MANILA — During a recent bus ride on the way to Manila, Mela was preoccupied with watching videos on her phone that she barely noticed a fellow passenger remove the pocket-sized photo of Jimin — a member of the K-pop supergroup BTS — dangling from her bag.
Upon realizing what happened, the man, whom Mela described as someone who appeared to be in his 40s, had already alighted the bus.
The incident stunned Mela, who previously thought she had no reason to be worried about the merchandise — which fans call "photocards" — that she regularly brought in public since last year.
"Wala naman kasi ako fear na mawawala ['yong photocard] kasi everyday ko naman siyang dala," the 23-year-old K-pop fan, who requested to be identified only by her first name, told ABS-CBN News.
(I was never scared of losing the card since I brought it everyday.)
"Hindi naman talaga siya usually nangyari... Kahit sa mga concert na madalas na mas madami pa akong dalang photocard, hindi naman siya nawawala," Mela added.
(This doesn't usually happen... Even in concerts where I bring a lot more photocards, they don't go missing.)
Eli, a senior high school student, also recently lost her photocard of Red Velvet member Joy while at a café in Pasig.
She left her bag on a table to order coffee with her cousin, but found that the card attached to her bag had disappeared upon their return.
"Akala ko tinago lang ng pinsan ko para joke. Pero wala na talaga 'yong photocard. 'Di ko na nakita," Eli said.
(I thought my cousin hid the photocard as a joke, but it was really gone. I never saw it.)
Mela and Eli are among the K-pop fans who have taken to social media to share recent experiences of photocard theft after a report gave the impression that such items are generally worth P50,000.
Fans engaged in buying and selling K-pop merchandise online have also claimed that their parcels had been tampered with.
But while it is possible for cards — which are usually obtained as freebies from K-pop albums — to be resold for thousands of pesos, this is not always the case.
The price of K-pop photocards depends on various factors, including rarity, where and how it was acquired, its condition, and even the popularity of the featured member.
An ordinary album card can usually be sold from around P200 to P500, Mela explained. But some cards can be sold for as low as P50 or even given for free.
TVXQ is considered the first K-pop band to insert photocards in albums through their 2007 Japanese record "Summer," while Girls' Generation became the first act to release the collectibles in South Korea with their 2010 album "Oh!". Both groups come from SM Entertainment, one of South Korea's leading music companies.
Over the years, the album freebies have turned into highly popular collectibles among fans, who consider the items as source of happiness and investment (since they can be resold).
"Hindi man nila maintindihan ngayon kung bakit pero [photocards] bring so much joy sa mga tao," said Mela, who said K-pop helped her cope with "dark moments in my life."
(They may not understand now why but photocards bring so much joy to people.)
No police report
Mela and Eli no longer sought help from the police, arguing that the authorities may not appreciate the value of the cards and in fear of being ridiculed — a sentiment shared by many K-pop fans online.
"'Yong ibang kaso nga hindi naaagapan nang maayos ng mga pulis, pano pa 'yong sasabihin namin, 'Ay sir nawawala po 'yong photocard namin. May Koreano po 'yong papel na 'yon,'" Eli said.
(The cops can't even resolve other cases, what more if we say, 'Sir, I lost my photocard. It's a piece of paper with a Korean person printed on it.')
Eli advised fellow K-pop fans to avoid bringing their photocards in public.
Meanwhile, Mela is determined to keep attaching cards on her bag, believing she "should be able to fangirl freely."
"Be cautious na lang or be mindful na lang lagi sa paligid mo. If may napapansin ka na na ina-eye 'yong photocard mo, siguro that's the time na itago mo na lang siya," Mela said, addressing fellow fans.
(Let's just always be cautious or mindful of our surroundings. If you notice someone eyeing your photocard, perhaps that's the time that you should hide it.)
"Sana lang talaga makapag-fangirl kami nang walang takot," she added.
(I hope we can be able to fangirl again without being scared.)
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