Tag Archives: south korea

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Women Activists Cross DMZ Between North and South Korea by Bus

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

International female peace activists crossed the heavily fortified border between North and South Korea on Sunday, calling for an end to the Korean War, according to the Associated Press.

The group of 30 women from 15 countries included pioneering American feminist Gloria Steinem and Nobel Peace laureates Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland and Leymah Gbowee of Liberia. Although the activists were denied an attempt to walk across the Demilitarized Zone, North Korea allowed a bus to transport the women from the North side of the DMZ to the South.

“We have accomplished what no one said can be done, which is to be a trip for peace, for reconciliation, for human rights and a trip to which both governments agreed,” Steinem told reporters after the group arrived in South Korea. “We were able to be citizen diplomats.”

Christine Ahn, co-organizer of WomenCrossDMZ, said the group initially wanted to march through the symbolic truce village of Panmujom, where the armistice was signed in 1953. Still, she called the crossing a success and a “historic event” despite government restrictions.

The activists were also able to speak at a series of women-related events and seminars in North Korea ahead of the rare crossing, according to the Washington Post,

In Pyongyang, the women marched, carrying banners and singing songs, until they reached the first checkpoint leading to the DMZ. They were allowed to march again after passing the final checkpoint on the southern side of the DMZ, where a large number of media outlets as well as several protesters greeted them.

Many conservative protestors, including North Korean defectors, chanted “Go back to North Korea!” and carried signs that accused the group of legitimizing Kim Jong-un’s regime, according to the New York Times.

Other activists have criticized the peace walk, saying that the female activists are overlooking the well-documented human rights abuses in North Korea.

“It is absolutely outrageous that they completely ignore the suffering of the North Korean people, especially North Korean women,” Suzanne Schlote, head of North Korea Freedom Coalition, told CNN. “If they truly cared, they would cross the China-North Korea border instead, which is actually more dangerous now than the DMZ.”

Joshua Stanton, who runs the blog One Free Korea, also criticized the group for sidestepping North Korea’s “war on women.”

In a recent blog post, he wrote, “Steinem has had to duck questions about the regime’s rape and murder of female prisoners, the endemic and unpunished rapes of North Korean women by its soldiers, and the infanticides and forced abortions this regime inflicts on North Korean refugee women and their babies.”

However, after the group landed in South Korea, Steinem told reporters that human rights issues were mentioned in a declaration released during a seminar with a North Korean women’s group.

Maguire, who is renowned for her contributions to the Northern Ireland peace movement, said the human rights situation in North Korea would likely improve once the two divided Koreas signed a full peace treaty.

“You can get to human rights when you can have a normal situation and not a country at war,” she said on Sunday. ”


Featured image via Tim Shorrock/Twitter

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Former Korean Air executive Cho Hyun-ah, center, is surrounded by reporters as she leaves the Seoul High Court in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, May 22, 2015. The upper court Friday sentenced Cho to 10 months in prison and then suspended the sentence for two years. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

South Korean Court Frees ‘Nut Rage’ Executive Heather Cho

Above photo: Former Korean Air executive Cho Hyun-ah, center, is surrounded by reporters as she leaves the Seoul High Court in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, May 22, 2015. The upper court Friday sentenced Cho to 10 months in prison and then suspended the sentence for two years. (Photo courtesy of AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

by YOUKYUNG LEE, AP Business Writer

SEOUL, South Korea — A South Korean court Friday suspended the prison term of the former Korean Air executive whose onboard “nut rage” tantrum delayed a flight last year, immediately ending her incarceration.

Cho Hyun-ah, also known as Heather Cho, is the daughter of the airline’s chairman. The Seoul High Court ruled on May 22 that she did not violate aviation security law when she ordered the chief flight attendant off a Dec. 5 flight, forcing it to return to the gate at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York.

The upper court sentenced Cho to 10 months in prison and then suspended the sentence for two years. It said she was guilty of assault. A lower court had earlier sentenced Cho to a year in prison. She has been locked up since her December arrest.

She achieved worldwide notoriety after an onboard tantrum triggered when a first class flight attendant served her macadamia nuts in a bag instead of on a dish. Cho, head of the airline’s cabin service at the time, had a heated, physical confrontation with members of the crew.

Swarmed by reporters at the court, she made no comment in front of the TV cameras, bowing her head and burying her face in her hands as the media pressed in and yelled for her to say something.

The incident was a lightning rod for anger in a country where the economy is dominated by family-run conglomerates known as chaebol that often act above the law.

“If she was released because she showed repentance, other criminals should be equally released,” said 19-year-old college student Kim Ryeong-hui. “I think the court went easy on her. I feel angry when people mistreat other people in lower ranks.”

The lower court had convicted Cho of forcing a flight to change its route, obstructing the flight’s captain in the performance of his duties, forcing a crew member off a plane and assaulting a crew member. It found her not guilty of interfering with a transport ministry investigation into the incident. Cho pleaded not guilty and prosecutors had called for three years in prison.

The aviation security law is meant to regulate highly dangerous acts such as hijacking. But the upper court said Friday that there wasn’t a big safety threat posed by Cho’s actions, and returning the plane that was taxiing did not constitute forcing a change in the plane’s route.

Kim Sang-hwan, head of the three judge upper court panel, said that even though Cho used violence against crew members, she should be given a second chance. The judge also cited her “internal change” since she began serving her prison term as a reason for lessening the sentence.

The upper court also took into consideration that Cho is the mother of 2-year-old twins and had never committed any offense before. She has resigned from her position at the airline.

“It appears that she will have to live under heavy criticism from society and stigma,” said Kim.

Recommended Reading


“Korean Air’s First Class Experience”

“Korean Air Executive Sentenced in ‘Nut Rage’ Case”

“‘Nut Rage’ Flight Attendant Sues Former Korean Air VP”



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

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Young South Koreans Finding That Degrees Don’t Translate to Jobs

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

Two-thirds of South Koreans aged 25-34 boast college degrees, the highest proportion among the 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), where the average is at 40 percent. But as in the case of America’s “over-educated baristas,” getting a degree doesn’t always guarantee the job they’re looking for.

According to recent numbers from Statistics Korea, the number of unemployed South Koreans in their 20s and 30s who have no previous job experience is the highest in more than 12 years. This does not include currently jobless individuals who have had previous experience. Overall unemployment for those between 15-29 also hit a 14-year high last year.

Permanent Jobs vs. Temporary Positions


South Korea’s labor market is divided between a limited number of permanent jobs, which have high security and benefits, and temporary positions that end after two years. The outlook isn’t good, though: In 2012, 24 percent of South Korean workers held temporary positions, double the OECD average. The Korea Employers Federation said 377 companies with more than 100 employees plan to reduce hiring by 3.6 percent this year, compared to the last, and graduates faced 33 to 1 odds of landing a job after conducting a survey of 377 companies nationwide.

Along with the alleged abuses and exploitation of interns and temporary workers, many graduates see themselves overqualified for these positions, and an increasing number of students are choosing to stay in school longer and retain their students status. A survey of 33 universities last year found that more than 15,000 students delayed graduation. That means young men have even less time to be in the labor force, as they are required to serve up to two years in the military.

Gender Wage Gap


Female college grads have it particularly tough. There are some encouraging signs, as more women are graduating with degrees and women in their 20s are outpacing male counterparts in the job market at the highest-ever recorded rate since surpassing men in 2012.

But only 1 in 5 graduates in science, technology, engineering or mathematics are women. In 2013, South Korea ranked dead last among OECD nations in employment of female grads at 60.1 percent. The overall workforce participation rate for women is only at 55.2 percent, compared to the U.S.’s 67.2 rate and the OECD average of 62.6 percent. South Korea also ranks last in the OECD in wage disparity, with a 39 percent gap in median wages between men and women.

Résumé Photos and Application Process


It doesn’t help either men or women that résumé requirements can also be incredibly strict. SBS News recently broadcasted a report on how many companies require applicants to include their photo, height, weight and even family backgrounds. Photos sometimes require hair and makeup to be done professionally, while the other categories scream potential discrimination based on age, gender and appearance.

Government efforts to make discriminatory requirements on résumés have reportedly tapered off, and companies largely ignored government recommendations to do so.

Protest Against Flexible Labor Market


South Korea’s government policies on how to remedy its youth unemployment rates, for the most part, missed their mark or haven’t been popular among that particular crowd. Last November, labor groups and students blasted proposed measures to make the labor market “more flexible” by easing rules and lay-offs and pay, saying that temporary workers were not nearly as protected as permanent workers.

Even though the South Korean government is pumping money into the rapidly growing startup industry, not everyone graduates with a degree in software engineering.

Cost of Higher Education


Perhaps the most daunting task is displacing the well-ingrained prestige behind acquiring a degree. The relentless focus on exams is well-known, and South Koreans spend an average of $7,652 per student across all grade levels, including college. While that’s lower than what Americans and other OECD nations spend on average, the amount represents 7.6 percent of South Korea’s GDP spent on education–the third-highest amount of GDP spent on education in the OECD behind only Iceland and Denmark.


Feature image via Wall Street Journal/Agence France-Press/Getty Images

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Hyun-jin Ryu Elects Shoulder Surgery, Most Likely Out for Season

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

Los Angeles Dodgers starting southpaw Hyun-jin Ryu has decided to undergo shoulder surgery on his injured pitching shoulder, which has kept him from playing at all this season. The team also officially announced this afternoon that Ryu will have an arthroscopic procedure tomorrow, performed by team surgeon Dr. Neal ElAttrache.

The latest MRI on Ryu’s shoulder did not show a torn labrum or apparent structural damage, according to ESPN. The surgery will be exploratory to identify what is causing the inflammation in the shoulder.

Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman confirmed that surgery was being discussed as Ryu undergoes further consultation with team physicians. Friedman said the team was also preparing for the likely possibly of losing Ryu for the rest of the year.

The 28-year-old lefty aborted his first rehab attempt in March when he felt tightness in the shoulder during a bullpen session, in which his pitches were well-below his average velocity. When he’s been healthy the last two years, Ryu has been excellent, with 344 innings pitched of 3.17 ERA, with 7.7 K/9 against 2.0 BB/9.

For the boys in blue, Ryu would be the second starting pitcher to be lost for the year to surgery: Brandon McCarthy underwent Tommy John surgery to repair his elbow earlier this year, and he isn’t expected to be back until midway through the 2016 season. The Dodgers will most likely be on the market for a starting pitcher to bolster the rotation. Most fans probably did not expect Carlos Frias and Mike Bolsinger to be mainstays when the season began, although both are pitching quite decently.

Ryu is currently in the third year of a six-year, $36 million contract with the Dodgers after being signed out of South Korea in 2012 for a $25.7 million posting fee. He’s owed $7 million annually from 2016-2018—just drops of water in a huge bucket for the Dodgers.



U.N. Raps South Korea Over HIV Testing of Expat Teachers

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

A United Nations committee recently called on South Korea to abolish its mandatory HIV/AIDS testing of foreign teachers, according to Yonhap News Agency.

Currently, the South Korean government requires all foreign English teachers to undergo a criminal background check and tests for illegal drug use as well as HIV/AIDS, while Korean nationals in equivalent jobs are spared from such scrutiny.

In 2009, Lisa Griffin, a New Zealand woman who taught English in South Korea, alleged that her teaching contract was not renewed after she refused to undergo a second HIV/AIDS test. Griffin, who had received a negative result on her first test, argued that the testing was “discriminatory and an affront to her dignity.”

Her employer, the Ulson Metropolitan Office of Education, told her that the mandatory HIV/AIDS tests were “viewed as a means to check the values and morality of foreign English teachers,” according to a statement released by the U.N. Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

On Wednesday, the Geneva-based committee urged Korean authorities to grant Griffin “adequate compensation for the moral and material damages she suffered.”

It also said the foreigner-only HIV/AIDS testing “does not appear to be justified on public health grounds or any other ground and is a breach of the right to work without distinction to race, color, national or ethnic origin.”

CERD strongly recommended South Korea to revise regulations and policies that perpetuate racial discrimination against foreign employees, giving the country 90 days to report back on the measures it has taken.


Featured image via Yonhap

Correction: This article has been updated to state that South Korea requires all foreign English teachers to be tested for HIV/AIDS. Previously the article stated that all foreign employees are required to undergo the testing. While Korean authorities have previously presented a bill to the National Assembly that calls for mandatory HIV/AIDS testing of all foreign employees back in 2010, there is currently no law that requires all foreigners with a work visa to undergo an HIV/AIDS test. KoreAm regrets the error.

FILE - Organizers of the effort called WomenCrossDMZ.org, including lead coordinator Christine Ahn, left, and  honorary co-chair Gloria Steinem, right, hold a United Nations news conference announcing plans for a rare and risky women's walk across the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea to call for reunification, in this March 11, 2015 file photo. Ahn said in an email Friday April 3, 2015 they have Pyongyang's cooperation and support.". (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

Q&A with Christine Ahn, Co-organizer of Women’s Walk for Peace Across DMZ

Pictured above: Christine Ahn, shown here with Gloria Steinem, at a United Nations news conference on March 11 announcing plans for a walk across the DMZ. (Photo courtesy of AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

by SUEVON LEE | @suevlee

Shortly after Christine Ahn, co-founder of Women De-Militarize the Zone and a former policy and research analyst with the Global Fund for Women, publicly announced plans for a Women’s Walk for Peace in Korea, KoreAm spoke with the organizer by phone to glean further details about the inspiration behind the planned walk.

The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

What are the goals of this walk across the DMZ?

Christine Ahn: To end the war with a peace treaty, to urge leaders of the two Koreas to immediately begin family reunification and to ensure that women are involved in all levels of the peace-building process.

What inspired the idea?

The idea started in 2009. I woke up in the middle of the night and was unable to go back to the sleep. [I began reading an article] about the flooding of the Imjin River which flows from North to South. [The floodwaters] would have been devastating to [North Koreans’] farmland. They allegedly lifted the floodgates without informing South Korea. Kim Jong-il and [then South Korean president] Lee Myung-bak were so angry and couldn’t pick up the phone and communicate. Six [South Koreans] died.

I went to sleep. I had a dream where I was wading in the river. I was situated in South Korea. It was before dawn, and at sunbreak, there was a glow of light flowing down the river and that light morphed into unification. It was beautiful and moving and powerful and yet I wanted to keep going up the river to see where the source of the light was coming from. When I came to the source, I was really moved and surprised: It was a circle of women and they were basically stirring a big, black kettle. Whatever they were stirring was poured into little pails that flowed down the river that became a light.

What have you observed regarding the differences between the two Koreas?

On the South Korean side, it felt so Disneyland-ish. In South Korea, I think in many ways they’ve moved on. Certainly there are millions of families that are still divided and those that yearn for Korean unification, but they’re in this high fast-paced society. When I was on the North side, it felt really sad to me for some reason. We’re obviously always going to get two sides of the story. For the North Korean people, there really is a deep longing for reunification.

How did Gloria Steinem come to be involved?

I’ve been lucky to be friends with her. She was the first person I called to see if international women are able to do this. She immediately replied and said yes, she has classmates who were drafted in the Korean War and that she will do whatever she can to help with the healing. She can open lots of doors, and she’s been just instrumental and dedicated.

What kind of response has your idea generated?

People are really excited, and I think there’s tremendous goodwill, from my family in South Korea to renowned human rights activists and academics. South Korea is abuzz with men and women, old and young, who are just so happy there is some kind of movement to break the impasse. The overwhelming, enthusiastic response has been so heartening.

Female activists plan to walk across the DMZ between the two Koreas on May 24, International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament.

Recommended Reading


“Women’s Group Gets North Korea’s Approval to Walk Across DMZ”

“Gloria Steinem Joins Female Activists in North Korea for DMZ Peace March”



5 Facts About Teachers’ Day in South Korea

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

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.



Prying Parents: Phone Monitoring Apps Flourish in South Korea

AP Technology Writer

SEOUL, South Korea — Lee Chang-june can be miles from his 12-year-old son but still know when he plays a smartphone game. With the press of an app he can see his son’s phone activity, disable apps or totally shut down the smartphone.

The app, “Smart Sheriff,” was funded by the South Korean government primarily to block access to pornography and other offensive content online. But its features go well beyond that.

Smart Sheriff and at least 14 other apps allow parents to monitor how long their kids use their smartphones, how many times they use apps and which websites they visit. Some send a child’s location data to parents and issue an alert when a child searches keywords such as “suicide,” ”pregnancy” and “bully” or receives messages with those words.

In South Korea, the apps have been downloaded at least 480,000 times.

The number will likely go up. Last month, South Korea’s Korea Communications Commission, which has sweeping powers covering the telecommunications industry, required telecoms companies and parents to ensure Smart Sheriff or one of the other monitoring apps is installed when anyone aged 18 years or under gets a new smartphone. The measure doesn’t apply to old smartphones but most schools sent out letters to parents encouraging them to install the software anyway.

Many countries have safety filtering tools for the Internet but it is rare to enforce them by law. Japan enacted a law in 2009 but unlike South Korea it allows parents to opt out.

South Korea’s new system is by no means impervious. For one, it can only be fully applied to Android phones not Apple Inc. phones. But cybersecurity experts and Internet advocacy groups argue the monitoring infringes too far on privacy and free speech. Some warn it will produce a generation inured to intrusive surveillance.

“It is the same as installing a surveillance camera in teenagers’ smartphones,” said Kim Kha Yeun, a general counsel at Open Net Korea, a nonprofit organization that is appealing the regulator’s ordinance to South Korea’sConstitutional Court. “We are going to raise people who are accustomed to surveillance.”

South Korea, one of the Asia’s richest nations, is crisscrossed by cheap fast Internet and smartphone use is ubiquitous. Many Koreans get their first smartphone when they are young. Eight out of 10 South Koreans aged 18 and below own a smartphone, according to government data. Some 72 percent of elementary school students owned a smartphone in 2013, a jump from 20 percent in 2011.

How technology is affecting the young has become a national obsession. The government and parent groups have pushed numerous initiatives to limit device and Internet use as well as prevent excessive gaming. Many parents welcome the ability to peer inside their children’s online world.

Lee, who worked in the online game industry for nearly a decade, said that having a control over his son’s smartphone has been positive and increased dialogue in the family. His son plays a mobile game about two hours on weekends. If he wants to play a mobile game outside those hours, he comes up to dad and talks about why.

“What is important is that parents and children talk to each other and try to build consensus. He is only in a sixth grade but he wants to have his privacy,” Lee said. “I told him: We are installing this and father will know which app you use,” he said. “I see it as positive in helping nurture his habit of self-control.”

Legal experts, however, say South Korea’s telecoms regulator has taken the sweeping step of legalizing the broad collection of personal, sensitive data that belongs to teenagers without any public consultation or consideration of the possible consequences.

“South Korea underestimated the chilling effect,” said Kang Jeong-Soo, director at Institute for the Digital Society.

Cyber security experts also warn that the apps could be misused and installed on phones without the owner’s knowledge.

“It could be an official spying app,” said Ryu Jong-myeong, CEO of SoTIS, a cyber security company.

To get around the regulations, some students say they will wait until they turn 19 to get a new phone.

“I’d rather not buy a phone,” said Paik Hyunsuk, 17. “It’s violation of students’ privacy and oppressing freedom.”

Cho Jaehyun, a senior year high school student, had to install a parental control app when he was in middle school. But he said he was lucky that his parents agreed to uninstall the app when he entered high school.

“We don’t always use the smartphone for something bad,” said Cho, 17. “Because I could use my phone freely without control, I got interested in developing iPhone games.”

Not all parents are on board either.

Park Choel-hee, father of a 10-year-old daughter, said South Korea resorts too much to regulation and makes “senseless” choices about what content is offensive.

“A few officials arbitrarily determine which websites are harmful and unilaterally shut them off. They rob the rights of Internet users. It is no different from the Great Fire Wall of China.”

Park, who gave his daughter his second phone so she didn’t have to release her personal information to mobile carriers, said he feels “uncomfortable” that his child is growing up in a society of prying eyes.

“Children will not have an ability to think for themselves,” he said.


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