Tag Archives: North Korea

choco pie

Choco Pie Goes Bye-bye at the Joint Industrial Complex in Kaesong

by TONY KIM

North Korean authorities have reportedly ordered South Korean businesses to stop handing out Choco Pies to the North’s workers at the countries’ join industrial complex in Kaesong, according to South Korean media.

The popular South Korean snack cakes were often used as bonus payments to workers from the South’s businesses in the Kaesong complex. For years, the businesses would give each worker around 10 to 12 Choco Pies, and the items would increasingly be used as valuable black market currency in the country, reported the English Chosun.

However, a South Korean Unification Ministry official reported this week that workers are now demanding other forms of payment, like sausages, instant noodles and chocolate bars.

Though no official reason has been given for why this apparent Choco Pie ban went into effect, the growing popularity of the snacks, which could potentially be used as South Korean propaganda, is suspected to be a factor. Just last month, a group of eight South Korean organizations sent large balloons carrying Choco Pies to North Korea. Kim Yong-hwa, the leader of one of the organizations, the North Korea Refugees Human Rights Association of Korea, told KBS that the organizations will regularly send the cakes to the North until the day the two Koreas are reunified.

As of April 2013, about 100 South Korean companies were employing some 53,000 North Korean workers and 800 South Korean staff at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a collaborative economic development that started in 2002. The industrial park is located about six miles north of the Demilitarized Zone.

Photo via Steven Tom

The Interview

North Korea Blasts Seth Rogen And James Franco’s ‘The Interview’

Hollywood rarely portrays North Korea in a positive light (see Red DawnOlympus Has Fallen and Die Another Day), but James Franco and Seth Rogen’s upcoming movie, The Interview, has touched a particularly sensitive nerve with the regime.

A spokesman for Kim Jong-un told the Telegraph that the comedy, starring Franco and Rogen, showed the “desperation” of American society in its “ironic storyline.” Two talk show hosts are tasked by the U.S. government to kill Kim, played by Randall Park, when they are granted an exclusive interview with the leader.

“A film about the assassination of a foreign leader mirrors what the U.S. has done in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Ukraine,” said Kim Myong-chol, executive director of the Centre for North Korea-US Peace. Though he also said that the dictator would probably watch the film.

“In fact, President [Barack] Obama should be careful in case the U.S. military wants to kill him as well.”

In addition, Kim dismissed Hollywood films as being “full of assassinations and executions” and said British films are better and more realistic. Discounting Die Another Day, which was immediately described as “dirty and cursed” by state media, 007 still apparently remains a staple in North Korea.

“James Bond is a good character and those films are much more enjoyable,” he said.

Previews of The Interview have apparently attracted mixed reviews, and many have raised concerns the premise of the film.

Joo Yang AMA

North Korean Defector Shares Eye-Opening Tales In Reddit AMA

by JAMES S. KIM

Plenty of political experts and researchers have discussed how to deal with the reclusive state of North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong-un. However, what often gets lost in that discourse is the state of the North Korean people.

Joo Yang defected to South Korea in 2011. Since then, she has worked as an activist with Liberty in North Korea (LINK), a nonprofit that helps rescue and resettle North Korean refugees, and as a participant on the television program “Now on My Way to Meet You,” which features North Korean women. She also participated in LINK’s two-day SUMMIT conference last weekend at Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA. KoreAm was able to attend, so look forward to our recap soon.

With the help of LINK, Yang participated in an “Ask Me Anything (AMA)” session on Reddit, providing honest and even a few eye-opening responses to the questions posed by Redditors. You can read read the full AMA here. Here are some highlights:

You say that your parents defected first. Did the North Korean government know about this and did you face any repercussions?
In North Korea, it’s very hard to know the weather forecast because of frequent power cuts, unlike in South Korea. So we made a cover story that my father had died at sea and my mother and other family members had left our house to try to find any remains of my father. So I was in our house my myself, but the secret police came to ask me questions. I stuck to the story and told them that my family had become separated, and stonewalled their questions. I knew that the secret police used people in the neighborhood to monitor my behavior, but I just pretended not to notice and carried on living my life.

Since crossing the border into south Korea, have you encountered any negativity or prejudice from the South Korean people?
South Korean people can be quite discriminating, for instance against Korean-Chinese people living in South Korea. When I speak, I have a dialect and to many South Koreans it sounds like how Korean-Chinese people from Northeast China speak. Sometimes people have asked if I’m from there, and I felt negativity in their tone. Also, one time my auntie was riding in a taxi when the driver asked where she was from. When she replied “North Korea”, he stopped the car and asked her to get out! Even so, for me personally, I think that being open with where I am from helps me to adapt to life here in the long run.

Could you share a personal moment from your past that, looking back now, influenced you (and your parents) to defect?
My grandfather always told us that our generation must find freedom. And he told us about modern technology and advanced countries. Also, my father listened to foreign radio illegally since I was 9 years old. That had a really big influence. South Korean radio, Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Asia (RFA) … we could hear news including news from people who had defected first so we got courage from that and were able to plan our defection strategy.

What was it like to go from a world with very little of today’s modern technology to a world with the Internet and its capabilities to connect you with people and information all over the world?
First it was kind of like arriving in the modern world in a time machine. There were so many things I didn’t know, but as I learnt one thing after another by trying them, that was really fun. Even typing on a computer was really novel and fun at first. It’s been three years, but even now there’s still a lot of new things.

What’s the hardest thing you’ve had to adjust to?
There were a lot of new culture shocks to get used to and understand, for instance toilets and ATMs, and using an electronic card to ride the subway… Escalators, elevators, all of those things. haha. And in South Korea they use a lot of “Konglish,” or borrowed words, so I had to get used to that.

In North Korea, I never saw a sit-down toilet. We always used squat toilets. So when I first saw a sit-down toilet when I was in China, I didn’t know what to do. I actually climbed up and used it as if it was a squat toilet.

When I was in the South Korean National Intelligence Service debriefing facility [that all NKorean defectors go through] the South Korean officials used to plead with the defectors not to climb up on the toilet seat, but many defectors still wanted to because they felt they couldn’t go to the toilet otherwise! hahaha

If you ask any North Korean defector, they will also know what you mean if you say “bidet shower.” That’s because we’ve all experienced making the mistake of using a bidet wrong the first time we saw one, and getting water all over ourselves. I did that once too. But now we have a bidet in my house!

There must have been a ton of (obvious) reasons why you defected, but is there anything you miss from North Korea?
There’s lots! First, my friends. My neighbors were like family back home too, so I miss them. Also from my hometown, the air, the water, even the smell of the earth. I miss all of those things.

How are North Korean weddings celebrated?
North Korean women really want to enjoy romance. In North Korea we wear traditional Korean-style clothes for wedding dresses (joseon-ot, or hanbok in South Korea), but more recently because of the effects of foreign media, some North Korean women want to wear a white wedding dress at their wedding! But that has not been possible in North Korea yet. So people are adapting the traditional style wedding dress and making it look more beautiful.

Another thing is that normally the wedding ceremony is done in the house of the groom and the bride, once each. But if it’s too expensive to get all the food for that, then sometimes they combine it and just do it once in one side’s house.

What kind of feelings did you have when you arrived in South Korea and saw the quality of life that many people have? How did you adjust to this?
When I got here I felt like South Koreans could eat the kind of food that North Koreans eat on special occasions every day. Most ordinary North Koreans eat “corn-rice” as their staple food, but that is rough. But on special days like Kim Il-sung’s birthday some people can eat white rice. In fact some people can’t even eat white rice on those special days. But in South Korea, even homeless people eat white rice!

As for how I adjusted … well it tastes pretty good, so I’m adjusting well! Even though sometimes I miss North Korean food too …

Do the people of North Korea really believe that Kim Jong-il and his father and grandfather actually have superhuman powers or do they just say they do out of fear?
I think that people believe it kind of like people believe in the bible. Well, that’s the case for children. But when you grow up, you realize those stories do not make sense, but you still have to memorize it well for the school tests in order to graduate from school well. More recently, amongst close friends, people will complain that this kind of ideological education will not actually help you in your life. I felt like that too.

Many people who travel to North Korea as tourists believe that, by engaging with North Koreans, they are able to humanize foreigners and perhaps help change North Korean’s minds about them. However, others believe tourism there is wrong because much of the money goes to support an oppressive government. In your opinion, do you think that tourism in North Korea is a positive force or a negative one?
Firstly, I think if there are chances for North Korean citizens to meet foreigners then tourism can be a good thing. This is because North Koreans are curious about foreigners, and if they can interact then they can feel more friendly towards them, and see them as normal humans. However I’m also personally not comfortable with the North Korean government making foreign currency from it. So there are pros and cons. So, I hope that if people are visiting North Korea and paying their way, then maybe they can make more requests to the government and see more than just the ‘good course’ around Pyongyang and so on.

Image via LINK

The Interview

FIRST LOOK: James Franco and Seth Rogen To Assassinate Kim Jong-un in ‘The Interview’

by JAMES S. KIM

James Franco and Seth Rogen are sent to North Korea to kill Kim Jong-un, played by Randall Park. Wait, what?

That’s the premise of The Interview, an action comedy coming this fall from the people who brought you Neighbors and This is The End.

In the film, talk show host Dave Skylark (Franco) and his producer, Aaron Rapoport (Rogen), are somehow able to nail an interview with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (Randall Park), whom they discover is a fan of their celebrity tabloid show Skylark Tonight. In order to legitimize themselves as journalists, they jump at the chance.

Their plans get turned upside down, however, when the CIA recruits them to kill the leader. As it turns out, the two of them turn out to be maybe the least-qualified men imaginable.

The Interview, written and directed by Rogen and Evan Goldberg, is set to release on October 10. Check out the teaser trailer below:

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Link Attack: Kim Jong-un Upset at Weather Guys; Korean Spa In Dallas; SKorean Prime Minister Nominee, Take Two

North Korea’s Kim Jong Un gets angry at the weather guys
Washington Post

Another week, another bit of absurdity from the world’s most isolated state. A report in the Rodong Sinmun, a state-run newspaper, shows North Korea’s porky despot giving “field guidance” to the national hydro-meteorological service. Although it’s written in awkward communist jargon, the report makes clear that Kim Jong Un was not pleased.

He said that there are many incorrect forecasts as the meteorological observation has not been put on a modern and scientific basis…

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North Korea Threatens ‘Plot-Breeding’ U.N. Rights Office With ‘Punishment’
Reuters

North Korea on Monday threatened a planned U.N. field office in South Korea set up to investigate human rights abuses in the isolated country, saying anyone involved would be “ruthlessly punished”. The United Nations in March called for the field office to monitor human rights in North Korea following the release of a 372-page U.N. Commission of Inquiry report that detailed wide-ranging abuses, including systematic torture, starvation and killings comparable to Nazi-era atrocities.

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Get a Big Dose of Korean Culture While You Relax and Avoid the Heat at King Waterpark
Dallas Observer

If you haven’t been to King Spa & Sauna, you’re missing out on one of the most unique cultural experiences in Dallas. Called jjimjilbangs in Korea, these sometimes gender-segregated, sometimes co-ed bath houses offer an opportunity to detoxify (whatever that means) in ornately decorated saunas, eat Korean food, have a massage, sleep, maybe even sing a little karaoke while you’re there.

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Kim Young-sam to get doctorate from Russia
Korea Joongang Daily

Former President Kim Young-sam, who played a key role in building ties with the former Soviet Union, is slated to be awarded an honorary doctorate from the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences today.

The degree comes 25 years after Kim’s pioneering visit to the Soviet Union, the first for a South Korean political figure, which helped pave the way for bilateral ties between Seoul and Moscow.

The Shipment, The Pit, Barbican, London – Review
Financial Times

The playwright Young Jean Lee habitually sets out to challenge herself and her audience. With The Shipment, which begins as a stylistically diverse mix of discrete scenes and routines before changing gear into drama, she, a Korean-American artist, sets out to make a theatre piece about African-American identity and experience, and dares us to… what exactly? To move past the aggressive accusations of racism in the opening spoken segment, a mock-stand-up comedy sequence that leads into a first-half “minstrel show”? To consider seriously the glib final twist in the more or less naturalistic drama that takes up the latter half of the performance? To be disconcerted out of our preconceptions?

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Park Nominates Former Journalist as New South Korean Premier
Bloomberg

South Korean President Park Geun Hye nominated a former journalist as prime minister to lead a government shakeup prompted by public anger over the Sewol ferry sinking. Moon Chang Keuk, who worked at JoongAng Ilbo newspaper and teaches journalism at Seoul National University, was picked to replace Prime Minister Chung Hong Won, presidential spokesman Min Kyung Wook said today at a televised briefing. Chung offered his resignation to assume responsibility for the April 16 sinking that left about 300 people dead or missing, most of them high school students on a field trip.

Can fans unravel the Babel of the world’s TV dramas?

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CNN

A Korean TV show about an alien who arrived on Earth 400 years ago and falls in love with a modern actress becomes one of the top series watched in Hebrew and Arabic. A Thai drama about a sharp-tongued woman who ends up being the maid of a Hong Kong mafia member strikes a chord with Spanish speakers.

Viki, a site where dramas, telenovelas, comedies and movies from the globe are translated by fans, gives a glimpse into the cross section of the world’s entertainment interests. It’s where its 22 million monthly users find TV shows that have never made it on their local television sets.

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Night Market Comes to Monterey Park
LA Weekly

The city of Monterey Park has approved the first long-term city-sponsored night market in the Southland. KCM Agency, the Korean-American event production and marketing force behind Kollaboration and K-town Night Market has signed an agreement to host six-hour long public nighttime soiree at Barnes Park every third Friday of the month.

In conjunction with Monterey Park Chamber of Commerce, KCM also plans to operate the first ever public beer and wine garden in Monterey Park, with three percent of its profits going to the Monterey Park American Legion Post.

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Another American Tourist Detained In North Korea

by STEVE HAN

(Photo via Reuters)

North Korea’a state-run media announced Friday that it has detained an American tourist and is investigating him for unspecified acts, the New York Times reported.

The Times identified the detainee as Jeffrey Edward Fowle, who reportedly entered the country on April 29 and, according to the North’s Korean Central News Agency, “perpetrated activities that violated the laws of our republic, which did not fit his stated purpose of visiting our republic as a tourist.” Fowle is the third U.S. citizen being held in the isolated country.

Japan’s Kyodo News Agency said Fowle was part of a tour group and was arrested in mid-May as he was about to leave the country.

U.S. officials are said to be communicating with the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang. The European nation acts as a liaison in these cases because Washington has no official diplomatic ties with the totalitarian regime.

Korean American missionary Kenneth Bae remains in North Korea after 19 months. Pyongyang accused him of attempting to overthrow the government with his religious activities in the country and sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor, despite his serious health issues. “Kenneth Bae must not be forgotten,” the Seattle Times recently wrote in an editorial. Bae is a former Washington resident.

Robert King, Washington’s special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, had two planned trips to meet with North Korean officials over Bae’s case, but Pyongyang canceled both times.

Also still in North Korean custody is Matthew Todd Miller, who was detained in April for what the government deemed improper behavior. While entering North Korea on a tourist visa, Miller reportedly ripped his passport into pieces at the airport and sought political asylum there.

Last year, another American tourist, Merrill E. Newman, a Korean War veteran, was held for a month by the North because of his “war crimes.” The 85-year-old was released, however, because of his age, North Korean officials said.

The U.S. State Department has warned its citizens not to travel to North Korea due to “the risk of arbitrary detention or arrest.” The advisory also says not to “assume that joining a group tour or use of a tour guide will prevent your arrests or detention by North Korean authorities.”

Archery

On Children’s Day, NKorean Kids Shot Arrows At Pictures Of President Obama

by JAMES S. KIM

Children’s Day is celebrated all around the world, even in North Korea. Of course, it wouldn’t be a DPRK holiday without some sort of twist to it.

One of the many activities planned for children this past Sunday included shooting arrows at crudely drawn pictures of Barack Obama, as well as what looks like a horrendous depiction of South Korean President Park Geun-hye in the background.

None of this is particularly shocking. North Korea’s official news agency called President Obama “juvenile and delinquent,” as well as a “clown,” “dirty fellow” and “a crossbreed with unclear blood.” As for President Park, they’ve called her “a dirty comfort woman for the U.S.” and a “despicable prostitute.”  Children also reportedly attack dolls that look like American soldiers for fun.

Photos by Kim Kwang Hyon/Associated Press

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Jesse Jackson: “We Need To Remember Kenneth Bae”

by STEVE HAN

Amid the rising tension between the two Koreas, Rev. Jesse Jackson is reminding those caught up in the political tug-of-war to not forget Kenneth Bae, who has been detained in North Korea for 18 months and has serious health issues.

In his column for the Huffington Post, Jackson wrote, “Rather than mediation, there is mutual agitation and antagonism … The Korean peninsula remains the only part of the world still divided as a result of post WWII agreements.”

Jackson, who created the “Rainbow Coalition” of minority groups which includes Asian Americans, is best known for being the progressive voice for racial minorities. He stressed that Americans should continue to fight for the release of Korean American missionary Kenneth Bae, who was arrested in North Korea almost two years ago for allegedly trying to overthrow its totalitarian government after entering the country as a tourist.

The 72-year-old continued in his column: “In the meantime, an ill man languishes in a North Korean prison … Kenneth Bae has been in prison for 18 months with poor health and in need of medical attention.”

Last year, Bae was placed in a hospital due to deteriorating health, but North Korean authorities put him back in a hard labor prison camp this past January. North Korea has continuously rejected demands from the U.S. government and Bae’s family to free him, even though officials recently released a 75-year-old Australian missionary, John Short, who was arrested in March.

“It is difficult to travel into North Korea and many people are unable to visit whenever they wish,” Jackson wrote. “In addition to limited access, North Korea does not welcome journalists as freely as other countries and as a result it has become a challenge for the rest of the world to follow the shifting rules and regulations within the region.”

Bae’s son, Jonathan Bae, has started a petition to free his father from North Korea. There is also a Facebook page asking for his release.

“When the lights go off, people suffer in silence. This is a when evil grows … We need to remember that Kenneth Bae’s life is precious and important. His health is precarious and we must seek his release on humanitarian grounds. When one Asian American family hurts, we all hurt.”