Tag Archives: south korea

Hyun-Jin-Ryu-bubble

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

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

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.

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

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

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.

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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
suevon@iamkoream.com

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”

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5 Facts About Teachers’ Day in South Korea

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

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.

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android

Prying Parents: Phone Monitoring Apps Flourish in South Korea

by YOUKYUNG LEE | @YKLeeAp
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.

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Army

South Korean Soldier Kills 2 in Shooting Spree Before Committing Suicide

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

A 24-year-old South Korean soldier shot and killed two fellow reservists and injured two others before turning the gun on himself earlier Wednesday, according to the Associated Press.

The shooter, surnamed Choe, was participating in a mandatory training session with fellow reservists. Choe had fired one round when he suddenly turned his K-2 rifle on them and fired seven times. He then used the ninth out of the 10 bullets he had been given to kill himself.

Army officials said the two reservists who died were shot in their heads; one died while being transported to the hospital, while the other succumbed to his injury shortly after arriving. Choe was also a reservist who had finished his compulsory military training: All able-bodied men in South Korea are required to serve two years in the armed forces and then participate in annual military training in the reserve force for eight years, up to a max of 160 hours per year.

Yonhap News reported that Choe was put in a group of soldiers who needed “special attention” during his active service due to high risk of suicide and had received treatment for depression. In a suicide note found in his pocket following the shooting, Choe had written that life was meaningless and that he had suffered during his time in the military.

“Tomorrow, I will do shooting practice. … I am becoming obsessed with thinking that I want to kill them all and I want to die,” the note read.

Bullying and Tragic Deaths in the South Korean Military

 

There have been a number of incidents in recent years by South Korean soldiers at army barracks that have prompted concerns and criticism about social issues in the military, including bullying, abuse, sexual harassment and proper awareness of mental health conditions. According to statistics by the Ministry of National Defense in Seoul, the army saw an average of 82.2 suicides a year between 2009-13.

An army sergeant in his 20s who went on a shooting rampage and killed five and wounded seven others in June 2014 had also been categorized as needing “special attention.” He later told investigators he had taken offense after discovering his colleagues’ drawings that portrayed him as various cartoon characters, including SpongeBob SquarePants.

In April 2014, a South Korean private died of asphyxiation after allegedly choking on food while being beaten by fellow soldiers, and two soldiers died last September during an anti-captivity training exercise, presumably due to suffocation. A female officer committed suicide in October 2013, and a South Korean military investigation determined that she had suffered repeated sexual harassment while on active duty.

Conscientious Objectors

 

Compulsory military service has become a contentious issue in itself. Human rights watchdog Amnesty International issued a report on Wednesday urging South Korea to end the imprisonment of around 600 men for draft-dodging. These “conscientious objectors” had been unfairly labeled as criminals, the report said, and the men faced “harsh consequences,” including abuse and discrimination, after their release because of their refusal to serve. Many of the objectors cite reasons based on their religious faith

South Korean officials have maintained that the mandatory service must remain in place as long as North Korea poses a military threat. In 2007, the Ministry of Defense considered alternatives to military service, but any ideas were scrapped once Lee Myung-bak became president the next year. Lee took a hard line stance towards North Korea, and current president Park Geun-hye has largely continued a similar policy.

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Featured image via South China Morning Post

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North Korea Executed Defense Minister: NIS

by HYUNG-JIN KIM, Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered his defense chief executed with an anti-aircraft gun for complaining about the young ruler, talking back to him and sleeping during a meeting presided over by Kim, South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers Wednesday, citing what it called credible information.

South Korean analysts are split on whether the alleged bloody purge signals strength or weakness from Kim Jong Un, who took power after his father’s 2011 death. Some aren’t even sure if it really happened. One expert described the reported development, part of a series of high profile recent purges and executions by Kim, as an attempt to orchestrate a “reign of terror” that would solidify his leadership.

National Intelligence Service officials told a closed-door parliamentary committee meeting that People’s Armed Forces Minister Hyon Yong-chol was killed in front of hundreds of spectators at a shooting range at Pyongyang’s Kang Kon Military Academy in late April, according to lawmaker Shin Kyoung-min, who attended the briefing.

Kim Gwang-lim, chairman of the parliament’s intelligence committee, quoted the spy service as saying Hyon had failed several times to comply with unspecified instructions by Kim. The office of another lawmaker, Lee Cheol Woo, released similar information about the NIS briefing.

The NIS didn’t tell lawmakers how it got the information, only that it was from a variety of channels and that it believed it to be true, Shin said. The agency refused to confirm the report when contacted by The Associated Press.

South Korea’s spy agency has a spotty record of tracking developments in North Korea. Information about the secretive, authoritarian state is often impossible to confirm.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said the U.S. can’t confirm reporting of the execution of North Korean officials, but added that “these disturbing reports, if they are true, describe another extremely brutal act by the North Korean regime. These reports are sadly not the first.”

Analyst Cheong Seong-chang at the private Sejong Institute think tank in South Korea questioned the authenticity of the report on Hyon’s execution because the minister still frequently appears in state TV footage.

North Korea typically removes executed and purged officials from TV documentaries, but Hyon has appeared multiple times in a TV documentary on live fire drills between April 30 and May 11, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry. North Korea’s state media hasn’t mentioned Hyon since an April 29 report of his attendance of a music performance the previous day.

Hyon was named armed forces minister, the equivalent of South Korea’s defense minister, in June of last year. He was made a vice marshal of the Korean People’s Army in July 2012 before being demoted to a four-star general later that year, according to South Korea’s Unification Ministry. Kim, the South Korean parliament’s intelligence committee chief, said Hyon was the North Korean military’s No.2 man after Hwang Pyong So, the top political officer at the Korean People’s Army.

Kim’s purges over recent years are seen as efforts to bolster his grip on power. The most notable was in 2013 when Kim executed his uncle and chief deputy, Jang Song Thaek, for alleged treason. Last month, spy officials told lawmakers that North Korea executed 15 senior officials accused of challenging Kim’s authority.

Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Dongguk University in Seoul, said Kim Jong Un appears to be using purges to keep the military old guard in check because they pose the only plausible threat to his rule. Koh said Kim could be pushing a “reign of terror” to solidify his leadership, but those efforts would fail if he doesn’t improve the country’s shattered economy.

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Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, and Matthew Pennington in Washington, contributed to this report. Featured image courtesy of Yonhap News Agency.

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

CS-25th-AM15-Impact

KoreAm Editor Roundtable: Part 1

Pictured above: From left to right—Jimmy Lee, Julie Ha, Michelle Woo, John Lee and Ken Lee.

Twenty-five years ago, KoreAm Journal started out as a newsmagazine published on newsprint. “Get Involved!” encouraged the headline on the cover story for the very first issue published April 1990. Featuring news briefs, a profile of Cerritos City Council candidate Charles Kim, restaurant reviews, personal commentary and even a mini-guide to the Korean language, KoreAm boldly announced its arrival in the alternative media space.

In the last quarter-century, the publication, which would eventually evolve into a glossy magazine, has kept a pulse on the issues and people forming the fabric of the Korean American community, as it continues to strive to fulfill the vision outlined by founding publisher Jung Shig Ryu in his inaugural note to readers: “We at KoreAm Journal are dedicating ourselves to cultivating an awareness of the Korean heritage, and informing people of the events happening not only in their homeland, but also in their communities.”

To honor KoreAm’s 25th anniversary, we invited former editors who steered the magazine between 1991 and 2014 to reflect on the milestones over the years. Their recollections touched on the humorous to the heartfelt. We couldn’t print the entirety of the conversation, recorded at KoreAm’s office in Gardena, Calif., due to space and some off-the-record moments, but below is a transcript of the dialogue’s highlights.

You can also watch the first half of the discussion in the video here:

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 10.41.21 AM

How Each First Came Across KoreAm


Jimmy Lee
:
When I was working at KYCC (Los Angeles’ Koreatown Youth and Community Center). We would get the magazine at the office.

Ken Lee: My mom was very active in the Korean community, so she was subscribing to it and I would just see it around the house. This was in the mid-’90s. At the time, it was still a newspaper.

Julie Ha: I actually started receiving KoreAm in my mailbox at the UCLA dormitory. I was like, why am I getting this all of a sudden? But it was free. I do remember being surprised I saw it in my mailbox and thinking, “Oh, this is sort of cool.”

Michelle Woo: I don’t know how I first heard about it, but I first heard about the [staff writer] job on journalismjobs.com. I don’t have a great story behind it, but I was living in Phoenix at the time. I’m not Korean—I’m Chinese—but my last name is Woo—W-o-o—so it could be either [Chinese or Korean], so I think that’s what got me the interview.

CS-25th-AM15-SubscriptionLetterA March 5, 1991 letter sent by KoreAm publisher James Ryu to potential subscribers.

Most Memorable Cover Issues or Stories

Jimmy: The 10-year anniversary of the L.A. riots. Putting that one together was pretty daunting. I think we tried to tackle more than we probably should have. I think for the most part we succeeded, but we really tried to take a look at the riots in a historically comprehensive sort of way. I think that the end result turned out to be very satisfying.

The riots were a very sort of defining moment for KoreAm, especially for the community, but specifically for KoreAm. It was right there at its infancy, we sort of kind of grew up with it.

Julie: In a way, the [L.A. riots] sort of underscored the whole purpose of KoreAm: to have a voice for Korean Americans in the media. A lot of Korean immigrants especially felt like they had no voice in the mainstream media, and that they were being totally misrepresented, underrepresented, as gun-toting Koreans guarding their stores, at any cost … and not really being humanized. There weren’t all these bilingual reporters at mainstream newspapers and TV stations, so I think that’s when a lot of Korean Americans felt like, “Wow, we have no voice.”

John Lee: [In late 1993, we ran] this photo essay by a Korean American photographer from New York who came to Los Angeles after the riots. He embarked on this mission to meet and photograph Korean merchants in the South Los Angeles area. I met him and got to go out on some of his shoots. He had a really good way of working with the merchants. He seemed to understand their lives and had a real comfortable rapport with them. Some of the images he got were really telling about how kind of mundane life is in the Korean liquor store in South Los Angeles, but they had a good way of giving insight into the motivation of people both behind the counter and in front of the counter. We ran this story in KoreAm Journal around the same time.

He eventually ended up working for the New York Times. Before that, we worked on a similar photo essay for the L.A. Times Sunday Magazine. He took photographs; I did a write-up for them.

Untitled-1“The Hard Life,” a photo essay by Chang W. Lee featured in the Dec. 1993 issue of KoreAm. 

Ken: For me, it would be the  [Dec. 1998] cover story we did on the North Korea famine. At the time, it felt like it wasn’t really something that was being discussed in the Korean American community, and at the time in the global community, it was known as the “silent famine” because it was largely being ignored. So, what I discovered was that a lot of first-generation Koreans still had very much a Cold War mentality in which they didn’t—they refused—to see past the politics and into the human suffering that was going on there. On that note, there was so much information that was being blocked, so it’s kind of understandable [that] it wasn’t at the forefront of people’s minds at the time.

At the time, it was just me and [KoreAm publisher] James [Ryu] essentially running the magazine. For two guys in a warehouse to make a cover story out of very little means—it was very satisfying to put that up and get a lot of congratulatory letters from people in the community.

CS-Image3-AM15-1SilentFamineThe Dec. 1998 North Korea famine issue 

Jimmy: That was the infamous phone call issue, right?

Ken: The story, it’s not too tired? I’m just going to pretend you guys aren’t here (motioning to the group), because they’ve heard it over and over. So, as I was saying, it was just me and James working in a warehouse, trying to put this important global issue together. I had managed to get a phone number of human rights workers who were in North Korea. One was a Canadian and the other was an American, and they were working in Pyongyang doing food distribution. I was able to just call them from here in Gardena to Pyongyang, North Korea, and just conduct, like, a two- or three-hour interview.

It felt like I was calling the moon from planet Earth in terms of having that accessibility. So I kind of forgot about it and then about two months later, we were in the office and James is like, “Keeeennnnnn!!!!” He was looking at the phone bill. I wasn’t surprised if it was something like, two dollars per minute. It was pretty bad, it was in the thousands. This was before Skype.

Cover-05-07_Test:Cover-12/06_TestMay 2007 Virginia Tech issue

Michelle: For me, this issue here  stands out (holds up copy of magazine). So this is May 2007. It’s all about Virginia Tech. The cover is, “Our Country, Our Tragedy,” on the Virginia Tech massacre. It was about a week before we were going to print. We had our cover story all laid out on Sonya Thomas, a competitive eater. She’s holding two hot dogs, and it was just this fun, lighthearted cover. And then, I think it was less than a week before we were going to go to print, there was this tragedy at Virginia Tech.

I was a staff writer at the time, and Corina Knoll was the editor. We had this meeting. We just decided to scratch all of our coverage and go full force with this. We wrote about the community response in Virginia, the Korean American community’s responses here, and how the Korean community felt this tragedy so deeply. Seung-hui Cho … I don’t think anyone could ever forget that name or that photograph.

I remember Margaret Cho in her standup was saying that when we heard that the shooter was Asian, everyone was like … ‘Please don’t let him be Korean.’ And I guess her whole joke was, not only was he Korean, but his last name was Cho. After covering all this, I think the community really appreciated that standpoint.

Julie: I remember people being worried that there might be anti-Asian hate crimes. That was a big fear and I remember being really happy about this issue because it was very proactively getting on top of that current issue and covering it from a point of view that I hadn’t seen in the mainstream. Even Seung-hui Cho was called “Cho Seunghui” for the longest time— last name first, and then his first name, which made him seem even more foreign versus American.

Jimmy: The one issue I’m proud of is our 2002 World Cup story. That was the year South Korea co-hosted with Japan and there was all this excitement within the Korean American community. What sucked for us here on the West Coast was that a lot of games were at 4 o’clock in the morning. There were all these big events going on, and so we were there covering it, and it got to be  quite the, you know, hazard to our sleeping health (laughs). But to see the Korean American community rally and get excited [over an event that] brought people all over together was a lot of fun.

world cup coverJuly 2002 World Cup issue

On Memorable Moments as Editor

Jimmy: Oh, there were plenty of bizarre moments. Once I got here, we were able to devote a little more [staff] resources. We actually had a photographer. We got to do a little bit more and, I like to say, we sort of experimented. We went to a Korean bathhouse and took photos.

Ken: In the name of journalism, right?

Jimmy: Exactly. Strictly in the name of journalism. I got to see my co-workers naked (laughs). We won’t tell you who those people were.

Julie: Striking resemblance to Jimmy and [publisher] James [Ryu].

Ken: I’ve got one. This guy who used to help out at the magazine, he was so obsessed with ear pickers to clean ear wax out of your ear. I said, “I totally get it, but if you’re gonna do this story, it’s gotta be funny. You can’t do a very hard-hitting, serious story about ear picks.” And he got really upset and he did the story after I left.

Jimmy: Yeah, I read it. I never saw his original story. It became more of a fun kind of story about the different kinds of ear-pickers. [Koreans] are pretty innovative when it comes to some personal hygiene products so, you know, we had some fun with it, I guess.


In Part 2 of the roundtable discussion, former KoreAm editors talk about how they formed fun and creative columns, memorable feedback from readers, KoreAm‘s growing digital presence and what they learned most about the Korean American community during their tenures. Stay tuned!

Go to Part Two ->

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This article was published in the April/May 2015 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the April/May issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).

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