Tag Archives: Seoul


North and South Korea Find a Way to Avoid Disaster, Reach Deal

Above photo: South Korean National Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin addresses reporters in Seoul shortly after 2 a.m. following three days of “marathon talks” with North Korea. (Reuters)

Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — After 40-plus-hours of talks, North and South Korea on Tuesday pulled back from the brink with an accord that allows both sides to save face and, for the moment, avert the bloodshed they’ve been threatening each other with for weeks.

In a carefully crafted, though vague, piece of diplomacy, Pyongyang expressed “regret” that two South Korean soldiers were maimed in a recent land mine blast Seoul blamed on the North. While not an acknowledgement of responsibility, let alone the “definite apology” South Korea’s president had demanded, it allows Seoul to claim some measure of victory in holding the North to account.

South Korea, for its part, agreed to halt anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts on the border, which will let the authoritarian North trumpet to its people a propaganda win over its bitter rival — and put an end to hated loudspeaker messages that outside analysts say could demoralize front-line troops and inspire them to defect.

The agreement marks a good first step in easing animosity that has built since South Korea blamed North Korea for the mine explosion at the border earlier this month and restarted the propaganda broadcasts in retaliation. But, as always on the Korean Peninsula, it’s unclear how long the good mood will continue.

Despite South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s expression of hope that the North’s “regret” will help improve the Koreas’ relationship, the accord does little to address the many fundamental, long-standing differences. The announcement of further talks to be held soon in either Seoul or Pyongyang could be a beginning, but the Koreas have a history of failing to follow through on their promises and allowing simmering animosity to interrupt diplomacy.

The negotiations that began Saturday at the border village of Panmunjom, where the Koreas agreed to the 1953 ceasefire that stopped fighting in the Korean War, also resulted in Pyongyang agreeing to lift a “quasi-state of war” declared last week, according to South Korea’s presidential office and North Korea’s state media.

While this declaration was largely a matter of rhetoric — the border is the world’s most heavily armed and there has never been a formal peace agreement ending the Korean War, so the area is always essentially in a “quasi-state of war” — there had been growing worry about South Korean reports that the North continued to prepare for a fight during the talks, moving unusual numbers of troops and submarines to the border.

The Koreas also struck an important humanitarian agreement by promising to resume in September the emotional reunions of families separated by the Korean War. They said more reunions would follow, but there were no immediate details.

In a signal of North Korea’s seriousness, Pyongyang sent to the talks Hwang Pyong So, the top political officer for the Korean People’s Army and considered by outside analysts to be North Korea’s second most important official after supreme leader Kim Jong Un.

“I hope the two sides faithfully implement the agreements and build up (mutual) confidence through a dialogue and cooperation and that it serves as a chance to work out new South-North relations,” chief South Korean negotiator and presidential national security director Kim Kwan-jin said in a televised news conference.

The United States quickly welcomed the agreement and the prospect of tensions dropping.

Kim, the Seoul negotiator, described the North’s expression of “regret” as an apology and said the loudspeaker campaign would end at noon Tuesday unless an “abnormal” event occurs.

Pyongyang had denied involvement in the land mine explosions and rejected Seoul’s report that Pyongyang launched an artillery barrage last week. South Korea’s military fired dozens of artillery rounds across the border in response and said the North’s artillery strikes were meant to back up an earlier threat to attack the loudspeakers. There were no details on whether the North addressed the artillery claim in Tuesday’s deal.

These were the highest-level talks between the two Koreas in a year, and the length of the sessions was no surprise.

While the Koreas have difficulty agreeing to talks, once they do, marathon sessions are often the rule. After decades of animosity and bloodshed, finding common ground is a challenge. During the latest Panmunjom talks, the first session lasted about 10 hours and the second session about 33 hours.

The negotiations started just hours ahead of a Saturday deadline set by North Korea for the South to dismantle the propaganda loudspeakers. North Korea had declared that its front-line troops were in full war readiness and prepared to go to battle if Seoul did not back down.

South Korean defense officials said during the talks that about 70 percent of the North’s more than 70 submarines and undersea vehicles had left their bases and could not be located by the South Korean military. They also said the North had doubled the strength of its front-line artillery forces since the start of the talks.

It was not immediately clear whether North Korea pulled back its submarines and troops after the agreement was announced.


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

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Magnolia Bakery Opens in Seoul

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

Let them eat cake! Magnolia Bakery has debuted its first Korean branch inside the Hyundai Department Store in Pangyo, Gyeonggi Province. It is the franchise’s second branch in Asia after Tokyo.

Founded in 1996 at 401 Bleecker Street in New York City, the original Magnolia Bakery is renowned for its vintage décor and fresh baked goods, particularly its handmade pastel cupcakes. The bakery rose to international fame after being featured in an episode of Sex and the City.

magnolia-bakeryCarrie and Miranda eat Magnolia cupcakes in an episode of Sex and the City

Since then, Magnolia has expanded to 20 locations around the world, including Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Moscow City, Beirut and Kuwait City. In an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, Magnolia Bakery’s CEO Albert Hasse said he plans to open an additional 12 bakeries by the end of 2015. The franchise is also eying Singapore and Hong Kong as possible international branches.

On Friday, Aug. 21, Magnolia’s Seoul location opened as part of the Pangyo Hyundai Department Store’s grand opening. The mega shopping mall boasts about 900 shops, according to the Korea Herald.

Magnolia Seoul plans to introduce 40 different cupcakes to Korean customers and gradually increase the flavors to 70. According to Hasse, banana pudding cupcake seems to the all-time favorite among Korean consumers, though red velvet and vanilla butter cream reign as the company’s overall bestsellers.

While cupcakes may be Magnolia’s most famous dessert, this writer highly recommends trying the bakery’s banana pudding. It tastes like dream clouds and happy childhood memories.

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Featured image courtesy of Alexi Ueltzen/Flickr

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[PIC OF THE DAY] K-pop Stars Snap Photos with Tom Cruise

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

Mission: Impossible star Tom Cruise became the latest Hollywood celebrity to visit South Korea to promote a film.

On Thursday, Cruise attended the Seoul premiere of his latest action flick Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation at the Lotte World Mall Atrium, where he was warmly greeted on the red carpet by not only eager fans but also K-pop stars.

K-pop boy band INFINITE took a selfie with Cruise after finishing a special performance at the premiere.

11826053_866240130135816_3458323395011512567_n(Photo via INFINITE/Facebook)

Tiffany of Girls’ Generation also interviewed Cruise as a guest reporter for KBS’ Entertainment Weekly, which airs every Saturday in Korea, and uploaded an Instagram photo of her smiling beside the actor. In the caption, the K-pop singer wrote that she “had a blast” talking with the 53-year-old actor and thanked him for being an inspirational figure.

This is not the first time Tiffany has interviewed a Hollywood actor. In 2013, she interviewed Tom Hiddleston while he was promoting Thor: The Dark World in Seoul, where he wowed the Internet with his amazing dancing abilities.

That same year, Cruise was granted honorary citizenship of Busan during a promotional event for Jack Reacher. 

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Grevin Museum Seoul

Asia’s First Grévin Museum Brings Hallyu Stars to Life

by ALEX HYUN | @ahyundarkb4dawn

Ever wish you could meet Psy and take a selfie with him? Well, now you can! The famous French waxwork museum, Musée Grévin, opened its first Asian branch in Seoul on Thursday, the Korean Herald reported.

Run jointly with Mast Entertainment, Grévin Seoul focuses sharply on Korean pop-culture and entertainment and is the world’s largest exhibition featuring Hallyu stars, from first generation to rising talent.

“We decided Seoul to be our first destination for Grévin Museum in Asia because the city has rich history and strong cultural content. From here, the Hallyu boom has spread throughout Asia,” said Dominique Marcel, CEO of Grévin’s parent company, Compagnie des Alpes, the Korean Herald quoted.

The venue hosts seven extensive exhibits: Hallyu Stars, International Stars, History & Great Men, The Great Champions, Artists at Work, Hall of Fame and Discovery Atelier.

In the Hallyu Stars exhibit, museum guests can pose on the red carpet with popular Korean actors, such as Bae Yong-joon, Choi Ji-woo, Kim Soo-hyun, Park Shin-hye and Lee Min-ho. Meanwhile, K-pop fans can share the spotlight with their favorite artists, including G-dragon and Rain.

Guests can also snap photos with global icons like Paris Hilton, Brad Pitt and ex-figure skating champion Kim Yuna. The museum also uses state-of-the-art audio and light symptoms to fully immerse visitors in the viewing experience.

Although the museum displays foreign political figures, such as Barack Obama, Xi Jinping and Queen Elizabeth II, attendees will notice that there are no waxworks of South Korean political figures–with the exception of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

“We wanted to stay away from local politics because it’s sensitive and we wanted personalities everyone would be happy with,” Kim Yong-kwan, CEO of Mast Entertainment, told Agence France-Presse. He added that the museum did contact South Korean President Park Geun-hye, but did not receive a response.

At the end of each museum tour, guests are treated to a workshop where they can learn the process of wax figure making and create their own facial wax figures by using a special scanning software.

The Grévin, which has branches in France, Prague and Montreal, hopes the Seoul museum can attract tourists from other Asian countries in the near future. The Seoul site expects to attract about 450,000 visitors per year including foreign tourists.

Currently, Grévin Seoul has 80 life-size wax models of global figures, with 30 of them representing Koreans. The museum plans to add four to five new waxworks each year.

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Featured image via Yonhap

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American Beauty Queen Named Global Taekwondo Ambassador

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

American beauty queen Nia Sanchez, 25, was named a goodwill ambassador for The Seoul-based World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) on Monday, according to Yonhap News Agency.

Sanchez is the first contestant from Nevada and fourth Hispanic to be crowned Miss USA. Last January, she represented America in the Miss Universe 2014 competition and finished as the first runner-up, following Paulina Vega of Colombia. But don’t let the tiara fool you.

The 2014 Miss USA is a fourth-degree black belt in taekwondo and has been practicing the martial art since she was 8-years old. She began teaching taekwondo at age 12, becoming a certified teacher three years later. As if that wasn’t enough proof to not mess with this beauty queen, Sanchez also has two years of Brazilian jiu-jitsu training under her belt.

At the appointment ceremony, Sanchez expressed that coming to Korea has been a dream of hers, as taekwondo has been such a big part of her life. She also told the audience that she was a shy girl when she first started taekwondo, but gained more self-confidence over the years as the martial art taught her “discipline, integrity and perseverance.”

“The life skills I’ve learned from taekwondo have helped me become successful in all parts of my life,” Sanchez said in her speech. “Because of what I’ve learned in taekwondo, I was able to become Miss USA. Now, I have this platform as Miss USA to share taekwondo with the rest of the world.”

As the new global ambassador for taekwondo, Sanchez said she hopes to encourage more women to take up the sport, emphasizing that women are just as capable as men in terms of discipline, confidence and strength.

During her stay in South Korea, the 2014 Miss USA will visit the Kukkiwon, also known as the world taekwondo headquarters, and attend the 2015 World Taekwondo Hanmadang in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province. Sanchez is scheduled to fly home on Saturday.

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Featured image via Yonhap

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South Korean Man Arrested Over Alleged Death Threat on U.S. Envoy

Pictured above: Mark Lippert visits IBM Korea’s Client Center. (Photo via U.S. Embassy Seoul/Twitter) 

by the Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean police said Friday that they had arrested a 33-year-old jobless man for allegedly making an online threat to kill the U.S. ambassador in Seoul.

The man allegedly left an English-language message vowing to kill Mark Lippert with “nuclear poisoning” on the White House website on July 8, police said in a statement.

The man, surnamed Lee, has denied the allegation. But police say they’ve found a draft of the online threat and records of access to the White House homepage on his laptop computer, according to the statement.

The allegations come just months after Lippert was attacked by another man who slashed him with a knife during a breakfast forum. Lippert suffered deep gashes on his face and arm in that attack in March and was treated at a Seoul hospital for five days.

Police said the message, which contained many grammar errors, didn’t clearly explain why he wanted to kill Lippert. They refused to disclose the full message.

Police said the man has lived in seclusion at his home but there is no record of any psychiatric hospital treatment. The investigation began at the request of the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, according to the police statement.

If convicted, the man could face up to five years in prison.

The man who attacked Lippert in March was later charged with attempted murder. Police said he chose Lippert as a target to highlight his opposition to U.S.-South Korean military drills, which North Korea calls an invasion rehearsal. Seoul and Washington have said their drills are purely defensive.

Anti-U.S. activists have long blamed the presence of 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea for the continuing split of the Korean Peninsula.

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

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Police: South Korean Professor Forced Former Student to Eat Feces

Pictured above: Seongnam Jungwon police station in Gyeonggi-do Province. (Photo courtesy of hyolee2/Wikimedia Commons)

by HYUNG-JIN KIM, Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean police said Tuesday they have arrested a university design professor for forcing a former student to eat human feces and subjecting him to other cruel acts.

The alleged violence and abuse began in 2013 when the ex-student was working as an employee at the professor’s non-profit organization, according to a statement from Seongnam Jungwon police station just south of Seoul.

The professor and three other employees, all former students, allegedly beat the victim with a baseball bat and other weapons over what they said were professional mistakes and poor character. Two of those former students have also been arrested, police said.

The defendants also placed plastic bags over the victim’s head and filled them with pepper spray and forced him to eat their feces and drink their urine from plastic bottles on 16 different occasions, police said, describing the victim as a “modern-day slave.”

The victim put up with it because he hoped the professor would help him become a professor, too, according to police.

Authorities did not release the names of the victim or his alleged assailants.

Attempts to reach the victim were unsuccessful. Police denied an AP request to interview the professor.

The professor also forced the victim to work at a restaurant and took his salary, police said.

Authorities became aware of the case after getting a tip from an employee at the victim’s restaurant.

The non-profit run by the professor publishes academic journals and hosts forums on topics related to design, according to police.

Teachers frequently used corporal punishment to discipline South Korean students in the past, but the practice has faded dramatically in recent years.


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

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Seoul Holds Mass Wedding for North Korean Defectors

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

Seoul held a mass wedding ceremony for North Korean defectors on Tuesday, reports Channel News Asia.

About 100 couples were chosen to get married at the free wedding ceremony in Seoul’s Olympic Park. The South Korean government and nonprofit organization Happy World organized the ceremony in an effort to assist North Korean defectors who are unable to afford a wedding of their own, according to the Chosun Ilbo.

Sixty of the newlyweds married fellow North Korean defectors, while 30 tied the knot with foreigners, mostly Chinese. Meanwhile, 10 North Koreans wedded South Koreans. Ages of the brides and grooms ranged from their 20s to their 60s.

South Korea’s Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo attended the mass wedding and wished the couples a blissful marriage. He added that the newlyweds are setting the foundation for the unification of the two Koreas.

Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 9.38.08 AMNorth Korean bride with her South Korean husband at a Seoul mass wedding.
(Screenshot captured via Channel News Asia)

One bride described the ceremony as “extraordinary,” claiming that it’s not easy to meet the “right person” in a relationship.

“I’m North Korean and he is South Korean. Not only is the language different, but also the culture,” she told Channel News Asia as she stood next to her smiling husband. “I think it’s really great that we can live together by overcoming cultural barriers and being understanding and respectful of each other.”

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Featured image via Yonhap

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