For Jung Ryeo-won, It's Time to Kick Back

At the tender age of 24, Jung Ryeo-won has decided to slow down. ¡°I have been charging ahead, and now I¡¯ll take a rest for a while. While I relax, I¡¯m going to lay out a daily schedule of things I really like to do,¡± she says. Fresh from her leading part in the MBC TV hit drama ¡°My name is Kim Sam-soon¡±, she was offered a starring role in ¡°Wolf¡± due next January -- and politely turned it down. Apart from TV commercials already shot, she only has a stint as presenter of the MBC ¡°Entertainment News¡± lined up.

So how will she fill the empty hours? ¡°I¡¯m going to watch myself in my dramas, one after the other,¡± she says. ¡°It¡¯ll be really interesting. And I¡¯ll cook lots of tasty delicacies and exercise hard.¡±

The second of three children, Jung Ryeo-won emigrated to Brisbane, Australia in 1991, when she was in fifth grade. Her father has a retail business. ¡°In the first few years in Australia, I couldn¡¯t get along with Australian students,¡± Jung admits. ¡°Since there were few Asians in the neighborhood, the Australian students were very curious about me, but they also bothered me. When I was in sixth grade, I was standing at a pedestrian crossing one day and a car stopped. The driver rolled down the window and spat at me, shouting, ¡®Go home!¡¯

¡°At first, I didn¡¯t even understand what he said. I had never been abused for being yellow before.¡± Since then, she studied English hard. ¡°I thought, ¡®Hang in there and you¡¯ll soon be able to hold your own in English,¡¯ and I made progress quickly. One year later, I gave a speech as a representative of Asian graduates and talked about my experience of discrimination. I got a big round of applause.¡±

By junior high school, Ryeo-won had adapted to school and had a lot of part-time jobs as well. ¡°I worked in supermarkets, pharmacies, clothes shops, bookstores, libraries, lottery stands... I wanted to become independent. It was a great experience and lucrative as well. I came to Korea with my savings.¡± She says one remarkable thing about Australia is that Christmas falls in the middle of summer, since antipodean seasons are the opposite of Korea¡¯s. Her family used to go swimming on the Gold Coast every year. ¡°Australians love to travel and eat out with their family. They have barbecue parties at weekends. But here, I found that Korea at night is brighter than in the daytime. There are too many bars and too many wives waiting for their husbands at home.¡±

Her childhood dream was to become an academic. After graduation from high school, she got into Griffith University, majoring in international business. But then, during a short visit to Korea in 1999, she was spotted by a show biz scout in Apgujeong, and the rest is history. She hit a low in 2002, when she became confused about her identity between worlds. ¡°I wondered what brought me to Korea. Sometimes I felt alienated from my fellow Koreans, and my work as a singer wasn¡¯t what I had expected.¡±

There is one more thing she would like to do with the quality time ahead: go out with a man she can respect. Asked what she thinks of Daniel Henney, her costar in ¡°My name is Kim Sam-soon¡±, she retorts, ¡°He¡¯s just a friend. I often exchange text messages with Kim Sun-ah, Daniel Henney and Hyunbin. We¡¯re a family now.¡±

When she returns to the entertainment business, she hopes to become someone of the caliber of Mel Gibson or Ethan Hawke. ¡°Aside from acting, I want to go to New York to study jewelry design. I keep lots of jewelry I designed and manufactured at home,¡± reveals in parting, already full of plans again. ¡°I also hope to publish a collection of my journal, notes and pictures.¡± / 12¿ù 04, 2005 20:49 KST