My NPR Interview in light of the UN’s recent REPORT on North Korea’s human rights violations

I was asked to give an NPR interview in light of the UN’s recent release of a report on North Korea’s unspeakable human rights violations. It’s a short 12-minute interview. Please listen to it if you get a chance; the focus is on having family members (who I have never met) living in such a different–horrifically different–place while I am living here in the USA. It’s a heartbreaking reality. Here is the link.

One of this week’s top news items have been about the UN’s release of a 372-page report describing North Korea’s systematic human rights violations against its citizens, likening their systems and punishments to those of Nazis.  As you may be well aware of, this report describes North Korea forcing women to undergo horrific and brutal abortions and young mothers to drown their own newborn babies, starving and executing hundreds of thousands of detainees in secret political prison camps, just to name a few.

Let’s continue to educate ourselves about the unbelievable–wait, scratch that– the unfortunately BELIEVABLE injustices and systematic violations of human dignity that take place every second. Education motivates action and change.

Below are a few images that North Korean defectors who gave testimonies before the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea provided.

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Safely returned from a research trip to Lebanon! (and other HKS links)

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Happy New Year everyone! I returned from Lebanon a week ago to conduct interviews with my classmate Laila Matar to work on our Policy Analysis Exercise together. I will write more about my trip to Lebanon in a separate post, but for now, for those interested in applying to Harvard University Kennedy School of Government and its capstone project, I’ll direct you do a post Laila and I wrote for the HKS admissions blog.

My Masters in Public Policy’s Policy Analysis Exercise on Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon. Check it out here.

On a separate note, if you’re interested in applying to HKS in general, you should definitely subscribe to the HKS admissions blog here. I participated in the 2013 summer series with fellow classmates who also traveled to all sorts of places to do interesting things around our globe.

I’m excited to share an article that our school posted about my work on our school website here. If you have any questions about applying to HKS, or if I can be helpful in any way, please do not hesitate to reach out!

Invitation: Come to the Divided Families Film Screening in New York City, Jan 22, 2014!

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If you’re in New York City, I’d love to have you come to a screening of our final edit of the Divided Families Film at the Korea Society. Our team really couldn’t have come this far without all of our supporters, friends, and families.

The screening is on Jan 22, 2014 at 6:30 at The Korea Society (950 Third Avenue, 8th floor
New York, NY 10022). For details, check out this link.

Send me a note if you’re coming. Would love to have you join us!

“1/7 of the world’s population is disabled, but comprise an invisible community: My close friend, Sara Minkara, on “Empowerment Through Integration”

Sara Minkara, a close friend from HKS, is an extraordinary person. She’s created this NGO called “Empowerment through Integration” that works to empower young people with disabilities in order to help integrate them into their communities. She started off with Lebanon, opened a branch in Nicaragua this past summer, and is off to start branches in many other places.

She lost her sight when she was 7 years old. But you can’t really tell in the video (or like, ever). She’s the most capable and intelligent person I know. (I have a TON of fun stories about her, but will refrain from over-sharing on a blog. You’re welcome, Sar!! :))

Check her out. She’s an outlier. She’ll be the most impressive, most courageous person you’ll meet in a very long time.

“What’s the big deal about Grandma Maddy being Secretary of State? Aren’t only girls Secretaries of State?”

 

I came across this 12-minute Ted Talk with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. That quote above are the words of Secretary of State’s Madeleine Albright’s youngest granddaughter, who’s living in a time where her grandmother, Dr. Rice, and Secretary Clinton have been Secretaries of State.  I thought it was extraordinary to listen to a the words of a little girl who is growing up in a world where it’s just not that extraordinary for women to be in the most powerful positions on earth. Of course, there is a LOT of room for improvement for bridging gaps in gender equality in terms of power, income, rights, and freedoms.  But I thought I’d share this video. It’s definitely worth a watch!

A Memory from my trip to North Korea

Me and some of my friends at the Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il statues in Pyongyang, the first stop on our tour in North Korea.

During my recent trip to North Korea that I co-organized for 24 Harvard classmates and friends, one particularly memorable moment took place at the DMZ from the DPRK’s side, where I saw both the North Korean and South Korean flags straddling the 38th parallel.  I carefully struck up a conversation with a North Korean military officer in his mid-50s.  At first, he scowled and demanded that I, a Korean-speaking American, stand away from him.  I kept near him, pretending that I had no wiggle room amidst the dozens of fellow tourists who were also at the DMZ.

After his military colleagues cleared the area, the officer casually covered his mouth with a folder, looked away from me, and in a low voice started asking me questions about my life in America.   After all, he couldn’t have his colleagues see him be so friendly with a foreigner, much less an ethnic Korean American.  He asked me what life was like in America, what my parents did, and how I learned to speak Korean in America.  His questions were rooted in sheer, nonjudgmental curiosity. For ten minutes, we stood by each other in a crowd while looking in opposite directions, and carried this clandestine conversation in Korean while having both of our mouths covered.

After telling me that he full-heartedly wishes that the two Koreas reunify so that all Korean people, hanminjok, can live together in peace, he asked me:

“Do I look like your father?”

I didn’t really know what he was asking, so when I asked him to ask his question again, he said:

“Well, I know that we’re hanminjok, but I’m curious if I look like a Korean man in the United States. Am I as tall as him? Same face?” 

I choked back tears, and made some joke about how handsome the military officer was.  The man was significantly shorter, thinner, and had much darker skin than my father.  I was standing in front of the flesh and blood that was the result of a divided country, 60 years later, in human form.  My father could have easily been born in North Korea, but was born 35 miles south of the DMZ, and his fate could not have been more different than of the man I was standing in front of.

A rush of military officers headed our way, which abruptly ended our guarded conversation.  The officer shoved me out of the way and barked at me to not stand so close.  I tried to wave goodbye, but he ignored me.  I’m pretty sure that he was acting like so because he was in the company of his colleagues. When it was time for my group to get back on the bus, I caught his eye and winked.  Without smiling, he winked back.

This is the North Korean soldier I chatted with at the DMZ from the DPRK side. I blurred his image to protect his identity

This is the North Korean soldier I chatted with at the DMZ from the DPRK side. I blurred his image to protect his identity

Me and a North Korean military woman officer in front of the USS Pueblo

Me and a North Korean military woman officer in front of the USS Pueblo. Our birthdays are two months apart!

Me and an oncologist at the Pyongyang Maternity Hospital.

Me and an oncologist at the Pyongyang Maternity Hospital.

Me and an employee at the Pyongyang movie studio. He has worked here for 40 years.

Me and an employee at the Pyongyang movie studio. He has worked here for 40 years.

Me and a little girl I met in Wonsan. She called me, 'dong-ji,' which means 'comrade' in Korean. In South Korea, a girl her age would have called me 'unie,' which means older sister.

Me and a little girl I met in Wonsan. She called me, ‘dong-ji,’ which means ‘comrade’ in Korean. In South Korea, a girl her age would have called me ‘unie,’ which means ‘older sister.’

A traffic controller in Pyongyang

A traffic controller in Pyongyang

Me in Pyongyang

Me in Pyongyang

Me and an HKS classmate at the Juche tower

Me and an HKS classmate at the Juche tower

A bunch of North Korean people wanted to take this photo with us because they were excited to meet Korean-speaking Americans (me and the guy in yellow). They called this a family photo! :)

Wonsan, North Korea

Wonsan, North Korea

Fisherman in Wonsan, North Korea

Fisherman in Wonsan, North Korea

Little students in Wonsan, North Korea (took this photo from our bus)

Little students in Wonsan, North Korea (took this photo from our bus)

Grand People’s Study Hall in Pyongyang

Grand People's Study Hall in Pyongyang, North Korea

Grand People’s Study Hall in Pyongyang, North Korea

A group photo  in front of the Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il mausoleum. The cute kids in yellow were there to take photos with tourists

A group photo in front of the Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il mausoleum. The cute kids in yellow were there to take photos with tourists

Arirang (The Mass Games)

Arirang (The Mass Games)

Arirang (The Mass Games)

Arirang (The Mass Games)


[1] I co-organized a Harvard University Kennedy School Trek for 24 classmates and friends to North Korea in August, 2013.

Greetings from the Kingdom of Bahrain!

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Images of the King are omnipresent

I flew into the Kingdom of Bahrain from Doha this morning. This small island country along the Persian Gulf with a population of about 1.2 million (which includes about 600,000 non-Bahrainis who work in the country) is rich in its history, culture, and recent political events. Like Qatar, this Muslim country is observing Ramadan, so food and drink is strictly forbidden in public places until 6:30PM, when iftar starts. When iftar started, I walked around the Manama (the capital city) in the humid 98 degrees weather. I cabbed over to the souq, and snapped a few photos in between browsing goods and chatting with store owners.

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The indoor section of the souq

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The indoor section of the souq

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Mosque at dusk

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View of the bay and downtown from my hotel room

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More photos of a mosque from my cab

Throughout my cab rides, I asked the taxi drivers about their thoughts on the recent protests that took place in Bahrain as part of the Arab Spring, and they all had very bold opinions about the King and his royal family. Though I won’t go into details of the conversation here, I will say that all three drivers I met will attend the protest tomorrow at 5PM in Manama.

Afterwards, I headed to one of the newest buildings, the Bahrain City Center, and people-watched while having coffee and trying to stay awake along with the rest of the city.  Every day, I’m amazed at how people are able to celebrate the breaking of fast, and socialize into early morning, and then go to work the day after. I’m trying my best to keep up!

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I normally do not take photos of my food/drink. Like, ever. But I had to snap a photo of this espresso because of what it is served with. A date! Not a chocolate or a cookie, but a date!

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A hot summer day in Doha, Qatar (read: 108 degrees!)

A photo I snapped from a cab in downtown Doha

A photo I snapped from a cab in downtown Doha

I started off my travels to the Gulf countries a few days ago, starting off in Dubai (I will write more about Dubai on my second visit to UAE next week), and landed in Doha, Qatar.  I felt the rush of the city’s rapid development all around me, especially as the country prepares to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022.

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McDonalds is everywhere!

McDonalds is everywhere!

Due to Ramadan, it’s illegal to eat/drink/smoke in public between sunrise until sunset (Iftar is at 6:30PM in Doha), so the daytime was very slow.  As predicted, I couldn’t find a single café outside my hotel, so I went over to the W Hotel to spend my afternoon there. Right when Iftar started, the city woke up and all the shops, restaurants, and markets lit up. I headed straight to the Souq Waqif and spent hours there, weaving through the alley ways, speaking to shop owners, and buying little trinkets for my family.  Here are a few shots I got from the evening.

This man made bracelets with a low heating technique. He had a huge crowd all night

This man made bracelets with a low heating technique. He had a huge crowd all night

One of the souq's alleyways

One of the souq’s alleyways

One of the shisha bars at the souq

One of the shisha bars at the souq

This stud  sold me a gold-plated camel souvenir for my brother.

This stud sold me a gold-plated camel souvenir for my brother.

Bought a pretty perfume bottle for mom from this store. The store owner wanted to look “natural” in the photo by not looking at the camera:)

One of the shop owners turned out to be one of the coolest people I’ve met all summer. This 75-year old shopkeeper had posters of a young bodybuilder around his pearl shop, and it turns out that it was him! He also used to dive for pearls, sleep on bed of nails, and broken glass. When I asked him if he had superpowers, he said yes! Some other shop owners joined our conversation and praised this man.  Watch an interview of him here! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BoL64-ao9dc

Al-Jassim, a former bodybuilder, pearl diver, and extreme entertainer (slept on glass and bed of nails!)

Al-Jassim, a former bodybuilder, pearl diver, and extreme entertainer (slept on glass and bed of nails!)

A poster of the Al-Jassim, the pearl shop keeper, in his glory days. He still has his swag!

A poster of the Al-Jassim, the pearl shop keeper, in his glory days. He still has his swag!

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You can’t see this, but there was a small crowd of security guards taking this photo of me and this security guard. When I told the security guard in the photo, “I’m going to add this to my blog,” he answered, “I’m going to instagram this photo right away!”

You can’t see this, but there was a small crowd of security guards taking this photo of me and this security guard. When I told the security guard in the photo, “I’m going to add this to my blog,” he answered, “I’m going to instagram this photo right away!”

 

Afterwards, I walked along Doha Cornishe (the waterfront along the Doha Bay) for hours late at night, and felt completely safe, just as the policemen and young ladies at the Souq told me. If you’re ever in the gulf, I encourage you to visit Doha!

A photo of the Museum of Islamic Art at night that I took from the Cornishe

The Spiral Mosque