Take Two!

Vacation Stand-Ins


Korean GPS

More often than not, film extras aspire to be professional actors. Contrary to this stereotype, I wanted nothing more than to pursue activities for which I would not be able to make time once I found a full-time job relevant to my future career path, which amused some individuals on set. A few weeks following my initial experience on the set of Vacation, I was called back to assist with a different scene involving my role. Everyone I had seen surprisingly remembered and enthusiastically welcomed me, and I used this ebullient atmosphere to befriend and create deeper conversations with the employees. I even brought a list of decent Korean restaurants nearby to share with those who wanted to know several weeks ago. Ed Helms walked past and asked me, “You ready for some more Korean?” and I was delighted he recalled me. Christina Applegate also appeared to recognize me during our brief greetings and be in a brighter mood than our first encounter. Though I had to wait a couple of hours prior to my segment, I enjoyed that time exploring the set and learning about the editing process. (Though viewers generally only credit those on camera, countless men and women behind-the-scenes as well make successful productions possible.)

Skyler Gisondo

Good luck at USC next semester!

The Vacation team originally stated they would use a separate professional voice for the movie, though the actors’ reactions from the scenes in which I partook will have been influenced by my shouting and grunting. Thus, I was caught off guard when the technical crew attached a tiny microphone to my shirt and took me to a medic room to record every one of my lines in the script. Skyler Gisondo, one of the stars, along with stand-ins cheered me on from outside, proving to me the room did not fully contain my “hilarious” howling. Whether or not the movie will use my voice is yet to be determined, as I was told all “yes,” “maybe,” and “probably not.” Nevertheless, had I been told about the recording session in advance, I would have taken the script to my brother first to ensure all of my translations sounded natural. Director John Francis Daley did not believe this to be a potential problem, as the team would add subtitles and most spectators would not understand anyway. Appearing in a movie would be an honor, but at the same time, I would not want the Korean audience to misconceive a Korean-American who hardly knows Korean tried too hard to no avail, because I do speak flawless Korean.

Though much shorter than the previous time on set, the rest of the session remained similar, reading my lines in front of the main characters. I had multiple chances to chat with benevolent foreign chefs, stand-ins, actors, and production assistants, all of whom helped me feel at ease with their amiability. I discovered Skyler began acting at age six to which I jokingly responded, “I don’t think I even talked when I was six. I certainly didn’t speak English.” I wondered if acting ever became repetitive for him, but he felt not, as “it’s always new.” Steele Stebbins, a teen actor who constantly waved at me my first time working with the protagonists, gave me a hug when he saw me back. His mother said they were thinking of me for an unknown reason the other day. After the final scene, he approached and asked me if I were leaving, and I told him, “This is probably my last time here.” He immediately offered another hug, and I suggested to his mother we should have Korean food soon, especially because he has never had any. Aside from breaking my fixed retainer biting a slice of pizza before exiting the set, I have only obtained positive memories enrolling in a movie with such humble veterans. Vacation marked my last participation as an extra, as I only craved a minor experience in this realm and do not consider acting as my calling.

His Greater Plan

Seeing my brother serve as a volunteer chaplain assistant during his military service, I jestingly told my father I should pursue chaplain assistant as my military occupational specialty (MOS) a month prior to mustering in the Republic of Korea Army. The position of chaplain assistant is regarded as one of the most laid-back and physically unchallenging MOS’ and hence desired and applied to by countless Korean male citizens. My father did not believe I sufficiently comprehended the Bible to stand a chance against these competitors. As I approached the replacement depot on June 29, 2010, to begin the new chapter in my life as a soldier, I only had one wish: not to be stationed in one of the front divisions facing North Korea. I remember informing several friends in the United States awaiting my return on the possibility of my serving right behind North Korea, primarily to tease them to think of me. Coincidentally, to my fate, I was drafted into Cheorwon’s 6th Infantry Division, the very front division that includes the demilitarized zone. Arguably the coldest region in South Korea, Cheorwon in winter regularly hit negative twenty-two degrees Fahrenheit (and much lower in units at the top of the mountains), worsened by fierce winds. A drunk officer from this division fell asleep outside and froze to death, which testifies to this brutal cold.

Five weeks of boot camp

My parents, though optimistic on the phone to add hope, hid their worries about my unanticipated circumstance. I was scared and dearly hanging on to the belief God will never leave me. My division did not consist of translating jobs, but a private assistant’s misinformation made me eager to utilize my unusually exceptional English skills as a nonnative to serve my country. Nevertheless, God had a different plan for me all along. I attended church two to three times a week during boot camp, and being unprecedentedly mentally unstable, discouraged, and intimidated, I cried a river worshipping the Father every service, while most comrades either slept or marched into their own little psychological realm. One day after service, the divisional chaplain asked the trainees if any of them had studied theology, and nobody raised his hand. He then wanted to know if any had lived abroad, and out of the hundreds of initiates, only I put up my hand. He carried on with a series of questions, leading me to reveal I had been living in North America for over half of my life and was enrolled in Emory University, with which he was familiar. He vaguely stated he would use me; little did I know then he was looking for a new regimental chaplain assistant. The 19th Infantry Regiment had recently replaced its Buddhist priest with a chaplain and become a Christian unit; therefore, the regiment desperately required a chaplain assistant. The divisional chaplain office contemplated promoting a volunteer chaplain assistant from the regiment, but the chaplain’s driver, my best Korean friend now, persuaded the chaplain to bring in a new soldier instead. My evident passion for God made the chaplain downright determined to recruit me for this newfound duty until he discovered my prominent politician family background. He said, “If you were a normal kid, I would have chosen you, but you are not, so I will have to pray more to make my decision.” He fretted the public would accuse me of abusing my family status to obtain this popular MOS. This chaplain still had faith in and fought for me in front of the division’s influential officers, including the two-star divisional commander.

A major called my platoon commander during an individual-combat training session to interview me, particularly about my perspective on North Korea. I honestly replied, “I don’t think North Korea as a whole is our enemy,” blaming the country’s regime rather than innocent and wretched civilians. Some officers also surmised I had psychological issues—a criterion unacceptable to becoming a chaplain assistant—because I refused to answer questions like standard Koreans would on psychology tests. The divisional chaplain, however, defended my cultural clash, expressing, “What is so wrong about telling it like it is? Who would like to be forced to serve in the army for two years?” The unit instead sought only “Yes!” and my brutal genuineness had numerous officers question my mental health.

The divisional chaplain ultimately convinced the skeptical officers, and I was welcomed as the regimental chaplain assistant for the 19th Infantry Regiment. He explained to my parents my God-loving face was “glowing” in boot camp and thus he felt the need to recruit me. Usually, to become a chaplain assistant at a regimental level, a candidate has to be attending theology school, take a test, and then be arbitrarily picked as in the lottery, none of which fit me. Statistically, one in two thousand applicants earned my position, and I had not even applied. Placed in a combat regiment, unlike typical chaplain assistants in the country, I participated in physical training, midnight guarding and patrol duties, promotion tests, and practically all activities a combat soldier would as well as fulfilling my assignments at the divisional church. I could have found a way out of these combat roles, but I embraced hardship and even volunteered for the toughest tasks available to create everlasting memories. Working with a despicably disingenuous, imbecile, and childish fraud as my superior seven days a week for fifteen months made the army experience indescribably tougher, as I had to find motivation to refrain from pulverizing him each day. God trained me in ways I would not have tolerated as a civilian; consequently, I am exponentially more disciplined, patient, grateful, and compassionate today.

Two years in the army

The original divisional chaplain was replaced with a new chaplain, whose family my close Korean pastor had known for years. Although this family had already been praying for me, neither of us knew about each other initially. The wife claimed she knew someone with my name, and she was referring to me. We could only label God as “humorous.” The family graciously took care of me, and we still keep in touch and pray for one another. Though I at first had nothing but negative outlooks on joining the 6th Infantry Division, I learned God always remains many steps ahead of me in directing me to the path of His Glory.

The Prank

I own a 50cc Yamaha moped that travels forty miles per hour at maximum. My best friend and I habitually rode the automobile together notwithstanding its minuteness in both engine and design to reach solely nearby locations. Unsurprisingly, the heavier the riders in the seat, the more slowly the moped functions. When he and I went on, even when going downhill, the vehicle was unable to reach its fastest speed according to the speedometer. We often conversed, though the wind blowing our faces disallowed him in the back to hear me clearly.

Takes me everywhere!

One evening, on our way back to his house from dinner and dessert, the mischievous friend decided to pull a prank that resulted far beyond his simple intentions. At a red light, he slyly stood up and ran to the sidewalk, anticipating I would immediately turn around and tell him to return. Nonetheless, I failed to notice his absence and proceeded forward at full speed when the traffic light turned green. I continued talking for five minutes, thinking he was listening, and then realized my moped was moving forty miles per hour. I, still oblivious, turned around to continue chatting just to find him missing. He had on a Hello Kitty helmet that barely fit his head, and I instantly pessimistically pictured a truck running him over to death or his falling off the moped severely injuring him, thinking both, “Did I just kill him?” and “Please, get off the road.” Never had I experienced so many haunting thoughts petrifying me in the ten minutes I panicked searching for him. The utter darkness of the road with hardly any cars did not help ease my tension. I made a U-turn and shouted his name every two to three seconds heading back to where I last saw him. A woman screamed en route, and I for the first time optimistically believed she had him. When I approached her to ask if she said something, she exhibited an expression of horror as if I had come over to sexually assault her. I did not waste time on her and continued backward, and a couple of minutes after, I saw the friend walking towards me, smiling. I still had not figured he had pranked me but instead observed his entire body to ensure his safety. He told me he did not expect me to ride away and repeatedly apologized for causing this unintended fear. I had to remove my helmet and wait a few minutes prior to returning to his home to shake off this newborn trauma to no avail. I ended up having to stay in his house and sing with him for an hour before returning home.

When I share this story, most listeners unstoppably hysterically laugh. I understand why, but this dreadful thought of having accidentally killed my best friend, to whom I owe the majority of my college success, made me overly paranoid; from that point forward, I instinctively made sure, when on my moped, he remained in the seat by checking his shadow, turning around, talking to him, and even touching him. A year and a half have passed since the incident, and I can now thankfully laugh at the memory as well.

It’s Time!

The Michelob ULTRA Atlanta 13.1® Marathon, the only task standing between the ATL Challenge 39.3 and me, could not have come soon enough. Having already overcome nine notable running events in the United States, Korea, and England in the past two and a half years, my body no longer bore nerves or much sentiment prior to this latest half marathon on October 4, 2014. Upon arrival at the venue, I joined a group of athletes in front of a building under a narrow roof that blocked the unexpected frigid wind. I initiated conversations with numerous people, coincidentally including two girls who also graduated from Emory College of Arts and Sciences and currently study at the Emory University School of Medicine. How these medical students found the time to train for a half marathon while prioritizing academics amazed me. When I discovered they ran cross country and track and field in Division III, I was no longer surprised by these humble and quiet friends’ finishing second and third in their age group and twenty minutes earlier than I did.

Although I trained two to three times a week, having conquered a much more physically demanding and twice as long of a course at the Publix Georgia Marathon in March of this year, I underestimated the Michelob ULTRA Atlanta 13.1® Marathon. While running, I typically breathe through my nostrils rather than mouth as long as I can, as this strategy I learned about in the army helps conserve energy. However, the initial wintry temperature and frequent powerful wind interfered with my standard breathing and stung my nostrils, so I had no choice but to keep my mouth open for the majority of the run, which momentarily diminished my confidence. Just like during the Publix Georgia Marathon, I was repeatedly confronted by stomach cramps, but they failed to slow me down or eradicate my determination to push my body to the limit.

Completed the ATL Challenge 39.3 and even placed first in my age group!

Completed the ATL Challenge 39.3 and even placed first in my age group!

Unlike in previous running competitions, I targeted an ideal finish time, sub-02:00:00. I checked the time at every mile stop, and with slightly over a mile left in the race, I believed I had sufficient time to barely accomplish this goal before encountering the unforeseen uphill onslaught. I sprinted the last several hundred feet, and my finish time in the system read, “02:04:55.” Though disappointed, I knew I had poured out every ounce of my stamina and strength into this tedious objective, and I had no regrets. More importantly, I finally concluded the ATL Challenge 39.3 that I had been eyeing since the summer of 2013 and even placed first in my age group of 25-29 of both male and female runners. In spite of this grateful sense of accomplishment, I will continue to seek adversity to study the significance of humility and perseverance.