It all started five months ago, in my tiny room in Weston during the first week of Easter Break. I was horribly sick and cooped up in my room for days on end when Sakina started sending me links to BTS’ Youtube videos and, confined in my room by my illness, I had nothing at all to do except dive deeper into what I would soon realise to be a K-pop hell in which I now inhabit.
And then in June, Bangtan announced Epilogue tour dates for South East Asia and one of them was in Bangkok, Thailand. Against all odds, and indeed there were many, Sakina got us tickets to watch Bangtan live in Bangkok for real.
It didn’t really feel real then and the feeling persisted even on the day I was to fly to Bangkok.
5th August, Friday
My parents fetched me to Penang on Friday morning where I met up with Sin Ming before flying to KLIA2 together. There, we met up with Zhi Ting who would be flying with us to Bangkok as well. By the time we reached Bangkok, it was 6PM but we only actually left Don Mueang Airport two hours later due to the ridiculously long queue at passport control. We took the bus to Chatuchak Park MRT station, being able to only make uncertain guesses as to when we’d reached our intended destination due to the lack of English interpretations on signboards. There, we queued 30 minutes to get our MRT tickets from a ticket machine, realised the machine only accepted coins which we didn’t have, and then joined another 30-minute-long queue at the ticket counter. So you can more or less hazard a guess as to how ready I was for the day to end by the time we got out of the Thailand Cultural Centre station and found out it was pouring. The last meal I had was six hours ago so I gave in and bought some snacks from a roadside stall, waited for the rain to subside a little before setting off on foot to find where Sin Ming and Zhi Ting’s airbnb were. I was staying with Sakina for two nights, but because no one was around at her airbnb, I followed Sin Ming in the meantime while waiting for Sakina and her friends to get back.
Searching Sin Ming’s airbnb itself took more than an hour, the location of the apartment being so elusive and secluded. We got lost as well, and had to resort to asking the people in a 7-Eleven for directions after Sin Ming’s Thai sim credit ran out and couldn’t be used to contact the airbnb host. At that moment, Sakina texted me saying they were back at their airbnb, so I told Sin Ming and Zhi Ting to text me once they’d reached their airbnb before calling an Uber.
Imagine my utmost relief when I found out my Uber driver was a woman. It was late, and I was alone and tired but I was granted the chance to feel a hint of safety by this minor detail. After giving her the address I got from the airbnb website, I laid back and allowed myself to relax, tracking our journey on Google maps as a precaution. And it was fortunate that I did that, because half an hour later, I realised we were entirely off track from the location Sakina had just sent me and I started to panic. I asked the driver to stop by the side before showing her the address Sakina had sent in Thai, only to be told that it was in the complete opposite direction from where we had been heading towards for the past 30 minutes. I apologised profusely as she took a U-turn while I felt dread slowly consume me because 1) this was going to be be a very expensive car ride and 2) the day felt like it could never end from the physical and mental exhaustion and hunger and uncertainty of having a place to stay at for the night.
About 15 minutes later, the car pulled into the driveway in front of a building, and it seemed like my driver didn’t know exactly where the building of the airbnb address was. Despite that, we must have been within the vicinity of the address and searching by foot would be easier so I told the driver that it was okay, I could get off here. She stared at me ridiculously and said, “No, no” and got out of the car to ask the guards stationed outside the building we were in front of for the precise location of the address. At this point I was overwhelmed by everything, mood-sensitive to every single thing that was happening around me because I’d been travelling the whole day and was tired and hungry and alone in a foreign country, which explained the surging feeling of gratitude that swelled in my chest after that, because my driver, who was practically a stranger and just doing a job she was obliged to do, didn’t have to go to such lengths to make sure I got to my destination but still did anyway. It turned out the airbnb was across the street so she made a U-turn and I informed her that Sakina was coming to get me at the entrance and as I was getting out of the car, she asked me “Really??” repeatedly and didn’t drive away until Sakina appeared.
It just astounds me that someone I don’t know, a literal stranger, would help me so nicely without asking anything in return. It made the night so much better after the turmoil I’d been through for the past few hours.
And Sakina!!!! The moment I saw her I just went in straight for a hug, whispering “Oh my God, oh my God” ceaselessly because 1) I’d finally reached where I needed to be in one piece and that meant that the day was coming to an end 2) the last time I saw Sakina was three years ago in Bristol and we’d been talking about this day, Bangtan Day in Bangkok, for weeks and seeing her in the flesh made the notion realer by the second 3) the addition of factors 1) and 2) made me quite literally sag in relief as I allowed myself to let my guard down for the first time that day.
6th August, Saturday
The exhaustion hadn’t quite left my bones the next morning but it was Bangtan Day, and remembering so was capable of erasing all traces of weariness (even if temporarily) as the whole house (and by that I mean four of us – Sakina, Aizzah, Amal and I) woke up that morning in various states of frenzy. What to wear. What to bring. How to deal with actually seeing Bangtan in real life. We knew we were going to be spending literally the whole day at the stadium so that meant bringing along essentials to stay alive such as water, food, fully charged powerbanks and makeup. And then finally, we were off to the stadium.
We took two trains and along the way, we already knew to notice other people around us who were also going to the concert. It didn’t start out that obvious, just teenage girls moving in groups and you could just as easily reason that they were going to the mall or something (except it was eight in the morning) until we started seeing people wearing shirts with Bangtan names on the back and yup, we were definitely heading in the right direction.
It was 9AM when we reached Huamark Stadium and already there were SO MANY PEOPLE. People loitering around in shaded areas, lining up in queues as fansites distributed freebies, taking photos with the giant poster that had seven of their faces on it, and –the queue we were looking for– queuing in front of the merch booth waiting for it to open at 11AM. There were already around 100+ people in front of us as we sat down to mark our place in line. Amal and I went around getting some fansite freebies for a while –I got some photocards– before most of them ran out and we returned to the queue.
Okay so here’s the thing: none of my previous concert experiences ever has really prepared me for this one. I think the longest I’d had to queue for a concert was probably Paramore in KL in 2010 for four hours, but I remember that being in a relatively shaded area. And then recent gigs in UK saw me queuing at most two hours in the cold, which, to be honest, was relatively tamer compared to queuing in the South East Asian heat for the same amount of time. Aizzah had a heatstroke halfway through and had to be brought inside into an air-conditioned room while Sakina and I queued for ticket and hitouch registration after we got merch. By the time we had everything that needed to be sorted out done with, it was 2PM and all we could do was — wait. Those two hours of suspense and anticipation until 4PM in the relentless heat felt like the longest hours in history but the situation was slightly alleviated when I scrolled through Twitter and found out Pokemon Go had just been released in SEA on that day itself so the first Pokemons I caught at Huamark were Weedle and Gastly.
(Much later on after the concert, I found out [to my amusement] through photos people posted on Twitter that there were people standing right next to the stage who were catching Pokemon right in the standing pit itself.)
And then at 4PM the doors were opened. Sakina and I headed for Section O of seating while Aizzah and Amal (and Sin Ming too) had standing tickets. I still couldn’t actually believe this was real even as I walked into the stadium that was gradually being filled up. On the stage there was a giant banner on stage with the words “HYYH ON STAGE: EPILOGUE” and Bangtan’s MVs were playing on the screens on both sides of the stage and still I thought, it couldn’t be. This couldn’t be real. I didn’t realise I was yelling (and some degree of whimpering) “OHHHHHHH MY GOD OH MYYYYYYYY GODDDDDDDDD” while Sakina just kept saying “DON’T EVEN START” because we were INSIDE and this can’t be REAL we’re actually GONNA SEE BANGTAN
It was an hour until the show actually started and the entire time we were singing (see: screaming) along aggressively to the MVs as if it was the actual concert itself but I would soon discover that that was hardly “aggressive” compared to What Would Come Later.
At 5PM the stage went dark and everyone screamed, and by everyone I mean I definitely screamed for about 10 minutes straight. Was I even screaming coherent words? Who knows. All I knew was I still refused to believe they were actually there, right in the flesh in front of me until the sheer cloth separating us shrieking folk from the actual Seven Gods fell away and Run started playing.
AND THERE THEY WERE. MY BOYS. IT MUST’VE BEEN A COMPETITION TO SEE WHO COULD SCREAM THE LOUDEST TO BE HEARD BY THEM BECAUSE I WAS RUNNING LOW ON FOOD AND WATER BUT STILL FORCING MY VOCAL CHORDS TO PRODUCE THE LOUDEST, HIGHEST PITCH SOUND A HUMAN BEING COULD POSSIBLE MUSTER
The whole time I was just thinking, all my karaoke sessions alone in my room in Weston have really paid off because I didn’t even know the exact Hangul lyrics but that wasn’t stopping me from belting them out in Romaji, entirely off-pitch but also entirely shamelessly. I told Sakina this after the show, that usually when I go to gigs, it still takes a while for me to “”””””let loose”””””” but probably because Sakina was a great concert companion or probably because I really, really, REALLY LOVE BANGTAN OR PROBABLY BOTH I found myself not caring about the tendrils of self-consciousness that crept in each time I scream-sang and danced ridiculously in my seat and it felt absolutely, out-of-worldly amazing. I mean, I was still wary about standing up when everyone else wasn’t so I wasn’t that revolutionarily brave, but I loved the concept of screaming and dancing and not pausing to think what other people would think if they saw me in my current state and purely not giving a shit. It was incredible.
But you know what’s even more incredible? Do I even need to say it because of course Bangtan. To this day I’m still so HHHHHHHHHH each time I think about it that I don’t even know how to put it into words but I’ll attempt to for the sake of this blogpost
We weren’t allowed to record anything during the show and security was pretty strict and I didn’t want to risk anything so I didn’t. Here is where I draw another comparison with previous gigs I’d attended: I always, always try to record at least a few songs at gigs for the sake of posterity but it comes at the cost of perpetually watching the entire concert through a phone screen. Not having the self-imposed obligation to put my phone up to record (and make sure everything was within frame the whole time) felt really liberating, and I could immerse myself completely in my surroundings. Like actually focus 500% of my attention on the people on stage and what they were doing and saying, what they were wearing, how their facial expressions looked like and even how the crowd was. Of course, this also came at the price of not being able to rewatch the concert after it ended but I guess there’s also Youtube for that despite it not being as firsthand an experience as it otherwise would have been. But honestly? That was a small price to pay in exchange for the experience I had.
AND OF COURSE JUNGKOOK DID SO MUCH AT THIS SHOW!!!!!!!! Each time I see him I just? scream but I wasn’t even screaming anything that’s the thing while everytime Yoongi opened his mouth Sakina beside me would literally stand up and scream so you can honestly gauge our situation for the whole two hours of the show. I even made a thread of a comprehensive list of my favourite things that happened at #EPILOGUEinBKK:
One thing definitely worth mentioning is the Thai ARMY fan project during Fire and Young Forever. When we took our seats in the stadium, there was a bag on each of our seats and in it were two light-up rings and a piece of paper with instructions on it, telling us when to switch on which ring light. When Bangtan performed Fire, the crowd lit up in vibrant, multicoloured stars, contrasted with the usual white dotted lights of ARMY bombs.
During Young Forever, the stadium lit up in a sea of bright blue light instead, with white lights in the upper rows showing the zodiac signs of each member.
I mean. This was my first ever K-pop concert. The first time I actually even liked a K-pop group happened mere five months ago. And here I was feeling so overwhelmed by the events that had transpired. I was Truly Blessed™.
I Need U was the last song and before they started singing, they held their mics out for the crowd to sing the entire first verse and chorus and it was then I was hit by a giant slab of Emotions because 1) the screens were showing each of their individual expressions as they listened to the crowd sing, and I couldn’t help but feel??? I don’t even know how to say this but can you imagine standing in front of thousands of people while they sing perfectly in Korean to your song??? and then there was also 2) the show was ending. It was already ending when it didn’t even feel like 2+ hours had passed.
In the end, they still left the stage after our screams of “DON’T GO” relented into reluctant “Goodbye”s.
Sakina had hitouch after the show (can you IMAGINE) so we waited for her outside while going through what had actually just happened for the past three hours. Aizzah’d forgotten she had heatstroke earlier that day and Amal and I, desperate for water, just took two unopened water bottles from the massive heap of confiscated bottles at the entrance of the stadium. After Sakina appeared (and was bombarded with questions of how the hitouch went), we left to find a taxi to get back to Asoke. It was raining outside but I honestly couldn’t be bothered with an umbrella or anything because now that the show had ended, I could feel the grotesqueness of my whole being from sweating the whole day in its entirety. We had 7-Eleven ramen that night and I pretty much also passed out that night too, still somewhat hung up in remnants of disbelief of what I’d just experienced.
Michelle’s People I’ve Watched Live List, updated:
- Paramore (19/10/2010)
- Elton John (22/11/2011)
- OneRepublic (31/10/2013)
- Last Dinosaurs (23/11/2013)
- Tegan and Sara (23/11/2013)
- Franz Ferdinand (24/11/2013)
- Halsey (22/2/2016)
- The 1975 (13/3/2016)
- The Temper Trap (27/5/2016)
- Coldplay (4/6/2016)
- BTS (6/8/2016)
7th August, Sunday
I’d thought I’d wake up that morning feeling awfully drained but I surprised myself by waking up naturally at 9AM feeling not completely dead. Getting out of bed and walking to the bathroom didn’t make my limbs feel like falling off like I thought it would. So that was a good start to the day.
Aizzah and Amal decided to stay in so I followed Sakina shopping at Siam Paragon and Central World Festival where I spent half the time thinking about last night and the other half catching Pokemon.
At lunchtime, Aizzah and Amal called to tell us they were having lunch at a Korean restaurant near Asoke so Sakina and I went to meet them. It was the first time in two days that I had a proper meal and it felt so satisfying.
We had to leave the airbnb by 3PM and Sakina, Aizzah and Amal were flying back home that day so after checking out, we each said our goodbyes before they left for the airport in a taxi. I’d only seen Sakina for about two days yet it felt like a really long time and saying bye carried more reluctance than I’d thought. Saying goodbye meant that this Bangkok trip was almost coming to an end, and I didn’t know when I would be seeing her again.
After their taxi drove off, I started making my way to the Sukhumvit MRT station where I was going to take the BTS (Bangkok Mass Transit System, not Bangtan Sonyeondan sadly) to Siam Paragon to meet up with Sin Ming and Zhi Ting, luggage in tow.
In retrospect, if I’d been more wary of the dark clouds in the sky and the low rumbling among them, I probably would’ve taken active action by walking faster but as it was, I was still thinking about, well, everything that had happened in Bangkok so far, like meeting Sakina and watching Bangtan etc that I was completely caught offguard when it began to rain. Like actual pouring rain. Rain bullets you couldn’t dodge no matter how you ran. That was exactly what I did though, pulling my luggage along with me at that, and I thought to just run the entire way to the station since I was already semi-soaked but I couldn’t. I gave up and halted in my footsteps right in front of a Thai food stall where several other tourists were also taking shelter. A Thai man standing next to me was putting on his raincoat before getting on his motorbike and noticing my state of distress, he asked me something in Thai which I took to assume was a question about where I was headed to so I told him Sukhumvit station. I then asked (or rather, gestured) if it was still far and he nodded and I just weak laughed, jokingly saying (gesturing) that I could only run to the station once the rain subsided a little (but was I really joking). Before leaving though, he gave me a plastic bag and pointed at my phone that I was clutching in my left hand, indicating that I could use it to protect it from the rain and I thanked him, grateful for his small but incredibly kind gesture.
The rain somehow got heavier and I moved inside the building, wondering how long I had to wait for the rain to stop or at least subside so I could make a reasonable run for it. The other tourists had hailed a cab and left, so it was just me, my damp luggage and my dripping hair waiting pathetically in front of someone’s shop. At the back of my mind I told myself I could always call an Uber but I was already so near to the station and taking an Uber in a guaranteed rain-induced traffic jam didn’t sound appealing at all. It was just a matter of time before the shopkeeper approached me and spoke to me in Thai. Again, I assumed she was asking where I wanted to go to and I gave the same reply, after which she made an umbrella gesture with her hands and I shook my head saying no, I didn’t have an umbrella with me. It turned out that she wasn’t asking me whether I had an umbrella or not because moments later, a teenage guy (whom I assumed to be her son) emerged from the back with one of those giant ass umbrellas you put over tables in hawker stalls when it was raining, and then it clicked. He was going to walk me to the station with the giant ass umbrella so I didn’t get wet in the rain. I was SO OVERWHELMED by this sudden act of extreme kindness from a literal stranger that my first instinct was to reject the offer because it would be such a hassle for him, but I wasn’t exactly in a position to do that and I did indeed wanted to get to the station as soon as possible.
It was a five-minute walk to the station and the entire time I was just in awe at how recent events had unfolded and when we reached the station, I couldn’t stop thanking him profusely, heart bursting with gratitude because they didn’t have to do that, didn’t have to offer help to a stranger like me who doesn’t even speak their language. Same goes for the Uber driver two nights ago who made sure I got to my airbnb safely. These people have gotten me out of sticky situations and they didn’t even know me, and for that I was just so stunned and immensely grateful that if it weren’t for them, I probably wouldn’t have been able to get to where I needed to be in a city so big and foreign.
I got to Siam Paragon, still intact and drier than before, and continued to hunt for Pokemon on the way to where Sin Ming and Zhi Ting were. It was still such an amusing and amazing experience for me, seeing clusters of people in the mall with their phones out, grouping around Pokestops. Since that morning, I’d developed a habit of peeking at the screens of passing people who I suspected were playing Pokemon Go and 1) I quite literally suspected everyone who had their phones out 2) I was right every single time. It was so bizarre, somewhat like a running inside joke that didn’t need to be spoken out loud. I still feel that way whenever I’m out Pokehunting in Alor Setar.
I met up with Sin Ming and Zhi Ting and we took the MRT to Dindaeng, where their airbnb was. After dropping off my luggage, we headed for a nearby food market where, yet again, I kept a conscious lookout for Pokemon Go players and bought pad thai for dinner. It started raining again so we left before it could get too heavy, and once we reached the airbnb, we had our pad thai dinner on the bed while watching Sin Ming’s video recordings of last night’s concert (because she was in the standing pit) and reliving everything once again to our hearts’ content.
It was already past midnight by the time we watched almost an hour’s worth of footage and felt nostalgic for something that had only happened the night before. Our flight was 10AM the next morning so I tried to calm my suddenly hyped brain to fall asleep and soon enough, physical exhaustion took over and I did doze off.
8th August, Monday
We woke up at 4AM and got an Uber to Don Mueang at 5.30AM. I was half-asleep during the entire car ride, but I managed to take one last snap of the Bangkok sunrise before I left this city.
During both BKK-KUL and KUL-PEN flights I had the concert setlist on repeat while reading the HYYH programme book. By the time I reached Penang, it was already 5PM and I used airport wifi to call an Uber to Bellyn’s house.
I was surprised when the Uber that arrived was a small Viva driven by a Chinese uncle, who had his grandson in the passenger seat navigating on Google maps while playing Pokemon Go simultaneously. All along whenever I used Uber in Manchester (and even in Bangkok), it always seemed like a premium car service but this was only my second time using the app in Malaysia. Thus this prompted me to ask the uncle whether this car was his and he said yes, he was a part-time Uber driver looking for a side income now that he was in his seventies. He was really nice, and we talked during the entire hour-long journey during which I found out he was born in Alor Setar as well. I was so physically worn out from travelling the whole day and functioning on only four hours of sleep but maybe because I was back in a familiar town, or because being able to strike up a conversation with a kind stranger was really nice, but I allowed myself to relax instead of being on edge even though I was alone. And then when I reached Bellyn’s house I thanked him, said goodbye and wished him a good life.
I was pretty much already at home at Bellyn’s house, and I told her, amidst her one-man audience cello revival show, that I absolutely enjoyed doing nothing after the past few days that had felt like a few million years. At night, we went to Gurney Paragon for a while and those few hours since touching down at Penang have been the most relaxed and chill moments that I’d craved for after such a tiring and fulfilling trip.
9th August, Tuesday
That morning, we revisited Kong Thai Lai, a tiny quaint coffee shop in Georgetown that Bellyn had brought me to ever since our second semester at Sunway. Breakfast kaya toast and soft-boiled egg will always have a special fond place in my heart.
I was supposed to take a 1.30PM bus from Sungai Nibong back to Alor Setar but after getting into the car, Bellyn suddenly said, “I half feel like driving you back to Alor Setar right now” and that was exactly what we did. We went to pick Mei Huey up and then commenced the impromptu journey back home.
The journey took an hour and when we reached Alor Setar, we went to Caffe Diem and had meatballs with a strange mash-potato gravy thing and then Bellyn wanted to find cello strings so I drove us to Sze Chan who didn’t have them and then Rhythm who also didn’t have them but instead directed us to Symphony at some hidden, obscure taman at Telok Wanjah. We were quite literally going round in circles but we found it in the end and after Bellyn triumphantly acquired said strings, we headed home.
Bellyn and Mei Huey were introduced to our newly adopted dog, Ah Boy (who took an immense liking to Mei Huey) and then I was influenced to pull out my violin which I hadn’t touched since leaving Sunway (a Schrodinger’s violin, like Harris said, because I was afraid to open the case to see if my strings and bow were still intact) (they were) and I surprised myself by still being able to read musical notes, to be honest.
And then at around 6.30PM, Bellyn and Mei Huey left, our last words to each other bidding of farewells shouted through rolled-down car windows at the road junction leading to the highway.