30 minutes later, it was in the middle of an 8 person all male early teen group ‘Calgunmu’s’ rehearsal.
Jungwu and Soochan stood right at the base of the stage. Soochan who was wearing a staff-only radio set couldn’t stop grinning.
“Why are you so happy?”
“This is the first time I get to wear this equipment. The Director decided to do me a favor since I have my friend here.”
Jungwu didn’t really understand what was so appealing about a radio where nobody really spoke, but Soochan was elated.
“Hey, what about me? When does Yulhwi get here? I waited since lunch, but I didn’t get a single glimpse of her.”
“But you already got an autograph from the early teen group. Lead Junho is really popular.”
When jets of CO2 was released on the beat with a particularly flashy move, Jungwu flinched.
“You think I wanted to get that autograph? I just happened to run into them, and they stared at me as if they really wanted me to ask for one. You told me that Staff members have to be considerate.”
“The celebrities really enjoy when fans go wild for them. Please make sure to go wild when Yulhwi gets here. She’ll happily go as far as take a photo with you.”
Soochan cheered loudly for the young boy group who danced perfectly in rhythm to their complex choreography.
Amidst the booming sound of the speakers blasting the music and ringing the eardrums, the second song was done.
A weak firework was launched from the launchpad and decorated their finale.
“Next is Girlfriend’s turn. Your chance is when they finish and climb down the stage.”
Jungwu was filled with anticipation with the thought that he would be able to finally see Yulhwi in person and watched the back of the stage with interest. But the participant showing up after the boy group was not the celebrity he had been expecting.
One lady walked up with a guitar in hand.
Jungwu tilted his head. Soochan was also shocked when he saw the stage.
“It isn’t Isul Yoon’s turn yet though.”
Isul in the bright open space was completely different from one he had seen from the dark.
She appeared to be in her early twenties. And despite the fact that she wore ordinary clothes and a cap, the pure white skin which were visible here and there seemed to make her glow even without the help of a spotlight.
“She really does seem like a doll.*”
Soochan put his arm around Jungwu who was expressing his astonishment.
“Heh, do you understand now what great fortune it is to be able to see Isul from the front of the stage?”
“Do you think Yulhwi is going to look that pretty in person as well?”
“Mmm, I wouldn’t say that actually. People that work in this industry keep a tight lid on it but from what I managed to hear…”
“Most of the female Idols completely rely on makeup for their appeal. Few of them wear makeup that could be classified as total transformative disguises. But Isul is different. Look at her un-makeuped face. She seems to be simply aglow.”
“But she does have makeup.”
“What are you talking about? There’s obviously no makeup on her.”
Jungwu was about to list out every ingredient in Isul’s cheeks, but he stopped himself. He didn’t feel like breaking his close friend’s fantasy. And truth be told, the surface of Isul’s skin was so soft it probably didn’t even really need the makeup.
And no matter what, she was a singer with a voice that had enraptured him from the first time he had heard it, so he awaited the performance with anticipation.
She plugged the Guitar into the jack and then did a simple voice test before nodding to the music staff.
She sat before the mic and strummed away at the body of the guitar rhythmically, and the speakers let out a refreshing prelude.
And the humming began.
“Eh? This song…”
“Yeah, you’ve heard it before right? You must have heard it at least once even if you didn’t know the artist. Any Korean should have heard it at least once.”
“It’s the song she sang in the storage unit.”
“Oh my god. This is your first time hearing ‘Once again’ too?”
Jungwu was enthralled by the melody which made him forget about his day to day difficulties and exhaustion.
The spotlight blinked along to the music, and the floor was covered by fog. It was an uplifting song, but because the vocal was gentle, no drastic stage special effects were employed.
“I’m going to have to buy an album later. It’s a song written for a salaryman like me.”
“Just how long do you think you’ve been a salaryman for you to say that?”
“I now completely empathize with that life. You sure have it hard, Soochana.”
Jungwu enjoyed the music while bobbing his head along to the music, and 3 songs were done before he realized.
For Isul’s turn, the shoppers moving outside the boundary of the partitioned area stopped to listen to her song.
Once the three songs were done, even the people standing on 2nd and 3rd floor terrace applauded. Isul, who was startled at the sudden noise, bowed deeply which led to an even louder applause.
Isul was slightly shocked, so she spoke into the mic.
“Thank you. But there are people shopping so please let’s be considerate of them.”
Listening to people shouting at the top of the lungs now, Isul narrowed her eyes as if she heard something funny.
“There is still another song in the setlist, so calling for encore already is…”
A wide grin spread across everyone’s faces after hearing her joke which overflowed with innocence. Effortlessly suppressing the loud applause, she soon began her last song.
Soochan snapped his finger as soon as the song began.
“This is a hit song that came out this fall, ‘It’s so awkward’.”
“It’s a fun title, right?”
Isul sang a song that was neither nice nor naughty. Instead, the lyrics walked a thin line between the two, a rather quirky song with peculiar lyrics. And unlike the previous songs, the melody was made quite fun.
I wanna be alone, but it’s boring alone. Call a friend? But he’s too chatty. Just what is it I want~
Ordinary emotions, rich sound, and the ability to make the audience bounce along to the music; Jungwu experienced first hand the reason why Isul was nicknamed ‘the national sister’.
Once two verses were over, the song came too soon to a conclusion. And the Director instructed the stage crew to fire the special effect fireworks to go with the flow of things.
[Isul ssi, the fireworks will be going off at this timing. Please do not be alarmed.]
Text popped on the screen installed on the side next to the speakers meant for the performers.
-Number 3, GO!
When he heard that, Soochan said ‘Eh?’ and turned to look at the control room. Jungwu also turned to look in the same direction.
“What is it?”
“They pressed the one you installe…”
The lid to the launchpad opened as soon as the sound of the fuse could be heard.
Thumb-sized rockets flew into the air and fanned out.
What appeared was so unexpected that Isul who had been mentally prepared reflectively reeled back. Soochan who was watching from the front row was far more surprised, reaching a point of disbelief.
‘Is it going as planned?’
Jungwu felt his heart race with anticipation.
The various color of rockets rose to about Isul’s eye level and began to undergo various reactions based on their ingredients. The embedded 2nd stage rockets were ones that glittered as it burnt in the air, forming letters.
The letters appeared for a fraction of a second before fading away leaving nothing but smoke.
It was squiggly, and some letters were flipped, but that brief moment of appearance was so spectacular that the audience who were planning on another round of applause at the end of the song just stared with their mouths agape.
Seeing the quickly fading smoke left behind, Soochan read aloud the letters with a trembling voice.
“Yeah, but the D was too deformed and looked more like an O.”
Soochan snapped his head towards Jungwu and retorted.
“Hey, you crazy m…”
“Wait a second. Huh, why isn’t it coming out?”
“There is one last round remaining.”
The late firing round popped up as soon as Jungwu finished speaking.
Even the sound was cutesy, forming a heart shape before disappearing. The shoppers who had been watching transfixed until now began to snicker.
“W…what the hell was that…”
Soochan became speechless. When he saw Jungwu walk over to the Launchpad and squat before it, Soochan asked.
“What have you done?”
Jungwu scratched his chin and answered nonchalantly.
“I tried to make the heart pink, but there was no combination that would have produced it.”
“That’s not what I’m asking!”
“I’ll pay you back for the fireworks next month.”
“Pay what back?”
“I used all of them trying to make that. Sorry.”
– Hey Soochan!
Soochan’s radio that didn’t seem like it would ever speak suddenly made noise.
-Get into the control room this instant!
The first call he had ever received over the radio. It was the forced summon by the Director Mujin Kim. Soochan’s expression transformed as he shouted while sprinting off towards the control room.
“Jungwu, you f… We’ll speak in a sec.”
Jungwu shook his head after checking the residue left on the launchpad.
‘It wasn’t because it was made in China. I was not skillful because this was my first time.’
It seemed like learning to mix and time the reaction would need some practice like checking reaction speed of each powder and some experimentation.
‘It would have been perfect if it had gone off during Girlfriend’s rehearsal. But the order just HAD to be changed at the last minute.’
Just when he was regretting what had happened.
Jungwu’s eyes met with Isul’s, who was still sitting as if frozen in place.
If anyone were to ask ‘just how pretty can a person be’, Jungwu would want to answer it this way. That there exists someone who is so gorgeous that it’s breathtaking.
Isul recognized Jungwu. Because Soochan had been complaining all this time to Jungwu about acting like a fan, he quickly answered,
“You’re right. I’m sorry I didn’t recognize you earlier. I am your fa…”
He knew too little about her to call himself a fan.
“…I am your fan starting today. Your singing was the best.”
Jungwu lifted both of his thumbs, and then his gaze fell on her guitar.
Isul then came to a realization and looked down at her guitar.
The members of the Girlfriend group who finally showed up for rehearsal surrounded Isul, jumping up one by one onto the stage.
“Oh, hello gang.”
Isul picked up her guitar and rose from her chair.
“Jungwu! He said you need to come too!”
Jungwu had to miss this opportunity to watch Yulhwi from up close and run to the control room.
Isul’s Spokesperson walked up to her.
“Isul, great live. You were in the best condition today.”
“I found out the name of the staff member who gave me the hotpack.”
“Really? Then I’ll go meet them later.”
“And the Guitar… It would have ruined the show tonight if it had broken later, right?”
“Really? Wow, you really dodged a bullet there. Maybe it’s a sign that next year will even be better than this one.”
The Spokesperson continued to speak in order to make sure Isul wouldn’t fret.
“The brand is Martin String, right? I told Manager Oo to go grab some.”
“That’s the right one.”
Isul nodded, as her eyes remained fixed on Jungwu who was moving away from the stage.
Jungwu entered the tent next to the line of sound equipment and was startled when he saw Mujin’s sharp gaze. Soochan stood next to the Director looking like he head a great deal of things he wanted to say.
“Hey, Soochan’s friend. I heard that you had set up those fireworks earlier?”
Mujin continued to stare with a piercing gaze.
“Were you a participant in World Fireworks festival before? The stuff they do on Han River during summer.”
“Have you graduated from a Stage Prep technical college?”
“Only Soochan has.”
When Jungwu continued to shake his head at these questions, Mujin looked more and more curious.
“I have done stage prep for ten years and never seen anything go off like that. Where did you learn to do that?”
“Well, it’s not really learning. A firework is an object used to observe light and fire caused by chain explosion of explosives and metallic compounds, right? I just measured the combustion reaction speed of the powders and modified the resulting…”
Jungwu noticed that Mujin and Soochan did not appear to be following his explanation at all, so he simplified his explanation right away.
“It was a firework made with a chemically calculated formula. I am a chemist.”
For a moment, Mujin had to think if Korea Broadcasting Art School had a chemistry department.
“Soochan, I thought you said he was someone from stage prep industry?”
Soochan bowed very deeply. Mujin waved his hands as he said,
“No, no, I’m not mad at all. I’m just amazed is all. Fireworks in an event is a double-edged sword. Its flashiness shouldn’t draw the gaze of the audience off of the singer, but it can’t be done poorly either.”
Mujin checked GIRLFRIEND who began their rehearsal as he continued to say,
“Those fireworks earlier, it would have been amazing if it was fired with them standing there. Soochan’s frien… I mean, you said your name was Jungwu?”
“Do you want to set up all the fireworks for tonight’s show? And the thing you did with the letters earlier. If you could teach the Chemical formula or the recipe to our company, I’ll give you double of today’s pay…no, triple. That’s about the same pay we give to the lighting staff.”
Soochan’s face brightened up at his words. He gestured and indicated for Jungwu to quickly accept the deal.
“Uh… It’s difficult for me to say this directly, but I’m the kind of person that wants to be compensated a fair value of work done.”
“Go ahead and say. I think there’s plenty of room for negotiation.”
“Thank you for offering bonus pay on par with a production staff. But Chemical formula is not something that’s easy to copy. I’ll teach Soochan slowly over time, so please ask Soochan to do it later.”
Mujin turned to look at Soochan.
“Well, I was planning on having him set up the fireworks after he gets more experience anyway. Sure.”
“And one more thing. Please pay Soochan three times the rate for today as well.”
“In return, I will add fireworks that will display your company’s logo. It’s ‘Ssing Company’ right?”
Director Mujin couldn’t help but grin when Jungwu made such an adventurous offer after acting very submissive earlier.
“Soochan, now that I see him, your friend is really a fox.”
Soochan replied with “I guess he is,” then turned to Jungwu and silently mouthed the words “dude, why are you doing this?”
“Well screw it. If you can do that much, I should compensate you. Since he’s a chemist who’s going to dramatically raise the standard of our company’s unique selling point.”
Haggling successful. Jungwu realized that he had successfully managed to pay back his friend for accidentally using up all of his fireworks for fun, and smiled in relief. Soochan stared at Jungwu with an expression showing complete lack of comprehension of what was going on.
“And Jungwu, take this too.”
What Mujin handed Jungwu was a staff use radio.
“Then get to work. Soochana, you go to my truck and get fireworks for Jungwu.”
Jungwu and Soochan left the control room after receiving their orders.
Jungwu glanced at Soochan and made a disgusted expression.
“Stop looking at me like that. Gross.”
“I said stop it.”
“My freng Jungwu han!”
“Dude! Stop it!”
Look/seem like a doll is a phrase invented when western Porcelain dolls were imported to Asia. It means the person had either an otherworldly (almost perfect) appearance or that they were incredibly cute. Korean, being an inherently ambiguous language in both word choice and grammar, probably means both are applicable.
Also having pure white skin is considered one of the most important beauty feature. Asians do not like tanned skin (makes them think you are a peasant).
Personal Anecdote: There was a white American woman who was engaged to a Korean man, and the man’s entire family always praised her for her pure white skin. When the time for her marriage ceremony came, she did what a lot of American women do, which is to go to a salon and tan herself to look healthy and skinnier. The entire family lamented saying she ruined herself.
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