Tag Archives: North Korea

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LINK ATTACK: Jamie Chung, Hallyu Beauty Storm, Kim Jong Il’s Former Bodyguard

North Korean Defector: ‘I Was Kim Jong Il’s Bodyguard’
“When Kim Jong Il would arrive in his vehicle, 60- to 70-year old advisors would run away and throw themselves onto the grass. They had dust on their clothes but they wanted to hide from him,” said Lee Young-guk, who was a former body guard to the late Kim Jong Il for 10 years. “They are scared because even when he was happy he would be rude and could chop off their heads.”

Skin Care Products from South Korea Catch on in the United States
Although the beauty market has long been led by European countries, South Korean beauty products are starting to become a popular trend in the States.

Vietnamese Translation Errors Could Affect Prop. 46
“An error in translation for voter materials for Proposition 46, which would require drug and alcohol testing for physicians, could be affecting the way Vietnamese Americans vote on the measure.”

The Super Jamie Chung in Big Hero 6
KoreAm‘s sister publication Audrey Magazine interviews Jamie Chung, the voice actress behind the speed demon GoGo Tomago in Disney’s latest animated film, Big Hero 6. 

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The Odd Friendship Between North Korea and Its First American Surfers
Julie Nelson was one of the first people to ever surf in North Korean waters and led the reclusive country’s first-ever surf camp, which showed North Koreans what a surfboard looks like and even taught some locals on how to swim.

OC Korean American Voter Turnout Increased Twofold Since June
“The number of Orange County Korean American voters who participated in Tuesday’s general elections increased about twofold since June primary elections.”

Son of South Korea Ferry Owner Is Convicted of Stealing Millions
“The eldest son of the South Korean business mogul who controlled the company that ran the Sewol ferry, which sank in April, leaving more than 300 people dead, was convicted of embezzlement on Wednesday and sentenced to three years in prison.”

Asian American Horror Thriller The Unbidden Launches Kickstarter
The Unbidden follows the story of four women haunted by the ghost of a tortured man, who knows their dark secrets from their past and seeks vengeance. Starring an all Asian American cast with Tamilyn Tomita, Julia Nickson, Elizabeth Sung, Amy Hill, Jason Yee and Karin Anna Cheung, this psychological thriller delves into the issue of domestic violence and the morality of retribution.

7 Deadly Spicy Korean Ramens to Try
Think you can handle spicy food? Koreaboo lists seven of Korea’s spiciest instant noodle brands.

South Korean Monk Tends to Souls of Dead Enemy Soldiers
A South Korean Buddhist monk cares for the graves of 769 North Korean soldiers in a forgotten cemetery along the SFXI Highway that runs from Seoul to the barbed wire fences of the demilitarized zone.

Japanese Swimmer Denies Stealing Camera at Asian Games
Naoya Tomita, a Japanese swimmer who was accused of stealing a camera during the Asian Games in South Korea, denied the allegations earlier this week, stating that an unidentified male forcefully put it in his bag.

The Unbelievable Story of a Woman Who Taught North Korea’s Elite Undercover
Suki Kim, an American journalist born in South Korea, talks to Huffington Post about her surreal experience teaching at the all-male Pyongyang University of Science and Technology.

Heard in Seoul: Views on Reunification
Korea Real Time hits the streets of Seoul and asks South Koreans about their thoughts, hopes and concerns for a possible reunification with North Korea.

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A Journey to the Heart of Korean Cheese
“Imsil, in North Jeolla Province, was where Korea’s first cheese was produced in 1964 by Belgian missionary Didier Serstevens, who wanted to bring the community a sustainable income…”

South Korea Tries to Re-brand DMZ as Rare Animal Sanctuary
The South Korean government pushes for the construction of a wildlife sanctuary in the middle of the DMZ as part of a trust-building strategy between the two Koreas.

5 Most Innovative Korean Restaurants in NYC
Korean cuisine has been growing steadily popular among New York foodies. Here are five innovative Korean restaurants in NYC you don’t want to miss.

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Photographer Aram Pan Presents a Different Angle to North Korea

by JAMES S. KIM

Most people have never stepped foot inside North Korea, let alone more than once. Singaporean photographer Aram Pan, on the other hand, has made four trips to the “hermit kingdom” so far, armed with his camera to capture images of what is widely considered the most isolated country in the world.

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It all started with a bit of personal curiosity. Pan has shot interior and architectural projects for property developers and hotels since 2007, and his specialty is creating 360-degree panoramic virtual tours. One day, Pan decided to contact a few North Koreans about a potential photography project, and to his surprise, they approved the proposal after reviewing his portfolio. He made his first trip to North Korea in August 2013.

Pan’s project, DPRK 360, focuses on engaging North Koreans in a positive, friendly and non-political manner. With every subsequent visit, Pan noticed that the North Koreans were allowing him greater freedom and access to roam and take photographs, which has resulted in stunning photos and 360-degree panoramas of locations most tourists would have a hard time reaching.

Pan spoke via email with KoreAm about DPRK 360 and his experiences in North Korea. Even though the country recently closed its borders to tourists because of Ebola, Pan isn’t worried. He’s already making plans to return multiple times in 2015.

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When did the opportunity to travel to North Korea first come up? 

Pan: I’ve always been curious about North Korea. So little is known about the country and even less images of them exists. I bet we have more photos of the deep ocean depths and far out galaxies than we have of North Korea.

One day I just decided to try contacting them to see if I could do some kind of photography project in their country. It wasn’t something I thought hard and long about but rather a spur-of-the-moment decision. I figured I’d probably never get a reply or at most, they might send a courtesy reply rejecting the project. I wrote a simple one page proposal with links to some of my works and my contact number. I faxed and emailed various North Korean contacts that you can easily find online and after about a month or so, someone actually called me up and arranged a meeting.

LieutenantThe Senior Lieutenant at the Panmunjom Joint Security Area is intrigued by Pan’s 360 panoramas.

GuidesPan’s North Korean guides during his September 2014 visit. Note the matching socialist fashion accessories.

I presented my portfolio and they said OK, you can do your project. Just like that, I got approval. The next step was to look for funding. For this project to grow long term, I decided to look for travel agencies specializing in North Korean tours who were willing to work together and look beyond just making money out of running trips into DPRK. I needed sponsors who had a sincere desire to help North Korea open up to the rest of the world.

I soon realized it wasn’t going to be easy getting different companies to become “team players” in a greater goal. Fortunately. I managed to find 3 different companies with an amazing love for the North Korean people. Closest to home is Universal Travel Corporation form Singapore, next is DPR Korea Tourism from Malaysia and finally, Juche Travel Services based in the United Kingdom. Three completely different companies, all marketing tours to North Korea have come together to sponsor my trips.

To date, I have made 4 trips into North Korea since August 2013. I’m planning more trips for 2015 to cover more areas. I’m still looking for team players out there who see that this is a grassroots attempt to reach out to the North Koreans. We believe that North Koreans need positive engagement in a friendly and non-political manner. This project is still in it’s infancy but already, the North Koreans are beginning to grant us greater and greater access to let us take a closer look into their lives.

“We believe that North Koreans need positive engagement in a friendly and non-political manner.”

 

BikePan said he was making funny faces at this girl as his car drove by their bike. All he got in return was a perplexed expression.

Besides your projects about North Korea, what other subjects do you cover as a photographer?

I’ve been shooting interior and architectural projects for property developers and hotels since 2007. My specialty is creating 360 degree virtual tours, so naturally I’m building an online catalogue of 360 degree panoramas around North Korea. I’ve created virtual tours in Greece and Israel for a travel company a couple of years ago, and I’ll be heading to Turkey and Israel from Nov. 5-22 for a commercial photo shoot for another travel agency (unrelated to any of the above mentioned). I’ll be covering places of historical and archaeological interest in my November tour.

When did you form the idea for your DPRK 360 project? Has the mission of the project changed at all since then?

Well, originally, the intention really was just to satisfy my own curiosity. But the moment the North Koreans approved my project, I realized that I had been given the opportunity to make a difference. I wondered, could it be possible for one man to have a positive effect on the destiny of a nation?

I decided I had to rise up to the challenge and take this project very seriously. The project evolved from just taking photos to trying to understand them and now, I’m figuring out what other ways can I develop avenues for more human interaction. I’ve got some concepts in mind for 2015, but I’m still developing them with my sponsors so I can’t reveal the plans I have yet.

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What did you expect from the first time you visited North Korea? How have your expectations changed since then?

For my first visit, I decided that I would make absolutely no requests. I wanted to first listen to what they have to say and to see whatever they had to show me. As expected, my first visit produced a lot of images covering their monuments and their achievements. However for my second trip, things changed dramatically as I was granted a free-and-easy trip with no itinerary or schedule.

Is the itinerary given to you before you arrive in North Korea, or is it given to you upon arrival/when you’re about to head out?

My first visit to North Korea, we stuck to the standard tour itinerary. There was only one instance where we passed by a beach and I asked if we could just stop to have a look at the locals. However, for my second trip, there was absolutely no schedule. They would start each day asking me what I wanted to do and we would go do it. It was a refreshing change and did stuff I wanted to do instead of the visiting the usual tourists spots. I also got my first chance to just walk around the city late into the night. Some of the more notable stuff I did was go swimming with the locals, have my hair cut at an old school barbershop and visit a local trade show.

For my third trip, I followed a special aviation tour conducted by Juche Travel. The highlights of this tour were the joyrides on several Soviet-era planes still being used in North Korea. However, I did request to slip away from the main tour to do a couple of other stuff on my own.

I roamed the city streets and had some street food and even went to see a local fashion show.

My fourth trip was to try and capture some autumn colors. I wasn’t too successful with that as nature works on its own schedule, and since there wasn’t any itinerary planned, I decided to check out some other places like the Masikryong Ski Resort. The North Koreans preferred me to visit the place in winter when there’s snow and it’s fully operational but they still let me visit the place anyway.

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What are some little details that you’ve noticed in North Korean society that are overlooked in mainstream discourse? 

There is so much about the North Koreans that I’ve only begun to scratch the surface. I notice that women’s fashion is evolving. I personally believe their women of this generation is being empowered to dress up. Their fashion are getting brighter and bolder in colors and it’s reaching out even into the rural areas.

Fashion 1A model from the 12th Pyongyang Fashion Exhibition.

One completely overlooked aspect is intimacy. North Koreans don’t readily practice public shows of affection, but it exists. Catching it on camera is the hardest part. The quick arm around the waist or the lean on the shoulder; everything lasts just seconds.

I did manage to get one such shot, which to me is priceless and redefines the North Korean man. It was a glaring sunny day in Pyongyang and I was crossing the road, suddenly I noticed a woman reach out and hold her man’s arm. That would have been a great shot by itself. He then did something a little extra, he helped her carry her purse. They were crossing the road towards me and I didn’t know if holding up the camera would get their attention and possibly ruin the moment. I decided to casually hold my camera at chest level and fire off my Nikon D810 in burst mode without aiming. Thank goodness I managed one single good shot.

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Is there any city you could compare Pyongyang to? What are the most unique aspects of the city?

There is absolutely no comparison to any other city on earth. It’s like an alternate reality to me. It’s unusual to not see any advertisements in the city. I’m so used to being saturated by advertising posters, large panel displays touting the latest products and piped in radio telling me there’s a sale somewhere right now.

The other thing is the whole imagery of Pyongyang. The buildings, public transport and people all look like they hail from yesteryear. You may think that everything that old is probably run down and in shambles but they are incredibly well-maintained. That really lends to the feeling that I’ve time-travelled.

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Women

Are there any North Koreans you remember in particular?

There’s the farmer whose home we visited. My guides originally brought me to a see a model home in Pyongyang, but upon my request, we drove out to the countryside and randomly knocked on doors until we came to a house that someone was at home.

The farmer welcomed me warmly and immediately proceeded to tidy up the place. I had to stop him because I wanted to capture the “essence” of his home. He said it was discourteous to present his home to a guest in a messy manner so I let him tidy up a bit more. When I told him I liked “messy,” he laughed. Here are the photos of his home.

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What is the most fascinating thing you’ve seen and/or recorded in your photos?

That would have to be the Arirang Mass Games performances I saw in 2013. Watching 100,000 performers execute everything to incredible precision was mind blowing. So many things were happening at once there was no way to capture it all in one sitting. I had hoped to see it again in 2014 but the stadium is undergoing major renovations this year.

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Mass Games 2

In future visits to North Korea, what other places would you like to visit? Who else would you like to meet?

Well, I would definitely like to see and photograph a live performance by their Moranbong Band. They are the North Korean-equivalent of our pop groups. It would be even better if I could meet them in person.

I would also like to try more of their street food. Foreigners are always brought to eat at the local restaurants, and that can get boring real quickly. I did manage to finally eat at a roadside food stall after constantly nagging my guide, almost driving her insane. I couldn’t pay for the regular local food because they transacted solely in NK Won so my guide paid for my food just to shut me up. I’ll likely try to nag the guide again the next time I visit.

You mentioned that it took a lot of time to develop the trust between you and North Koreans. What opportunities do you think comes with this relationship?

They are beginning to understand what I’m trying to do. I’m not here to pass judgment or to focus on political issues. I merely want to try to understand what they are all about. I believe that over time, they will show me more and more stuff about what it means to be North Korean. I strongly believe that what I’m doing is paving the way for a peaceful option for them to open up to the world. The results won’t be immediate, but lets take it one step at a time.

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“I strongly believe that what I’m doing is paving the way for a peaceful option for them to open up to the world.”

 

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In regards to the North Korean folk song, “White Dove Fly High,” when did you come across the song, and why did you choose the dove as the symbol for the DPRK 360 project?

When the North Koreans unexpectedly approved my project, I had to quickly come up with some kind of symbol that would represent my project. I automatically thought of a dove as that, to me was the universal symbol of peace. I did a google search with the worlds “North Korea” and “dove” hoping to find some inspiration for a logo design.

I was clicking through the different category tabs in Google search when I came to the video search section. Right at the first result, a video immediately caught my eye. It was a song sung by an American group, Casting Crowns that performed in North Korea in 2007. It was such a hauntingly beautiful song that I had goosebumps all over my body. I couldn’t shake that song out of my head for days after that. I searched other versions of the song title and discovered that it was originally a North Korean folk song. I decided to use the lyrics of that song in the homepage of my project because I feel it’s really the heart’s cry of everyone out there who is sick and tired of wars, and I hope that the spirit of the white dove will come and bring a lasting peace.

You can see more of Pan’s work on DPRK 360’s Facebook page, or on the DPRK 360 website. Check out a few of Pan’s panoramas below:

– Paektu Mountain

– Lake Samilpo

– Galma Beach

– Munsu Water Park

Images and videos courtesy of Aram Pan/DPRK 360.

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Kim Pumpkin

All Hail the Pumpkin King, Kim Jong-un

by JAMES S. KIM

What’s big, round, weighs 374 lbs and looks like Kim Jong-un?

Why, it’s a giant celebrity pumpkin created by noted “pumpkinizer” Jeannette Paras, of course! Unlike most other pumpkin enthusiasts, who mutilate orange flesh for their creations, Paras paints her pumpkins in likenesses of celebrities. She’s been doing this since 1988, and her portfolio includes Miley Cyrus, President Obama, Prince Harry, Santa Claus, Kanye West and the Hulk.

You can check out all of Paras’s creations at her Facebook page, Paras Pumpkins.

Image via Paras Pumpkins

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The Mystery of Kim Jong-un’s Disappearance May Be Solved

by REERA YOO

South Korea’s spy agency claimed Tuesday that it has solved the mystery behind Kim Jong-un’s six-week public absence, reported Yonhap.

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The National Intelligence Service (NIS) told legislators in a closed-door briefing that Kim underwent an operation between September and October to remove a cyst from his right ankle, according to Lee Cheol-woo of the ruling Saenuri party and Shin Kyong-min of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy.

“Give his obesity and excessive activities, the trouble could recur despite the surgery, said Lee, referring to Kim’s frequent inspection tours of military units, factories and construction sites.

The NIS added that a European doctor was specially invited into the communist country to perform the operation.

North Korea has a long-standing relationship with a small group of French doctors, according to the New York Times. These doctors have previously treated top North Korean officials and have even treated Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il.

After disappearing from public view on Sept. 3, Kim reappeared on Oct. 14, supporting himself with a cane, ending wild speculations about Kim’s critical illness and a possible military coup.

The NIS also disclosed that North Korea has expanded five of its political prisoner camps, including the Yodok camp, said Lim Dae-seong, Lee’s aide who also attended the briefing.

Lim added that the NIS also believes that North Korea recently executed several people who had been close to Kim’s uncle, Jang Song-thaek, who was suddenly executed in December 2013 for treason.

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Amid UN Scrutiny of Its Human Rights Record, NKorea Lodges Rape Allegation at Activist Shin Dong-hyuk

by STEVE HAN

In what appears to be a stab at character assassination, the North Korean government accused North Korean defector and human rights activist Shin Dong-hyuk of rape, stating that he left the country to escape the alleged sexual assault charges.

In a statement titled, “Scumbag Shin Finally Exposed!” the North Korean embassy accused Shin of raping a 13-year-old girl in 2001, and alleged that he had fled the country to escape charges. The statement also dismissed Shin’s testimony about his experiences in North Korea’s prison camps, calling them “lies.”

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Shin Dong Hyuk  himself subjected to rape a 13-year-old girl … in the village of Bonchan, and in 2002 he was arrested by Chinese border guards for illegal border crossing,” read the statement, which named the girl.Thereafter, he was transferred back to our law enforcement agencies, but instead of showing genuine regret and trying to redeem his crime, he again made an ​​illegal border-crossing to the South.”

North Korea’s accusations against Shin came after the United Nations released a report in February based on testimony from defectors. The report estimated that North Korea’s brutal prison camps hold up to 120,000 people.

“The dictatorship in North Korea has never been honest or truthful for the more than six decades it has been in existence,” Shin said in a statement, responding to the accusation. “Our fight fight begins now. And this fight is a very difficult one … [but] not saying a word to challenge the North Korean dictatorship … and saying that [the defectors’] testimonies are lies, is acting just as bad as the regime, and it is truly unjust.”

North Korea has often used bizarre or vulgar language to criticize defectors in the past, calling them “human garbage” or a “man who’s more worthless than a dog.” The rape allegation represents a different tack, and it’s difficult to know what to make of the allegations given the lack of evidence and the unlikelihood of due process.

“[Shin] expected the regime to come out with these sort of accusations and attacks,” said Henry Song, the U.S. director for Inside NK, Shin’s advocacy group. “I doubt these attacks will have any negative effect on our work, both personally for Dong-hyuk and for our organization. Most likely, it will just highlight how ridiculous the regime can get in its attacks against North Korean defectors.”

Since the UN released its report, North Korea has been uncharacteristically active in engaging with the rest of the world to downplay the issue of human rights abuses, going so far as to deny the existence of prison camps altogether.

Currently the only known prisoner to have escaped North Korea’s notorious Camp 14, known as the “total control camp” from which inmates never leave, Shin has worked diligently to raise awareness worldwide on the need for humanitarian relief in North Korea since defecting in 2005. The New York-based international organization Human Rights Watch is honoring Shin this year with its Alison Des Forges Award for his efforts, crediting his outspokenness about the atrocities in his native country in helping to bring about the establishment of a UN Commission of Inquiry. Shin’s story was the subject of the book, Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey From North Korea to Freedom in the West, by former Washington Post reporter Blaine Harden.

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LINK ATTACK: Naomi Ko, Jeremy Lin Goes Undercover, ‘World War Z’ North Korea

North Korea’s Ebola Response Mirrors World War Z
Although the current Ebola outbreak is far from a zombie apocalypse, many readers have been comparing North Korea’s closure of its borders to the events in Max Brooks’ 2006 dystopian novel World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War.

Korean Adoptee Heather Schultz Starts the Search for Her Birth Family
“I remember thinking this is what mothers do — they leave you,” said freelance writer and editor Heather Schultz. Schultz, who is currently on a three-week trip to South Korea, discusses her early childhood as a Korean adoptee and how she came to discover her birth family’s stories.

heatherschutlz(Photo credit: Heather Schultz)

South Korea Launches “Happy Education” Policy to Shorten Study Hours
President Geun-Hye Park launched a “Happy Education” policy that aims to prevent students from measuring their success solely based on academics by placing a one semester ban on exams for 13-year-old students.

The South Korean Ferry Tragedy Has Exposed a Political Divide
More than six months after the Sewol ferry disaster, extreme right-wing groups are now protesting against Sewol victims’ families’ ongoing sit-in protests.

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Why K-pop Idols Flee From Their Groups
The Joongang Daily explores the numerous reasons why K-pop idols choose to depart from their groups.

Why I Changed My Korean Name and Why I Changed It Back
“Growing up in Seoul, South Korea, I loved my name. … Butchered in foreign tongues, ‘Seonjae’ did not have the beauty and power that accompanied it back in Seoul.”

Rainbow House Aids Abused Women
Rainbow House, a shelter for abused women in Flushing, was founded by a Korean pastor, Rev. Keumhyan Yeu and provides meals and a full-time social worker to families struck by domestic violence.

 

Naomi Ko of Dear White People on Avoiding the Asian Representation Trap
Visibility Project interviews Naomi Ko, who talks about what it means to be a millennial of color and how the feature film Dear White People deconstructs racial stereotypes.

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Japan Could Deploy Minesweepers off SKorea in War with North, U.S. Admiral Says
“Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s decision to let Japan’s military fight overseas could open the way for the country to deploy minesweepers in South Korean waters in the event of a war with North Korea, a senior U.S. admiral said on Friday.”

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Top 10 Weirdest Places in South Korea
Korea Observer compiles ten bizarre places in South Korea, including the Suwon Toilet Museum and Love Castle, a sex museum in Gyeongju.

Whistle-blower Sees Little Change in South Korea 10 Years After Exposing Cloning Fraud
Whistle-blower Ryu Young-joon, who exposed groundbreaking cloning research as fraud, speaks for the first time about the fallout he faced from his tip-offs and discusses how South Korea is still tied down by values that allowed cloning fraudster Woo Suk Hwang “to become an almost untouchable national hero.”

 

Conductor Kristjan Jarvi on Giving ‘Gangnam Style’ a Classical Spin
Grammy-nominated conductor Kristjan Jarvi programs the viral song “Gangnam Style” to Pablo de Sarasate’s late 19th-century classic song “Zigeunerweisen.”

Cured of Ebola, Nina Pham Gets a Hug From Obama
Nina Pham, a nurse who caught Ebola while caring for a diagnosed patient in Dallas, was released Friday after making a complete recovery from the deadly virus. She met with President Barack Obama at the White House, where she received a thank-you for her medical service as well as a hug.

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Jeremy Lin Goes Undercover as Adidas Store Employee
NBA star Jeremy Lin is back with another prank. In his latest video, Lin poses as an Adidas store employee in Taipei and interacts with several unsuspecting customers.

As Decades of Korean Adoptions Dwindle, Identity Issues Remain
“What I hope the legacy of Korean-American adoptees is,” Korean adoptee Joy Lieberthal said, “is that we’ve elevated the level of conversation of what it means to be Asian, Asian-American, Korean, Korean-American.”

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Defense Secretary Hagel Meets With Korean Defense Minister At Pentagon

U.S. to Indefinitely Maintain Wartime Control of South Korean Military

The United States agreed to delay returning its wartime control of the South Korean military until its ally is determined fully equipped to fight North Korea, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

During the Korean War in the early 1950s, the U.S. assumed control of South Korea’s military to fight North Korea and to stand opposed to communism. Although the U.S. returned the peacetime control to South Korea in 1994, it still holds obligations to control the South Korean military in the event of another war.

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Many South Koreans, mainly postwar generations, began protesting against the pledge, highlighting that allowing the U.S. wield such power is a slight to their national pride.

The opposition prompted the U.S. to initially accept South Korea’s request in 2007 to return its power by 2012. But in 2010, the handover of wartime control was postponed to 2015 after a South Korean warship was allegedly torpedoed by North Korea. South Korea requested another delay after North Korea successfully launched a long-range rocket in 2012, followed by its third nuclear test earlier this year.

In Thursday’s meeting, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and South Korean defense minister Han Min-koo agreed to take a “conditions-based approach” that will “focus on South Korea achieving critical defensive capabilities against an intensifying North Korean threat.” South Korean officials said the return of wartime control of the military is now expected to take place in the mid-2020s.

The new delay, which is essentially indefinite, will likely evoke heavy criticism from South Korea’s liberals. Many in South Korea have argued for years that further delaying the transition of wartime military control will be detrimental to inter-Korea relations.

Photo courtesy of AFP

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North Korea Bans Tourists Over Ebola Concerns

by STEVE HAN

North Korea announced that it will ban foreigners from entering the country as tourists due to worries over the Ebola virus, which has already killed at least 4,877 people around the world.

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A China-based travel agency, Koryo Tours, which arranges trips to North Korea for international tourists, confirmed that the hermit country has decided to close its border for tourism until Ebola concerns are eliminated. The agency initially had three tours scheduled for the remainder of 2014, according to Nick Bonner of Koryo Tours.

North Korea reportedly didn’t provide a timeline for the duration of its closure for foreign tourists.

The World Health Organization reported that at least 4,877 people died of Ebola, but the death toll could soon triple as nearly 10,000 cases have been recorded by Oct. 19. Last month, North Korea’s state-run media KCNA said that officials began running border quarantine and awareness campaigns to prevent the virus from entering their country.

Up to 6,000 tourists per year reportedly visit North Korea as the communist regime has been organizing efforts in recent years to boost tourism to generate revenue.

This isn’t the first time North Korea closed its borders to tourists over an epidemic. In 2003, the reclusive country placed a similar closure due to fears over the threat of SARS, a severe respiratory disease.

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