Tag Archives: Seoul

elise npr headshot

Q&A with Elise Hu, NPR’s Korea/Japan Correspondent

by SUEVON LEE | @suevlee

If you’ve tuned into NPR in recent months, chances are you’ve noticed the number of on-air pieces out of Korea, whether about the mokbang craze, or viral online broadcasts of people eating copious amounts of food; Asian Americans who are headlining K-pop groups; one-year anniversary of the Sewol ferry sinking; or social stigma surrounding South Korea’s single mothers. The rise in coverage on stories and issues about the Korean peninsula is no coincidence—NPR earlier this year opened its first-ever Seoul bureau, with correspondent Elise Hu at its helm.

Hu, who previously covered the intersection of technology and culture for NPR, moved to Seoul from Washington, D.C. with her husband and their two-year-old daughter in March. In the midst of reporting about politics, business, culture and life in both Koreas and Japan, Hu has been adapting to expat life in Seoul like a pro—just follow her hugely popular Tumblr, Elise Goes East!.

KoreAm recently caught up with the Texas native over email to learn more about her transition to life overseas, her impressions of Korean culture, her favorite food and drink in Seoul and the quirks of Korean cab drivers. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 4.42.17 PM

Can you give us a little background on why NPR decided to open a bureau in Seoul and how you came to take the assignment? Did you jump at the opportunity?

Elise Hu: First off, thanks for asking me to take part in this when I don’t get to claim status as a Korean American (though I’m kind of “Korean-adjacent” in that I’m Chinese American, and my younger daughter will be born in Seoul). That hasn’t stopped cabbies in Seoul from assuming that I’m Korean and making me feel bad for not speaking the language.

On the assignment: NPR has had an ongoing commitment to coverage around the globe—it’s one of our badges of honor as a news organization. For a long time our management recognized the influence and importance of Asia, where half the world’s population is concentrated, and the need to have more bodies here. I know adding a Japan/Korea bureau had been a priority for a while; it was just a matter of getting resources to open a new outpost. The dynamism of South Korea, as well as the Korean peninsula’s geography—sandwiched between China and Japan with a neighboring Russia to the North—made Seoul an ideal choice.

When the opportunity was floated by me, I asked myself the same question I do about any job change: Does it sound exciting? The answer was ‘Yes,’ so I signed on for a two-year stint. If they don’t fire me, I imagine I might want to stay longer.

Had you always wanted to work as an overseas correspondent?

I’ve always had the exploring and wandering bug. I wanted to report from a far-flung post my entire adult life, but at various points—especially with the shrinking of the journalism industry over the past decade—I didn’t think it would be a viable path. That I get to do it, and do it while backed by a major national news organization, is an awesome opportunity and that’s not lost on me.

I’m also pretty familiar with Asianness, as I am the daughter of Chinese/Taiwanese immigrants. My mother is restless, loves to travel and works in the Foreign Service, so I’ve been globe trotting since I was quite young. My mom thinks getting out of your comfort zones and constantly exposing yourself to change and other parts and peoples of the world is invaluable. So that kind of philosophy is really ingrained in my brother and me. Plus, the challenge of bringing alive a story or simply explaining what might seem unfamiliar to others is one of the best parts of my job. This is what I’m paid to do and I love it.

How familiar were you with Korean culture before you moved to Korea?

I hadn’t visited Korea before I moved here in March. So my exposure to Korean culture was primarily through my Korean American friends at home in the U.S. and in Taipei, where I studied abroad. I have to admit I hadn’t seen much Korean film or K-drama, either, though I did catch Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring in the theater, no joke. On the food front, before coming here, I had consumed plenty of Korean BBQ, mandu and stews, and drank a lot of soju (I LOVE soju). And culturally, given that Korea was long ago a “little brother” to the Confucian-led Chinese dynasties, the Confucian-inspired elements of Korean customs aren’t too different from the Chinese culture, of which I am a part.

Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 4.39.36 PM

You’ve been living in Seoul for roughly four months. How would you describe your experience thus far as a) a journalist and b) as part of an expat family?

I was eating a meal with some Korean journalists the other day and they all spent time in Columbia, Missouri, studying at Mizzou, our shared alma mater. They said that Koreans describe America as a “boring heaven” and they call Korea an “exciting hell.” Basically, life here is fast-paced, weird and somewhat chaotic, but never boring.

I’ve loved learning about Korean people, its history, its culture and oddities and venturing into more serious topics such as geopolitics and economics in my reporting. It’s a perfect place for anyone who is curious and excited about the world, but even better for reporters, who get to learn and then share what they learned with millions of people, for a living.  

Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 4.37.14 PMAs for parenting here, our toddler has thrived even though we keep forcing her to adjust to new surroundings, new schools and new friends. Seoul is a great city for little ones. The major museums have separate “children’s museums” so the kids can explore the same topic. Koreans seem to love little kids; people are always giving Eva random treats and ice cream cones and what not. And there are numerous play facilities like ‘Kid Cafes’’ here, which are themed cafes where parents can let their kids go wander, supervised by someone else, while mom/dad enjoy coffee or catch up on work.

You had a pretty eventful first week in Seoul. Can you describe what that was like?

I opened the bureau the same day the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea, Mark Lippert, was knifed in the face. The Internet guy from Olleh was literally setting up my Internet when the news broke. Suffice to say, I had a fast start and things never really slowed down from there.

My initial impression that first week, because we arrived in March, was surprise about the pollution. Seoul has rough pollution, especially in the spring when it’s “yellow dust” season. Yellow dust is made up of industrial particulate matter that comes over from Mongolia and China, mixed in with the pollution from cars in the city. It’s nice now that it’s summer, but the particulate matter levels in the spring are sometimes five, six times over what the World Health Organization recommendations.

What have been the most challenging adjustments to life in Seoul? And as a non-native Korean speaker, has it been tough to get around?

The quick answer is YES, it is challenging to live in Seoul if you don’t speak Korean. We have no idea what people are saying to us most of the time. There aren’t as many English speakers here as I expected and that has made things really difficult—but things have gotten better. Through my Korean tutor, I very quickly learned to give taxi drivers directions like “right turn” or “straight” and everyone in my family, including my 2-year-old, knows how to tell cabbies the name of the subway stop closest to our home. So the basics are OK, but I still have serious issues getting my coffee or food orders correctly filled, and rely on our NPR bureau interpreter, HaeRyun, for embarrassingly simple tasks like ordering things online or talking to the AC repairman.

How does the language barrier spill over into your professional life?

It prevents me from being as useful and independent as I was when I was a journalist in the U.S. For example, in the U.S. I set up all my own interviews and conducted them, too. Here in Korea, my interpreter/news assistant, has to do that work for me. I conduct interviews but through someone else who is asking the questions on my behalf. That is a huge change. I really have to trust HaeRyun—not only in her translations but also when she updates me with news that comes from Korean language primary sources. I really have to drill down to better understand what’s being said by a Korean source, or reported by Korean media, because I can’t read or understand it for myself.

What about Seoul makes living there easy for an expat?

The delivery culture! You can basically get anything delivered—even a pint of milk—with almost no delivery charge. Plus, the scooter-riding drivers get to your place within 20 minutes. I have days where I don’t have to leave the home office at all because I just place orders for food and/or a quick smoothie, and bam, they’re there.

Also, Seoul’s public transportation system is pristine and the taxis are abundant as well as cheap, so those perks are quite wonderful.

Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 4.35.51 PM

What have you been most surprised to learn about Korea, the culture or its people so far?

I’m most surprised by how much history and feelings about history play into not just the psyche of Koreans but also modern society. For example, the prevalence of anti-Japanese sentiment today is obviously colored by the colonization of Korea in the early-20th century, and the subsequent sourness stems from lack of what Koreans consider are sufficient apologies from the Japanese. That those kinds of feelings are so ingrained in Korean society continues to surprise me, because as an American, I think our ethos is to have a shorter-term memory, or just paper over things and move on (which may explain all our knotty issues with race in America that have exploded in the past year).

What’s your craziest story of living in Seoul thus far?

It’s a tie between the street fight that broke out below our apartment and the time a cabbie just left us alone in his cab with the keys in the ignition. The fight was crazy because 35 floors below us, outside a gate to the Yongsan U.S. military base, two black sedans pulled over and the drivers got out. They were screaming at each other when the big guy shoves the smaller guy. Then the smaller guy leans back and straight up HEAD BUTTS the bigger guy and knocks him down to the ground. The big guy gets up and he’s all wobbly, then just gets in his car. The head-butter gets in HIS car, and they both speed off.

Another time, my husband and I were in the backseat of a cab riding to a doctor’s appointment. Suddenly, our cabbie pulls over, stops the meter and gets out of the car, leaving the car running with the keys in the ignition. We watched him walk into a Citibank, walk back out, and then go to a neighboring office building. It turned out he needed to go to the hwajangshil (bathroom). Thank god I understood enough Korean to figure that out, but we were stunned he just left us in his cab. We joked around about whether we should move the car a little bit, to see if he noticed.

From your perspective, what’s the biggest misconception of Korea after having lived there several months?

You know, I don’t really know the stereotypes about Koreans so I don’t know which ones are most off-base. On the foreign policy side, I guess there was a perception of Koreans as being defensive or inward-looking because of the peninsula’s size and history of annexation and colonization. I don’t think modern South Korea is anything like that—it’s embraced globalization, international communities and the younger generations are quite outward-looking.

Which of your on-air pieces have generated the most reaction or feedback among listeners?

The piece that most resonated with folks—or at least led to the most engagement and emails—was about the stigma faced by single mothers in Korea, who in the 1980s at least, were often forced to give their babies up for adoption. Since the 1980s, when adoption numbers were highest, nonprofit groups have formed and the government has tried to provide more resources for unwed mothers. But the fact that single moms still face such social pariah status in this highly developed nation was really stunning for many of our American readers and listeners. An author I admire, Junot Diaz, even shared the piece on his personal Facebook page! Amazing. And a handful of readers reached out asking how they could help these moms directly.

What are your favorite and least favorite things about Korea?

Best things:

‌• Superfast Internet
Near-instant delivery of everything
The mountains/hiking culture
Makgeoli, soju, the drinking culture in general
All the awesome skincare/makeup stores and their products: Innisfree, Missha, SkinFood, etc.
Korean food—I am a big fan of chadol bagi in particular.
The street markets—there’s a market for everything. Old books, dried fish, used things, etc. etc.

The not so great things:

‌• Scooters on sidewalks! My daughter nearly got run over one time.
The lack of acceptance for LGBT lifestyles
Learning Korean language is SUPER hard
Women wear long sleeves even in the summer. So I feel really out of place when I’m not covered up.
Koreans aren’t very space-conscious on sidewalks or in crowded spaces, so I’m always nearly running into people or stuck behind really slow walkers, etc.

Finally, your Tumblr of your experiences in Seoul/Korea/Asia seems just a terrific way of keeping people informed about stuff that won’t always make it into your on-air pieces. What kind of role does the blog play in your overall reporting/living experience abroad?

It’s special to me in that it’s a living, breathing document of my impressions and experiences during a time when it’s all sorta new. I hope I’ll be able to look back on it one day and come to some new understanding and reflection. But more importantly, it’s been tremendous to grow a community of readers/watchers who are interested in what’s happening out “East,” (as the blog name goes) and gather their questions and impressions along the way. The blog emphasizes that this journey is one we’re going on together, in a sense, and I feel a responsibility to keep sharing and listening through it.


Follow Elise Hu on Twitter @elisewho. All photos courtesy of Elise Hu.

subscribe button

Christian believers beat drums during a protest opposing the homosexuality and same-sex marriage near the venue where thousands of supporters participating to celebrate the 16th Korea Queer Festival in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, June 28, 2015. The banners in foreground read: "Oppose homosexuality and same-sex marriage." (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Christian Groups Drum Up Protest Against Seoul’s LGBTQ Pride Parade


A drum line of anti-gay activists loudly played traditional Korean drums near Seoul Plaza on Sunday in an attempt to drown out the 16th Korea Queer Culture Festival (KQCF).

As thousands of LGBTQ supporters marched toward the reconstructed Gyeongbokgung Palace, non-affirming Christian groups protested Seoul’s annual gay pride parade, holding placards and shouting slogans like “Homosexuals rights are not human rights” behind rows of policemen. Other anti-gay protesters held cultural demonstrations, such as ballet and body worship performances.

“Our prayers will open the sky and the homosexuals will fall, we will be blessed with victory,” said Lee Young-hoon, head of the anti-LGBTQ organization Christian Council of Korea, Buzzfeed reported.

Despite boisterous protests from anti-gay demonstrators, festival attendees were having a blast inside the grassy Seoul Plaza. LGBT advocates sang and danced as local bands and dance teams performed on stage. Cardboard cutouts of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama welcomed visitors of the U.S. embassy booth for a photo opportunity. Several booths also sold LGBTQ souvenirs, including gay literature as well as rainbow-colored flags, pins and soft drinks.

According to the KQCF organizers, about 20,000 people attended the last day of the three-week-long festival—although, Seoul police estimates the number to be closer to 6,000.

Seoul’s annual LGBTQ festival had much to celebrate this year, as the Supreme Court of the United States legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in a historic 5-4 ruling last Friday. Festival attendees cheered as floats decorated with dancers and banners reading “marriage equality” and “solidarity under the rainbow” drove around city hall.

“What happened in the U.S. was incredible … I hope that I [sic] and my girlfriend will be able to celebrate the same here one day,” Suzy Lee, one of the festival participants, told Agence France-Presse. “But we know it will take many, many years here in the South.”

The European Union Representative Department and embassies from 16 countries—the U.S., the United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, Denmark, Germany, France, Belgium, Brazil, Spain, Argentina, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland and Israel—attended the KQCF opening ceremony on June 9, despite the MERS scare in South Korea.

“We see this as part of our policy on global human rights,” U.S. diplomat Anthony Tranchini told Voice of America. “The fact that we are here supporting a Korean festival which has been around for 16 years, with about a dozen other embassies—I think we all really just want to show that we are supportive of LGBT human rights here in Korea.”

kqcf opening ceremonyForeign embassies stand on stage at the KQCF festival (Photo via KQCF)

Ahead of this year’s KQCF, Seoul police stations banned the pride parade, citing conflicting permit applications. A Seoul court overturned the ban about two weeks before the parade’s scheduled date. Judge Ban Jeong-woo’s decision ruled in favor of the LGBTQ festival because the right to freedom of assembly must be upheld.

Still, some anti-gay protesters tried to disrupt this year’s pride parade by laying on the ground, a popular method Christian groups used at last year’s KQCF. However, no major violent clashes were reported by Korean media.

See Also


Marriage Equality Resonates Among Korean Americans

Gay Rights Activists in Korea Step Up to Support LGBTQ Youth

Korean Americans Oppose Gay Marriage More Than Any Asian Group: Survey 


Featured image courtesy of AP Photo/Lee Jin-man

subscribe button


Samsung Heir Apologizes for Not Containing MERS at Hospital



The Samsung heir apparent made a public apology on national television Tuesday for his company’s failure to stop the spread of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

Lee Jae-yong, 47, addressed the slow response after it was confirmed that a patient had MERS at Samsung Medical Center, a Seoul hospital run by the tech giant’s charity foundation.

“Our Samsung Medical Center was unable to stop the MERS infection and its spread, and caused too much suffering and concern to the public. I bow my head in apology,” Lee said in his address, according to the Associated Press.

The Samsung scion announced that the company plans to reform care and end the outbreak as quickly as possible.

The MERS outbreak has killed 29 people in South Korea since May. Among the 180 patients infected with the disease, AP reported that 85 were patients, relatives, staff or visitors at the Samsung Medical Center. The hospital stopped taking in new patients since last week, according to the Guardian.

Lee is expected to inherit one of South Korea’s largest conglomerates from his 73-year-old father Lee Kun-hee, who is currently being treated at Samsung Medical Center after suffering a heart attack last year.

The MERS outbreak began when a man traveled to the Middle East and became the first patient of MERS in South Korea.


Featured image via Yonhap 

subscribe button


Arnold Schwarzenegger and Emilia Clarke to Visit Seoul for ‘Terminator Genisys’

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

The Terminator and the Mother of Dragons are coming to Seoul.

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Emilia Clarke will be visiting South Korea later this month to promote Terminator Genisys, the fifth installment in the blockbuster sci-fi franchise.

Schwarzenegger will arrive in Seoul on June 30 for a three-day promotional tour, which will include a press conference. Meanwhile, Clarke will join her co-star on July 1 and attend the South Korean premiere of Terminator Genisys the following day.

Korean actor Lee Byung-hun should also be present during the film’s promotional activities, as he stars as the villainous cyborg T-1000.

Directed by Alan Taylor, Genisys serves as a sequel and reboot to the first four Terminator flicks. The film follows Sgt. Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) as he travels back in time to 1984 to save Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), mother to human resistance leader John Connor (Jason Clarke), and safeguard the future. However, when Reese arrives in the past, he finds it changed from the original timeline and meets an alternate version of Sarah Connor, who already knows about Skynet, Judgement Day and the Terminator sent back in time to kill her.

After Schwarzenegger starred as the titular character in the first three Terminator films, he declined appearing in the fourth installment, as he had assumed office of Governor of California at the time.

The Hollywood actor last visited Korea in 2013 for The Last Stand, an American action comedy helmed by South Korean director Kim Jee-woon.


Featured image via Paramount Pictures

subscribe button

Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 8.04.18 AM

South Korean Schools Reopen Despite Widespread MERS Fear


by the Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The death toll in South Korea’s MERS outbreak increased Tuesday even as schools reopened and people recovered from the virus.

Nineteen people have died in the largest outbreak of the disease outside the Middle East, with three more dying since late Monday, the Health Ministry said. More than 150 have been infected with Middle East respiratory syndrome and nearly 5,600 have been quarantined.

The government says the outbreak is slowing, but fear and misinformation are widespread. The virus is believed to be spread in respiratory droplets, such as by coughing, and infections have been occurring in close-contact situations, such as caring for a sick person.

Health workers are spraying disinfectant at karaoke rooms, on public transportation and in other businesses, and teachers are sprinkling salt on school grounds in a misplaced attempt to protect themselves as many schools reopen this week.

About 365 schools and kindergartens were closed as of Tuesday afternoon, compared to as many as 2,900 last week.

The discovery of new cases and a growing number of quarantine orders have critics questioning the control measures.

Officials have struggled to trace and identify people who had contact with MERS patients at a major hospital in southern Seoul. More than 70 people, including patients, medical staff and visitors, have been infected from the facility, which has temporarily stopped accepting new patients and postponed non-serious surgeries as part of its quarantine efforts.

MERS belongs to the family of coronaviruses that includes the common cold and SARS, and can cause fever, breathing problems, pneumonia and kidney failure. Most of the fatalities in South Korea have been people with existing medical conditions, such as respiratory problems or cancer.

The World Health Organization has downplayed the possibility of a pandemic, saying the virus is not spreading in the wider community and has not mutated to spread easily among humans.

The South Korean outbreak originated from a 68-year-old man who had traveled to the Middle East, where the illness has been centered, before being diagnosed as the country’s first MERS patient last month.


Featured image captured via Reuters Video

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

subscribe button


gay pride festival

Korean LGBTQ Festival Kicks Off Despite Protests and MERS

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

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.


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


Featured image via KQCF

subscribe button

Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 8.54.51 AM

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.”


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.

button_3 copy

visit korea panda

1,600 Pandas Arrive in South Korea

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

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:











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”


Photos via Visit Korea

button_3 copy