“An ambassador for Yeongdo District?”
Yeongdo, a city filled with sorrow and grief. It was once known as the city that never sleeps. It’s not referring to the glamorous night view like Las Vegas. It’s a term that stuck because of the never-ending cries and wails of refugees looking for their families. The winding mountain roads are just as twisted as the lingering fatigue.
In my past life, it was a place I simply disliked. I hated the smell of poverty and the fishy stench as much as I hated the salty sea breeze and the rough accents of the sailors. I never returned to my hometown, not even once, until my mother fell ill. Now, that place welcomes me like a long-lost family member.
– “Why do you dislike it?”
“No, it’s just so unexpected.”
– “What’s unexpected? People in Yeongdo know how much they love you. I’m sure you’ll know once you go near Namhang. The district office has already sent a letter to your school, so don’t worry and go. I’d like to send a road manager with you, but I didn’t expect this to happen so suddenly.”
“It’s alright. I’m not a child who can’t find the district office.”
– “Anyone would think you’re a 60-year-old woman!”
CEO Kim Seonghwan was now speaking comfortably with me. Even though it was through the phone, I could clearly see his warm smile.
– “By the way, when you arrive at the district office today, there will be people you’ll like. Look forward to it!”
The call ended. For some reason, I could imagine CEO Kim Seonghwan making a playful expression. I happened to catch my mother’s gaze as she hurried to work at Namhang Market. She seemed quite curious about the content of the call.
“Ah, the CEO said I was selected as an ambassador for Yeongdo District.”
My mother’s face brightened up. It wasn’t even like this when I showed her my report card with the third-highest score in the entire school. I felt a bitter taste in my mouth. In my past life, I wondered if she had the same expression when I won an award at the year-end ceremony. That’s when it happened.
“Yeongguk! What are you doing not coming out!”
It was Mrs. Yang. She was a resident of the same neighborhood and often went to work at Namhang Market with my mother since they both sold fish. It was the same today. Mrs. Yang’s eyes widened as she heard the news from my mother. Soon, her loud voice echoed like a train whistle.
“What?! Yeongguk is going to be the ambassador for Yeongdo District!”
Ah, I can already imagine the rumors spreading around Namhang Market.
* * *
When I arrived at the district office, a government official ran towards me. He must not have expected me to arrive so early. It’s a long-standing habit of mine from my past life. Whether it was a filming set or a broadcasting station, arriving earlier than the scheduled time was natural for me. It was a rule created by the passion of Jang Youngguk, a young man who wanted to stand out just once more in the eyes of the broadcasting station staff. Maybe this was what made me the actor Jang Youngguk in my past life.
“I heard Jang Youngguk came as soon as I got to work, even though there are still two hours left until the appointment.”
“I just came early to look around the district office. Don’t worry about it.”
“Wow, you’re really mature, just like I heard. To be honest, I’m a huge fan of Man of August. You don’t know how much I liked young Kim Hajin or you, Jang Youngguk. So, can I ask for an autograph and a photo after the appointment ceremony?”
“What’s the problem? Since we have time before the appointment, let me give it to you now. By the way, who else is appointed as an ambassador for Yeongdo District with me today?”
” Jang Youngguk, you didn’t know? We definitely informed your agency in detail.”
The CEO didn’t mention anything about it? Was what he said at the end of the call related to this? That’s when it happened. The sound of high heels clacking caught my attention, and a woman wearing sunglasses appeared. She looked like an actress as if she was advertising herself.
“It’s been a while, kiddo.”
Park Suyeong then took off her sunglasses and acted like she knew me. I never thought she would be one of the people selected as an ambassador. She whispered to me and only me.
“I usually don’t do anything below the metropolitan city level, but the CEO kept asking, so I accepted. People push you to get rid of the lingering feelings that have built up. I woke up early today and don’t have any other schedules besides this, so I left early. I didn’t come early because I thought you’d be here early. Don’t misunderstand. What kind of kid are you, not sleeping well?”
How modest of her. I was surprised too. I never imagined Park Suyeong would come all the way to Yeongdo to receive the appointment certificate. Considering her usual prickly personality, it wouldn’t have been strange if she had someone else pick it up for her. At that moment, I saw another person running towards us.
“Oppa! How have you been?”
Ah, I knew who it was just by hearing the voice.
Yeon Su was running towards me in a dress. Her mother was with her. Her mother showed a friendly smile and waved at me. So, all these people are members?
“Are you also appointed as an ambassador?”
Yeon Su nodded her head with big eyes. The government official, who had been guiding us, seemed flustered when all the ambassadors arrived suddenly. Yeon Su immediately wrapped her arms around mine as she followed me without any awkwardness. Seeing this, Park Suyeong removed her sunglasses from her head and laughed.
Several things represent Yeongdo. However, if we limit it to places, Taejongdae, Yeongdo Bridge, and Namhang Market come to mind. Of course, in the past, there were places like Huinnyeoul Culture Village and coastal promenades, but those are stories for another time. They haven’t been redeveloped as tourist areas yet.
“Ugh, summer is already over, so why is it still so hot!”
After receiving our appointment as ambassadors, the three of us took a group photo at a landmark in Yeongdo. Today, the civil servant in charge of taking photos was incredibly diligent, taking hundreds of shots in just one place. After finishing the photoshoot at Taejongdae, we got into the car, and Park Suyeong raised her irritated voice.
“Can you believe we spent over thirty minutes taking photos in this heat!”
Though she complained, Park Suyeong was actually the most invested person during the photoshoot. Even though it wasn’t a magazine photoshoot, she interfered with every single cut, making the civil servant work harder. In the van, there were only three of us, excluding Park Suyeong’s manager, who was driving. Yeon Su, worried about Park Suyeong’s mood, only sipped water and stayed glued to my side, showing no sign of leaving. At that moment, Park Suyeong looked at me as if she had a lump in her throat.
“Hey, I heard you decided to shoot an indie film?”
News travels fast. After all, Park Suyeong and I both belong to Songwon Entertainment. There was no way the talkative CEO, Kim Seonghwan, would have kept quiet.
“You have to choose your projects carefully! Especially with indie films, they’re not as beautiful as their name suggests. If you think of the production environment as a regular drama, it’s very difficult. It’s a blessing if it’s only poor. There are countless cases where filming gets canceled.”
“That’s why I liked it. Where’s the fun if everything is easy?”
“Ugh, you just don’t know! I don’t even know why I’m talking to you in this heat!”
Park Suyeong irritably put her sunglasses back on. In her past life, she had appeared in many independent films. She mainly did it because she could act in front of a single camera rather than on a theater stage. However, as Park Suyeong said, many projects were canceled. In severe cases, there was no money for editing even after completing the filming, and the film couldn’t be screened in theaters. Then, Park Suyeong lowered one end of her sunglasses and added.
“Don’t catch the ‘art disease,’ like someone. There’s no cure for that.”
I wonder who she’s talking about.
* * *
The photo shoot at Namhang Market was like a fan meeting. The market merchants and the tourists were all staring at Park Suyeong in awe. There’s a reason why celebrities are celebrities. Unsurprisingly, Park Suyeong’s manners towards her fans were also outstanding.
“Yeongguk! You look absolutely stunning!”
“Our Yeongguk is truly the most handsome! Jang Yeongguk, you’re the best! The best!”
“The one next to Yeongguk is also really beautiful! My eyes are feasting today!”
“Ah, thank you. I’m actress Park Suyeong.”
“No, not you, Suyeong. The young lady next to you! She looks like a painting next to Yeongguk!”
It seems the outfit my mother picked out for me this morning was quite a hit. I usually wear a simple T-shirt and shorts, but today I wore golden pants and suspenders. It was a look far from my past life’s taste but still worth a glance due to my age.
“Let’s take a photo with the fish stand!”
The civil servant guided us to a narrow alley lined with fish stands. Mrs. Yang waved her hand enthusiastically, and my mother also beamed by her side. I waved back at my mother and Mrs. Yang, as it was hard to move due to the large crowd.
“How about holding a fish each for the photo? Since this is Namhang Market.”
The civil servant cautiously suggested the idea. Apparently, his professionalism had kicked in during the difficult photoshoot. Naturally, some people gladly accepted the idea, while others disliked it.
“How about I just hold a fish by myself and stand in the middle?”
“Ah! That would be better!”
“Ma’am, can I borrow one of your flatfish for a moment?”
“Of course! If it’s our Yeongguk, I wouldn’t even mind if you took the whole tray! Go ahead!”
I picked out a lively flatfish from the red tray. It was struggling so much, trying to escape. However, no matter how hard it tried, it couldn’t escape from Jang Yeongguk’s palm.
“Then let’s take the photo with the fish stand as the background!”
Park Suyeong and Yeon Su stood next to me. It felt like I was a fisherman who had caught a huge fish on a fishing boat. Holding the flatfish stylishly with both hands, the civil servant showed a satisfied smile. On the other hand, Park Suyeong seemed to wish the photoshoot would end quickly. The civil servant raised his finger, counting down.
At that moment, the flatfish gathered its last strength.
As it wriggled violently, my hand slipped. The flatfish flew towards Yeon Su, who, startled, swatted it away, and it landed on me.
With a loud splash, the flatfish fiercely slapped Park Suyeong’s cheek with its tail before.
It fell back into the red tray it originally came from.
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