Tag Archives: North Korea

South Korea US Kerry

Kerry Slams North Korea, Vows Security for South

by MATTHEW LEE, AP Diplomatic Writer

SEOUL, South Korea — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday accused North Korea of a litany of crimes and atrocities while reassuring South Korea of America’s “ironclad” security commitments.

Kerry blamed North Korea for continuing to break promises, make threats and “show flagrant disregard for international law” by continuing to build its nuclear bomb and missile programs even as it oppressed its own people. He said North Korea’s “horrific conduct” must be exposed and vowed to ratchet up pressure on Pyongyang to change its behavior, particularly since it has rebuffed repeated attempts to restart nuclear disarmament negotiations.

“They have grown the threat of their program and have acted with a kind of reckless abandon,” Kerry said, referring to North Korea and its work on a growing arsenal of missiles and nuclear bombs that Pyongyang hopes will one day be able to reach the U.S. mainland.

His comments come less than a week after South Korea’s spy agency said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered his defense chief executed with an anti-aircraft gun for complaining about the young ruler, talking back to him and sleeping during a meeting Kim presided over.

That allegation, if true, adds to worries about the erratic nature of Kim’s rule, particularly after Pyongyang claimed last weekend it had successfully test-fired a newly developed ballistic missile from a submarine.

Kerry called the reported killing just the latest in a series of “grotesque, grisly, horrendous, public displays of executions on a whim and fancy.” He said that if such behavior continued, calls would grow in the international community for North Korea to be referred to the International Criminal Court.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said “the severity of recent threats and provocations” made it essential to bolster the security relationship of the longtime allies.

The actions come despite a recent U.S. diplomatic overture to North Korea to discuss resuming nuclear disarmament talks that have been stalled for years. Washington quietly proposed a meeting with North Korea in January, before the U.S. and South Korea began annual military exercises that North Korea regards as a provocation. The two sides, however, failed to agree on who could meet and where.

Kerry noted North Korea’s refusal to return to the table, saying “all they are doing now is isolating themselves further and creating greater risks to the region and to their own country.” He said the U.S. remained open to talks but only if “we …. have some indication from the leader of North Korea that they are serious about engaging on the subject of their nuclear program.”

Kerry also suggested the possibility of more sanctions against Pyongyang, already one of the most sanctioned countries in the world, over its “very dangerous course” of pursuing missiles and nuclear weapons. Washington and its partners are “talking about ways to increase the pressure and increase the potential of either sanctions or other means,” Kerry said.

Kerry also expressed hope that the successful conclusion of a nuclear deal with Iran would send a positive message to North Korea to restart negotiations on its own atomic program.

International negotiators are rushing to finalize a nuclear deal with Iran by the end of June under which Iran’s program would be curbed to prevent it from developing atomic weapons in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions that have crippled its economy.

International nuclear talks with North Korea broke down in early 2009. A 2012 food-for-nuclear-freeze deal between Pyongyang and Washington fell apart soon after being settled.

North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in 2006 and is now believed to have at least 10 such weapons. It conducted its third nuclear test in February 2013, and U.S.-based experts forecast that it could increase its nuclear arsenal to between 20 and 100 weapons by 2020.

Kerry during his meetings also laid the groundwork for a June visit to Washington by South Korean President Park Geun-hye.

Later, in a speech at prestigious Korea University in Seoul, Kerry singled out Pyongyang and other, unnamed countries for repressing their citizens’ use of the Internet. He used the speech to issue a broad call for open and secure cyber access as a global right.

Kerry said that authoritarian Pyongyang, with the lowest rate of access to the Web in the world, is the opposite of ultra-wired, democratic Seoul. Countries with poor Internet freedom, he said, often also had questionable human rights and a stifled economy without innovation or freely exchanged ideas.

Washington accuses Pyongyang of being behind last year’s massive hack of Sony Pictures over a film that centered on the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Seoul also says Pyongyang has staged a series of hacks on major South Korean companies and government organizations. Pyongyang denies the hacking claims.

Kerry didn’t mention China, but Washington recently voiced concern over a report that Beijing manipulated international Internet traffic intended for a major Chinese Web service company and used it for a cyberattack on U.S. sites.


Associated Press writer Foster Klug in Seoul contributed to this story. Featured image courtesy of Ed Jones/Pool Photo via AP.

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


Commentary: A Medical Mission to North Korea

Pictured above: Wearing their light blue jerseys, Liz Park, Dr. Mike Yoon and Sophie Park (l-r), stand between North Korean medical students after a friendly volleyball match. (All photos courtesy of Liz Park, Credit: Josiah Cha)


Stop any layperson on the street in the United States and ask them the first words that come to mind when they think of North Korea. Health care, humanitarian aid and development would hardly rank high up there.

North Korea, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea as it is formally known, has long been shrouded under a veil of mystery in regards to its state of health care and socioeconomic development. Beyond the mercurial politics of the North-South Korean border, the tense nuclear standoff and public fascination with the hermit kingdom, the people of North Korea face critical health care concerns, from chronic undernutrition to tuberculosis to other noncommunicable diseases, which contribute to two-thirds of all deaths in North Korea, according to the medical journal The Lancet.

As a South Korean-born, naturalized U.S. citizen and medical student, I got to witness some of these issues firsthand when I traveled to North Korea with the Korean American Medical Association (KAMA) for the first time in May 2014.

The KAMA North Korea Doctor to Doctor Initiative has been recruiting Korean American physicians in the U.S. for biannual medical service trips to Pyongyang since 2007. Spearheaded by Dr. Kee Park, a Korean American neurosurgeon based in Cambodia and the global health chair of KAMA, the medical service trips incorporate specialists in such fields as neurosurgery and pediatric plastic surgery, along with public health initiatives, technical support and capacity building, including the delivery of medical equipment, training of health care workers and medical education lectures given by specialists.

Pot-NKMedica-AM15-Secondary2The Pyongyang Medical Center operating room. At center is Dr. Mike Yoon, wearing dark glasses and holding a surgical instrument.

At its core, the Doctor to Doctor Initiative is about fostering peaceful, academic and service-driven engagement with North Korea. Specialists hop on board to operate on local patients while nurses and other ancillary staff offer their assistance. This perhaps is no different than other short-term medical service trips led by public health organizations.

However, our doctors are able to connect with North Korean health care staff as one human being to another because of our shared heritage. Since May 2013, these service trips have expanded to include medical students such as myself.

Last September, we launched the first annual PICoMS (Pyongyang International Conference of Medical Students) at Pyongyang Medical College.

The objective of this student-focused conference was to exchange medical information, achievements and solutions among medical students of Korean heritage. We also hoped to engage our North Korean counterparts on dialogue around health and socioeconomic development in their country. Through PICoMS, I had the rare opportunity to interact intimately with North Korean medical students.

Myself and three other students from the U.S., plus Dr. Park’s daughter, presented on such topics as the U.S. health care system, U.S. medical education and how to be a successful doctor, while North Korean medical students educated us on the North Korea health care system, North Korea medical education, traditional Koryo medicine and the history and current status of neurosurgery. A total of 85 Pyongyang Medical College students attended the conference.

Any chance they had, the North Korean medical students peppered us with questions, which extended beyond topics of medicine to U.S. politics, religion and even entertainment.

Their questions even touched on Americans’ habits and the everyday mundane. They asked me how medical students in the U.S. deal with pressure. They asked how we decompress and what we do in our leisure time. One female student even asked how Western girls diet and sought out helpful tips (it seems that even in North Korea women develop self-critical body images).

Pot-NKMedica-AM15-Secondary1A group photo of those who participated in the 2014 medical conference in North Korea.

Recently, as I prepared to head out on my second trip for this conference in May, I reflected on my first visit. As a newcomer to the weeklong medical service trip to Pyongyang, I struggled to find my place as a mere student, unable to assist the physicians on this trip in any tangible way.

Furthermore, in witnessing the North Korean health care staff’s valiant efforts to deliver care in the midst of extreme resource deprivation, I lamented the fate of the two Koreas. Would we ever have a chance to heal these long-carried scars of war and bridge political and ideological schisms?

I recalled the voices of the North Korean students that rose with excitement as they discussed a scenario of reunification. For the first time since arriving, I felt we had a shared vision as fellow Koreans—not as Communist vs. Imperialist or North Korean vs. American—but simply as Koreans.

North Korea is a country divided in body but unified in spirit with South Korea. To take steps towards resolving political strife and tension, one must first engage the people. As Korean Americans, our responsibility is unique: we can go where most South Koreans cannot. We share “Korean” sentiments yet carry a U.S. passport. There is tremendous potential for the development of healthy and rigorous academic and professional exchange and to serve as ambassadors in promoting such a relationship.

Each trip to North Korea for me is an opportunity to expand and transform my heart, by shedding its former prejudices and fears to share my life’s blessings with fellow Koreans.

This is why I continue to go back, and why I will keep going back.

Recommended Reading

“Uri Tours Focuses on North Korea Tourism”

“Photographer Aram Pan Presents a Different Angle to North Korea”

Liz Park is a graduating student at Boston University School of Medicine and an incoming internal medicine intern at Cornell-New York Presbyterian Hospital. If you are interested in the KAMA trips or PICoMS, please contact kama.projectdprk@gmail.com.


This article was published in the April/May 2015 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the April/May issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).

button_3 copy


Uri Tours Focuses on North Korea Tourism

Pictured above: Uri Tours CEO Andrea Lee. (Photo courtesy of Andrea Lee)


Several years ago, Andrea Lee traded a desk job as a corporate attorney in New York City to head Uri Tours, a New Jersey-based travel company founded by her family a decade ago, which organizes tours to North Korea. As its CEO and occasional tour leader, the 33-year-old Lee helps curious individuals see what life is like north of the 38th parallel on the divided Korean peninsula.

Although widely perceived as a sealed-off nation closed to foreign tourists, North Korea permits group and even private travel by citizens of any country other than South Korea who book through a tourism partner-provider. While the U.S. Department of State strongly recommends against travel by U.S. citizens to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as the country is officially known, there appears to be no adverse impact on Uri’s business.

The only incident Uri, the largest American operator of North Korea tours, ever reported in its 10-year history occurred last year, when Matthew Miller, a 24-year-old from California, opted to take a private tour with only local North Korean guides and ripped up his tourist visa. He was arrested by North Korean officials for “hostile acts” but U.S. officials negotiated his release in November.

Bringing on average one thousand visitors to North Korea each year, Uri partners with a network of travel agents and resellers, as well as nonprofit organizations, nongovernmental organizations and universities in arranging North Korea tours. It facilitated the New York Philharmonic’s visit in February 2008 and Dennis Rodman’s much-publicized visit with Vice media in 2013. In addition, Uri is the exclusive ticketing agent for the Americas for North Korean state-run Air Koryo.

It hasn’t hurt that North Korea has looked more outwards in recent years, even opening the Pyongyang Marathon in 2014 and 2015 to foreign amateur runners.

Lee, who was born in Chile, travels at least once a month to North Korea to lead tours. KoreAm recently spoke with her by phone. The following is an edited transcript of the conversation.

pyongyang runPyongyang Marathon 2014. (Photo courtesy of Uri Tours/Flickr

How did your family get the idea to start Uri Tours?

Andrea Lee: My family had been traveling to North Korea since the 1990s, when we visited the country through a Korean American business association. North Korea was a natural curiosity to us, as it is for many Korean Americans. The more we traveled there, the more we learned that a lot of people back in the U.S. wanted an opportunity to visit. We were able to meet with travel companies within the DPRK and forge partnerships. We started to take people with us in small groups and over time, it grew to be a formal business.

Who typically signs up for your tours?

Because we’re an American company, over half of our clients are North American. We get a lot of European travelers and people from New Zealand and Australia as well.

Where in the country do your tours take visitors?

Our DPRK Weekender tour ($1,500 for a single traveler) focuses on the highlights of the DPRK: Pyongyang and the DMZ. We also have our five-day standard tour ($1,900/single), which includes Pyongyang, Kaesong, Nampo and Myohyangsan. Our 14-night tours ($4,775/single) go pretty much to every place a tourist can go in the DPRK, including Mt. Chilbo, which is an incredible mountain range, and Mt. Paekdu, where visitors can hike up to see Lake Cheonji, the deepest crater lake in the world. Both North Koreans and South Koreans consider Mt. Paekdu the birthplace of Korea.

chilboTourists pose in front of Mt. Chilbo. (Photo courtesy of Uri Tours/Flickr)

How much interaction do visitors have with North Koreans?

We’re really focused on providing experiential tourism opportunities—different activities that give people the chance to interact with locals. To be able to speak the language opens the door to more meaningful interaction with locals. One impression that [Korean Americans] have is that North Koreans do not like ethnic Koreans who live outside of the DPRK. In my experience, that is not true. I find that North Koreans welcome and appreciate Koreans who want to explore their roots.

Given the lack of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and North Korea, how safe is it for Americans to visit North Korea?

For us, safety is definitely the highest priority, as it is for our North Korean tour partners, whose livelihoods depend on the success of the tourism industry. The perception that North Koreans will just randomly arrest tourists is unfounded. The recent detainments [of Miller; Jeffrey Fowle, who hid a Korean-English bible under a trash bin in a sailor’s club in Chongjin; and Christian missionary Kenneth Bae, all U.S. citizens] were for very specific reasons and are very rare and extraordinary cases. [Miller’s] was a rare and isolated case where the tourist had ripped up his visa and sought asylum in the DPRK. Five- to 6,000 Westerners and close to a hundred thousand Chinese [nationals] go to North Korea every year, largely without incident.

air koryoAir Koryo check-in counter at Beijing. (Photo courtesy of Brigitte via Uri Tours)

What were you doing before you got involved in the travel business?

I was an attorney in New York practicing private funds equity law. I graduated from Bowdoin College, where I majored in comparative politics, and received a J.D. cum laude from New York Law School. I have always been interested in different political systems and how they came to be. Coupled with my interest in travel, Uri Tours has been a rewarding vehicle to further my own academic interests while putting my entrepreneurial skills to the test.

What has it been like to visit North Korea as a Korean American?

People I meet there are often curious about my upbringing, asking me questions much like those I get in South Korea: Do you eat kimchi at home? Are you married? Do you speak Korean to your parents? As a Korean American myself, I am living proof that [North Korea] is a safe place for Korean [Americans] to visit so long as they follow the rules of the tour.

How off is the average American’s understanding of North Korea?

I think Western media sensationalizes the news and only portrays the DPRK through a political lens. The official news we get from the DPRK is also sensationalized, politicized and over the top. Missing from the narrative [are details about] the average North Korean person, and his or her lifestyle, culture, nature and history.

There’s a range of experiences and lifestyles—people just living ordinary lives who have the same types of concerns [Westerners] do: How am I going to feed my family, where am I going to go to school, how am I going to get a job after I graduate, who am I going to get married to?

grandparents in nkNorth Korean grandparents. (Photo courtesy of Uri Tours/Flickr)

How do you think the tourism funds in North Korea are being spent?

Although of course we don’t know exactly where the money we bring in goes, they’re travel-related costs. The money that tourism brings to North Korea is minimal compared with the types of expenses the country would need for military-related programs. From a more general viewpoint, I think any positive interaction between the DPRK and the international community is good—it’s good for the DPRK, it’s good for the traveler. For most people, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and they get a lot out of it. Often they come back realizing that the stereotypes they had against the country were unfounded.

What changes have you witnessed in North Korea since your first trip in the 1990s?

The landscape of Pyongyang has changed. A number of new buildings have gone up. A lot more apartment buildings, a lot more cars, a lot more commerce. Eight of the nine provinces can now be accessed by tourists. In terms of tourism, it’s a much different place to visit now than it was 10 years ago. The country is developing more tourism infrastructure to welcome more and more international travelers in the coming years. I hope it will be a destination people keep in mind for their next Asia trip.

unha scientist complexTraveler poses with North Korean children at Unha Scientist Street. (Photo courtesy of Uri Tours/Flickr)

See Also


“Photographer Aram Pan Presents a Different Angle to North Korea”

“April 2012 Feature: Reporting from Pyongyang”

“Interview: Suki Kim, Author of Without You, There Is No Us


Mark Edward Harris’ books include South Korea” and “North Korea.” The latter was named Book of the Year at the 2013 International Photography Awards.

This article was published in the April/May 2015 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the April/May issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).

button_3 copy

yoon mirae interview

Yoon Mirae and Sony Pictures Settle Legal Dispute

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

Korean singer-rapper Yoon Mirae was not amused when she heard her song “Pay Day” briefly play in the controversial Seth Rogan comedy The Interview.

“When we asked Sony about the use of ‘Pay Day’ in the movie, they replied by saying that they had a signed contract [authorizing their use of the song]. However, we did not sign such a contract,” Feel Ghood Music, Yoon’s agency, said at the time of the film’s release.

The Interview, a film that depicts the fictional assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, drew global attention after Sony Pictures Entertainment suffered a cyberattack presumably instigated by North Korea.

Last December, Feel Ghood Music filed a lawsuit with a U.S. court against Sony Pictures Entertainment. After four months of legal dispute, the two parties announced on Wednesday that they have reached a settlement, according to Yonhap News Agency.

Sony Pictures said in an email sent to Yonhap that it acknowledged using the song before obtaining an official license and said that both parties amicably resolved the dispute.

“We want to emphasize that the fact that the track was included [in The Interview] does not mean that Yoon Mi Rae, Tiger JK, or Feel Ghood Music condones the content [of the film],” the studio wrote.

“Pay Day” is a track from Yoon’s third studio album released in 2007 and features her husband Tiger JK, who is also a Korean American hip-hop artist. The song played during a scene in the film where Kim Jong-un (portrayed by Randall Park) shows American talk-show host Dave Skylark (James Franco) how to party by drinking and playing billiards with women in lingerie.

You can watch Yoon Mirae and Tiger JK perform “Pay Day” below.

Recommended Reading


“Did North Korea Hack Sony? The Jury’s Still Out”

“Q&A with Seth Rogan: Behind the Making of the Interview 

“December/January 2015 Cover Story: Randall Park”




North Korea Executed Defense Minister: NIS

by HYUNG-JIN KIM, Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered his defense chief executed with an anti-aircraft gun for complaining about the young ruler, talking back to him and sleeping during a meeting presided over by Kim, South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers Wednesday, citing what it called credible information.

South Korean analysts are split on whether the alleged bloody purge signals strength or weakness from Kim Jong Un, who took power after his father’s 2011 death. Some aren’t even sure if it really happened. One expert described the reported development, part of a series of high profile recent purges and executions by Kim, as an attempt to orchestrate a “reign of terror” that would solidify his leadership.

National Intelligence Service officials told a closed-door parliamentary committee meeting that People’s Armed Forces Minister Hyon Yong-chol was killed in front of hundreds of spectators at a shooting range at Pyongyang’s Kang Kon Military Academy in late April, according to lawmaker Shin Kyoung-min, who attended the briefing.

Kim Gwang-lim, chairman of the parliament’s intelligence committee, quoted the spy service as saying Hyon had failed several times to comply with unspecified instructions by Kim. The office of another lawmaker, Lee Cheol Woo, released similar information about the NIS briefing.

The NIS didn’t tell lawmakers how it got the information, only that it was from a variety of channels and that it believed it to be true, Shin said. The agency refused to confirm the report when contacted by The Associated Press.

South Korea’s spy agency has a spotty record of tracking developments in North Korea. Information about the secretive, authoritarian state is often impossible to confirm.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said the U.S. can’t confirm reporting of the execution of North Korean officials, but added that “these disturbing reports, if they are true, describe another extremely brutal act by the North Korean regime. These reports are sadly not the first.”

Analyst Cheong Seong-chang at the private Sejong Institute think tank in South Korea questioned the authenticity of the report on Hyon’s execution because the minister still frequently appears in state TV footage.

North Korea typically removes executed and purged officials from TV documentaries, but Hyon has appeared multiple times in a TV documentary on live fire drills between April 30 and May 11, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry. North Korea’s state media hasn’t mentioned Hyon since an April 29 report of his attendance of a music performance the previous day.

Hyon was named armed forces minister, the equivalent of South Korea’s defense minister, in June of last year. He was made a vice marshal of the Korean People’s Army in July 2012 before being demoted to a four-star general later that year, according to South Korea’s Unification Ministry. Kim, the South Korean parliament’s intelligence committee chief, said Hyon was the North Korean military’s No.2 man after Hwang Pyong So, the top political officer at the Korean People’s Army.

Kim’s purges over recent years are seen as efforts to bolster his grip on power. The most notable was in 2013 when Kim executed his uncle and chief deputy, Jang Song Thaek, for alleged treason. Last month, spy officials told lawmakers that North Korea executed 15 senior officials accused of challenging Kim’s authority.

Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Dongguk University in Seoul, said Kim Jong Un appears to be using purges to keep the military old guard in check because they pose the only plausible threat to his rule. Koh said Kim could be pushing a “reign of terror” to solidify his leadership, but those efforts would fail if he doesn’t improve the country’s shattered economy.


Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, and Matthew Pennington in Washington, contributed to this report. Featured image courtesy of Yonhap News Agency.

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


KoreAm Editor Roundtable: Part 1

Pictured above: From left to right—Jimmy Lee, Julie Ha, Michelle Woo, John Lee and Ken Lee.

Twenty-five years ago, KoreAm Journal started out as a newsmagazine published on newsprint. “Get Involved!” encouraged the headline on the cover story for the very first issue published April 1990. Featuring news briefs, a profile of Cerritos City Council candidate Charles Kim, restaurant reviews, personal commentary and even a mini-guide to the Korean language, KoreAm boldly announced its arrival in the alternative media space.

In the last quarter-century, the publication, which would eventually evolve into a glossy magazine, has kept a pulse on the issues and people forming the fabric of the Korean American community, as it continues to strive to fulfill the vision outlined by founding publisher Jung Shig Ryu in his inaugural note to readers: “We at KoreAm Journal are dedicating ourselves to cultivating an awareness of the Korean heritage, and informing people of the events happening not only in their homeland, but also in their communities.”

To honor KoreAm’s 25th anniversary, we invited former editors who steered the magazine between 1991 and 2014 to reflect on the milestones over the years. Their recollections touched on the humorous to the heartfelt. We couldn’t print the entirety of the conversation, recorded at KoreAm’s office in Gardena, Calif., due to space and some off-the-record moments, but below is a transcript of the dialogue’s highlights.

You can also watch the first half of the discussion in the video here:

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 10.41.21 AM

How Each First Came Across KoreAm

Jimmy Lee
When I was working at KYCC (Los Angeles’ Koreatown Youth and Community Center). We would get the magazine at the office.

Ken Lee: My mom was very active in the Korean community, so she was subscribing to it and I would just see it around the house. This was in the mid-’90s. At the time, it was still a newspaper.

Julie Ha: I actually started receiving KoreAm in my mailbox at the UCLA dormitory. I was like, why am I getting this all of a sudden? But it was free. I do remember being surprised I saw it in my mailbox and thinking, “Oh, this is sort of cool.”

Michelle Woo: I don’t know how I first heard about it, but I first heard about the [staff writer] job on journalismjobs.com. I don’t have a great story behind it, but I was living in Phoenix at the time. I’m not Korean—I’m Chinese—but my last name is Woo—W-o-o—so it could be either [Chinese or Korean], so I think that’s what got me the interview.

CS-25th-AM15-SubscriptionLetterA March 5, 1991 letter sent by KoreAm publisher James Ryu to potential subscribers.

Most Memorable Cover Issues or Stories


Jimmy: The 10-year anniversary of the L.A. riots. Putting that one together was pretty daunting. I think we tried to tackle more than we probably should have. I think for the most part we succeeded, but we really tried to take a look at the riots in a historically comprehensive sort of way. I think that the end result turned out to be very satisfying.

The riots were a very sort of defining moment for KoreAm, especially for the community, but specifically for KoreAm. It was right there at its infancy, we sort of kind of grew up with it.

Julie: In a way, the [L.A. riots] sort of underscored the whole purpose of KoreAm: to have a voice for Korean Americans in the media. A lot of Korean immigrants especially felt like they had no voice in the mainstream media, and that they were being totally misrepresented, underrepresented, as gun-toting Koreans guarding their stores, at any cost … and not really being humanized. There weren’t all these bilingual reporters at mainstream newspapers and TV stations, so I think that’s when a lot of Korean Americans felt like, “Wow, we have no voice.”

John Lee: [In late 1993, we ran] this photo essay by a Korean American photographer from New York who came to Los Angeles after the riots. He embarked on this mission to meet and photograph Korean merchants in the South Los Angeles area. I met him and got to go out on some of his shoots. He had a really good way of working with the merchants. He seemed to understand their lives and had a real comfortable rapport with them. Some of the images he got were really telling about how kind of mundane life is in the Korean liquor store in South Los Angeles, but they had a good way of giving insight into the motivation of people both behind the counter and in front of the counter. We ran this story in KoreAm Journal around the same time.

He eventually ended up working for the New York Times. Before that, we worked on a similar photo essay for the L.A. Times Sunday Magazine. He took photographs; I did a write-up for them.

Untitled-1“The Hard Life,” a photo essay by Chang W. Lee featured in the Dec. 1993 issue of KoreAm. 

Ken: For me, it would be the  [Dec. 1998] cover story we did on the North Korea famine. At the time, it felt like it wasn’t really something that was being discussed in the Korean American community, and at the time in the global community, it was known as the “silent famine” because it was largely being ignored. So, what I discovered was that a lot of first-generation Koreans still had very much a Cold War mentality in which they didn’t—they refused—to see past the politics and into the human suffering that was going on there. On that note, there was so much information that was being blocked, so it’s kind of understandable [that] it wasn’t at the forefront of people’s minds at the time.

At the time, it was just me and [KoreAm publisher] James [Ryu] essentially running the magazine. For two guys in a warehouse to make a cover story out of very little means—it was very satisfying to put that up and get a lot of congratulatory letters from people in the community.

CS-Image3-AM15-1SilentFamineThe Dec. 1998 North Korea famine issue 

Jimmy: That was the infamous phone call issue, right?

Ken: The story, it’s not too tired? I’m just going to pretend you guys aren’t here (motioning to the group), because they’ve heard it over and over. So, as I was saying, it was just me and James working in a warehouse, trying to put this important global issue together. I had managed to get a phone number of human rights workers who were in North Korea. One was a Canadian and the other was an American, and they were working in Pyongyang doing food distribution. I was able to just call them from here in Gardena to Pyongyang, North Korea, and just conduct, like, a two- or three-hour interview.

It felt like I was calling the moon from planet Earth in terms of having that accessibility. So I kind of forgot about it and then about two months later, we were in the office and James is like, “Keeeennnnnn!!!!” He was looking at the phone bill. I wasn’t surprised if it was something like, two dollars per minute. It was pretty bad, it was in the thousands. This was before Skype.

Cover-05-07_Test:Cover-12/06_TestMay 2007 Virginia Tech issue

Michelle: For me, this issue here  stands out (holds up copy of magazine). So this is May 2007. It’s all about Virginia Tech. The cover is, “Our Country, Our Tragedy,” on the Virginia Tech massacre. It was about a week before we were going to print. We had our cover story all laid out on Sonya Thomas, a competitive eater. She’s holding two hot dogs, and it was just this fun, lighthearted cover. And then, I think it was less than a week before we were going to go to print, there was this tragedy at Virginia Tech.

I was a staff writer at the time, and Corina Knoll was the editor. We had this meeting. We just decided to scratch all of our coverage and go full force with this. We wrote about the community response in Virginia, the Korean American community’s responses here, and how the Korean community felt this tragedy so deeply. Seung-hui Cho … I don’t think anyone could ever forget that name or that photograph.

I remember Margaret Cho in her standup was saying that when we heard that the shooter was Asian, everyone was like … ‘Please don’t let him be Korean.’ And I guess her whole joke was, not only was he Korean, but his last name was Cho. After covering all this, I think the community really appreciated that standpoint.

Julie: I remember people being worried that there might be anti-Asian hate crimes. That was a big fear and I remember being really happy about this issue because it was very proactively getting on top of that current issue and covering it from a point of view that I hadn’t seen in the mainstream. Even Seung-hui Cho was called “Cho Seunghui” for the longest time— last name first, and then his first name, which made him seem even more foreign versus American.

Jimmy: The one issue I’m proud of is our 2002 World Cup story. That was the year South Korea co-hosted with Japan and there was all this excitement within the Korean American community. What sucked for us here on the West Coast was that a lot of games were at 4 o’clock in the morning. There were all these big events going on, and so we were there covering it, and it got to be  quite the, you know, hazard to our sleeping health (laughs). But to see the Korean American community rally and get excited [over an event that] brought people all over together was a lot of fun.

world cup coverJuly 2002 World Cup issue

On Memorable Moments as Editor


Jimmy: Oh, there were plenty of bizarre moments. Once I got here, we were able to devote a little more [staff] resources. We actually had a photographer. We got to do a little bit more and, I like to say, we sort of experimented. We went to a Korean bathhouse and took photos.

Ken: In the name of journalism, right?

Jimmy: Exactly. Strictly in the name of journalism. I got to see my co-workers naked (laughs). We won’t tell you who those people were.

Julie: Striking resemblance to Jimmy and [publisher] James [Ryu].

Ken: I’ve got one. This guy who used to help out at the magazine, he was so obsessed with ear pickers to clean ear wax out of your ear. I said, “I totally get it, but if you’re gonna do this story, it’s gotta be funny. You can’t do a very hard-hitting, serious story about ear picks.” And he got really upset and he did the story after I left.

Jimmy: Yeah, I read it. I never saw his original story. It became more of a fun kind of story about the different kinds of ear-pickers. [Koreans] are pretty innovative when it comes to some personal hygiene products so, you know, we had some fun with it, I guess.

In Part 2 of the roundtable discussion, former KoreAm editors talk about how they formed fun and creative columns, memorable feedback from readers, KoreAm‘s growing digital presence and what they learned most about the Korean American community during their tenures. Stay tuned!

Go to Part Two ->


This article was published in the April/May 2015 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the April/May issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).

button_3 copy


North Korea Says It Tests Ballistic Missile from Submarine

by the Associated Press

PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea said Saturday that it successfully test-fired a newly developed ballistic missile from a submarine in what would be the latest display of the country’s advancing military capabilities. Hours after the announcement, South Korean officials said the North fired three anti-ship cruise missiles into the sea off its east coast.

Experts in Seoul say the North’s military demonstrations and hostile rhetoric are attempts at wresting concessions from the United States and South Korea, whose officials have recently talked about the possibility of holding preliminary talks with the North to test its commitment to denuclearization.

For the second straight day, North Korea said it would fire without warning at South Korean naval vessels that it claims have been violating its territorial waters off the west coast of the Korean Peninsula. South Korea’spresidential Blue House held an emergency national security council meeting to review the threat and discuss possible countermeasures.

“By raising tensions, North Korea is trying to ensure that it will be able to drive whatever future talks with the U.S. and South Korea,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor from the Seoul-based University of North Korean Studies.

South Korean officials previously had said that North Korea was developing technologies for launching ballistic missiles from underwater, although past tests were believed to have been conducted on platforms built on land or at sea and not from submarines.

Security experts say that North Korea acquiring the ability to launch missiles from submarines would be an alarming development because missiles fired from submerged vessels are harder to detect before launch than land-based ones. North Korea already has a considerable arsenal of land-based ballistic missiles and is also believed to be advancing in efforts to miniaturize nuclear warheads to mount on such missiles, according to South Korean officials.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un personally directed the submarine test launching and called the missile a “world-level strategic weapon” and an “eye-opening success,” said the North’s official Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA. The report did not reveal the timing or location of the launch.

Kim declared that North Korea now has a weapon capable of “striking and wiping out in any waters the hostile forces infringing upon the sovereignty and dignity of (North Korea).”

The North’s state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper published photos of a projectile rising from the sea’s surface and Kim smiling from a distance at what looked like a floating submarine.

The test might have taken place near the eastern coastal city of Sinpo, where satellite imagery in recent months, analyzed by a U.S. research institute, appeared to have shown North Korea building missile-testing facilities and equipping a submarine with launch capabilities. In a separate report Saturday, KCNA said Kim visited a fisheries facility in Sinpo to offer “field guidance.”

In Washington, the U.S. State Department said it was aware of the reports about the firing of the submarine missile and noted that launches using ballistic missile technology are “a clear violation” of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The U.S. urged North Korea “to refrain from actions that further raise tensions in the region and focus instead on taking concrete steps toward fulfilling its international commitments and obligations.”

South Korea’s defense ministry had no immediate comment on the North’s claim of a successful test.

Ministry officials have previously said that North Korea has about 70 submarines and appears to be mainly imitating Russian designs in its efforts to develop a system for submarine-launched missiles. The North is believed to have obtained several of the Soviet Navy’s retired Golf-class ballistic missile submarines in the mid-1990s.

Uk Yang, a Seoul-based security expert and an adviser to the South Korean military, said it is unlikely that NorthKorea possesses a submarine large enough to carry and fire multiple missiles. However, it’s hard to deny that Pyongyang is making progress on dangerous weapons technology, he said.

The website 38 North, operated by the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said in January that such capability posed a potential new threat to South Korea, Japan and U.S. bases in East Asia, although experts say North Korea’s submarines tend to be old and would be vulnerable to attack.

Meanwhile, a South Korean Joint Chief of Staff official said the North fired three anti-ship cruise missiles into the sea within a span of one hour early Saturday evening from an area near the eastern port city of Wonsan. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing office rules, identified the missiles as KN-01 missiles, which the North also test-fired in February in an event personally attended by North Korean leader Kim.

There had been expectations that Kim would attend the Victory Day celebration in Russia on Saturday for his international debut, but North Korea sent to Moscow the head of its rubber-stamp parliament instead.


Associated Press writer Tong-hyung Kim in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report. Featured image courtesy of KCNA via Yonhap News Agency. 

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

Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 10.52.56 AM

North Korea Launches Online Shopping Site

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

It’s no Amazon or Gmarket, but North Korea has finally launched an online shopping website—despite the fact that the vast majority of the country lack the technology to access it.

The state-run website Okryu, aimed primarily at smartphone users, offers a range of products, including food, medicine, cosmetics, furniture and clothes, according to the KCNA. Customers can pay with e-money cards that are processed through the main North Korean debit card system. Only local currency is accepted as payment.

Okryu is managed by the General Bureau of Public Service, which oversees restaurants, shops and producers of consumer goods in North Korea, according to the Associated Press. The site has been running since last month.

Although KCNA states that the site is “aimed at promoting convenience for the people,” it’s unclear just how many North Koreans will actually be able to use it, as Internet access is extremely limited outside elite circles. Some can access the country’s free but strictly domestic intranet, Kwangmyong, via their mobile phones. Computers, however, require government approval and cost as much as three months’ salary for an average North Korean worker, according to Business Insider.

Even with intranet access, North Koreans can only view a very limited number of websites, such as the state news agency, the ruling party newspaper, a TV show download site and a local science and technology site called “Hot Wind.”

It’s impossible to determine how popular Okryu is or if the average North Korean shopper even knows about its existence. During a demonstration for AP, the bureau showed reporters how to make a purchase on the site, but did not reveal how or when goods are delivered. It also did not announce any statistics about page views, unique users or sales volumes.

Despite the site’s limitations, experts claim that Okryu is a sign that North Korea has ugraded its IT systems and no longer considers technology to be a threat to its rigid social order.

“While it is questionable how accessible [the website] is to regular people, North Korea can easily manage an online shopping mall with its technology,” Hong Soon-jik, a North Korean economy expert, told the Joongang Ilbo. “North Korea can no longer block the market economy completely and is responding in its own way.”

Foreigners, including tourists visiting the country, are prohibited from using the North Korean e-commerce site.


Featured image via Inquirer.net