This 50something fan was giddy, giggling, not at all shy or embarrassed as she declared, before the gathering of media and select fans: “My family thought I flew here for a business conference. I took a leave without pay!”
In fact, she was in the press conference last Saturday (August 6) morning of Cha Eun Woo, one of the hottest Korean stars and idols today. The woman, who we presumed was a Filipino based in the US, flew in from Florida just to watch Cha Eun Woo Fan Meeting 2022 Just One 10 Minute (JOTM) Starry Caravan in Manila that night at Smart Araneta, his first in Manila since 2019. Among its sponsors was Smart with Viu (#smartviuwithchaeunwoo).
There were many other foreign visitors like her who came to Manila just for this fan meet. Earlier, speaking on the mic was Georgine, an Aroha (the ASTRO fandom is called) from Guam, after yet another Aroha from Davao, Madelyn. There were also Korean visitors heading CEW’s fan sites in Seoul. Later that night, beside us on the front row was an Indonesian who flew in from Jakarta where she just saw a recent CEW fan meet. Upon landing in Manila, she upgraded her fan meet ticket through re-sellers. (Prices of some resold tickets ran up to five digits, we heard the fandom talk.)
Two days before the concert, an Aroha friend, Annalyn, was in quandary. Her exams were set for 2p.m. that Friday, the day before the concert—all the way in Mindoro. What to do—how would she make it back to Manila? Believe it or not, she thought of all modes of transportation available to man: boat, plane, bus. Finally she flew to Mindoro early Friday, just for the flight to be diverted back to Manila because of bad weather. Deus ex machina—the exams were rescheduled.
If only we could collect such tales of fandom of this generation….
The whole day last Saturday, K fandom, from all over the Philippines and abroad, took over Smart Araneta, Novotel, Gateway mall. Even as the demographic was mostly women, its composition apparently cuts across age, economic and social classes. Even those without tickets massed up around the venue to get freebies from fan clubs (from paper fans to posters, name it). A portraitist, who couldn’t afford a ticket, sat outside the venue drawing awesome portraits of CEW, one of which he gave to a ticket holder so she could show him in the Hi Hello! after-show.
Getting a ticket is a feat in itself—I got mine from a supportive friend whom I call fondly an “enabler.”
Impressive indeed is the power—spending power—of K fandom worldwide. It is an economic force, no doubt, a tourism driver (whatever country, and most certainly for South Korea). K fandom’s engagement and interaction (on-site and digital) have reached a level not achieved by previous generations of Hollywood and western celebrities—that’s my perception. In recent months, K-Pop bands, idols, and stars have been flying in one after another for performances or fan meets, and fans have been filling the venues—it’s post-pandemic K-Poppin with a vengeance. But more of this worldwide pop phenomenon in another story.
Meantime, I get this question in my chat groups: Is this 24-year-old dreamboat of True Beauty and My ID is Gangnam Beauty fame—and of course, of the top boy band ASTRO—as good-looking in person as on screen?
Perfect, if there’s such a thing—and, if you see his childhood mug shots, obviously he’s kept the looks. One comment in a chat group is hilarious: “Such genes. Alert Unesco to this World Heritage Face. Such Divine Visual.” That’s a take-no-prisoners kind of fan.
In person, CEW is, as a beauty wellness clinic executive in the audience said, a “porcelain true beauty.” The aesthetician fan loves Cha’s unaltered features—finely chiseled face and impeccable complexion—his looks almost like a mannequin’s.
His face looks thinner, though, than it was in True Beauty. He wore a dark well-tailored waist jacket and trousers in the presscon. He was quite reticent, even formal, even as these select fans were screaming in the small venue. Just like in his VLives, he gave very straightforward, no-wisecrack replies—like a diligent student would, which he was.
What he remembered about the Philippines, where he lived for six months as a kid to study English: the malls and ‘kebab’
Asked what he remembered about the Philippines, where he lived for six months as a kid to study English, he said, the malls and “kebab” (apparently this must have been the time when kebab fare was popular). Later, he mentioned Jollibee, and still later in the show that night, he said “mangoes.” He lived here as a fourth grader.
Has he changed at all? “I am the same,” he said—he can speak English, and apparently can understand it quite well, as was obvious in the show later that night in his interaction with host Sam Oh (the perfect Korean fan meet emcee, I believe).
“But I learned a lot since my debut.”
CEW is a member of the famous boy band ASTRO, which debuted in 2016, and which has released chart-busters. CEW has always landed in the top five of brand ranking in Korea, always sharing the top slots with BTS’ Jimin or JK (his good friends—well known fact in fandom).
It’s well known in the fandom, or even in the global K entertainment industry, that CEW is a high achiever, from academics to sports and music. He was at the top of his class and was on his way to attend a class in a physics academy when his teacher suggested he auditioned as an idol (where do you get such a physics teacher?), and is said to be partial to math and science. He did well in soccer (local meets), and if you watch the variety show Handsome Tigers, you see how hardcore he’s been into basketball—speed and agility in defense, and a good three-pointer.
The variety show All the Butlers, where he was a member for a few seasons, reveals a multi-hyphenate individual—with various interests, including music (he plays the piano) and languages (aside from English, he also speaks Japanese). One episode showing him in a tennis match makes it evident that he can play the sport.
Finally, Sam Oh read our question—since he’s achieved so much, what more does he want to achieve? He didn’t agree— he said that as far as he’s concerned, “I don’t feel like I’ve achieved that much.”
Then he stressed, “Instead of doing something new, I feel I should get better at what I do.”
‘I don’t feel like I’ve achieved that much. Instead of doing something new, I feel I should get better at what I do’
Very level-headed young man.
In the fan meet, he sang his songs that have been popular among his fans, opening the fan meet with First Love. As in his previous fan meets, he sang Aloha and the True Beauty OST Love So Fine. In When You’re Gone, he played the intro on the piano.
Sending waves of “kilig” screams across the coliseum was the segment where he acted out some of his famous scenes from his drama hits My ID is Gangnam Beauty and from True Beauty (Ottoke, ottoke).
Luckily, the rains let up that day, just enough to give us time to chill al fresco outside the café at Gateway while waiting for the coliseum gates to open, a perfect time to feel the hustle and bustle of fandom that came in various garbs (including short white bridal dresses), accessories (hair bands, capes, etc), and the most important accessory of all: a dream, if not an illusion.
It’s this generation’s turn to let off steam.
“Your mom?” a fan at a table right behind us, pointing at me, asked my coffee mate, Mira. “No,” Mira said, throwing an embarrassed glance at me.
I wasn’t at all embarrassed. No, I wanted to say, not mom, but old enough to be a lola—a lola enjoying the world and its crazy ways. Still.