Chris Jeon: The Real Story Behind College Student Turned Libyan Freedom Fighter
Author: KoreAm
Posted: January 23rd, 2013
Filed Under: Back Issues , BLOG , December 2012 , FEATURED ARTICLE
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Photo by Mark Edward Harris/KoreAm

Rebel With a Cause?

In the summer of 2011, UCLA student Chris Jeon left his $9,000-a-month internship at a San Francisco financial firm to fight with the rebels in Libya. What was he thinking? For the 21-year-old from Orange County, it all made perfect sense—which is why he went back again.


It’s midnight in Libya, and the math major from UCLA is standing on an overturned pickup truck screaming, “Libya is great!” He has just survived an amateur “drifting” accident—the pickup he was in tipped over on its side, skidding across Benghazi’s Keish Square at 40 miles an hour—and he is jubilant. With his carefully tousled hair and goofy T-shirt (featuring a cartoon bomb that’s crying while it explodes), he looks like a stoner undergrad on spring break, which, remarkably, he is.

“This is wild,” he says.

There are a thousand or so Libyans standing in the overheated square, watching a 21-year-old Korean American kid from Orange County pledge his allegiance to their country.  Not all of them are amused.

A year before, Chris Jeon knew next to nothing about Libya. In the spring of 2011, as Libyans were rallying in Benghazi, igniting a revolution against Muammar Qaddafi, Jeon was a business-minded junior, angling for a high-paying summer internship at BlackRock, the world’s largest asset-management firm. The pay was good, and the internship was a steppingstone to a career path he’d spent his life gunning for, but it disappointed Jeon almost instantly. Each monotonous day in his cubicle at BlackRock’s San Francisco headquarters showed him how boring his life could be.

So that August, with the rebels advancing on Qaddafi, Chris Jeon flew to Cairo, hitchhiked across the Libyan border and joined a rebel battalion.  From the outside, it was an inexplicable departure: One week he was a finance trainee in a slick San Francisco office tower; the next he was in the stifling desert, dodging mortar fire and going by the name Ahmed Mugrabi Saidi Barga. To Jeon, however, it made perfect sense. Now, five months after the end of the war, Jeon is back in Libya for spring break. He’s abandoned the idea of a career in banking and says he wants to return to Libya to help his friends rebuild their country. But as he stands on the overturned truck, he seems a little dazed. His eyes are wide with adrenaline. He starts chanting in rudimentary Arabic, trying to lead the crowd in a call and response. They’re not going for it. Continue Reading »

UCLA Student Still Seeking ‘Adventure’ in Libya, Syria
Author: Chelsea Hawkins
Posted: August 29th, 2012
Filed Under: BLOG
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Chris Jeon first gained notoriety after he joined the Libyan rebel movement before the fall of Muammar Qaddafi, but now he’s looking to make a life of “adventure full-time.”

Jeon, a student at University of California, Los Angeles studying mathematics, the young Korean American told The National of the United Arab Emirates he’s considering leaving the university in pursuit of a life of exploration. He’s now attempting to join Syrian rebel forces against the Assad regime.

“The next wave of great adventurers are not going to be the ones that take you to mountains or deserts,” he told the English-language UAE newspaper. “It is going to be hanging out with rebels in Libya, experiencing life as a transvestite in Thailand for a month, surviving in a city with a dollar. I feel that this is what a great modern-day explorer does and I’m going to be doing that.”

But this explorer is also looking to turn a profit from his chosen hard-knock lifestyle. Jeon is now charging customers $1,000 for a weekend or $2,000 for a week of travel in a city on “a dollar a day,” surviving on wits, the generosity of others, and living on the streets.

“It changes their lives,” the 22-year-old said of the trips. “I’m turning this into a business now, an adventure consultancy … You walk onto the plane with only the clothes you have on. You leave behind your wallet, your phone. You eat food from the trash.”

Jeon famously spent his summer vacation last year with Libyan rebels and was discovered by reporters on August 30. They took photos of Jeon awkwardly firing an AK-47 assault rifle into the air.

The college student had not told his parents where he was going but later called them to say he was alright.

Monday’s Link Attack: Doo-Ri Chung, Steven Yeun, John Cho
Y. Peter Kang
Author: Y. Peter Kang
Posted: October 24th, 2011
Filed Under: BLOG
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Designer Doo.Ri on Spring 2012, Illustrators, and Motherhood

Earlier this week, we told you that Korean-American designer Doo.Ri Chung had just dressed Michelle Obama and is slated to design a capsule collection with Macy’s. At the press preview for her eponymous runway collection and contemporary Under.Ligne line, we had the chance to chat with the articulate, talented designer about her design inspirations, designing for two different markets, and how motherhood has changed her work. Read the interview transcript below, and click through to see our favorite looks from her Spring 2012 runway collection!

The Walking Dead Interview
SFX (U.K.)

Ever had moments when you have been so squeamish you haven’t wanted to do something?
Steven Yeun: I think it’s really cool in our cast that there’s just an understanding that you can’t be a wuss on a show like this. Even if you are squeamish, you can’t show up to work and be squeamish because then you’ll just get razzed from that point on. You just fit the standard that’s been set. That’s what so amazing about this cast.

S. Korean pitcher Park Chan-ho released by Japanese club Orix

South Korean baseball pitcher Park Chan-ho has been released by his Japanese cub Orix Buffaloes.

The Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) club announced Monday that Park, 38, will not be retained for next season. The right-hander joined the Buffaloes before the 2011 season on a one-year deal.

The former Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star pitched only seven games for the Japanese club, and none after June, going 1-5 with an earned run average (ERA) of 4.29. He dealt with assorted injuries all season.

Nuclear Talks With North Korea Begin in Geneva
New York Times

GENEVA — The United States and North Korea began two days of talks here on Monday that American officials have said will test the ground for a possible resumption of wider discussions on North Korea’s nuclear program.

A convoy of vehicles brought Kim Kye-gwan, North Korea’s first vice foreign minister, to the United States mission in Geneva exactly on schedule at 10 a.m. for the first round of talks with a team of American negotiators led by President Obama’s special envoy for North Korea policy, Stephen W. Bosworth. Clifford Hart, the American special envoy for the talks, said the American and North Korean delegations met for about two hours and made initial presentations that he described as “useful.”

Head of U.N. Humanitarian Aid Paints Dire Scene in North Korea
New York Times

North Koreans, especially children, urgently need outside aid to fight “terrible levels of malnutrition,” the United Nations’ humanitarian chief said Monday, in an appeal that came amid criticism that both Washington and Seoul were withholding aid for political reasons.

“Six million North Koreans urgently need food aid, but the outside world is not giving enough,” the official, Valerie Amos, said in a press conference after a fact-finding trip to North Korea last week. “We need to remember the most vulnerable people in North Korea are victims of a situation over which they have no control. They are suffering from no fault of their own.”

For New Yorkers, cooking classes demystify Korean cuisine

On a recent Saturday evening, Youngsun Lee, culinary instructor and executive chef of the popular Kimchi Taco Truck, welcomed 12 curious students to “The Korean Plate” cooking class at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) in Manhattan.

Lee started the class by introducing a few basic Korean ingredients, including gochujang (red pepper paste), doenjang (fermented bean paste) and dried anchovies. Along the way, he shared anecdotes about the various ingredients and dishes from his childhood in Korea.

For the next three hours, the students made their first attempt at various Korean recipes, from the most famous dishes such as kimchi and bulgogi to the popular summer dessert of patbingsu, Korean shaved ice with sweet red beans and chewy mini rice cakes.

“These classes help people demystify Korean ingredients and dishes so that they can enjoy Korean food better at home and outside,” said Lee.

The Korean invasion: New Yorkers are screaming for the new wave of pop stars
New York Daily News

Check out this lengthy feature article written by KoreAm contributor David Yi about K-pop’s rabid fans, who descended on New York City for a sold-out concert over the weekend.

On a recent Monday afternoon, hordes of fans outnumbered tourists in Times Square, holding colorful cardboard signs outside of MTV’s TRL studios. The cheers weren’t for Katy Perry or Justin Bieber, but for a group of South Korean acts including B2ST and 4 Minute. One fan issued a familiar cry.

“Oh my God, this is a dream come true!” exclaimed Nicole Asmat, 19, who was part of the lucky audience inside TRL studios. A flood of tears drenched her face after one of her favorite stars held her hand from the stage.

“I haven’t seen this in years,” Peter Griffin, executive vice president at MTV said while peering at the crowd outside. “It reminds me of when ‘N Sync was here and the fans lined up around the studio.”

The OC guy who fought in Libya? Meet him

Chris Jeon did hesitate. But it was just once, he says, and it didn’t involve much soul searching. It worked like this: This summer, Jeon, a UCLA student from Mission Viejo, flew to Egypt. When he landed he headed east, traveling by train, bus and thumb to the front lines of the Libyan civil war.

And he did it all with his usual mix of confidence and more confidence. Then, at the edge of the rebel-held city of Ras Linuf, Jeon was stopped at a checkpoint. He was stuck there overnight, he says, during which he spent maybe 20 minutes wondering what he was doing on the edge of war, alone, thousands of miles from home. But when morning came and he was allowed to pass, whatever questions he’d brushed against were vaporized.

“After that,” Jeon says, “no doubts.”

Violinist Hahn-Bin set to shake up Washington Center
The Olympian (Olympia, Wash.)

Imagine Andy Warhol with Lady Gaga’s wardrobe, Davie Bowie’s makeup, Travis Barker’s hair and Hilary Hahn’s violin technique, and you’ll get an idea of Hahn-Bin.

The young violin star might be 24, Korean-American, transgender and an impressive classical musician, but in the show he’s bringing to Olympia’s Washington Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday he’s trying to get you to think way beyond all that. Beyond Mozart, Gershwin and Piazzolla, in fact – beyond things that divide humanity and into something that connects us.

Whoa, BJ Kang Was A Total Jerk When He Arrested Raj, According To Raj [Rajaratnam]
Business Insider

Apparently when FBI agent BJ Kang arrested Raj, he was a total jerk.

You won’t believe what he said to Raj before he and five agents pulled him away from his family. According to a new interview with Raj in the Daily Beast, when Kang showed up at Raj’s front door in Manhattan at Sutton Place, he told the former hedge fund manager of the Galleon Group -

“Take a good look at your son. You’re not going to see him for a long time. Your wife doesn’t seem so upset. Because she’s going to spend all your money.”

Here’s an interesting profile on the Korean American FBI agent published by Reuters in late 2009.

Sexual Abuse Play – YouTube

Korean-American Gina Kim shares the story of being molested by her uncle and how her mother dismissed the sexual abuse. She made a play out of her tragedy in a autobiographical play called Miss Kim.

Midfielder Ki Sung-yueng Nets 4th Goal of Season for Celtic
Chosun Ilbo

Korean midfielder Ki Sung-yueng scored his fourth goal of the season in the Scottish Premier League on Sunday to help Celtic beat Aberdeen 2-1.

In front of a raucous home crowd, the 22-year-old netted a well-worked opener for the home side 17 minutes into the game before defender Ryan Jack leveled for Aberdeen on the hour mark.

Korean dance, fashion show leave audience spellbound
Times of Oman

A troupe of Korean dancers with their colourful costumes and beautiful choreography thrilled an audience of women at the Grand Hyatt on Wednesday.

The dancers are part of the Korea-Arab Friendship Caravan, which is on a mission to improve ties between the East-Asian nation and seven Arab countries, including Oman, by showcasing Korean culture.

“When you have a very special friend and you want to feel closer to your friend, you have to show as much as possible about yourself to them, so after this event I hope you’ll feel much closer to my country,” said Choe Jonghyun, Korea’s ambassador to Oman, as he welcomed the audience.

The complete guide to Seoul taxis

Not only are Seoul taxis abundant and convenient (you can pay with credit cards or T-money public transit cards) but most come equipped with GPS navigation systems and Big Brother-esque black boxes to ensure proper conduct of both the driver and the customer.

Whether you’re a first-timer to the city and confused about the colors, or a local who doesn’t know about the change in rates at night, here’s our guide to Seoul’s many taxis.

John Cho: We get very excited about George Takei
7Live (ABC San Francisco)

Harold and Kumar have gone from White Castle to shooting Santa Claus out of the sky in “A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas.” One-half of the incredibly funny duo, John Cho, stopped by 7Live to chat for a while

John Cho talks about making the Harold and Kumar movies, meeting President Obama, eating dinner with the president of South Korea, showing Star Trek to troops in Iraq, being inspired by George Takei, and how “Flash Forward” came to an end.

Wednesday’s Link Attack: G-Dragon, Kim Jong Il, SAT Cheaters
Y. Peter Kang
Author: Y. Peter Kang
Posted: October 5th, 2011
Filed Under: BLOG
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‘Glee’ Roars Into the World of Tiger Moms, Dads and Cubs
Wall Street Journal

Count me among the legions of Asian American Gleeks who’ve been irritably waiting for show producers Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan to do something interesting with Harry Shum Jr.’s peripatetic footballer-turned-dance machine, Mike Chang. Really, RyBrI: After two years of back-bench toil as the mostly mute “Other Asian,” there isn’t a performer on the show who’s earned a turn in the spotlight more than Harry. And given the season-opener revelation that Chang is a senior, with little likelihood of sticking around on the show post-McKinley, this season could represent Shum’s final chance to shine.

A Closer Look: Back from Libya
The Daily Bruin (UCLA)

Chris Jeon reminisces about his time fighting in the Libyan revolution and living with rebels.

Rain’s final concert this Sunday

Weeping will ensue en masse this weekend, as South Korea’s biggest pop star and Stephen Colbert’s arch-nemesis, Rain, will perform in the public for the last time before enlisting in the South Korean military. The “Ninja Assassin” star’s free good-bye concert will be held on Sunday, October 9, as part of the Gangnam Fashion Festival 2011.

It is sure to be a tearful affair on both sides: “Concerts to me are like life on a smaller scale,” Rain told CNN Talk Asia in 2009. Rain begins his mandatory, 22-month, Republic of Korea Army service on Tuesday, October 11.

Big Bang’s G-Dragon caught smoking marijuana

But did he inhale?

Koreans make their mark in Fairfax
Fairfax Times (Va.)

When Steve Choi and his family moved to Virginia from South Korea in 1974, his sixth-grade classmates wanted to touch his hair, or challenge him to a fight–sometimes both.

“A lot of them had never even met an Asian before, so even my hair was very interesting to them,” said Choi, who now runs a highly successful food service company and serves as President of the Korean-American Association of the Washington Metro area, based in Annandale. “Everybody thought I was Bruce Lee- they wanted to fight me to see if I knew kung-fu.”

These days, Koreans are no longer the novelty they once were in the region. Korean immigration to the U.S. was negligible prior to 1970, but since that year some 973,450 South Koreans have obtained permanent resident status in the U.S. and the Washington, D.C. metro area has the third largest Korean population in the country behind Los Angeles and New York.

The Torrid Romantic Life of Kim Jong-il
Chosun Ilbo

Yun Hye-yong was a woman beyond the reach even of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il. Yun, the lead singer of Kim’s former favorite band Pochonbo Electronic Ensemble, was brutally executed after she spurned Kim’s persistent advances and fell in love with another man.

Or so claims Chang Jin-song, an author formerly affiliated with the North Korean Workers’ Party, in “Kim Jong-il’s Last Woman.” Published in May, it is an epic poem that details Kim’s private life and inside story of his regime based on the true story of the Pochonbo Electronic Ensemble.

SAT cheaters
Korea Times

A famous SAT teacher in Korea was caught illegally discussing what was on the exam. He used the time difference between the United States and other countries to tell his students what will be on the test.

As students talked after the test, some of them, without noticing, told others that they had known what was going to be on the exam.

Since SAT scores are based on percentages, the other students felt this was unfair and reported the incident to the College Board. All the tests taken in Korea were voided and the efforts of those who actually worked hard came to naught.

However, the worst part starts here. As more and more people found out about the SAT teacher, more and more parents tried to send their kids to him so their children could attain high scores. It is shocking that some parents care more about children’s short-term goal of getting into a good college instead of looking to the distant future of their children.

Korean Official: US will endorse FTA with Korea by Oct. 21
Korea Times

Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon said Wednesday that the U.S. Congress is expected to give a final endorsement of a free trade agreement with Korea by Oct. 21 at the latest.

Olympic figure skating champion Kim Yu-na named ambassador for 2012 Winter Youth Games
AP via Washington Post

Olympic figure skating champion Kim Yu-na will help promote the first Winter Youth Games.

The IOC says the 21-year-old South Korean skater will join Olympic ski champions Lindsey Vonn and Benjamin Raich as an “ambassador” for the games, which will be held in Innsbruck, Austria, from Jan. 13-22.

Jay Park interview with

Over the weekend at 2011 ISA LA, had a chance to chat with Jay Park about his music and dance careers. With a huge following in both USA and Asia, we talk about opportunities for Asian Americans in both regions. He shared with us about his strategy straddling the East and West. Jay Park has already release several singles including Single Life, Demon, Bestie & Speechless. He’s even done several collabos like Clouds and Maybe One Day. He might not have an English album soon, but he’s working on new English tracks. In the meantime, he’ll be busy promoting his upcoming Korean film “Mr. Idol” and a Korean album in November.

Monday’s Link Attack: Chris Jeon, Michelle Wie, Bae Doona
Y. Peter Kang
Author: Y. Peter Kang
Posted: September 26th, 2011
Filed Under: BLOG
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Living with Libyan rebels: U.S. student’s story
CBS News

UCLA student Chris Jeon appeared on CBS’ “The Early Show” to talk about his experience with Libyan rebels.

“The first day there,’ Jeon continued, “was actually a desert skirmish. Artillery would hit the ground, and they would come up to me and feel my heartbeat to see if I was scared. And of course, it was pounding; they would laugh at me, but I didn’t run away. They called me ‘Braveheart,’ and I think after that, they realized that I was there seriously, and I wouldn’t back down or anything; they actually took me into the barracks after the first day and I slept with them.”

Jeon also appeared on CNN.

Europe Wins Solheim Cup
AP via

Europe won the Solheim Cup for the first time since 2003 on Sunday, finishing powerfully to beat the United States 15-13 at Killeen Castle.

Norway’s Suzann Pettersen turned the momentum Europe’s way when she recovered from 1 down with birdies at the last three holes to beat Michelle Wie by one hole.

A trek across South Korea filled with ‘small joys’
Los Angeles Times

The hill appeared out of the mist, taunting me. Soaked in sweat and an entire day’s rain, lugging a 40-pound backpack, I could hardly see through my fogged-up lenses. But what I could see, I didn’t like.

Seven hours earlier, I had started a solo walk across my native land, dreaming of seeing the real South Korea. It was nearly dark when I reached the imposing hill. What lay on the other side — more forest? I had to find someplace to stay for the night, but where? Then, a tougher question: Could I handle the real thing?

I had left South Korea in 2002, when I was 16, to study in the U.S. I loved the English language and wanted to be surrounded by it.

In all, I spent seven years in Washington state, always thinking of how hard my family worked to pay for my college education.

Whenever I felt homesick, I’d visit my school’s East Asia library and read Korean books. The written Korean language was a big comfort, but what I loved most were the travel books that described the beauty and mystery of the landscape, people and culture.

Body Recovered From Lake Congamond
NBC Connecticut

The body of a 44 year old man has been recovered from Lake Congamond, Police said. The man has been identified as Dong Soo Kim of Springfield, Mass.

Crews were called to the scene around noon on Saturday after witnesses said Kim’s daughter fell overboard while boating. Kim jumped in after her but never resurfaced.

Officials at the scene said the daughter was pulled from the water by nearby boaters and given CPR. She was taken to an area hospital.

N. Korean heir apparent cements status: S. Korea
AFP via Google News

The son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il has cemented his status as leader-in-waiting through frequent field trips with his ailing father, the South’s unification ministry said Monday.

Kim Jong-Un has accompanied his father 100 times, or on two-thirds, of his trademark “field guidance” trips, since he was confirmed as leader-in-waiting a year ago, the ministry said in a report.

Bae Doo-na Ice Cool Ahead of Hollywood Debut
Chosun Ilbo

All it took was a video call and a short home movie, and the Wachowski brothers — the brains behind “The Matrix” trilogy — were sold on actress Bae Doo-na.

The Wachowskis had been looking around for someone to fill a role in their upcoming movie, “Cloud Atlas,” which has a star-studded cast including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon and Hugo Weaving.

Blowing the cobwebs off Korea’s heritage

Korea’s history offers it all — kingdoms rise and fall, wars smolder and blaze, religions wax and wane, orthodoxies are established and questioned. Across this colorful tapestry royals strut, heroes ride, rebels plot and villains scuttle.

Why then, is English language presentation of so many traditional Korean heritage assets so unremittingly dull?

Adoptee becomes first Korean to reach French Senate

A South Korean adoptee won a seat in the French Senate in the country’s parliamentary election on Sunday, becoming the first ethnic Korean to advance to France’s top political body.

Jean-Vincent Place, 43, who was adopted by a French family in the 1970s and grew to become a politician, was elected as a French senator after running in a constituency of the province of Ile de France on the leftist Green Party ticket.

Teacher, Leave Those Kids Alone

On a wet Wednesday evening in Seoul, six government employees gather at the office to prepare for a late-night patrol. The mission is as simple as it is counterintuitive: to find children who are studying after 10 p.m. And stop them.

In South Korea, it has come to this. To reduce the country’s addiction to private, after-hours tutoring academies (called hagwons), the authorities have begun enforcing a curfew — even paying citizens bounties to turn in violators.

Way Home by Erick Oh

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