If I had known life would play me this way, I would have made the wise decision to pay more attention to the Buddhist sermons my mother often preaches whenever my brother and I do or say something that displeases her.
Had I realized that if I wanted something too much, fate would mess with me by giving me the very opposite of what I wished for. That could have saved my helpless ass so many times.
My name is Bian; Bian Nguyen. Before you ask, no. I am most definitely not Chinese although the surname Nguyen probably gave that away. It is not everyday a Vietnamese girl is named a name as unusual as Bian. Mai, Thao, Linh perhaps but Bian? Nah.
When I learned that the meaning of Bian was ‘secret,’ I was dismayed. What was mother thinking of giving me such a wannabe edgy and dark name? It did not suit my usual (as I like to think) cheery personality at all.
I never thought that in my life, I would learn to appreciate the meaning of my name later on.
At only twenty-one years old, I am an aspiring makeup artist to my parents’ disappointment. It is cliché but you guessed it. In their heads, is it not be better to have a law or medical degree? Why dabble with cosmetics? Is it even going to bring me a stable living?
There was a time where I had second thoughts for my own self preservations and wanted to live up to parental expectations. I thought that getting a ‘higher quality’ degree was my goal too, but I liked beauty way too much.
Growing up in Asia, Korean entertainment was part of everyday life. They were the standard for looks, film, dramas, music, dancing, technology, everything. Okay, so maybe Japan had the upper hand for technology, maybe, but you get the point.
Southeast Asia does not really have much if we’re going to be honest and my naïve self adored Korean entertainment. I, like many other younger generations all joined in on the whole ‘Korean wave’ trend, followed the latest hot news, the latest fashion, makeup and more. I decided to minor in the Korean language in university next to my business major.
My ambition was to move to Seoul, South Korea and become a professional makeup artist. Hopefully, they acknowledge my magnificent skills enough to promote me to style celebrities, my optimistic brain could not help whispering.
I currently work at the local Etude House in Trieu district which would finally come to an end today. Today, I say goodbye to my friends, coworkers and family before my flight tomorrow. Years and years of saving up from work and gift money has finally enabled me to move to Seoul. I booked a tiny apartment for myself in a small town that resides in the capital.
Glancing at the time on my phone, I squeaked and ran out of my parents home with my work bag in tow.
Upon entering inside the Etude House store, I jumped at the loud explosions of firecrackers and cheers from fellow staff members.
“W-what the,” I could not help but exclaim with a surprised laugh. “You guys scared me! Don’t this again.”
“Oh, lighten up. This will be the last day we’ll be seeing you so we might as well make it special,” One of the associates, My Lan, said.
They all laughed and surrounded my person asking all sorts of questions and requests at the same time, I could barely make anything legible out. I felt a light slap on my back. Turning around, I found my manager smiling widely down at me.
“Look at you moving to Korea. You will be ahead all of us in the beauty industry now. With all of their advanced investment and opening businesses in Vietnam, times really have changed for the millennials.”
“Manager, please don’t say that,” I replied flushing a little, but she hushed me.
“No false modesty now. You worked hard for this trip so you have every right to brag once in a while.”
Two of my fellow beauty advisors approach me rapidly asking:
“Hey Bian, make sure you bring home souvenirs and the fruit rolls for us okay? Don’t be too greedy.”
“Bring home some quality makeup that we don’t have here yeah?”
My head was spinning and I felt a hand pull me away to the back register counter. It was my best friend and coworker, Thi.
“Hey. The manager told me to give this to you,” She briskly said and handed out a large red packet. “Your salary plus a bonus for this last month. Think of it as a gift since you’re leaving us.”
“Oh, thank you so much.”
“Don’t thank me. You worked for it,” Thi smacked my arm. “You won’t forget us, especially me, will you? Make sure to keep in touch every day.”
Her voice was so insistent, I had to laugh.
“You don’t even have to say. Obviously I will!”
She reached into her purse and took a small object out. In the light, I saw her holding a familiar looking lipstick.
“Remember this lipstick that you and I fought over in the Shiseido store a few years ago that sparked our friendship in the first place?” She tossed it to me and I scrambled to catch it in surprise.
“Take it with you on this trip. Wear it when you find your significant other.”
Touched and brimming with emotions, I pulled Thi into a huge hug.
It was dark when I was bicycling back home. Strapped to my bike were several packages of farewell gifts.
When I got to the huge flat screen television attached to one of the tall buildings, I stopped to see what was being portrayed on the screen.
Aside from a few advertisements, girl groups and boy groups were being shown. Slowly, the TV attracted a crowd.
“And now, we will be introducing the top five actors in South Korea with the full package: looks, talents, history and personality!” One of the MCs announced. His spoken native language was dubbed Viet so people here could understand. The TV began showing the list and introducing each actor starting from number five.
Getting off the bike, I was walking closer to the TV, intrigued to see if my favorite actor on there would be shown.
“Second place would be Ji Jang Suk. This young and upcoming actor is known for his serious yet dashing looks that is perfect for portraying the roles of agents and spies,” The MC continued.
“And now for number one…”
I stood on my tippy toes. I knew they were going to announce him soon. He is just way too well known to not make it to number one.
“Finally, number one goes to…”
I heard the crowd whispering to each other excitedly and curiously around me, making me strain my ear even further.
“Actor and model, Gi Hyeok!”
A grin broke out on my face and I, too, was cheering wildly with the crowd like the devoted fan I was. Soon enough, a tall, dark-haired and handsome man was shown in one of his casual photoshoot picture. The scene then switched to him and several security members walking down the red carpet in one of his drama previews.
Smiling at the camera and the crowd, the actor waved good-naturedly to the hectic fans inside the TV.
“Gi Hyeok has started off as a model at Namwoo Actors Agency after dropping out of college. With ridiculous good looks and on stage charisma, he quickly rose to fame around the world with his signature movie, ‘The Joker Card’ along with countless dramas of various genre. He sings and dances on the side, speaks four different languages and is a black belt in three kinds of martial arts. Gi Hyeok is the very definition of versatile!”
The sharp ringtone from my phone buzzing interrupted and I ran back to my bike while picking up.
“Bian! Do you have any idea how late it is? You haven’t even finished packing up yet,” My mom’s agitated voice shouted.
“Have you forgotten you have to wake up at 5 in the morning? Come back here before I give you a good beating!”
I wasted no time racing back home.
“My god, look at you,” Mom clicked her tongue, lounging on my bed while I shuffled around the room with my open valise.
“South Korea is extremely cold. Don’t forget to pack warm clothing. Did you add the winter boots we gave you last year?”
“Yes, yes. I remember!” I huffed as I quickly threw in toiletries and beauty products in a smaller bag.
“Are you that eager to leave your parents, the people who birthed you?” Mom continued, this time with a whining tone. I smiled and ran up to peck her affectionately on the cheek.
“You already know that I love and am grateful for both you and dad’s hard work in bringing me up. Now that I am going out there to make a living, I will pay you all back while pursuing my dreams at the same time,” I reminded, squeezing her soft hands. Mom’s face mellowed out a bit and my bedroom door slammed open.
“Are you sure an ugly sister like you can make it in the makeup business up there?” My brother obnoxiously hollered as he walked in.
“Nay! Get out or at least knock first!”
I threw a pillow at him and we both squabbled for a few minutes before mom subdued us both threatening more beatings.
It was a joyful night for all of us.
The monotonous noises of the plane ride was disrupted when the speaker sounded with an announcement from the pilot. Groggily, I wiped my eyes from the short and uncomfortable few hour nap I managed to take from my uncomfortable sitting position.
The deep voice said in Korean and then translated to Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and English.
“Good morning everyone. It is currently 7:45 AM in Eastern time. We have now arrived in Seoul and getting ready to land~”
Quickly, I looked out the tiny window. There was a beautiful, crisp blue sky with wisps of white clouds here and there surrounding a good amount of land. The skyscrapers jutting from underneath still looking small from my altitude looked stunning.
A shiver down my spine.
If I had known then what I knew now, I would tell the innocent self I was five years ago to turn back and go home back to Vietnam where I was safe and not…Sad.