Tag Archives: North Korea

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Suki Kim Tells Stories from NKorea on ‘The Daily Show’

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

Suki Kim, the author of the memoir Without You, There is No Us, appeared as a guest on The Daily Show last night and described her experience teaching English at a private university in Pyongyang for six months.

Once Kim sat down for the interview, Jon Stewart asked her how she found out about the teaching position, joking if it was a “Craigslist situation.” The Korean American journalist admitted that she had pursued the topic of North Korea since 2002 when she first visited the reclusive country. When she heard about the all-male boarding school for North Korea’s elite, she seized the opportunity and applied for the job.

“I always wanted to humanize North Korea because we don’t really get any real pictures. We only get stories from defectors, ones that fled North Korea,” said Kim. She added that the only things the world knew about the hermit kingdom were nuclear threats, jokes about Kim Jong-un and Dennis Rodman.

“Is he the only thing they know about us?” Stewart jested, regarding Rodman.
“I think possibly, yes,” Kim said, laughing.


After she explained that her students at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), the “M.I.T. of North Korea,” were unaware of the existence of the Internet, Stewart asked her a pointed question: What will happen to her students now?

“These are the future leaders of North Korea,” said Kim. “They were the crème de la crème of North Korea, and they were just so lovely because I think they were also so sheltered from the world. But their system was not lovely. Their system was the most inhuman system in the world.”

As the interview winded down to an end, Stewart asked Kim if she believed her students “felt like something was wrong” with their country’s system.

“How could they not know, you know? They’re never allowed to travel within the country without a travel pass. None of them have been to anywhere, basically outside of Pyongyang. And certainly not allowed to leave the country,” Kim responded. “A part of them must have known. But if they did, they could never show it to me because it means death in that country.”

You can watch the extended interview on The Daily Show‘s website.

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LINK ATTACK: Samsung’s Dark Secret, Psy Breaks YouTube, NKorea’s Name Ban

Samsung’s Devastating Secret: The Tears of ‘Semiconductor Children’
“In a new series, The Huffington Post Korea and its media partner, The Hankyoreh, report that long-term exposure to toxic chemicals may not only have lasting effects for some former Samsung workers, but also for their children.”

Dumbfoundead and the Year of the Metal Tiger
Critically acclaimed rapper James “Nocando” McCall writes about Koreatown rapper Dumbfounded, also known as Parker, and his rise to national fame during the year of the Metal Tiger.

Eat Your Kimchi Talks about Single Mothers in Korea

Rewriting the War, Japanese Right Attacks a Newspaper
“The Asahi Shimbun’s formal retraction of articles about ‘comfort women’ in World War II has led to an assault on the newspaper and on the view that Japan forced women into sexual slavery.” – The New York Times

Samsung Galaxy S6 Specs and Rumors
Here is an overview of what is already known about Saumsung’s forthcoming Galaxy S6 phone, based on leaks and rumors.

Eric Garner Case Resonates Among Asian Americans
“After a Staten Island grand jury decided to not indict white New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the choke-hold death of Eric Garner, Asian American activists and academics have been issuing calls for shows of solidarity for the family and community of Garner.”

justiceforgarner01(Photo courtesy of Reuters)

Call for Papers: Third Annual Korea University Korean History Graduate Student Conference
The Korea University Korean History (KUKH) Graduate Student Conference invites graduate students from around the world and conducting research in Korean history to submit abstracts for its 2015 conference.

North Korea Has Room for Only One Jong-un
There can only be one Jong-un to rule them all. North Koreans are now banned from using their leader’s name, and those who share the same name will be forced to change it.

NORTHKOREA-master675(Photo courtesy of KCNA via Reuters)

Harvard Professor Now Honorary Citizen of Seoul
Harvard University professor and political philosopher Michael Sandel, who is incredibly popular in Korea for his books Justice & Citizens’ Rights in Seoul, was made an honorary citizen of Seoul on Friday.

Kim Kardashian May Not Have Broken the Internet, But Psy’s “Gangnam Style” Just Did
Earlier this week, Psy’s viral song “Gangnam Style” reached the maximum number of views on YouTube, forcing YouTube and Google to upgrade its view counter.

14 Major Events in the Korean Music Industry in 2014
The year of 2014 has been one of the most tumultuous years for the K-pop industry as it was hit with scandals, tragedies and law suits. Koreaboo and Korean media portal Osen have compiled 14 of the most significant events to have occurred this year.

222(Photo courtesy of Koreaboo)

South Korean Unity Project Helps Kids Connect with Distant North
“Middle school students learn about differences in technology, food and lifestyles from North Korean defectors as part of reunification project.”

South Korea Tries Taxing Smoking into Oblivion
South Korea recently passed a new tax that doubles the average cost of cigarettes to 4,500 won ($4.05) in an effort to cut down on smoking.

Yoon Mi Rae, Tiger JK and Bizzy Release “Angel” Music Video

Featured photo courtesy of Yonhap.




Kim Jong-un’s Sister May Visit South Korea

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

North Korea has offered to send Kim Jong-un’s younger sister as an envoy to a Seoul food festival in March, an organizer told Reuters on Thursday.

The Association for South-North Economic Cooperation, a private South Korean business group with ties in the North, submitted an application to South Korea’s Unification Ministry for the joint festival, according to the Korea Economic Daily. The group claims that its North Korean counterparts provided them a list of officials to participate in the event, and Kim Yo-jong was listed as a participant.

However, there is some skepticism over the group’s application. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Unification Ministry said it could not “confirm the existence of the North Korean entity” and noted inconsistencies in the association’s proposal, including Kim’s official position in the communist state.

Kim, who is presumed to be 27, was identified by North Korea’s state media last month as the vice department director of the ruling party’s central committee, but the South Korean association’s application named her as the director.

The group was also not listed in business directories and its website could not be found on Naver, South Korea’s leading search engine. In addition, North Korea had not mentioned Kim’s visit through its state media.

The food festival is scheduled for March and is set to celebrate the Korean peninsula’s 70th anniversary of independence from Japanese colonial rule, said the organizers.

If Kim is approved to attend the event, then it would mark the first visit made by an immediate member of North Korea’s ruling family.

Photo courtesy of Wikitree

christmas structure korea AFP KIM JAE-MYUNG

South Korea to Rebuild Christmas Tower Despite North Korea’s Threats

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

The South Korean Defense Ministry announced on Tuesday that it will allow a Christian group to rebuild the Christmas tower near the inter-Korean border, infuriating North Korea, which had threatened to fire artillery at the old tower that once stood in the same spot.

In October, the South Korean military dismantled the 1970’s steel tower due to safety concerns for tourists. According to the New York Times, tests showed that the 59-foot structure had become unstable and dangerous, especially with the giant rusted cross sitting on top of the “tree.”

Conservative Christian groups and anti-North Korea activists, however, soon protested the dismantlement, accusing the government of caving into pressure from Pyongyang. The Christian Council of Korea (CCK) also began campaigning for a new tower to replace the old tower.

For decades, the tower had stood on a hilltop west of Seoul and just a few miles away from the North Korean town of Kaesong. During the holiday season, it had been lit with Christmas lights, which can be seen across the border.

North Korea, which forbids religious activities, frequently protested against the tower’s lights, calling them a tool for “psychological warfare.” When South Korea’s Defense Ministry accepted CCK’s request for a new tower on Tuesday, North Korea fired another round of protests, saying that the tower “is not just a means for religious events but a symbol of madcap confrontation racket for escalating tensions.”

In response, the Defense Ministry’s spokesman Kim Min-seok said, “We accepted the request to protect religious activities and to honor the group’s wish to illuminate the tower in hopes of peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

The new tower will be installed by the CCK and will be illuminated from Dec. 23 to Jan. 6.

Photo courtesy of Kim Jae-Myung, AFP.



North Korea Refuses to Deny Hacking Sony Pictures

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

New evidence suggests that North Korea may have been behind the cyber-attack that crippled Sony Pictures last week. The tools the hackers used are very similar to those used to attack South Korean television stations and ATMs in 2013, according to the Wall Street Journal.

North Korea was one of the initial suspects in the hacking, which disabled the Sony Pictures computer network and forced employees to work with their cellphones, pen and paper. Before screens went dark, they displayed a red skull and the phrase “Hacked By #GOP,” which reportedly stands for “Guardians of Peace.” A message also threatened to release sensitive data stolen from Sony servers if certain demands were not met.

The threat apparently didn’t include five Sony movies, including Fury and the unreleased Annie, as they were leaked to torrent sites over the weekend. Investigators and Sony executives have assumed the leaks were connected to the attack, although there is no evidence of that yet.

So far, North Korea has refused to deny their involvement in light of what has only been circumstantial evidence. BBC News reported that when asked, a North Korean spokesman for the government replied, “Wait and see.”

If North Korea is indeed behind the attacks, the Verge noted, it would be the first time a Hollywood studio has come under attack from a foreign power.

Investigators believe that Sony’s upcoming movie, The Interview, would explain a connection to North Korea. The comedy film that involves two journalists (James Franco and Seth Rogen) on a mission for the CIA to assassinate Kim Jong-un (Randall Park). North Korea has not held back in expressing their distaste over the film. Back in June, a Foreign Ministry spokesman promised a “merciless counter-measure” if The Interview becomes released and also denounced the movie as “the most undisguised terrorism.”

The Interview

“A film about the assassination of a foreign leader mirrors what the U.S. has done in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Ukraine,” read a statement by Kim Myong-chol, North Korea’s executive director of the Center for North Korea-U.S. Peace. “And let us not forget who killed [John F.] Kennedy—Americans.”

In the statements from the hacking group behind the attacks, the Verge found that one of the recent messages singled out The Interview in a similar manner:

“Our aim is not at the film The Interview as Sony Pictures suggests. But it is widely reported as if our activity is related to The Interview. This shows how dangerous film The Interview is. The Interview is very dangerous enough to cause a massive hack attack. Sony Pictures produced the film harming the regional peace and security and violating human rights for money. The news with The Interview fully acquaints us with the crimes of Sony Pictures. Like this, their activity is contrary to our philosophy. We struggle to fight against such greed of Sony Pictures.”

Another portion of the message reads, “We won’t give up this attack unless Sony Pictures collapse to the end.”

theinterview01Randall Park as Kim Jong-un.

Since August, Sony had already planned to edit out a few controversial portions of the movie, including a Raiders of the Lost Ark homage where Kim Jong-un’s face melts off in slow motion. They also digitally altered the buttons worn by multiple characters because they “depict the actual hardware worn by the North Korean military to honor” Kim Jong-un and his late father, Kim Jong-il.

The Interiew is still set to hit theaters on Christmas Day, at least in the U.S. It will not be screened in South Korea, however, as a Seoul-based Sony Pictures official cited concerns of inter-Korean relations.

Photo courtesy of The Verge

Suki Kim author image - photo credit Ed Kashi-VII

Suki Kim Faces Backlash for North Korea Memoir

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han

Suki Kim may have captivated her readers with her latest book, Without You, There Is No Us, which chronicles her six-month journey of teaching English to North Korean students, but it was apparently at the expense of her relationship with the North Korean school.

Teachers at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) criticized Kim, who taught at the school from June to December of 2011 for a myriad of reasons. A few of those include the Korean American author breaking a promise to not publicize her experiences at the private university in North Korea’s capital as well as allegedly writing factually inaccurate information about the school and its teachers, whom she described as Christian missionaries.

“Suki is a good writer, but she definitely wrote to her interest and did not really report the whole story,” Norma Nichols, the co-director at PUST’s international academic affairs, told KoreAm in an email. “She got some facts wrong. I was there during the time she was reporting, so I know that she overlooked some things.”

The North Korean government, largely known for its ban on religions and aversion to foreign influence, approved PUST in 2001. The school eventually opened in 2011 under the conditions that the funding will come from foreign investments and that the teachers would be subject to severe punishment for trying to proselytize students. The school, attended by the male children of North Korea’s most privileged families, was founded by James Kim, a Korean American entrepreneur who also runs a similar school in Yanbian, China.

Although the school admitted that its teachers are indeed Christians, it dismissed what Kim said about her fellow teachers, whom she said they allegedly set a “larger goal to convert” the North Korean students.

“I am really upset about the attitude, her writings, her telling lies, her cheating us,” James Kim, the school’s founder, told the New York Times. “[The North Korean authorities] know we are Christian, we do not hide that … But we are not missionaries. Christians and missionaries are different.”

As of now, PUST hasn’t faced any repercussions because of Kim’s book, but the North Korean authorities have reportedly questioned James Kim extensively since it was published.

Kim has already acknowledged that she is not a Christian and that she deceptively applied for a teaching job at the school, where she clandestinely took notes with the goal of writing about her experiences. Under heavy surveillance, Kim said she scribbled notes and destroyed them after transferring what she wrote to thumb drives, which she either wore around her neck or hid in the garbage can.

KoreAm will feature an exclusive Q&A with Suki Kim in its upcoming December/January issue.

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Kim Jong-un Sings Katy Perry in Final Trailer for ‘The Interview’

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

Sony Pictures has released its final trailer for the upcoming action-comedy film The Interview, starring Seth Rogen, James Franco and Randall Park.

Written and directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the feature centers on Dave Skylark (James Franco) and his producer Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogen), who run a popular celebrity tabloid TV show. After discovering that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) is a fan of the show, Dave and Aaaron prepare to travel to Pyongyang to interview him in an attempt to legitimize themselves as real journalists. Their plans, however, are derailed when the CIA recruits them to assassinate the North Korean dictator.

While previous trailers have only shown glimpses of the film’s iteration of Kim Jong-un, the new trailer highlights Park’s strong comedy chops, as seen in the short scene of him singing Katy Perry’s “Firework” with Franco.

This year has been a particularly busy one for Park as he is currently filming for the upcoming ABC family comedy, Fresh Off the Boat, which is slated to air in early 2015. In addition, Park will also be featured on the cover of KoreAm‘s December/January 2014 issue! You can read Park’s final column for KoreAm here.

The Interview will hit U.S. theaters on December 25.

Peter Hahn School

Chinese Authorities Detain Aid Worker Assisting NKoreans


A Korean American aid worker was arrested by Chinese authorities on Tuesday on suspicion of embezzlement and possession of fraudulent receipts, reports the New York Times.

Peter Hahn, a 73-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen who escaped from North Korea many years ago, was detained on Tuesday in Tumen City, a trading town near the North Korean border in northeastern China. He ran a Christian aid agency that included a local school and also provided supplies to North Korean poor.

Other aid projects in his Tumen River Area Development Initiative included building fertilizer factories, food processing factories and fishing boat repair services in North Korea, along with 26 shuttle buses. His bakery also provided soy milk and bread for orphanages.

Authorities reportedly called Hahn in for questioning, then placed under detention after a six-hour interrogation. Hahn’s lawyer, Zhang Peihong, said that the charges were “groundless” and “impossible to stand up.”

The arrest follows a crackdown on Christian and other Western aid groups and NGOs along the North Korean border in recent months. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has not offered a reason behind them.

Authorities began investigating Hahn in April, asking him about his life and humanitarian work, according to his lawyer. Hahn’s wife, Eunice, said that in July, police closed their vocational training school and froze their bank accounts, then confiscated their vehicles, computer, books and photos. She has since moved to Seoul for safety reasons.

At the time, Hahn was told he was being investigated for “embezzlement, proselytizing and providing aid illegally to North Korean defectors,” allegations he denied, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Since August, two more of Hahn’s colleagues, one Korean and one Chinese, have been detained.

Hahn’s wife and lawyer were both concerned about his health. He has suffered a number of strokes and was on medication before the arrest.

Kevin and Julie Garrat, a Canadian Christian couple who ran a cafe in Dandong, were also detained in July and accused of espionage and theft of state secrets about China’s military and national defense research. The New York Times said Peter’s Coffee Shop served as a “beacon of information for adventurous travelers” and Christians, as well as those looking for Western food. Kevin Garrat, a former pastor, would often converse with the travelers about North Korea.

The Hong Kong Economic Journal notes it is unusual for foreigners to be charged with violating the Chinese states secrets law. It is punishable by life in prison or death in the most severe cases.

Top photo courtesy of Hong Kong Economic Journal