Elise Hu | WYPR

Elise Hu

Fierce and howling winds at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics have led to safety concerns and thrown the alpine skiing schedule into disarray. The gusts, which reached up to 50 miles per hour, led the local government to issue emergency alerts on the Korean mobile phone network warning of fire dangers and flying debris — and asking people to secure any outdoor equipment or furniture.

The strong winds meant that once again, U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin's first medal race in South Korea would be put off.

Updated at 9:30 a.m. ET

The sister of North Korea's leader, Kim Yo Jong, and other high-ranking officials from Pyongyang have met with South Korea's president. Their three-day visit to South Korea marks the highest level inter-Korean contact in more than a decade.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency also says Kim Yong Nam is "the only member of the communist state's ruling family to have visited the South, at least since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War."

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

As Vice President Pence began his two-stop Asia trip on Wednesday, he highlighted America's ties with longtime U.S. allies in the region, Japan and South Korea.

"I look forward to reinforcing the important priority that President Trump and the United States places on the relationships with these two nations," Pence said during a refueling stop on his way to Japan.

Both Japan and South Korea are considered cornerstones of U.S. security and economic relationships in Asia. But the relationship with one is going more smoothly than with the other.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The Winter Olympics in South Korea will be a chance for the country to show off its newest robot creations. NPR's Elise Hu reports that the peek into the future starts as soon as you land at the airport.

In Gangnam, the upscale Seoul district south of the Han River bisecting the city, one of the area's biggest industries is evident on people's faces: On the streets, patients are wearing nose guards and bandages, fresh from facial fix-ups. High-rises soar with a cosmetic surgery clinic on every floor, and in the subway stations, floor-to-ceiling advertisements feature images of women's uniformly wide-eyed, youthful faces — all with the message that you, too, can look this way if you go to the right clinic.

At least 37 people are dead and dozens injured following a Friday morning fire that broke out in a hospital emergency room in Miryang, a town in southeastern South Korea.

Administrators at Sejong Hospital, the fire site, said one doctor, one nurse and one nurse's assistant were among the casualties. He further said that some 80 percent of the fatalities were elderly patients.

"I am truly sorry. I am sorry for the patients and their caretakers," said Seok Jeong-sik, the director of Sejong Hospital.

Efforts to make a show of North Korean and South Korean unity at the next Olympics are drawing a backlash in South Korea. In Seoul, protesters Monday set fire to the North Korean flag and a photo of Kim Jong Un. The South Korean president's approval rating has dropped in recent days as well.

"We oppose, we oppose, we oppose," shouted demonstrators at Seoul Station, the rail and subway station in the center of the capital. They showed up to confront a North Korean advance team that had arrived to scout out Olympic venues.

Updated at 2:05 p.m. ET

Cocooned by cameras, North Korea's negotiating team crossed the border Tuesday by foot, walking about 100 yards to a conference building for the first high-level talks with South Korea in two years. Seated across from one another at a long rectangular table, diplomats from both sides expressed the need to improve frosty ties.

Stopping North Korea's nuclear program is the thorniest foreign policy problem for the U.S. president in the new year, but then again, the same was true a year ago. What has changed in 2017 is North Korea's capability and the United States' approach.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is ready to talk about talking to North Korea.

"We're ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk. And we're ready to have the first meeting without precondition," he said, in remarks Tuesday at the Atlantic Council, a think tank in Washington, D.C.

When a municipal lawmaker, Yuka Ogata, brought her 7-month-old baby to her job in a male-dominated legislature, she was met with such surprise and consternation by her male colleagues that eventually, she and the baby were asked to leave. Officials of the Kumamoto Municipal Assembly, of which she's a member, said although there's no rule prohibiting infants, they booted her citing a rule that visitors are forbidden from the floor.

The End We Start From is a book told in pieces — readers have to work for the story. Eventually, you put together enough pieces to know we're in London, sometime in the near future, and everyone's had to flee to higher ground because of an epic flood. In the midst of the chaos, a young mother — suddenly a refugee fighting for survival — tries to keep her new baby alive when the future of humankind itself is in doubt.

Golf has played an outsize role in the relationship between the U.S. and Japan lately, as diplomacy between President Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe often includes playing 18 holes together. But in Japan, where you can find half of all the golf courses in Asia, the industry is flagging.

America still has the largest golf industry in the world, by a long shot. But in Japan's economic heyday in the 1980s, it built up thousands of courses and the game became baked into its business culture.

As the #MeToo movement spread across the Internet, with women coming forward sharing tales of sexual assault and harassment, South Korean women were quick to identify.

Overall, violent crime numbers are considered low in South Korea, but in recent years, government statistics have shown a steady uptick in reported cases of sexual violence. And when it comes to gender equality, South Korea ranks poorly — near the bottom of all countries, in fact.

During his visit to Tokyo on Monday, President Trump highlighted a dark moment in Japan's history when he met with families of Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korean agents. In the 1970s, North Korea abducted at least a dozen Japanese citizens and took them to Pyongyang to train North Korean spies in Japanese language and customs. One abductee was 13.

South Korea faces a chronic dirty air problem that makes it one of the most polluted countries in the world. It's common to hear that neighboring China is to blame, but a joint study by NASA and the Korean government has found there's a lot South Korea can do on its own to cut the smog.

North Korea's neighbor of Japan is growing more alarmed by Pyongyang's advancing nuclear program, especially after a North Korean missile flew over the Japanese island of Hokkaido last week. It has led many residents to rethink the threat, even though they acknowledge they're largely powerless in this high-stakes geopolitical tussle.

Millions of residents in northern Japan got an early morning wake-up call last Tuesday, with a government text message just after 6 a.m. saying North Korea fired a missile that would pass through the skies.

Updated at 4:00 p.m. ET Sunday:

North Korea claims it has again tested a hydrogen bomb underground and that it "successfully" loaded it onto the tip of an intercontinental ballistic missile, a claim that if true, crosses a "red line" drawn by South Korea's president last month.

In a state media announcement, North Korea confirmed the afternoon tremors in its northeast were indeed caused by the test of a nuclear device, and that leader Kim Jong Un personally signed off on the test.

A South Korean court's decision Friday to sentence Lee Jae-yong, the de facto leader of Samsung, to five years in prison on corruption charges is reverberating across the country. The nation's economy and Samsung's fortunes have been inextricably linked for decades. Now both face questions about what they'll look like going forward.

A court in South Korea has found the de facto leader of Samsung, Lee Jae-yong, guilty in a corruption case involving South Korea's former president. The court in Seoul sentenced the billionaire Lee to five years in prison on a string of corruption charges, including bribery, embezzlement and perjury. Here's what you need to know:

What's Lee going to jail for?

North Korea is issuing fresh threats against the United States as a 10-day computer-based military exercise gets under way on the Korean peninsula. It's an annual joint drill between American and South Korean forces, but this year, it comes following a bitter back-and-forth between North Korea and U.S. President Donald Trump.

The tiny U.S. territory of Guam came under the international spotlight after North Korea said Wednesday that it's studying whether to launch a missile test toward the island. President Trump responded by escalating the rhetoric.

"Let's see what he does with Guam," Trump said of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un from his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. "If he does something in Guam, it will be an event the likes of which nobody has seen before what will happen in North Korea."

The escalating threats between the U.S. and North Korea have thrown the tiny U.S. territory of Guam into the headlines. North Korea this week threatened to create an "enveloping fire" around the strategically important Pacific island, located about 2,100 miles to its southeast.

But life here seems to go on as usual.

At Mosa's Joint, in Guam's capital Hagatna, Thursday happy hour lasts until 8 p.m. The place fills up fast with locals and military personnel, "kind of a little bit of everything," says Monique Genereux, who opened the bar and restaurant a few years ago.

Following North Korea's second test of an intercontinental ballistic missile last Friday, President Trump didn't hold back: "I am very disappointed in China," he tweeted. Then he brought up China's trade surplus with the U.S., saying despite it, "They do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk."

On Monday, China's official news agency, Xinhua, responded in an editorial: "Emotional venting cannot become a guiding policy for solving the nuclear issue on the peninsula."

In his North Korean mining town, Kim Hak-min loved getting his hands on electronics so much that he became the go-to guy to fix his neighbors' watches, TV's and radios. It earned the nickname "Repair Boy."

"I remember first opening up an electric toy when I was eight years old, figuring out how it worked and clutching it when I went to sleep," Kim recalls.

But by 2011, Kim had yet to encounter a smartphone.

"When I was in North Korea the only phones I saw where 2G and they were flip phones," Kim says.

Early Friday morning on the Korean peninsula, North Korea launched its second intercontinental ballistic missile inside of a month. Nuclear experts say the latest test improved on than the last one, with a range that could reach most of the continental United States.

South Korea is one of the world's richest nations, a modern place with trends changing as fast as its Internet speeds. But when it comes to some social issues, the country has been slow to change — especially for gays and lesbians.

While there are shows of support — this month, a record 85,000 people turned up at Seoul's annual pride festival, for example — recent events indicate South Korea's institutions and political class are only reluctantly tolerating sexual minorities.

If an event is branded as annual but it happens only once, can it still be called annual? This is the case for Pyongyang's "annual" Taedonggang Beer Festival, the second of which was slated to take place during August.

China-based tour company Koryo Tours, which is among the go-to tour groups organizing trips into North Korea, writes on its blog that it was "informed" North Korean organizers have canceled the event.

In South Korea, skin care is considered self-care. Just as you might go to the gym two or three times a week, it's not unusual for a South Korean to visit a facialist at the same frequency.

To cap off this initial season of our Elise Tries video series, I tried nothing at all. Instead, I enlisted a tiny helper. Have a look.

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