Entry #13 – May 7, 1997 / Wednesday

“Who wants to team up with Hajin?” Mr. Kim asked, looking at Jackson, Taylor and Aiden in turn. For today’s evening class, the teacher suggested that we play as pairs.

“You will play together as a team, alternately, but you can’t discuss the game with each other. I will offer free doughnuts to the winning pair.”

There were six students present – Jackson, Taylor, and Aiden, a few years older and stronger, and Colin, Tom, and myself. Everyone knew I was the weakest in the class, and there was a long silence in the room.

“I don’t mind playing with her,” Colin volunteered, even though the teacher’s intention seemed clear that he wanted to have balanced pairs. Somehow his remark made me blush.

“Thanks, Colin, but maybe not today. How about you, Taylor?”

Taylor was probably the strongest of us all. Although he had about 50/50 results with Jackson, I often felt Taylor had more brilliant ideas in our post-game reviews. His weakness was that he didn’t play as hard as Jackson, and he gave up more easily. I wasn’t very happy with the teacher’s pick for my partner, though, because I knew Taylor liked to complain about things.

“Me? Why me?”

Taylor didn’t seem happy either.

“Why? She may be a bit weaker than the other boys, but you can still win if you play well enough. Are you afraid of the challenge?”

The teacher’s voice went up a little bit, sensing Taylor’s negative attitude.

“I am not afraid of anything. I just don’t want to team up with a girl,” said Taylor, with a certain sense of defiance.

Maybe Taylor was just making up an excuse because he wanted to have a better partner and win. But his response really shocked me. What’s wrong with being a girl? There were a few other girls in our baduk school, but none in our evening class or the advanced class in the afternoon. For some reason, most other girls would stop studying baduk before they pass the intermediate class. I was always aware of this, but never in a way that made me feel left out, like now. I felt different and wondered if I didn’t belong here.

“Don’t be shy. You should feel lucky to play with such a pretty girl.”

The teacher said to Taylor, obviously joking to turn the atmosphere around. There was a growing tension in the air.

“Pretty? I don’t see any pretty girl here.”

Taylor was pushing too far. I could tell that teacher was really getting upset. Of course his words made me upset, too, but I just wished this awkward situation would be over soon.

“Okay, that’s enough. Either you apologize to Hajin now and play with her, or go home.”

Taylor seemed frozen.

“Wanna go home?”

Our teacher raised his voice again.

“Sorry, Hajin,” Taylor said, barely loud enough to be heard.

Soon, Taylor and I started a game against Aiden and Tom. The atmosphere was still heavy from the earlier incident. I felt shaken by being rejected and causing this whole situation, but fortunately the game kept my mind occupied. I had to think not only about the game, but also what Taylor was planning to do. I wanted to prove to him that I could be a good partner. Our opponents played the Kobayashi opening, and I initiated a common corner joseki from this opening. We had talked about this opening recently in this evening class. It was a relief to know, at least for the first 30 moves, that I wouldn’t be making a mistake. At the end of the joseki, however, when black played one-space jump to strengthen the lower side, Taylor made a deep invasion into black’s lower side. This choice really surprised me because white often went to the wide empty upper side before doing more on the lower side. Black immediately launched an attack. I briefly thought about ignoring this invasion and taking an open side, but I decided it wasn’t good teamwork. So I continued the invasion, hoping we would survive black’s attack. Eventually our group managed to run to the center, but without any base. Black got sente and took the upper side. I felt bad about the situation.

“Resign?”

As the end game approached, Taylor turned to me and asked. I quietly nodded. It seemed like we were easily 15 points behind. Taylor sent a subtle signal to our opponents that we resigned and took some stones off the board.

“Why did you play this? You should have connected this one.” Taylor was pointing to a move I made in the mid-game.

“I thought we were behind. I knew it was risky but I thought we had to try.”

“Well, the result was worse.”

Taylor complained. I wondered if that was why we lost.

“She is right. You were already behind. Why did you invade over here so early? This weak group over here was your burden the whole time.” The teacher pointed to Taylor’s aggressive opening invasion. I was glad I wasn’t wrong thinking that move was bad.

“Well, I thought I should try something since she is weak.”

This time it really hurt. I couldn’t say anything but I could feel a blow to my heart and heat on my face. It wasn’t news that I was weaker than the other students here. But, for the first time, I realized that I hated being called out as weak. I won’t be weak forever. I thought to myself.

“Taylor, you were the weak part in this game. Now, Tom and Aiden will play Jackson and Colin, and you and Hajin should go study on your own books.”

The teacher gave Taylor a harsh look, and cut the review much shorter than usual. I will beat you someday I thought to myself, looking at Taylor shrugging his shoulders.

Entry #12 – May 4, 1997 / Sunday

When there are no baduk tournaments for me, my family goes to a neighborhood church on Sundays. I often feel sleepy during the pastor’s sermon, but I like listening to the choir music afterward. I also enjoy the feeling of doing a good deed when I put a 500-won coin into the purple velvet pouch when a young volunteer approaches with it. Of course, the coin is from my mom or dad on the way to the church. When the service is over, we take a slow walk from the church to our car, multiple times disrupted by lengthy conversations between my parents and their friends. Sometimes I wish I could skip church to stay at home and read my books, but this morning I was excited to leave home. Yesterday, dad suggested we go to my favorite restaurant for lunch after church, and stop by at a bookstore too!

My favorite restaurant, called Yuki, is a relatively small place in a corner of the commercial area in our neighborhood. The walls, tables, and chairs are all wooden, and the atmosphere is calm. When my family entered for lunch today, there was only one couple waiting for their food at a corner table. Here, we barely need to look at the menu. Jane and I always get the lunch set, my dad a grilled eel rice bowl, and mom a shrimp and fish eggs rice bowl. I like to get a small piece of eel or shrimp from my parents, but Jane and I love the set, because it’s served on a fancy dark tray and has a pork cutlet, fruit salad, and a hot noodle soup. Everything on this set was super tasty.

“Welcome!”

The old man behind the cashier’s desk greeted us as we entered the bookstore. He is the owner of the place and recognizes us whenever we come back.

“Hello! How are you doing?”

Mom greeted him back. She often chats with him while everyone else goes around to look at the books.

“Jane, come here.”

I led her to my favorite section where there are novels for children. I recently finished The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe and am excited to get the next book in the series. I told Jane about the story already, and she loves the adventure of the four siblings as well.

“Did you find the book?”

Dad asked. He also heard all about the story from me during the lunch earlier.

“Yes! This is the one.”

I proudly handed Prince Caspian to him.

“Great! We will get this one. I also have another book for you.”

Dad gave me a shiny book. It was a magazine – a monthly baduk magazine. I recognized it from a pile of similar looking books at the baduk school. Our teacher didn’t like it, though, if any of the students was reading those. There are useful lessons, but too many distracting articles, he would say. So, instead, he would make copies of certain pages of the magazine and give them to us as homework.

“I’ve seen this magazine at the baduk school!” I told dad and opened the magazine. It felt exciting to open this usually-forbidden book.

“Have you heard of Choi Yuna?”

“No. Who is it?”

Dad gently took the magazine from me and showed me a picture of a smiling girl. She looked young.

“She just passed a pro qualification last month, and she is only 12 years old.”

“Wow… she is not much older than me.”

“Right. She also studied at Master Grimm’s dojang.”

“Oh!”

Suddenly I realized that dad was encouraging me to take the opportunity of the summer training. My parents had asked me about it a few times, and I had been saying I wasn’t sure about it. I looked at the girl’s picture again. She looked happy.

“Am I getting this too?” I asked dad, indicating the magazine.

“Sure, that’s for you.”

“Can I pick a book for Jane too?”

“Of course. Let us know when you are done. I will be looking around with mom.”

I took Jane to another section where there are more colorful books. Jane often liked stories with cute animal characters. While browsing the section, I couldn’t stop thinking about the girl I saw in the baduk magazine. Next month, I become 9 years old. So, that gives me three years before I get to her age. I knew some of the older students at our baduk school who were also 12 years old. They were nowhere close to the professional level. I should do this training this summer, I thought. And, with that, I turned my focus to Jane, who seemed quite happy with an elephant book she found.

Entry #11 – April 24, 1997 / Thursday

Today’s lunch at our grandparents’ place wasn’t very good. The fish was cooked in a soy sauce-based seasoning. I like fish and soy sauce flavors, together or separately, but today’s fish was too salty. I didn’t like it at all, but I emptied my rice bowl and the large piece of fish assigned to me anyway. I knew my grandma would insist on making something else for me if I complained, and I didn’t want to cause trouble.

After lunch, I took the usual shuttle bus to my baduk school. No one at the school asked me why I didn’t come last Friday, and from Monday and on, everything was just as usual. As I was entering the baduk school, I was surprised to see Colin, not the teacher.

“Hi! You came early today.” I greeted Colin while setting up my life and death problem book on a board next to his. I love working on my life and death book, and this is my default choice when my teacher is not around to give me different tasks.

“Hey. Yeah, the teacher had some errand in our neighborhood, so he picked me up in his car. He went out for another errand though.”

“I see.”

“Do you come at this time everyday?”

“Kind of.”

“Do you like coming here everyday?”

It was odd that he asked me this question. I’ve been thinking about this since last Friday. Certainly there were days that I enjoyed going to the baduk school. But sometimes I didn’t want to go at all. Does this mean I don’t like going to the baduk school every day? Or is it normal that you do things even when you don’t necessarily want to do them? This reminded me of the salty fish earlier.

“I think it’s okay. I like solving these problems.”

I lifted my life and death book to show Colin.

“You said you wanted to be a professional player, right?”

“I think so… Although, I don’t really know what it’s like.”

“Well, at least you know that you will need to be stronger than most people that went to Japan with us.”

“I know they were strong, but they were also older than us.”

“But, you also saw how much they study. They spend more time studying baduk than us.”

“That’s true. So, does this mean you don’t want to be a professional player?”

“Actually, I do want to become a professional player.”

“Really? Why?”

“I think it’s cool that in baduk, it’s perfectly up to my skills. There is no luck, no politics, nor connections. I go up if I win, or I don’t if I lose.”

I realized this was true. The stronger I get in baduk, the further I can go with it. No one can stop me as long as I win.

Soon the teacher came back, and other students also arrived one by one. Today’s lecture was about creating more efficient shapes when invading the opponent’s territory. It was amazing to learn how to use the opponent’s stones by attaching to them or placing shoulder hits. After the lecture, the teacher paired me with Colin for a game. We always played even, but I won about two or three times out of ten. I got white in nigiri, and pursued a territorial style from the early beginning. I wanted to allow him to make a big moyo and invade to use the cool tactics we just learned. Colin seemed hesitant to make a moyo, probably because he also watched that lecture, but he didn’t have a better alternative. Eventually he started developing a large moyo on the upper side. I waited for a few moves, and when there were no more wide place to take, I made a knight’s-move reduction invasion on the fifth line. It was not the kind of move I played before, but it looked really effective in the lecture. The move worked out magically. Colin didn’t manage to gain much from attacking my invasion move, and with that I was safely ahead in territory. The game lasted longer than usual, more than an hour, and in the end I won by 3.5 points. I was delighted that I won against Colin, and also thrilled that my first adventure with the new move worked out so well.

At 5:30 pm, after all the other students had left, the teacher invited me and Colin to his office. He took out some doughnuts and bottled orange juice for us, and asked us to sit.

“I have good news for you, both.”

When we were settled with doughnuts in our hands, the teacher started up with a rather serious voice. We both looked at him, waiting for him to continue.

“Because you two behaved well and showed promise, you are both invited to study at Master Grimm’s dojang in coming Summer. How long you want to stay there is up to you. You can discuss this with your parents.”

“Are you sure? Will we be staying at the dorm?” Colin seemed genuinely excited.

“Only you can stay at the dorm, because they don’t have female students staying there. But, apparently Sara’s family is willing to host Hajin in their house for the duration. Hajin, are you interested?”

I didn’t know what to say. Summer vacations were about 6 weeks. I couldn’t imagine living 6 weeks without my family. But teacher said the duration was up to us. Maybe if it’s just a couple weeks, it would be okay. It was a scary idea, but I was excited too.

“I think so.”

“Colin?”

“Definitely yes!”

“Sounds good. Then, I will talk to your parents about it. You will probably need to have some conversations about it too. Now, enjoy your snack, and get ready for the evening class.”

“Okay!” Our answer came at almost the same time, and we felt excitement from each other.