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SHOWS FOR YOUNGSTERS AND THEIR PARENTS TOO : The energizer host and traveler: SuChin Pak packs a lot into a day

October 15, 1995|N.F. MENDOZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There aren't many 20-year-olds with jobs that allow them to travel the world or be used as a human slingshot.

SuChin Pak is getting to do both as a new host of PBS' popular "Newton's Apple." Pak, who also hosts the San Francisco Bay Area's "Straight Talkin' Teens," ventures not only across the country for the PBS series, but across the world.

"I've been to L.A., Wisconsin, Minnesota, Florida, for starters, and upcoming trips to New Orleans and Switzerland," Pak says enthusiastically from her parents' Alameda home. "Newton's Apple" begins its 13th season on KCET this week.

Hosting two TV shows doesn't daunt the full-time UC Berkeley student, who's completely focused on graduation "after all I've done." What she's done for "Newton's" so far: "Been a human slingshot, water-skied and in-line skated, among other things."

Not bad for someone who says she's not a sports fanatic at all. "I hate the outdoors. I'm a big snob. Normally it's like ick and gross, but for the show it's been great and fun."

Her mile-a-minute patter hints at why an audition tape she casually dashed off to "Newton's" headquarters in Minnesota landed her the job.

"The season premiere opens with her, which shows their confidence in her," points out a spokesperson for the show. "There's energy there. They're looking to re-energize, and boy, does she do that."

While still in high school, Pak landed a job at ABC affiliate KGO-TV's "Straight Talkin'," which is marketed as "by teens for teens." Topics range from abortion to fashion to celebrity interviews.

Pak arrived in the United States in 1980, when she was 5. "Like for most immigrants, my father wanted a better life" for his family--Pak, her mother and her younger brother.

Juggling two jobs and college is part of an ingrained work ethic. "My parents own a restaurant in downtown Oakland--Garden House--and I started working there at 8," she explains. "I'd work the cash register while people looked at me skeptically. Free child labor!" she jokes, which comes naturally to the political science and ethnic studies major. In talking about her parents, which she does with love and pride, she often drops into a strong Korean accent when quoting them.

"My parents are great," she says. "They're super active in their [Korean Baptist] church and their community. We speak only Korean at home and English outside. They still speak very little English. How much English do you need to say, 'What do you want on your sandwich?' "

Her parents were suspicious of Pak's career path. "I love to tell this story," Pak says with a giggle. "They were very very not happy about my getting the local TV show. Girls are girls and quiet. Don't speak unless spoken to. I was voted 'most shy' in seventh grade! Can you even believe it?"

Indeed, Pak as anything but effervescent seems unlikely. "But I was the biggest nerd. A complete geekazoid. Anyway for the show, my parents were so worried I was going to laugh with my mouth open, do something that would either make me not find a husband or embarrass the community."

On her first TV story, in 1993, her mother sent her father to watch. "He hid behind pillars and trees and bushes, watching me shoot everything and I had no idea!" says Pak.

Back home she talked about how the day went, "and my dad was sitting there, very smug and says, [Pak drops into a Korean accent here] 'You were very funny. Very good!'

"Now they're very gung-ho." And Pak's just as gung-ho about her heritage.

"It's an important question to ask and it's one I always ask on 'Straight Talkin'.' I'm extremely proud I'm an Asian female and I'm on television, because there aren't many of us. I just heard that they show more [space] aliens than Asians on TV and that makes me so mad.

"There is a huge broad scope of Asians, which is very reflective of this country. Since we're so rarely portrayed, it's very important we come across in a very positive, intellectual manner, not as some idiot, and I'm always very aware of that."

As for post-graduation and her future, Pak says, "Of course, I'd dearly like to be the next Barbara Walters or Diane Sawyer. The news has always fascinated me. Ideally, I'd like something that involves hard-core journalism on one of the major networks."

"Newton's Apple" airs Saturdays at 9:30 a.m. on KCET. For ages 6 and up.

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