The cold winds blew. Maru opened his eyes when the cold winds brushed past his face. He could see the dawn sky just before sunrise out the window.
‘It looks like I’m not going back to sleep.’
His cold body refused to go to sleep. He stood up and crossed his arms. As this village was near a mountain, the air was really cold. Perhaps the cold also had something to do with the nearby sea.
He looked next to him and saw that Jiseok was snoring as he slept. He had kicked away his blanket, and it was beneath his feet. Maru covered Jiseok back up with the blanket before getting up.
He quietly opened the classroom door and came out to the corridor before taking out his phone. He didn’t have the time to check his phone last night.
His mother, whose philosophy in raising children was to let them be, had messaged him three times. It seemed that she was worried about her son, who was going far away for the shoot. Maru had a look at the clock on his phone. It was 5:54 in the morning. It was still too early to make a call, so he sent a text message instead. Before, he was a cute son that used emojis in his texts, but after he got older he could never get himself to do that.
[Don’t worry about me. I’m doing well.]
Before he sent the message, Maru sighed before adding a smiling emoji. He could use endless amounts of sweet words when sending messages to his girlfriend, but it was hard to do so with his parents. He really thought that he was a bad son.
He had also received a text from Daemyung as well. He thanked him before going out to the school field. The air around him was still chilly, but it wasn’t an unpleasant chill. He breathed in a batch of fresh air. Any sleepiness remaining inside him disappeared and his mind cleared up a little.
“You’re up early.”
He heard a hoarse voice from behind. When he turned around, he saw a man wearing a red baseball cap, tying his shoes. He was the man that got into a quarrel with the assistant director yesterday.
“The cold woke me up.”
“This place is a little chilly.”
After the man tied his trainers, he stood up. He was around 160cm tall. In front of the man wearing a baggy t-shirt and a messenger bag was a large microphone. From how the microphone cable was leading into his messenger bag, it seemed that the electronics were inside.
“They say the morning is early since this is a countryside village. Do you know why?”
“Because they’re hardworking people… that’s not the reason is it?”
“It might be, but normally, it isn’t. In this village, the market opens at seven in the morning, and people start shopping at that time. The reason is simple. It’s because all the residents of this village are old. There aren’t many young people around. They all escaped to the cities. In this village, where only the elderly are left behind, the clock starts early.”
The man sniffed before raising his head. Maru saw the man raising the mic up in the air.
“Shh,” said the man as he put his index finger against his mouth. Maru became quiet and watched the man. The man narrowed his eyes and looked around before putting the mic down and starting to walk towards a tree in one part of the school grounds.
Maru followed the man.
“Do you hear it?”
The man asked as he looked at the tree. Maru faintly nodded his head. There was a high-pitched chirp that seemed to be from a small-sized bird. The man raised the mic up. He smiled and swayed his head as though he was listening to music.
“Yeah, that’s the sound I’m talking about,” the man spoke as he put down the mic. Then, he put on the thick pair of headphones hanging on his messenger bag. After not talking for a while, the man took off his headphones and spoke.
“Do you want to have a listen as well?”
Maru received the headset. The moment the soft cushion sponge covered his ears, a faint white noise could be heard. Just as he wondered what it was and concentrated on that sound, he heard some insect noises. The faint cries of the insects with the touch of morning dew could be heard. If he was asked how he knew about the morning dew, then he would only be able to say that the sound sounded damp.
Maru looked at the man in front of him. He smiled back at him as though to gesture to him that he should continue. Then, he proceeded to control the device inside his bag. He then heard the bird sound that was recorded just now. There was also the faint sound of the wind as well as the sound of small grains of sand and stone being crushed. It was the sound of the school. It was the sound that made Maru imagine this school without even looking at it.
Maru took off the headphones. The remnants of the sound still tickled his ears.
“You were good at acting yesterday. What academy?”
Maru replied that he wasn’t attending one as he passed back the headset.
“Really? That’s strange. How long has it been since you started?”
“It’s been about half a year since I really started.”
“Half a year? Whew, there’s a reason why director Choi took a single cut. How is it? Is acting fun?”
“Yes, it is.”
“That’s good. There’s nothing more horrific than doing something you don’t like.”
The man lifted his baseball cap a little before putting it back on again with a smile.
“Are you the audio engineer?”
“Me? I’m the recording engineer for now. I’m the one that does the mixing once the post-production starts.”
“Then what are you doing so early in the morning?”
“Because this village starts its morning early. I have to wake up early to get the ambience.”
The man, who seemed a little over forty, took out a chocolate bar from his pocket and started eating it.
“I’ll gladly take it if you give me one.”
“You don’t know restraint.”
A chocolate bar was flung at him.
“But what is ambience?”
“What is ambience, you ask?”
Hearing that question, the man told Maru to close his eyes. Maru closed his eyes as he said. Then he stood there doing nothing for one minute.
“What do you hear?”
“The wind, a faint car horn, and some bird chirping.”
“That’s the sound you can only hear at this place, right?”
“That’s ambience. It’s the sound of nature, and sometimes, it’s noise from various places. It’s the base of the movie as well.”
“Then are you going to the alley we shot last night?”
“Yeah. We don’t just have a night scene, and there’s a morning scene as well. I have to get the sounds now so it would make my life easier during post-production. It will also make working on the foley a lot easier as well.”
“It’s the sound effects. Artificial sounds, you can understand it that way. But hey, are you interested in this kind of stuff? Most of the time, kids just reply yes before walking away.”
“One of my friends wishes to work in production. So I’m wondering if it might be of help to him,” said Maru as he thought of Daemyung.
“A friend huh. Hey, I’m taking a liking to you. Do you want to follow me and watch how I work?”
“Sure, why not. But take some of my luggage, deal?”
The man pointed at a black box at the entrance of the school. For a moment, Maru thought that the man talked to him just for this moment. Maru smiled and carried the black box. Nothing was free in this world.
Just as he stood next to the man with the box in hand, the man put a business card on top of the box.
“If that friend of yours ever becomes successful, give this to him and tell him that there’s an amazing sound designer that’s expensive. I’m not cheap, but I do a good job. That’s what I’m known for around here.”
The name on the business card read ‘Moon Gyungtaek’, and above that was ‘Studio M’.
“My name is Han Maru. Sadly, I don’t have a business card.”
“Is that so? Then gimme one once you make a cool looking business card.”
Gyungtaek left the school gates with a thick grin. Just as they were heading to the village, Gyungtaek told Maru to open the box and take out the stand. When Maru opened the box, he found a microphone stand that looked just like a camera tripod. After Gyungtaek installed it and the mic as well, he signalled Maru to wait. Soon, a tractor started coming on the road that wasn’t paved yet.
“You know? Tractors don’t make this kind of sound on top of asphalt. I need to get sound sources like this early on or otherwise, it would cause me a world of trouble.”
After the tractor passed by, Maru put away the equipment again.
“You’re quite quick to action.”
“I’m the one learning here, so that’s natural.”
“Whew, you really are a likable guy. If we finish getting the sounds, I’ll treat you to breakfast.”
They hurried towards the market of the village. It was the place they filmed last night. The market at night was very different to the market of the day.
“There’s quite a lot of people.”
“Today’s the day of the market that comes every five days.”
So this was why they hurried. The busy sounds of the morning could be heard everywhere. Although this was a small village, it was filled with vitality, perhaps thanks to the presence of the market that was held once every five days. Gyungtaek raised the mic above his head and walked into the crowd. Then he started recording. Seeing Gyungtaek focusing with his headset on, Maru thought that he was a real pro. Maru also perked up his ears and focused on the sound. He heard a sound that was different to the markets he had heard, where people would be bustling around. He heard a sound that was unique to this market alone. When a trailer full of scrap cardboard passed by, Gyungtaek crouched and recorded the sound that it made as it rolled across the asphalt floor. He followed the elderly that was dragging the trailer quietly so that it wouldn’t disturb him. After walking for around a minute, he returned with a satisfied smile on his face.
“That’s a good start. If I can’t get a decent sound during the film, I can just use this to overwrite the sound. Good, good. Everything’s going well.”
He had a joyous smile on his face. It was a smile that wouldn’t be there unless he really liked doing his job. Maru also followed him with a smile.
“This time, we’re going to that gukbap restaurant. Did you know that every cauldron makes a different sound when their contents boil?”
Gyungtaek seemed very excited. Maru ran after him since he moved so fast.
* * *
“Where have you been?” Jiseok came up to him and asked with a puppy face. Perhaps some dog chew will shut him up? Maru just replied that he took a walk before taking a seat. He walked around the village with Gyungtaek for two hours.
“Are you going to go home now?” Geunsoo asked.
It seemed that he took a wash as there was a towel around his neck.
“Yes. I’m going to get the first bus home.”
“How long does it take by bus?”
“The bus departs at 9:40 and it’ll arrive in Suwon by 5, so it’ll take around 7 hours.”
“That sounds freaky.”
Geunsoo told him to be careful on his way home as he left the classroom.
“Are you going home now?”
“Yeah I am. Even if I start going now, I’ll arrive in the evening. How about you?”
“Mom’s coming to pick me up in the evening.”
“It must be tiring for her since she’ll be driving for a long time.”
“Yeah, you tell her. I told her I can go home by myself, but phew.”
“That’s because she’s worried about you. Then see you later. I’ll be off first.”
“Be careful on your way home. And call me from time to time.”
Maru replied that he would never do such a thing as he waved his hand. Having left the classroom, he climbed up the stairs to the 2nd floor. The elder was staying in a classroom on the 2nd floor. He carefully opened the door and peeked inside. He saw the director, who was sleeping with his t-shirt all rolled up. There were bottles of soju all around, and it seemed that they had been drinking late into the night. Even the assistant director, who told the director not to drink, was sleeping next to him.
He approached Moonjoong, who was reading his script as he leaned against the wall.
“Oh, yes. Maru.”
“I’ll be taking my leave.”
“You’re going already?”
“My work here is done, so I should get going.”
“I guess that’s true.”
Moonjoong faintly laughed.
“How was your first shoot?”
“It was exciting, worrying, and I gained a little confidence as well. I feel fortunate that I didn’t leave behind any regrets.”
“Yes, that’s enough then. You’re doing plenty well right now, so you can just take slow steps without hurrying. Watch out not to take a step in the wrong direction.”
“Yes, I’ll bear that in mind.”
“How about breakfast?”
“I had mine already. Have you?”
“It’s about time I eat. Tsk, I was planning to eat with you, but I guess that’s not happening.”
“I’ll go see you once the shoot is over.”
“Then let’s do that. Let’s have a gathering with a few people like last time and have some barbecue.”
Moonjoong patted Maru’s shoulders saying that he did a good job. Maru bid farewell for one last time before leaving the classroom. Since he said goodbyes to everyone he needed, he just had to leave now.
He put his backpack on and left the school building. Looking at the empty school field, he felt like the shoot last night was a lie. Maru smiled faintly as he started walking. He had taken the first step.
Just as he left the school gates, he saw a black van climbing up the hill. As the roads were narrow, the van wasn’t able to come up all the way, and people left the van after it stopped. The man who left the van seemed like a model. Perhaps he was an actor as well from how he was walking towards the shooting location.
Maru stared at the man that walked past him. The man also looked at Maru. For a moment, Maru felt that the man was familiar, but he couldn’t quite pinpoint him exactly.
“Sungjae, I’ll be right there after I park the van.”
Someone peeked out from the driver’s seat and shouted. Sungjae. It turned out this man was the idol that Bada liked. The idol, who met eyes with him, made a refreshing smile at him and greeted him. Maru greeted back as well.
“Is this the shooting location?”
“Yes. Everyone’s gathered around the back.”
“Looks like I’m in the right place. The GPS navigation wasn’t working properly. Do you live around here?”
“No, I have a minor role in the movie, but I’m going home now since my part is over.”
“Really? That’s nice. I’m participating in the movie as well.”
The idol started climbing the hill after saying ‘be careful on your way home’. Maru stared at his back before speaking to him.
“Uhm, excuse me, but if it’s not too much to ask, can I ask for an autograph?”
“An autograph? Ahaha, yeah, sure.”
Maru took out a notebook and a pen from his bag. The idol received the notebook with a smile.
“What’s your name?”
“Bada? That’s a pretty name.”
“It’s my sister’s.”
“Aha, your younger sister?”
“Wait a moment.”
Sungjae signed the autograph and even drew a little character next to it. Maru felt good since the autograph looked like it was made with a lot of effort. It could be seen from the autograph as well.
“Tell your sister I said thanks for liking TTO.”
“Okay, then I wish you luck in the movie.”
The idol then turned around and started climbing the hill again.
Maru thought that he was a decent person. He didn’t have the arrogance of people that became stars at an early age. Maru thought that he might be biased about such people. They had to be hard-working to be so successful at that age, after all.
“That was a nice bonus.”
Maru put the autograph inside his bag while imagining his sister jumping around in joy. Since she was depressed that the signature was stained, she might become happy again with this.
‘Phew, rather than that, seven hours, huh.’
Maru sighed as he thought about the hours to come.
 It doesn’t take that long nowadays, since more highways have been built since the early 2000s.
More info on footnote 1: There weren't as many roads as now back in 2004, so the highways would get really congested, especially during Eastern New Years and Thanksgiving when people got together with their larger families. I remember sleeping in the car on the side of the road when I was young. We were going to my grandma's place for Thanksgiving, but the road was so congested that it took more than a day...
Also, this part:
"Bada? That's a pretty name."
"It's my sister's."
"Aha, your younger sister?"
"Bada? That's a pretty name."
"It's my dongsaeng's(younger sibling's)."
"Aha, your younger sister's?"
So, Sungjae got to find out about Bada's age relation to Maru first, not her gender... but welp, I took an easy way out.
We don't get to see what role Sungjae is...?