Tag Archives: south korea


Prison Time Awaits Illegal Selfie Stick Sellers in SKorea

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han

If you’re thinking of selling selfie sticks in South Korea any time soon, beware. You may end up paying up to $27,000 in fine or face up to three years in prison (yes, prison) for selling unapproved selfie sticks, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Those who sell unapproved selfie sticks will face a maximum fine of $27,000 or will be sentenced for up to three years in jail, the South Korean government said on Friday. A selfie stick is a smartphone accessory which a user could slide his/her phone into the end of it. The equipment has gone viral over the last year or so as people are flocking to tourist destinations around the world, wielding their selfie sticks to find the perfect angle for a picture of him/herself. With most selfie sticks, pictures are taken with a Bluetooth remote on its grip.

South Korea’s science ministry said that devices containing Bluetooth functionality must be tested and obtain certification before such products become available for commercial distribution. The certification process was created to prevent devices that release excessive amounts of electromagnetic radiation, the ministry explained.

Although electromagnetic radiation doesn’t pose health-related threats to people, it can interfere with surrounding electronic devices, according to the ministry.

South Koreans are encouraged to report merchants who sell unapproved selfie sticks by calling a phone number added in the recently released statement by the ministry.

Selfie sticks originated from the extreme sports community, as sky-divers and base jumpers began using the accessory to take pictures of their active lifestyles. The trend has since made its way to average people with an incessant desire to taking higher quality photos of themselves.

Photo courtesy of Seeit.kr

Peter Hahn School

Chinese Authorities Detain Aid Worker Assisting NKoreans


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top photo courtesy of Hong Kong Economic Journal


SKorea Plans to Raise $500 Billion For Reunification

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han

South Korea’s top financial regulator said Tuesday that rebuilding North Korea’s moribund economy after an eventual reunification would cost about $500 billion, which the government says can be raised without increasing taxes, according to Yonhap.

Although South Korea’s Financial Services Commission (FSC) chairman Shin Je-yoon said that the figure of $500 billion is open for revision, it would be the estimate needed to stimulate North Korea’s depressed economy. FSC’s blueprint added that the estimated sum would be sufficient to increase North Korea’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita from last year’s $1,251 to $10,000 in 20 years. North Korea’s current GDP total of $31 billion is equivalent to South Korea’s 1971 GDP and just 2 percent of its GDP from last year.

FSC said that South Korea would also spend an additional $175 billion on North Korea’s infrastructural and industrial developments.

South Korea plans to raise half of the estimated fund from its public financial institutions, notably the Korea Development Bank and Korea Exim Bank, in a similar manner to what the Germany’s government-owned bank, the KfW, did for the German reunification in 1990.

These institutions will play a similar role to Germany’s government-owned bank, the KfW, which provided a bulk of the finance into the West and East Germany reunification in 1990.

The rest of South Korea’s estimated funds could be financed by commercial banks, tax revenues, development projects in North Korea and overseas development aid (ODA).

“In the initial stage of unification, the government will lead the North Korean development by using state funds and projects, and then the ODA and private investments can be utilized,” said Shin. “We have to consider many factors, including the economic gap between the two countries and macroeconomic variables before introducing a currency system to the North.”

Under current circumstances, discussions of Korean reunification’s costs are practically moot as serious talks between the two Koreas about merging have not taken place since the Korean War. The two countries remain technically at war as the Korean War ended in 1953 with an armistice and not a peace treaty.

President Park Geun-hye said in a speech last year that a reunification would be a daebak, which roughly translates to “bonanza” in English, as the South’s capital and technology would go hand in hand with the North’s human and natural resources. However, her comments were met with scathing criticisms from the North, which accused her of “pipe-dreaming.”

Featured image courtesy of Abihollow


Education Ministry Cancels Demotion of Seoul’s Elite Schools


The South Korean Education Ministry overturned a decision by the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education (SMOE) to strip six private high schools of their elite status, according to the Korea Herald.

Seoul’s education chief Cho Hi-yeon announced on Oct. 31 that the schools had failed to accept SMOE’s offer to forfeit their right to admit students based on test scores as a step towards “educational equality.”

The Education Ministry condemned the move, calling his decision an “abuse of power,” responding this week by citing a law that if “a head of an autonomous government body makes an order that is illegal or is against the public interest, the relevant minister can cancel or suspend it.”

This is reportedly the latest in a standoff between the ministry and the Seoul education office over the issue of autonomous private schools, which maintain their own curriculum and collect higher tuition fees than other schools. They will still be able to retain these privileges, among others.

Both sides have claimed to have final say on the matter, with SMOE vowing to take the issue to the Supreme Court.

The autonomous school system was first established under President Lee Myung-bak to encourage competition among schools. South Korea has about 50 autonomous schools nationwide, about half of them in Seoul. These “elite” schools have the ability to select students based on test scores and charging higher tuition fees instead of relying on government support. They’ve often been criticized for running curriculums focusing on college entrance exams and negatively influencing public education.

Photo courtesy of Yonhap

south korean office worker

SKorea’s Labor Ministry Under Fire for Sexist Career Advice

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

South Korea’s Labor Ministry has been blasted for advising women to tell potential employers that they have no problems with sexist jokes in the office and have absolutely no interest in getting married, reports the Korea Herald.

The sexist interview tips were posted on a government-run recruitment site and offered “ideal answers” to questions female job seekers may face in a job interview.


In response to a question about sexual harassment, women in South Korea were advised to say, “I wouldn’t mind casual jokes about sex and it is sometimes necessary to deal with [sexual harassment] by making a joke in return.”

The ministry also encouraged female job applicants to say, “I have no interest in getting married for awhile” even if they did have marriage plans because “it is common for female workers to quit their jobs after getting married.”

When asked about child bearing plans, women should respond: “Although I have a responsibility as a woman to raise a child, I am more than willing to continue working [after having a baby] if the company recognizes [my abilities].”

And of course, since women don’t make any meaningful contributions in the workplace, the ministry said women should promise to always “to do [their] very best even if it’s just making a single cup of coffee.”

The post sparked the fury of many NGOs, including the Korean National Council of Women, and was deleted by the ministry on Friday.

“It is sexist of any employer to only ask women about their plans on marriage and child bearing,” the Korean National Council of Women said in a joint statement. “And the government is in fact encouraging employers to discriminate against women.”

In 2013, South Korea ranked last among OECD countries for employing female college graduates.

Photo courtesy of AFP


San Diego Asian Film Festival ‘Remembers Queer Korea’


Gay South Korean filmmaker Kim Jho Gwang-soo and his partner, Kim Seung-hwan, made headlines in the media last year when they held a public wedding ceremony and attempted to register as a married couple in Seoul. It was hailed as a “trailblazing” act in a society where same-sex unions aren’t recognized, while traditional values and religious conservatism keep a tight lid on any LGBT discourse.

It was certainly a bold move in modern Korea, but it definitely wasn’t the first time LGBT issues came up in Korean history and popular culture, according to Todd Henry, an assistant professor and acting director of the Program in Transnational Korean Studies at the University of California, San Diego.

“As someone who is studying history, I just have to say to myself, maybe this is just a media play, that newspapers want publicity,” Henry told KoreAm. “But in terms of historical background and [record], why is it that South Korean society wants to forget that it has a tradition of same-sex people who try to dignify their relationships through matrimony?”

Researchers in South Korea and the United States, including Henry have traced LGBT and queer themes through Korean history, but they’ve never been able to gather in one place—until this past weekend. The Pacific Arts Movement, in partnership with UCSD, held a landmark retrospective on the subject this past weekend at the 15th Annual San Diego Asian Film Festival. Titled “Remembering Queer Korea,” the program featured screenings at the UCSD campus for six South Korean films, a video exhibition featuring an all-female musical troupe and a three-day academic symposium.

“The program represents our interest in giving context to Asian cinema and Asian cultures,” said Brian Hu, the artistic director for the festival, “that there is a history to the kind of independent production and self-represenation going on in Korea and elsewhere.

“When we think of seeing no limits, we also want to inspire audiences to see beyond the limits of the present, in addition to seeing beyond heteronormativity, especially as it has shaped discourses of the nation and globally in Korea,” Hu continued, speaking on the theme of the festival, “See No Limits.”

The six films, in particular, evoke the “remembering” among different genres. Dramas like The Pollen of Flowers (1972) and Sabangji (1988) were released into a repressive environment during the presidential dictatorship period. Other films, like the drama Broken Branches (1996), which dealt with the subject of homosexuality and family, were released at a time when South Korea was experiencing a wave of social changes.

Broken-Branches-2-770x433Broken Branches (Photo courtesy of San Diego Asian Film Festival)

Sabangji-2-770x433Sabangji (Photo courtesy of San Diego Asian Film Festival)

Henry was a graduate student in South Korea in the 1990s, and became involved in some of the movements taking hold. Human rights and student organizations, as well as film festivals, were leading the discourse, particularly in LGBT topics.

“I was very curious to know the deeper roots and origins of the kind of phenomena I was witnessing in the 1990s,” Henry said. “It occurred to me that it probably wasn’t the first time that a film dealing with LGBT issues was screening, nor was it probably the first time that two people of the same sex were seeking to get married or falling in love with one another.”

“Remembering Queer Korea” came from that curiosity and eventually took tangible form once Henry took up his position at UCSD in 2009. After Henry met the members of the Pacific Arts Movement (then called San Diego Asian Film Foundation), the project began taking shape.

“The idea was that filmmakers were doing a lot of the same kind of work that academic historians were: doing interviews, writing their own narratives of modern Korea,” said Hu, now in his fourth year with the festival. “Meanwhile, there are queer images from the 1970s and ‘90s in Korean cinema that serve as an archive of a similar counter-history. So we put together a slate of films that allow history, curiosity, cinema and memory to speak to each other in creative and provocative ways.”

On the academic side, Henry said there was a “scattered discourse” of “scattered people” working on LGBT topics in South Korea, which is why the symposium over the weekend was so special. Nearly a dozen researchers from South Korea and the U.S. led a three-day discussion on LGBT themes in modern Korean history, from the early 20th century and into the present.

Henry said the goal is to publish a book with the other researchers that would challenge what people may think about same-sex marriage in South Korea. The book would also aim to provide an overview of how queerness has appeared in modern Korean history and how we might rethink that history from this new perspective.

“In Korea [same-sex marriage] is seen as something relatively new,” he explained, “as in it just happened in the past 10-15 years, or it’s simply an import from the United States or Europe–that is to say, foreign and not indigenous to Korea.

“My work aims to debunk that national myth by showing that throughout the post-1945 period, discussion and debate about women who, although not officially and legally marrying one another, were nonetheless unofficially and symbolically marrying one another was a very frequent and important part of South Korea’s low-brow popular culture.”

Yeosung gukgeuk, a traditional form of all-female musical theater, was also popular in Korean pop culture during the 1950s. It’s the subject of artist siren eun young jung’s project “(Off)Stage / Masterclass,” her latest exhibition in exploring gender roles in traditional Korean performances. Siren spent years studying the possibility of yeosung gukgeuk translating to the modern feminist perspective and through the subversiveness of gender politics, according to Blouin Art Info.

The documentary The Girl Princes (2012), which also screened at the festival, chronicles the short-lived rise and brisk fall of yeosung gukgeuk and follows many of the former performers today as they reminisced on their careers and legacies. During their heyday, Hu writes, the stars were idolized by fans to the point of even stalking and suicide. The women were able to explore a much broader range of emotions and experiences than what was socially acceptable in the 1950s as they formed strong sisterhoods, while some even found love.

Girl Princes 2
The Girl Princes (Photo courtesy of Indie Plus)

Girl Princes 3

Girl Princes 1

“Art brings another medium through which we try to remember the past and which has resonance in the present,” Henry said. “It’s interesting to me that in contemporary Korea, you have a female director [Kim Hye-jung] who makes Girl Princes, [and] you have siren’s art piece, which is also about the same topic. … In Korea, you have various individuals who are also writing academic papers about the same all-female theatrical group.

“I think what’s really changed in the present is that since the 1990s, the public discourse is not only dominated by outsiders who are gazing at queer things, or using them for their own exploitive or sexploitive purposes. Instead, filmmakers, authors, and speakers who represent a queer way of life, or certain kinds of queer identity have become increasingly active in representing their own interests, and on their own terms.”

Yellow ribbons dedicated to the missing and dead passengers onboard the capsized Sewol ferry are seen at a port where many family members wait for news from the search and rescue team, as a Coast Guard ship passes behind on its way to the rescue, in Jindo

SKorea Launches Agency to Replace Coast Guard

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han

South Korea will launch a new government agency this week to replace the disbanded coast guard as part of President Park Geun-hye’s plans to reform the country’s emergency and safety management in response to the ferry disaster that killed 304 people in April.

In May, President Park Geun-hye announced plans to scrap South Korea’s coast guard due to its failure to carry out proper rescue operations when hundreds of high school students on a field trip were trapped inside a capsized ferry. The new government agency, called the National Safety Agency, will have more than 10,000 staff. The agency will be equipped with fire and emergency response teams, according to the South Korean government’s announcement on Tuesday.

Lee Joon-seok, the captain of the ferry Sewol, and 14 other surviving members have been convicted of charges ranging from homicide to negligence. Lee, 68, was sentenced to 36 years in prison.

Park’s opponents criticized her sudden decision to disband the coast guard, saying that she is merely attempting to divert criticism from her own regime by directing the responsibility at the coast guard. Some accused the Park’s regime of failing to monitor the Korea Shipping Association, a lobby group that approved the safety of the Sewol ferry, even though it was overloaded with cargo that was poorly secured.

Founded in 1953, the South Korean coast guard has been responsible for preventing Chinese fishing vessels from intruding the South Korean part of the maritime boundary. Some are also concerned that disbanding the coast guard could potentially increase drug smuggling from China and Southeast Asian countries due to weakened coastal protection.

Photo courtesy of Reuters

Pikachu Parade via Segye

Pikachu Parade in Seoul Draws Mobs


Hundreds of South Koreans flocked to Seoul’s Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) this past weekend to catch a Pikachu, or at least a snapshot of one.

The Pikachu parade, which was a part of a two-day Pokemon Champions Day, celebrated the first Korean pro-gamer to win the Pokemon Video Game World Championships. While a similar event was held in Yokohama, Japan back in August, it didn’t attract a mob of people waiting to pounce on 10 adorable Pikachu mascots like Seoul’s parade did.

According to the Korea Times, the crowd turnout at the plaza was so huge that it prompted safety concerns, which led to two of the four parades to being cancelled.

“The police were worried about the crowd and how it could have led to a possible stampede,” said an event organizer. “So we decided to hold 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. parades only, and cancelled the 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. shows.”

Here are some photos from the event:


e3npadr5n2cwsch6ctdq(Photo courtesy of Yonhap)

Selfie sticks are a must when playing Pokemon snap.

283897-pikachu mob
(Photo courtesy of Destructoid)

(Photo courtesy of furymanura)

(Photo courtesy of furymanura)

Below is a short clip of Yokohama’s Pikachu parade. Be amazed by the adorable synchronization.

Featured photo courtesy of SEGYE