“Yuk Hee?” I exclaimed.
“Oraemanida,” she smiled.
“What are you doing here?”
“My family moved to Taiwan. I’ve been here for a year already.”
“Cool,” I smiled.
“I hear you’re a star now,” she said.
“A star? Nah… just a kasu…”
“Still, congratulations on your success.”
“Komawo,” I replied.
“Skye!” one of the assistants called out to me from the entrance to the gym.
“I’ve got to go,” I said. “Gimme your number. I’ll call you,” I said.
She rummaged through her bag and produced a card, then she scribbled her number on the back of it.
“Make sure you call me,” she said as she handed the card to me.
“Araso,” I laughed and I sprinted off as I waved at her. “See ya.”
“See ya,” she waved back.
Yuk Hee lived next door to me back in Kwangju. She’d moved away just before I left to join SM in Seoul. We used to go to the same elementary school, and on weekends, we shared the same tutor since my mother and hers were pretty good friends. They’d always be somewhere nearby chatting and gossiping while Yuk Hee and I studied under the guidance of our tutor.
Yuk Hee and I actually spent most of our childhood together, until I was sent to America to study. Back then she wore glasses and had braces, and when I came back from America, the last time I saw her before she moved away, she’d morphed into a swan. My mother told me that there were neighborhood gossips of Yuk Hee having gotten plastic surgery. It was a pretty cruel gossip since I knew she didn’t get surgery any done. Then again, these days, people are even asking my mother where did I get my eyelids done and stuff like that. Such is the mentality in South Korea these days; no one can believe that beauty is natural anymore.
In the next hour or so, I’d used practically every single piece of equipment in the gym. By the time the shoot ended, I was dying for that miracle energy drink I’m endorsing. If it can magically give me strength to last till tonight, then I’m gonna bring a truckload back to Seoul when I leave Taiwan.
Vanness appeared at about 3pm to join me for the final shoot on the tennis court. I was dressed in a white outfit and Vanness in black.
“You play tennis?” he asked me.
“A little,” I said.
“I don’t,” he laughed.
“Aww… don’t worry. I’ll go easy on ya,” I said.
“There are gonna be many takes just to make sure I hit the ball,” he said, self-depreciatingly.
“I don’t think your coordination will be that bad,” I said. “Want me to show you how to hold the racquet?”
“Sure,” he said.
While I was showing Vanness how to hold the racquet correctly and how to swing it for the camera, I noticed Yuk Hee walking past. She waved at me, and I waved back.
“Whoa… babe…” Vanness exclaimed. “You know her?”
“Kinda… an old neighbor.”
“What are the odds of meeting an old neighbor here,” he said. “So are you gonna hook up with her later.”
“I might meet her for a drink when I have time,” I corrected him. “There will be no hook up.”
“Cos my girlfriend will kill me,” I laughed.
“Ah… I was wondering why you smiled like a dork whenever you got a text message. I was guessing that you had a girlfriend back in Seoul. Who is she? Is she singer too?”
“Alright… now let’s guess who she is…”
“You’ll never guess,” I smiled.
“Aww… come on bro… tell me who she is,” he said as he put an arm around my shoulder. “We’re brothers, right? You gotta tell me,” he said.
“I’ll let you meet her when you come to Seoul, but for now, I can’t tell you,” I said.
“Okay… you’d better not go back on your word.”
“Scout’s honor,” I said as I held my hand up.
“Were you even a scout?” he said as he eyed me warily.
“Nope… you got me,” I laughed, and he slapped me on my back.
Filming begun and we tried to play a good match. Vanness wasn’t too bad, actually. With a little training, he’d be playing a little better. I tried sending the balls towards Vanness more often so that they could get shots of him hitting the ball.
“Cut!” the director yelled. “We’ll need to get shots of just Vanness hitting the ball. We’ve got enough of the both of you interacting and front shots of Skye.”
We took a quick break to wipe our sweat off, fix our makeup and have a drink of water.
“Skye… serve the balls towards Vanness. Vanness, try to look forceful and assertive when you’re hitting the balls,” the director instructor.
“Okay,” Vanness said as he pushed his hair back and got into position.
I started hitting some easy serves towards Vanness and he returned them easily.
“Skye, hit harder,” the director yelled. “We need to see some speed with the ball and more strength from Vanness when he hits the ball.”
I started returning the ball with harder and faster stroked towards Vanness and I could see he was actually improving since he had no problem hitting them back at me. After a few more sets, the director was satisfied and wrapped up the shoot for the day.
“You’re becoming a pro,” I said as we walked off the court with towels slung around our necks.
“I guess I’m a natural. Keep this up and I’m gonna beat your ass,” he laughed.
“Then we should play again another day; to see if you can actually beat my ass,” I smirked at him.
“You’re on,” he replied as he gave me a competitive glare before the both of us cracked up.
We showered and got dressed and left the club for dinner. On our way out, we bumped into Yuk Hee again.
“Hey Skye,” she smiled as she stopped to greet me.
“Yuk Hee,” I greeted her back. “Erm… this is Vanness Wu,” I introduced.
“I know. I recognize him,” she said. “I’m Yuk Hee,” she said as she shook Vanness’ hand.
“So you’re his old neighbour?” Vanness asked her.
“Do I look old?” she joked.
“No…” Vanness laughed. “Of course not,” he added. “I like her, Skye… Would you like to join us for dinner, Yuk Hee?”
“You sure move fast,” she giggled.
“Yea… join us for dinner,” I said.
“Sure,” she smiled. “We need to catch up.”
“Did you drive here?” Vanness asked her.
“Nope. A friend dropped me off.”
“Then you can come with us,” he said.
“Great. Let me just get my bag. I’ll meet you guys outside?”
“Okay,” Vanness said. “I’ll go drive me car up to the main door.”
We waited about 10 minutes or so in Vanness’ car before Yuk Hee emerged from the club house.
“So where are we off to?” she asked us as we drove off.
“I was thinking of taking Skye for teppanyaki,” Vanness said. “I bet he’s never tried the Taiwanese gourmet kind.”
“Maybe not, have you?” she asked me.
“I’ve only had in Japan. I guess that’s different from the Taiwanese one?”
“It’s a little different. We’ll explain when we get there,” Yuk Hee said.
We arrived at the DaFang Regimen Cate Teppanyaki located at Xin Yi Road. On the way there, Vanness was telling me how famous this place is among Taiwanese celebrities and even Rain went there for a meal during one of his visits to Taiwan. We were shown to a private room where a long table is elegantly set, in front of a long metal surface, which was the hot plate.
“The hot plate in Taiwan is continuous, from one end of the table to the other,” Vanness explained. “In Japan, the surface is smaller and is usually framed off with a wooden frame or something, with the seasonings placed on the side.”
We each order a set meal. Mine consisted of the beef roll, a bite of fragrance, seared scallops; as recommended by Vanness and Yuk Hee. We chatted as we ate and watched the chef prepare our meals. Like the chefs in Japan, the chefs at Da Fang practice a kind of showmanship as do most high-end teppanyaki restaurants in Taiwan. There might not be so much fanfare during the cooking process if you went to the chain outlets or the fast food style teppanyaki place. You can’t help but marvel at the expertise of the chefs; the way the maneuvered and cooked the food and also the end presentation of the dish.
The entrée was steamed egg. Empty eggshells were placed in egg holders resembling springs, and the beaten egg is poured into it. The chef then pours water on the hot plate, around the egg holders and cover it to contain the water, to steam the egg and before serving the steamed egg, he sprinkles some huge caviar onto it.
“Mmm…” Yuk Hee exclaimed as the servers in the room set the egg in front of her. “This is one of my favourites.”
Each room is attended by at least 2 servers who are on standby to collect your dirty plates after every course and replace them with clean ones, and to serve you the next dish. Next were scallops for me and Yuk Hee and some huge prawns for Vanness.
“Here… you can try one,” he said as he put a piece of his prawn on my plate. “I saw you drooling when the prawns were set in front of me,” he grinned.
“I was not,” I protested, but ate the prawn anyway. “Wow… good stuff,” I said.
“They have really fresh food here. Definitely worth the price we’re paying.”
I ate my scallops next, and they were very sweet and juicy. They used simple seasoning like salt, butter and pepper here so that the natural flavors of the food are retained.
“This is so good,” I said between my mouthfuls of scallop. “Nuna would definitely be in heaven if she came.”
“Really?” Vanness said.
“Yea… She loves prawns, scallops, and most seafood, except the raw ones. She’s also a ‘natural taste’ advocator.”
“What’s that?” Vanness asked.
“She yells at us when we use too much seasoning… gravy, soy sauce, chili powder… she’s always telling us to eat the food without seasoning and taste their original or natural flavors.”
“It’s actually healthier to do that,” Yuk Hee said. “Sauces and seasonings eventually dull your senses since you’re so used to food that tastes strongly of them. When they’re not available, you’d feel that everything is tasteless and you won’t be able to appreciate the original taste of the food, like you are able to now.”
“Yea…” I smiled. “Because of nuna, Shoei and I are forced to eat more healthily. So I have her to thank for being able to enjoy today’s meal.”
“Your nuna is your band mate, the girl, right?” Yuk Hee asked me.
“One and only,” I said.
“Sounds like you guys are really close,” she said.
“After 3 years of living together, it’s hard not to be.”
“I envy the relationship you guys have,” Vanness smiled. “I don’t think I’ve had a band mate that I lived with like that, or had such a strong friendship with.”
“It’s not too late,” I smiled slyly. “Shall I move in with you?”
“In your dreams,” he laughed. “You’re gonna cramp my style, man.”
“Suit yourself… you just wanna build on your image and you’re willing to forsake a bond like the friendship I’m offering,” I said, righteously.
“I can do without that bond,” he laughed.
“You’re cold, Vanness. Being a veteran in the industry has made you bitter,” I laughed.
“Who are you calling a veteran?” he exclaimed.
“Well you have been around for a long time,” Yuk Hee smiled.
“It’s only been like… 7 or 8 years,” he protested.
“Yea… and that is like only yesterday?”
“Yes it is,” he said. “What do you know about it? You’re a kid,” he said, and he glared at me.
“Yes, yes… I’m a kid… and you’re a grandpa now. You should consider retiring,” I laughed, and Vanness just ignored me and continued eating.