Who is the most famous Korean person you’ve ever met?
This will appear to be a somewhat strange article, but it should be at least entertaining. One thing about Korea is that it is a very very small place, and therefore peoples’ degrees of separation from celebrities is very small. The Korean (from Ask a Korean) once wrote that he “can get the phone numbers of a number of celebrities right now by using less than 5 phone calls/emails“, it’s pretty easy to encounter Korean celebrities.
To tell you the truth, I’ve met quite a few, but I’ve only really ever hung out with two. Read about it after the jump.
Probably the most famous Korean I’ve ever met is Korean soccer player Park Ji Sung. My wife’s family owns a chain of Mancester United branded restaurants in Korea, and Mr. Park was in attendance at the grand opening. But I wouldn’t say that this meeting was at all meaningful. Park isn’t exactly Mr. Charisma, and he didn’t seem to really like having to be at the grand opening. Afterall, it was at the end of a day where he did several other promotional visits and shot a few commercials. He looked tired and somewhat angry. He said his two or three words of congratulations and left to go make more endorsement cash while his coach had to deal with the indignity of taking photos with people who would have rather had pictures with Park Ji Sung.
One thing is certain. He won’t remember that we ever met. We didn’t really even speak. He just shook my hand on his way in.
I also have met another Korean footballer in Japan, Ahn Jung Hwan. It was right after a game and I asked him for an autograph. His team had lost and he just looked at me and said “No” in English. He probably also won’t remember me.
In fact, there are probably many other Korean celebrities that I have met and was either not aware that they were celebrities, or the meetings were so not meaningful that it really doesn’t matter that I met them.
One such case was when I was with several other Koreans and one foreign guy in a bar in Itaewon. A group of 5 or 6 middle aged Korean men came in and sat near us. The foreign guy kept going over there to talk to them and we didn’t know why. The next day he told me that they were a band called “Crying Nut”, which I actually kind of liked, but never knew what they looked like. They obviously were not that famous if the other Koreans we were with didn’t recognize them.
I also strongly suspect that I met two members of Kara before they debuted when I was managing a bar in Shinchon, but I can’t really be sure. When I became aware of Kara after their debut, I kept having a nagging feeling that I had met two of them somewhere, I just couldn’t put my finger on it. As I wasn’t married or seeing anyone at the time, I even slipped one of them my phone number because she seemed to like talking to me. Then again it could have been someone totally different. I am really not sure about it actually.
Anyway, let’s move on to the people that I have actually hung out with.
One of my old coworkers from a previous job was a really cool guy. He was very fashionable…. well, let’s just say he was too fashionable. Oh, who are we kidding? Everyone who has ever met him has questioned whether he is gay or not, but didn’t want to straight out ask him because it’s really none of our business, and if he turned out not to be gay, then he might feel offended by the question. Anyway, even if he is gay, I don’t care, he’s a cool guy.
When I wrote about Itaewon before, and how I’ve been there 5 times, 3 of them were with him. He seems to know his way around bars and clubs that most people don’t know about. Well, on one of the 3 times we hung out in Itaewon, we went to a bar/restaurant owned by none other than Hong Seok Cheon.
Who is that?
Hong Seok Cheon is a Korean actor who is famous for being the first Korean gay celebrity to come out. When he came out, he was the host of Bbo bbo bbo, a Korean children’s show (kind of like Sesame Street). His revelation ruined his career, as he was immediately fired from his job, and couldn’t find acting work for the next 10 years or so. He instead began a new life as a restaurateur.
Anyway, my friend knew him personally and my friend, my wife (then girlfriend) and I drank and talked together. He told my girlfriend that she was lucky that I was really handsome… several times, but Koreans always say that I am handsome (because they perceive me as a white foreigner and are trying to be polite) so I really didn’t think anything of it. Plus, I didn’t even know who he was at the time. I just thought he was the guy who owned the bar, not the first gay man in Korea ever. After we left, my girlfriend told me who he was. Anyway, he seemed like a really cool dude.
This final story though is one that everyone will find somewhat interesting… and a little bit funny.
Back to the days when I was managing the bar in Shinchon…. well this was before I was managing it, but working there part time just as a hobby. One of my coworkers brought her friend and it was kind of a slow night, so we got to talking. Now, I was a little bit drunk, so that might be the reason I seemed to be more suggestive than usual, (remember, this is a time when I was TOTALLY single), but she seemed pretty attractive, and receptive to my suggestive advances. In truth, it was no more than casual flirting, but I have to admit I was interested in her a bit.
We talked all night, and when the bar closed, we all went to another bar that was more popular than the one I worked in. We decided to play foosball. She said that if she wins, I have to buy her a drink. I asked what I get if I win, and she said she’d give me a kiss. (I know, this sounds ridiculous, but it’s true, HONEST!!!). Well I won, and collected my peck on the cheek. Later I got her number and talked about the possibility of going to see a baseball game in the future. (A favorite first date of mine… more on why in a later post… But wait, I’m married.. I probably won’t be talking about dating much at all anymore.)
So the next day I went in to work a shift at the bar and everyone kept smiling at me and I didn’t know why. Finally I asked my boss what was up and he brought me into the back room and told me.
That attractive lady was in fact… a man. Or rather, she was trans-gendered. Everyone in the bar knew it but me! When I thought about it, it made sense. She was unusually tall, and had a kind of raspy voice. She was also the only non-flight-attendant that I have ever met who rocks the scarf around the neck look (to conceal her Adam’s apple.) I thought her low voice was from smoking too much or having a cold or something. To say the least, I was embarrassed for not being able to tell. Another guy (the one who I mentioned earlier who was into Crying Nut) told me not to be too embarrassed, that he also had a similar experience in Thailand.
Well the next time I saw her, it wasn’t like I was totally different, but our mutual friend told her that I had become aware of the fact that she was trans-gendered, and I probably wouldn’t want a romantic relationship with her. That was .. well true.. but I still thought she was cool, and it wasn’t going to stop me from hanging out with her.
A group of us went to a different bar in Shinchon where a lot of people were dancing. There was a group of army dudes there and they took turns dancing with her all night while I was talking with one of them who was from Virginia, close to where I grew up. I let him in on the secret, and he told his friends later after they had already had a turn dancing with her. One guy, who got as far as having her arms around his neck while they were dancing together seemed crushed. Then he shrugged and said, “Oh well, I don’t care if she’s a guy. She’s one hot guy!”
Shortly after that night, she didn’t come into the bar again, and I never met her after that.
I thought this was supposed to be about celebrities. Was she a celebrity?
Well no, not at the time.
Then why are you talking about her?
About a year later, I turned on the TV and saw something about some trans-gendered super model. The trans gendered super model looked uncannily familiar to me. I suspected it was the lady I had met a year earlier, but I had no way of confirming it. The lady on TV was going by a different name than what I had stored in my phone, and I had forgotten her name along with all the other newly accumulated phone numbers of people who I never call, so I couldn’t call her up or anything to congratulate her on her new found fame. Well, today I chatted with my friend who brought her into the bar, and finally got around to asking about her. She confirmed that the trans-gendered supermodel Choi Han Bit was indeed the lady who I had met before. She doesn’t actually meet her anymore either. I guess fame makes it difficult to keep in touch with everyone. She’s even forgotten the name she used to go by.
Anyway, I hope some of you have found these stories interesting. I don’t know if it means anything that the two celebrities I have had the most meaningful contact with have alternative lifestyles, but that hasn’t ever been something that has hindered my willingness to befriend people.
Maybe though that by mentioning several times in this article that I’m okay with having friends who have different sexual orientations, it seems that I am trying to hide a certain uneasiness that I have around them or something. Please don’t read into it that way if that’s what you were thinking.
Anyhow, as far as non-Korean celebrities go, the most famous Japanese celebrity that I’ve ever met is a SMAP member, Kattori Shingo, who I saw on the streets of Asakusa while he was filming a show about hanging out with foreigners. In America.. heh, I shook hands with a member of the Seattle Seahawks at a Redskins game at RFK stadium when I got to see a game for free with the Boy Scouts. I didn’t know exactly who he was, and I still don’t know. Other than that, I’ve not met any American celebrities. My younger brother met the first lady once, so he has me beat by far.
What celebrities have you all met?