Phil Bicker, who edited this photo essay, is a Senior Photo Editor at TIME
Apparently, you can put a price on peace
In 2009, North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong Il set steep demands for holding a summit with the South, including $10 billion and half a million tons of food, according to former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in a new book.
“The document [of demands] looked like some sort of standardized ‘summit bill’ with its list of assistance we had to provide and the schedule written up,” said Lee in extracts seen by Reuters, referring to Pyongyang’s request for 800,000 combined tons of rice, corn and fertilizer. “We shouldn’t be haggling for a summit.”
Upon receipt of Kim’s demands, Lee says he chose not to acquiesce, scuppering prospects for negotiations between the long-time foes.
While North and South Korea have officially been at war since 1950 — separated by a slender buffer known as the Korean Demilitarized Zone — talks have occasionally been held, and new summits are intermittently proposed. Current North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Park Geun-hye have not outright rejected the possibility of a meeting this year.
The pledge follows recent overtures made by Kim Jong Un
South Korean President Park Geun-hye announced during a nationally televised address on Monday that she’s willing to hold a summit with North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un without any pre-conditions.
“My position is that to ease the pain of division and to accomplish peaceful unification, I am willing to meet with anyone,” said Park. “If it is helpful, I am up for a summit meeting with the North. There is no pre-condition.”
Park’s pledge follows similar overtures made by Kim Jong Un during his New Year’s address.
“Depending on the mood and circumstances to be created, we have no reason not to hold the highest-level talks,” said Kim.
Since the war between Seoul and Pyongyang was suspended by an armistice in 1953, South Korea’s and North Korea’s leaders have only met on two occasions — in 2000 and 2007.
Apparently, you're not allowed to say that North Korean beer tastes good
A Korean-American author living in South Korea faces deportation after making supposedly pro-Pyongyang comments during a lecture late last year — including a remark about the Hermit Kingdom’s palatable beer.
On Thursday, prosecutors called on the Korea Immigration Service to deport Shin Eun-mi for violating the state’s security laws, according to the Associated Press.
South and North Korea have agreed an armistice but are still technically at war. This means that comments overtly complementary of communist-ruled North Korea are viewed very seriously in the South and can be punished by up to seven years in prison.
Shin reportedly said during a lecture in November that many North Korea defectors had a desire to return home one day and claimed that the rivers in the People’s Democratic Republic were much less polluted than those in South Korea. She also lauded the taste of North Korea’s state-produced lager.
The California resident has made several trips north of the 38th parallel and writes frequently about her experiences visiting North Korea for online news outlets. She published a book about the country that appeared on a government-designated reading list in 2013.
"Nut rage," punishable by up to 15 years in prison, doesn't pay
South Korean prosecutors filed charges against the daughter of the chairman of Korean Air Lines on Wednesday for delaying a flight — and, prosecutors allege, endangering its safety — because she was unhappy about how she was served nuts.
Police have held Heather Cho Hyun-ah, formerly head of in-flight service at her father’s airline, in custody since Dec. 30, after she threw a tantrum when a flight attendant gave her macadamia nuts in a bag, not on a dish. Dubbing the fiasco the nut-rage incident, media have struggled to decide if it should inspire disgust over the entitlement of South Korea’s ultra-rich or a chuckle at their expense.
Yet the charges against Cho, who has resigned from her posts at the South Korean airline, are anything but chuckle-worthy. They include violations of aviation-safety regulations for allegedly disrupting the South Korea–bound plane’s flight plan by forcing it to return to New York City’s John F. Kennedy airport shortly after leaving the gate. The Financial Times reports that Cho, if convicted, could face up to 15 years in prison.
The 60-year-old vowed to emphasize Japan's efforts toward future world peace
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will express remorse for his country’s role in World War II in a statement on the 70th anniversary of his nation’s surrender in August.
“I would like to write of Japan’s remorse over the war, its postwar history as a pacifist nation and how it will contribute to the Asia-Pacific region and the world,” Abe said at a press conference on Monday, reports Kyodo news agency.
Japan’s relations with South Korea and China have long been deeply impacted by the country’s attitude toward its wartime actions. The East Asian neighbors will pay particularly close attention to whether Abe will uphold his predecessor Tomiichi Murayama’s 1995 apology for the “tremendous damage and suffering” Japan caused to people across Asia during the Pacific war.
Asked about Murayama’s statement, Abe said that he “has and will uphold statements issued by past administrations.”
"We should write a new history in North-South ties," he says+ READ ARTICLE
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un said he is open to “highest level talks” with neighbors South Korea on Thursday, urging the two countries to mend their adversarial relationship.
“We should write a new history in North-South ties,” Kim said in his New Year broadcast on state television, according to AFP. “There is no reason not to hold the highest-level talks.”
The offer to hold talks between the two nations was floated a few days earlier by South Korea’s minister in charge of inter-Korean affairs Ryoo Kihl-Jae, who proposed January as a tentative date.
There have been no formal talks between the two countries since February 2014. An agreement to resume dialogue in October following a North Korean delegation’s visit to the South for the Asian Games was soon set aside following renewed border clashes.
More elderly South Koreans are dying alone, their bodies unclaimed
Ham Hak-joon lives alone in one moldy room at the top of a hill in Seoul, looking out on a city and back on a lifetime that have passed him by.
Now 86 years old and retired without a wife or contact with his two grown children, Ham has plenty of time to wonder how his life will end. One constant source of anxiety is who will hold a funeral for him.
He says he hasn’t spoken to his children in more than 15 years and that his only friends are, like him, poor and elderly. “I thought of donating my body to science,” he said. “At least that way I could be sure that someone would come collect me when I go.”
But instead of that, Ham has reached out to a civic group that holds funerals for people who die with no known family members, their bodies going unclaimed from hospitals or police morgues.
That organization, called Good Nanum (or Good Sharing), was formed five years ago when stories of unclaimed bodies began to circulate in South Korea.
Park Jin-ok, Good Nanum’s director, says he and his colleagues thought it important that everyone, even those without loved ones, be provided some ceremony to mark the end of their lives.
“In our country, not just living, but dying has become a source of worry,” says Park. “Elderly people who live alone wonder what will happen to their bodies. We promise that we’ll find them.”
In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of bodies going unclaimed. Data released in October by the country’s Ministry of Health and Welfare found 878 unclaimed dead nationwide in 2013, up from 719 in 2012 and 682 in 2011.
Park says that his work can be emotionally taxing and that, in private moments, he is sometimes haunted by the more shocking cases he has encountered of unclaimed deceased. The mother found dead of apparent suicide, floating off the coast with her newborn baby strapped to her back. The homeless man killed when a shutter collapsed on him as he slept in a storefront late at night.
Ham wears his winter jacket, seated cross-legged on an electric blanket, the only source of heat in his otherwise frigid one-room apartment. He apologizes for the low temperature and is sheepish about his room’s musty odor. Before receiving visitors, he leaves the door open to bring in fresh air, despite the subzero temperatures outdoors.
One of three children, he tells the story of having started his adulthood in the South Korean military in the mid-1950s, driving a truck delivering ammunition to military posts on the northern outskirts of Seoul — then and today the frontline in a simmering conflict with North Korea.
He then spent years as a bus driver, traversing the busy streets of Seoul. Frustrated by how his low wages made it difficult for him to provide for his wife and two children, Ham started his own tour bus company in the mid-1990s. He borrowed money to buy three buses and hire drivers, hoping to build a prosperous business. But when South Korea’s economy collapsed in the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-98, Ham’s work dried up and he went bankrupt.
It was downhill from there: his relationship with his wife soured and their marriage ended in divorce. Ashamed at having no job or money, he isolated himself from his son and daughter.
“My pride wouldn’t allow me to face them after I had failed,” Ham said. He says can’t clearly remember the last time he saw his kids in person. “I don’t even think they would know my face if they saw me today,” he says.
Ham’s only income is a government pension of around $100 per month. He used to collect scrap cardboard for recycling to earn some money, but problems with his knees have made that impossible. Because he is a father of two, he doesn’t qualify for more government assistance. In South Korea, children are expected to financially support their aging parents.
Unfortunately, that expectation does not match reality. Results of a survey by Statistics Korea released last month show that more elderly people are financially independent of their children and fewer adults who feel obligated to take care of their aging parents (31.7 this year, down from 40.7 in 2008).
Experts say the situation in each family is largely determined by their financial circumstances. “The adult children of parents who are not self-sufficient feel the pressure of filial obligation more,” says Ansuk Jeong, a Ph.D. in community psychology and research professor at Yonsei University in Seoul.
Good Nanum usually waits for around a month before cremating the corpse and holding a funeral. During that time, they post known details of the deceased on local government websites, with the hope that family members will come forward.
Social workers say sometimes bodies aren’t claimed because relatives because can’t afford to cover the funeral costs. “The funerals cost around 5 million won ($4,500), which is too much of a burden for many families,” says Park Sang-ho, a social worker in Seoul.
Korean funerals are normally a three-day affair, but due to a lack of staff and resources, Good Nanum holds only one-day funerals. They display a portrait of the deceased, if one is available and their identity is known. In front of the casket they display the customary drinks or snacks that the deceased may have enjoyed in life.
Ham has already prepared his funeral portrait. He says he at least is no longer worried about passing away anonymously.
“I know I won’t be all alone after I die,” he says. “That makes me live a bit easier.”
Daughter of Korean Air president faces arrest over incident when she was enraged by being served nuts in a bag
Weeks later, the flames of the “nut-gate” scandal continue to rage in South Korea.
The latest news? The woman at the center of the scandal is the subject of a requested detention warrant from South Koran prosecutors.
A little backstory: In early December, Cho Hyun-Ah — the daughter of Korean Air’s president and herself a vice-president at the company — was served macdemia nuts in a paper bag rather than a dish as she prepared to take off from New York’s JFK Airport. She did not like this, to put it kindly.
Cho used her position to force the plane back to the departure gate and had the person who gave her the nuts removed. While her actions led to a delayed departure, as Fortune‘s Geoff Smith points out, the plane actually only arrived 11 minutes late. (Frankly a dream scenario for anyone who’s ever flown into Chicago O’Hare).
So, people in South Korea weren’t exactly happy with the prima donna behavior of Cho, and its become a bit of a national scandal. Cho herself resigned, and her father called her “foolish.” But that apparently isn’t enough, as now she is being accused of violating aviation law. Reuters also notes that investigators are looking into whether or not Cho physically assaulted anyone on the plane, as has been alleged by some.
Detention warrants are issued in South Korea when it is believed someone could try to flee or tamper with evidence while the investigation is going on. Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports that there have been alleged attempts by Korean Air to foil government investigators. Questions about the investigation have been raised because a majority of the nation’s transport ministry’s investigators previously worked at Korean Air, South Korea’s largest air carrier, the AP reports.
Another Korean Air official is also under investigation, being suspected of abetting perjury, according to Reuters.
Uber has hit another roadblock+ READ ARTICLE
South Korean prosecutors have indicted the local subsidiary of Uber, the ride-sharing app firm embroiled in numerous controversies worldwide, for violating the nation’s transportation laws.
The indictment also names Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, for flouting a South Korean law that prohibits any person or company from using rental cars for paid transportation services without the correct license, Reuters reports, citing South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.
Yonhap reports that prosecutors will not make any arrests but that the penalty for the alleged crime is a fine of up around $18,000 or a prison sentence of up to two years. Uber tells Bloomberg that it will cooperate fully with any investigation.
The U.S.-based company has weathered a year of scandals — most crushingly, the alleged rape of a passenger by an Uber driver in New Delhi — and has been banned in several countries, including Germany, Spain and Thailand.