Foreign members of idol K-pop bands recently gathered at Yonhap News for an interview. They were Nichkhun (21), who has dual American and Thai citizenships, A’ST1’s Tomo (22) from Japan, Haiming (22) from China, and Alexander (21) of U-Kiss from Hong Kong.
Nichkhun of 2PM revealed his early experiences of Korea, saying, “I was scolded severely when I stuck my chopsticks into a bowl of rice. Later I learned that in Korea this is done only at ancestral worship ceremonies. I have grown to like samgyepsal and doenjang stew. I’m a real Korean now.”
Haiming of A’ST1 said, “I was scared to come to Korea because I heard that etiquette was very strict here. We don’t have a polite form of talking in China. It’s very difficult.”
They all came to Korea between 2005 and 2007 and they all speak Korean fluently. They’re well-versed in Korean slang, and they know how to write their names in Korean as well as the names of President Lee Myung-bak and late President Roh Moo-hyun. Moreover, they know how to swear in Korean.
Nichkhun was cast by JYP Entertainment in 2006 when he drew the agency’s attention at a Korean culture festival in Los Angeles. He said, “I auditioned at a coffee shop by singing and dancing. Back then I had no idea who Park Jin-young was.” Tomo, who visited Korea in 2005 as a tourist, ended up as a singer after he caught the eye of Lee Hyo-ri’s stylist. Despite strong opposition from his father, who is a martial arts champion in Japan, he dropped out of college and began training as a singer that same year at DSPent.
Harbin-born Haiming developed an interest in Korea after he saw singer Rain in the KBS TV2 drama “Full House.” He enrolled in the Department of Cinema of Chungang University in 2006. He was cast by Lee Hyo-ri’s manager when he was taking dancing classes at a dance school in Seoul because he wanted to be like Rain. Recently he drew the spotlight by appearing in the popular TV drama “Boys Over Flowers.”
Alexander, who has a Hong Kong father and a Korean mother, was studying in college in San Francisco when he came to Korea in 2007 to visit his relatives. He drew the attention of his current boss at a hotel fitness club.
All these foreigners say their singing careers in Korea will serve as a springboard for their debuts in other countries. But achieving their dreams in a foreign land was a big challenge to them. The biggest obstacle was learning Korean. Tomo said, “I attended a Korean-language school to learn how to talk politely in Korean but it was of no help. I learned by watching the TV drama ‘Super Rookie’ because I like actress Han Ga-in. I also learned a lot by communicating with my teammates.”
Nichkhun added that when his Korean was still very poor, he happened to appear on an SBS TV talk show but he couldn’t say a word because the other guests were very eloquent. He also said, laughing, that he once talked to Park Jin-young in an impolite form. Alexander said he is so concerned about talking politely that he uses polite words even when talking to younger people.
On the question of what their initial impression of Korea was like, Haiming said he thought that Seoul was a city of only rich people when he watched “Full House,” but that he saw many poor people here after he came to Korea. Tomo said it was easy for him to get acclimated to Korean culture because he had never been interested in Korea before. He said he learned about historic conflicts between Korea and Japan only after he came to Korea and that sometimes he watches soccer and baseball matches between Korea and Japan alone in saunas.
Because all these singers are men, they also showed interest in the issue of military service in Korea. Haiming said, “In China, those who serve in the military receive many benefits, but because the population is so big, there are many volunteers. Sometimes there are not enough vacancies. I was left alone after all my college friends in Korea began their military service. At first I couldn’t understand why Korean men had to serve in the military.” Nichkhun, on the other hand, said Thai men also have to fulfill their military duty, though they are picked by a lottery.
Next, the guests discussed inter-Korean relations and North Korea’s nuclear tests. Haiming said, “My mother was worried after she saw the news about Korea. She told me to seek help at the embassy if anything happens. Things apparently look more troublesome on the outside than inside Korea.” Nichkhun said, “When there was political unrest in Thailand, Thai people didn’t worry that much. But foreigners thought of Thailand as a dangerous area. The same is happening in Korea.”
On the question on what they find hard to understand in Korea and what they like here, Nichkhun said he can’t understand why a small face is regarded as attractive in Korea. He said, “Before I came to Korea, nobody told me that my face was small.” Haiming, for his part, said people in Korea tell him all the time that his face is too big.
As for what they admire in Koreans, the guests chose Koreans’ patriotism. They said when they saw Koreans gather in front of City Hall during the World Cup and during the late President Roh Moo-hyun’s funeral, they realized that Korea would never collapse. They said, “We’re grateful to Korea for giving us this chance and we don’t regret having come here.”
Each of these young men has a dream. Nichkhun said he is interested in acting and someday wants to debut in Hollywood. Haiming said he wants to stage a performance for his mother in China, while Alexander said he wants to return to Hong Kong as a famous person.
Once the interview was over, the four patted one another on the back and agreed to gather together someday. “We could make our own show. It’d be fun,” they joked in Korean. (KBS)