“Hajin, don’t eat too much at dinner. We’ll go out tonight.”
Sara whispered to me on the bus back to our hotel. I was feeling a bit tired from all the sightseeing today, walking around temples and gardens. On one hand I just wanted to enjoy my dinner presented on that beautiful tray (we’d been having breakfast and dinner at the same place, always presented nicely on a black tray) and go to bed. Tomorrow morning, we were going back home. On the other hand, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to explore. I didn’t get to try Japanese ramen yet. Sara noticed that I was hesitating, and said, “Colin will probably come, too.” So, I said, “Okay.”
We met at the hotel lobby at 7:30 PM. There were five Korean students (Colin, me, Sara, and two other boys), two Japanese girls (one of them was my opponent from the first day, and her name was Miko), and the translator from the match, whose name was Haru. It turned out Miko and Sara became friends over the two days of friendship matches, and asked Haru if he would be interested in joining their night out.
The first place we went was a Seven Eleven. According to Miko, that’s where we can get almost anything. What surprised me the most was a children’s cookie called Chocobi. I’ve only seen this cookie in a Japanese TV animation that I watched several times, and it looked exactly like I saw on TV. I didn’t buy it though, because as a cookie it didn’t look tasty after all.
Then we all went to a ramen restaurant. Sara and I were super excited to finally taste Japanese ramen, but the other Korean boys were rather doubtful that it would be better than Korean instant ramen. Apparently they were big fans of Shin-ra-myon, a popular Korean instant noodle. Haru recommended that we all try the classic style with shoyu (soy sauce) broth and chashu (roast pork). When the food came out, it smelled incredibly good and I liked how the noodles seemed so different from Korean noodles. When I tasted it though, it was a bit strange and very salty. I wanted to be polite to Haru and Miko, so I said I liked it. Colin seemed to genuinely like it, though. He emptied the entire bowl. Sara said she liked it, but couldn’t finish because the food was a lot more than she usually ate. It was easy for me to agree.
It was Monday night and the streets of Tokyo were busy. There were so many people around, and bright neon lights everywhere. I must have looked awed, as Haru asked, “Is this very different from Korea?” I nodded and looked at Sara. She said it was similar to certain parts of Seoul. Then she explained that I wasn’t from Seoul so it’s probably different from where I was from.
“Hajin, is your town far from Seoul?” Haru asked.
“I think so, I am not sure how far, though,” I answered.
“It’s about 200 km away,” Colin said. I admired that he knew these things.
“Colin, do you want to become a professional baduk player, too?” Haru asked.
“I am not sure. How about you Hajin?” Colin asked me. It was first time anyone had asked me this question. I didn’t know much about being a professional player, except that they were extremely strong in baduk. So, I said confidently, “Yes, I want to be a professional player.” After all, it must be a good thing to be a strong player, right? But, somehow Miko was impressed that I wanted to be a pro player. She asked me how much I was studying baduk. When I told her five days a week, three and half hours each day, Miko was like, “Wow, that’s a lot!” Now, Sara was surprised that Miko was impressed.
“I spend almost all my time outside school at the baduk dojang,” Sara told Miko.
“REALLY???” I couldn’t tell whether Miko was genuinely shocked or she liked to overreact to many things.
“Yes, my goal is to be a professional player in three years.” Then, she added, “but I am not sure if I can make it. There are other students who live in the dorm and only study baduk all day, every day.” At this remark, not only Miko but her friend Yumi and Haru also seemed surprised. They said they had heard about such intense practice in Japan too, but hadn’t met anyone doing it for real.
“Are there baduk dojangs in your town?” asked Haru.
“No, our baduk school is the strongest one in town. There is no professional baduk dojang in Daejeon,” Colin explained. I didn’t know that either. I learned that any dojang needs to have two requirements: one or more in-house professional masters, and students who are studying baduk all day to become professional players. Later, Miko said she and Yumi were in the same baduk study group, and they met with the professional master only three times a week, for two hours at a time. Miko said she did study a bit more at home, but not much. At the end of this conversation, Miko said, “No wonder Korean kids are so strong!” and somehow that made me feel proud.
During the walk along the busy streets, I saw behind a glass display a white cat decorated with pink and golden paws, holding and swinging a magic wand. I stopped walking and stared at it. It was so cute. Sara asked me if I wanted to go inside the store to see it more closely. I said yes, and we all walked in. The store had many kinds of Japanese souvenirs and traditional cookies. I walked straight to the cat and picked it up. It was cold but not heavy. The inside felt empty. I was surprised to see that the cat had two identical sides, except that one side was smiling and the other was frowning. This quality instantly spoke to me in that I play baduk almost every day, and I am bound to be one or the other. Haru came to me and asked if I wanted to buy it. I had a big smile on my face, and said yes.