Lauren Frayer

Jeon Chung-won tends sheep on the hilly farm where he was born in PyeongChang, a rural county a few hours' drive east of South Korea's capital Seoul.

"It's a simple, peaceful place where the mountain air hugs you," says Jeon, 32. "I really love this place."

Only a handful of domestic tourists typically come to PyeongChang, to hike green hills dotted with Buddhist temples or visit a small ski station nearby. But that is about to change.

Hidden in green hills east of South Korea's capital is the House of Sharing, a nursing home for elderly women.

It's a bright, spacious place. But its residents are survivors of a dark chapter of history.

"It was 1942 and I was only 15, running an errand for my parents [in our Korean hometown of Busan], when two Japanese men in uniform grabbed me by the arms and dragged me away," recalls Lee Ok-seon, now age 90. "That's how I became enslaved."

She was sent to work in a brothel in a Japanese-occupied area of northeast China.

Watching footage of April's military parades in North Korea — with soldiers marching in formation to patriotic tunes — Lee So-yeon recalls all the steps. She was once one of those soldiers.

The daughter of a university professor, Lee, now 41, grew up in North Korea's North Hamgyong province. But when famine devastated the country in the 1990s, women — including Lee — volunteered for the military in droves, often for the food rations.

North Korean state media said Monday that the missile Pyongyang test-fired on Sunday is a new weapon, able to carry a heavy nuclear warhead to unprecedented distances — possibly as far as U.S. soil.

A liberal human rights lawyer born to North Korean refugees has won South Korea's presidential election with a promise to improve the economy and hold talks with the nuclear-armed North.

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In 2009, a close aide to former South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun, who had left office a year earlier, took to a podium on live TV. He looked pale and distraught.

He announced that the former president had taken his own life.

It was a dramatic moment in South Korea. It was also when South Koreans first got to know the man who looks likely to be their next president: Moon Jae-in, that former presidential aide.

Next to a river flowing from lush green hills, Lim Sun-bun, 64, tills her land — onions, garlic, potatoes and peppers.

She's lived in rural Seongju county, about 130 miles from Seoul in the southeastern region of the Korean Peninsula, all her life. It's a quiet, conservative, agricultural place, famous for growing melons.

But this past winter, Lim started hearing U.S. helicopters overhead.

"They fly low, and it's scary," she says. "No one asked us if we want to host this U.S. base. I'm worried about contamination of this river — our livelihood."

With tensions rising over North Korea's nuclear program, you might expect panic in South Korea — air raid drills or schoolchildren climbing under their desks, Cold-War-style.

But I found an altogether different scene in the capital, Seoul, when I arrived last week: parade floats and pop music.

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