K-pop fan picks up Korean online, becomes translator for Blackpink, iKON despite failing SPM

Tan Mei Zi
The 23-year-old paved his path to Korea through perseverance and hard work. — Picture via Twitter

PETALING JAYA, Nov 7 — If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.

That was certainly the motto of Shah Azham, who never allowed himself to be discouraged despite performing poorly in school.

The hardworking youth set up a design company after failing the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysian (SPM) exam and decided to teach himself Korean to secure new opportunities.

“When I was in school, I played around a lot and I didn’t focus on my studies. I preferred to spend my time learning Photoshop, music, languages, and sports.

“After SPM, I decided to do things I like instead of the things that I have to, so I started my own design company.

“At the same time I noticed that Korean music, dramas, and shows were booming in Malaysia,” he shared on Twitter.

Shah explained that he didn’t have money to splurge on Korean lessons earning as low as RM24 a month, so he took it upon himself to look up learning materials online.

During that time, he managed to collaborate with a Korean non-governmental organisation and realised how useful knowing a foreign language was when establishing contacts overseas.

The 23-year-old event met the former Korean ambassador to Malaysia to discuss the importance of language and culture exchange between the two countries.

Six months into learning a new language, Shah decided to risk it all and withdrew the last RM700 of his savings to move to Seoul by himself.

“I stayed in the cheapest 16-person dormitory and ate bread for every meal.

“I made many Korean friends and we would help each other out by learning each other’s languages and culture.

“My Korean language skills improved tremendously because over there, they don’t use English at all.”

Shah took a leap of faith and emptied his bank account for a new life in Korea. — Picture via Twitter

Shah’s knowledge served him well when a Malaysian broadcasting company enlisted his help to film a variety show in Korea as they needed a translator well-versed in Malay, English, and Korean.

He got his big break when a Korean friend in Malaysia informed him of an opportunity to be a translator for K-pop concerts in Kuala Lumpur.

Shah then worked his first gig as an interpreter for the boyband iKON where he acted as a middle man between the Korean and Malaysian production teams, describing it as the “one of the scariest, challenging yet (most) memorable jobs” he had ever taken on.

Since then, Shah has worked as a translator for groups like Winner and Blackpink and travels back and forth between home and Korea to work on K-pop events.

“Working with a Korean team is very demanding in the sense of timing, accuracy, and efficiency. If you translate one word wrong, you’re done for.

“So far, the best concert for me has been Blackpink’s. The production was out-of-this-world.

“I don’t have to mention the stress. Every hour I felt like my head was going to explode, but it was definitely worth it.”

His Twitter thread has gotten more than 8,000 retweets and 10,000 likes so far and Malaysians have been feeling inspired by his ambitious nature and hard work.

“Your story has motivated me to keep striving for success and not dwell on the failures of the past,” wrote @ZafranZainol.

“You went from zero to hero! You should be proud of your success because your hard work and determination brought you to where you are today!” said @xyvenphantom.


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