Military concerts – concerts and performances held by the soldiers during their enlistment period. They’re usually carried out near their division barracks, which puts them outside of Seoul by a good hour or so. They are free, since they are sponsored by the public, and a fun way to meet up with other fans. Not to mention a welcome when le fangirl thought she wouldn’t see her favorite idol for two years.
They are also the bane of her existence.
*DISCLAIMER: I am NOT AT ALL criticizing these military concerts or the idols who partake in them. The whole point of this is to relay my own experiences and point out, though the idea sounds awesome, just keep in mind – it has its bad sides. It’s not for the weakhearted. It takes dedication! It takes strength! It takes a willingness to get up at 3 in the morning just for the SMALL chance that you will make it into the venue. IT. MEANS. WAR!
…just kidding…sort of.
I would also like to point out that this is not the same case for all idols. Not everyone’s oppas will join the military band and perform for the public. In fact, up until now, such cases were rather rare (if any existed). Cassiopeia just got really lucky…or unlucky. Depends on who you ask…
Why do we have it?
Actually, let me rephrase: Why does the South Korean government force every able-bodied adult male go through a rigorous, not-so-fun life of rationed meals, strict roll calls, and strenuous physical training for 21 months?
Well, the answer is rather simple, albeit sad: South Korea is still technically in a war. That ceasefire in 1953 was really just an agreement to not take out the big guns (literally and figuratively) and kill each other. But, you can’t trust nobody in this big, beautiful world so as my mother always says “Be prepared!”
That’s really the whole point of this dreaded enlistment – the idea that IF Korea were to break out into war, the Republic of Korea Army (ROKA) will be ready! (my battle face)
But it’s not just gun-toting and barking orders these boys do. Sometimes, they provide public service as well, like working in government offices, carrying out civil duties (i.e. traffic patrol, clean-up, etc) and even promoting cultural events and social welfare to the general public.
That last one is where the military band comes in.
Now the truth is, I’m not extensively familiar with the South Korean military laws. I am Korean but alas, I am female. I have no immediate male siblings, my male cousins already served their time, and I really had no reason to care until my boys started their time in the barracks. So, if you want a history lesson on where and when the military band was established, I cannot help you. What I am guessing is that it’s fairly recent thing because I don’t recall hearing anything about any other celebrities doing this in the past. Actually, up until a few years back, I think it was even illegal…
What I do know is that the job of the military band is to provide entertainment to the mass while promoting well-being and South Korean culture. And the 26th Division Military Band Unit was no different.
Except they had Jung Yunho.
I’m just going to point out again that this does not mean your oppa will follow the same path and join the military band unit (though for a singer, it kinda makes sense). We were all surprised, too, when it was announced Yunho would be joining the band, and even then we (the fans) weren’t sure if that meant we’d be able to view his performances. I remember that T1Story &… concert – Yunho’s final one before enlistment – and we were all so sure this was goodbye for 21 months. I remember all the tears, the crying, the goodbyes we said to each other because we thought this was it for the next two years: no more performances, no more spazzing, no more reak dance moves, no more U Know Time…
And then it was announced Yunho would be performing in the military band unit of the 26th Division in the city of Yangju. Needless to say, Cassiopeia was hyped! This meant performances, right? This meant we could see him, right? This meant we could enjoy the magic that is U-Know Yunho and it’d be just like seeing him in concert again! Right?
Well…not exactly. And this is where the hard truth begins.
First, and foremost, these concerts are FREE. Let that beautiful word sink in: F-R-E-E – free. No money. No cash. No moolah necessary.
Now, you know that annoying voice in your head? That annoying one of reason that sounds like your mom, or your pretentious sister, or that philosophical kid in your debate class that just wouldn’t shut up about how psychologically realistic he was? You know that voice?
The one that always says: Nothing in life is free.
The event was free, yes. You could just stroll right in and be allowed to grab a spot. But that also meant everyone else could, too. I’m sure you can guess what happens as a result.
Lines. Long lines. One with over 1000 fans alone, all hoping to get in and see Yunho. A lot of these fans would come in from China and Japan, too, and come one, two, three days beforehand to line up and wait to enter into the venue. Some fans tried to make it easier by organizing a line-up where they would put up a post and you sent in a photo of it to them, and they would provide you with a number of entry. But no one knows ahead of time who, when, or where that’s gonna happen until it does and once they do, its a rush!
No, really. Have you seen 300 fangirls running in the same direction?
Now these concerts are located about a good amount of time away from Seoul. Most were in the city of Yangju and if you look on the Subway map, its near the very end of Line 1 (Dark Blue Line) and that’s just the station itself. The venues (ya know, where the concert actually is) were all about an hour or so away from said station. That’s even more time trying to get there. And public transportation in these areas is sparse. Buses took a good 30 minutes in between and who knows if you could even get on it. So the obvious answer to me is cabs. 15,000 won and a good conversation to boot…not to mention I cut out at least half of travel time (cabs take a more direct route than buses do).
Add to overnight accomodations (unless…ya know, you want to sleep outside…where it’s dark…and cold…and creepy AF) and food…lots of food actually…and having to get up at 5 in the morning for attendance check…
And to think, some people come from other countries just for this, too. My goodness.
So, the concert itself may be free, but the time you invest just to get a spot is incredible and the money you spend on room and food and…
Well, that’s just dedication, I guess.
The photo above is from the Ground Forces Festival in Gyeryong. Another huge military event that Yunho performed that. I had my soul sapped out of me for a good week. Maybe more.
And can I just say – country taxi drivers are just the cutest, if not tad predictable. This was usually what the conversation would be like when you get into a cab…
Ahjussi: Where to?
Me: *name place* and step on it, please.
Ahjussi: Is there some sort of event there?
Ahjussi: Is it Uknow Yunho?
Ahjussi: That guy is amazing! People come from all over the world come to see him! You know I just picked up a group of Japanese ahjummas for the very same reason?
Me: Doesn’t surprise me.
Ahjussi: So you’re just gonna stay out all night?
Me: That’s the plan.
Ahjussi: Why do so many people like him anyway?
Me: Would you like the reasons in alphabetical or chronological order by rank?
I recall another story of a friend who walked out of the station and a cab driver called them over to “hurry up! You have to see Yunho! Quickly!”
Like, she didn’t even say anything. They just knew. Such is the ahjussi way.
Then there’s the external factors which you have no control over. Weather (rural areas gets really, really cold at night), the crowds (these are for the locals, too, you know), and sometimes, the people themselves. Some people can get cray and just overall inconsiderate when seeing their favorite idol is on the line. Even just getting something with their faces on it is a big deal. You’d think it’d easy to get a flyer or a freakin’ pamphlet and it would be…if people weren’t grabbing stacks of 50 at a time.
But in the end, it’s pretty worth it. Call me biased but Yunho’s performance are amazing! He really puts his all when he performs, even while on duty. I bet he’s been practicing, too.
And this, too…
And the atmosphere. I’m not gonna lie – after the first one, I mainly started going, not just for him, but for the fans, too. I mean, yeah, we have problems and can be crazy and block each other on Twitter but in the end, we’re all together to support this guy. The cheering, the fan chants, just the overall feeling of being with people who are just. like. you. That moment when you look around and see all those lights flashing. For him. Together.
And hyper Yunho is always the best.
What’s not the best is after it’s all over and you have to get home. Hate to say this but the cab drivers at this time are not so cute. They charge an exorbitant amount for short distances or refuse to take you unless you’re going long distances that guarantee enormous cab fees. The other option is to wait for the bus which get packed with other fans going the same way.
Then there’s the fact that after these performances, you’re starving. You’re tired and sleepy, if you’re like me, absolutely done. Just so done and hangry. Convenient store food can only hold you over for so long.
That’s why I was really grateful for the last concert. That one started at 3 and ended right around dinner time. Took me and my friends a while to get to the restaurant we wanted to go, too, cuz like I said, them taxi ahjussis not so nice. But we eventually managed and celebrated our final time in Yangju with a bowl of pork soup. Courtesy of Pork Soup Restaurant in Yangju~
Overall, it’s…a crazy experience. You really have to commit, at least for one night and it really takes so much from you. But what you give up, you get back in spades when you see your oppa giving his all for his fans. So to the question is it worth it? My answer is a resounding YES. With Yunho, at least, I was never disappointed, and the memories are something I’ll always cherish (and probably bore my kids with in the future).
I’m not gonna lie, though. I am so ready for Yunho to come out resume his activities as an idol. And then Changmin, and then…
PS: all photos and videos which are not mine are being used with the full knowledge and permission from the rightful owners. Be sure to thank them when you have the chance. You’d be surprised at how hard it is to get good quality images!