place when it comes to the rapidity with which infected people can move over large geographic distances, bringing viruses they may be incubating with them,” Christopher Olsen, a virus expert at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said in an email.

… But It Isn’t Sweeping the Community

 

Despite media warnings about the virus “spreading” in South Korea, 30 of the 36 cases are linked to a single hospital, as is a Korean man diagnosed in China. There’s no evidence yet in South Korea “of sustained transmission in the community,” the WHO reports.

The three people who died — a 58-year-old woman, a 71-year-old man and an 82-year-old man — had previous respiratory problems, according to the Health Ministry.

South Korea also has an efficient emergency response system, Locker said, and has learned much from previous disease scares, especially the SARS pandemic in 2003.

South Korea has airport containment centers for respiratory screenings, and 16 hospitals equipped with bio-containment units for patients and staff, including 600 beds in negative pressure units for isolation and treatment, Locker said.

Washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes, not touching your face with unclean hands — this all helps prevent MERS, experts say.

Because it isn’t airborne and only transmitted through close contact, it’s highly unlikely anyone will get the disease in crowded areas, like parks or schools, said Kang Cheol-In, an infectious diseases expert at the Seoul-based Samsung Medical Center.

The closing of hundreds of schools “really doesn’t make sense,” Kang said.

Media and Public Fears May Be Overblown

 

Some experts believe the government should have done more initially to convince the public that many of their fears are unwarranted.

Many people here, however, are in no mood to trust their public officials. The MERS scare follows the sinking of a ferry that killed more than 300 people last year and was widely blamed in part on official incompetence.

Some experts support a strong quarantine to stop MERS’ spread; others question its worth.

Kim Sung-han, a professor at the Seoul-based Asan Medical Center, said isolating anyone who has had contact with MERS patients, even if they don’t show symptoms, is pointless because no studies show the MERS virus can be spread during the incubation period.

“It’s like using a hammer to push in a thumbtack,” Kim said.

The possibility of MERS spreading through South Korea is worrisome, of course, but Kim is skeptical that it will happen because the disease usually spreads slowly and requires close contact.

Kang, the infectious diseases expert, said the initial government response was inadequate, “but the people are also looking at things in an unreasonable manner.”

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AP writer Hyung-jin Kim contributed to this report. Featured image via Reuters/YouTube. 

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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South Korea’s Tally of MERS Cases Rises to 12

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

South Korea’s tally of patients infected with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) rose to 12, including a man who traveled to China and broke quarantine protocol, said the health ministry.

The infections were first transmitted by a 68-year-old man who had traveled from Bahrain to Seoul. According to the Korea Herald, the man was hospitalized on May 12 and is currently in stable condition.

MERS is a viral respiratory illness that was first reported in Saudi Arabia back in 2012. It bears striking similarities to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus, which killed hundreds of people, mostly in China, in 2003.

Symptoms include high fever, coughing, shortness of breath and, in some cases, kidney failures. There is no known cure or vaccine to prevent the infection. Good news is that MERS is easier to contain than the more infectious SARS. Unfortunately, MERS is more deadly, causing lungs to shut down faster than SARS.

Health officials said new MERS cases include a 30-year-old nurse and a 56-year-old patient who had been in the same hospital ward as the original case.

The 44-year-old traveler flew to Hong Kong on Tuesday was diagnosed with MERS on Friday, making him China’s first confirmed case. The man had apparently contracted the disease from his father, the second confirmed victim in the MERS outbreak. South Korea’s health ministry said the man was being observed for possible infection when he ignored doctors’ warning against travel and left for Hong Kong, reports Reuters.

“We should have checked more actively and broadly on family related issues. We are deeply sorry about that,” Yang Byung-kook, director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters.

Hong Kong health authorities said they tracked down 38 people who had come in close contact with the Korean man. None of the potential patients so far have shown MERS symptoms. However, 12 people–three Koreans and nine Chinese–are being kept in quarantine in the hospital.

South Korea’s health ministry said more than 20 countries have been affected by 1,142 cases of MERS. Since May 16, there have been more than 450 deaths reported.

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Featured image via EPA

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South Korea Pledges $1 Million to Nepal Earthquake Relief Efforts

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

South Korea has pledged $1 million in aid to Nepal after the country was struck with a magnitude 7.8 earthquake on Saturday morning, reports Yonhap News Agency.

More than 4,000 people were killed and at least 7,180 were injured in the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake, which struck near the country’s capital city of Kathmandu, according to the Associated Press. Tens of thousands are estimated to be left homeless.

Multiple aftershocks, including one registered at magnitude 6.7, crippled Nepal’s transportation network and caused sporadic power outages nationwide, making it difficult for relief teams to search for survivors under the rubble and deliver food, fuel, blankets and medical supplies. Conditions are reportedly far worse in mountain villages, where some roads and trails have become blocked by landslides.

“There are people who are not getting food and shleter. I’ve had reports of villages where 70 percent of the houses have been destroyed,” Udav Prashad Timalsina, the top official for the remote region of Gorkha, told the Associated Press.

The South Korean embassy in Kathmandu has already established a hotline for people to use to contact the mission as well as a help desk at the Kathmandu airport to assist Korean nationals wishing to leave the country by plane. According to Yonhap, about 650 South Koreans are living in Nepal and some 800 to 1,000 are believed to be visiting the country.

“The embassy has been bombarded by phone calls from South Korea asking the staff to contact relatives living or traveling in the country,” said Ambassador Choi Yong-jin.

PYH2015042707690034100_P2South Korean Red Cross prepare to send supplies to Nepal. (Photo via Yonhap)

On Sunday, the Korean Red Cross said it will give Nepal $10,000 in relief funds and provide thousands of blankets and emergency kits. It is also preparing to send a team of medical workers to the quake-hit country.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s foreign ministry announced on Monday that it will deploy a 40-member disaster relief squad in addition to pledging $1 million in humanitarian aid to Nepal.

Other Asian countries that have sent rescue workers, medical teams and other contributions to Nepal include China, India, Singapore, Malaysia and even the tiny Himalayan country of Bhutan. Taiwan has also offered to send a 20-man rescue team, but Nepal turned down the assistance, despite the island’s extensive experience in responding to natural disasters.

Taiwanese Vice Foreign Minister Andrew Kao said Taiwan will still send an advanced team to Nepal in case of medical assistance. Taiwan has also pledged $300,000 in aid and its Red Cross has already started a fundraising campaign to raise $1 million for Nepal’s post-disaster reconstruction.

This is Nepal’s most devastating earthquake since 1934, when the nation was struck by a magnitutde-8.0 quake that all but destroyed the cities of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan.

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Featured image of Abir Abdullah/European Pressphoto Agency

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South Korea to Join China-Led Infrastructure Investment Bank

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

South Korea announced on Thursday that it will join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) as one of its founding members, despite Washington’s opposition to the new multinational lender, reports the New York Times.

South Korea’s finance ministry said in a statement that becoming a member of the AIIB will help bolster the country’s influence in the international banking sector and help domestic firms secure deals in large-scale construction, telecommunications, transportation and other regional infrastructure projects.

Seoul’s decision comes a week after developed European economies France, Germany and Italy announced that they will be joining Britain in seeking membership. Australia is also expected to follow suit. More than 20 countries have said that they plan to become AIIB members.

China has already pledged to foot the bulk of the initial $50 billion needed to get the bank running, with donations from other members expected to increase the overall fund to more than $100 billion.

However, the United States has expressed doubts about the proposed multinational lender, which Washington sees a threat to the Wold Bank. The Obama administration has also raised concerns about the China-led institution meeting the rigorous standards of governance and transparency in enforcing environmental and labor standards.

Critics claim that Washington is simply opposing the AIIB because it is afraid that the new bank will undermine institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, where the U.S. wields great influence.

The question of joining the bank had also forced South Korea to delicately balance its ties with the U.S, its primary military ally, and China, its largest trading partner.

According to the Yonhap, AIIB participants have agreed that voting rights should commensurate with the amount of donations made, with Asian countries receiving 75 percent of voting rights and the rest going to countries outside of Asia.

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Featured image by Takaki Yajima/Reuters

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Defector Kills 4 People in China After Fleeing North Korea

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han
steve@iamkoream.com

A North Korean army deserter allegedly shot and killed four elderly residents as well as robbed a villager’s home in the border town of Nanping, China after escaping his country, according to local media reports.

The alleged killings reportedly took place on Dec. 28 at a village near the Tumen River, an area that has been used as an escape route for North Korean defectors for decades. The soldier was later arrested by the Chinese authorities, and it is unlikely he will be repatriated to North Korea given the severity of his crimes.

China is a common route for many North Korean defectors as they often cross into a third country before seeking asylum at the nearest South Korean embassy. The defectors caught by the Chinese authorities are often sent back to North Korea, where they would likely suffer cruel punishments in prison camps.

Since the killings, China has lodged a formal diplomatic complaint with North Korea, according to the country’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.

“China’s public security bureau will handle the case according to law,” Hua said, hinting that the army deserter will be prosecuted in China.

The Foreign Ministry gave no additional details about the incident, but South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported that the suspect injured another Chinese resident of the village in Nanping in addition to killing four in their homes. The soldier reportedly broke into the home of the resident– identified only by his surname Che–ate his food, stole about $16 and wounded the man before making his escape. Reports in China, citing the head of the village, also said that the four people killed were two elderly couples, who lived alone and had children working in South Korea.

In 2013, another North Korean defector killed an elderly Chinese couple in Yanji before stealing $3,210.

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Photo courtesy of AFP

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China Formally Arrests Korean American Aid Worker

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
jamesskim@iamkoream.com

Chinese authorities formally arrested Peter Hahn, a Korean American aid worker who lived near the country’s border with North Korea, on Friday, according to the Associated Press and Reuters.

Hahn, 74, was being held by authorities since November when they detained him on charges of embezzlement and possession of fraudulent receipts. A formal arrest, however, means a more serious situation than criminal detention.

Hahn’s lawyer, Zhang Peihong, told Reuters he believed Hahn was being targeted due to his Christian faith and because he ran a non-governmental organization. He maintained that the charges were “just excuses” but that the formal arrest would make the case difficult.

“I am not optimistic about the case’s prospects now that he has been arrested,” Zhang said. “The charges clearly have no merit.”

Hahn’s staff is also under investigation, including two U.S. nationals and three South Koreans. Chinese authorities have been expelling hundreds of Christian missionaries this year, according to Reuters, along with trying to curb the flow of North Korean defectors. Hahn helped defectors more than a decade ago, according to Zhang, but no longer did so.

Hahn and his wife, Eunice, ran a vocational school, located in the border town of Tumen, and a Christian aid agency that provided supplies and a local school to North Korean poor across the river. Other aid projects in his Tumen River Area Development Initiative included plans to build factories for food processing, fertilizer and bean paste.

Since the detainment, the Chinese police have allowed Hahn to see a doctor regularly, and U.S. consular officials have been able to meet him as well. Eunice Hahn had tried to deliver a letter to her husband through a U.S. diplomat with Christian messages, but Hahn had not been allowed to read it.

Photo courtesy of Hong Kong Economic Journal