Thousands of screaming fans, adoring eyes fixated at me. First class flights, Hollywood movie sets, beautiful women, exquisite outfits. A not too distant memory for a small minority in the South Korean army that will have woke up this morning in the bitter winter cold. Likely to be up one of the many mountains that line the DMZ, watching the movements of the North Korean troops opposite. They awake today with a sense of heightened tension and with greater responsibility on their shoulders.
South Korea is a nation that still has conscription. It's a military duty that all fit and able males must serve. The rich, the poor and even, dare I say, the famous. There are a number of celebrities actively serving right now and their dedicated fans will be wishing for their safety as all troops were placed on red alert after yesterdays unveiling of Kim Jong Il's death. It perhaps is odd to think of popstars and actors defending the nation but it's a national duty that all must serve. By all reports it's not a pleasant experience and although thoroughly disliked it's a task you must suffer for the good of the nation. For those who avoid the service it is seen as shameful and treasonous and would be a PR disaster for the stars. Avoidance of the duty would result in at best heavy fines & public shame or could even warrant imprisonment. The only exception I've seen in my time here being Park Ji-Sung of Manchester United, absolved duty due continuous contributions to Korea. The South Korean public expects their male celebrities to entertain and protect.
Perhaps the biggest name currently serving in the South Korean armed forces is the pop sensation and movie star; Rain (born 정지훈 : Jeong Ji-Hoon) He's a phenomenon throughout Asia to the extent that recently in the Korean news it stated that many Pilipino mothers are naming their children Rain due to their adulation of the man himself. Rain also has a back story worthy of any X factor audition and is famed for his hard work and determination. He is likely to be best known in the Western world as a star in the recent 'Ninja Assissain' movie or a role in 'Speed Racer'. He recently performed a free concert in the up market district of Seoul, Gangnam-gu, to say goodbye to his fans before enlisting to the army. I was in attendance and saw an excellent entertainer that left all the women panting for more. He seems to have an aversion for clothing on his chest however as in the past, along with his signature gyrating dance move, he likes to rip off his shirt or at least tease the audience with the possibility. Rain is an idol and his fans often dress up in rain clouds and cheer his name, for many today they will be thinking of him again. Wishing him well and to do his nation proud.
Another notable star is Hyeon Bin. Famed for being in the incredibly popular Korean drama; 'Secret Garden'. On the day of enlistment his fans went to the army barracks and wept as their star, with his freshly shaven head, waved his final goodbye before entering his compulsory 21+month service (length of service is dependent on your branch within the military). Korean celebrities enjoy greater adulation than their US or UK counterparts so it's not simply saying imagine a scenario where Robbie Williams and David Tennant were to be signed up to the Royal Marines. Perhaps a greater example would be if Mr. Darcy departed to serve during WW1 and left his fawning fans to deal with the worry until he could return home safely. The soldiers here face a very real danger, only heightened by recent events.
It's not only the celebrities that will be longed for and thought about but a whole generation. Mothers, fathers, girlfriends will all share worry and sorrow at the predicament the young soldiers are facing in the coming months. The public displays great sympathy for those serving and those who are yet to serve (including Arsenal FC's South Korean forward Park Chu-Young [박주영]). For every one celebrity there are multiple more fearful sons of worried mothers. For many Koreans today it is those that are sacrificing themselves in the armed forces that they are thinking of as the dust begins to settle on the shocking news yesterday.