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Heroes

North Korea's first openly-gay defector is now engaged to his American boyfriend

North Korea's first openly-gay defector is now engaged to his American boyfriend
via Vietnam Mobiography / Flickr

Jang Yeong-Jin, 62, has had a perilous journey to find true love. Growing up in totalitarian North Korea, he had no idea there was any such thing as being homosexual. He thought that he had a medical problem because he wasn't attracted to his wife.

He got married at 27 and when it came time to consummate the relationship he felt terribly uncomfortable.

"I couldn't lay a finger on my wife," he told the BBC. "I went to so many hospitals in North Korea because we thought that I had some sort of physical problem."


It never occurred to Jang or his family that there could be any other reason for his lack of interest in women. "There is no concept of homosexuality in North Korea," he says. North Koreans live a communal existence so men frequently hold hands, but it's just assumed that it's a sign of close friendship.

"North Korea is a totalitarian society — we have lots of communal life so it's normal for us," Jang said.

Kim Seok-Hyang, professor of North Korean studies at Ewha Women's University in South Korea, has interviewed dozens of defectors and says the concept of homosexuality is unheard of in the totalitarian state.

"When I asked them about homosexuality, they didn't catch on quickly so I had to explain it to every single person," Kim told the BBC.

Jang wanted to file for divorce so that he and his unhappy wife could both live freely, but given the country's draconian family laws, he realized it would be best if he defected to South Korea. In 1996, Jang braved crossing the border, but when he couldn't make it from China to South Korea, he returned home.

The next year, Jang escaped to South Korea by crawling through the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), making him one of the few people to successfully do so.

In 1998, he was reading an article about his defection in a South Korean newspaper when he came across a review of an American film about two gay men that featured a photo of them kissing.

"When I saw that, I knew right away that I was this kind of person. That's why I couldn't like women," he said. After the revelation, he became a regular in Seoul's gay bars. Eventually, he met a flight attendant and the two started a relationship. Unfortunately, the man conned Jang out of his life savings.

What it's like to be gay in North Korea?www.youtube.com

This experience soured Jang on relationships, but in 2020, he met a Korean man living in America on a dating app. After four months, he flew to America to meet him but when he first saw him at the airport he was unimpressed by his casual, American style of dress. "Seeing how he dressed, I assumed he was an ill-mannered and blunt man," Jang says.

But soon, after many long picnics and bottles of wine, he began to grow on Jang.

"The more I got to know this man, the more I could see that he had a very good character. Although he is eight years younger than me, he is the kind of person who likes to care for others first," he said.

After two months he proposed to Jang.

The couple hopes to marry later this year.

"I always felt fearful, sad, and lonely when I lived alone. I am a very introverted and sensitive person, but he is an optimistic man, so we are good for each other," he said.

Pop Culture

Airbnb host finds unexpected benefits from not charging guests a cleaning fee

Host Rachel Boice went for a more "honest" approach with her listings—and saw major perks because of it.

@rachelrboice/TikTok

Many frustrated Airbnb customers have complained that the separate cleaning fee is a nuisance.

Airbnb defines its notorious cleaning fee as a “one-time charge” set by the host that helps them arrange anything from carpet shampoo to replenishing supplies to hiring an outside cleaning service—all in the name of ensuring guests have a “clean and tidy space.”

But as many frustrated Airbnb customers will tell you, this feature is viewed as more of a nuisance than a convenience. According to NerdWallet, the general price for a cleaning fee is around $75, but can vary greatly between listings, with some units having cleaning fees that are higher than the nightly rate (all while sometimes still being asked to do certain chores before checking out). And often none of these fees show up in the total price until right before the booking confirmation, leaving many travelers feeling confused and taken advantage of.

However, some hosts are opting to build cleaning fees into the overall price of their listings, mimicking the strategy of traditional hotels.

Rachel Boice runs two Airbnb properties in Georgia with her husband Parker—one being this fancy glass plane tiny house (seen below) that promises a perfect glamping experience.

@rachelrboice Welcome to The Tiny Glass House 🤎 #airbnbfinds #exploregeorgia #travelbucketlist #tinyhouse #glampingnotcamping #atlantageorgia #fyp ♬ Aesthetic - Tollan Kim

Like most Airbnb hosts, the Boice’s listing showed a nightly rate and separate cleaning fee. According to her interview with Insider, the original prices broke down to $89 nightly, and $40 for the cleaning fee.

But after noticing the negative response the separate fee got from potential customers, Rachel told Insider that she began charging a nightly rate that included the cleaning fee, totaling to $129 a night.

It’s a marketing strategy that more and more hosts are attempting in order to generate more bookings (people do love feeling like they’re getting a great deal) but Boice argued that the trend will also become more mainstream since the current Airbnb model “doesn’t feel honest.”

"We stay in Airbnbs a lot. I pretty much always pay a cleaning fee," Boice told Insider. "You're like: 'Why am I paying all of this money? This should just be built in for the cost.'"

Since combining costs, Rachel began noticing another unexpected perk beyond customer satisfaction: guests actually left her property cleaner than before they were charged a cleaning fee. Her hypothesis was that they assumed she would be handling the cleaning herself.

"I guess they're thinking, 'I'm not paying someone to clean this, so I'll leave it clean,'" she said.

This discovery echoes a similar anecdote given by another Airbnb host, who told NerdWallet guests who knew they were paying a cleaning fee would “sometimes leave the place looking like it’s been lived in and uncleaned for months.” So, it appears to be that being more transparent and lumping all fees into one overall price makes for a happier (and more considerate) customer.

These days, it’s hard to not be embittered by deceptive junk fees, which can seem to appear anywhere without warning—surprise overdraft charges, surcharges on credit cards, the never convenience “convenience charge” when purchasing event tickets. Junk fees are so rampant that certain measures are being taken to try to eliminate them outright in favor of more honest business approaches.

Speaking of a more honest approach—as of December 2022, AirBnb began updating its app and website so that guests can see a full price breakdown that shows a nightly rate, a cleaning fee, Airbnb service fee, discounts, and taxes before confirming their booking.

Guests can also activate a toggle function before searching for a destination, so that full prices will appear in search results—avoiding unwanted financial surprises.


This article originally appeared on 11.08.23

Science

MIT’s trillion-frames-per-second camera can capture light as it travels

"There's nothing in the universe that looks fast to this camera."

Photo from YouTube video.

Photographing the path of light.

A new camera developed at MIT can photograph a trillion frames per second.

Compare that with a traditional movie camera which takes a mere 24. This new advancement in photographic technology has given scientists the ability to photograph the movement of the fastest thing in the Universe, light.


The actual event occurred in a nano second, but the camera has the ability to slow it down to twenty seconds.

time, science, frames per second, bounced light

The amazing camera.

Photo from YouTube video.

For some perspective, according to New York Times writer, John Markoff, "If a bullet were tracked in the same fashion moving through the same fluid, the resulting movie would last three years."


In the video below, you'll see experimental footage of light photons traveling 600-million-miles-per-hour through water.

It's impossible to directly record light so the camera takes millions of scans to recreate each image. The process has been called femto-photography and according to Andrea Velten, a researcher involved with the project, "There's nothing in the universe that looks fast to this camera."

(H/T Curiosity)


This article originally appeared on 09.08.17

Pop Culture

A brave fan asks Patrick Stewart a question he doesn't usually get and is given a beautiful answer

Patrick Stewart often talks about his childhood and the torment his father put him and his mother through.

Patrick Stewart often talks about his childhood and the torment his father put him and his mother through. However, how he answered this vulnerable and brave fan's question is one of the most eloquent, passionate responses about domestic violence I've ever seen.



WARNING: At 2:40, he's going to break your heart a little.

You can read more about Heather Skye's hug with Captain Picard at her blog.


This article originally appeared on 06.26.13.


A map of the United States post land-ice melt.


Land ice: We got a lot of it.

Considering the two largest ice sheets on earth — the one on Antarctica and the one on Greenland — extend more than 6 million square miles combined ... yeah, we're talkin' a lot of ice.

But what if it was all just ... gone? Not like gone gone, but melted?


If all of earth's land ice melted, it would be nothing short of disastrous.

And that's putting it lightly.

This video by Business Insider Science (seen below) depicts exactly what our coastlines would look like if all the land ice melted. And spoiler alert: It isn't great.

Lots of European cities like, Brussels and Venice, would be basically underwater.

In Africa and the Middle East? Dakar, Accra, Jeddah — gone.

Millions of people in Asia, in cities like Mumbai, Beijing, and Tokyo, would be uprooted and have to move inland.

South America would say goodbye to cities like Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires.

And in the U.S., we'd watch places like Houston, San Francisco, and New York City — not to mention the entire state of Florida — slowly disappear into the sea.

All GIFs via Business Insider Science/YouTube.

Business Insider based these visuals off National Geographic's estimation that sea levels will rise 216 feet (!) if all of earth's land ice melted into our oceans.

There's even a tool where you can take a detailed look at how your community could be affected by rising seas, for better or worse.

Although ... looking at these maps, it's hard to imagine "for better" is a likely outcome for many of us.

Much of America's most populated regions would be severely affected by rising sea levels, as you'll notice exploring the map, created by Alex Tingle using data provided by NASA.

Take, for instance, the West Coast. (Goodbye, San Fran!)

Or the East Coast. (See ya, Philly!)

And the Gulf Coast. (RIP, Bourbon Street!)

I bring up the topic not just for funsies, of course, but because the maps above are real possibilities.

How? Climate change.

As we continue to burn fossil fuels for energy and emit carbon into our atmosphere, the planet gets warmer and warmer. And that, ladies and gentlemen, means melted ice.

A study published this past September by researchers in the U.S., U.K., and Germany found that if we don't change our ways, there's definitely enough fossil fuel resources available for us to completely melt the Antarctic ice sheet.

Basically, the self-inflicted disaster you see above is certainly within the realm of possibility.

"This would not happen overnight, but the mind-boggling point is that our actions today are changing the face of planet Earth as we know it and will continue to do so for tens of thousands of years to come," said lead author of the study Ricarda Winkelmann, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

If we want to stop this from happening," she says, "we need to keep coal, gas, and oil in the ground."

The good news? Most of our coastlines are still intact! And they can stay that way, too — if we act now.

World leaders are finallystarting to treat climate change like the global crisis that it is — and you can help get the point across to them, too.

Check out Business Insider's video below:

This article originally appeared on 12.08.15

Having lived in small towns and large cities in the Pacific Northwest, Southwest, and Midwest, and after spending a year traveling around the U.S. with my family, I've seen first-hand that Americans have much more in common than not. I've also gotten to experience some of the cultural differences, subtle and not-so-subtle, real and not-so-real, that exist in various parts of the country.

Some of those differences are being discussed in a viral thread on Twitter. Self-described "West coaster" Jordan Green kicked it off with an observation about East coasters being kind and West coasters being nice, which then prompted people to share their own social experiences in various regions around the country.

Green wrote:

"When I describe East Coast vs West Coast culture to my friends I often say 'The East Coast is kind but not nice, the West Coast is nice but not kind,' and East Coasters immediately get it. West Coasters get mad.

Niceness is saying 'I'm so sorry you're cold,' while kindness may be 'Ugh, you've said that five times, here's a sweater!' Kindness is addressing the need, regardless of tone.

I'm a West Coaster through and through—born and raised in San Francisco, moved to Portland for college, and now live in Seattle. We're nice, but we're not kind. We'll listen to your rant politely, smile, and then never speak to you again. We hit mute in real life. ALOT.


So often, we West Coasters think that showing *sympathy* or feeling *empathy* is an act of kindness. Sadly, it's really just a nice act. Kindness is making sure the baby has a hat. (s/o to breenewsome and BlackAmazon)

When you translate this to institutions or policy, you'll see alot of nice words being used, & West Coast liberals/radicals are really good at *sounding* nice. But I've seen organizers & activists from other places get frustrated because nothing happens after ALOT of talk.

Nothing happens after the pronoun check-ins and the icebreakers. It's rare we make sure that people's immediate needs are addressed. There's no kindness. You have people show up to meetings hungry, or needing rides home, and watching those with means freeze when asked to help.

As we begin to 'get back a sense of normalcy' or 're-calibrate' to what people in Blue States™ think is Right™ and Just™, I want us to keep in mind the difference between Niceness and Kindness. If something sounds nice, doesn't mean that it's kind."

Of course, there are genuinely kind and surface nice people everywhere you go, so no one should take these observations as a personal affront to them individually. Generalizations that lead to stereotypes are inherently problematic, and broad strokes like "East coast" and "West coast" are also somewhat meaningless, so they should taken with a grain of salt as well.

In reality, a small town in South Carolina is probably more culturally similar to a small town in Eastern Oregon than it is to New York City, and there are some strong differences between various subregions as well. A more specific cultural comparison, such as "big cities on the West coast vs. big cities in the Northeast" might be more accurate as far as generalizations go, but regardless, many people related to Green's observations based on their own experiences.

To kick things off, a slew of responses poured in from people describing how New Yorkers can be cold on the surface while simultaneously reaching out their hand to help you.

Several people explained that the hustle required to afford the expense of living in New York explains why people skip the niceties. It's about valuing people's time; wasting it with nice words is ruder than just quickly helping out and then moving on.

Many people chimed in with agreement with the original post (even some Canadians confirming that their East/West differences aligned with ours).

"No sense of urgency" is definitely a West coast vibe, but is generally viewed a positive out here. And "inconveniencing everyone around them" might be a subjective observation. Maybe.

Plenty of people with bicoastal experience weighed in with their stories of how their experiences lined up with the basic premise of the thread, though.

Though certainly not universally true, the tendency for West coasters to be more hands-off might extend back to the frontier days. The pioneer and gold rush mindset was necessarily individualistic and self-sufficient. In my experience, West coasters assume you don't need help unless you directly ask for it. But people don't ask because of the individualistic and self-sufficient thing, so automatic helpfulness just hasn't become part of the dominant culture.

Things got even more interesting once the South and Midwest entered the chat.

But the takes on warm/nice/kind thing varied quite a bit.

One thing that seems quite clear if you read through the various responses to the thread is that specific states and cities seem to have their own cultures that don't break down as simply as East/West/Midwest/South. There's an entire book about how the U.S. can actually be subdivided into 11 different regions that are almost like nations unto themselves. Even this map from 1940 included 34 different cultural regions in the U.S.

And don't even get a Californian started on the differences between Northern CA, Southern CA, and the Central Valley. "Culture" can even be narrowed down even to specific neighborhoods, and people's experiences and perceptions vary for all kinds of reasons, so once again, generalizations only go so far before they fall flat.

If you're curious about what the data says about all of this, a cursory search of surveys about which states are the kindest brings up a fairly mixed bag, but people seem to find Minnesota quite friendly. A Wallethub ranking of charitability by state based on 19 factors including volunteerism also placed Minnesota at number one, followed by Utah, Maryland, Oregon, and Ohio. Pretty hard to make a regional generalization with those states.

Then again, there's the whole "Minnesota nice" thing, which brings us full circle back to the original thread.

So many elements go into the culture of a place, from population density to the history of settlement to the individual personalities of the people who make someplace their home. And nothing is set in stone—the atmosphere of a place can change over time, as anyone who's visited a city a decade or two apart can attest.

One thing that's true, no matter where we live, is that we play a role in molding the culture of our immediate surroundings. If we want where we live to be friendlier, we can be friendlier ourselves. If we want to see people help one another, we can serve as that example. We might stand out, but we also might inspire others who yearn for the same thing.

"Be the change" might seem a bit cliche, but it truly is the key to shifting or world in the way we want it to go, no matter what part of the country—or the world—we live in.


This article originally appeared on 01.22.21