Updated at the bottom: We speak with a worried friend of Jeon's from UCLA, who says Jeon is a “thrill-seeker” trying to “test himself.”
Originally posted September 1 at 11:05 a.m.
Sorry, Westwood: The raddest, most absurdly wired math major ever to grace your homogenous hell of a dorm-tropolis has officially left the building.
UCLA student Chris Jeon bought a one-way ticket to Cairo two weeks ago, telling his parents he was going on a tame little vaycay. Then — like a man on a motherfucking mission — Jeon made his way to the heart of foreign unrest: He's currently in a town called An Nawfaliyah, on the road to Tripoli.
Apparently the UC Regents budget-cut walkouts weren't cutting it for Jeon, on the rebellion meter:
“It is the end of my summer vacation, so I thought it would be cool to join the rebels,” he told an Australian reporter from The National, clearly floored to find an Asian-American dude in an L.A. basketball jersey out in the middle of the desert. “This is one of the only real revolutions.“
His story only gets zanier from there. Jeon makes civilian Osama-hunting look like child's play:
“How do you fire this thing?” he asked on Wednesday as a bearded rebel handed him an AK-47. Locating the trigger of the assault rifle and switching off the safety, Mr Jeon fired it in the air in two short bursts.
“I want to fight in Sirte!” he proclaimed, using hand gestures and pointing west towards Sirte. Whether the rebels understood him was far from clear. “It's hard to communicate. I don't really speak any Arabic,” he said.
The Arab Spring rebels with whom Jeon is running have nicknamed him Ahmed El Maghrabi Saidi Barga, awesomely. The name also serves as something of an awkward-silence breaker, reports the paper: “When communication invariably reaches an impasse, he merely repeats his name and the rebels erupt in raucous cheers.”
Oh, and here's the reason Jeon didn't buy a return ticket (though he does still plan to graduate in May, being the shruggishly optimistic dude he is): “If I get captured or something, I don't want to waste another $800.”
How did this human come into existence? And in a place like Cypress, California, no less. His Facebook profile makes him look surprisingly normal; he's in groups like “I <3 Cali" and "Texts From Last Night-UCLA."
But don't be fooled by these inane attempts at status-quo! And please, readers: If you have the honor of knowing Chris Jeon, or even knowing someone who knows Chris Jeon, contact us immediately. We need to find this kid. And marry him. After a supreme talking-to.
Best quote for last: “Whatever you do, don't tell my parents,” Jeon told the paper. “They don't know I'm here.”
Uh, yeah. About that. We can more or less guarantee your parents are in the throes of a collective Earth-shaking heart attack right now, unable to rip their eyes from some Australian reporter's photo of their precious little math star with an AK-47 and a rebel's headscarf, wondering where their good Asian parenting went wrong. (On the contrary, we'd like to reassure them: This might be one of those situations that's so wrong it's right.)
Really though — come home safe, Chris. We know UCLA is going to seem stupid boring after your X-treme crusade to free the Libyans from oppression, but at least you won't get shot here, or blown up by terrorists, or turned to stone by Qaddafi's mere gaze. It's only a cool story if you live to tell about it.
Update: Peter Duan, who calls himself a “close friend” of our Libyan adventurist, says he tried to talk Jeon out of the trip, to no avail.
“He does whatever he wants,” says Duan. When he originally asked his friend why he was choosing the most dangerous destination possible, he says Jeon replied, “to see if I have it in myself.”
Duan explains: “I've known Chris for a while. What I gathered when I first met him is that he's a different type of guy. … He loves going into nature. He went to the Amazon by himself. But more and more, he's becoming a thrill seeker. I love him to death, but he does plenty of stupid shit. … I'm very glad that he's still alive.”
Though Jeon told his friend that he was taking the trip to “see a revolution from the ground up,” Duan is worried that he may be in over his head — traversing a political and religious world with which he has no familiarity or ties.
“I definitely think he would shoot somebody,” says Duan. “He told me, 'If a rebel's running at me with a gun, I won't hesitate to shoot his head off.'”
We ask Duan whether Jeon tried to gather any fellow travelers before taking off for Cairo.
“No,” he says. “Nobody's crazy enough to go with him. He knows that.”