Entry #16 – May 23, 1997 / Friday

I didn’t have any ice cream or candy after school today, and the lunch at the grandparents’ place had nothing unusual. But, for some reason I was feeling a subtle stomach ache. I would have skipped baduk school for this, except that I had already almost arrived. Plus, I had an important game today.

Our baduk school has a league where everyone plays everyone else in the same division twice. In lower divisions the league results were used for ratings, but the top division, where I belonged, had no ratings. We just played even games. When people asked me how strong I was, I often said I needed four stones against my teacher, who is a strong amateur player. Today, I had the final game of the current league against my new rival, Brad. Because I had one win and one loss against Colin, and Colin and Brad were also one and one, I was about to win the league if I won the second game against Brad. There were more people in the league other than the three of us, but they rarely won against us. I won my baduk school’s league before, and the nicest thing about it was to have my name at the top of the league board – the order of the names on the league board reflected the results of the previous season. But this season was different. When it started a few weeks ago, our teacher showed us a beautiful wooden fan from the Nihon-kiin, the Japanese Go Association. He said he got it as a winner’s prize for the league. I had seen pictures of top professional players playing matches with these fans, and the idea of having one thrilled me. Now, I was just one game away from actually getting it!

 

“Hey, are you ready for the final game today?”

My teacher welcomed me as I entered the baduk school. He was organizing handout prints for today’s lesson.

“I am feeling a bit of a stomach ache, but I should be okay.”

“Are you nervous about the game?”

“Somewhat.”

“I’ve seen many students who get a stomach ache before important games. You will be okay.”

It comforted me to know that it was just my feeling making me sick and it was not unusual.

 

The teacher gave us a lesson about how to choose better joseki, and soon paired me with Brad for the final game of the league. I felt some tension when the teacher called our names, as everyone knew that I would either win the league or make a three-way tie depending on the result of this game. I thought about the last game Brad and I played. I was white, and I won a critical Ko fight because I had more Ko threats. I didn’t know how to replicate this, though. I thought I would just play as usual. I was black this time, and I always felt more confident with black. Komi was supposed to be a good equalizer, but I liked the feeling of having sente in the opening. I started the game with the low Chinese opening. There were no surprises in the opening, and I enclosed a large territory on the lower side while white had good potential on the upper side. As we entered mid-game, I debated between enlarging my own and reducing white’s potential. My strength was in complicated fights and I wasn’t particularly good at endgame. I decided to make a deep invasion into white’s upper side.

 

The game was going into the endgame. My invasion succeeded, and white was behind in territory. Outside the board, there was a big crowd surrounding our game. I saw Colin closely following this game as soon as he finished his own. After a long pause, white attached to one of my border stones. It looked like an overplay, but it wasn’t obvious how I should respond. I could take a step back, let him reduce my territory a bit, or find the strongest possible move to punish his overplay. ‘Probably hane at the top is the way to go’, I thought. I wanted to prove in front of everyone that I had good reading and I was strong. But on the other hand I really wanted the Japanese fan and didn’t want to risk a tie situation where I will have to face both Brad and Colin again. I took a deep breath and counted all the territories very carefully. In my calculation, I was still ahead even if I let him get away with his overplay. I descended, defending my territory, and when white ran away I claimed the largest endgame  spot on the board.

 

“Kids, take a seat. We will do a quick award ceremony before we finish today.”

It was almost 5:30 already. Most students were all packed and eager to leave the classroom. The teacher had a long and narrow envelope with a red ribbon in his hand.

“Hajin won the top division today, and here is the prize I promised. Hajin, come out!”

I approached the teacher and received the envelope. I couldn’t believe I made it. Other students applauded to congratulate me.

“Are you going to be using it?” Someone asked me.

“No, I am going to keep it new until I become a pro player.” I said, picturing myself in professional matches with the fan.

Entry #15 – May 15, 1997 / Thursday

“Hajin, come here! I saved space for you!” Mina called from the crowd of kids around the blackboard. On the blackboard, there were drawings of flowers and messages, written in multiple colors. “You are the best teacher ever! Love you.” One message stated. “Teacher, I feel so lucky to be in your class!” said another.

“Mina, I don’t know what to write. Did you write something already?” Every year, I felt awkward seeing all the other kids showering our teacher with these messages and gifts. It’s been only a little over two months since the new academic year started. I liked our teacher, but I didn’t want to say she was the best already. Why can’t Teacher’s Day be in February, right before we move up a grade? I will have had a year with my teacher then.

“Yeah, mine’s here!” Mina pointed to a message in the center – “I think you are a great teacher, especially for science.”

“Why science?” I asked.

“Well, it’s something I am not learning outside of school, and I like her science classes.”

“I see. What do you think I should write?”

“Do you have a favorite class?”

“I am not sure. I think all our classes are okay.”

“Oh, then how about, ‘you are my favorite teacher’?” I knew there was nothing wrong with writing something like that, but I didn’t want to write something that I didn’t really feel. After a few seconds of hesitation, I carefully wrote with a white chalk in the space Mina reserved for me, “Thank you for being our teacher! Happy Teacher’s Day!”

 

“I need to get something at the stationery store. You wanna come with me?” I asked Mina on our way out of school. In my small orange wallet I had 2,000 won, and I knew I had no immediate need of money for anything else.

“Sure, what are you getting?”

“I don’t know yet. I will have to see.”

The store was crowded with kids and a few mothers who were buying school supplies. Right next to the counter, there was a low table for a special display. The table was full of carnation bouquets and items with decorated with carnations. I picked up a plastic box that had a single artificial carnation in it. It was 1,000 won.

“Hajin, we already finished at school. Are you thinking about going back with a flower?” Mina asked.

“No, I want one for my favorite teacher.”

“Who is your favorite teacher?”

“My baduk teacher! He’s been my teacher for over two years now.”

“Cool! How about this one?” Mina handed me a small, shiny metal carnation pin. I could easily imagine my teacher wearing it on his dress shirt.

“I like it!” I kept it in my hand, and also picked out a small Teacher’s Day themed paper card. They were 1,500 won together.

 

As soon as I finished lunch with my grandparents and Jane, I went to the playroom with my backpack. I took out the card and a pencil, and wrote, “Hi Teacher! It’s Hajin. Thank you for your baduk classes. You are my favorite teacher!” This time, I was excited to write it because I meant it.

 

By the main door of the baduk school, there already were two orchid pots that I hadn’t seen before. They must have been delivered earlier today. I entered the baduk school, hoping the teacher would be alone. I thought I would be too shy to give my gifts to him if there were anyone else around. Luckily, there was no one inside, not even the teacher. He must have been taking a smoke break. I thought this was even better. I quickly took out the pin and the card, and left them on the teacher’s desk. Then I took my usual seat in the corner and opened my life-and-death problem book.

 

“Hey Hajin, do you want some juice?”

Soon the teacher was back, and he asked me this as he was entering. He must have received a box of bottled juice again. It was the most common gift parents brought when they visited the baduk school.

“No, thanks!”

I like ice cream, but I never really liked any drinks. I don’t like soft drinks like Coke, I don’t really like sweet fruit juice, and worst of all, I hate drinking plain milk. I also didn’t want to go into his office before he finds my gifts because I felt shy about it.

 

“Aww, what a surprise! Thanks, Hajin!”

The teacher came out of the office wearing the carnation pin, just as I pictured in my head. I was delighted that he liked my gift.

“How do I look? Handsome?”

I giggled, and nodded too. I thought he did look handsome, but I knew he was joking, and there was no way that I would say such a thing out loud.

Entry #14 – May 10, 1997 / Saturday

Hmm, this color doesn’t look quite right. I kept looking back and forth between the example picture and my orange crayon. In the picture, the girl’s hair color was somewhere between orange and yellow, somewhat closer to orange. I knew orange was the closest choice I had in my crayon box, but I was concerned it would look too different from the picture.

“I am done here! What should I do next?” Jane asked, looking proud of her work in progress.

“Well done! What do you think? Which one do you want to color next?”

“How about this flower here?”

“Sure, go ahead and color that one.”

“Which color?”

“What do you think?”

Jane and I looked closely to the colorful print, identical to her coloring page.

“Maybe this one?”

Jane picked up a purple crayon.

“But, this flower is blue!” I said, picking a blue crayon to hand it over to Jane.

“I want a purple flower!” Jane insisted. Then I realized that we didn’t have to follow the example exactly.

“You are right, you can do purple there.”

Seeing Jane making her flower purple, I decided to change my character’s hair color to black as well. Maybe that would look nicer.

“I am done! What’s next?” Jane asked.

“You know, you don’t need to ask me every time. You can do whatever you like.”

“Are you upset because I made it purple?

“No, not at all. I think now you are good enough to decide on your own.”

“Oh, okay.”

I was genuinely encouraging Jane to be more confident, but she seemed a bit sad that I asked her to be on her own.

 

“Lunch is ready!”

Jane and I left everything on the floor, and hurried to the kitchen. Mom liked to start serving as soon as the food was ready so that we can start eating while it’s still warm. Dad was helping Mom set the table, and Jane and I took our seats. Lunch was grilled fish, seaweed soup, a few other side dishes and a bowl of mixed rice.

“Jane, we have news,” said mom, looking at Jane, then at me. I could sense what this was about.

“What news?”

“Hajin will be away for three weeks in summer, learning Go at Master Grimm’s dojang.”

“Three weeks? How many days is that?”

“That’s 21 days.”

Jane seemed shocked.

“Hajin, is that because I made the flower purple?”

“No, it’s not… I want to become a professional player,” I said, feeling guilty for Jane’s confusion and sadness.

“What is that?”

“Professional players are the best baduk players in the country. Their job is to win in tournaments.”

“Will you be a professional player after 21 days?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“It will take at least a few years of hard training. Many people don’t make pro even after several years of intensive study. It’s a difficult path,” Dad responded to Jane’s question, noticing my hesitation. Then, he added, looking at me, “If you do become a professional player, though, you will have a good life. Professional players get paid well to play each official match, and they are highly respected regardless of their age.”

Mom nodded in agreement, and Jane seemed to be recovering from the initial surprise. For me, I’d been feeling more and more confident about my choice ever since I decided I would take up this challenge.

“Hajin, shall we have a game after lunch?” Dad asked, and I nodded.

 

“Let’s do two today.”

I took one stone back to my bowl from the board. We played with three handicap stones five times. I lost the first two games, but won the third and the last one. Dad and I both bowed to each other in silence, as usual.

The board looked empty with one fewer handicap stone. We only played ten moves or so, but it already looked quite even, which made me nervous. I felt pressure to play only the right moves to maintain my advantage from the handicap. By the end of the opening, white was creating a large moyo on the upper side. Now that all the corners and sides were taken, it was the time to do something about the upper side. I made a shoulder hit to white’s stone on the third line, remembering one lecture I watched at the baduk school on shoulder hit reductions. Once I made a good shape, white’s potential was limited. White launched a deep invasion into my territory on the right side, and I played carefully to avoid losing everything in an improper attack. The game was getting to the endgame, and I judged it was very close. I counted and counted, trying to figure out the best scenario for me.

“Hajin, you will need to play a bit faster.”

I must have spent too much time. It was unusual for my dad to say anything during a game.

“Okay.”

I began playing a bit faster, feeling uncertain about my choices. The game moved on to big endgame to small endgame, and soon we filled in all the dame as well.

“Who do you think won?” Dad asked. He often asked this question before scoring the board.

“I think I lost.”

“You did very well, though.”

We scored the game, and we found out that white won by five points. I was disappointed that I lost, and briefly thought I may have won if I had spent more time in endgame.

“It seems like you are now a good match with only two stones.”

Dad sounded happy, and that made me feel better about the game as well.