“Today, someone from our class made it into the top ten of the entire school.”
If this were a movie set, the camera director would immediately capture the homeroom teacher’s face in a reverse-angle shot. Suspicion-filled eyes and stern glares were mercilessly projected onto the subject. The report card seemed to amplify the doubt like a subplot.
“Jang Yeongguk, congratulations.”
The students’ reactions spread like wildfire, and their faces were soon filled with disbelief. After all, considering Jang Yeongguk’s midterm grades, it seemed impossible. Wasn’t he the one who used to compete for the last place in the class? It only made sense for their suspicion to spread since he had only achieved the feat in just a few months.
“Aren’t you going to take your report card?”
When the homeroom teacher gestured with the report card, Yeongguk got up and walked to the podium. However, strangely enough, the expression on Jang Yeongguk’s face as he received his report card was not pleasant. He looked uncomfortable, like someone who hadn’t properly taken care of business in the bathroom.
Homeroom teacher Kim Bongdu licked his lips in a slightly awkward response to Yeongguk’s reaction. The first thing that came to his mind when he received Jang Yeongguk’s report card in the teacher’s office was cheating. It was only natural, as Yeongguk, who used to be the last in the class, suddenly took tenth place in the whole school.
“The subject teachers gave him very good evaluations.”
When considering the teachers’ words in charge of subjects, including Korean, English, and Math, Yeongguk’s learning attitude was perfect. Not only did he never fool around during class, but he also never stopped taking notes when the teachers casually mentioned things. All the teachers agreed that it seemed like he had transformed overnight.
“It does happen sometimes, but…”
As a teacher, one occasionally witnessed dramatic changes in students. However, could a student who spent lunchtime playing soccer and never even glanced at his studies suddenly become one of the top ten in the school after just a few months of hard work? Some parents already raised suspicions at the parent-teacher conference, questioning if the exam papers had been leaked.
“Tenth place in the whole school?”
On the other hand, Yeongguk received his report card with a feeling of emptiness, unlike what his homeroom teacher and friends thought. He had been studying relentlessly, even losing sleep since he returned to the past a few months ago. Perhaps it was because of his regression, but his memory and comprehension abilities were significantly better than in his previous life. He could easily memorize a thousand English words a day as evidence. His expectations were so high that he even looked forward to the day the report cards were distributed. After the final exam, he wondered if he might have gotten a perfect score.
“Jang Yeongguk, come with me to the office for a moment.”
Although the class hadn’t started, Kim Bongdu was determined to resolve this mystery. Out of consideration, he led Yeongguk to the office instead of the busy teachers’ room. When they arrived, he immediately locked the door and leaned back in his chair.
“Jang Yeongguk, did you cheat?”
“No, I didn’t.”
Kim Bongdu coughed awkwardly at the immediate response. However, after twenty years as a teacher, he couldn’t back down now.
“Come on, how could you not have? I know your midterm grades. Yeongguk, it’s illogical for a student who’s been at the bottom of the class to suddenly rank tenth in the entire school. Even a passing dog would say that’s impossible.”
“I mean, how could a dog talk?”
Kim Bongdu was briefly taken aback, but then he looked at Yeongguk with fresh eyes. Even if they did nothing wrong, most students became nervous when called to the office. Yet, Yeongguk’s eyes revealed no anxiety or impatience. In fact, his expression was relatively calm and collected.
“As you know, you can check the seating chart when I took the final exam. Weren’t all the students around me struggling with their grades? I couldn’t even think about cheating; they were all dozing off and getting on my nerves. One guy was even snoring loudly.”
Kim Bongdu couldn’t deny the truth. The seating arrangement was changed for the exam, with the high-achieving students grouped together. This was to prevent the less studious students from disrupting the focus of others.
“Next, you might have thought about the possibility of a leaked exam paper, but has there been any theft? If you’re still suspicious, I’m willing to retake the test alone. However, you must take full responsibility for the results.”
What a bold kid.
Kim Bongdu wondered if the Jang Yeongguk in front of him was the same student he knew. He was at a loss for words as the young man confidently proclaimed his innocence.
“Alright, you can go now.”
As Yeongguk bowed and turned to leave, Kim Bongdu thought, how did the kid figure out that the scariest thing for public servants like me is to take responsibility?
The labyrinth-like structure of Namhang Market offered a mysterious charm to tourists. The strong accents of Busan’s native women and the fragrant aromas of dishes filled with ocean scents were enough to satisfy all five senses. Moreover, the market was home to an incredible variety of unique traditional teas. If a famous foreign barista were to witness this spectacle, they would undoubtedly claim that the true Ca Phe Trung can be found in Korea, not Vietnam.
“PD Yoo, do you know why there are so many teahouses in Namhang Market?”
“Do Busan people love coffee?”
“Well, that might be possible, but there’s a more plausible explanation. During the Korean War, people who took refuge in Busan used to meet at Namhang Market after crossing Yeongdo Bridge. Back then, it was the meeting place for all of South Korea.”
The well-known PD Yoo worked at KBC Broadcasting’s drama department for seven years. Although not yet considered a seasoned professional, his skill was acknowledged, and even some veteran PDs admired his planning and direction. As evidence of his talent, fierce competition often occurred among middle-level PDs to work with PD Yoo during their AD days.
“Writer Choi, it’s been more than fifty years since the Korean War ended. Why are there still so many teahouses here? It’s not like Busan people still meet at Namhang Market. Most of the tourists here have visited Taejongdae and come to eat. They don’t even glance at the coffee, do they?”
“As always, PD Yoo, you’re sharp. The teahouses in Namhang Market are not just for selling coffee. They are more like the supportive mothers of the people of Yeongdo.”
“Teahouses are the first places to open in Namhang Market. Fishermen and day laborers visit them before setting sail. They have their breakfast there, and the traditional tea keeps them warm as a dessert. So, it’s no exaggeration to say that the teahouses in Namhang Market provide breakfast for all the fishing boats docking in Yeongdo.”
“How do you know all this, Writer Choi?”
“I’m from Yeongdo, and my father was a fisherman.”
Choi Eunsuk was a drama writer with five years of experience. However, she had not yet had a successful debut work. Until now, she worked as an assistant writer under a famous writer. In this sense, PD Yoo and Choi Eunsuk had much in common. Both of them were hoping that this project would serve as the turning point in their careers.
“But Writer Choi, is it alright for us to come down here together when the first day of shooting has been decided?”
Typically, drama writers have a time-sensitive job. Unless it’s a pre-produced show, the script can be lengthened or shortened depending on the audience’s reaction and the broadcaster’s influence. Not to mention, they must also adjust the importance of each character in the script. It’s no wonder partial scripts were considered a tradition in the drama department.
“It’s my debut work. It’s like giving birth for the first time; I can’t be lazy as the mother. Plus, there are unkind glances questioning whether my debut is too early. If this project fails, it’ll cut my career in half.”
“I feel more pressured now that you’ve said that. But don’t worry. I won’t take this lightly as it’s my turning point too. I’ll go all-in for this project.”
“You seem to have a lot of concerns for someone who claims to go all-in. You were lost in deep thought while checking the casting status on the train down here, weren’t you?”
As they strolled through Namhang Market, PD Yoo gave a brief nod.
“Actually, I’m satisfied with all the main actors.”
“So, you’re not satisfied with the supporting actors?”
“No, it’s the child actor that I’m not happy with. The one who’s playing the younger version of the protagonist, Kim Hajin. I think his name is Kim Mintae. Writer Choi, you should know him too. He’s the kid who played a role in the drama The Age of Immortality, written by the famous Writer Wang.”
“Isn’t that child quite a good actor? I remember the Writer Wang praised his performance several times after watching the broadcast.”
PD Yoo licked his dry lips.
“Among his peers, he’s one of the better child actors. But his accent doesn’t sit well with me. It feels like he’s wearing clothes that don’t fit. He’s supposed to portray the rough childhood of a man born and raised in Busan, but it’s difficult for a kid from Seoul to express that. I understand the limitations.”
PD Yoo recalled the audition of child actor Kim Mintae. Just in case, they prepared a dead fish for him to interact with. However, not only was he startled when touching the fish, but his awkward accent made his performance even worse. The problem was that there were no alternatives. The child actors who auditioned in Seoul were all unsuitable for the role. It became a matter of choosing the lesser evil rather than the best option.
It was then.
“Hey, you over there! You’ve got a pretty face, why not come and check out our fish? The mackerel are so plump today that the fishermen thought they caught sharks! I’ll give you a generous discount!”
Seemingly not yet past puberty, a youthful voice rang out powerfully between the long rows of fish stands at Namhang Market. The enunciation and vocalization were so precise that the thick accents of Busan ajummas felt like background music akin to gentle waves. Captivated, PD Yoo and Choi Eunsuk quickly headed in the direction of the voice.
“Sir, take a look at our flounders! They’re tastier than what you’d eat at a sushi restaurant. If you buy this today, your girlfriend will be over the moon. I’ll also pack a few good-sized mackerels for you. Don’t just glance over them, take a closer look. You need to examine it closely to know if it’s a good catch!”
“Oh my, I’m turning 40 the day after tomorrow, but how can I resist buying from someone as adorable as my son?”
“Hahaha, you think I’m your girlfriend?! Kid, you sure know how to do business!”
How could someone be so naturally charming while talking to a middle-aged man with a protruding belly? The boy looked very young, perhaps a middle school student. But there was power in his voice. Enthralled by his gestures and vocalization, passing tourists moved closer, and even the surrounding ajummas looked on with satisfaction. The woman next to the boy, presumably his mother, seemed overwhelmed by the influx of customers as she busily prepared the fish. At that moment, PD Yoo and Choi Eunsuk locked eyes in midair.
“We found him!”
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