South Koreans frustrated over the government’s handling of the MERS virus outbreak have taken matters into their own hands and have been developing tools to help share accurate information with one another, according to Korea Bizwire.
A popular website called MERS Map allows users to browse a map of the country to view and share information about which hospitals have treated, diagnosed and isolated individuals with the MERS virus. MERS Map accepts reports from the general public—these individuals must be logged in with their Facebook profile, and they must provide clear evidence from media reports. Other netizens can flag rumors, and if more than five individuals do so, the piece of information is deleted from the site.
There are talks of developing MERS Map into an app, while other similar maps have also made their rounds on social networks. For those seeking information on the virus itself, a medical industry labor union released a web page detailing past and current MERS virus outbreaks with links to additional information.
Government officials said they would be stepping up their response on Friday, following the death of the fourth victim. Currently, 41 people have been infected, and more than 1,600 people have been placed under quarantine. Precautionary masks are commonplace as more than 1,000 schools and colleges have closed.
South Koreans have largely been skeptical of reassurances from public officials, and they have blasted the government for their lack of transparency and what they saw as an inadequate response. The health ministry drew criticism for taking a while to release the name of the hospital where the first person diagnosed with MERS was treated.
It doesn’t help that public officials are going back and forth. Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon criticized the government for not reporting the first MERS diagnosis of a doctor who was believed to have attended a conference with nearly 1,500 people while infectious. The mayor told reporters on Friday that the city would be “embarking on a war against MERS” and take “swift and stern measures.”
Health Minister Moon Hyung-pyo apologized for causing public anxiety but shot back at Park, accusing him and other Seoul officials of giving out incorrect information that he said would increase public alarm.
Leading South Korean online retail company Coupang announced on Wednesday that it had secured $1 billion from Softbank, a Japanese Internet company, according to Forbes.
The Softbank after Cupang landed a $100 million investment from Sequoia last May and $300 million from BlackRock Private Equity Partners in November. The deal also makes Coupang one of just a few tech companies, including Uber, Facebook and Alibaba, to raise at least $1 billion from one investment. In all, Coupang has raised a total of $1.5 billion, making it the third-most well-financed startup in the world, behind Uber and Indian e-commerce company Flipkart. The investment is also Softbank’s largest of all time, and it is expected to place Coupang’s value at $5 billion.
Coupang said in a statement that the investment will allow the them to double its number of warehouses to 16 and hire 800 more deliverymen—all to help accelerate plans to achieve one-day delivery within South Korea. Currently, only Seoul-based customers can receive their items on the same day if their order is placed before noon.
Coupang’s founder and CEO Bom Kim dropped out of Harvard Business School in 2010 to start the e-commerce site, which initially began as a daily discounts website similar to Groupon. Since then, Coupang has become the South Korean version of Amazon.com as the dominant domestic online retailer. As smartphone usage continues to grow in South Korea, more Koreans are turning to online shopping to purchase all sorts of products, including clothing, cosmetics, flight tickets and diapers. Forbes estimates Coupang is on track to sell $3 billion-worth of goods this year, while the company’s estimates are a bit higher.
Where it differs from Amazon, however, is its focus on vertical integration. Amazon and most other e-commerce sites in Korea rely on third-party services for shipping and logistics, but Coupang has focused on controlling those aspects themselves, emphasizing speed and convenience. Customers get free shipping if the item is bought directly from the company, and the aforementioned one-day shipping is available to those in Seoul.
According to the Associated Press, half of South Korea’s population has downloaded the Coupang app, and about two-thirds of transactions with Coupang take place through the app. Four-fifths of Coupang’s traffic and revenue comes from smartphones.
North and South Korean archeologists have joined forces to research and excavate Manwoldae Palace, an ancient royal palace built during the Koryo dynasty in the 10th century.
Manwoldae is considered to be one of the most significant historical sites in Korea, as it once served as the home of Koryo rulers for more than 400 years. The palace was burned to the ground in 1361 during the Red Turban Rebellion, a Han Chinese uprising that overthrew the China’s then-ruling Yuan dynasty.
On June 2, South Korean researchers traveled to Kaesong, North Korea to begin the excavation, hoping that the project will raise awareness of the common history shared between the two Koreas, according to The Guardian. About 80 South Korean archeologists and researchers are expected to work in Kaesong for the next six months.
“It is the first time since the division [in 1945] that Southern and Northern members have worked at the same place for 40 to 60 days per year. There were wars of nerves between South and North scholars due to differences in methodologies, but we were in a same boat on the achievement of this excavation,” the project statement reads.
The project initially began in 2007, but was discontinued after the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in 2011.
About 80 South Korean historians and archeologists are expected to work in Kaesong, the capital of Korea from 935 to 1392, for the next six months. During the current phase of the project, the inter-Korean team will focus on excavating Manryeong-jeon, the king’s palace bedroom.
Manwoldae was designated as a Unesco World Heritage site in 2013. The organization described the palace as the embodiment of the political, cultural, philosophical and spiritual values of the Korean peninsula as it “transitioned from Buddhist to Confucian philosophy.”
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.
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:
Friends and colleagues of Sunny Kim, a 26-year-old South Korean woman who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, have launched a GoFundMe campaign to help her family with funeral and legal costs.
On May 22, Kim’s ex-boyfriend, identified only by his surname Lee, turned himself into South Korean police and confessed to killing Kim before burying her body in the mountains and impersonating her for over two weeks.
Kim is remembered as a smart and loving daughter, sister and friend. She graduated from University at Albany, SUNY in 2011 with a degree in Economics and East Asian Studies.
During her time at Albany, Kim was a member of the Kappa Phi Lambda – Upsilon chapter. Her fellow sisters began the GoFundMe campaign last Thursday to help her family with funeral and legal costs. Since then, the campaign has raised over $27,000 from more than 700 donors. Kim’s sorority sisters also created a blog to share the “Story of Sunny” and raise awareness of Kim’s murder.
After moving back to South Korea, Kim was working as an English-language instructor in Busan when she met Lee, who at the time was one of her students, according to the South Korean crime and investigation TV series, Real Story Eye. The two eventually began dating.
However, Kim’s relationship with Lee began taking a turn for the worse. Kim began confiding to her friends about the difficulties she faced in her relationship, including multiple instances of abuse. Kim’s friends later told investigators that she had privately shared photos of what appeared to be multiple bruises on her face as well as broken fingers allegedly sustained by attacks from Lee.
In a message to her close friend, Kim worried about what her students would think if they saw her bruised face.
On May 2, when Kim was back in Seoul, she sent a message to her family that read, “I got a job, let’s get together soon.” Sadly, Kim was unable to celebrate with her family, as Lee had followed her back to her apartment that evening and strangled her in her sleep. She had recently broken up with him.
The next day, Lee packed Kim’s body into a large wheeled luggage bag. He rented a car and drove south into the mountains near Cheongpung Lake in Chungcheong, according to the police. He buried Kim’s body, which was still inside the bag, and covered it with a layer of cement and napthalene to mask any scent.
Security cameras caught Lee at a rental car company with the bag containing Kim’s body.
To avoid suspicion, Lee used Kim’s smartphone to impersonate her, posting on social media and even communicating with her family and friends for weeks. He even messaged the company that had recently hired Kim that she was returning to the U.S. to continue her studies.
On the left, Kim’s KakaoTalk message to her younger brother, compared to Lee’s impersonation.
Kim’s parents soon received a notice over the apparent breach of contract, which only increased their efforts to get in contact with their daughter and find out where she was. Backed into a corner, Lee eventually called the police on May 22, confessing to killing her and burying her body. He also apparently attempted to kill himself, and he had lost a lot of blood by the time police reached him.
But Kim’s family isn’t buying the suicide attempt, claiming that Lee is trying to garner sympathy from the authorities for a lighter punishment. They have asked that Lee be charged with nothing short of premeditated murder.
The infections were first transmitted by a 68-year-old man who had traveled from Bahrain to Seoul. According to the Korea Herald, the man was hospitalized on May 12 and is currently in stable condition.
MERS is a viral respiratory illness that was first reported in Saudi Arabia back in 2012. It bears striking similarities to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus, which killed hundreds of people, mostly in China, in 2003.
Symptoms include high fever, coughing, shortness of breath and, in some cases, kidney failures. There is no known cure or vaccine to prevent the infection. Good news is that MERS is easier to contain than the more infectious SARS. Unfortunately, MERS is more deadly, causing lungs to shut down faster than SARS.
Health officials said new MERS cases include a 30-year-old nurse and a 56-year-old patient who had been in the same hospital ward as the original case.
The 44-year-old traveler flew to Hong Kong on Tuesday was diagnosed with MERS on Friday, making him China’s first confirmed case. The man had apparently contracted the disease from his father, the second confirmed victim in the MERS outbreak. South Korea’s health ministry said the man was being observed for possible infection when he ignored doctors’ warning against travel and left for Hong Kong, reports Reuters.
“We should have checked more actively and broadly on family related issues. We are deeply sorry about that,” Yang Byung-kook, director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters.
Hong Kong health authorities said they tracked down 38 people who had come in close contact with the Korean man. None of the potential patients so far have shown MERS symptoms. However, 12 people–three Koreans and nine Chinese–are being kept in quarantine in the hospital.
South Korea’s health ministry said more than 20 countries have been affected by 1,142 cases of MERS. Since May 16, there have been more than 450 deaths reported.
Columbia University student Bora Kim riled up the K-pop world about a month ago when word of her MFA thesis project—a non-Korean boy band named “EXP”—spread across the Internet.
The project, “I’m Making a Boy Band” (IMMABB), has been underway since October of last year, and with their official debutsingle under their belt, EXP is looking forward to their first mini-album in November.
But before that, IMMABB is shooting for $30,000 in funds from Kickstarterby June 7 to help fund the different aspects of the project: music production, the entire creative team and a documentary about the entire project (2017 release date). Backers can expect plenty of incentives, from EXP T-shirts, signed copies of their mini-album, tote bag, tickets to a VIP screening of their documentary and even private karaoke sessions with the guys.
So, the big question: Who exactly are the boys of EXP? The NYC-based IMMABB team auditioned and cast Hunter, Frankie, David, Sime, Tarion and Koki.
KoreAm recently had a chance to exchange emails with the members. Take a look through our conversation below to get a better idea of who they are. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Can you briefly introduce yourselves, and tell us where you’re from?
Sime: I am originally from Croatia. I was studying music theatre performance here in the States and subsequently decided to make NYC my home.
Tarion:I was born in Washington, D.C., but I grew up in Houston, Texas. (The Land of Queen Bey, I went to her high school!) I’ve been acting, singing and modeling since about the age of three and have been doing it professionally in NYC for about five years.
Koki: I’m a Hong Kong-born, Texas raised, half-Japanese kid living in NYC. I moved to NYC about a year ago, and that’s when I started to focus more on my performing arts career. Modeling, acting, singing and dancing all sort of fell into place as I made my way around the city, and being in a boy band is sort of the best combination of everything.
David: I was born here in Queens, New York City. I have been performing my entire life. I was a professional male model before IMMABB. One day, while I was at work (at Swarovski), I decided to be an actor and pursue more with music. I walked out and haven’t looked back.
(Editor’s note: EXP members Frankie and Hunter’s responses were unavailable for this question.)
How is the group dynamic?
Hunter: There are definitely six distinct personalities in the group, but it’s pretty similar to any family. We spend a lot of time together, and can get on each other’s nerves, but are all actual friends. For the most part, I eat. There’s probably more footage of me eating than actual performance footage.
Tarion: I like to think of us as the musical United Nations in the sense that we are all so different and derive from different backgrounds. So, we all throw ideas into the pot and create really multi-dimensional concepts that … represent [each of] our own individual pieces while still being one unit.
David:Having us in the room together is similar to babysitting six very rambunctious toddlers. There is a lot of gibberish, laughing and WHOLE bunch of singing.
Koki: We’re a bunch of weirdos. It works.
Before you became a part of EXP, what were your first reactions when you heard about the goal behind IMMABB?
Hunter:I was really confused, as I think the other guys were also. Frankie and I were both in boybands before this, so I was kind of thinking “not this again.” It did take some time to come together and understand what we were doing. Also, I was told there would be food, so I was in.
Sime:I wasn’t really sure what to expect. All I knew was that Bora was an artist with a clear vision of what she wanted to achieve.
Frankie: I honestly had no idea what I was getting myself into, but when I researched K-pop and discovered this whole other world, I knew I wanted to be part of this movement. I was so fascinated by Bora’s concept and the fact that she had such an amazing team of other talents behind her.
Tarion: Boy band was the LAST thing on my mind. In fact, if I remember correctly, I remember telling a friend that I would never be in one. But for some reason, when I saw the casting call, I was immediately drawn to it. I loved the idea of doing something fresh and new and creating a conversation about bridging cultural gaps.
Koki: I didn’t know if we were actually going to become a boy band, or if everything was just for the documentary. I was super confused. Being in a boy band is one of those things you grow up wanting to be a part of, but forget about later on. I never thought I’d actually get to be in one, but here we are!
David: I understood everything. We are documenting a “possible” boy band. We start out as just a thesis, and if things go accordingly, Bora would invest more time into us and develop the project. She pretty much explained her expectations [to us], but everything that has happened thus far has superseded everything any [of us] could have imagined.
Do you have any favorite K-pop artists?
Koki: My first favorite K-pop group was BTS, but I also love SHINEE (their new album is amazing!). Block B, Got 7, and EXO are the ones I listen to the most right now.
David:Ailee is one of my favorite K-pop artists, as well as BTS—especially Monster. He is such an epic artist!
Tarion: Some of my favorite K-pop groups are JJCC, Girl’s Generation, and Big Bang.
Sime: Although I wasn’t very familiar with K-pop before, in the past year I have grown to love it and appreciate everything about it! Music speaks a universal language. Good music, no matter the form, speaks to me—and as soon as I heard BTS’ beats, I was on board!
What was it like training for “LUV/WRONG,” from the learning the choreography to singing in Korean?
Hunter:I can hands down say I’m the worst with the learning and singing in Korean. I’m getting better now, but I had a really tough time in the studio trying to get the chorus down. There was food there, so that helped. The dancing took time to come together. We spent a lot of time with our choreographer MJ [to make us] look like a group, and not six individual dancers.
Frankie: Learning Korean is very hard. I’m Portuguese and speak it fluently, as well as a little Spanish. Both are very different than Korean, and the group cracks up at me because at first everything I tried to say in Korean would come out sounding Spanish. Bora works with us individually on the Korean, so it’s like having a private coach.
Koki:I got lucky in terms of learning Korean. I grew up around Japanese, Chinese and Korean speakers, so being able to learn the pronunciation was fairly easy. I need to learn to be more patient and help the rest of the boys though, haha.
David: When I auditioned for the band, I said, “Yes, I can dance.” Throughout the process, I have learned I am more of a freestyler, but MJ has been able to wrangle that in and I am growing more comfortable with [choreography]. Six-hour dance rehearsals back-to-back stretches your body and pushes you a bit mentally, but the finished product—us slaying the dance moves—is a proud moment.
Tarion:If you’ve ever seen the movie Rocky, that’s what our training [looks] like (only without a continuous catchy soundtrack playing throughout our montage). It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth it. We still have so much to learn and so much room to grow, but we continue to push ourselves every day to get better and better, in some way, shape or form.