Tag Archives: south korea

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South Korea Pledges $1 Million to Nepal Earthquake Relief Efforts

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

South Korea has pledged $1 million in aid to Nepal after the country was struck with a magnitude 7.8 earthquake on Saturday morning, reports Yonhap News Agency.

More than 4,000 people were killed and at least 7,180 were injured in the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake, which struck near the country’s capital city of Kathmandu, according to the Associated Press. Tens of thousands are estimated to be left homeless.

Multiple aftershocks, including one registered at magnitude 6.7, crippled Nepal’s transportation network and caused sporadic power outages nationwide, making it difficult for relief teams to search for survivors under the rubble and deliver food, fuel, blankets and medical supplies. Conditions are reportedly far worse in mountain villages, where some roads and trails have become blocked by landslides.

“There are people who are not getting food and shleter. I’ve had reports of villages where 70 percent of the houses have been destroyed,” Udav Prashad Timalsina, the top official for the remote region of Gorkha, told the Associated Press.

The South Korean embassy in Kathmandu has already established a hotline for people to use to contact the mission as well as a help desk at the Kathmandu airport to assist Korean nationals wishing to leave the country by plane. According to Yonhap, about 650 South Koreans are living in Nepal and some 800 to 1,000 are believed to be visiting the country.

“The embassy has been bombarded by phone calls from South Korea asking the staff to contact relatives living or traveling in the country,” said Ambassador Choi Yong-jin.

PYH2015042707690034100_P2South Korean Red Cross prepare to send supplies to Nepal. (Photo via Yonhap)

On Sunday, the Korean Red Cross said it will give Nepal $10,000 in relief funds and provide thousands of blankets and emergency kits. It is also preparing to send a team of medical workers to the quake-hit country.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s foreign ministry announced on Monday that it will deploy a 40-member disaster relief squad in addition to pledging $1 million in humanitarian aid to Nepal.

Other Asian countries that have sent rescue workers, medical teams and other contributions to Nepal include China, India, Singapore, Malaysia and even the tiny Himalayan country of Bhutan. Taiwan has also offered to send a 20-man rescue team, but Nepal turned down the assistance, despite the island’s extensive experience in responding to natural disasters.

Taiwanese Vice Foreign Minister Andrew Kao said Taiwan will still send an advanced team to Nepal in case of medical assistance. Taiwan has also pledged $300,000 in aid and its Red Cross has already started a fundraising campaign to raise $1 million for Nepal’s post-disaster reconstruction.

This is Nepal’s most devastating earthquake since 1934, when the nation was struck by a magnitutde-8.0 quake that all but destroyed the cities of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan.

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Featured image of Abir Abdullah/European Pressphoto Agency

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[VIDEO] Anthony Bourdain Hits South Korea in ‘Parts Unknown’

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

The fifth season of CNN’s travel show Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown premiered Sunday night, opening the episode with a scene of Bourdain nursing a bottle of soju alone at a pochangmacha, or a street food vendor.

“So, we begin at the end. After a wild week in Seoul, there was, I believe, something called ‘soju’ involved,” Bourdain says, retracing the previous evening’s activities as the entire episode plays in reverse, Memento-style. “Like returning a dog returning to its own vomit, I keep flashing back to—what was it, last night? The night before?”

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During his epic weeklong trip to South Korea, Bourdain eats a couple of adventurous dishes, including beondegi (silkworm larva) and sannakji (live octopus), as well as some all-time favorites like Korean-style fried chicken, barbecue and budaejjigae (army base stew). Needless to say, endless glasses of soju and beer were consumed.

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In the episode, the host also partakes in mukbang (eating live-streams), sings karaoke with a group of salarymen and plays an online game in a PC bang.

“PC bang sounds like a male porn star, I know,” Bourdain says, as his Red Riding Hood avatar gets slaughtered during an online gameplay. “But this one has a smoking lounge and a well-stocked snack bar.”

As for what he believes defines Korean culture, the host tells the viewers that it is “the drive to succeed–a churning engine fueled by decades of han, a remarkable ability and a remarkable willingness to anticipate the future.”

You can watch the full episode below:

To learn how to make budaejjigae, watch Bourdain cook the dish for Anderson Cooper below:

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All images courtesy of CNN

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McDonald’s Korea Opens Big Mac Jingle Contest, Thousands of Koreans Compete

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

If you think you love McDonalds, just wait until you see what these South Koreans do to show their love for Big Macs.

Since 2012, McDonald’s Korea has annually held a Big Mac Song Competition, where thousands of South Koreans submit YouTube videos of themselves performing the “Big Mac Song” for a chance to be featured in a TV commercial.

Yes, there is a “Big Mac Song,” and it is so popular in South Korea that some Koreans could probably belt it out better than the national anthem. The song originated in the United States back in 1974, and it went something like this:

“Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame bun!”

It’s pretty catchy, right? The jingle was localized in different languages, so customers from all over the world could sing what ingredients make up McDonald’s signature burger.

In 2012, McDonald’s Korea held its first-ever Big Mac Song Competition in hopes of increasing brand awareness. The campaign was a phenomenal success, with a total of 13,000 video submissions. The following year, the fast food chain received about 40,000 entries. Here’s one of the winning entries from last year:

The Big Mac Song Competition recently kicked off its third season, and thousands of Korean fans of all ages have submitted creative renditions of the popular jingle. Some are cinematic and injected with a bit of storytelling. Some showcase incredible vocal or dance talents, while others are beyond bizarre.

Below are some of our favorite entries. You can watch all of this year’s entries on the official Big Mac Song Competition website.

Bikini-clad, synchronized male dancers. That’s all we have to say.

You got served–a “Big Mac Song,” that is.

This song also doubles as a good tourism commercial for Seoul.

Really smooth rendition of the “Big Mac Song.” Maybe after this contest, these guys should compete in the next season of K-pop Star.

These beauties keep Big Mac traditional and classy.

Warning: Do not watch if you’re afraid of killer clowns!

Adorable kids dressed in matching outfits? Give them the prize already!

Would you compete in the Big Mac Song Competition? If so, what kind of video would you make? Let us know in the comments below.

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H/T to Rocket News 24

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Lee Wan Koo

South Korea’s Prime Minister Offers to Resign Amid Bribery Scandal

Pictured above: South Korean Prime Minister Lee Wan Koo arrives at the government complex in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo by Chun Soo-young/Yonhap via AP)

by HYUNG-JIM KIM, Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea’s prime minister has offered to resign amid a bribery scandal just two months after he took up the country’s No. 2 post, officials said Tuesday, in the latest political crisis to hit President Park Geun-hye.

Lee Wan-koo has been at the center of a corruption scandal that flared after a businessman killed himself earlier this month, leaving a memo listing the names of eight high-profile figures he claimed to have bribed. Most of the eight men, including Lee, are considered as close associates of Park.

Businessman Sung Wan-jong told a local daily before his death he gave 30 million won ($27,390) to Lee in 2013.

Lee has denied the allegation but he has seen growing calls to resign after South Korea’s media have reported alleged evidence that indicates his ties with Sung. Lee’s office said Tuesday he conveyed his resignation offer Monday to President Park, who was in Peru on a four-nation trip.

Park described Lee’s resignation offer as “very regrettable” and said she “felt the prime minister’s agony,” according to a statement posted on the website of the presidential Blue House.

Park also called for a thorough investigation into the scandal, the statement said.

Chun Hye-ran, a presidential spokeswoman in Seoul, said she has not been informed whether Park would accept the resignation offer.

The latest scandal comes as Park struggles to deal with criticism over her government’s handling of last year’s ferry disaster that killed more than 300 people. Violence broke out at a Seoul rally Saturday led by relatives of the ferry victims and their supporters, leaving dozens of people injured. Park has also faced criticism over what analysts say is her poor communication with the public and lack of transparency on personnel appointments. Some of her previous prime minister and Cabinet member picks have had to withdraw from the nomination process after allegations about their ethical lapses and problematic past behavior emerged.

Lee’s alleged involvement in the scandal came as a surprise as he announced a government’s plan in March to fight corruption in what critics say was an attempt to target associates of former President Lee Myung-bak, Park’s immediate predecessor and chief rival.

Sung, who was investigated after Lee’s anti-corruption campaign announcement, had complained about being betrayed by Lee and victimized, according to South Korean media.

South Korea’s executive power is concentrated in the president but the prime minister leads the country if the president becomes incapacitated.

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

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Columbia Grad Student Creates K-pop Boy Band ‘EXP’ for Thesis Project

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

When fans of K-pop boy group EXO recently heard about a non-Korean boy band debuting in Korea as “EXP,” they weren’t having it. Especially when they found out that this EXP group would be using the tagline “EXP Planet,” just one letter off from EXO’s “EXO Planet.”

The group was no joke. EXP’s Instagram claimed a week ago that the “first and only NYC-born K-pop band” would be dropping their new single, “LUV/WRONG,” on iTunes very soon. The boy band also announced that it would make its debut at the Columbia University MFA Thesis Show in NYC on April 26. Wait, what?

As it turns out, EXP is the product of a thesis project by a Columbia graduate student, Bora Kim, an interdisciplinary artist and sociologist from Seoul. Kim began the project, titled “I’m Making a Boy Band” (IMMABB), in October 2014 as an “ongoing collective experience, in-depth research, experimentation, filmmaking as well as business endeavor.”

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The ideas had already been running through her mind since the success of PSY’s “Gangnam Style” back in 2012. Kim said she was interested in researching how K-pop had finally “made it” in the Western world.

“The Korean pop industry has always appropriated its concepts from the West, and also the West through Japan, until not, and the reverse was a shock for the Korean public,” Kim explains in an interview with Columbia University. “‘Idol Groups’ became national heroes and K-pop became part of a proud national identity. But there is a double standard at play here. … K-pop had been looked down upon until outsiders started to consume it and its related products as well.”

Kim found that K-pop exports were directly tied to an increase in profit for Korean IT products, such as mobile phones–in fact, she says the biggest beneficiaries of the Korean Wave are companies like Samsung and LG.

But why make a boy band?

“I was interested in K-pop and idol groups on this level initially as I was thinking about cultural flow, or the relationship of dominant culture and peripheral culture, and how that is interwoven with one’s identity or one’s national identity,” Kim says. “I wanted to see what would happen if I made American boys into K-pop performers, by teaching them how to sing in Korean and act like Korean boys, and complicate this flow/appropriation even more.”

“Complicating the flow” also meant exploring how masculinity is portrayed in boy groups.

“These boys are tailored to attract straight young females, originally,” Kim says. “but the presentation of their sexuality is very complicated. … For example, a young group of pretty boys with great skin start rapping in a hip-hop music video while wearing a lot of make-up. What does this mean? Who is the target audience? It is totally gender-bending and experimental, but, at the same time, it is very typical, mainstream K-pop.

“And the acceptance of this strangeness (in the eyes of Western audiences) started to happen when Korean economic prosperity reached a point where it was enough for the entertainment industry to produce high-quality pop culture products,” she adds. “Cultural barriers or mistranslation are overcome by the shiny framing/packaging of K-pop.”

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Kim’s partners, Karin Kuroda and Samantha Shao, each brought their own expertise and perspectives to the project. Kuroda’s studies focused primarily on art criticism, photography, sculpture and fashion, while Shao studied arts administration and cultural theory at Maastricht University, Netherlands.

“The ‘I’m Making a Boy Band’ project aims to examine critical aspects of pop/business culture through the lens of an artist,” explains Kuroda, who first befriended Kim at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “By asking oneself what it means to assimilate or twist the rudimentary formula in K-pop ‘idol’ culture, this project highlights social issues on a global and personal level.”

Shao and Kim discussed the differences between Asian pop culture–particularly Taiwanese and Korean–with American pop culture, as well as the connection between popular culture and fine arts.

“By changing the working process (of making ‘art’), we intend to re-think and re-define what it means to communicate with the art world and its audience,” Shao says. “Since the main characters of this work are people–not only band members, but also collaborators–we try to challenge ourselves by giving up authorship from time to time.”

Shao adds that she believes IMMABB focuses more on communicating with the audience throughout the process rather than the outcome of the band. The project “welcomes interactions, encourages questions and provokes confrontations.”

You can read more of Bora Kim’s interview with the Columbia University School of the Arts here. You can also follow EXP’s exploits at their Instagram, exp_theband.

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All images via Columbia University School of the Arts

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

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

South Koreans are becoming more open-minded and adopting increasingly favorable attitudes regarding LGBT rights and issues, according to a recent study by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

The South Korea-based think tank conducted five annual surveys of South Koreans from 2010-2014, noting that the trend was most noticeable among respondents in their 20s. In 2010, 26.7 percent said they were open-minded about homosexuality. By 2014, the figure nearly doubled to 47.4 percent.

The numbers also doubled for South Koreans in their 20s and 30s who supported the legalization of same-sex marriage, going from 30.5 percent and 20.7 percent respectively in 2010 to 60.2 percent and 40.4 percent in 2014.

But while more South Koreans are indeed changing their attitudes towards LGBT issues and same-sex marriage, they still represented a minority. The overall numbers are a bit more tempered: Respondents who had no reservations of homosexuality increased from 15.8 percent in 2010 to 23.7 percent in 2014, while those who supported legalizing same-sex marriage went from 16.9 percent in 2010 to 28.5 percent in 2014.

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The numbers among South Koreans in their 50s and 60s remained relatively unchanged in the last five years. Among religious respondents, 70.6 percent of Protestants had reservations about LGBT issues, compared to 41.9 percent of Catholics.

Along political lines, progressives have a firmer stance on LGBT issues than moderates or conservatives. The majority of progressives supported LGBT rights and were quite open-minded about homosexuality: 83.6 percent said they would accept or at least make an effort to accept LGBT family members, compared to 60.9 percent of conservatives who answered the same.

When it came to actual political discussion, however, the Asan Institute projected that LGBT topics were still likely to be overshadowed by economic and national security concerns. Politicians, therefore, are unlikely to take up an active stance, especially when there are no voting blocs to pressure them. LGBT people in South Korea aren’t clustered and typically hide their identities, the study noted.

South Korea has supported international laws and norms, most recently joining an effort last year with the United Nations Officer of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to adopt international human rights standards to protect LGBT individuals from torture, discrimination and violence. When it comes to domestic politics, however, LGBT topics are a “major deal breaker.”

A 2007 anti-discrimination bill reinforcing basic human rights in South Korea ran into staunch conservative opposition due to sexual minorities being named as one of the principal beneficiaries. The bill was reintroduced in 2010 and again in 2013, but the National Assembly voted to repeal the legislation the last time. In October 2014, a bipartisan human rights education bill for government employees also met opposition from Christian and conservative groups who argued that the bill promoted homosexuality. The bill was repealed a month later.

LGBT issues perhaps garnered the most national attention in South Korea last year, when Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, a former human rights lawyer, said in an interview with the San Francisco Examiner that he “personally agree[d] with the rights of homosexuals” and hoped that Korea would be the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage.

His comments drew heavy controversy after South Korean media picked up on them, and conservative groups criticized the mayor of supporting homosexuality and only doing so to gain political favor. Park backtracked on his comments and one of his election pledges, the Seoul City Charter of Human Rights. The charter had included a clause that prohibited discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation and identity.

The Asan Institute noted that Mayor Park was the first prominent politician to bring LGBT issues to the forefront as a serious political and social issue. Although his backtracking may not serve as much confidence for future politicians to follow suit, the Asan Institute said LGBT activists can take over the conversation by “framing the issue within the universal context of anti-discrimination and human dignity” rather than “seeking privileges.” 

Park reportedly said something similar to the Examiner: “Protestant churches are very powerful in Korea [so] it isn’t easy for politicians [to endorse same-sex marriage]. It’s in the hands of activists to expand the universal concept of human rights to include homosexuals. Once they persuade the people, the politicians will follow. It’s in process now.”

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Recommended Reading: 

Gay Rights Activists in Korea Step Up to Support LGBTQ Youth

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‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ Stars Assemble for Press Conference

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

Over the weekend, the director and cast of Avengers: Age of Ultron assembled for a press conference at Disney’s Main Theatre to discuss the highly anticipated blockbuster ahead of its world premiere in Los Angeles.

After the first installment of The Avengers grossed more than $1.5 billion worldwide, $50 million of which came from South Korea, Marvel filmmakers felt it was only right for the sequel to be filmed in different countries around the world.

“We’ve always considered the Avengers to be sort of the world’s heroes,” Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios and producer of Age of Ultron, said in a statement. “We wanted to send the Avengers to the far reaches of the globe so it’s legitimately a globe-trotting adventure.”

“South Korea is the perfect location for a movie of this magnitude because it features cutting-edge technology, beautiful landscapes and spectacular architecture,” he added.

On March 2014, Joss Whedon flew his crew to Seoul to shoot some of the sequel’s most climactic scenes. Korean fans spotted Captain America on the Mapo Bridge by the Han River and Black Widow zipping through the streets of the Sangam-dong district on her motorcycle. Of course, Scarlett Johansson, who portrays Black Widow, left the driving to her stunt double since she was pregnant during production.

“I don’t think you’re allowed to ride a motorcycle when you’re that pregnant,” Scarlett Johansson joked at the press conference. “I embarrassingly rode some sort of mechanical bull type of motorcycle, which goes nowhere and doesn’t look cool at all.”

To capture the epic action sequences in Seoul, producers enlisted the expertise of brothers Menstru Pa, the Korean National Champion in drone flying, and Park Min Keu, the Korean National Champion in remote car racing, to operate cameras attached to remote control drones and cars. Other filming locations included London, New York City, South Africa’s Johannesburg and the Aosta Valley in Italy.

While the stars of The Avengerincluding Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo and Jeremy Renner—returned to don their superhero costumes for the second installment, there are a few new additions to the cast. Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson have joined the fray as Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, respectively. James Spader also lent his booming voice for the villainous robot Ultron—who, by the way, does a terrifying rendition of Pinocchio “I’ve Got No Strings.”

Casting-08.03.14.Claudia Kim poses beside Marvel merchandise. (Photo via Claudia Kim’s Twitter)

South Korean actress Kim Soohyun, also known as Claudia Kim, is featured in a substantial supporting role in the film. She portrays Dr. Helen Cho, a world-renowned geneticist whose research and technology help keep the Avengers alive.

“There’s like 47 of these people,” Whedon said dryly, gesturing at the long line of cast members beside him. “I really didn’t think that through and I regret very much doing this at all.”

When asked what drew him to making an Avengers sequel, the writer-director replied that it was the “little moments” and emotional exchanges between the superheroes. He added that one of the greatest challenges in making the blockbuster sequel was balancing the multiple character arcs.

“It’s just making sure that everyone’s got their moment and everyone’s got their through-line and that it’s connected,” Whedon said. “At some point during the editing process, I could not have told you who they were, who I was, or what movie I was making, but I think it came together. It’s all about making these guys look good, which takes a long time.”

Feige agreed with the director, saying that the sequel had “crushingly overwhelming expectations.” However, the producer expressed pride in how the franchise pushed boundaries.

“It’s incredible. You look down the line and the table keeps getting bigger and bigger. It’s the greatest ensemble ever assembled in cinematic history,” he said.

For the first quarter of the press conference, Whedon and Feige answered reporters’ questions about the creative process. When Robert Downey Jr. was finally asked a question, he stood up and unleashed his Tony Stark persona.

“I must be mellowing with age, but I want to say this very clearly. The next time I’m not asked the first question, I will f—ing walk out,” the actor said, making the room to erupt in laughter.

Downey, along with his co-stars Evans and Ruffalo, will be heading to South Korea on April 16 to promote the film. In 2013, the actor made South Korea his first stop during his Iron Man 3 tour and received a very warm welcome at the Incheon International Airport from Korean fans.


Perhaps, Downey will have better luck getting asked the first question at the Korean press conference. Avengers: Age of Ultron premieres in South Korea on April 23. Meanwhile, the blockbuster is slated to release worldwide on May 1.

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The First Anniversary of the Sewol Ferry Sinking

by COURTNEY LEE
courtney@iamkoream.com

Today (April 16), South Koreans mark the one-year anniversary of the Sewol ferry sinking, which killed more than 300 passengers–a majority of them high school students. In addition to our Q&A with two Sewol mothers, KoreAm has compiled a list of additional reading material on the lasting impact of the April 16 maritime tragedy.

“Bedrooms of the remembered” – BBC

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This BBC piece shows haunting photos of Sewol victims’ families standing in the untouched bedrooms of the students who were on the ferry. Accompanying each photo are words from the family members. The images were taken by photographer Kim Hong-Ji, who states: “They stood calmly in front of my camera but I felt it was like a protest combined with deep sorrow, calling for their children not to be forgotten.”

“Legacy of a South Korean Ferry Sinking” – The New York Times

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With an interactive timeline providing details over the span of a year, starting from the moment of the ferry’s departure, the New York Times takes a thorough and comprehensive look at the troubling legality issues behind the incident. “In an attempt to address such corruption in the shipping industry, the government revised laws in recent months to stipulate harsher financial penalties and longer prison terms for ferry crews and companies that violate safety rules,” the NYT writes. “Dozens of regulators, crew members, ship inspectors and officials with ferry and loading companies have been convicted or face trial for their roles in the Sewol disaster.”

“Keeping records of Sewol sinking” – The Korea Herald

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This Korea Herald article focuses on “416 Memory Storage,” an archival project for the Sewol ferry disaster that started as a volunteer movement to keep record of the tragedy.

The photo of one of the student’s rooms “is one of 54 heartbreaking pictures of rooms that used to belong to student victims of the ferry disaster, currently on display at an exhibition in Ansan. It is also the first of a series of exhibitions and publications featuring records of the Sewol ferry sinking, its aftermath and impact on Korean society,” the Herald writes.

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Featured image by Kim Hong-ji/Reuters

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