That Time I Met Super Junior’s Donghae

Happy Super Junior comeback day, everybody!  “One More Time (Otra Vez)” has been on repeat all day in this household, to absolutely no one’s surprise. The timing of this post is actually a happy coincidence, but I’m just going to pretend like I’m super organized and planned this all along. Procrastination for the win So in my previous posts about KCON NY, I mentioned that I unexpectedly came face to face with Super Junior’s Donghae – an encounter that still leaves me slightly dumbfounded whenever I think about it.  I was fully prepared to see all of these idols from afar and/or behind a sea of other K-pop fans; I never expect to find myself two feet away from my ultimate bias.

Since I haven’t written any posts about specific groups for a while, I’ll play catch-up and give you some background: I actually knew next to nothing about Super Junior until last year. That probably comes as a shock to those of you who know about my not-so-secret SM favoritism, but it’s largely because they went on hiatus around the same time I got into K-pop. I recognized the more active members like Leeteuk and Heechul, and I knew their more famous songs like “Sorry Sorry.” But, I just didn’t feel like taking that deep dive into Super Junior’s long history until they released new music as a full group. Once “Black Suit” came out and I watched all of their subsequent variety show appearances, they quickly rocketed to the top of my bias list.

Super Junior According to Non-ELF Katherine

Messages to my ELF friend showing how truly clueless I was almost exactly a year ago… my, how things change.

Part of me thinks that devoting a whole post specifically to Donghae is hilariously ironic; this time last year, I literally had no clue that he even existed. Only in K-pop, am I right? But over the past year, he’s somehow moved from being that unknown “cutie in rose gold” to celebrity crush status. And I don’t just mean within K-pop, either. He’s high up on my list with Zac Efron, Chris Evans, and Michael B. Jordan.  And my encounter with him at KCON is a major reason why.

What’s funny is that I didn’t even plan my KCON itinerary with Super Junior in mind.  SM artists don’t do artist engagements, so I was thinking I’d just see them at the concert.  But then, KCON made a last minute announcement that Billboard would be having an interview with Super Junior; anyone with a convention ticket could go and see it on the big stage in one of the main areas.  The only problem? The chance to see an extremely popular group without paying extra – and the only chance to see them up close, at that – meant everyone and their mother would be there.

I actually was there with my mother, and I should take a moment to note that she uses a wheelchair.  (That might seem random, but it’s a pretty important part of the story.) We decided that we’d try our best to see that interview, but I was less than impressed with how KCON handled accommodating the needs of handicapped and/or disabled people.  That is to say, they barely handled it at all. Places with large crowds always result in apathy and indifference towards those in wheelchairs, and I couldn’t find any staff members who were able to help us get around more easily.  I tried to park us by the cameras that recording the interviews in the back, but there were still at least a dozen people who stepped over my mother and gave us looks like we were in the way.

Eventually, we encountered another woman whose father was also in a wheelchair.  They told us that no one had tried to help them either, and that made me incredibly frustrated.  So, I went down to the stage and asked the security guard if we could all stand with him by the barrier.  At that point, it wasn’t even about seeing the interview; it was about finding a safe spot where the parents wouldn’t get trampled on.  To my surprise, the security guard said that we could all go and sit in front of the barrier.  There was a young girl in a wheelchair who was already there, and we got to join her and get really close to the stage. So basically, it’s thanks to my mother that I ended up within fifty feet of Super Junior in the first place and I will be forever grateful.

Super Junior's Billboard Interview

I took this without zooming in… so yeah, I was pretty close.

The interview itself was super entertaining, but seeing it live also felt incredibly surreal.  On one hand, it felt like one of the many interviews I watch on YouTube (just not through a screen).  On the other hand, I was extremely aware that being so close meant Super Junior could see me just as well as I could see them.  My seat was very conspicuous, and it was probably right in the middle of their general line of vision. Nearly all of them glanced over in our direction at some point. Most fans would love that, but it turns out that I’m actually pretty shy in front of famous people.  That did not, however, prevent me from looking at Donghae pretty much the entire time… because seriously, I had to take advantage while I could!

We did make eye contact several times (it was bound to happen with all of my staring), and he even smiled at me at one point.  That was definitely enough to make my day, and I was fully prepared to talk my mom’s ear off about it as the interview ended and Super Junior started to leave the stage.  But all of a sudden, Donghae bent down and picked up three of the water bottles that the staff had left for them.  Just as I was wondering what he was doing, he jumped off the stage and started jogging towards us – at which point my brain promptly started to short-circuit. Before I even realized what was happening, he handed one of the water bottles to my mother, gave the rest to the other people in wheelchairs, and came back down the line shaking everyone’s hand.

As you can imagine, I wasn’t even fully processing everything until he was in front of my mother.  And at that point, I realized that he was in a hurry and would probably skip me to rejoin his members.  My introverted Gemini side was like, “It’s okay if he doesn’t shake your hand.  You already have plenty of nice memories from today.” But my extroverted Gemini side was like, “JUST PUT YOUR HAND OUT, YOU FOOL! YOU’LL NEVER BE THIS CLOSE TO HIM AGAIN!” To my surprise, I automatically stuck my hand out – and the rest is a blur.  I remember him suddenly appearing in front of me and leaning down, and then he was looking right into my eyes as he squeezed my hand… and then I blinked, and he was gone.

(Another fun little part of the story: My mother, who was right next to me, was fully aware that Donghae was my Super Junior bias. Like me, she sensed that he might not shake my hand… so apparently, she decided to say, “This is my daughter!” as he was shaking hers.  I didn’t actually hear it at the time because my soul was too busy leaving my body, so I only heard about it secondhand once she decided to fess up.  I was initially embarrassed about it, but I’m totally living for it now. If you ever meet your celebrity crush with your mom, I hope she hustles for you too.)

As exhilarating as that handshake was, it wasn’t the moment that made me into an even bigger Donghae fan than I already was.  It’s definitely a great story to tell, and it made my heart flutter for sure. But at the end of the day, it was a just nice interaction between an idol and his fan. There wasn’t any deeper meaning beyond that.  What truly touched me was that Donghae gave those water bottles to all the people in wheelchairs, including my mother.  That whole morning had been a struggle of trying to navigate through crowds of people who couldn’t be bothered to clear a path. It’s nothing new (sadly), but it’s disappointing all the same.  So, my mother getting any kind of special attention – from a celebrity, of all people – was definitely heartwarming to me.

K-pop fans tend to put a lot of stock in an idol’s “true” personality. There’s always that curiosity about what [insert idol here] is like in real life, and that eternal debate over whether they’re as nice as they seem or whether they’re actually horrible.  Personally, I don’t spend much time thinking about it.  I’m never going to become friends with or date any of them, so it doesn’t really bother me if the image I’m being sold doesn’t match their true personality.  That being said, it is nice to discover you chose the right person to fangirl over. I liked Donghae because he seemed like such a sweetheart, and his actions that day confirmed that.

Honestly, I would have continued to support Donghae (and Super Junior) regardless of whether I ever ended up meeting him or not. But his act of kindness towards my mother made me so happy to be his fan, and I’ll always remember it fondly. I used to be a flaky multifan who would frequently change biases, but I think it’s pretty safe to say those days are over now.

Proof it Happened

Proof that it actually happened, because sometimes I need it too.

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