On a Bench with Nichkhun
CONVERSATIONS - Ricky Lo (The Philippine Star) - February 24, 2013 - 12:00am

BANGKOK — Just call him Nichkhun (with an ‘h’ between ‘c’ and ‘k’, often misspelled Nickkhun, one word, or Nick Khun, two words). He likes it that way. Yes, without the surname which is a tongue-twister anyway, Horvejkul. He likes it that way, being fondly called Nichkhun. His full name is Nichkhun Buck Horvejkul, born on June 24, 1988, in Rancho Cucamonga, California, USA, to Thai-Chinese parents. He has an older brother and two younger sisters.

As usual during interviews with K-Pop stars, the interviewer is reminded not to ask “personal” questions, so what you don’t get from the interviewee you get from the Internet.

A member of the K-Pop group 2PM, Nichkhun at age two moved with his family to Thailand where he had his early education. When he was 12, he studied at a school in New Zealand for more than a year, and then returned to the US to finish his studies at a Rancho Cucamonga high school. During the Los Angeles Korean Music Festival, Nichkhun was discovered by Park Jin-young, a K-Pop singer and producer of JYP Entertainment.

“That marked the turning point in my life,” said Nichkhun.

The guy who claimed not to have dreamed of being in showbiz is now a singer, rapper, model, dancer and actor. All he wanted was to be a chef. Instead of being in the kitchen handling cooking utensils, he finds himself onstage playing the piano, keyboards and the guitar.

JYP Entertainment, of which he’s under contract, brought Nichkhun to South Korea in 2006 as a trainee in a class of 24 others, required to learn how to sing and dance and how to speak Korean and Mandarin. He speaks very good English. That was followed by a stint on MNET’s Hot Blood, a program showing the rigorous training that 13 trainees had to take to qualify as member of either the four-member ballad group 2AM or the six-member dance group 2PM. Nichkhun landed with the latter, together with Taecyeon, Wooyoung, Junho, Chansung and Jun. K (once known as Junsu).

Three weeks ago, Conversations was in this city to cover the pictorial of Nichkhun as the newest Bench endorser at the Chamni’s Eye, presumably the most popular and the best studio in Thailand. Nichkhun is a nice guy. He smiles at everybody, greets everybody with the traditional Thai custom of putting hands together and placing them before his face as he bows. No airs at all.

After the nearly five-hour Bench pictorial, Conversations led Nichkhun to a bench under a tree outside of Chamni’s Eye for a free-wheeling chat. It helped a lot that he spoke fluent English so there was no need for an interpreter (as in the case of most Korean stars).

Incidentally, the good news is that Nichkhun and the 2PM guys are serenading their fans in Manila on Saturday, March 2, at the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena as part of their What Time Is It Asian tour. From Manila, they are proceeding to Shanghai, Indonesia, Taiwan and Macau.

Told that by that time his Bench billboards will be all over the city, Nichkhun broke into an I-can’t-believe-it smile.

“Really?” he exclaimed. “I can hardly wait to see them!”

It’s the first time you’re endorsing a Philippine product. You’re wearing Bench in the pictorial. How does it feel?

“I really love the clothes. I’m just really honored that Bench chose me to be an endorser because I’ve only been to the Philippines once. It’s a great pleasure for me to be endorsing a Philippine product.”

So you’ve been to the Philippines. For vacation or for work?

“It was for a Korean TV program for which I did charity work. In the Philippines, I visited a school and a village with…trash? (The former Smokey Mountain. — RFL) We took seven kids to our hotel and we gave them food and dressed them up. I really enjoyed my time with that family; it was a really nice experience for me.”

You and the 2PM guys are going to the Philippines next month for a show.

“Oh yes, finally we are going. Last year, we did an Asian concert tour but we didn’t get a chance to go to the Philippines. It will be our first concert in Manila.”

What do you remember from your first visit to the Philippines and what do you plan to do after your concert…see more of the country maybe?

“You know, during that visit, I didn’t expect any fans to be at the airport. But then, there were a lot of them, so I was really surprised and happy because they took time out to greet me. This time, I hope to see more of my fans. I think it’s gonna be an exciting show.”

What do you and the other members of 2PM have in common aside from love for music?

“I think that maybe the stuff that we eat, we have like similar appetite. Actually, we just like everything. We can eat any kind of food — Thai, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Italian, everything!”

Any kind of food that you crave for all the time?

“Actually, I crave for Thai food all the time. But now that I’ve been living in Korea for almost eight years, I crave for kimchi sometimes especially when I’m eating rice. So I think the (2PM) guys love kimchi, too. And I love spicy food. Sometimes, we eat instant noodles just to get that spicy flavor.”

You eat a lot and you look so slim. How do you keep your figure? Aside from playing badminton, what other sport do you like?

“I really like badminton but I haven’t been playing for a couple of years now. You need to go to the court to play badminton and I’m too busy for that. To keep slim, hmmm, I try to work out. But as of recently, we’ve been busy doing concerts overseas, and here and there, so I seldom have time to go to the gym, so I’ve been really skinny.”

You were born in California, then you moved to Thailand, you studied in New Zealand, you moved back to California and now you’re back in Asia. What did you learn from all this traveling?

“I think I learned how to live and make decisions by myself, and adjust to the environment I am in whether it’s good or bad. I learned how to co-exist with all kinds of people, whether they’re good or bad. I also learned how to adjust my thoughts, my feelings and myself to fit in with any kind of environment. Like let’s say food. I can eat anything because I’ve been here and there. Meeting people from different countries have given me an idea of how they live and about their culture. I learned a lot more about how to conduct myself with any kind of people.”

Very educational!

“Yes, very educational. It’s not like something that you learn from books. You have to actually experience it. After all, experience is the best teacher, isn’t it?”

You were discovered during the Los Angeles Korean Music Festival. Was it by accident?

“Yes, actually by accident. I’ve never dreamed of being a singer or an entertainer of any sort because I used to be really shy. I was a shy boy. I couldn’t sing or do anything out of line in front of my family. Know what, I couldn’t even give a speech in front of the class.”

Obviously, you have changed a lot. You’re not shy anymore, not at all!

“Yeah. I was picked up in L.A. As I said, I never really wanted to be a singer but now that I’m making my family happy and my parents proud of me, that has become my motivation to work harder and be better, and to improve myself. I think that’s also what got me started to work hard at this.”

If not a singer, what did you want to be?

“Uhm…a chef, a cook! I want to open maybe a little restaurant. I will still do that, maybe later when I’m older. When I have a chance, I really want to attend a cooking class, so that I can cook for my family and…my little restaurant?”

Away from work, how do you relax?

“Apart from working out in the gym and playing games, maybe…drawing! Yes, I like to draw. I watch movies and listen to music.”

What kind of music do you listen to?

“Light stuff, something that’s not fast or loud. I like ballads, easy-listening type of movies. I like watching funny movies just to get my mind off things.”

What do you enjoy most about being a member of 2PM?

“Uhm, just the fact that I make so many people happy because without this chance, without the rest of the guys, without the fans, I wouldn’t be here and wouldn’t be able to make my family and Thai people proud. Being onstage in front of maybe 8,000 fans is such an honor and a good opportunity for me to be able to please a lot of people. I’m just a lucky guy to be, you know, in this position.”

How do you deal with fame and fortune?

“With my feet firmly on the ground. I grew up in a very good family. My parents taught me well to think about the people who I encounter and who have made me who and what I am today. I always think about them and I am forever grateful to all of them. So I think that’s what keeps me grounded, to not float away and not to be full of myself.”

(E-mail reactions at entphilstar@yahoo.com. You may also send your questions to askrickylo@gmail.com. For more updates, photos and videos visit www.philstar.com/funfare or follow me on www.twitter/therealrickylo.)

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