The kind of excitement I experience when I stand inside a concert venue surrounded by a crowd who loves and enjoys the same artists I adore is incomparable.
When the music starts, as the performers’ bodies move to the beat and their voices capture the attention of everyone in the huge hall, I immediately fall in love.
“A person’s life can become another person’s scenery,” Korean writer Lee Hee-in writes in his book, “A Traveler’s Read.”
I haven’t read the book, but I know this quote because Kai from the Korean pop (K-pop) group EXO used it during his acceptance speech for the best album award at a yearend show in 2014. The quote captured so well what I consider the scenery of life.
I wouldn’t call myself a travel enthusiast. I hate packing and unpacking. There are no tourist spots I’m really dying to see and no countries-to-visit bucket list. I especially don’t enjoy riding airplanes.
Despite that, I’ve traveled overseas 17 times and visited four countries in the last five years, all for the purpose of watching concerts. Though my favorite group visits the Philippines at least once a year, that’s just not enough for me.
Because I am a fan of a Korean group, the country I have visited the most is South Korea. I have visited Seoul more than 10 times, and people often ask if I don’t get bored going to the same country repeatedly.
But, the truth is, every time I fly out, it’s for a different reason — a new concert tour, a musical, a movie screening, or a new album being released. There’s not one same trip, because my adventures are different every time I fly out.
The funniest thing is that, when I travel, I barely have any stories about the country I visited. When I’m back home and friends ask about the trip, I would recount one or two observations, but what I would talk about for hours are the concert I watched and the local fans I saw.
The fans, the energy inside the concert hall, the songs and dances performed by my favorite artists — these are more memorable to me than all the tourist spots I missed.
People may find this trivial or weird, but attending concerts has become an energy boost for me.
I’ve traveled alone sometimes. In the summer of 2016, I stayed in Seoul for two weeks, but my friends only stayed during the concert dates.
The introvert in me was dying while I was left on my own, but when you are a fangirl, it’s easier to approach fellow fans because you already have something in common with them.
That year, I made friends with some Thai fans who were staying in the same hostel. To this day, we remain in contact almost every day.
In 2017, I was able to experience all four seasons of Seoul. My most memorable and most personal trip was in January 2017. It was my first winter, and I was going through a very difficult time. I had been battling bad thoughts and it was really not a good idea to be in a cold place at that time.
Then Kai of EXO wrote this message in his photo: “You don’t need to be strong always. I just want you to be happy.” I was inside the train at that time, all wrapped up in my winter clothes, when I first read that post. I cried. They were tears of gratefulness for the push to live one more day.
I realized that I was not a protraveler during my trip to Thailand last March. Since I only often go to South Korea, I usually pack just the night before my flight.
The only other country I had visited before then was Singapore, and I had friends who picked me up from the airport and accompanied me the whole time.
But Thailand was a completely new experience. I was used to reading Korean signs, but in Thailand I was slightly shocked to see signs I couldn’t read.
Sadly, I also wasn’t able to see any sights, because we rented a room near the concert venue and it was far from the center of Bangkok.
I only stayed in Thailand for three days. Maybe next time I’ll try to stay longer. But the Thai fans were very warm and fun to party with.
Before the concert began, they played the country’s national anthem, and it was a surreal experience for me—definitely one of the most memorable concert stops I’ve ever experienced.
This June, I traveled to Japan. It was exciting to see new places and experience their culture. But I was more excited to see the last leg of EXO-CBX’s Japan arena tour.
The only downside was that the whole concert was in Japanese — unfortunate, because my Korean language skills were just slightly improving. Maybe I would have to learn Japanese soon, too.
Many people perceive us fans as living our lives shallowly. It’s the stereotype, so, for many years, my fangirl life was like a secret identity, my alter ego. I didn’t like telling people about it because I was afraid of the backlash and being misunderstood.
But now I’ve managed to shake off that fear and embrace wholeheartedly that this kind of lifestyle has made me happy. Because of my fandom life, I’ve been able to learn a foreign language and travel to different places.
Most importantly, I’ve received motivation to be a better person. I always want to be the kind of fan my favorite artist would be proud of.
I’m probably not sane enough for many, but I have a source of happiness that I hold on to dearly. And, right now, in this chapter of my life, that is enough.
Mayi Medina, 29, is a researcher for the Inquirer and an EXO-L.
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