SJ’s backbone mainstay? Model example of debuting in Korea and hugely popular across Asia? Record holder for breaking the conventions of many variety programmes in numerous countries? Dancing king who has taken Asia by storm? Or idol deeply trapped within all kinds of trouble —
Why exactly did he fall out with the company that single-handedly created him and he has to carry the burden of being scolded with the name “thankless and ungrateful”? In the end are the intimate innermost feelings between him and his brothers real or false? Does he really have a multi-millionaire older female cousin advising him in the background? Spending seven whole years in the “cosmetic surgery country”, did he “do anything” to himself? Young and pursuing a goal with determination, in a twisting path, experiencing the joys and sorrows of life, big and small troubles and rumors, inspiring and sad… Han Geng seems to have already received the halos that one person alone receives in more than half a life time, the length of it can entirely be written in an autobiography, even if he is only nothing more than 26 years old too.
Compared to the big commotion five years ago when he was interviewed by our magazine and with his Korean manager, Chinese manager, promotions, assistants etc crowding around, Han Geng is now casually dressed in a Tee, shorts and sneakers to appear in our office building and he seems more like the boy-next-door. He and the staff go together to buy coffee, then through the glass he asks me, what do you want to drink? After everyone around has realized, there is some amazement to start and then there is whispering to each other and pointing, it is like it is nothing to him, he pushes into an elevator at the same time with numerous unacquainted people. “Do you really want to be a normal person?” “I am just a normal person.” “But no one treats you like a normal person.” Actually it is quite annoying when idols always say they are normal people, this has completely no meaning. “Artists are people as well, whatever people say is their matter.” He looks straight at you, smiling with a face of sincerity.
When he was 12 years old, he leaves his home, leaving to study in Beijing, at that time his family circumstances were not very good, all his tuition fees were accumulated from each and every pastry sold by his mother in a roadside stall in Shenzhen. At school for a whole six years, he wakes up at 5am, does morning exercises, morning duties are then started at 6am until 11am, cultural studies in the afternoon, rehearsals are at night until 10pm.
“When I was young I always felt that the world outside would certainly be especially wonderful, so that’s why I had no such fear, never felt suffering and did not feel tired either. Even up to now I cannot say clearly if that is good or bad either, but at least I am very happy that in my life I did strive hard and did not carry the “if at that time” day-dream.” After graduating, “talented student” Han Geng abandoned his original Shanghai fire-fighting performance troupe’s secure and well-paid job and amidst the misunderstanding of his teachers and friends, he started on his own adventure for his “most yearned world outside”.
The most painful time, it was often the night before spent thinking of where to look for work the next day and how the next meal would be resolved. He worked in such things as wine marketing, road shows, performing two or three dances only to earn 50 dollars. The room he rented was semi-finished, it only had a mat to sleep on and a television. “Afterwards I could really not continue on like that, I only had 500 dollars left in my pocket, so I contacted my classmates from the Shenzhen performance troupe because I wanted to perform over there. I bought a performance outfit for more than 400 dollars and I was left only with a couple dollars. That was in 2002, when performing in Shenzhen still required cross-border passes, I didn’t know, so as soon as I arrived in Shenzhen I was arrested. They wanted to send me back and sent me back to return, but I didn’t have any money to buy a train ticket so I was locked up. Afterwards my mother had to ask for help from numerous friends before I was released.”
Then the 3000:1 selection competition and going to distant Korea. For four hours every day, the tough training of three years and not being able to return home to see family, finally paid off.
After hearing such a story, you will feel that it is extremely difficult and excessively pursuing a goal with determination, for a person born in 1984, the majority of this new generation are held in the palm of the hands of their parents and this would seem to be so realistic it is unrealistic.
Han Geng lights a cigarette, inhaling lightly, then taking a long exhale, soon after he laughs and says that he actually does not smoke much normally, because he pays particular attention to his image, only occasionally when he is feeling nervous will he then want to smoke. “Actually for me Shenzhen is a very special place, a lot of my sweat flowed there and a lot of my tears flowed there also.” After a very long period of silence, Han Geng then continues to say: “at that time Shenzhen’s Window of the World was the most well-known, I once received an opportunity from the performance troupe and looked at it with admiration, still crouching on the roadside beneath to hurriedly eat a packed lunch. At that time I kept thinking, when will I be able to stand on top of it.” “Then afterwards when did you stand on top of it?” “After I became famous. As a torchbearer for the Olympics I stood there.”
Life really is a fantastic journey. Now in hindsight, it seems that it is all not much, mixed together with that there may be a little pride. “I am actually very grateful for these experiences, it has let me face the ups and downs of show business and the highs and lows to be able to look at it all with a kind of very calm attitude, even if I am sent back to my original point and everything starts from zero, I am okay with that too, because this road is the original road that I have taken before as well.”
SJ used a period of four years to create their empire of fans, starting out in Korea and radiating out to the whole of Asia, to the extent that at its peak in 2009, as far as Europe, Australia, America, it was possible to inadvertently see the support for their group.
Han Geng said success, actually is so slow it is hard to imagine, besides needing to have sufficient “food ammunition”, there also needs to be courage and perseverance that a normal person would find hard to strive for. “Life’s road, it allows you to select a path yourself, even if it is not that much.”
When Han Geng said this it is very hard to work out what complicated mood he was in, hiding within the group in an inconspicuous place with his brothers who are passionate about dancing and at the same time matching their dance steps, because training with all your effort to the extent that it is discovered that your fracture has already healed on its own, due to those continuous external disturbances and turning off his cell phone and disappearing for six months and even his parents not knowing his whereabouts, those fans below the stage together holding signs with tears in their eyes every day and every night, what actually was the type of feeling in his heart?
At the end of 2009 until first half of 2010, the matter of “Han Geng’s contract termination” turned everything on its head and became the year’s biggest entertainment news and anything related to it would become the lead story for every entertainment news, it was also being inferred in a wide variety of ridiculous versions, as the only main character in this matter, Han Geng did not say a word from beginning to end and disappeared without a trace.
Han Geng says he is not afraid of death, not afraid of sickness, not afraid of ageing, the only thing he fears is parting, and this is exactly the parting that he is afraid of, from leaving his family when he was young to parting with his parents, to breaking his fate with his brothers, these partings forced him to go forward. There is no road of retreat, Han Geng used his own unique way to complete his transformation from a boy to a man.
Applying the catchphrase of Sarah from “City of Desire”—
“Welcome to the era of insincerity”. This is the best era, this is also the worst era, every person who works hard in this era, all are linked with indestructibility, Han Geng is no exception. After experiencing these hesitancies and struggles, the present Han Geng is already able to calmly face his own life, time is gradually grinding him to become a good quality man, not eye-widening upon first look but enough for a very long time.
TH: In those days due to Korea’s laws it was restrictive for foreign artists and there were visa problems, an empty period of time as long as eight months appeared, you even had to brave the danger of being deported and participated in many performances, now with SJ’s extreme popularity taking the world by storm and at a time when everything is no longer a problem, why did you suddenly announce your departure? Was your long-term suffering not for that one day when you would be able to stand at the summit?
Han Geng: The most fundamental reason for terminating the contract is the work concept was different and there was not enough tacit understanding. The mutual understanding with the staff was at its root not as happy as it is like working together with your own friends as it is now. When going to schedules and doing activities, a lot of the time I was not in a good state at all, because I was unhappy. Actually what you said about the media reports of the harshness of the contract, the hardship, the money, these types of things, I basically don’t care about them, the most important thing was respecting my ideas. The suggestions I proposed you can refute, but they cannot be ignored, I will feel that this is treating me with no respect.
TH: Before you made the unilateral decision to terminate the contract, did you struggle with it?
Han Geng: I was at a loss for a considerably long period of time. Even though this is a long-term problem, it was not an idea I suddenly came up with, but it really needed this kind of decision, nevertheless it was very sad. Those brothers who have struggled together, the experiences of striving together, we had been with each other all the time for seven years, it is not something you say is broken and then it is broken.
TH: Go back a step and explain, an entertainment flagship like SM, in Asia it is very hard to find another platform that can rival it, did you think about what these losses would mean for your developments?
Han Geng: To be honest, the company has lots of rule and systems, sometimes it not aimed at you personally, but looking at it from my point of view, these small conflicts slowly accumulated to a certain level, it made me unable to breathe more and more, from a public and personal point, these are all not good things. I am always very grateful to them, for giving me this kind of maturing experience, it also helped me attain my results today, I am grateful from the bottom of my heart, really. But luckily fame and fortune for me already do not matter, people do not use these things to live.
TH: Even if this causes misunderstandings, so much that people say you are thankless and ungrateful?
Han Geng: In a person’s lifetime, anything can be said, including the people around you. But I really feel that it doesn’t matter, you cannot unreasonably demand that everyone understand what you are thinking, as long as the people I care about understand then that is good, time will prove everything.
TH: What do you think a man should do to choose his own path of life?
Han Geng: Actually all the things of the past, what I have touched, sensed, experienced, no matter how dull and tasteless, including the suffering, have all resulted in my life now. I have life experiences beyond my age and it is my most precious treasure, they let me realize how to look for the direction to go forward. Just like the music I am making now, after terminating my contract there were many companies that came for discussions, but I felt that it would be a restriction, I hope to be able to do it more simply, it is most important that a person lives a little more simply, it should be letting go a little more, then letting go some more.
Han Geng said apart from being busy with his concert and solo album, he is already in discussions for a number of movies that are already entering the final stages, the core to his future work will be in the direction of dramas, the reason why he wants to act is because he is a very introverted person, actually it is very hard to show and express himself, so he wants to express himself through different characters in dramas, no matter if it is an idiot or it is revealing real emotions, he does not want anyone to say he is cold-blooded again.
Because of the interview this time, from beginning to end we met two to three times, the last time we chatted until 10 o’clock late into the night, Mama Han just happened to telephone, he kept responding very tenderly and considerately with “very good, don’t worry, nothing is the matter, I’m not tired, you need to be more careful”, while in fact he was feeding the mosquitoes together with me, afterwards, he still had to go to the training rooms, “need to practice for at least three hours, I don’t to disappoint my fans at the concert.”
It’s what Geng has. It is what Geng has been using as a weapon to really protect his dreams. It is what Geng has taught me when he was still in Super Junior, and obviously, it is what he is teaching me up to this very moment.
The article above had made me gain respect on Geng’s decision a thousand folds. This interview had actually exposed the true heart of the Chinese Prince.
He’s not selfish. He’s not ungrateful. He’s not prideful.
He just wants to be an ordinary man, who in spite of being a world-acclaimed star, remains humble and cheerful.
Offering to buy coffee for a press person through the glass wall, riding the elevator like he’s not a celebrity, going on an interview at ten o’clock in the evening while feeding the mosquitoes of his blood, telling his mom that he’s okay and he’s not tired despite an additional three hours of practice for the concert - THIS IS GENG.
I am just so proud. I am just so happy. That finally, Geng is living the life he wanted. Geng has been able to continue the life he started. Just like he said, this is the road which he had originally taken, he’s just going back to it.
And one thing more, it has never been easy for Geng to leave his brothers. It has never been easy to part ways with people he have lived seven years with, and shared immeasurable memories of heartaches and joys.
Because he’s not thankless.
Thank you for being fine, Geng. Thank you so much for assuring me that you are happy.