Tag Archives: North Korea


$50 Portable Media Player Helps North Koreans Bypass Censorship

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

A $50 Chinese-made portable media player is allowing many North Koreans to access and view foreign media despite the government’s tight censorship, signaling a shift in one of the world’s most isolated countries, reports Reuters.

notel, the North Korean mashup of “notebook” and “television,” can fetch for about 300 Chinese yuan ($48) on the black market. The device has built-in USB and SD card ports, a TV and a radio tuner and can also be charged with a car battery, which is an essential power source in an electricity-scarce North Korea. According to correspondents, up to half of all urban North Korean households possess a notel and use it to consume banned media—South Korean dramas, pop music, Hollywood films and news programs—that has been distributed through smuggled DVDs and USB memory sticks.

“The North Korean government takes their national ideology extremely seriously, so the spread of all this media that competes with their propaganda is a big and growing problem for them,” Sokeel Park of nonprofit Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) told Reuters. “If Pyongyang fails to successfully adapt to these trends, they could threaten the long-term survival of the regime itself.

North Korea legalized the notel last year, but its government still required customers to register their devices in order to keep tabs on those most likely to watch banned media. Despite this, it’s relatively easy for North Koreans to skirt censorship with the notel’s multi-function nature.

According to one defector who smuggled about 18,000 notel into the country last year, North Koreans can avoid detection by loading a North Korean DVD while simultaneously watching foreign media via USB stick, which can be pulled out and easily hidden. When authorities check to see whether or not the notel has been recently used, people can say they were watching state-produced films.

Park at LiNK added that the notel’s popularity is due to its ability to overcome North Korea’s two main barriers to foreign media consumption: surveillance and power outages.

“If you were to design the perfect device for North Koreans, it would be this,” Park said.


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North Korea Arrests 2 South Koreans for Spying

Pictured above: Kim Kuk-gi (left) and Choe Chun-gil were accused of spying on behalf of South Korea’s spy agency. (Photo courtesy of Kyodo)

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

South Korea urged North Korea on Friday to immediately release two of its citizens who were detained in Pyongyang for alleged espionage, reports the Associated Press.

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the two men were detained last year for collecting party, state and military secrets on behalf of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS). The two men identified themselves as Kim Kuk-gi, 60, and Choe Chun-gil, 55, and publicly apologized for their “anti-state” crimes during a news conference in Pyongyang.

On Friday, South Korea’s Unification Ministry confirmed that Kim and Choe were South Korean citizens but declined to the comment on their backgrounds. The NIS has also denied the North’s accusations of espionage, calling them “absolutely groundless.”

“We strongly demand North Korea to quickly release our citizens Kim Kuk-gi and Choe Chun-gil and repatriate them without hesitation,” said Lim Byeong-cheol, the unification ministry’s spokesman.

KCNA reported that Kim was detained last September in Pyongyang while Choe was arrested in December in Dandong, a Chinese city near the border with North Korea.

During the news conference, Kim said he had been paid thousands of dollars and given encrypted cellphones to gather information on the late North Korean leader Kim Jon-il’s plans to visit China in 2009. The KCNA report added that Kim ran also an underground church in Dandong.

Meanwhile, Cho said he had smuggled USB memory sticks containing South Korean movies and other illegal foreign information into the North, according to the New York Times. He also said that he was instructed by his spy master to collect soil samples near Yongbyon, North Korea’s main nuclear complex.

North Korea has repeatedly been accused of arresting several South Koreans and Korean Americans who either operated near the border or visited the country for humanitarian or missionary work. Last year, North Korea sentenced South Korean missionary Kim Jeong-wook to hard labor for life on charges of founding an underground church to undermine the ruling Kim family and spying for the South.

In February, a Korean Canadian pastor went missing during a humanitarian mission in the North. The pastor’s church in Toronto said the North Korean government had sent Canadian officials a confirmation of his detainment.



North Korea’s Elites Gorge on French Baguettes

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

North Korea’s privileged classes apparently have an insatiable appetite for French baguettes, according to Choson Sinbo, a pro-North newspaper based in Japan.

Last year, North Korea’s Kumkop General Foodstuff Factory for Sportspersons sent their pastry chefs to train in France as part of a goal to become a world-class food plant. Choson Sinbo reported that wholewheat baguettes have become incredibly popular in Pyongyang, where it is home to most of North Korea’s elite and educated class.

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un paid a visit to the factory last January and told the state-run news agency KCNA that the company should develop and produce varieties of foodstuff, including chewing gum, which is “badly needed by the sportspersons” to recover from fatigue. He also said the newly developed foodstuff should “suit the constitution of Koreans.”

While Pyongyang’s upper class and bureaucrats are feasting on Paris baguettes, two-thirds of the country’s 24 million population struggle to find their next meal. In 2013, the United Nations said over a quarter of all North Korean children are stunted from chronic malnutrition.


Featured image via Reuters


Link Attack: Roy Choi in Watts; Dogs Rescued From Meat Farm; Custom Emoji Keyboard

Video: Roy Choi Wants the Next Food Revolution to Start in Watts

The first location will be in Watts at a site that used to be smoke shop and a barbershop. Choi says that his team wanted to open a location somewhere in South Los Angeles, and they ended up focusing on Watts because of the sense of community they found there. (LAist)

Dogs Rescued from South Korean Meat Farm Brought to San Francisco

Thirteen frightened young dogs and puppies arrived in San Francisco in a van Thursday, some trembling, tails between their legs, others with sad but hopeful eyes, and all of them unaware of how close they came to an agonizing, gruesome death. (SF Gate)


Memoji Keyboard Allows You To Emojify Yourself

Johnny Lin, an ex-Apple engineer, created a way for users to upload their own faces as emoji. Angry Asian Man Phil Yu tries it out.

‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ is Doing Shockingly Well in South Korea

Why is the movie such a huge hit in the South Korean film market? Cinema Blend speculates the reasons, from the visuals to the high fashion costume design to director Matthew Vaughn’s popularity in South Korea.

2015 - The Great Tiger (still 1)

23 Most Anticipated Korean Films of 2015

Modern Korean Cinema lists the Korean films they’re most looking forward to this year.

Homebrew and House Parties: How North Koreans Have Fun

“Despite restrictions on money and free time, partying is integral to North Korean culture. But how does it compare to cutting loose in the South?” writes The Guardian.

Jung ho Kang

Korean Star Jung Ho Kang May Be Much Better Than Advertised

“In so many words, clubs just didn’t see many reasons to be optimistic about Kang,” writes Bleacher Report. “But as early as it is, one wonders how many are thinking differently these days.”

Searing Complaint Against Korean Church

The Contra Costa Korean Presbyterian Church is being sued for negligence in their hiring of a youth pastor, who the plaintiff claims repeatedly sexually molester her and her sister.

Shinhan Bank President Cho Yong-byoung Pledges to Solidify Status as Leading Bank

In his inauguration speech on March 18, Shinhan Bank President Cho Yong-byoung emphasized, “I will solidify our status as a leading bank.”

Cho said, “Through ceaseless innovation, we must create new opportunities and values and maintain the highest level of profitability and soundness.”

GM Canada Gets New General Counsel and Assistant GC, Peter Cho

It won’t be Cho’s first time behind the wheel of an automotive law department. He was most recently general counsel, corporate secretary and head of government relations at Volkswagen Group Canada, and has also has worked with Volkswagen Group China and Kia Canada.

Olympic Gateway

K-Town Landmarks Hope to Begin Summer Construction

The Olympic Gateway, a long-projected landmark for Los Angeles’ Koreatown, as well as the Madang project at Da Wool Jung, are expected to begin construction as soon as mid-May.

Korean Calligraphy Exhibition Open at Chicago Korean Cultural Center

On display are about 70 works by students of Kit-beol Village Calligrapher Lee Chul-woo. (Korea Times)

Four Korean American Officers Join Fairfax County Police Department After Graduating Academy

Arthur Cho, John Hong, Seung Meang and Shane Oh were among the 60 new police officers and deputies who graduated from the academy. This is the first time in the history of the department that an academy class had this many Korean-American graduates. (Centreville Independent)



North Korea Reopens Pyongyang Marathon to Foreign Runners

by REERA YOO |@reeraboo

North Korea has reopened the Pyongyang Marathon to overseas runners after ending a travel ban on foreigners over Ebola fears, according to Reuters.

Koyro Tours, a British-run tourism company based in Beijing, sent out a marketing email earlier this month saying that they are now accepting tourist applications for the international marathon scheduled for April 12, 2015.

This is the second time the Pyongyang Marathon has allowed amateur runners from other nations to participate in the race, only by joining specific tour groups.

The race starts and end at the Kim Il-sung Stadium. Amateur runners must finish the marathon within the allotted time of four hours. Runners who do not finish or stop within the time limit will be picked up by a bus and escorted back to the stadium, according to the Uri Tours’ website .

The New York Times reported that North Korea is eager to boost its tourism industry, especially with visitors from China. In 2013, North Korea attracted about 100,000 tourists, with the majority of visitors from China and Russia. Last year, the reclusive country established its first luxury ski resort and opened the Pyongyang marathon to overseas runners for the first time.


Featured image via Uri Tours

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[VIDEO] 100 Years of Korean Beauty in One Minute

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

In the latest episode of its 100 Years of Beauty web series, YouTube channel Cut highlights the evolving beauty trends of North and South Korea.

The video begins with Korea’s beauty standard of the 1910s, when Korea was under Japanese colonial rule. According to the video, Korean women of that era preferred to have ornamented hairstyles and natural makeup, with pale skin, natural brows and no contouring.

Once the video hits the 1950s, beauty standards become divided not only by decade but also by region. After the Korean War, North and South Korea had extremely polarized standards of beauty because the two countries adopted different economic systems.

Robin Park, the researcher for the video, said that the North’s standards of beauty were based on a woman’s ability to work and contribute to society. As a result, North Korean women used minimal products, and makeup trends in North Korea remained almost unchanged from 1959 to the early 90s. Meanwhile, South Korea mirrored Western or Japanese beauty trends and experimented with various makeup products.

As of 2015, South Korean beauty standards emphasize bright, clear skin and accentuating natural features. The final South Korean look in Cut’s video, however, seems to embody the sexier style of K-pop stars, such as CL and Hyuna, instead of an average present-day South Korean woman.

You can learn more about the research behind the looks below:



Link Attack: Yeon-mi Park, Racist Frat Email, Tokyo Students Say “We’re Friends” with Koreans

The Woman Who Faces the Wrath of North Korea
Yeon-mi Park is a 21-year-old North Korean defector who has devoted herself to revealing the brutal truth about the country, but the regime is fighting hard to discredit her. (The Guardian)

University of Maryland Investigates Racist, Sexist Frat Email
Angry Asian Man highlights an email from a Kappa Sigma chapter that came to light just days after the racist video from Oklahoma University’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon blew up online.

Choi Sun

Choi Sun’s Paintings That Will Make You Cringe
Since graduating from the art college at Hongik University, the “rebel artist” has sought to disrupt accepted norms in painting, according to Korea Herald.

The Untapped Political Power of Asian Americans
Third Way‘s Michelle Diggles, Ph.D, explains how Asian American diversity and experiences are often overlooked and not well understood in national political debates. Asian Americans also lag in participation in civic life … so far.

With Plan to Walk Across DMZ, Women Aim for Peace in Korea
Last Wednesday at the United Nations in New York, using a conference on the status of women as a backdrop, leading female advocates of disarmament formally announced their intent to walk across the Demilitarized Zone. (New York Times)

“We’re Friends”; Tokyo High School Students Speak Korean and Touch on Korean Culture in Speech Competition

Talking Kimchi and Capitalism with a North Korean Businessman
The Washington Post talks to Mr. Kim, a factory manager in a small town outside Dandong, China’s commercial gateway to North Korea.

Ron Kim

Ron Kim Calls for Student Resolve in Face of Failures
The New York State Assemblyman spoke to the AHANA Management Academy (AMA) and the Korean Students Association at Boston College about his journey into politics as an Asian American man.

Hyphen Magazine Interviews Seoul Searching Writer and Director, Benson Lee
Lee talks about Asian cinema today, premiering the film at Sundance and preparations for the film. Check out KoreAm’s feature on Benson Lee and Seoul Searching here.

Pak Mi-ok

North and South Korea Face Increasing Linguistic Gap

Pictured above: North Korean defector Pak Mi-ok speaks during an interview in Seoul. (AP Photo/Hyung-Jin Kim)

by HYUNG-JIN KIM, Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — On one side of the line that has divided two societies for so long, the words arrive as fast as globalization can bring them — English-based lingo like “shampoo,” ”juice” and “self-service.” To South Koreans, they are everyday language. To defectors from the insular North Korea, they mean absolutely nothing.

Turn the tables, and the opposite is true, too: People in Seoul furrow their brows at homegrown North Korean words like “salgyeolmul,” which literally means “skin water.” (That’s “skin lotion” in the South.)

Two countries, mortal enemies, tied together by history, by family — and by language, but only to a point. The Korean Peninsula’s seven-decade split has created a widening linguistic divide that produces misunderstandings, hurt feelings and sometimes even laughter. The gap has grown so wide, scholars say, that about a third of everyday words used in the two countries are different.

North and South Koreans are generally able to understand each other given that the majority of words and grammar are still the same. But the differences show how language can change when one half of the country becomes an international economic powerhouse and the other isolates itself, suspicious of outside influences.

America’s huge cultural influence through its military presence, business ties and Hollywood has flooded the South Korean vernacular with English loan words and “konglish,” which uses English words in non-standard ways, like “handle” for steering wheel, “hand phone” for cellphone and “manicure” for nail polish.

In North Korea’s view, all that is just further evidence that the South is an American cultural colony.

When Pak Mi-ok first arrived in South Korea after her defection in 2002, she was told by a waitress at a restaurant that water was “self-service,” an English phrase she had not heard before. Too shy to admit she didn’t understand, she ended up going without water during her meal.

“I worried the waitress would look down on me,” said Pak. She started out working at restaurants but struggled to understand customers. “I thought they spoke a different language,” she said.

Pak gradually picked up on the new lingo, and in a recent interview she used words like “stress” and “claim” that aren’t heard up in the North.

The North’s isolation and near-worship of the ruling Kim family has also skewed the language. “Suryong” is the revered title for the North’s founding leader and his son, Kim Jong Il, the father of the current ruler, Kim Jong Un. But in the South it’s used to refer to a faction or local leader from centuries ago.

Pyongyang is so eager to “purify” its language under its guiding philosophy of self-reliance that it vigorously eliminates words with foreign origins and uses homegrown substitutes. Shampoo is called “meorimulbinu,” or “hair water soap,” and juice is “danmul,” or “sweet water.” Such differences fascinate and amuse South Koreans, who love to examine them on quiz and comedy shows.

Misunderstandings can arise to seemingly innocuous Korean phrases like, “Let’s do lunch sometime,” which those in the South frequently use as a friendly ending to conversations, even with casual acquaintances. But newly arrived North Korean defectors take such invitations literally, and are often dismayed or offended when they don’t get a follow-up phone call.

“If someone uses such empty words in North Korea, they’ll see their relations with others cut off and be branded as a faithless person,” said a defector who asked not to be identified because of worries that doing so would put family members in the North at risk.

Linguists say it takes about two years for North Korean defectors to feel comfortable conversing in South Korea.

The communication gap widens when it comes to technical terms used in medical and technological settings, according to Han Yong-un, a South Korean linguist. About two-thirds of medical terms are different, he said.

“I think that North and South Korean doctors cannot work together in the same operating room,” Han said.

Over the past 10 years, there have been efforts to produce a joint dictionary containing 330,000 words from both countries — a rare example of cooperation.

But as is often the case, political tensions have interfered with progress. The meetings only resumed last July after a more than four-year hiatus following the 2010 sinking of a South Korean warship. A new round of meetings, tentatively set for last month, hasn’t been held as North Korea bristled over the annual springtime joint U.S.-South Korea military drills.

Even language experts from the two countries can have trouble understanding each other.

During last year’s meeting in Pyongyang, South Korean linguist Kim Byungmoon said he tried to explain how South Koreans use the English word “glamour” as a noun to refer to a voluptuous woman, but North Korean scholars had difficulty understanding its usage.

Given the completely different political and economic systems between the two countries, it also takes a while to learn the connotations and associations that some emotionally-laden words have.

In South Korea, “spec” refers to qualifications and credentials that college students need to land a good job. While defectors can quickly learn what the word literally means, it takes much longer to understand the immense stress associated with the word for young job-seekers in South Korea’s ultra-competitive society, said Jeon Young-sun, a research professor at Seoul’s Konkuk University.

Those in the South, meanwhile, may struggle to understand the emotional impact of “saenghwal chonghwa,” the regular meetings in the North at which people are required to reflect on their behavior and criticize each other. The phrase, which literally means “group discussions on daily lives,” isn’t used in South Korea.

“We were sick and tired of it,” Pak said. “I still get goose bumps whenever I hear that word.”


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