by Melanie Brown
Copyright © 2016 Melanie Brown
Minsu wanted to see the world. But this wasn't what he had in mind.
“Say that again? My Korean’s not that good,” I said, only catching a few words my cousin had said.
“She asked you to let her record you singing her song to post on YouTube,” said my sister Hye.
I looked over at my cousin, Yeong who was looking at me earnestly. I feel sad whenever we visit her as while she’s only twenty years old, she has advanced Lupus and it’s done a lot of damage. She’s been told she has less than a year to live. We brought her to the U.S. to get treatment and to be with the rest of her family after her parents were killed in a fire.
I said to Hye, “Why don’t you sing it? I’m mean, you are a girl and it’s a girl’s ballad.”
Hye wrinkled up her face and said, “Because I can’t sing, bingu. It’s a beautiful song and needs a good voice to do it justice. And you sound like a girl when you sing.”
I frowned and said, “Gee thanks. Voice only?”
Hye laughed and said, “Of course! Who wants to look at you?”
“Shibalnyun. You want me to sing it or not?” I asked in an annoyed voice.
Pointing a finger at my nose, Hye said, “Don’t be rude, Minsu. Look. We’re doing this for Yeong. She writes beautiful songs and nobody gets to hear them. All you need to do is just sing. My boyfriend will add the music to it later.”
I laughed. I said, “Chul has a garage band. Their only gig was at a cousin’s birthday party two months ago.”
“You’re sure full of meanness today,” said my sister. She turned to the laptop computer she’d placed on a table near Yeong and plugged in a headset. She said, “I wish we had better equipment, but this will work for now.” She handed me the headset.
I held the headset and said, “Everyone who hears it will think I’m a girl. It’s a girl’s song after all.”
Hye grinned and said, “I hope they think it’s a girl singing. I’m going to upload it under Yeong’s name. She wants you to sing a few of her other songs too. Who knows? If it’s successful on YouTube, we might monetize it and make a little extra to help her out.”
As I put the headset on, I said, “You have a lot of confidence in my singing.”
Hye laughed and said, “I have a lot of confidence in Yeong’s songs.” She then handed me a sheet of paper with the words of the song spelled phonetically in Korean under the music notes Yeong had hand written.
I studied the paper for a few minutes. Hye had translated the song into English, so I had some idea what the song was about. It was a typical ballad of love lost, but it had a rather haunting quality to it and the melody she’d written was beautiful. I looked sadly at Yeong and sighed. I thought what a waste. All this talent bottled up in a body that hasn’t long to live.
After testing the microphone a couple of times, Hye signaled to start singing. I took a deep breath and began to sing. Hye closed her eyes while listening and nodded a beat for me to follow. I looked over at Yeong, who was also listening with her eyes closed. Her huge smile warmed me to my core.
As usual I was late getting home from work. I stopped at the arcade to play a few rounds with some friends. When I walked through the door, Hye jumped from the couch in front of the TV and came running up to me.
“Minsu! You’re finally home,” she said excitedly. “I uploaded Yeong’s song. Come hear it!” I hadn’t heard the song since I recorded it. Hye’s been busy trying to mix in the music part her boyfriend’s band had recorded.
“I finished editing the song this afternoon and posted it,” she said as she ran down the hallway to her room. “I think you’ll be impressed.”
“Well, let’s hear it,” I said as I sat down on her bed. She was already on the YouTube page and clicked the play icon on the screen. I was quite surprised at the professionally sounding band playing the intro. I never thought Chul’s band was all that good, but they seemed quite inspired when they performed the music for this song. When my voice came in, it gave me chills.
“Oh my God, Hye,” I said in a quiet voice. “This is beautiful.”
Hye smiled and said, “Isn’t it? Good job little brother.”
I looked at the computer screen while the song was playing. I whistled and said, “Wow. Look at all those hits already.”
Hye scrolled down and said, “And look at the comments!”
I frowned and said, “They’re all in Korean.” I was born and raised in the States and only knew a smattering of Korean.
Hye studied the screen for a moment and said, “Most of them say things like ‘great song’, ‘beautiful song’, ‘wonderful voice’, ‘please post more’ and a lot are asking for a video version. They want to see the beautiful girl with the beautiful voice.”
I laughed and said, “That’s funny how people assume what a person looks like from their voice. I bet the song would have fewer likes if they saw me singing it.”
Hye smiled when the song ended and said, “Regardless, I’d say it’s a hit.” We high-fived each other and laughed.
“What do you need?” I asked Hye as I entered her room after she called out for me. It was a nice Saturday morning and I was looking forward to taking my crotch-rocket out and meeting up with some friends later.
“We have a problem,” said Hye. “It’s actually a good and a bad problem.”
I waved my hands in front of me gesturing her to stop. I said, “You’re not making any sense. What are you talking about?”
“Yeong’s song is turning into a huge hit in Korea. I got an email from S.M. Entertainment. They manage groups like Super Junior and Girl’s Generation in South Korea. Well, they want to do a professional recording of the song and release it not only in Korea, but in the whole Asian market.”
I sat down on Hye’s bed and said, “Holy shit. That’s great! Isn’t it?” Looking at Hye’s expression, I wasn’t so sure it was great or not.
Hye looked over at her computer and then back to me. She said, “They would like to see a video of this song first. They want who they think is Yeong to record the song for them if they like the video.”
Losing some of the excitement of the news I said, “Yeong is too sick. I know she’d never agree to filming her. And her voice isn’t stong enough.”
Hye sighed and looked at me. She said, “They don’t want Yeong. They want who they think is Yeong. They want you, Minsu. The email said specifically they want the girl singing to make a video.”
I frowned and said, “I’m not a girl.”
Hye smirked and said, “They don’t know that.”
“Well, we need to tell them,” I said, standing up. “I’m sure there are a zillion cute girls in Korea they could get to record that song.”
“They disagree,” said Hye. “Their comment was that the combination of your voice and those lyrics create something unique and special. They think the song will be a huge hit.”
“Sheeba. Well, it’s obvious I can’t do a video,” I said, sitting back down on the bed. “Maybe another one of our cousins?”
Hye shook her head. “They’re pretty adamant.”
I shrugged and said, “You can lip-synch to my singing. I mean, you can be pretty. If you work at it.”
“Shubal,” said Hye with a frown. “Stop thinking of just yourself. This is for Yeong.”
I frowned and said, “You’re always quick with the old guilt trip, aren’t you?”
Hye rolled her eyes and said, “Oh please. You’re the only one that can do this. They already heard your voice.”
“It was one thing to have my singing posted as Yeong,” I said. “But now this seems to be approaching being fraud.”
“Just to post a video?” said Hye. “What are the odds they actually want to produce the song? I bet they contact people all the time and it never goes anywhere.”
“What would Yeong think of me pretending to be her in a video?” I said.
Hye grinned and said, “I’ve already told Yeong about the email from S.M. Entertainment. She dropped her phone. She said to ask you to do the video. She thinks you’re cute enough to do it.”
Scowling, I said, “I’m being railroaded here. You know I can’t say no to Yeong. She could die tomorrow and then I’d feel awful for not honoring her request.”
Hye stood up and said, “It won’t hurt you to try. We can always tell the record company no later. Come into the bathroom and let’s see what you look like with a little make-up.”
“I’m not wearing make-up,” I said folding my arms.
Frowning, Hye said, “Can we save some time and you just capitulate now? You know you can’t win.”
With exasperation, I said as I stood up, “Okay. Let’s get this nonsense over with.”
While she looked for something for me to sit on, Hye had me shave what little hair I had on my upper lip and chin. Just as I finished, she brought in a stool from the kitchen.
As I sat on the stool, I said, “Hurry up. Let’s get this over with so I can go riding with my friends.”
Hye rolled her eyes and said, “You can ride with your hoodlum friends later. Let’s see what you look like.”
I shuddered as Hye started smoothing what she called foundation on my face. I really did not like the way it smelled or how it felt as she applied it. I didn’t like having mascara or eyeliner put on. Or eye shadow. And I really didn’t like lipstick. All-in-all, I really didn’t like any of it. I felt ridiculous sitting there as Hye hummed a little tune as she brushed on power and whatever else she was doing.
She grinned as she stepped back and took a good look at her handiwork. She said, “Oh my God! Minsu, you’re beautiful! Take a look!” She pointed at the mirror.
I turned and actually gasped when I saw my reflection. If it wasn’t for my short cropped hair, I would have sworn I was looking at a pretty girl and not at me. I leaned in towards the mirror and said, “Holy crap. Is that me?”
Hye laughed and said, “I told you! We need to get you a wig and you’ll easily pass for a girl. And a very pretty one at that.”
And naturally, at that moment, Mom walks into the room. She said, “Hye, could you take me up to the store in a few min… Minsu? Is there a reason you’re wearing make-up?”
Laughing, Hye said to Mom, “What do you think? Could Minsu pass for a girl?
Frowning, Mom studied me for a few moments. She said, “Yes. He’s actually quite pretty. But why?”
Hye said, “I want to make a video of him singing Yeong’s song. You know, since Yeong can’t sing it herself.”
Mom said, “You can’t find a real girl to sing it?”
“It has to be Minsu’s voice, Mom. And only his voice,” said Hye. “You know. In case someone wants to see him perform in person.”
Looking suspiciously at Hye, Mom said, “And why would someone want to see him dressed as a girl?”
I folded my arms and said, “Oh, just go ahead and tell her.”
Suddenly looking excited, Hye said, “S.M. Entertainment in Korea wants to produce Yeong’s song!”
Mom smiled and said, “That’s wonderful!”
And just as suddenly looking sheepish, Hye said, “And they want Minsu to sing it because they think he’s Yeong.”
Mom stared at me and said, “That’s awful! You’re not a girl!”
Smirking, I said, “Tell Hye that.”
“Hye, I’m glad you want to help out your poor cousin,” said Mom. “But is dressing Minsu like a girl really the way to do it?”
Hye said, “Yes. It is! This record company heard Minsu’s voice. They want that voice. And now they want to see him…er, her…you know, the girl singing the song.”
Mom frowned and said, “Wash your face, Minsu. I don’t like my son looking like some trollop.” She started to turn to leave the bathroom.
Hye rushed to my side and said with exasperation, “Mom! Wait! Forget the hair for a moment,” She put her hands around my face to frame it. “Forget Minsu is your son. Who does he look like?”
Irritated, Mom re-entered the bathroom and leaned in towards me. She studied my face for a few moments and then her eyes went wide. “Heok!…He looks like Yeong! That is uncanny!”
“See?” said Hye. “Minsu can make Yeong famous!”
Mom laughed and said, “You guys are crazy! Go ahead and do it and see what happens. But if the record company is interested, you have to tell them the truth.”
“Sure Mom,” said Hye with a grin. “I really doubt it’ll go that far, but we can have some fun.”
I said, “I don’t remember saying yes.”
“I feel ridiculous like everyone is staring at me,” I said as we walked through the park to the location Hye wanted to record the video. I was wearing a black, imitation leather mini-dress and high heeled boots. Hye had given me a crash course on walking in heels earlier that morning. And of course make-up, nail polish, a wig and large hoop earrings. The earrings were clip-on, which hurt to wear. Hye said I really should get my ears pierced.
Seriously. I felt like a total idiot.
Laughing, Hye said, “You look cute! Nobody is going to suspect you’re not a girl. Yeong thought you were adorable.”
We arrived at the spot…almost at the park’s center where a large fountain stood, shooting water into the air. There were several stone benches as well as a sundial and some trees. Despite it being a beautiful summer’s day, it was still a bit early on a Sunday morning, so the park wasn’t as full as I was worried it would be. Hye had already gone over what she wanted me to do. To get all the shots she wanted, I’d have to sing the song about four or five times and then her boyfriend would edit it all together into one coherent video.
“Can we wait until those boys leave?” I said. “They’re staring at me.”
Hye grinned and said, “Now you know what it’s like! Of course boys are going to stare at you. But yes, we need to wait for them to leave. I was hoping nobody would be here. Otherwise I’d have to come up with consent forms and all. I wonder where Chul is? I invited him along to help me.”
“Let’s sit at that bench over there until those guys leave,” I said, pointing at a bench opposite where the boys were hanging out at the fountain.
Hye said, “Sounds good. Just remember to keep your knees together.”
We sat on the bench, our backs to the boys. I hadn’t been to this park very often and was surprised to see how beautiful and relaxing it was here. There were lots of trees for shade. Some distance from us was a large playground where kids were noisily playing. It was a perfect summer day.
Suddenly the view was blocked by two figures standing in front of us. I looked up and saw the two boys standing there grinning at us. I recognized them now from my old high school.
One of the boys, Chuck I think, said, “What are two bodacious babes like y’all doing out here by yourself?” Pointing at me he said, “You look familiar. Did you go to Virginia Hill High? I don’t really remember very many Japanese girls there.”
I frowned at Chuck and said, “We’re Korean.” Lying, I added, “And I didn’t go there.”
Hye smiled at Chuck and said, “We’re just waiting for our boyfriends to get here.”
Looking deflated, Chuck said, “You have boyfriends?”
Hye nodded and pointed. “In fact, here they come now.” I didn’t know the other guy, but Chul was walking towards us.
Chuck looked over his shoulder to see Chul and the other guy approaching. He said, “Well, if you ever decide to dump them, let me know.” To his friend, he said, “Let’s go, Tony.”
“Yeah, right,” I said after the Chuck and Tony had walked away.
Hye jumped up and threw her arms around Chul’s neck. She kissed him and said, “About time you got here!”
“We got held up in traffic,” said Chul. His eyes narrowed as he pointed at the receding Chuck and Tony. “Who are those guys?”
Hye dismissed his comment with a wave and said, “Just some of Minsu’s friends.”
Chul looked around and said, “Where is Minsu?”
I waved and said, “Right here.”
“Ji-ral! Are you serious?” said Chul as his eyes widened. “As we were walking up, Doug was asking me if you were single.”
Chuckling, Chul’s friend identified as Doug said, “Are you single?”
Hye laughed and said, “She is pretty, isn’t she?”
I stood up and said, “He. The word is he. And no, I’m not available.”
Hye turned towards me and said, “You have a boyfriend?” When I shot her a withering glare, she said, “I’m teasing! Get a sense of humor!”
Frowning, I said, “I left it in my pants. Can we get this over with?”
Grinning, Chul said, “No offense, dude. But you’re hot. Your legs are nicer than Hye’s!”
“Nam chang!” said Hye, irritated. “Minsu’s right. Let’s do this.”
Chul pulled a real video camera out of his backpack. Hye played the music from her phone. She had me dance and sing around the fountain, sitting on the benches and from various angles around the trees. In each pose, I’d sing through the whole song. Chul promised he’d be able to sync music and video perfectly.
It all went pretty smooth and we were done in just under an hour.
Hye said, “Good job everyone!” She kissed Chul and grinned. “Thanks for helping, yobo. We couldn’t have done it without you.”
Doug looked over at me and said, “Do I get a kiss too?”
“Do you like breathing?” I said, scowling.
Doug shrugged and said, “Sometimes.”
Chul said, “Hey, there’s a Dairy Queen just across the street from where Doug and I parked. Want to get some lunch?”
Hye frowned and said, “I’d love to, but I didn’t bring any money with me.”
Chul gestured broadly and said, “My treat, babe.”
I said, “I don’t have any money either. Hye, let’s just go home.”
Doug said, “I got you. Don’t worry about it.”
“You’re not paying for me,” I said.
“I don’t mind. Really,” said Doug, smiling. “Just helping you out.”
“Oh let him pay for it, Minsu,” said Hye. “It’ something guys like to do. And now that Chul mentions it, I’m starving.”
Smirking, I said, “Well, if he’s going to pay, why don’t we all go to that new place… um… you know, where you have to wear a tie to get in.”
Doug said, “You’re not wearing a tie.”
Chul laughed and said, “I think we’re all a bit under-dressed for that place. Let’s get going.” Grinning, Chul took Hye’s hand and started walking towards the Dairy Queen.
Doug extended his hand towards me. I said, “Don’t even think about it!” He laughed.
It took Chul almost a week to get the video edited and the audio mixed correctly. He and his friend Doug upped the ante a bit by adding some brass and strings to the score. I guess being a music major is paying off for him.
The video looked and sounded great and I almost forgot that it was me dancing around and singing. Hye uploaded it to YouTube right after Chul brought his finished video over on a thumb-drive.
It had only been on-line for twenty-four hours and it already had thousands of hits and almost as many thumbs up and over a hundred mostly positive comments.
Hye said, “You’re a hit! Just look at those comments. Everyone loves you.”
Sitting on Hye’s bed, I said, “I have to admit, that’s pretty cool. Have you checked your email?”
With a sheepish grin, Hye said, “I’ve been afraid to, actually.”
I shrugged and said, “Well, it has only been twenty-four hours or so.”
Hye directed her web browser to her email account. She bit her lower lip and hesitated a moment before actually clicking to open it up. Finally she took a deep breath and opened her email. She scanned the entries for a few moments.
“Oh my God,” Hye said in a whisper. “It’s there. They sent an email.”
“What does it say?” I asked excitedly.
Hye click on the email to open it. Korean characters rolled down her screen. She took another deep breath and began to read the email out loud.
“Blah blah…we are very impressed with your latest video. We feel this song would be a commercial hit across a large market. We would love to produce your song and create a new, high-production video. And we have more ideas. Please let us know when you are available for travel as we would like to have you in Seoul as soon as possible. We will provide travel and accommodations for up to four, for at least a three month stay. Please no boyfriends.”
I laughed and said, “It actually says that?”
Hye grinned and said, “Yep. Poor Doug.”
Scowling, I said, “Knock it off!”
Hye stood up and said, “Let’s go tell Mom and Dad!”
A few minutes later, we were all gathered in the living room. Dad was pacing with a very serious expression.
Dad said, “So let me get this straight. A record company wants to fly you two to South Korea to make a record? And Minsu is pretending to be a girl? I don’t like it on a number of levels. One, I don’t like Minsu dressing like a girl. I admit the video was great, but still, son. You’re not a girl. Second, why go to Korea? There are many local recording studios that could do just as good a job and you don’t have to fly anywhere. And third, you don’t think there’s a potential problem there with Minsu having a pass port stating he’s male while running around as a girl?”
Hye said, “It may all be for nothing. Attached to the email were several documents… contracts, that Minsu has to sign. We really have no choice but to tell them that Minsu isn’t really Yeong. But as far as a recording studio goes, they want more than just to record Minsu singing.
“They want to put him up in concerts with other KPOP artists and maybe even record a duet with one of the bigger stars as a promotion. So there’s more than just making a recording.”
Mom, who was sitting on the couch next to Hye said, “If they’re going to do all that, you have to tell them. And that will probably end this whole crazy idea.
Mom, Hye and I all rode silently in the taxi as we drove away from the airport. It was raining and we just stared out the rain streaked windows of the cab. Hye finally couldn’t contain herself and giggling like a school girl, she gave me a bear hug and squealed, “I can’t believe we’re actually here! Isn’t this amazing?”
I said, “I can’t believe it.” I was traveling as myself. I was told to start dressing as a girl as soon as we arrived at our hotel. S.M. Entertainment had no qualms about my actual gender. They had other gender questionable acts and told us to just not say anything. They would handle any background, press conferences and photo ops. They were quite adamant that we do exactly what they asked.
After checking into the hotel, and me changing into girl clothes, we caught another taxi to go to S.M. Entertainment’s headquarters. The taxi pulled up to, to me anyway, a rather ugly looking building. We went inside, announced who we were and we were then sent to an office where we waited for about twenty minutes for someone to arrive.
Mom was just about to get up when a young man in a dark suit entered. He attempted a smile and in English said, “Ladies. I am Tan Min Soo. I will be your manager here with S.M. Entertainment. Let’s get straight down to business, shall we?” He took a seat behind the small desk in the office.
Pointing at me he said, “Do you speak Korean?”
I shrugged and said, “No.” He made a note in his pad computer.
He then said, “Do you dance?”
I smiled weakly and said, “No.” He made some more notes on his pad.
Furrowing his brow, he said, “Can you act?”
I laughed and said, “No.” Again he made some notes.
Tan Min Soo then picked up a phone and punched some numbers into it. He spoke Korean in a low tone and too quickly for any of us to follow. He shook his head a few times, nodded some others. He laughed a couple of times. Finally he hung up the phone and turned his attention back to us.
“Yeong,” said Tan Min soo. I had decided to use my cousin’s name while in Korea. They knew my real name. “The management here thinks you have the potential to be quite big, not just in Korea, but all across Asia; Japan in particular. But! And this is the deal. You need to be able to speak Korean, be able to dance and perhaps even act in a TV show.”
Feeling crestfallen, I said, “So that’s it? We came all this way just to be told you don’t want us?”
Tan Min Soo laughed. He said, “You misunderstand. We will enroll you in an excellent and highly intense Korean language class and in two weeks, you will be speaking Korean. You’re not the first performer here who didn’t know how to speak the language. We will also enroll you in an intense class on dance. Half your day you’re leaning Korean. The other half you’re leaning to dance. And acting? We’ll wing that later should an opportunity comes up.”
“You’re kidding, right?” I said, starting to feel numb.
“We’re not kidding,” said Tan Min Soo as he stood up and then leaned against his desk. He held out a sheet of paper to me. “This is your training schedule. We’re willing to invest in you and we’ll make you a star. But you must work for it. You don’t show up for the classes, you’re done. You start tomorrow.”
“What are you going to do?” asked Hye as we stepped back out into the street to get a taxi.
I shrugged and felt resigned to my fate. I said, “I’ll do what I’ll have to, to get Yeong’s song produced.”
“You look like shit,” said Hye. She was waiting for me outside the dance studio. It was a short distance from our hotel. Mom decided to look for an apartment for us since we were going to be here an extended time.
Out of breath, I looked at Hye and said, “Thanks. I feel like it too.”
As she turned to start walking back to the hotel, Hye said, “Are you okay?”
I shook my head and said, “No. I don’t know if I can do this! In that classroom half the day learning Korean and the rest of the day here at the studio, I’m beat! I’m mentally and physically exhausted.”
Looking worried, Hye said, “And this is just your first day! You have two weeks of this. Look, you don’t have to do this. Yeong would understand if you called it quits.”
“No,” I said, shaking my head again. “I’m making this my personal challenge. Look at what I get if I persevere!”
“An ulcer before your twenty-first birthday? Is killing yourself worth it?” Hye looked at me intensely.
“Being an international star?” I asked incredulously. “Damn straight! I mean, it’s practically being handed to me!”
Hye laughed and said, “Yeah. Handed to you. After I practically forced you to make that video! And I’d hardly call this crushing schedule as it being ‘handed’ to you.”
I shrugged as I stared at the ground as we continued along the sidewalk. I said, “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I have to do it. Besides, I want Mom to be proud of me.”
Hye looked at me funny and said, “Mom’s already proud of you?”
I stopped walking and touched Hye’s arm. I said, “Really? I bus tables at Uncle Cloo’s restaurant. I’m not even in college.”
Hye smiled and said, “Minsu, you’re only twenty. Uncle Cloo has told Mom you’re a hard worker.”
I grunted and said, “So? Dad’s the cook at Uncle Cloo’s restaurant. He puts in sixteen hours a day and for what? Seriously, for what? He’s filling a space until he dies.”
Hye said, “Don’t say that about Dad. He’s provided a good home for you and me and Mom. And unlike you, he never complains.”
I said, “Yes. That’s great and honorable and all that. But what has it really gotten him? The last time he traveled was moving to Texas from Korea. I want to see Paris! New York! The Ginza! We’ve never even seen the Alamo and we live less than three hundred miles away from there! Yes, I want family and all that, but I want more from life! I want to do something. Something big.”
We entered the hotel lobby and walked across to the elevators.
Hye said as she pushed the button for our floor, “Everyone wants to do something big. Most people enter this world and leave it with hardly anyone noticing.”
The elevator door opened on our floor. I said, “Well, I want to be one of the ones that are noticed.”
Hye laughed. “Yeah. As a girl! Minsu will still be un-noticed.
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