6 December 2015. An afternoon of running around, lugging around a heavy bag of soap. An afternoon of jostling with DSLR-wielding reporters. An afternoon with Ji Chang Wook. An afternoon to be remembered.
That pretty much summed up my day when I went to see Ji Chang Wook during his very first official visit to Singapore. He had been to Singapore previously, but this is the first time he is here to meet fans and the media through a proper event, this time as brand ambassador of Japanese soap brand Shokubutsu.
I know this fan account comes as rather late (it has already been weeks since Ji Chang Wook came and left Singapore) because I was busy with several matters, but it just didn’t feel complete if I did not write this.
Anyway, I was lucky enough to secure a media pass for myself, which gave me access to all his three events scheduled for the day — namely, a press conference at 2pm, the private fan meeting at 3.30pm, followed by a public meet-and-greet session at 5pm. The schedule was just crazy. I was also given a goodie bag with not one, not two, but eight bottles of Shokubutsu products.
So on 6 December, I made my way to the Westin Hotel more than an hour before the press conference was due to start. Always better to be early as you’ll never know what kind of problems may crop up. True enough, I arrived…and it seemed like I had just walked into a family gathering. A family seemed to be holding some kind of wedding reception outside the ballroom. Er, I’m at the right place right? It took a while for the hotel staff to sort out everything and relocate the family elsewhere. It was my first time attending a press conference of a celebrity so I was glad I still managed to find my way around alone despite all the confusion.
The media was led to a meeting room where the press conference was to be held. The room was quite small and even though the first two rows were reserved for the more important media outlets, I was happy that my view was close enough from the third row.
Ji Chang Wook finally entered the room slightly after 2pm. Dressed in a neat dark blue suit (or was it black?) and white shirt, he looked really handsome and boyish. Surprisingly, I found myself being very calm, which was all the better, since I wouldn’t want to give myself away as a fan in a room filled with reporters. He seemed to be in a good mood and answered all the questions very naturally with some laughter and jokes in between. It helped that the emcee, an experienced radio deejay, was very professional and knew how to help lighten the mood also. A particularly memorable part of the press conference was when the lights in the room suddenly dimmed just when he was talking about how he enjoys playing pranks on people close to him. The emcee had asked him to be more specific in the kinds of pranks he does, and he said cheekily “Like this?” in reference to the dimmed lights. He sure knew how to take advantage of the situation! Funny, but he was probably not too far from the truth.
Some of the things he said were familiar stuff that he has mentioned in previous interviews, but I was happy to see that the questions asked were not totally the run-of-the-mill kind ripped off from past interviews. In fact, there were several questions that were cleverly tied specifically to the Shokubutsu brand. I thought Ji Chang Wook was quite smart to frame his answers in a way to relate back to the brand too. Asked when is he most relaxed at home? Oh, after taking a bath of course (using Shokubutsu?). And he kept bringing up words like “warm” and “gentle” to tie in with his whole “暖男 (warm guy)” image that Shokubutsu is trying to associate their brand with. Maybe he was briefed beforehand to phrase his answers like this, or maybe that’s just how he really is and Shokubutsu made the perfect choice of a brand ambassador, but everything was very nicely packaged. Is that what you call advertising magic?
Unfortunately, the media was not allowed to ask him any questions during the press conference. To avoid any awkward situations I presume. You can watch my fancam of the press conference here:
After the press conference ended, we headed over to a neighbouring ballroom where his private fan meet for lucky draw winners was to take place. The size of the ballroom was just nice — not too big and not too small — perfect for the audience of about 160 (two tickets were given to each of the 80 winners of the lucky draw, hence 160 people in total, excluding the media and invited guests).
The fan meeting started about 30 minutes late because he was busy giving interviews to some members of the media elsewhere. When he appeared (cue loud screams from fans), he had dressed down to a casual outfit of T-shirt and pants. I would have preferred the formal look he had earlier, but I guess a casual outfit is one of the tricks to giving fans a more “intimate” experience at the fan meeting. The loud screams of the fans was a stark contrast to the more reserved attitude of reporters at the press conference earlier, which is good, since it would be awkward if the audience was too quiet at a fan meeting (I’ve experienced the latter before).
He drew lots to pick a few fans to come on stage for two activities. The first activity involved guessing the scent of the soap while blindfolded (fans got the privilege of being blindfolded by him). There was a funny moment when he tried to smell the soap himself, and then pretended like he was going to drink the soap in his cup. Some fans shrieked in terror when he did that. LOL, he likes to eat, so he would eat anything including soap?
The second activity involved pouring soap into a cup and placing it on a weighing machine to see if it weighed 126g. The number 126 was in reference to the date of the event — 6 December. Ji Chang Wook placed his cup on the weighing machine and proceeded to pour his soap, only to have his cup taken away by the emcee, who realised that he shouldn’t be pouring his soap when his cup is on the weighing machine since there will be no more guesswork involved. He had that blank look of why-did-you-take-my-cup-away, haha. The fans on stage were to pour soap into their own cups to match 126g. He squatted down beside the fans to be at eye-level with the cup to see how they were faring. It was very funny when he egged them on to pour more soap by repeating “thor! thor! (which means “more” in Korean)” over and over again like some chant, until he said “keu man!! (stop)”. Better still, he later says that he has no idea if he’s correct and fans are probably better off not listening to him. LOL. He would also glance at the fans from the time to time, but they were all probably too focused on squirting the soap into their cup to notice that he was looking at them. Perhaps all the better. Who knows if anyone will misfire the soap in surprise if they made eye contact with him. It was very nice of him to stoop down at the same level of his fans though, both in a literal and figurative way. In the end, it turned out that everyone’s cup of soap miraculously measured the same weight, and he spent quite some time shifting his cup around on the weighing machine, hoping that the weight will change somehow. Me thinks he and the hosts do not know how to operate the weighing machine properly.
He then drew more lots to give away candy canes and his poster, which he personally signed on the spot. I know it is common practice for stars to include the names of their fans when signing autographs at fan-sign sessions in Korea, but I was surprised to see him do the same in Singapore, since the names of Singaporeans can vary from Chinese to Malay and Indian — all very difficult for him to spell in any case. It was amusing seeing fans teach him how to write their names, and his change in facial expression when he made a spelling mistake.
After posing for a group photo with fans, he proceeded to leave the ballroom. As I was standing near the exit, he walked past really close to me when he entered and left the room. He was less than an arm’s length away! He shook hands with a few reporters near me as he exited the room. I extended my hand out too, but I have no luck with such things (as usual), so he shook hands with the reporters on my left and right (but not my hand) and left. *Sad face* 😦 Oh well, at least you probably won the hearts of those reporters. You know I’ll still write good stuff about you even if you didn’t shake my hand.
It was already almost 5pm by the time the private fan meet ended, which meant he was late for his public meet-and-greet session at the mall nearby. I quickly made my way to the train and rushed to the next venue, running and brisk walking while lugging my heavy bag of camera equipment and bottles of soap. The train ride was a quick one, but it was the long walk across the cavernous shopping mall that almost killed me. By the time I got to the atrium where the meet-and-greet session was to be held, my heart sank when I heard his familiar voice through the sound system. The event had already begun! And it seemed like it was already nearing its end. I was wrong to think that I could overtake his car by taking the train. I should’ve learnt how to teleport! The atrium was packed, and I had to squeeze my way through the crowd to get to the tiny area allocated to the media. Luckily, I managed to get a decent spot where I could see him, since I overtook many other members of the media with my superhuman sprint.
As usual, there were some interactive activities with fans on stage, but I had no presence of mind to process what was going on any more because of the crowd and all the running. News reports later said that an unfortunate fan in the crowd fainted while waiting for the event to start. I can totally see why. I was jolted back to my senses when I heard a female fan tell him that she enjoyed listening to his songs since the time when he was in a boy band? Boy band? I hope I heard wrongly. I can’t recall much of what happened during the mall event, and I also missed the first half, so I’ll just let my fancam tell the story.
The event was soon over in a flash. It was also amazing how the huge crowd also dispersed in a flash once he left the stage. Some members of the media who were at the hotel earlier arrived at the atrium, and were aghast to learn that the event was already over. I guess I should count myself lucky this time.
In all three events, he gave mostly the same answers during the interviews (partly because he kept getting the same kinds of questions), but I was heartened to hear him say it himself that he will likely take on another drama in Korea next year. I wouldn’t want him to leave for the army with just a movie and a Chinese drama without appearing on the small screens of households in Korea again, since it has been so long since “Healer” ended.
After he left, I was more relieved than upset that the day’s events were over. My whole afternoon was literally spent on him, and it was tiring. But after heading back home, the whole experience just felt surreal to me. I had never expected Ji Chang Wook to come to Singapore so soon, at least not before he went to the army. Simply because Singapore is such a small market.
Honestly, the news of Ji Chang Wook advertising for Shokubutsu came as a huge surprise for me. Why sign on an endorsement deal where your ads will only be displayed in a small country like Singapore? Don’t think it adds much to his career. Perhaps he saw this as a golden opportunity to meet his fans in Singapore? While he has to worry about ticket sales if he were to hold a proper ticketed fan meet in Singapore, coming here as a brand ambassador means he does not have to worry about breaking even. Singapore fans are also very fortunate to be given opportunities to meet Ji Chang Wook without having to fork out a huge sum of money. While some fans had to play hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars to meet their idols, all we had to do was buy $20 worth of soap. Even if you did not want to buy the soap, you could still meet him for free at the shopping mall. Totally a win-win situation!
I normally consider myself as a calm and level-headed fan who doesn’t burst into giggly fits and shrieks of “Oppa!” when I see a Korean star, but the day’s events left me with withdrawal symptoms for almost a week. I actually missed him. I’ve never felt this way before even when I attended his fan meetings overseas. Perhaps it’s the added significance of him being in my country? My experience also made me wonder how do celebrities live each day with such hectic schedules, and answering the same questions and repeating the same answers over and over again. I was already dead beat after experiencing all that running for one day. But even though it was tiring, I’m already hoping and looking forward to Ji Chang Wook’s next visit to Singapore. Hope it won’t take too long!
Special thanks to Daphne for kindly allowing me to participate in the events as a member of the media, and also to Shokubutsu for organising everything!
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