Tag Archives: Seoul

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Korean American Questioned over Alleged Pro-North Talks

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

A Korean American writer faces another round of questioning over allegations that she made pro-North Korea remarks during a series of on-stage talk shows, according to Yonhap News Agency.

Shin Eun-mi, 53, has recently been under fire for making sympathetic comments toward Pyongyang and praising the North’s communist regime. After she was given a 10-day travel ban, Shin was questioned on Sunday by the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency (SMPA) for seven hours after conservative groups and North Korean defectors accused Shin and her co-host, Hwang Sun, of violating the National Security Law, which prohibits encouraging North Korea’s political ideals.

The writer is also under scrutiny for her memoir titled, Korean-American Ajumma Goes to North Korea, which chronicles three of her six secret visits to North Korea. While her book positively portrays the daily lives of North Koreans, Shin has told reporters that she has “never glorified or encouraged North Korea.”

The SMPA is currently considering charging her for violating South Korea’s immigration control law, which bars tourists from participating in any for-profit activities. According to investigators, Shin was visiting South Korea under a tourist visa.

Earlier today, President Park Geun-hye voiced her concerns over Shin’s alleged pro-North talk shows.

“It has become a problem as certain people who have made several visits to the North have closed their eyes to the appalling living conditions of the North Korean people or the human rights violations and distorted and exaggerated their certain biased experiences as if they are the real state of affairs in the North,” Park said to her senior secretaries during a meeting, according to Yonhap.

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Super Junior’s Sungmin Marries Kim Sa-eun

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

Sungmin of Super Junior tied the knot with musical actress Kim Sa Eun on Dec. 13 at The Raum in Yeoksamdong, Seoul.

About a thousand guests, including family, friends and celebrities, attended the wedding. Musical actor Yoo Jun-sang and comedian Hong Rok-gi officiated the ceremony, and congratulatory songs were sung by Sungmin’s fellow band mate Ryeowook as well as Kim Ah-sun, Seo Ji-young and Lee Gun-young. According to Allkpop, one of the highlights of the event was when the married couple sang a duet during the reception.

KBS2’s Entertainment Relay documented the wedding in an exclusive report that revealed photos taken during the ceremonies. Here are some of the photos below:

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Sungmin and Kim first met as co-stars in the musical The Three Musketeers in late 2013 and went public with the relationship in October this year.

After the wedding, the couple flew to Maldives for their honeymoon.

All photos via Daily Kpop News and KBS2.

South Korea Gangnam Startups

Gangnam Becomes Hot Spot for Korean Startups

by YOUKYUNG LEE, AP Technology Writer
Follow @YKLeeAP

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The uber-trendy Seoul neighborhood made famous by the “Gangnam Style” K-pop hit is known for status-conscious people, plastic surgery clinics and Ivy League prep schools. Now it’s making a name as a bustling center for tech startups.

Many young South Koreans, some educated overseas, are going to Gangnam to start mobile or Internet businesses. Venture capitalists from Silicon Valley and Japan are opening offices in the area to find promising Korean services or apps to bet their money on. Hardly a day passes in Gangnam without a meeting or event related to startup businesses.

As one of the most wired places on earth, Seoul has been a crucible for several startup scenes. The government is even aiming to make a town south of Seoul a Korean Silicon Valley. But it is in the 40 square kilometers of land south of the Han river where the growth of Internet and mobile startups has been most evident and the related culture most vivid.

Despite its reputation as a beacon for the shallow and status-obsessed, Gangnam has a special significance in SouthKorea as the place where a globalized youth culture emerged from a generation that had opportunities to travel and study abroad. The present day Gangnam is still seen as the place that brings foreign culture and ideas to the rest of the country.

“Gangnam has the best of the New York city and Silicon Valley,” said Steven Baek, a marketing director at FuturePlay, an incubator for startups.

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Silicon Valley is “tech-centric, with a lot of nerdy and geeky people but it doesn’t have much diversity,” he said. “Gangnam’s benefit is diversity. New York has lots of fun clubs and rich consumer-based culture like Gangnam but it doesn’t have many engineers.”

Another common reason for startups going to Gangnam is that everyone else is there, which makes networking effortless.

Near Gangnam’s Teheran-ro boulevard, many Gangnam startups, venture capitalists and startup incubators have opened offices in the past year, with more arriving in coming months. All three major media companies dedicated to covering startup stories are there too.

Around 2000, South Korea’s first wave of Internet companies dotted this 4-kilometer-long street. After the dot.com bubble burst, most of the big Internet portals and online game firms that survived moved to the south of Seoul, but left a legacy. Engineers and developers live near or in Gangnam and older entrepreneurs from the dot.com era became angel investors and startup mentors such as FuturePlay’s CEO Ryu Jung-hee.

Recent openings of two spaces for startups accelerated the startup boom and revived the Internet scene on Teheran-ro.

D.Camp opened in 2013 and Maru180 earlier this year a few blocks from Teheran-ro to rent cheap spaces to startup companies and investors. These Silicon Valley-style communal work spaces regularly host meet-ups. Maru even has showers and bunk beds. The spaces are designed to enable serendipitous, accidental meetings in communal areas.

Next year, Google is opening its first campus in Asia in Gangnam, giving mentorship and offering spaces for entrepreneurs to hang out. South Korean Internet giant Naver is also opening a startup accelerator center in Gangnam early 2015.

For 35-year-old Johnny Oh, who grew up in a fishing town, Gangnam was a foreign world that filled him with envy and insecurity.

Encouraged by rich cousins from Gangnam, he moved to the area a decade ago and ran businesses dealing with Gangnam’s well-heeled residents, hung out in Gangnam clubs and made Gangnam friends.

When he quit a big telecom firm this summer to start a Cloud-based video editing app to challenge YouTube and Vine, setting up an office in Gangnam was a no brainer.

“They are consumers with far-reaching influence,” he said.

Many mobile apps and services that are developed in Gangnam are not just looking within South Korea.

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Simon Lee, a 32-year-old entrepreneur, said his company’s namesake translation app Flitto, which uses volunteers to do translations within minutes, is taking on Google Translate. His two-year-old startup is planning expansion in China next year.

He said being located in Gangnam helps hiring for little-known startups. Public transportation is among the most convenient in Seoul and there are many hangout places like restaurants and clubs for after work hours.

Gangnam’s startup boom reflects a shifting perception on risk taking in South Korea, where the economy is dominated by big family-owned business groups.

Even just a few years ago, the word “startup” was unknown outside the tech circles. That has changed as a growing number of South Korean startup entrepreneurs generate success stories of going public, selling their companies or winning big investments. Last month, a Goldman Sachs-led consortium announced a $36 million investment in Woowa Brothers Corp., operator of a food-delivery app located in broader Gangnam.

South Korea’s government is putting more taxpayer money behind young and risky entrepreneurs, not limited to Gangnam startups. The government plans to use a $181 million budget next year to make angel investments in early stage startups.

Still missing in South Korea’s startup boom are big companies like Google, Facebook and Yahoo that snap up local startups.

Samsung, LG, SK and other South Korean conglomerates tend to overlook local startups and believe paying big money to buy a startup is an admission of failure, said Flitto’s Lee.

“Big companies do almost no M&As. They don’t want to admit they are inferior to startups,” he said.

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Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Seoul’s Female Cabbies Get Protective Screens

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

The Seoul Metropolitan Government plans to install protective screens in 35 taxis driven by female drivers to prevent assaults from passengers, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“We’re doing it on a test basis for now, but if the measure is favorably accepted by the female taxi drivers and passengers, we’ll make it mandatory for all taxis in the city,” said Lee Seung-wook, a city government official.

The protective screens for the taxis are made of clear, polycarbonate that can withstand hammer blows. Each screen costs between 250,000-290,000 won (USD $222-$261), and the government will cover half the cost.

Back in September, about a third of the 462 female cabbies said in a survey that a partition was necessary for protection. Some drivers expressed their fear of working late at night when many passengers are drunk and belligerent. Last month, a Jeonju taxi driver was hit in the face with a soju bottle when he tried to give change to the drunk customer, according to the Korea Bizwire.

Under South Korea’s transportation laws, threatening or assaulting a professional driver could result in a five-year prison sentence or a fine of 20 million won (USD $18,000). However, most offenders are only fined about one million won.

Seoul now has one of the highest crime rates in South Korea, according to WSJ. About 38,408 violent crimes occurred in the trendy Gangnam district last year, making it the country’s third-most dangerous region.

The city government decided to test the protective screens on female cabbies first because they are particularly vulnerable to in-vehicle assaults.

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2NE1 Performs on ‘America’s Next Top Model’

by ETHEL NAVALES

Back in March, the streets of Seoul were filled with excitement as Tyra Banks landed in South Korea to film a segment of Americas’s Next Top Model. We were even more excited when we discovered that ANTM chose popular K-pop group 2NE1 to make an appearance during the highly-anticipated fashion show for designer Lie Sang Bong.

A source revealed, “2NE1 was asked to be on the show because they are a representative K-Pop group and they are also well-known to be fashionistas.”

After 9 long months, the waiting is finally over. Americas’s Next Top Model aired its final episodes of Cycle 21 this past Friday. The segment included a photo shoot for GUESS at the Seoul Institute of the Arts, as well as Korean barbecue and even more Korean barbecue.

Most exciting of all, 2NE1 went to wish the the remaining contestants good luck before heading out to the runway to perform their popular song, “Crush.”

Check out the performance below as well as the behind-the-scenes footage of the girls interacting with the ANTM contestants.

Originally published on Audrey Magazine

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Korean LGBT Activists Protest at Seoul City Hall

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon has delayed the enactment of Seoul’s Charter of Human Rights due to an LGBT-inclusive provision, spurring a group of LGBT activists to stage sit-ins at City Hall, reports Andy Marra of the Huffington Post.

The Charter was drafted and passed by a committee of 134 citizens and 30 human rights experts on Nov. 28, 2014. It was originally scheduled to celebrate the upcoming Human Rights Day. However, the Seoul Metropolitan Government announced on Nov. 30 that it would indefinitely delay the promulgation of the Charter, which bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Unfortunately, working on this charter has been creating more social conflicts,” Seoul’s municipal government said in a statement. “We would like to take more time to listen to a variety of opinions from our citizens on this matter.”

Formerly a human rights lawyer, Mayor Park has dedicated over 30 years to promote social justice and progressive grassroots activism. He was also the principal founder of People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, a nonprofit watchdog organization that fights political corruption, and helmed the Beautiful Foundation, a philanthropic group that tackles income inequality issues.

In October, Park told San Francisco’s edition of The Examiner that he supports same-sex marriage and expressed his desire to see South Korea become the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage. Yet, the Seoul mayor seemed to have caved in to the pressure from Korean churches. He even met with protestant pastors the day after the city government announced the delay of the charter’s proclamation and told them, “As the Mayor of Seoul, I do not support homosexuality.”

Rainbow Action, a coalition of 20 LGBT organizations in South Korea and the group protesting at City Hall, have criticized Park’s lack of commitment to ensure equality for those in the LGBT community. The group wrote in its official statement:

“The Mayor’s denying the Charter … is an act of discrimination by the State that does not comport with the Constitution and the National Human Rights Commission Act, as well as the international human rights law. The Charter must be proclaimed, as is originally scheduled on December 10, 2014, Human Rights Day, in Seoul.

We, LGBT activists and supporters, now occupied the City Hall to protest against the discrimination. Mr. Park has never responded yet to our repeated requests to have a meeting. We demand a meeting with the Mayor, Mr. Park Won-Soon. We demand him to proclaim the Charter.”

To learn more about the protest, read Andy Marra’s Huffington Post piece “Don’t Let Seoul’s Mayor Buckle to Homophobia and Transphobia” here

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Korean Air VP Delays Flight Over Macadamia Nuts

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

The vice president of Korean Air Lines Co. is under investigation after she reportedly forced a plane to return to the gate over “nut rage,” according to Bloomberg.

Heather Cho, 40, who is also the eldest daughter of the airline’s chairman, was traveling first class from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to Incheon on Dec. 5 when a flight attendant served her macadamia nuts without asking her beforehand. To make this snack-serving crime worse, the attendant had served the nuts in a paper bag and not on a dish, as required by the service manual.

Infuriated, Cho then summoned the cabin crew chief and questioned him over in-flight service procedures. When the crew chief failed to answer promptly, Cho ordered him to disembark the plane while it was readying for takeoff.

Korean Air confirmed that the plane arrived 11 minutes late and formally apologized to the flight’s passengers in an official statement yesterday. The airline also noted that the decision to expel the crew chief was made in consultation with the pilot and that the aircraft was less than 10 meters away from the passenger gate at JFK when it decided to return.

South Korea’s transport ministry said it will investigate whether or not Cho’s actions violated any aviation laws or safety regulations and will take take appropriate disciplinary action, according to Yonhap.

“Even if she is the vice president of the airline, she was one of passengers and should have been treated as one,” an official at the transport ministry told reporters. He added that Cho could have taught the flight attendant the in-flight service lesson after returning to South Korea.

According to Bloomberg, Cho is a graduate of Cornell University and joined her father’s company in 1999. She is responsible for Korean Air’s catering, cabin service, in-flight sales business and hotel divisions. She is also managing the reconstruction of the Wilshire Grand Hotel in Los Angeles.

Photo courtesy of Korean Air via the Korea Times

Peter Hahn School

Chinese Authorities Detain Aid Worker Assisting NKoreans

by JAMES S. KIM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top photo courtesy of Hong Kong Economic Journal