Being Funny in a Foreign Language

You’re Gonna Go Far

The weekends were always relatively quiet at the HYBE building.

Yunjin realised this after the first few after-hour visits to the headquarters during her time as a trainee. The office space on business days was overflowing with employees from various departments. Yunjin could always tell which people were working in which teams - the neatly dressed, white-collared ones were in the Business Management, Operations and Finance departments; the ones who wore trendy, casual smart clothing were usually from the Marketing, Arts and A&R departments; and those who wore jumpers, sweatpants and noise-cancelling headphones were working in the IT department. It was interesting to ponder about the number of human beings it takes to keep a multi-million-dollar corporation running since she heard from someone somewhere in passing that the company has more than 1,000 employees in total as of the 2021 financial year. The more Yunjin thought about it, the more grateful she felt knowing that she was under the safe hands of thousands of trustworthy and like-minded individuals who wanted nothing but the best for all artists in their respective labels.

Since Saturday was everyone’s day off, Yunjin didn’t have to worry about being overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of everyday corporate life.

In fact, as soon as Yunjin stepped out of her online taxi and walked her way towards the Yongsan Trade Center where the HYBE headquarters were located, she was greeted with nothing but the whistle of the cold wind and the occasional zooms of cars and buses passing by the main road. The end of November meant that everyone and their mother had the same idea to leave town for the holidays, giving the often-bustling business district an almost ghost town-like feeling. Regardless, Yunjin liked it. She loved talking to people on the regular, however, it was nice to be in solitude now and then.

Yunjin flashed a smile through the transparent glass doors at the security guard sitting at the front desk, waving her hand slightly at the familiar figure as she heard a long beep signalling that the doors had been unlocked. Artists didn’t own access cards to the building as it was an employee-only policy, so most of the time, the manager of each artist or group would often let them in. Or in this case, a security guard who knew these artists on a day-to-day basis.

“Yunjin! So nice of you to visit me on a weekend!” The security guard greeted Yunjin in a welcoming manner, laughing in good spirits. The man was in his 50s and was one of the permanent full-time staff who worked from Wednesdays to Sundays. He and Yunjin are on a first-name basis as they had known each other way before LE SSERAFIM debuted.

“Nice to see you too, Kwangseo,” Yunjin greeted back in the same manner as the older gentleman, walking towards the front desk. She placed a takeaway bag on top of the desk. “I don’t know if you had breakfast this morning, so I went and got you some coffee and an almond croissant to go with it.”

The gentleman gasped dramatically as he reached towards the takeaway bag and looked at the contents inside. Taking out his drink and pastry, he said, “You still remember my coffee order after all these years.”

“Large Flat White, extra shot during the winter, then a strong, Iced Latte during the summer,” Yunjin recited proudly.

“Hey, if you ever need a personal driver, let Manager Han know that I could fill in her shoes,” Kwangseo joked, taking a sip of his warm coffee. Knowing that it was Yunjin who bought it only made his chest feel warmer. He sees a bit of his only daughter in Yunjin; the former is busy pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Japan with a full scholarship and coming from a middle-income household, this meant the whole world for Kwangseo’s family. Although the distance gets hard to deal with sometimes, a brief conversation with Yunjin always brings his mood up. The latter shared so many similarities to her daughter, that he would often joke about how Yunjin could be her daughter’s long-lost biological sister.

“What I need from you is for you to stop working so hard and take a long, well-deserved break,” Yunjin scolded, looking at Kwangseo like a mother getting frustrated at her child. “Seriously, this is the third year in a row that you’ve worked throughout the Christmas and New Year period. Does your wife not want you to be home, like at all?”

“Every day, every hour, my dear,” Kwangseo chuckled at his little jab on his partner in life. In all seriousness, he was touched that Yunjin cared about his well-being. He felt like he couldn’t pay her kindness back with all the riches of the world. “Don’t worry; I talked to Dongpyo already, he said that it’s about damn time I’ll be away from this lobby and out of his sight for a couple of weeks. I start my leave on the 23rd of December.”

“Good. Because I would’ve reported you to Dongpyo-nim if you hadn’t,” Yunjin smirked mischievously, making a motion with her hand that says ‘I’ve got my eye on you’. As she started walking away from the front desk, Yunjin pointed her finger towards the sky and asked, “Is the upstairs cafeteria open today?”

“Yes, they are, as usual. We’ve got some staff working overtime today to go through the mid-financial year report and internal audits, so you should expect some people hanging around up there,” Kwangseo replied.

“Geez,” Yunjin cringed at the thought of staff working through their exhaustion and stress just to meet the demands of their higher-ups. Working a 9-5 job is already mentally straining, let alone having to sacrifice a bit of your free time on the weekends just to meet deadlines. “I hope they get paid for it.”

“Oh, trust me, dear. They do. The big bucks, even,” Kwangseo chuckled, waving his hand at the younger girl leaving his sight and towards one of the elevators. “Anyways, you take care! Hope to see you before I go!”

Smiling warmly at the older man, Yunjin waved back before walking into the elevator and pressing the button that would take her to the 18th floor. Gentle-sounding jazz music played through the speakers during the short ride upward and it wasn’t long before the elevator doors opened up. As she stepped out, Yunjin could already smell the delicious fragrance coming from the cafeteria. Walking inside the open space, she saw dozens of staff members sitting around the tables conversing with one another, talking about who knows what. The main ceiling lights were turned off as most of the natural light seeped through from the glass walls, which overlooked the Yongsan district, the Hangang Bridge and the Han River over in the distance. The floors and the pillars that stretched toward the ceiling were the colour of black, except for the chairs and tables which were made from oak wood. Artificial plants were placed methodically around the cafeteria, giving the space a modern industrial look that’s not too stiff to be in.

Yunjin made her way across the cafeteria, bowing and acknowledging some of the staff who greeted her a good morning and several how are yous and walked towards the small coffee shop located in the far corner. The smell of freshly ground coffee beans awoken all her senses. The sound of the steamer gushing hot air into the mail jug and the banging of the portafilter against the knocking tube to dispose of the used ground coffee were obvious signs that the baristas were doing exactly what they were getting paid to do.

Yunjin stood in line with three people in front queuing up before her. She took this chance to check her phone for any notifications or important messages from her members she might’ve missed.

Eunchaeng: Unnie, you DEFINITELY shouldn’t come to the popup alone! Everything’s so cuuuute

Eunchaeng: Remember what I said - time to start mingling with the boys~

If Yunjin wasn’t in public, she would have facepalmed so hard right now. The audacity Eunchae had to like this; it should be a human rights violation. She cleared the notification out of her screen and read through the messages from her other members in the main group chat. Yunjin chuckled to herself when she started reading them:

Kazu-chan: I’m in Chaewon-unnie’s bathroom and it smells nice here

Chae-chae: Kazuha, can you please not stink up the place and come out quickly? My mom wants to keep talking to you about her upcoming trip to Japan

Kazu-chan: Unnie, you’re the reason I’m in here, you put waaaay too much chilli powder in my kimchi fried rice

Chae-chae: You said that it wasn’t spicy enough??? Like, make it make sense, girl

Kkura: Yunjin, I’ll transfer you every cent in my bank account right now if you come and rescue me from these two

Chae-chae: Just keep my mom busy, I’m yanking that child out of my bathroom. BRB

The three girls decided to pay a visit to Chaewon’s residence today which is situated just outside of the city limits of Seoul. Taking advantage of the one-week break they were given, Chaewon messaged her mother the previous night about their last-minute plan to which she replied by saying how ecstatic she was to know her daughter and her two adopted, Japanese sisters decided to spend some long-awaited quality time with her and that she would get up at 5 am just to prepare homemade dishes for the young girls to feast on. Yunjin could only wish to see the look on their faces when they were typing these messages in the group; it would be equivalent to watching three stand-up comedians on stage doing their bit on stage and Yunjin would pay good money to watch all of it unfold.

Her train of thought was broken when she heard someone talking over the phone behind her. It was a male voice, speaking in a language that Yunjin couldn’t wrap her head around.

“Iya, Ma. Aku nanti bakal pulang tahun depan, kok, kan aku baru kerja disini”, spoke the male behind Yunjin in a reassuring tone. Even if Yunjin couldn’t understand what he was saying, she picked up the word ‘Ma’ which meant ‘mother’ universally. Just from the sentence alone, Yunjin concluded that the male was trying to console his mother regarding something.

Yunjin heard the male sigh loudly before he continued saying, “Aku ngerti Mama kangen sama aku, tapi masa aku minta cuti padahal baru 6 bulan aku mulai di tempat kerja aku sekarang? Kayak nggak sopan gitu, gak sih?” The male went silent for a while, muttering hums of approval now and then. Every time he wanted to say something back, he retracted his speech and remained voiceless as it seemed like his mother was going on a long tangent about something serious. Yunjin wasn’t the kind of person who would eavesdrop on other people’s conversations, but in this case, she wanted to get every single juicy detail, even if the conversation was in a foreign language.

Just as she was hoping that the conversation wouldn’t end, it did; the male finally found a gap between the conversation and spoke in English, “No worries, Mom. I’ll call you later when I’m free, okay? Okay. Love you, too. Bye.”

The corner of Yunjin’s mouth curved upwards slightly as a smile formed on her face. Hearing his conversation with his mother made her miss her own. She made a mental note on her mental calendar to call her mother and sister in the States. Without thinking much, she turned around to face the male stranger and sparked up a conversation. If Eunchae won’t stop verbally abusing Yunjin for not engaging in much social interaction with men, maybe this was a way to get Eunchae to shut .

“Hi…” spoke Yunjin in a polite tone. The male looked up from his phone to face Yunjin, and the latter almost let her shocked expression fall through when she noticed that the stranger did not look Korean at all.

“Oh, hi! Yes,” the male responded, flashing a smile at Yunjin as he shoved his phone into his jeans pocket. “Can I help you with something?”

Yunjin shook her head, pointing at his pocket where his phone was located and said, “Oh, yeah, sorry. I, uh, accidentally overheard your phone call earlier.”

The male’s eyes widened when the sudden realisation hit him. “Oh, shi- I mean, I’m so sorry you had to hear that! Was I being too loud?”

Yunjin giggled at the man’s reaction. She would be lying to herself if she didn’t think that the man in front of her wasn’t cute. “No, no, it wasn’t that. I mean, I couldn’t understand what you were saying either way, so there’s no reason for me to get annoyed by it. Were you talking to your mother earlier?”

There was only one person left ordering at the counter of the coffee shop as Yunjin and the man took two steps in the queue. The man nodded his head and smiled sheepishly as he replied, “Yeah, it was. She’s just being what good mothers do: threatening her child to come back home during the holidays.”

Yunjin nodded understandingly. “I see. She must’ve really missed you, then.”

“Oh, yeah. No doubt about that,” said the man, nodding his head in the process. Suddenly, something in his head clicked and he took a good look at the girl in front of him, eyeing her from head to toe. As the cogs in his mind kept churning, a wave of realisation hit him like a tsunami once he began to comprehend who he was speaking with. “Wait a second. Aren’t you Huh Yunjin?”

Yunjin found it funny that it took him that long to realise, laughing at the stunned man before her. She regained her composure and bowed politely as she introduced herself. “It’s very nice to meet you. Yes, I am she.”

The man gasped. Still in a stunned state, he reached out his hand towards Yunjin and said, “Oh, my God. I’m so sorry, I didn’t realise that it was you. Oh, my God, I’m sorry.”

Yunjin shook her head, accepting the man’s hand as both of them bowed slightly at one another simultaneously. “No, don’t be! Honestly, you’re all good. I like being invisible sometimes, so thanks for treating me like I was.”

The man laughed awkwardly, bowing her head again in an act of regaining his image in front of an experienced musical artist. “That’s good to know. So, what exactly are you- oh, sorry, I think the barista’s ready for you.”

Yunjin turned her head around to see a young, female barista waiting in front of the Point of Sale machine with a customer service smile spread across her face. When she turned around to meet the eyes of the funny man she was still talking with, Yunjin said, “Do you maybe want to order together?”

The man didn’t expect such a suggestion to come out the mouth of Huh Yunjin, but he wasn’t going to leave her hanging, so he responded, “Yeah, for sure! I’m cool with that!”

“Cool!” Yunjin smiled at the man before making her way to the counter to speak with the barista, the funny man tailing behind her. “Hi, Seona, good morning! Sorry for making you wait too long.”

“No, that’s fine!” Seona reassured Yunjin. The latter was a regular customer at the coffee shop every time Yunjin visited the headquarters for meetings with their management, dance rehearsals for comebacks and vocal recordings in the provided studio booths. Similar to Kwangseo, both girls are also on a first-name basis. “So, do you want your usual, bestie?”

Yunjin chuckled, reaching out for her wallet inside her purse. She also taught the female barista some current Internet slang just for the fun of it. “I like how you still call me that. Yes, please, an Iced Americano with two shots of vanilla would be divine. Thanks, Seona.”

“No worries!” replied Seona. She turned to look up at the man standing behind Yunjin and smiled brightly before saying, “And for you, Farrell?”

Yunjin thought the man’s name was unique. A name she rarely heard in her day-to-day. She quite liked it; it gave the man a more ‘foreigner in Korea’ kind of presence.

Farrell returned Seona’s smile and replied, “Just a small, strong cappuccino would be good Nana,” and spoke in English for the next part, “Thanks, love.”

“Mhmm,” Seona hummed in response. Putting in the order through the system, she then motioned her hand towards the payment terminal in front of Yunjin and said, “No worries, just tap your card when you’re ready!”

Yunjin had her card ready to pay when the man behind her reached his phone out and paid with his digital card using Apple Pay. She gasped and turned around, looking rather offended. “I was about to get that.”

“I insist. For making you listen to my mom yap my ear off,” Farrell reassured Yunjin, flashing a thumbs up with his free hand. He heard the payment terminal make a little chime indicating that the payment was successful and put his phone back into his pocket.

“Alright, I’ll call for your names once the drinks are ready!” said Seona in her customer service voice. “Thanks, guys! Next waiting, please!”

Yunjin and Farrell moved to the side where they stood close to the espresso machine where an equally young-looking male barista expertly poured shots over the takeaway cups for their drinks.

“So, yeah, what exactly are you doing here?” Farrell asked again, leaning against the black pillar serving as the foundation of the coffee shop and crossing his arms.

Yunjin shrugged. “Just thought I’d come here to write some music. I’ve been meaning to release an EP under my name, but… I’m having trouble coming up with anything at the moment. I don’t know, I guess I’m losing my touch.” It was a form of therapy for Yunjin, to write and produce her songs as it gave her more freedom to explore different sounds and convey different messages in 2-3 minutes. However, what therapy should have helped Yunjin ease her mind only caused her more stress and uncertainty when she was currently experiencing writer’s block.

Farrell nodded understandingly, and spoke, “Well, I don’t know if I mentioned this to you before, but I’m on a two-year contract with HYBE to work with their producers and songwriters in a songwriting and music production camp with all of the labels under the umbrella. If you want a couple of pointers, I wouldn’t mind giving some to you.”

Yunjin gasped, dramatically covering . “Wait, what? You’re a producer?”

Farrell chuckled sheepishly, nodding his head as he responded by saying, “I mean, I’m not the best of all time, but that’s why I’m here. To learn from the best and help artists like you in developing a voice for themselves.”

It was like Yunjin struck gold. Who knew she would be able to meet someone who could help her get out of the filthy rut she was desperately trying to get out of? Suddenly, she heard the male barista’s voice break her train of thought –

“Yunjin! Farrell! Your coffees are ready!”

Once Yunjin thanked the barista, retrieved both drinks and gave the hot one to Farrell, she said excitingly, “Oh, my God, I would love it if you could help out! I need someone to shine a light on me so bad and say what I’m doing wrong.”

Farrell chuckled, taking a sip of his cappuccino as they started walking away from the coffee shop.


Yunjin looked up at Farrell after sipping on her cold drink. “Hm?”

“I’ve heard your stuff before. They’re really good,” said Farrell in a calm voice, flashing a smile that showcased how genuine he was with what he said. “Don’t be so hard on yourself, okay? You’re great.”

For whatever reason, Yunjin felt her face getting hotter and hotter each second passed. One thing’s for sure, the guy next to her has a way of saying something nice and making it sound a thousand times gentler.

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