You could have knocked me over with a feather when I read words that I never thought I’d ever read:
Ji Chang Wook is headed to the States!
As soon as Ji Chang Wook made the announcement through his Instagram on 1 June that he would be making a special appearance as the Asia Representative fo the online launch of KONUS, a clothing brand based in Los Angeles, California, I immediately started putting the wheels in motion. First up, some research of the venue where the KONUS event was being held: The Line Hotel is a recently-renovated hotel right in the middle of Los Angeles’ Koreatown neighborhood.
Very boutique-like and catering to a mostly hipster crowd, I made a wild assumption that Chang-wook and his entourage just might possibly be staying at the same place… and proven correct after overhearing the concierge telling his co-worker to watch out for ‘the VVIPs on the top floor.’ Score!!! The rooms were well-furnished and looked comfy, so I went ahead and made a reservation.
Now to work on gaining entrance to the event itself! I decided an email to the event promoters would be a good start, so after explaining who I was and I that would be covering this event as a member of the “press” on behalf of The Kitchen, I sent off my request and crossed my fingers. But as I was waiting for an answer, my Soompi friend cmoirae2 pinged me and said that she was able to get two passes since she had a business connection. Would I possibly want to tag along with her? (Does that even need an answer?) After I stopped screaming at the top of my lungs, I readily accepted and we finalized our plans to room together at the Line!
After getting a late start leaving work Wednesday evening and braving the always-awful traffic heading down to the Valley, I pulled up well after midnight and found our room. Greeted my roommate for the next few days and proceeded to pass out as soon as I hit the pillow, since we needed to be wide awake and fresh later that day for the big event!
We woke on Thursday morning to a slightly foggy day and after pulling up the curtains, this was the first thing I saw across the street. Looks like we picked the right neighborhood for sure! We quickly got dressed and wandered around a bit, playing tour guide for cmoirae as best as I could, given that since my last trip to Koreatown the September prior, there was quite a bit of new construction in the neighborhood. Of course, the first thing we had to eat would be… barbecue! I thought cmoirae would be sick of Korean foods, just having returned from a trip over to see his performances of “The Days,” but I was dead wrong. One two-person all-beef combo set course was ordered, and we settled in to catch up on all the gossip.
Later that day, we split up for an hour or so while I moved my car to a cheaper parking lot and cmoirae went in search of toiletries and snacks. As I was returning to the lobby, I saw a familiar face near the hotel’s service entrance: Manager Bang! I waved and yelled to Chigu-ssi in greeting and that I would see him later — he just smiled and waved back before disappearing into car idling at the side of the building. (I wonder who else was in that car, hmmm?)
Back to the room to figure out what to wear and freshen up for the party. All we were told beforehand was to gather on the second floor of the hotel to pick up our VIP badges, but little else about how the event would be handled or how we would even get inside. I finished dressing and received a text from the Soompi gals who were hanging out in the lobby waiting for Ji Chang Wook to arrive, and went down to greet them.
I returned to the second floor and while waiting for cmoirae to come down from our room, I recognized Jenny Kang from her previous Instagram posts when she travelled to Daegu to watch Ji Chang Wook in his “The Days” performances. Jenny is the President of Catwalk to Sidewalk, Inc., the parent company of KONUS (which is managed by her son Devin) and was pretty much the driving force behind their launch event.
Since we still had some time before the event, I introduced myself and handed her one of the Kitchen calling cards. We had a very nice conversation and introduced me to her husband (and Catwalk co-owner) Billy Kang. Jenny was amazed that there was a fansite in the US dedicated to Ji Chang Wook since she was unaware of his reach outside of Korea. (He is one of Devin’s friends and that is how the family became acquainted.) With a promise to meet up later and chat some more, we took our places along the hallway leading up to the photo wall and began our wait for Ji Chang Wook’s arrival!
A rumble started amongst the gathered group saying that he was on his way up to the photo wall. Since we were away from the lobby area, we were unaware that he had made a grand entrance at the hotel, arriving in a black limousine (even though he was staying there?) and winding his way through the fans that had greatly increased in numbers as it became closer to the event’s start.
Then suddenly the elevator doors opened, and there was Ji Chang Wook standing a mere 3 feet away from us, flashing that brilliant smile and waving to the crowd! He walked very quickly out of the elevator, but looked our way for a brief second and nodded in our direction. (I’m sure he was just him being polite to the assembled crowd, right?)
Dressed from head-to-toe in KONUS clothing, everyone gathered closer for good shots of him standing at the photo wall. But as quickly as he was ushered in, he was just as quickly led away through a side entrance into the Breakroom 86 bar where the main event was being held. We queued up and after getting our clearance, we were ushered inside as well.
The bar was much smaller than anticipated and packed to overflowing, with most of the attendees there for the KONUS unveiling. We pushed our way into the crowd looking for a better place for keeping an eye on the Guest of Honor… then all of a sudden, Bang Manager was standing right in front of me and grabbed me for a quick hug and hello before returning to the VIP section to take care of his charge. Well hello to you too! *squeeeee*
There was a VIP seating section where Ji Chang Wook, his buddy Kang-woo, Chigu and the KONUS personnel were set up, and it became obvious at that point that no pictures of him other than official press photography was allowed. A few people were able to take secret shots of him until the security guards came over and ordered them to stop.
Throughout the evening, I made sure to position myself on the level directly below his VIP section on the hopes that I could get his attention for a chance to chat. He was constantly being pulled into one of the side rooms to be interviewed or to have pictures taken with reporters and industry people, and I could see as the night wore on, that process of having to keep getting up and be moved around was starting to wear him down.
Photos of Jenny, Chang-wook and Kang-woo taken in one of the noraebang rooms
An impromptu fashion show began to showcase the KONUS line being introduced at this event. Several models strutted across a small catwalk set up behind the bar to show off the clothing, and a few breakdancers showed off their wild moves on the tiny stage. Then all of a sudden, some guy dressed up as a Michael Jackson impersonator hopped up there and started performing! (Apparently this guy does shows at the bar quite often.) I looked over at Chang-wook to see how he would react to something so bizarre (at least in my mind), but he immediately pulled out his phone and started filming away. Okay then…
After this little impromptu performance, he was pulled back into one of the side rooms for more interviews. Kang-woo decided to stay behind at the VIP section so we nodded towards each other in greeting. More people had arrived at that point and it was becoming quite overcrowded to the point it was getting hard to stand up properly. But several attendees had seen me interacting with his people and the KONUS personnel, and kept asking who was this guy that everyone wanted a piece of throughout the night. All I had to do was pull out a stack of Kitchen cards and pass them out with a quick explanation. Hopefully they know by now! *hee*
Finally I had my chance. He was all alone and bopping his head to the DJ’s retro-80s music. I leaned over the railing and called out his name to catch his attention. He looked at me for a bit until his brain registered my face, shouted out in English “AHHH I REMEMBER YOU!!!” and then grabbed both my hands! At that point, the security guards came rushing over but he waved them off, saying it was okay since he knew me. (OMG!!!) Kang-woo returned and we finally were properly introduced ourselves to each other. I asked Chang-wook how he was feeling but he just sighed and said he was tired but okay. (Since this was towards the end of the event, he did seem a lot thinner from our last meeting and looked rather exhausted, but I assumed it was from his flying in and heading straight into the KONUS photoshoots down in San Diego.)
I then pulled out my phone with the lock screen of his autographed poster from the 2013 fan meeting in Seoul, and he explained to Kang-woo that I was the first-ever international attendee at one of his fan meetings (still saying my name wrong, darnit!). But just as I leaned over the railing and asked if we could finally get a picture together, we were interrupted by the house DJ making an announcement that the crowd should move away from the bar area for a special performance!
Thinking that maybe Ji Chang Wook may be giving a speech to the attendees, I made my way closer to that area… but it turned out to be some sort of dance thing performed by two of the KONUS models instead. I made my way back closer to the VIP Section but kept getting pushed farther away by the crowd than before the performance started. *sigh* You can get an idea of how packed the event was by just this picture alone:
When I could finally regain his attention, we chatted for a few minutes more before Chigu told him it was time for them to leave. I asked Chigu if it would be possible to have one quick picture with him, but he sadly said he couldn’t allow it, just as the security guards came over to usher him out of the VIP section. He did look back as he was leaving to give a quick little wave and smile before disappearing through a side exit. It was all I could do to keep my emotions in check throughout the night, but at that point I decided some major fangirling (and copious amounts of alcohol) was called for. *squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee*
After a quick glass of wine at the bar and chatting with even more people still wanting to know who was that special guest everyone was fighting to get a picture with, I found cmoirae outside near the pool and we decided it was time to call it a night. I was exhausted from all that excitement and she had an early flight out for home. We walked back towards the Breakdown Bar entrance where everything all started and took pictures of each other standing at the photo wall where Ji Chang Wook had also stood just a mere two hours earlier. But before we could depart, we ran into Marisol, the PR person responsible for getting us the VIP passes and thanked her profusely for her efforts. We also received swag bags with KONUS wear inside, as well as a card thanking us for attending their launch event.
Returning to our room, I had already changed into my sleeping clothes when my stomach rumbled at about the same time cmoirae said she was hungry and we should go out for a bite to eat. We made our way down a few blocks to a tofu/noodle house that serves really good late night food and chowed down on mandu and galbi – yum! With our bellies full, we returned to the hotel well after 1 AM in anticipation of a good night’s sleep… until a weird feeling made me stop dead in my tracks after walking in the front doors. I look over to the lobby bar area and wondered… am I really seeing what I’m seeing? *rubs eyes*
I pulled cmoirae over to the walkway to get a closer look, and we slowly made our way up to the bar where three gentlemen (one in a snapback and hoodie) and one woman are chatting over drinks. Upon recognizing Jenny Kang’s gorgeous cream dress, Billy Kang’s plaid sport coat and Kang-woo’s olive green polo shirt, it then became obvious the other man in the snapback and hoodie was Ji Chang Wook!!!
Of course I have to walk over and ask why they’re all still up so late after such an exhausting event! We greeted each other again and I introduced Billy to cmoirae since they had yet to meet. And then here comes the English again: “I REMEMBER YOU!!!” Chang-wook reached out to grab my hands again and held on to them for what seemed like forever. This time I couldn’t help but laugh out loud and he smiled at me with the sweetest smile ever. I almost fainted right there on the spot! Unfortunately, my brain decided to stop working properly, because when I should have said jeongmalyo? (really?), it accidentally came out as jwesongheyo? (I’m sorry?) instead. Whoopsie!
Now that there was hardly anyone around, we cautiously asked if it would be possible to have pictures taken at this time, but were politely rebuffed since he was extremely tired, not ‘appropriately dressed’ (what the heck? he looked great!), and was feeling ‘puffy’ from the evening’s festivities. cmoirae asked Billy if he would translate for her and ask if Chang-wook had received the ‘Healer’ photobook she put together and handed to him before the performances in Jinju… to which he replied he did and that he’s keeping it at his home in Seoul! He reached out and shook her hand several times while thanking her for the present!
After a few more minutes of chatting and making plans to get together again the next time I’m in Los Angeles, we figured they should probably continue their conversation without us. I pulled out Kitchen cards for Billy and Kang-woo, when a ‘na do!’ (me too!) came from the boy in the hoodie, so of course I had to oblige with one as we all said our goodbyes. Chang-wook stood up and shook our hands one last time, and as we returned to our room, I bet everyone in the entire hotel heard us both squealing in the elevator all the way up there! Such an amazing end to an amazing 24 hours!!!
Later that morning, cmoirae and I said our own goodbyes as she headed to LAX for her flight home and I slowly made my way out of the hotel to drive to another friend’s house so we could wander both of the malls in Koreatown before dinner. One of the malls had a KPop media store with sooooo many items for sale, we could have spent all day inside browsing the racks. I normally stay far away from the unlicensed items with Ji Chang Wook’s face on them, but just had to check to see if anything was available for sale. And you know the answer to that…
There were several of these pillows lining the top of their display cases, and I just had to purchase this postcard/sticker set, thereby violating my Cardinal Rule over buying non-licensed merchandise. Mianhaeyo!
All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a more swoon-worthy milestone in my life — another dream come true to actually see Ji Chang Wook standing on MY home turf, so to speak. At that time, we did not know that his travel plans would include him leaving straight from California to the UK (and then on to Shanghai and Hong Kong after that), so we were truly fortunate to be able to catch him at the beginning days of his whirlwind tour!
Thanks to cmoirae for being such a trouper as I hauled her all over Koreatown over the short time we had together (I will definitely buy you a meal on my next trip Back East!). More thanks to bekkah for use of her lobby pics, and also thanks to Marisol Torres at LA Guestlist for her help with passes for this awesome event. I would also like to thank Bang Chigu and the rest of the staff at Glorious Entertainment, plus the ever-sweet Kang-woo for their kindness in putting up with me (yet again) with smiles (and a few eye-rolls). Also many thanks to Brian Kang and Jenny Kang for their lovely hospitality, and Devin Kang for bringing KONUS to our attention (world domination next!).
And of course, major thanks to the only person in the world that makes me drop everything like a hot potato. Ji Chang Wook, gomapseumnida for finally travelling over to the States and for always being a shining light in my life throughout so many years. 지배우님 곧 봐요!!! ♥♥♥
P.S. We also met Devin in the elevator on one of the trips back to our room, but for the life of me cannot remember exactly when (sorry oppa!).
Photo credits: As tagged; cmoirae2; bekkah IG; the Line Hotel and Breakroom 86 Bar; KONUS