K-pop excels at remaking entertainment from the west – some of the best k-pop songs are direct copies of western songs, and all k-pop is at the very least extremely western-influenced. So please enjoy this reconfiguration of a classic western tale, Kpopalypse style.
You’re 25 years old, female, and a massive Koreaboo. It’s obvious to anyone at this point – you’re at least rational enough to admit it. When you graduated from college in the USA you jumped at the opportunity to teach English in Korean adult education classes, and you’ve been living in Seoul for the last few years, much to the concern of your parents who constantly worry about your proximity to “the North”. When you come home to the States every six months in school break to see them all they want to talk about is North Korea and how dangerous everything supposedly is, but all you want to talk about is k-pop. You like lots of different k-pop groups, mainly the female ones. Your favourite group is T-ara but there are also plenty of others. K-pop isn’t sexual for you at all – it’s about the music and the concepts. You’re not one of those crazy fans, you’re too old for that, you probably wouldn’t even spazz out if you saw your faves or anything – but you might ask for an autograph, or maybe try and get a picture standing next to one of the girls… now that would be cool. You follow Korean T-ara fan forums (not only do you like the group but it’s a good way to practice the language, which you’re getting quite good at, something you’ve oddly had to hide from your employer because they don’t like it if you are fluent in Korean) but you’re not an official fan or anything like that. You just like to know what’s going on, and with T-ara, there’s always lots going on.
There’s a downside, though – times have been tough lately, financially. Due to a disagreement about human excrement in the hallways (it wasn’t you, but of course everyone blames the American), you were kicked out of the teacher’s dorms and you’ve been sharing houses with different students ever since. It seemed okay at first but an irritating pattern keeps forming – as time goes on, realising how vulnerable you are, the sneaky students start charging extra rent or money for this or that, or just getting really creepy and weird. Your latest supposedly sympathetic student has just hiked your rent by 150% because of “expenses”, saying that you spend so much time on the computer, but you know that’s bullshit – you don’t even do anything except look at news sites and play music. Still, you don’t have anywhere else to go at this point (except back to the States which is not an option, because you’re a Koreaboo so Korea is where you belong, damnit) so for now you’re stuck with living with this fuckstick and paying extortionate rent until another student who is a bit more reasonable takes pity on you.
One day you’re on the Internet, venting on the “off-topic” section of a T-ara forum, about your finances. You’re not sure if you can even make rent this week, and you’re scared of being kicked out onto the street. You would have no idea how to survive in that kind of situation. You make a new topic asking for advice.
Your landlord/housemate isn’t home so you leave the computer on, go out to get some food and return to the thread in an hour. Scrolling down the replies, most of them suggest bar work, prostitution or a combination of bar work AND prostitution – neither of which you feel comfortable with. The thread then got locked by a moderator who warns everybody about trolling people asking for help, and also warning YOU against using the forums to solicit income which is against some site rule or something. Sigh.
Closing down your forum window, you take a quick look at your email. Something has just been sent to you in the last minute, with a blank subject line, from an address that you don’t recognise. Suspecting junk that bypassed the filter, you open it up anyway:
You did specify that you didn’t want a charity or a handout. Why don’t people read forum posts properly anymore? Also, it’s Crayon Pop fans…. not a group you’re into. Still, it’s the only lead going and you might not have much other option, it’s not like anything else promising is presenting itself. You reply straight away:
You figure it probably will pay to be honest and upfront, you’ve got nothing against Crayon Pop fans but at the same time you wouldn’t want to feel pressured into pretending to be into something that you’re not really into, just to get some money. A reply comes quickly:
Well, that’s somewhat reassuring, you suppose. Maybe it’s worth considering. But wait a second…
You wait for a while. No reply comes. And now you’ve got T-ara’s “Do You Know Me?” stuck in your head.
You spend the afternoon thinking about the anonymous email tip. Is it worthy of following up? You drift off into thought, half-asleep. Just when you’re about to nod off, you’re awoken by your mobile phone’s familiar vibration – it’s your landlord, reminding you that rent is due tomorrow and “you’d better not mess me around like last time because there are other tenants who want your room”. With a heavy sigh you return to your computer:
It’s not quite as easy a thing to search as you thought, but eventually you find the right page. You click the “about” link to find out more.
You’re not in need of food or counselling, so it must have been the “wealth redistribution service” that the emailer was referring to. You could certainly use some “wealth redistribution” – to yourself. You investigate further:
Crayon Pop fans don’t get priority? That’s all you needed to know. 5% of savings being forfeited doesn’t bother you – that’d be about the price of a can of soda in your case, your next of kin won’t miss that, small price to pay for some assistance right now. The other rules seem logical enough. You fill out the online form on the website, giving all the requested details. The form asks you about your biases but stresses that it’s for statistical purposes only, so you write about T-ara. For the “why are you a person in need?” question, you mention your urgent rental situation.
As soon as you submit the form, you receive an email in your inbox. It’s a confirmation email that asks you to click a link to verify your email address. You click the link and another email appears immediately.
This seems really odd to you – you only just submitted your application… how did they decide so quickly? Would they have even had time to read it fully? Still, they say they’re going to pay you… but that anonymous emailer was right – you do feel weird about this. Even though you’ve never heard of @seohyunfap333, the thought of you getting money when they pass away doesn’t feel right.
You search @seohyunfap333 on Twitter:
There are a whole bunch of tweets similar to this, all dated from over the past month. He or she was already dead. You get a strange feeling in your stomach – but the feeling soon subsides as you think of something else… does this mean you’re going to get a redistribution, or not? You check your online bank balance: it hasn’t changed. Maybe you’ve been scammed somehow? Perhaps the site is just a scam site to coerce you into giving up bank account details and personal information? Your heart sinks. The instant notifications, the too-good-to-be-true promises, all the warning sings were there. How could you have been so blind?
Later on that day, your fuckhead housemate/landlord comes home. Being an asshole, the first thing he starts talking about is rent money. You don’t tell him anything other than that you’ll have the money tomorrow. You don’t know what you’ll do at this point but you’ll figure out something.
The next day you wake up and go about your daily routine. You make some breakfast cereal, sit down in front of the TV to eat it, and check your email on the laptop. One new message.
You quickly check your online banking again. It shows a figure of 149725 won which you’re pretty sure is exactly 143650 won more than was in there last time you looked. It seems about right, anyway. Way’s Girls came through for you! You shout “yes!”.
Your asshole housemate, also having breakfast at the dining table, look over at your obvious joy, and asks “what are you so happy about, deadbeat?”.
“Rent money, motherfucker.” you reply.
“Mind if I ask how?”
“Not your business.”
It’s not a long-term solution but it’s enough to get you out of the woods at least for the next week or two.
A few weeks go by. You finances have stabilised a little, you’re no longer as desperate for money as you were the other week, but it’s still pretty precarious living and you’re having to scrimp and save. Every now and then, your thoughts drift over to Way’s Girls, and what they did for you. It would be great to find a way to repay them. You think about going back to the website and clicking the “get involved” tab and seeing what you can do. Surely there are other people in your situation who are in need of help. Maybe when you’re financially a little more on your feet, you’ll look into it. For now it just remains an idle thought. It certainly makes you see Crayon Pop differently – you’re certainly still not a “fan” but you’re definitely starting to appreciate them more.
One day after work, you are at home browsing the Internet. You’re reading about some EXO fan in China who got stabbed by her father when he told her that idols don’t really love her and she replied saying that she loved EXO more than her parents. Obviously a psycho father pushed to the edge by a fangirl’s insanity – you’re grateful that the fans you know are nothing like that. Your tabbed browsing pops up with an email notification – one new message.
Your eyes widen – that’s a lot of money to just be giving away. You’re not that desperate anymore, so you write up an email reply thanking Way’s Girls for their charity and that you don’t need their services anymore. Before you click send, you decide to check the Twitter of @shithoryo3456 just to see – just like the last person, it’s someone you’ve never heard of. It takes a bit of searching to find him – the email had a typing mistake in the Twitter username, but when you see this messeage, you become certain that you’ve hit the right person’s Twitter account.
ShitHYOryo, not shitHOryo. You see a lot of tweets like this. Looking into it further, it seems that @shithyoryo3456, once a young k-pop loving man with a fetish for 4minute’s Hyuna and the world at his feet is struggling through the final stages of terminal ass cancer. You feel saddened. If you must profit from his death, surely there’s something you can do to make the last stages of his life better? Feeling a surging sense of duty, you forget about sending the email and instead go to visit @shithyoryo3456 at the hospital, all the details you need to find him are on Twitter. You make haste to the bus stop with a bunch of flowers in tow. They’re just from your vase at home, but it’s the thought that counts.
After 45 minutes of bus travel and a bit of running around being generally lost in a maze of annoying corridors, you eventually find the right ward and waiting room. You tell the nurse on duty who you’re here to see, and she directs you to some couches in the waiting room, occupied by two girls. “Those girls… do you know them? They’re here to see him too.”
“Thanks”, you reply. You take a seat and get the shock of your life when you realise that the two girls are…
Boram and Jiyeon from T-ara! It takes you a little while to be sure that it’s really them – they’re both dressed down and look extremely sleep-deprived. Boram is reading a fashion magazine and looks bored, she makes eye contact with you briefly, pokes Jiyeon’s side to alert her to your presence and then carries on reading and flipping pages. Jiyeon wears large sunglasses even though it’s indoors and although you can’t see her eyes properly through the orange and brown lens tint she still manages to seem especially grumpy. They’ve obviously been waiting for a while. You figure now isn’t a good time to ask about getting an autograph or selca with them. Jiyeon looks directly at you as you sit down opposite them both.
“Are you from Way’s Girls?” Jiyeon asks.
You’re taken aback by both the content and the directness of the question. “Well, um… I’m not really from there but I…”
“Never mind, doesn’t matter.” Jiyeon cuts you off, as if the answer to her question isn’t really that important. “We’re waiting for someone.”
You’re still struggling with the concept of what she said. Jiyeon knows about Way’s Girls? Why is she here? Boram turns a page of her magazine and starts laughing out loud. She holds up the magazine page to Jiyeon, laughing.
“Wow, look at those cans – I don’t remember these in our group!”, Boram exclaims.
Jiyeon smirks. “That volume is at least 50% clothing. Anyone can look like they have tits if they wear two push-up bras.”
“She needs them because her boobs are very determined to break loose!”
Jiyeon chuckles. “Soyeon’s been trying for that look for years… but let me tell you, it’s a difference in determination levels!”
Boram and Jiyeon both smile at each other and then start laughing together and rolling back on the couch. After a few seconds of mirth, they compose themselves and Jiyeon looks back at you.
“Look, you’re obviously here to see fucking whatshisface, you can go right in, it’s okay. We have to wait for someone.” Jiyeon seems to have lightened up a bit but she’s still quite curt.
“But, maybe I’m the per….”
Jiyeon cuts you off. “Just GO, do it now. You probably don’t have long.” She waves you in the direction of the correct ward. You walk over to the entranceway.
“Mind the smell!” Boram yells after you.
You enter the ward, and instinct dictates that you put your hand up to your nose and block it. Boram wasn’t fucking kidding. On the hospital bed is an incredibly obese man, reeking of fat-fold fungus and stale feces. You look at the flowers that you’ve been absent-mindedly holding all this time, they seem to have wilted a little. The man is not conscious. He has tubes coming from his nose connected to a breathing apparatus, and breathes heavily, with each sharply drawn breath generating a sucking noise from the machine. As you stare at this creature, his whole body encrusted with bed sores, you can feel the empathy gradually drain out of you. You start to wonder why you came at all. You decide to not leave the flowers in the room because they will surely die quickly in this toxic environment, and you make your way back out into the foyer, feeling somewhat shellshocked.
Jiyeon sees you emerge. “Is it still alive?” she asks. You nod slowly, feeling somewhat ill.
“Not for long…” hums Boram.
You’ve seen enough. It’s obvious that @shithyoryo3456 isn’t long for this world, ass cancer will kill him soon enough and there’s nothing you can do to help him. He wasn’t even conscious that you were in the room with him. As you walk down the corridor back to the hospital entrance, still clutching the flowers, you can hear Jiyeon and Boram singing “Roly Poly, Roly Roly Poly…”
After an especially tedious wait for public transport where you threw up in the bushes next to the bus stop a couple times, you eventually arrive home nearly two hours later. There’s an email waiting for you.
You check your bank balance. It’s all there. He must have died while you were on the bus, or maybe while you were behind the bus shelter puking. Feeling conflicted, exhausted and slightly sick, yet also strangely elated, you crawl into bed and go straight to sleep. The message to Way’s Girls asking them to opt you out of their redistribution is still sitting on your laptop, unsent.
It’s nice having money – a feeling you’re not used to. For the next two weeks, you live comfortably. Sure, two people died, but it’s not like they weren’t going to die anyway. You know you can’t really blame yourself for that. You figure that the recently deceased Twitter users also signed up to Way’s Girls and you’re getting the 5% of their savings that was stipulated in the joining rules if someone dies – now that would make sense. So it takes you by surprise a few weeks later when you get home from work one day and find that you’ve received another email:
You never did get around to sending that opt-out email, and now you’re glad you didn’t. That’s a massive sum of money, enough for a house deposit! You can get out from under your stupid landlord forever! This is simply a permanently life-changing amount of money and you can’t pass this up.
You quickly search up @CrapPlague. They spelled his name right this time, and results are easy to find. It seems he spends a lot of his time at Internet cafes.
You find several messages like this. Nothing about being ill or close to dying though. You investigate further and are able to locate the Internet cafe that @CrapPlague frequents. It’s walking distance from where you live! It’s obvious that he spends a lot of time there, from the pattern of the tweets he seems to be there every day. You figure chances are good that he’s there right now.
In ten minutes you’re at the Internet cafe, which is on the second floor of a building in your neighbourhood’s market district. It’s a cafe that is specifically devoted to computer gaming, with widescreen monitors and fancy computers much more impressive than your shitbox at home, which you will totally upgrade after @CrapPlague dies. At peak periods this place is filled with bored schoolkids, but as it’s nighttime on a weeknight, there’s only a few people in here. You wander around the aisles as inconspicuously as you can manage and it doesn’t take you long to find @CrapPlague who is logged into some shooter computer game with CrapPlague as his online handle. Absorbed in the computer game and wearing closed headphones, he doesn’t notice you. You take a seat in the row behind his and observe.
At first sight, @CrapPlague seems to be a weedy-looking greasy malnourished teenager, but on further inspection he looks like he’s in his twenties, about your age. He has crutches with him, they are resting by the side of his cubicle, but he doesn’t seem to be especially sick or unwell apart from this. You watch him play for a while, cursing at his screen as his online persona is shot, over and over. Do people really do this for kicks? Are they really having fun? At one point he bangs his keyboard on the tabletop in frustration, and the cafe owner walks over to him and gives him a warning to take better care of the equipment or risk being banned from the cafe completely. The exchange is amusing – the sting of being told what to do and having no choice but to comply on top of losing the game brings forth emotions he struggles to conceal.
After a while he gives up on the computer game and starts looking through some news websites. You glaze over as he sifts through articles, commenting and upvoting, but pay greater attention swiftly when an article about your faves T-ara comes up – @CrapPlague leaves some comment about “T-trash” and upvotes all the other existing “T-trash”-style comments. He then goes back to the computer game. You watch for the next hour as this cycle repeats itself a few times. He then eventually gets up on his crutches and you can see that his right leg is in a cast. He moves slowly off in the direction of the toilet cubicles, and you notice that he didn’t lock his screen.
Quickly, you sit in front of his cubicle, making sure that nobody is watching. @CrapPlague has left all his social networking and news sites up on his computer. You start looking at his private messages, for any indication that his life may be due to end soon. Nothing really… just a bunch of well-wishing about his leg, which is improving, not getting worse. You take a look at his news article comments… all stuff about wanting T-ara to disband, kill themselves, how they’re all sluts and bullies, etc – all heavily upvoted by the online community, of course. You’re disgusted but not surprised. Maybe if this person’s life ended soon it wouldn’t be such a bad thing, he’s clearly just another asshole.
You hear a toilet flush and dash back to your cubicle – @CrapPlague hobbles back from the toilet, sits down and resumes gaming. Suddenly, a buzzing noise is heard, and the room’s fluorescent lights flicker and go out, then all the computers flick off. Power outage. A collective sigh can be heard from all the Internet cafe customers and staff simultaneously. @CrapPlague gets up slowly and goes to the front desk.
“I’m done anyway. Here’s my card.”
The cashier charges @CrapPlague to his credit card, then he limps to the exit. You follow him in the dark. To exit the building it’s necessary for customers to navigate a stairway, which is now in close to pitch-black.
You think to yourself that it would be horrible if someone who was mobility-impaired were to have an accident on the dark stairs and trip over and break their neck. It might also be difficult for you yourself to keep your own balance in the dark stairway, meaning that you might “accidentally” fall and push into someone else navigating the same stairway, interfering with their balance and sending them tumbling down the stairs, head first. Most horrible of all would be if the person you tripped and ran into, toppling them over, found themselves at the bottom of the stairway, still alive, gasping for air and with their neck not completely broken, necessitating that someone else ram them in the face a few times with the blunt end of the crutch to put them out of their misery while nobody is looking before alerting everyone in the vicinity to the “terrible accident this man had”. All of these thoughts occur to you, and yes it would be a horrible situation… unless of course, the person completely deserved it, and you were able to financially profit from such a situation greatly.
After a lengthy police interview where you are visibly shaken and cry a lot (mainly from fear of being discovered), the detectives finally let you go home. Foul play is ruled out – he was just unlucky. They’re not convinced that you even touched him at all, but they say they’ll keep your details on file if further questioning is required.
When you get home, you open your email straight away. One new message.