Passions and ObsessionsVideo

Breaking down barriers (literally) between me and Cha Eun Woo

I made a mad dash for the barricades—something I’ve never done before, but this was one of my favorite actors, so YOLO!

Cha Eun Woo onstage (Photo by T. Sioson)

The author in the fandom-filled Smart Araneta (Photo by Juana Yupangco)

Cha Eun Woo opens with First Love, the author’s seat right in front of steel barrier (Video by T. Sioson)

On the afternoon of Cha Eun Woo’s fan meet, my husband Rick woke me from my nap at 3:30 pm: “Wake up, it’s time to meet your Prince Charming.”

To this 39-year-old, a nap is now essential for me to endure a night-out, especially after waking up at 6 a.m. to do my weekend batch cooking.

The Hallyu wave hit me hard during the lockdowns, and now that the restrictions are easing in the country, that wave is hitting the Philippines, with a flood of K-Pop bands and actors holding concerts and fan meets. Cha Eun Woo first made my heart flutter in True Beauty, playing the steely cold Lee Soo Ho, who finally lets someone get close and becomes his first love. From there, I watched all of his past work and even started following ASTRO, the band Cha Eun Woo is part of.

When it was announced that Cha Eun Woo would be coming to Manila, I immediately scrambled for tickets like everyone else. However, I couldn’t get any and was resigned to missing it. One day, my mentor in publishing, Ms. Thelma San Juan, sent me a message asking if I wanted an SVIP ticket to watch the show with her; this was truly a blessing.

Growing up around show business, I was used to tickets being handed to me, backstage passes and meet-and-greets with foreign acts that came to the Philippines; it almost became SOP for my sister and me to be able to go to these things, complete with someone to escort us through lines and go backstage. In the world of K-Pop and K-Drama idols, though, these privileges do not exist, no matter who you are, as the Korean agencies set the guidelines for everything. Here, the playing field is levelled. For me to even get an SVIP ticket was more than I could ever ask for to see Eun Woo.

I realized I wasn’t alone in this and started chatting with those in line, and even got a t-shirt and a photocard

On the day of the show, I nervously lined up all by myself at Araneta’s Green Gate, admittedly in a bit of panic—I had never really had to do this, much less by myself. I remembered that I had to get a strap for the Hi/ Hello on stage and asked others in the line where to get it. After getting out of the mile-long line, I found the gate where to get the strap and lined up again. As I stood in line, I noticed others like myself lining up alone. The people in line were chatty and friendly, some handing out free Cha Eun Woo merch to anyone who was there. I had heard of this sense of community in K-Pop concerts, where fans share gifts and help each other out. I realized I wasn’t alone in this and started chatting with those in line, and even got a t-shirt and a photocard.

Inside, I queued again for the bathroom, again chatting with more fans. I wanted to buy some water before entering, but the stall couldn’t break my bill, so I offered to buy water for the two ladies ahead of me, to be able to get smaller bills-—but they still didn’t have enough. Instead, the ladies bought ME water. In 45 minutes of lining up and waiting, I experienced so much camaraderie and kindness from fellow fans.

Cha Eun Woo introduces himself at start of fan meet (Video by T. Sioson)

When I got to my front row seat with Ms. Thelma, the energy was palpable. Eun Woo popped up on stage at exactly 7 pm, looking fresh in a blue and white outfit. I wasn’t quite sure how I would react seeing him up close; would I sit back and appreciate him, or would I go crazy?

As the fan meet progressed (sponsored by #smartviuwithchaeunwoo) and I got immersed in the world of Eun Woo, his personality really came through. He’s exactly as I imagined him to be in person: a little bit OC, charming, and sweet, especially when he smiled so big, his eyes almost disappeared into his small, perfectly angular face. When he came down from the stage in front of us, I decided to go for it and make a run for the barriers, as I saw other people do on the other side. I never thought of myself as the type to do this, but then I thought, “This is one of my favorite actors, so YOLO!”

I made a mad dash for the metal barriers where the bouncers were and waved at Eun Woo like crazy, and almost passed out when he made eye contact and waved back. I squeezed the arm of the bouncer beside me so hard when he did. The very sweet bouncer then said, “Ang gwapo nga ma’am, okay upo na kayo, bumalik na sya.”

I did this again when he came to hand out flowers to the audience, and while I didn’t get a rose, I got in his line of sight and was able to look at him up close.

Perhaps the best surprise of the night was at the end of the show, when Ms. Thelma said we had to stand up and go somewhere. I followed her and before I knew it, we were being led backstage. I had called everyone I could think of before the show to try to get a backstage pass, or a meet-and-greet or something, but all my contacts said this was not possible at all. To find myself being led backstage was a total shock. While we waited, I heard that we were being counted to be able to take a photo with Eun Woo.

We saw him come out of the dressing room, and while everyone I was with was more reserved, I couldn’t help but squeal and say “Hiiiiiiiiiii!”—to which he said hi back and waved. In the room where we took a photo, I had a glimpse of Eun Woo in his brief moment of downtime, while he sat with his team and looked relaxed. In the light of the dressing room, his eyes sparkled, and his face was even more perfect than what you see on TV. He smiled a big smile and greeted us all with warmth.

We went back out to wait for one last encounter with Eun Woo on the Hi Hello on stage. By this time, all my poise and reservations were out the window, so when it was my turn to walk by, I blew him a kiss, and he blew me one back. The purpose of the fan meet was to make fans feel connected to the artist; this was exactly what I felt after that night, after being in Cha Eun Woo’s line of sight several times, with some eye contact, and with him responding to flying kisses and waves.

The Hi Hello! portion after fan meet (Video by T. Sioson)

I’ve connected with women of all ages, all smart, intelligent, accomplished women who, like me, swoon at the smile of Cha Eun Woo

Outside the venue, I ran into some people who I haven’t seen in years, people who I never thought would be into K-Drama or K-Pop. Then again, no one ever thought that I would be into this, either. I hardly speak to friends about my K-Pop shenanigans and my parents, both from show business, were shocked to hear about me running up to the stage. The fandom of Korean idols and bands brings out a side of people you never knew existed. I’ve connected with women of all ages, all smart, intelligent, accomplished women who, like me, swoon at the smile of Cha Eun Woo and of many other idols. We bond over experiences and are genuinely happy for each other when one has a special encounter or sighting.

There’s something about Korean pop culture that espouses a sense of community and positivity, and this is seen all across the K-Pop fandoms. There is the one crabby person in the crowd (I got yelled at to sit down at one point), but for every one of those, there were five others who showed kindness. I never thought of myself as one to rush up the stage and have my ribs squashed against a steel barrier, but I did it. The night was a night of firsts for me—first time to enter a concert alone, first time to buy merch off the street (photos and light stick) and first time to rush to the front of the stage.

The emotion of the whole night for me was one of freedom. In this world, you’re free for a little while to feel young again, to scream, cheer, and be mesmerized. Gone are the walls you put up around the persona that you build, and all barriers come down when you are pressed up against a steel one, waving, smiling, and cheering.

Cha Eun Woo with clay self-portrait (Photo by T. Sioson)

About author


She has been writing and editing for the last 17 years. Her alter ego, Mesa ni Misis, creates plant-based recipes on a budget and is the author of an award-winning cookbook. In her downtime, she enjoys K-Pop and K-drama, as is evidenced by her Netflix and Spotify algorithms.

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