The flight to Seoul was relatively uneventful in that I didn’t cause any scenes and we arrived on time. There were lots of sniffer dogs at the airport in Seoul and they walked around me several times but fortunately they were very well behaved so the residual bunny smell that all my clothes must have permanently didn’t arouse their interest. I went to the counter to rent wifi and got confused about what day it was, meaning that I told them I would be returning it the day before I actually would be.
I took the bus to the hotel that we had been allocated to (Lotte City Myeongdong) and thoroughly enjoyed the Korean videos they showed about a family of rabbits living under a news kiosk. When I arrived at the hotel it was too early to check in and as it was a package deal with the FM I had to wait for Siew Hin who had all the documents we needed. At that point Mayme and Orasinee messaged to say they were having lunch in a restaurant just behind the hotel so I went and found them. Back at the hotel we waited for lots of other eels to arrive and when they did we went to the desk next to which a giant poster of JKS had been set up. Pei Pei was ridiculously efficient as usual and in no time I was in possession of a lot of papers and leaflets in Japanese, plus a JKS passport case and luggage tag that were gifts as part of the package. Also the usual craziness set in and before we knew it we had all changed 10000 Japanese Yen into Korean Won just to get the envelope with the picture on it!
Once we’d checked in and QQ and I had got into our room and turned the air conditioning down as low as it would go, we went straight back out and got the metro to the other side of the river. We walked past JKS’ second building in that area that he owns and the others had a reservation at the restaurant where JKS went when he was on the Japanese TV show where they ate the live squid – I really didn’t want to go but I didn’t trust myself to be able to get back to the hotel on my own so I went along too. We sat at the same table and there were lots of lovely pictures of our boy but it was just as barbaric and disgusting to see a plate of squid that had been chopped up alive in reality as it was on television. I went and bought myself a bagel from the cafe next door and tried as hard as I could not to look or think.
We went to one of the other hotels that had been a possibility (L7) and took pictures with their banner. Then we walked through Myeongdong and stopped for bingsu and honey bread before walking back to the hotel. Having not eaten huge amounts of not fully dead animal I was still hungry so I bought sweet potato taiyaki from a street food stall and ate it as we wandered past the church featured in YAB.
Back at the hotel the others decided to get even more food and Siew Hin gave me a lovely gift of a suitcase cover with Eve’s beautiful drawing on it. It actually looked like it would make quite a good dress but when I put it on I realised that it only had one arm hole and even that was half way down the side. I handed over the things I had purchased, complaining as I did so about never being able to buy clothes from Zikzin because they were always the wrong shape (well, it’s possible it’s me that is the wrong shape). The t shirt Hin had ordered turned out to be the wrong shape for her too so it was up for sale. Eve tried it on and looked gorgeous in it – I mean, she’d look gorgeous in a bin bag – but felt it was too big. I looked at it and thought that actually it didn’t look as small as I’d thought it would so I asked if I could try it on. There was much merriment at that and I was told that there was no way it would fit. Nevertheless I tried it and it did actually fit – though it would look better if I lost a bit (a lot) of weight. I decided to leave the decision to Eve – if she decided she didn’t want it I would keep it and use it as diet motivation! Fortunately, or unfortunately perhaps, she chose not to have it so it is in my possession and I have to do my best to look better in it! (Note to self… it’s been three weeks and you’ve done the opposite… put DOWN the chocolate.)
The next morning Hin and I were meeting to go to the shop at Grevin to buy merchandise. I got up an hour and a half before we were due to meet and tried to put on the make up that Eva had planned, made me buy and practice. I thought I’d done pretty well but when I sent her the photo she had requested as proof she said ‘where is it’, so I don’t think I had done a very good job.
We cleaned Grevin out of a lot of their JKS merchandise and then went back to the hotel for a very late breakfast or very early lunch. The food was excellent but the waiters were incredibly rude, completely ignoring us even though they outnumbered us two to one and we were the only people in the restaurant – we ordered dessert and they didn’t even clear our plates away from the main course, just handed us dessert over them! Then it was nearly time to meet for the event and Hin looked me over, then sent me back to my room to ‘put something nicer on’.
Instructions followed and new outfit approved we went to the lobby where eels were already being given the numbers of the buses we needed to get on. I think I had actually missed my name being called because I had to go and ask and was instructed to get on bus number 3. On the bus we were talked at a lot in Japanese and unfortunately I accidentally nodded when the guide made eye contact with me and asked ‘daijobu’ so from then on she assumed I understood what she was talking about.
We were taken to Doota shopping mall, where we were told to start at the top and then meet on the ground floor a couple of hours later to set off for the venue. I hadn’t been intending to do any shopping, but we had been given a voucher to spend and it turned out to actually be worth it because you didn’t have to spend anything to use it. However I mainly wanted to go and get photos of the JKS corridor. I did manage to do this but then got hopelessly lost – I thought that if I followed the escalators down I would eventually end up where I’d started from but this didn’t work and I ran out of escalators. By the time I found my way back the time was nearly up and so I didn’t have chance to spend the voucher! We got back on the bus and after a very stressful time waiting for Eve and Sze Teng to get from their queue to the bus, we finally set off to the venue!
I had very little idea what to expect from the FM but the girls who had been to previous Lotte FMs had told me there would be games. However I was pretty surprised when we were ushered into a badminton hall! Actually we were just there to get our draws for seat numbers and photo positions. Siew Hin and I were sitting together so we did this and were quite disappointed because our seats for the show were in the back row of the stands and about two thirds of the way back along the hall. Our seats for the photo were as far back as it was possible to be and right out at one end. We went to look at the merchandise but it was all or nothing, you couldn’t just buy one or two items, so we chose nothing. We went in and found our seats but when I tried to sit down I found that I literally didn’t fit! My legs were too long to fit in the space between my seat and the one in front – if my knees could have passed through the chair and the person in front they would have ended half way through her body! I had to sit legs akimbo in a most unladylike manner in order to be able to sit down at all. To be honest, at this point I was really wondering whether it had been worth the phenomenal amount of money I had paid to be there, but I was determined to try and forget that and just enjoy being in the same room as him as much as I always do.
The lights went down and the music started. An usher started guiding three people up through the stands to their seats and I was wondering how people had managed to be late when we were all taken there by bus together but then I realised it was Mama and Auntie Jang and a man. They took seats in the second row of stands that were not in use, directly behind me and Hin. The MC lady came out on to the stage and did the introduction and then JKS himself appeared, looking absolutely beautiful in a purple suit over a black tshirt, wearing eyeliner and mismatched earrings, with light brown hair that was parted in the middle and which miraculously he hadn’t chopped off the day before I got there (which is what usually happens). He and the MC took their seats and started talking. He sat on the right as you look at the stage, which meant we could see his full face and body, unlike eels on the other side of the hall who had to settle for a half view. I used the talking section to study him closely through binoculars and as usual my heart felt like it was melting just looking at him and hearing him speak.
At one point he was talking and then doing a ‘jaw-slackeningly astonished’ face. I wondered at the time if he was talking about eels’ expressions when they meet him – it certainly looked a lot like I imagine my expression has looked the few times I’ve been close to him – but later I found out that he was saying that it was what our reactions would be when we see his new film. I’m not sure if I’m excited to see what could cause us to have that reaction or if I’m dreading it!
Next there was a presentation section to do with Doota’s anniversary. A couple of old men from Doota came out on stage and a gigantic cake was wheeled out. As usual our boy tried to taste the icing and was most put out when it turned out not to be a real cake! They all posed for photos with the cake and JKS nearly knocked it off the table when he leaned a bit too hard on one side – of course it was adorable.
Then the lucky draws and games started. A large box was brought out and he pulled out one card at a time and those eels won various prizes, some from Doota, some from Zikzin shop etc… but the main prize was that they all got a hug or a handshake. There were three chances to win him granting your wish. The first one that won must have wished for something of his because his bag was brought out and he rootled around in it, teasing by holding up his super expensive white watch before smiling mischievously and dropping it back in. Eventually he pulled out a bottle of perfume, but before giving it to her he sprayed himself and then sprayed her all over, front and back – the poor girl must have smelled so strong! Other eels had wished for selfies with him and he was very generous, putting his arms round them, taking several and pulling different faces. There was an awful moment when a name was called and two eels went down to the front – it turned out they had the same name, both had departed from the same place, and both had wished for a selfie with him! They had to look at the card to see whose writing it was and then one of them turned and started making her way back to her seat in tears. Imagine how horrible it would be to think your dream was about to come true and instead to find it crushed, and in front of a whole roomful of people – I felt terrible for her. Of course, when JKS realised, he called her back down and said he would grant her wish too – I wasn’t even surprised because that’s just who he is.
The first game was an individual game where we all had to stand and then were given multiple choice questions – we had to indicate our answer by doing different actions with our arms – and then when you got one wrong you sat down. This went on for a few rounds (I had to sit down after the second question, Hin got a few more) until there were just a handful of people left standing – they got to go on stage for a hug. Some were very emotional about going up on stage, to the point that they were crying or really shaking with nerves – one lady was so overcome that she was backing away and he had to practically chase her round the stage to give her a hug! I was scoffing a bit, thinking they were putting it on or hamming it up so that he would give them more attention / time but I did revise my opinion on this later…
Since fairly near the beginning I had been wondering if he could see me. It was a small venue with maximum 900 eels and I was probably the only blonde one there. I was wearing a bright blue top, on Hin’s instructions. The others, sitting across the other side of the hall could see me very clearly but of course they knew I was there to look for me. Also, as I mentioned, his mum was sitting right behind us so he was probably looking at her, but I do think maybe because of where she was sitting he would have caught sight of me when looking towards her. During the prize draws he was scanning the audience for the eels who had won, so it is definitely possible he noticed me then.
So, we then had a group game. When we had gone into our seats there had been a notice on each seat printed on coloured paper – the colour indicated your team and Hin and I were in the green team, along with all the other eels sitting in our section. The game was a very simple concept that is surprisingly hard to explain. JKS would point at a team and say a number, then everyone in that team had to individually decide whether to stand or not. JKS would then count those standing. The group with the closest number standing to the number he had said would win. The yellow team went first, and maintained their lead over all the other groups until he reached our group. We were the last group. He pointed and said ‘five’. Hin had told me that we should just stand up whatever and I was more than willing to oblige, given that I was so uncomfortable sitting in too small a space. All the other groups had had far more people stand than the number he had said though, so many eels were saying no, don’t stand, but I wasn’t aware of this at the time and so when he said the number, up I jumped. There were gasps and excited screams from the eels around me and as I looked around I realised that there were four others standing, and me – a perfect five! JKS and the MC were excited too and he said it was the first time that a group had managed to get it just right. I was preparing to wedge myself back into my seat for the next round but other eels were all getting up and it took me a little while to realise that the game was over and we had won! The prize was for all the eels sitting in the green team section to go up on stage to high five him. Lots of people, some of whom had probably been completely furious when I first stood up, were now smiling at me and thanking me. I basked in the completely undeserved glory.
According to the others I was the last person to stand (probably because it took me longer than the others to extricate myself from my chair) and when JKS saw me he pointed and said ‘whoa’. I don’t remember that, though I do remember seeing him looking at me. My brain was struggling at this point. I couldn’t quite grasp that we were about to go on to the stage where we would get to actually touch him. I started shaking and panicking, as if I was about to undergo some kind of ordeal rather than a dream coming true. I have no idea what happened in the next few minutes. We all filed out of our seats and queued up to go on the stage. The ridiculous nervous shaking combined with my natural clumsiness and tendency to make a fool of myself meant that although seeing him up close was a big deal, my main concern was not to fall over on the stage.
From inside my bubble of anxiety and excitement I could see the others crossing the stage. He was behind a small table, leaning on it with his right hand and high fiving everyone with his left. Furtively wiping my, by this time rather sweaty, palm on my trousers, I reached the steps up to the stage where I concentrated on taking very slow and deliberate steps. I hadn’t known whether to expect a reaction from him or not. Of course it is obvious that I stand out as different but I thought he may not acknowledge it so as not to make any other eels feel I was being unfairly singled out. Also I am actually fairly sure that he has seen me several times before, not just that night but other times.
Even if I’d had expectations they would have been exceeded. As the eel in front of me moved past him and I began to cross the stage he looked at me, his eyes went wider and he said, fairly loudly and in beautiful accented English, ‘waaow, where are you from?’. I suspect that life does not get any better than having those huge sparkling eyes fix on you and that voice say ‘waaow’, not just to you but about you! Please use your imaginations and then forgive me that from that point on my brain went into survival mode, basically shutting down completely!
Somehow I managed to reply, ‘England’, but there was no point in my trying to say anything else at all, much as I would have liked to say “please visit”, or even ‘I love you’! There was nothing left except a sense of wonderment that he was speaking to me. He smiled very widely and said ‘ohhh, thank you for coming’. I’d forgotten by then that the reason I was there was to high five, so when he held his hand up for me I didn’t even manage a proper high five, but just pressed my right hand against his left hand for a fleeting couple of seconds, just enough to register that his skin felt smooth and firm and so, so warm. This is going to sound completely ridiculous… but at the moment our hands touched it felt like there was some sort of pulse of energy and my heart skipped several beats. If anyone else is a complete Harry Potter geek – I imagine it as akin to the ‘priori incantatem’ moment!
The warmth persisted even long after it was over – even now I can convince myself I can still feel it! I made eye contact again for a second and he smiled and I really, really hope that I smiled back but I honestly can’t remember. I walked off the other side of the stage in a complete daze, feeling that perhaps I was just a big right hand, that being the only part of me that I was aware of at that moment. I pressed it against my face and lips and even sniffed at it but there was nothing apart from the lingering hot and tingly feeling. The moment was made even more surreal when a Japanese eel I’d met at one of the Team H shows jumped up from her seat and hugged me, and then I heard Mayme and Orasinee calling to me from the stand I was walking past. I don’t know whether I spoke to them or not. I kept looking from my hand to the stage, where he’d finished high fiving us all and was preparing to go off to get changed for the music segment of the FM.
Somehow I made it back to my seat. Hin was ridiculously cool and collected, having even managed to sass him when it was her turn to high five. Personally I think this is a sign that she is far too cynical and jaded… I was a mess. This was especially embarrassing because I was being a mess about six feet from his mum. Then the music section started and it was just what I needed. He came out and launched straight into a really rocky version of Feel The Beat and we all screamed and jumped like we were at a Team H party. There was a full band on stage and it was a really great atmosphere. All the songs were rock and he danced and jumped and wiggled like the crazy boy he is. The Singapore eels taught me a great word for that wiggly sexy hips thing he does but I forgot it already; I have to find it out again because it’s perfect for describing it! We danced and sang along to all six songs and so did Mama and Auntie behind us, so loudly that I could hear them singing – it’s so lovely that they’re so supportive and seem to genuinely enjoy his performances still despite having been to so many!
After the show finished we had to wait for the photo session, which would take place back in the sports hall sitting on the stands there. Hin and I were in the second to last group so we sat around, occasionally trying not to look too smug when people told us how lucky we were to have been on stage. We were eventually escorted over for the photo in a manner reminiscent of primary school children being taken on a trip – stay in your pairs and follow the leader – and took our seats for the picture. As I mentioned we were right at the back on one end, which I might have been disappointed about had I not still been floating along in a happy daze. Several other groups were arranged at the same time so when JKS came in he just walked to the first group, sat down, the picture was taken, and he got up and moved on. In this way it was all accomplished very efficiently. He did smile and wave at each group but was rushed on to the next group by the organisers and then all too quickly disappeared out of the hall.
As usual I was left feeling somewhat bereft and also like I might have imagined the whole thing. I’m writing this almost three weeks later and already it feels like a very distant dream. Thank goodness I have Eve Yap’s beautiful sketch to help me remember!