Confession is the First Step
: a document of youth
Ania was selling everything. First press DVDs, fake and official merchandise, back issues of magazines and life-size posters, everything except the CDs which were ok because the album covers were vague artistic statements and not place mats for their idol-ready faces. In other words, she couldn’t bear looking at him anymore, and there was no face of his poking out in their fifteen years worth of CDs.
At age 38, Tetsu, bassist of the popular Japanese rock band L’Arc-en-ciel, was finally getting married. Message boards of the fan base across the world took to the news in varying degrees Some were ecstatic and already predicting the next generation of L’Arc-en-rollers with Tetsu’s unborn children. Others were throwing out one liner congratulation posts that end with mile long exclamation marks. At 19691003.com, the home base for Tetsu fans in China where Ania served as founder and co-moderator, the message board became a refuge for general weeping, emotional breakdowns, and therapy. When a new post surfaced complaining about the excessive and unreasonable grievances on the message board, Ania replied briskly: “say this again when you’ve given up everything for him.”
Ania spent the day drinking and crying after the media leaked Tetsu’s intention to marry. The day after the news announcement, a huge promotional ad for the band’s eleventh album was up in one of the busiest shopping districts in Tokyo. The album, entitled KISS, featured a larger than life, controversial ad of its band members leaning and nearly kissing each other. On the third day, KISS was released in Japan, debuting number one on the charts. An official press conference announcing Tetsu’s marriage took place on the same evening. The news reel debuted number one on the Yahoo! Japan entertainment news ticker. That night, Ania wrote in her blog:
I am completely sober now.
Just this morning I said there was no way I could accept the timing of all that’s happened—the album release, Tetsu marrying, the ad controversy—but right now, with everything in front of my eyes, I just feel cold.
I just feel completely used.
The entertainment business needs sensationalism after all.
Everything was planned down to marketing perfection.
It’s when you realize you’re being played like a toy, that it starts to hurt.
Hyde, vocalist, Tetsu, bassist, Ken, guitarist, and Yuki, drums made up L’Arc-en-Ciel, the light of our lives. When I handed 3000 Chinese RMB worth of pink notes across the table to Ania, it felt like I was handing over total devotion on a platter, the beating, bleeding heart type.
Ania freaked out on me.
“Don’t just make it any more obvious!” she hissed, eyes peering left then right for suspicious looking characters around us. “For future references, envelop my dear. I don’t know how you guys do it in America, but let’s not be so flashy here,” she mumbled while counting the money under the table.
“Sorry, sorry,” I replied sheepishly, feeling the sting of cultural ineptitude.
“All right,” Ania announced as she stuffed the bundle of notes into her bulging wallet. “The group visa should go through in a week or two, but the travel agency said they are going to get tickets for us now because for some reason, everyone is going to Seoul at the end of July or something. So hopefully everybody will pass,” at this a look of annoyance pricked her face, the kind of annoyance that conveyed that if she had been running the system, the world would be a much better and more efficient place. I believed it 100%.
“You should be fine though. You have a green card,” she told me matter-of-fac
tly, almost as an afterthought.
I nodded again and sucked on cold spicy Kimchee noodles, feeling more self-conscious than privileged. In China, my Chinese-American identity bought me many things. Envy, convenience, and misunderstandings were among them, but Ania’s eyes shone with a street-smart savvy that green cards couldn’t buy. She was, after all, the second craziest L’Arc-en-Ciel fan I’d ever known.
As for the craziest, Claire had quit her investment banking job in New York City, enrolled into some language school in Tokyo, and since devoted her life to be near Yuki, the band’s drummer. Last we heard, she was planning to scale the entire island of Japan by attending every L’arc-en-Ciel concert from the latest tour. That was 24 different arenas in two months’ time and a lot of lodging and transportation fees in between. They say she hasn’t ever dated because she’d found the perfect man for herself since age sixteen, and there was just no point in looking when you’ve found perfection.
Claire was crazy, but you had to admire her guts. With that sort of devotion, even I prayed Yuki for her. When I told Ania about Claire, I could already see the wheels turning in her head. Ania was no minor character herself. This was the girl, after all, who had just returned from a two-week, five-concert chase in Japan, whose name was synonymous with dedication, and who, most importantly, loved Tetsu more than I even did. This was also the girl organizing a trip to South Korea for the Pentaport Rock Festival where L’Arc-en-Ciel will be headlining the show.
Everyone knew Ania and no one knew Ania. She was the moderator of the most comprehensive, frequently updated website on Tetsu in China. We met via the online message board on her site where legions of L’Arc-en-Ciel fans all over the country doted over the band by discussing their latest releases, styles, and gossip. Ania was a rare case of super intelligence combined with resourcefulness and rallying abilities. She’d organized countless “music appreciation sessions” in Beijing that brought fans together in karaoke rooms. She’d learned Japanese in the span of two years boring over song lyrics. She’d jetted over to Japan every long vacation break in the past year and served as the express mailing order for deprived fans in Beijing. She’d even had verbal matches with the manager of the band, Mr. Ooishi, who knew her by sight after bickering with her twice. More importantly, she’d met Tetsu. Yes, that was, recognizing him despite his cap and sunglasses disguise on a bus and shook his hand. It would have been fate if it weren’t for the fact she went and poked on every bus that morning because she somehow found out the whereabouts of the band’s temporary rehearsing studio.
Ania said she doesn’t remember the exact temperature and texture of his hand, or even the shade of his sunglasses. All she remembered when you ask her was that it was the happiest moment of her life, and that Tetsu looked tired, genuinely tired and more tanned than he looked on stage with all the blinding lights.
That day being the first time I met Ania in person, I shook her hand slowly before we parted ways. I imagined the heat of Tetsu’s hand as I squeezed the hand of his #1 fan. I imagined the length of his elegant fingers curling into mine, and even the hard calluses on those fingers from twenty-five years of plucking away at the bass.
“Remember to wear good shoes, and bring sunscreen,” Ania squinted against the sun, tallying off reminders as veteran concert-goer. Her hair had been bleached honey brown and her skin was pearlescent white. In her mini-skirt, tank top and umbrella ensemble, she reminded me of catalogue girls from Japanese fashion magazines. “And be excited for it. It’ll be the greatest time of your life.”
The Internet found and pedaled my love affair with L’Arc-en-Ciel. As a musically-deprived teenager in the middle of nowhere Ohio, my ears buds were numbed to the likes of Kasey Kasem’s Top 40 Hits every Saturday morning. At an era of bumblegum pop dancing in sync on “backstreets” versus destructo “Nookie” thrash metal-rock, I was a lost pup clawing for a universe of sound that wasn’t dictated by a guy who was five times my age. Rather than succumbing to the de facto route of punk rock, the Beatles, or jam bands, I stumbled into the dark and unknown territory of Japanese rock and landed head first. It took one song sent from a childhood friend who was far more worldly after moving into a city for me to get hooked on the cries, the guitars, and the Asiatic vowels spat out by slightly androgynous men of ambivalent sexual leanings.
Japanese rock helped me rediscover my roots after years mired in the idylls of my second motherland since age nine—American suburbia. At age fifteen, I was warbling stranger syllables and lining my walls with new idolatry. Entire albums, full biographies, megabits of pictures, and gigabits of videos were easily accumulated through the days of peer to peer sharing. I was a graduate in the fandom in a month and a missionary by the end of the year, spreading the love with birthday gifts of CD mixes among my fair-skinned friends as they twirl their blonde hair in confusion and wonderment.
My love for four short Japanese men did not wane as I hit the plateaus of college. Back at China for my junior year in college, the first time in the long haul of ten years, I finally met other professional worshippers in my field of idolatry. If the L’Arc-en-Ciel’s fandom had been a smattering of websites and communities in the States, in China, there were shiploads of devotees.
The Japanese pop culture scene had always found an audience among the younger crowd in its neighboring countries. From Korea to China, Thailand to the Philippines, the fresh faces of Japanese idols, actors, and music artists ran aisles in the entertainment section of electronic stores. In hotspots of trendy culture like Hong Kong, all things from the font face used on cute stationeries to the latest accessories in Japanese fashion were the a la mode for cool. Dora, the Beijinger and second L’Arc-en-Ciel fan I met through the Korea trip lamented that before the Korean Wave of pop culture took over, and before the Prime Minister of Japan, Junichiro Koizumi, sparked a wave of anti-Japanese rallies for visiting WWII war shrines, more things Japanese were seen and heard on radio and TV.
“Everyone from teenagers to 40-year-old housewives and my grandma now watches those crazy Korean soap operas,” sighed Dora while flipping through the latest issue of CoolMusic. As one of the last surviving magazines in northern China dedicated to Japanese music, it had made a recent move to set aside half of its content to covering the Korea pop music industry in order to stay competitive.
For true devotees of L’Arc-en-Ciel, however, there were plenty of outlets for getting goods and updates on the latest information of the band. In addition to China’s vast word-of-mouth piracy markets that carried everything from fake DVDs, books and posters, goodies like key chains and imitation necklaces, the Internet has become a virtual hub for Chinese fans. The network of websites, message boards, chat rooms, and personal blogs nurtured a fanatic community with constant information exchange and collective zeal among fans.
I found out about the group trip to Korea for L’Arc-en-Ciel’s appearance at the Pentaport Rock Festival through Ania’s Tetsu message board. A post outlining the itinerary, cost, and concert information surfaced on the board one day, redirecting all those interested to the official L’Arc-en-Ciel Korea Pentaport chatroom on QQ, China’s iconic instant messenger equivalent to AIM. I logged onto the chatroom with vague intentions of a curious cat, more interested in how a group of strangers could successfully come together, only to come out by the end of it inserting multiple smiley faces and exclamation marks at my newfound friends. Through subtle persuasion that amounted to the art of excited bantering and Ania’s announcement of “no more playing around you guys,” that everyone in the chatroom must be people serious about going, I had to make a decision.
I was going to Korea.
27 July 2007
I learned more about the band talking with L’Arc fans on the trip to Korea than all the hours I spent reading interviews, watching music videos, and making sense of the intense symbolism in the lyrics. Ania said our troop of eighteen Chinese girls made the Korean Consulate a bit wary of our intentions. Our official documented intent sent in by the travel agency stated “three days of leisure and shopping.” Half of the girls onboard told their parents the exact same thing, using justifications like exploring the k-wave phenomenon or simply “broadening cultural horizons” and “I want to eat some authentic kimchee and ginseng chicken.” Others took sick days to get off work. Only one parent saw her daughter off. The mother worked as a security manager on the other side of the airport.
Among the luggage of the eighteen girls, the largest suitcase for a three-day, two-night trip was a full 29” that clunked with shoes and clothes. Zheng Fang took a three hour flight to haul it from Guangzhou with another friend only the day before. Tall, pale, and immaculately made-up in her red summer dress and heels, the image of her sitting on the bus reapplying makeup was a recurring scene during the trip. She was 26, the oldest in the group working in the advertising industry. I was beaten out for the smallest backpack by a girl from the western province of Szechuan whose only luggage was a petite backpack. Xue Xue was the tiniest in the group, with big eyes and soft bangs sweeping against her long eyelashes. If it wasn’t for the single studded nose-ring she rocked, one wouldn’t have imagined her getting lost in the dark alley of rock music.
My seatmate on the bus ride to the airport was Li Hui, who happened to be from my hometown just outside of Beijing. When she found out that I was also a Tianjiner, her round face broke into a wide smile as she slipped into a familiar accent that lolled me into smiling back. Li Hui caught me up on all the “trivia” details of the band while heads around us reeled in surprise, “you didn’t know that? That’s like news from five years ago!”
We met up with a few stragglers at the airport before grouping together with our tour guide. Kana and Niki arrived stylishly late, geared in Louise Vuitton bags, G-Star clothes, Puma shoes and other name brands. They worked maturity in their strut even though they looked hardly twenty. With her darker skin and thickly woven hair, Kana played the part of the exotic beauty from the southwest province of Yunnan. She apologized for their lateness with a graceful drawl of a cat. That was when Ma Hao, our tour guide, clapped his hands and shouted “all right! That’s everyone!”
Looking in his late twenties behind a pair of yellow tinted sunglasses, Ma Hao cracked the expected joke about one lucky guy being surrounded by eighteen beautiful ladies. He gave us a quick introduction and guidelines for crossing the border to Korea in a smooth voice that suggested he had done this too many times. Dora appraised his Gucci shoes, Lacoste shirt, and god-knows-what-brand pants usually seen on a metro-sexual Italian man and nudged the few of us around her about how tour guides these days were really loaded. “He probably gets a couple thousand on this trip just for babysitting us across the border.”
“So? What’s this band you guys are so bent on seeing?” when Ma Hao asked the inevitable question, eighteen girls immediately froze on the spot, exchanging an uneasy glance universally understood by the sisterhood of idol-chasers as “normal people just don’t understand.”
Dora was the first to reply with a sly grin, “androgynous rockers.”
Ania clarified it further. “Two manly men, and two girly girls.”
“Makes a happy family,” finished Li Hui as the sisterhood combusted in laughter.
Ma Hao’s expression went from curious to confused, then rebounded with an awkward chuckle. “O-K…”
What our tour guide didn’t get was all that made our band, that Hyde was the beauty, the face, and the voice that found us and never left us. Tetsu was the leader whose dream since age fourteen was to form the perfect rock band, and he chased, stalked, and ironed out the dream until it became the dream for millions. “Finding true love is hard,” he once said. “Now imagine being in a four-person relationship.” Ken was the playboy guitarist whose epic songs channeled reckless perfection, and Yuki kept the beat and the band steady through its tumultuous years.
“It’s a bit like religion,” I’d remarked to friends and family in an attempt to describe the love, but often only managed to offend. So I followed through by citing inspirational stories, the stuff of miracle. Worship came in all shapes and ways. For Fanxing, the sixteen-year-old mini-Ania who followed her foot steps from L’Arc-en-Ciel concerts in Japan to Japanese language cram classes, the band had been her redemption. “I used to be a bad student all around. Not just academics, but no motivation in anything,” Fanxing shrugged as Ania leaned in. The two had been inseparable since the start of the trip despite apparent differences. Four years older than Fanxing, Ania was tall, thin, girlish trendy and nonchalantly sharp. Fanxing was short, stalky and tough looking, except when she smiled to reveal the cute high-schooler in her.
A year ago before Fanxing found L’Arc, she had been in the back of her class. A year later, she’d consistently made top ten on all the mock college entrance exams, and even took up a sport that she made us guess in a circle until we all threw our hands up.
“No it’s not kung-fu, I’m a weightlifter,” she finally relented while grinning. “I just found motivation in a very distinct fandom that I could work toward, and I guess that just sort of influenced my work ethic for everything else,” Fanxing explained. “They saved me,” and in return, Fanxing’s parents had been willing benefactors for all her cross-country trips to see her band.
Not everyone was as fortunate in their idol worship as Fanxing to have parental support for concerts. The ticket a day pass at Pentaport Rock Festival was a whopping 80,000 Korean won, which approximates to 85 dollars and 650 Chinese RMB. The average monthly wage in China was 2000 RMB. The average wage of the high-schooler and college kid depended on the goodwill of parents. Most L’Arc fans contented themselves with concert DVDs and Youtube videos rather than the real life experience of going somewhere where even buying a bottle of water felt like splurging.
The more devoted ones like Ania simply didn’t spend any money on clothes that cost more than 100 RMB, and according to Dora, ate leftover cafeteria food to save money for L’Arc-en-Ciel recreations. Ania wasn’t poor. Her parents just didn’t know exactly where her monthly living stipend went to. You had to admire her devotion. She made the rest of us seem like amateurs, like we simply didn’t earn this. I wondered vaguely that if one day all this just stopped spinning, and on that day she happed to develop an interest in micro-financing, if then she would take over because, people with that sort of determination must succeed in the world.
The only reason we came to Korea in a tour group was because we had to. The Korean government mandated all Chinese tourists visiting Korea had to be a part of an approved travel program. Ania had negotiated with the tour agency in advance to make an exemption in our busy itinerary to make time for our concert. Which was, after all, the only reason why we were visiting the country in the first place. Still, the disappearance Ania and Fanxing the next morning was still kept hush hush from our tour guide.
“They’re not feeling too well,” Dora winked at me as we glide onto the bus. Of all the girls on the trip, Dora had the most unforgettable look about her. Big-eyed with a large mouth usually fixed in a smile, she wore sincerity on a sleeve for strangers and friends alike. She had a face you could trust with its spaciousness as if appearances could guarantee a big heart.
Despite functioning on merely five hours of sleep, our troop of now sixteen girls were looking at their concert best. Dresses, boots and eyeliners were drafted for girls going for the rock and goth glamour look. Xue Xue went from laid back rock to a hint of laid back punk rock with a black choker around her neck. I surveyed one third of the girls in heels and wondered if Ania had given them practical instructions for going to a concert.
28 July 2007
Worship came in many shapes and ways. For the Pentaport festival girls, it was worth the sore feet from high heels, four chocolate bars, dehydration, getting hair pulled on, feet stomped on, body slammed, and a general rapturous experience in seventh heaven. The tamer bunch of us found out about Ania and Fanxing right before L’Arc-en-Ciel was to take the stage. They were up in the first row, front and center in bright pink outfits (Tetsu had been wearing a lot of pink in recent appearances). Apparently they had forgone a night of sleep, a day tour of the Korean capital arranged by our travel group, and came straight to the festival the night before. In total, they spent eighteen hours standing on the same spot waiting for L’Arc-en-Ciel to take stage. Ania had bartered with the festival security to be let in during the middle of the night in order to “camp out” for the band. She hadn’t been the only one with the idea, and fought bravely among a group of hardcore Korean, Chinese, and Japanese fans. “We ran for our lives when they finally decided to let us in,” she recollected afterwards. “It was a stampede!”
The last band before L’Arc-en-Ciel finished around 9:00 after a full day of the music fest. The moon hung on the corner of the sky, lit up like a stranded lamp among hundreds of spotlights circling the main stage. What had been a beachfront stage with crowds intermingling between sets began thickening two acts before L’Arc-en-Ciel. Ania had prepped us on the plane last night that the Korean fans were devoted, aggressive and will knock you down. The reality proved to be much worse. As L’Arc’s mammoth staff of at least thirty people spilled onto the stage—setting up equipment, checking sound, mopping the floor in a disciplined hurtle across the set—fans were getting a workout down below.
Starting from the back, I had inched my way up to the fifth row until I was at risk for being crushed. The mode of survival at the concert had clearly been deemed for-each-her-own. Girls in the front row were already being hauled out by festival security from fainting and dehydration. Their hair long and limbs limp like dummy dolls as they were carried away. Only their heads protested, shaking weakly while tears streaked their cheeks. Bottles of water were thrown into the crowd and passed around as loud speakers commanded for order in authoritative but assuaging tones. Some of the staffers on stage shot traded worried glances at the crowd below resuming their work. I wondered vaguely if Tetsu was surveying masterfully from the side of the stage, contemplating quick solutions to dissolve mob mentality while his hairstylist perfected his hair.
When the lights finally dimmed, the crowd went wild, explosive in their screams the moment stage lights popped. The video screen in the back lit up to four silhouettes, and in one instance a rooted crowd became mob on a floating raft. The surprisingly even gender ratio at the concert made flaying arms and colliding elbows ten times worse. Nails and muscle battled for survival while I braced for the hit on first note. As Hyde took center stage and the crowd squeezed forward, everyone held on for dear life. I spent the entire opening song praying for a ballad song next and cursed Hyde’s high spirits as he bopped up and down the stage. Tetsu had the grace to look nervous as he assessed the crowd, furrowing his eyebrows between stage smiles.
As the shoving, pushing, and feet scuffling continued to the third high energy song, the crowd condition quickly hurled seventh heaven of rapture to the eighth hell of damnation. I decided to ease ten rows back, watching the swell of people fill in the space of one as I counted in a meditative trance of defeat and longing. From one to ten I split the sea of crowds for a millisecond until I fell back to the ripples. The back section seemed no less devoted than the front. They too belted out foreign lyrics in unison with tears in their eyes, but they at least were graceful enough to throw apologetic looks when limbs came into brutal contact.
By the end of the concert, what had been a troop immaculately groomed for concert was reduced to a beaten down guerilla army with tattered clothes, stringy hair, streaky makeup, strange bruises, and in one miraculous maneuver, Dora lost one sandal in the mob and replaced it with someone else’s lost sandal.
“Look at this,” muttered Ania as she showed off her left shoulder. Bite size red marks ran across it. She had gotten them from people clawing to get to the front. After eighteen hours of standing, Ania was strangely euphoric and glowing, wearing a halo of otherworldly exuberance. Her battle scars a testament to her latest feat in the name of the band she loved, she wore victory in the form of a peace sign as I took a picture of the girl we’ve dubbed “leader-sama” on our trip, the same respectful Japanese suffix used on the beloved Tetsu-sama.
“Who’s in on trying to catch them at the airport before their flight tomorrow,” she intoned as we marched out of the festival shoulder to shoulder, a fierce sense of comradeship thumping across our chests through a shared awakening. No one protested as a wave of hoorays eased into blissful chattering. Girls hugged, cried and toasted with overpriced Korean fruit juices. Others ended the night by splurging on liquor for close quarter use at our hotel. Most didn’t even want to get off the bus—our bubble of fanatic existence with one confused tour guide as we rode into another deep night.
“That’s the hotel they’re staying at,” Ania suddenly chirped, her voice piercing through the waves of conversation as all eyes fell in a swoop on the Hilton that we passed by. “Don’t worry girls, we’ll catch them before their flight at the airport tomorrow. I’ll make sure of it.”
29 July 2007
In Chinese, there was a word for “receiving one” and “sending one off at the airport.” The custom of “receive and send off” was a gesture ingrained in East Asia. In the space of home, it usually meant tea, snacks and candy to receive guests. Sending off involved walking them to the door, the car, the bus station, or whence to shake hands, hug, or wave them off. The same tradition in fandom language translated to meticulous planning, wit, and more feverish fanning than graceful farewells.
A year ago, when L’Arc-en-Ciel landed in Korea for their first ever concert in the country, they had underestimated the scale of their fan base, and were subsequently mobbed at their landing. This year, word has it the band came with body guards that formed an impenetrable shield around them. That was the least of our problems trying to send off Japan’s prized export at a Korean airport. Ania was more than aware of the margin of failure before she “made sure” we were seeing the band off. Aside from not knowing their flight schedule, there were two international airports for the band’s possible take off and an already bewildered tour guide to sway.
The morning after began with two raps on the door. When I saw Dora’s laced expression through the sleepy lens of my eyes, I knew it was mission day. It was five in the morning and Dora’s eyes were granite hard, as if she had gotten enough beauty sleep from our two nights of power naps.
“There may be some complications to this sending off thing,” she said without missing a beat, striking not a blow but a challenge. “Ania’s working it out with the tour guide, but we might have to pay more, and… she’s not sure which airport they’ll be leaving from for sure. There are two.”
Eighteen girls trudged, labored, and tottered onto the bus this time around. Fatigue had finally taken its toll as girls heaved handbags as burden and not accessory; some no doubt felt their entire body was a burden. Even Ma Hao seemed more subdued than his usually chirpy tour guide self as he explained the dilemma. He had obviously gone through the talk with Ania, who sat slumped next to Fanxing, looking sleepy but still determined. Our tour guide explained we were deviating from our itinerary that was agreed upon in the contract, and if we went to the airport, we would have to pay an additional 200 rmb and miss the grand sightseeing in Korea. A grave fog set upon the bus immediately. Words were traded in whispers and glances in skepticism, some raised the question of the two different airports, and that was when Ania got up and grabbed the loud speaker from our tour guide.
“Girls. This has to be a unanimous decision, if any of you don’t go, we’d be breaching the contract, and they can sue us, and we can’t go,” she took a deep breath and swallowed. “The two airports thing is true. I know they are leaving this morning for sure, but I don’t know which airport they will leave from. There’s a flight bound for Fukuoka at Daegu flying out in two hours. That’s where their next concert is. I believe that’s our best bet. I know 200 RMB is a lot of money on top of what we’ve already spent, but just think, if we don’t go at all, we’ll have zero chance of seeing them off up close. If we go, we have a damn good chance”
Silence again as Ania ended her speech. Ma Hao filled the ellipsis by adding that we needed to make the decision quick or we’d be missing both the attractions on our tour, and any chance of catching L’Arc-en-Ciel at the airport. That was when Niki piped up. “Let’s just do the tour spots. We already saw them live anyway.”
In an instant, Ania’s expression changed from calm to furious. “Did you come here to play or did you come to see L’Arc?” Like a predator, she strode toward Niki, who drew back, before staring hard back at Ania.
“I came to have a good time playing and to see them.”
Ania nodded. One “all right,” and another “okay,” and she dove back to her seat, face buried against Fanxing’s neck, sobs suddenly shuddering from her body.
Our tour guide was at a loss. Niki looked like a deer caught at headlights. Li Hui shifted nervously in her seat. Everyone held their breath as Fanxing rose to give her own speech about how some of them gave up so much to see them, and how rare the opportunity of catching them at the airport was to come by. Ma Hao followed with his own inspirational chorus on how this wasn’t anything he had ever seen before, how he had heard about idol chasers on TV but this amount of devotion was simply stunning. Niki slumped back to her seat and shrugged in a way that foretold eyes rolling, but as we waited with bated breaths, it never came. “Fine,” she said. “But I’m not getting off the bus and not paying the 200, you guys will have to split the cost.” It was a blow but a manageable one. Still we waited when a smaller voice strove in. Xue Xue looked sad when she announced, “me too, sorry guys, but I can’t afford it. Good luck though.”
After silence reigned for the longest ten seconds of my life, Ma Hou motioned the bus driver to head for Daegu airport. It took digging out the cash to handing it over for me to realize I didn’t care whether I saw them off at all. Instead my eyes drifted to Ania. Quiet and composed, she sat upright staring out of the window. The outlines of her eyes were smudged black and pink from crying only minutes before. Fanxing had one hand on Ania’s shoulder while other girls whispered soothing words, but Ania looked like she wasn’t there at all. It took less than bus ride for me to realize I paid money for faith, youth, and more importantly, for Ania.
That morning, we never saw them at the airport. Ania spent half an hour powdering her face, smoothing her white dress, and preparing a smile just for Tetsu. As always, she shared her tactics and techniques with us. “Look memorable,” she said. “The key is for them to remember you.” We watched the flow of people ebb past and beyond us, draining our frantic hopes with an imaginary hourglass over our heads. We took turns to gawk at the entrance for any busses, vans, or short Japanese men. When two Japanese girls wearing Pentaport concert gear strode in toward the Fukuoka flight, Ania talked to them until their eyes widened to disks and their hands went to cover their mouths. We didn’t need a translator to understand that she had jus told them L’Arc-en-Ciel might be on the same flight as them. Make sure to make trips to first class! Ania’s fist punctured into the air. Their excitement boosted our morale once more as we renewed our chattering. How short do you think Hyde will look off stage? Will they stop to wave at us or duck all the way through? What if we bought them a gift from the tax-free stores?
But the band chose to fly out of the Incheon International Airport bound for Fukuoka in the afternoon. By the time we found out about it, it was already too late, and nobody had the motivation to put in more money for a lost cause. Ania spent half an hour in a daze on the bus, staring out into the misty gray skies. I watched her as she pressed fingers onto her jaw line, eyes aghast.
“Love them forever? But will you love them forever?” All of a sudden, I wanted to lunge forward and shake the girl by her skinny arms. “Love them forever. Will I love them forever?” Instead I grabbed the soles of my feet and stared out into the rain that pitter-pattered against our window.
I hope you love them forever.