Life, Once Again! - Chapter 733
Wednesday, 23rd of November, 2005. Maru left his house while listening to the goodbye of the news presenter. The bag that would usually contain his script was filled with chocolates and yeot. In his hands were insulated water bottles that contained warm barley tea.
“Yeah, I’m on my way there.”
He got on the bus as he picked up the call he got from a junior. Although it was the same morning bus, the composition of the people inside was a little different today. There was a student muttering something while looking at the notes in his hands, a girl clasping her hands as though she was praying, as well as a student who was reading a textbook without holding the handle on the ceiling. The bus filled with students proceeded very slowly as though the driver had no intention of stepping on the brakes. The road leading to Suwon station, which would usually be crowded with cars during rush hour, was empty like the red light district during early dawn on a Tuesday.
Maru pressed the bell. The beep made some of the students flinch and look outside the window. On the day of the CSAT, all students would become meerkats. They left the bus and walked towards their designated school. The weather was so cold that wearing a thick jacket wasn’t enough. He could hear the news presenter’s comment: today will be the coldest day of the year yet.
Aram waved her hand. There wasn’t a flashy blow-up balloon in front of the newly opened restaurant. A parent, who was rolling a Buddhist rosary in her hands, looked at them for a moment before starting to pray again.
“Today’s really cold.”
“It’s the cold wave.”
Maru looked at a desk in front of the school gates. This was a desk that was used in the acting club. Behind was a flagpole that they used during a play, and on it, was a flag that when opened read ‘Park Daemyung, Kang Dowook, Pass and get into Seoul University.’ Around that line were small lines of encouragement. This was the work of the juniors at the acting club.
“Seonbae, you’re here.”
Jiyoon appeared with her nose bright red.
“You’re really devoted.”
Maru poured some of the barley tea for Jiyoon and Aram. Only after grabbing the warm paper cup in her hands did Jiyoon look better.
“The convenience store. He went to buy some food.”
“You guys didn’t eat anything?”
“Yes. Somehow, things turned out like that,” Aram said as she tapped on her stomach.
Maru put his bag down on the desk. On the other side of the gates were students wearing uniforms of another school, holding a basket. It seemed like they were also juniors who had come to cheer for their seniors.
“Why aren’t you taking CSATs, seonbae?”
“Because I don’t have to.”
“But Dowook-seonbae is taking it.”
“For him, you won’t know what will happen in the future. Even if he succeeds his family business, it’ll be better if he could go to a good college if possible.”
Maru wiped under his nose. He felt like the weather had gotten colder even though the sun went up.
“Gah, it’s so cold!”
Bangjoo appeared with a plastic bag in hand. Maru waved at him.
“Ah, right. I forgot yours, seonbae.”
“I’m fine. You guys can eat. I had breakfast.”
“We can’t do that. Have half of mine.”
Bangjoo split the hoppang in half and gave half to him. When Maru thanked him for it, he found Aram and Jiyoon each giving him a half as well. Maru smiled and told them to eat.
Bangjoo sat down next to him.
“You don’t come to school after CSATs, right?”
“It’ll be a month of employment experience, so no.”
“Can’t you come?”
“What kind of terrible thing are you talking about?”
“Come to school and practice with us.”
“Why don’t you let us go already?”
Maru looked at his watch. It was just past 7:30. It was around this time that cars and taxis started flocking in front of the school. Students who got off with their parents held each other’s hands until the front of the school before going inside.
“Good luck Irim High! Seonbae-nim, good luck on the tests and get great scores!”
The students outside started cheering loudly. The 3 years, no, 12 years of education will be evaluated on this single day. It was the peak of unreasonability, but there was no way to go against the sturdy system. Maru looked at the backs of all the students that went inside and prayed that they gained just as much as they had prepared. Not more, not less.
Maru called out to a classmate of his that appeared in front of the school. This boy came alone and had a vague smile on his face. He took out some of the chocolate and yeot from his bag and gave it to him.
Maru prayed again. He hoped that the god that gave him the big middle finger was kind to the people around him. He hoped that that boy got more than he prepared for the exam. Arms could only bend inwards, and it was the greed of humans to wish for those closest to them to do better than complete strangers. He handed out yeot, chocolate, and warm tea to everyone he knew.
“Seonbae-nim! Good luck!”
Bangjoo’s cheering was a freebie. He had a voice equivalent to ten people outside. Maru’s friends, who were encouraged by a junior they’d never seen before, seemed rather taken aback, but they all waved their hands above their head with smiles as though they found it a relief that someone was cheering for them.
“Do you think that helped?” Bangjoo asked.
“More than enough,” Maru replied.
It was 7:48, and the cheers and prayers became even louder. Just then, an unexpected person showed up.
“Why are you here, oppa?”
Bada appeared wearing a yellowish-brown scarf. The juniors sitting next to him all fell silent at the same time. Maru rested his chin on his hands and spoke,
“Why do you think I’m here?”
His sister had armed herself from top to bottom with fashionable clothing and makeup. It was to the point that Maru would have a hard time recognizing her if he came across her in a crowded place. Bada did not hold back her awkwardness. Maru saw a sense of embarrassment hiding behind her expression. He looked at the paper bag in her hands. Inside was a scarf and a hand-written letter. Of course, both yellowish-brown.
“Unfortunately, I don’t have the talent to unsee what I’ve seen.”
Bada’s lips twitched and she rolled her eyes at him before exclaiming out in surprise. She probably read the big banner of encouragement.
“Dowook will be here in a little bit so wait.”
Bada nodded obediently. Maru went over to his juniors and told them that she was his sister. Bada approached the three of them with a gentle smile on her face.
“Hello there. I’m his sister.”
“Dowook’s gf, by the way,” Maru added.
He got hit on the back of his head as the price for that. He rubbed his aching head and looked at Bada before turning to look at the juniors. Their faces were colored with shock.
“So there is a person who can hit you on the back of the head,” Aram said.
Jiyoon quickly nodded. Bangjoo looked at Bada in displeasure but turned his head away when they met eyes.
“She is your sister alright. Her eyes are just….”
Maru smacked Bangjoo on the neck with a hand-knife gesture.
“It’s cold. Drink some of this.”
He gave her some barley tea. Bada accepted it without a fuss and drank it. During that opportunity, he looked inside the paper bag once more. Next to the rolled up scarf was a small insulated lunchbox.
“I was wondering what you were up to in the kitchen last night.”
“Mind your own business.”
“I’ve never got something like that even though we live under the same roof, yet Dowook gets one, huh.”
He expected Bada to grumble, but unexpectedly, she just hesitated and didn’t say anything. She seemed rather embarrassed. Maru had the urge to tease her more, but he decided not to since his sister might use the insulated lunchbox as a weapon if she lost her reason.
Bangjoo raised his finger. A blue 1t truck was approaching. It was the vehicle that helped them out during the national acting competition. The truck stopped in front of them. The first one to get off was Daemyung. Following him, Kang Soojin and Kang Dowook both got off the truck.
“You’re having a hard time thanks to these two,” Maru said.
Soojin shook her head with a smile.
“Oh! It’s that unni I saw at the hospital. Am I right? Do you remember me?”
“Ah, you were Maru’s sister, right?”
“It’s nice to see you here. Your name was Bada, was it? I’m not sure if I remember properly. It was two years ago.”
“You’re right, I am Bada.”
Bada smiled as she looked at Soojin. During the winter of his first year, when he got crushed under the burning set, Soojin came over to visit him in the hospital and Bada happened to be there. Bada had a really good memory if she could remember a brief meeting that happened 2 years ago.
After exchanging greetings with Soojin, Bada smiled at Dowook standing behind her. Maru felt chills run down his spine the moment he saw that. That was beyond hypocrisy. The epitome of acting lay here.
“But why are you here?”
“He’s my brother. But you two look like you know each other?”
Soojin pushed Dowook’s shoulders and brought him in front of her. Bada widened her eyes in a fluster.
“Ah, uhm the thing is….”
Just as Bada was about to start talking in an alien tongue, Dowook, who stood in front of her, grabbed her hand.
“She’s my girlfriend.”
Maru resented his hands for not taking out his phone quickly enough. The expressions the three people made were masterpieces that he had to send down to the later generations as an heirloom. Soojin became even more flustered than Bada.
Maru called out to Daemyung, who was dazing out next to them.
“And here’s the person who’s going to take care of you.”
Having discovered Jiyoon, Daemyung walked over stiffly. Even though they’d been dating for more than a year now, the two still became shy in front of other people. Maru looked at the two couples in front of him before turning his eyes to Aram and Bangjoo.
“Why don’t you two start dating as well?”
“With Bangjoo? I’d rather live with a bear.”
“Seonbae-nim, you crossed the line there.”
The two juniors seemed triggered. Maru poured some barley tea and handed it out to everyone.
“Alright, you can whisper your love when you feel down after taking the tests. I can’t bear to keep watching.”
Dowook smirked and downed the barley tea in one gulp.
“I’m going to guess all the answers and then sleep.”
“Since you’re taking it anyway, you should solve them seriously. This is why people from wealthy households are no good.”
Maru slapped Dowook’s back and wished him good luck. Dowook crossed the gates after taking the bag that Bada handed him. Daemyung also stood in front of the gates with the gifts that Jiyoon prepared for him.
“Now, you, though, need to do really well on the tests.”
“That puts a lot of pressure on me.”
“Don’t feel pressured by just that. CSATs are nothing compared to learning what production is like. Just take it slow and think of it as stepping through a door. You should do well so that you can take some money out of our president’s pockets.”
Daemyung smiled, saying ‘yes’. Maru massaged his shoulders.
The juniors, who were waiting at the back, waved the banners they wrote.
Dowook, who was waiting inside, took Daemyung and walked inside the building. Maru stood in front of the gates and looked at the two.
“This is how a parent must feel, huh.”
“It’s not like you had any kids,” Bada said.
Maru faintly smiled.
“Oh, I guess you didn’t know, but I had a cute daughter.”
“What are you on about now?”
Bada waved at Dowook, who walked inside the building. Even Dowook, who was awkward when it came to expressing his feelings, couldn’t ignore her, so he created a heart with his arms above his head.
This time, he wasn’t late. On his phone screen was Dowook in that terrible posture, but it was a smiling Dowook.
“Are you okay, oppa?” Bada asked suddenly.
“With not taking the tests.”
“I don’t need to.”
“You’re really okay, right?”
“I have my hands full as it is. I don’t have any time to take tests.”
“Well, if it’s like that, then I guess it’s good. I was slightly worried that you might be depressed, but I guess I did that for nothing.”
“You just worry about yourself. There are only two years left.”
“I know that too, you know?”
After grumbling, Bada spoke in a small voice,
“But still, you worked hard.”
Maru turned around to look at Bada. She shrugged before walking over to Soojin. There was a gentle smile on her face as though she was interacting with her mother-in-law.
“Seonbae, let’s go get breakfast!” Bangjoo said while rubbing under his nose.
Maru faintly smiled and said, ‘let’s go.’
 Traditional Korean candy. Wikipedia for more details.
 Every year, the day of the CSAT (College Scholastic Ability Test: basically college entrance exams) is considered a holiday, well, except for the examinees. People don’t work, or the work hours start late; students don’t go to school on this day; and heck, even planes don’t fly at certain hours. Also, this day becomes magically cold every single time. It’s like a whole 5 degrees centigrade colder than the day before. Examinees are assigned to go to a different high school, not their own schools to prevent cheating, to take their tests. This is why the next line mentions ‘designated high schools’.
Also, on this day, you’d see news like ‘a policeman took an examinee to their exam venue’ and stuff like that. EVERYONE looks out for examinees on this day.
 White bun with hot bean paste inside. Wikipedia for more details
 Not entirely sure what this is, but since Woosung High is an engineering-focused high school, it’s likely that there’s a school program where students can experience what the field is like. It should be something similar to an internship.
 6 years of elementary school + 3 years of middle school + 3 years of high school
 CSAT questions are multiple-choice questions because it makes it a lot easier, and fairer to check the answers for more than 500 thousand people that took the tests this (2005) year. That is why there’s mention of ‘guessing’.
There are also people who don’t take the exams seriously, even though it costs money to participate (like Dowook here) because: 1. They do so in order to set a lower average for others by getting a low score (the results are relatively graded). People that do this usually do so because they already have a secure future, or have guaranteed entrance into a college already; 2. There were various perks(?) that you could get if you visited some businesses with your exam card after the tests. For example, a gym or a swimming pool might have a discount for examinees; 3. They just live without thinking (I’ve personally seen people like this). Though, for number 2, it’s my personal experience (I took the test in 2014), so I can’t say whether or not the same things existed back in 2005.