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gay pride festival

Korean LGBTQ Festival Kicks Off Despite Protests and MERS

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

The 16th Korea Queer Cultural Festival (KQCF) held its opening ceremony at Seoul City Hall Square as planned, despite fierce protests from non-affirming Christian groups.

Due to the rising number of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) cases, the KQCF committee decided to minimize the risk of infection by holding the opening ceremony with only 50 staff members. The organization also urged LGBTQ supporters to watch the live-stream of the ceremony on YouTube.

“We cannot stop people coming and joining the opening ceremony, but you should understand that we may not be able to take care of the participants,” Yun Candy, a member of the festival committee, told the Korea Observer.

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Despite health concerns, many non-affirming Christians decided to rally outside city hall and protest the opening ceremony after receiving a text message from Professor Gil Won-pyoung, an anti-LGBTQ activist.

The message read: “If you want to go to the Queer Festival on 9th of June do not go to Seoul Square, go across the pedestrian walkway to the other side of the road and wear a mask marked with an X to silently (individually) protest against the homosexuals.”

Although Gil said he understood the risk of contracting MERS at the event, he encouraged Christian protestors to bring their children to the opening ceremony.

“Take your children to Chunggye Square and provide the right values regarding homosexuality,” he wrote in his message. “We have a duty as Koreans to do our utmost best to show our morals, as Korea is the only country to prevent the trending flow of homosexuality.”

Since the early 2000s, KQCF has grown to be one of Asia’s largest LGBT festivals with more than 20,000 participants. This year’s festival consists of four special events scattered throughout the next two weeks, including a film festival and pride parade.

However, last month, the Seoul police rejected the KQCF committee’s application to reserve the Seoul Plaza for the pride parade after anti-LGBTQ protestors applied for the same venue.

The Namdaemun Police Station also recently banned both LGBTQ activists and non-affirming Christians from parading the streets of Seoul on June 28, the final day of the queer festival. In its prohibition notice, the police claimed that simultaneous rallies by the LGBTQ community and non-affirming Christian groups would disrupt pedestrian and vehicle traffic.

It is unclear whether the annual pride parade will still take place this year, especially since nearly 2,000 Koreans remain quarantined after having contact with infected patients. As of June 9, seven people have died from MERS and at least 95 have contracted the virus.

See Also

 

Seoul Police Ban LGBTQ Pride Parade

South Korea Reports First MERS Teen Patient

More Reason for Calm Than Panic in South Korea’s MERS Scare

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Featured image via KQCF

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More Reason for Calm Than Panic in South Korea’s MERS Scare

 

by FOSTER KLUG, Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Sales of surgical masks surge amid fears of a deadly, poorly understood virus. Airlines announce “intensified sanitizing operations.” More than 1,100 schools close and 1,600 people — and 17 camels in zoos — are quarantined.

The current frenzy in South Korea over MERS, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, brings to mind the other menacing diseases to hit Asia over the last decade — SARS, which killed hundreds, and bird flu.

Then, as now, confusion ruled as the media harped on the growing public panic, and health care workers and government officials struggled to understand and contain the diseases, sometimes downplaying the danger, sometimes inadvertently hyping it.

While it’s still early and MERS is a scary disease with no vaccine and a high death rate, there are so far more reasons for calm caution than for panic.

Here’s a look at what’s happening in South Korea.

MERS Cases are Growing

 

South Korea has seen 36 cases and three deaths, the largest outbreak in the world outside of Saudi Arabia, where most of the more than 1,100 cases have been and where the disease was first seen in 2012.

The cases are linked to a 68-year-old man who traveled to the Middle East, the World Health Organization said this week. When he returned and became sick last month, he visited two hospitals and two outpatient facilities, “creating multiple opportunities for exposure among health care workers and other patients,” WHO said. The man wasn’t isolated because it wasn’t thought at first that he had been exposed to MERS, which is from the same virus family as the common cold and SARS.

“Further cases can be expected,” the U.N. health agency said.

MERS’ mortality rate is an estimated 30 to 40 percent, according to Nicolas Locker, a virology expert at the University of Surrey.

The symptoms are fever, cough and shortness of breath, with an average incubation period of 5 to 6 days. Transmission comes through close contact with people — from living with or caring for someone, for instance — but camels are also thought to spread the virus.

Viruses like MERS “remind us all that the globe is indeed a small place when it comes to the rapidity with which infected people can move over large geographic distances, bringing viruses they may be incubating with them,” Christopher Olsen, a virus expert at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said in an email.

… But It Isn’t Sweeping the Community

 

Despite media warnings about the virus “spreading” in South Korea, 30 of the 36 cases are linked to a single hospital, as is a Korean man diagnosed in China. There’s no evidence yet in South Korea “of sustained transmission in the community,” the WHO reports.

The three people who died — a 58-year-old woman, a 71-year-old man and an 82-year-old man — had previous respiratory problems, according to the Health Ministry.

South Korea also has an efficient emergency response system, Locker said, and has learned much from previous disease scares, especially the SARS pandemic in 2003.

South Korea has airport containment centers for respiratory screenings, and 16 hospitals equipped with bio-containment units for patients and staff, including 600 beds in negative pressure units for isolation and treatment, Locker said.

Washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes, not touching your face with unclean hands — this all helps prevent MERS, experts say.

Because it isn’t airborne and only transmitted through close contact, it’s highly unlikely anyone will get the disease in crowded areas, like parks or schools, said Kang Cheol-In, an infectious diseases expert at the Seoul-based Samsung Medical Center.

The closing of hundreds of schools “really doesn’t make sense,” Kang said.

Media and Public Fears May Be Overblown

 

Some experts believe the government should have done more initially to convince the public that many of their fears are unwarranted.

Many people here, however, are in no mood to trust their public officials. The MERS scare follows the sinking of a ferry that killed more than 300 people last year and was widely blamed in part on official incompetence.

Some experts support a strong quarantine to stop MERS’ spread; others question its worth.

Kim Sung-han, a professor at the Seoul-based Asan Medical Center, said isolating anyone who has had contact with MERS patients, even if they don’t show symptoms, is pointless because no studies show the MERS virus can be spread during the incubation period.

“It’s like using a hammer to push in a thumbtack,” Kim said.

The possibility of MERS spreading through South Korea is worrisome, of course, but Kim is skeptical that it will happen because the disease usually spreads slowly and requires close contact.

Kang, the infectious diseases expert, said the initial government response was inadequate, “but the people are also looking at things in an unreasonable manner.”

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AP writer Hyung-jin Kim contributed to this report. Featured image via Reuters/YouTube. 

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

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1,600 Pandas Arrive in South Korea

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

Thousands of adorable papier-mâché pandas are invading South Korea, but the reason behind their visit is a bit heartbreaking.

French sculptor Paulo Grangeon first began the panda project back in 2008. The World Wildlife Fund had invited the artist to handcraft 1,600 papier-mâché panda bears to represent the 1,600 real pandas left in the world, hoping to raise public awareness of the wildlife conservation.

Since then, the 1,600 Pandas+ project has toured around the globe, with over a thousand miniature pandas displayed in open public spaces in Italy, Switzerland, France, Hong Kong and more.

This year, Lotte Department Store and Lotte World Mall partnered with Grangeon to create a new tour called “1,800 Pandas+,” which will serve as a symbolic reminder on the importance of protecting endangered wild species. The new tour is essentially a continuation of 1,600 Pandas+ and represents the 200 increase in the population of wild giant pandas since 2008.

The main exhibition of 1,800 paper pandas is scheduled to be displayed in the garden area near Seokchon Lake in Seoul from July 4 through July 30.

If you can’t wait that long for pandas, then don’t worry. Much like a flashmob, a traveling pack of paper pandas are set to pop up in various cities and national landmarks across South Korea. They’ve already made appearances at Jeju Island, Seoul Plaza, Gangnam Station and Dongdaemun Plaza.

Check out the photos below:

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The next panda flash mob is scheduled to appear at Cheogna Lake Park, according to South Korea’s official 1,600 Pandas+ Instagram.

You can view the current panda tour schedule below:

To learn more about the 1,800 Pandas+  in South Korea, visit the official tour site.

See Also

 

“Ho Yoon Shin Creates ‘Empty’ Sculptures Out of Paper”

“Keun Young Park Creates Stunning Mosaics Out Of Tiny Bits Of Paper”

“Soo Min Kim Transforms Starbucks Paper Cups Into Art”

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Photos via Visit Korea

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Seoul Police Reject Application for LGBT Pride Parade

Pictured above: Korean LGBT supporters snap a group photo after submitting their application for the 2015 pride parade. 

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

Seoul police stations have banned the annual gay pride parade organized by the Korea Queer Cultural Festival (KQCF), after conservative Christian groups attempted to book the same venues as the LGBT festival committee.

Seoul reportedly began holding pride parades in 2000, with only 50 attendees, according to Oh My News Korea. Since then, KQCF has grown to be one of Asia’s largest LGBT festivals and now includes more than 20,000 participants.

However, last year, the Seoul metropolitan government allowed anti-LGBT groups to hold rallies during the 2014 KQCF Pride Parade, which led to major traffic jams and delays. Hundreds of non-affirming Christians lied down on the ground to prevent parade attendees from moving through the streets, according to the Korea Observer.

KQF-christians-block-roadAnti-LGBT and non-affirming Christians protest during 2014 KQCF Pride Parade. (Photo via ZoominKorea)

Although Seoul government officials have already approved KQCF’s request to hold this year’s pride parade, the festival organizers are still required to receive police approval.

Last month, the KQCF committee attempted to reserve the Seoul Plaza through the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency for the 2015 parade, but failed after an anti-LGBT group called, “Love Your Country, Love Your Children Movement” applied for the same venue.

The KQCF organizers then tried to register the parade through the Namdaemun Police Station, which made the controversial decision to accept applications for rallies that are to be held on June 28 on a first-come, first-served basis.

Love Your Country, Love Your Children Movement again lined up outside the police station on May 20, nine days before the Namdaemun police would even accept applications. The LGBT community spread word about the Christian group’s efforts via social media and quickly joined the line.

Both groups camped outside the station for more than a week, with individuals taking turns going to the bathroom. Several individuals and non-profit organizations donated food to the LGBT supporters standing in line.

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11266463_847561355335690_7848132988918419455_nLGBT supporters stand in line outside Namdaemun Police Station (Photos via KQCF)

Despite the LGBT community’s efforts, the Namdaemun Police Station issued a prohibition notice on May 30, banning street marches from both advocates and opponents of the pride parade.

“Rallies may be banned wherever two or more rallies are planned by groups with conflicting goals and on Article 12 where rallies may be banned whenever there is a possibility of inconvenience to pedestrian and vehicle traffic,” the prohibition notice stated.

In response, the KQCF released an official statement on Sunday, saying that Namdaemun Police Station’s “reasoning is not justifiable” and that its decision suppresses the freedom of speech by sexual minorities while “instigating hatred and violence” toward them.

“Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency and Seoul Namdaemun-gu Police Station should withdraw its ban on outdoor rallies on May 30th 2015 at once, and should guarantee the Pride Parade of KQCF to be held safely and peacefully,” the committee said in its statement.

“The KQCF Organizing Committee has already begun to seek the support of civil society, human rights, cultural, and women’s groups to support the KQCF in the eight days before the decision rendered by Namdaemun-gu Police Station. Our work will continue.”

Although South Korea remains largely intolerant toward homosexuality, a recent 2014 survey showed that Koreans in their 20s and 30s are becoming more open-minded regarding LGBT rights and issues.

See Also

 

“Study: South Koreans Becoming More Open-Minded About LGBT Issues”

“Dr. Esther Oh’s Column: LGBTQ Youth, The Challenges of Coming Out”

“Korean LGBT Activists Protest at Seoul City Hall”

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Chloe Moretz and Eric Nam to Star in ‘We Got Married’

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by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

Hollywood actress Chloe Moretz is set to appear in the Korean mock-marriage reality TV show We Got Married, starring opposite Korean American singer Eric Nam.

We Got Married is an enormously popular show that pairs up celebrities and allows them to experience the many charms and quirks of married life. Since its launch in 2008, We Got Married has expanded and created spinoffs, in which Hallyu stars are paired up with celebrities from other Asian countries. According to the Korea Herald, Moretz is the first Caucasian celebrity to participate in the show.

chloe-moretz(Photo via Pop News Herald/Naver)

In 명동!! w @chloegmoretz! Thanks @laneige_kr

A photo posted by 에릭남 Eric Nam (@realericnam) on

After arriving in South Korea on May 19, Moretz met up with Nam to film the upcoming episodes of We Got Married. Nam gave the 18-year-old actress a fun tour of Seoul, complete with visits to a shoe store in Hapejong, a LINE Friend store in Garosu-gil and Seoul’s popular shopping district, Myeong-dong.

The two stars seemed to enjoy their date, evidenced by their cheerful selfies shared on Instagram.

On Thursday, Moretz was seen wearing a vibrant traditional Korean hanbok, alongside her older brother Trevor

In addition to We Got Married, Moretz will be making guest appearances on SNL Korea 6, fashion and beauty show Follow Me 5 and an interview on Pikicast.

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Featured image via Pop Herald/Naver

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5 Facts About Teachers’ Day in South Korea

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

Today is a special day for teachers in South Korea. On May 15, Korean teachers and students annually observe Teachers’ Day (스승의 날), a holiday that traces back all the way to the early 1960s.

For those of you unfamiliar with the holiday, prepare to be schooled! Here are five facts about Teachers’ Day in South Korea.


 

1. Origin story: Get well, teacher

eu35LJ24(Photo via Oh Kpop)

Teachers’ Day in South Korea is said to have originated in Seoul back in 1963 after a team of Red Cross youth members began visiting their sick ex-teachers in hospitals. These visits gradually evolved into an annual observance that was held on May 26.

2. Date change and cancellation

200605150014_00Students at the Department of Korean Classics of Kyungsung University massage their professors’ shoulders.  (Photo via Chosun Ilbo)

In 1965, the date for Teachers’ Day changed to May 15 to commemorate the birth of King Sejong the Great, the creator of the Korean alphabet. South Korea shut down national ceremonies celebrating the holiday between 1973 and 1982, but later resumed them afterward.

3. Carnations, parties and “love cards”

Teachers'_Day_Gifts_South_Korea_05_2013Korean students give handwritten letters to an English teacher. (Photo via Join Chase)

On Teachers’ Day, Korean students traditionally pay respect to their teachers by presenting carnations, the same kind children give to their parents on Parents’ Day (May 8). Students also craft handmade “love cards” containing messages of gratitude toward their teachers.

Colleges and universities with an ample budget tend to throw special parties or performances for their professors. Special dishes are prepared and awards are given to the most outstanding educators in their fields.

4. Bribery

gift-on-tableA teacher’s desk laden with gifts from students on Teachers’ Day (Photo via Teachers Page)

Many schools in South Korea either close or have a half-day on Teachers’ Day, as many parents use the holiday as an excuse to give teachers expensive gifts that are considered to be bribes. Some schools choose to organize outings for their teaching staff to prevent this problem. Current and former students often visit their teachers during the day to pay their respects.

5. World Teachers’ Day

nha-giao1Vietnamese elementary school students present flowers to their teacher. (Photo via Zing.vn)

South Korea isn’t the only country that dedicates a day to honor their educators. Mexico also celebrates Teachers’ Day, known as Día del maestro, on May 15 by holding cultural events. Vietnam, Singapore, India, Philippines, Venezuela and Poland are among several countries known to celebrate some form of teacher appreciation day by having students prepare small gifts, performances and activities for their mentors.

In the United States, the first week of May is designated as National Teacher Appreciation Week, which was established by the National PTA back in 1985. World Teachers’ Day is also annually celebrated around the globe on Oct. 5.

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North Korea Executed Defense Minister: NIS

by HYUNG-JIN KIM, Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered his defense chief executed with an anti-aircraft gun for complaining about the young ruler, talking back to him and sleeping during a meeting presided over by Kim, South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers Wednesday, citing what it called credible information.

South Korean analysts are split on whether the alleged bloody purge signals strength or weakness from Kim Jong Un, who took power after his father’s 2011 death. Some aren’t even sure if it really happened. One expert described the reported development, part of a series of high profile recent purges and executions by Kim, as an attempt to orchestrate a “reign of terror” that would solidify his leadership.

National Intelligence Service officials told a closed-door parliamentary committee meeting that People’s Armed Forces Minister Hyon Yong-chol was killed in front of hundreds of spectators at a shooting range at Pyongyang’s Kang Kon Military Academy in late April, according to lawmaker Shin Kyoung-min, who attended the briefing.

Kim Gwang-lim, chairman of the parliament’s intelligence committee, quoted the spy service as saying Hyon had failed several times to comply with unspecified instructions by Kim. The office of another lawmaker, Lee Cheol Woo, released similar information about the NIS briefing.

The NIS didn’t tell lawmakers how it got the information, only that it was from a variety of channels and that it believed it to be true, Shin said. The agency refused to confirm the report when contacted by The Associated Press.

South Korea’s spy agency has a spotty record of tracking developments in North Korea. Information about the secretive, authoritarian state is often impossible to confirm.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said the U.S. can’t confirm reporting of the execution of North Korean officials, but added that “these disturbing reports, if they are true, describe another extremely brutal act by the North Korean regime. These reports are sadly not the first.”

Analyst Cheong Seong-chang at the private Sejong Institute think tank in South Korea questioned the authenticity of the report on Hyon’s execution because the minister still frequently appears in state TV footage.

North Korea typically removes executed and purged officials from TV documentaries, but Hyon has appeared multiple times in a TV documentary on live fire drills between April 30 and May 11, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry. North Korea’s state media hasn’t mentioned Hyon since an April 29 report of his attendance of a music performance the previous day.

Hyon was named armed forces minister, the equivalent of South Korea’s defense minister, in June of last year. He was made a vice marshal of the Korean People’s Army in July 2012 before being demoted to a four-star general later that year, according to South Korea’s Unification Ministry. Kim, the South Korean parliament’s intelligence committee chief, said Hyon was the North Korean military’s No.2 man after Hwang Pyong So, the top political officer at the Korean People’s Army.

Kim’s purges over recent years are seen as efforts to bolster his grip on power. The most notable was in 2013 when Kim executed his uncle and chief deputy, Jang Song Thaek, for alleged treason. Last month, spy officials told lawmakers that North Korea executed 15 senior officials accused of challenging Kim’s authority.

Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Dongguk University in Seoul, said Kim Jong Un appears to be using purges to keep the military old guard in check because they pose the only plausible threat to his rule. Koh said Kim could be pushing a “reign of terror” to solidify his leadership, but those efforts would fail if he doesn’t improve the country’s shattered economy.

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Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, and Matthew Pennington in Washington, contributed to this report. Featured image courtesy of Yonhap News Agency.

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

campus seoul

Google Opens First Asian ‘Startup Campus’ in Seoul

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
jamesskim@iamkoream.com

South Korea’s startup scene is one of the most dynamic and fastest growing in the world, and Google’s “Campus Seoul” is expected to only add fuel to its growth.

Google officially opened Campus Seoul on May 8 after announcing the entrepreneurial center’s launch last August. Seoul is Google’s first Asian start-up campus and third international campus, following two other campuses in London and Tel Aviv. Google also plans to establish campuses in Warsaw and Sao Paulo in the near future.

Campus Seoul will support local entrepreneurs by serving as a “community hub” and foster creative ideas by connecting professionals on a local level. Additionally, the campus gives entrepreneurs access to Google’s extensive international network, which allows them to connect with fellow startups and venture capital firms on a global scale.

South Korea’s Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning (MSIP) expects that Campus Seoul participants will attract more investment by targeting the global market from the beginning of establishing their startups. Previously, Google and the MSIP joined forces to support the K-Startup program, which attracted more than $23 million (USD) in investment and created 77 startup companies from 2012 to last year, according to Business Korea.

South Korea is quite fitting to house the first Google Campus in Asia. The country already boasts a reputation for being the perfect place to test next-gen IT technology, since it has the highest smartphone penetration rates and Internet of Things (IoT) utilization rates. The government is also pouring money into the startup scene, and the trendy neighborhood of Gangnam has become the brightest spot in the country for new tech businesses.

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Featured image courtesy of Google’s Asia Pacific Blog