To say that I was lucky was an understatement.
A few days into last year, a close EXO-L friend of mine shared a screenshot of the news that Nature Republic was holding a raffle. The prize? A chance to win tickets to the Nature Republic Fan Meeting and Mini Concert in Seoul, Korea.
Now, I’m a realistic girl; I like to keep both my expectations and my hopes low when it comes to contests of any kind. My first instinct was to count myself out due to the fact that I had no Korean Visa. My other EXO-L friends chimed in and exchanged messages about raffle mechanics and the slim chances of being able to win. As a joke, I blurted out “Welp, it wouldn’t hurt to join.”
While my initial excuse was that I was meaning to try out some products from the brand; somewhere, hidden deep inside my fangirl heart, was a quiet hope that I would get the golden ticket. Of course, this was pretty much squashed by previous experiences joining raffles or contests and consistently coming out with squat.
It took me until the 2nd to the last day of the promo to set foot in my local Nature Republic store-I may or may not have spent an hour figuring out what to get. I eventually settled on some items I had been ogling for quite some time. Namely: the Provence Calendula Fresh Sun Gel SPF30 PA++, the Micro Slim Brow Pencil in shades 01 and 03, and the by Flower Blusher in Coral. Which garnered me a grand total of two raffle tickets. I walked out of the store (partially regretting that I didn’t ask the ladies after me if I could use their receipts to avail of more raffle tickets after they turned down the offer from the sales clerk), and forgot about it.
Days passed. Life went on. I only remembered to check facebook after feeling the need to rant about a random show I happened to be marathoning on the same day the results of the raffle came out. A quick scroll through the Nature Republic page on my phone directs me to the photo of the results.
I felt a shock course through my body. I froze. Is this a dream? Is that my name? IS THAT ME? I jump from the bed I was lying on to sprint to the opposite side of my house, into the room of my parents, where my mom greets me with a look of surprise mixed with an ounce of concern. I can only imagine my own expression as I shove the phone in her face. She pauses to read the list of names in my hand, laughter slowly blooming out of her until she looks at me in disbelief, uttering a single word:
Her sentiments were quite right; as happy as I was to win, I had several hurdles to overcome. I won tickets to the event and some pocket money. That’s it. Everything else had to be shouldered by me. I didn’t even have a Visa! What I did have, though, was determination.
I was informed via text about winning the raffle and how to claim my prize. I learned that I had TWO tickets. So of course I’d invite one of my closest friends (and biggest EXO-L and Chen stan) to go along with me. Even though we had the tickets in our hands, it still didn’t feel real.
We sat down and began to plan. We decided on staying in Seoul for four days so we could to explore. It was my first time in Korea so I wanted to make it memorable. There was literally so much to do, I had to provide my own hotel, transportation, airfare, and before all that, I needed to get my Visa in order.
Getting airfare and accommodations was no problem. With a plethora of apps to help me and my friend, we managed to score budget round trip tickets, and a pretty affordable hostel near Seoul Station. Transportation and WiFi accessibility wasn’t a problem either thanks to the handy app, Klook. And getting a Visa application processed at the South Korean embassy was much quicker than I had expected.
The next thing I knew, I was on a plane to Seoul, South Korea. In February. It was so cold.
On the day of the fan meeting, I ended up with a rather upsetting case of food poisoning during breakfast. Because I needed time to get everything out of my system (literally), we ended up rushing through our plans that day. I was not deterred, however, and even in my queasy state, I would not miss this event even if it meant having to deal with throwing my cookies all over EXO themselves. Luckily after some sleep in the cab during traffic I was feeling much better, but we ended up being quite late.
Before our trip, Nature Republic sent over an email explaining where to go and a timetable of the process we were supposed to follow in order to enter the venue. They asked us specifically to be early, seeing as we had to go to the International Booth outside the venue in order to exchange our tickets for bracelets and we were to have a supposed photo op of the winners. Because my friend and I were late, we ended up frantically trying to find out where to go. Luckily there were guides roaming the grounds that lead us to the booth, where we met a coordinator from Nature Republic named Sean.
Sean was Korean, but luckily spoke very good English, and informed us of what was going to happen. Because we had tickets with reserved seating, they told us to wait at the international booth until the concert was about to start so we could go in. We were just happy we ended up not missing anything particularly important even though the schedule of photo op for winners had passed. I clarified with Sean himself what exactly the photo op was for, and he said “Oh, it’s just a picture we wanted to take of the winners from each country that participated.” To which both my friend and I breathed a sigh of relief that at least it wasn’t with EXO so it was worth the extra sleep in the cab.
Sean then left to talk to his colleagues as my friend and I excitedly explored outside the venue. It was a crazy sight to behold. There was a photo wall with life-size picture standees of EXO in the center outside the gymnasium, and a flurry of EXO-Ls could be seen bustling around. Lines were all over as fans waited in the negative degree weather to get to watch the show.
On an unrelated note, I found it especially interesting that there were baggage booths that catered to fans with standing tickets. There were about three or four of these booths dedicated to housing fans bags until the end of the show, which I found so amazing.
We killed time taking pictures at the photo wall, and made our way back to the International booth lest we miss anything important.
It was there that Sean approached us once more. In my confusion, I asked him if we were going in already even though the gates would not open for another 30 minutes. He shook his head, saying “Not yet. Actually, I don’t think the Philippines branch informed you, but you will have your picture taken with EXO. Is that okay?”
It was like a movie. Time slowed down and I felt the world zoom in on Sean’s words and out of focus on reality. It took me a second to get knocked back to my senses as I blurted out “YES PLEASE, THANK YOU.” With all the brevity I could muster. Luckily Sean nodded an ok and thank you before my word vomit could get the best of me in my excitement.
We were going to see EXO, in the flesh, stand within a ruler’s width of distance beside them, LOOK THEM IN THE EYE, and have a permanent imprint of a memory recorded in pixels and sent to me to cherish forever.
Even I have a hard time believing it now, and I lived through it.
My friend and I couldn’t contain our excitement. Now, the 30 minutes we had to wait felt like both an eternity and a blur. The cold weather didn’t help to calm my nerves either. Finally, we heard a exclamation that grew into buzzing cheers from the crowd as the gates were opened and the lines started moving. My heart leapt out of my chest as I stood from where I was sitting.
The coordinators from Nature Republic began to group us up into different countries and lined us up once the rest of the lines had dispersed into the gymnasium. We were ushered to a side entrance and then led to the backstage area, where we eventually ended up on the stage itself, hidden from the audience behind a gigantic LED screen.
There was a massive photo wall in front of us and we were made to line up in groups behind it. At this point everything felt so unreal, I was pretty sure I was about to wake up on my bed back in the Philippines and realize that none of this was actually happening. But it was, and I was there.
Before it was our turn, we lined up beside the photo wall. We were made to turn off our phones and put them away. At this point we could already see them. It was definitely something out of my wildest dreams. Seeing them in the flesh was more than anything I could imagine.
We said our brief greetings to them as we stood in position. Getting to greet them and have them see us individually was such a surreal experience altogether. I remember rambling about it on twitter ad nauseam and going into detail over both my reaction and the reaction of the EXO members in a twitter thread, complete with graphics for a more immersive experience. But in summary, they’re perfect and no one can tell me otherwise. The photographer had us pose, took the shot, and we said our final goodbyes.
After floating away in a dreamlike state out to the main entrance, we were advised to go to our seats and enjoy the rest of the show.
Watching the show itself was another fun experience. Seeing the boys look so comfortable on stage, playing games, and finally getting to see them perform some of my favorite songs from their latest album at the time only added to this surreal experience.
Even as the concert ended and we lined up with the rest of the other numerous fans that were taking the bus back to the city, I kept feeling the urge to pinch myself.
I was in a daze the rest of the trip and even as I landed back in my home country, I still couldn’t believe what had happened to me.
How did it end up like this? How did the stars align in my favor that I was able to afford a trip to Korea? How did my mere two raffle entries garner me a chance to have my picture taken with this megastar group that I love so much? Did I save a country in my past life? Built a dynasty in the kingdom of Joseon?
All I can say is, anything could happen. And everything can happen. So when an opportunity like this happens again, All I can say to any hopefuls is:
“Welp, it wouldn’t hurt to try.”