I hesitated, thinking how to explain myself. I was carrying my backpack in one hand, fully packed. Some of my classmates were looking at me curiously. We still had one more class before the end of the school day.
“Oh, Hajin. Sorry, I forgot. Your mother called yesterday. Good luck with your competition.”
“See you tomorrow.”
I called out as I entered home. Today, I came home instead of going to my grandparents’ place. Mom was taking a few hours off from work to prepare me for today’s trip.
Mom responded from the kitchen. I went straight there, and found mom with a bowl of kimchi fried rice and a spoon set up for me on the table. Kimchi fried rice is one of my favorite foods.
“It’s a bit earlier than usual, but you should have lunch now.”
“No problem. I am already hungry.”
“Good. When you are done, I have a surprise for you.”
“You will see. But, have your lunch first.”
Curious and excited, I finished the bowl in no time. I went to my parents’ bedroom to find mom and saw a new dress laid out on the bed.
“Wow! Is that mine?”
Obviously it was my size, but I still couldn’t believe it.
“Do you like it? Try it on.”
It fit me perfectly. The top was very soft and fitted in light pink, and the skirt was bell-shaped and sparkly, in dark pink. Looking at myself in the mirror, I felt like a princess.
“I love it.”
“Great. Now you should sit here.”
Mom gave me her makeup table stool. When I sat, she started re-doing my hair.
“Are you nervous?”
“No, just excited.”
“You might feel more nervous once you are there. If you do, take a deep breath and play your game as usual. Also, don’t worry about the cameras.”
“Bzzzt bzzzt.” Mom’s phone startled both of us.
“Your teacher must be here. Are you ready?”
We walked out to the apartment entrance and found my baduk teacher standing outside his car.
“Hajin, you look amazing! The Baduk TV crew might want to scout you as a commentator already. Would you be interested?”
“Um…. I am not sure.”
“Haha, okay. If they try, I will tell them you are still too young.”
“Teacher, thank you for taking Hajin today. Hope the driving is not too tiring,” said mom, not responding to the teacher’s joke.
“No worries, it will be fine.”
I sat in the back seat as usual, and we headed to Seoul.
I had a match at a Baduk TV studio inside the Korean Baduk Association. It was an invitational tournament for students under 12 years old. My baduk teacher brought the news that I was invited to play a while ago, when mom picked me up after an evening session. My mom was surprised that I was invited. Teacher said I was actually known among the baduk dojang community as one of more talented kids in our area. My mom calmly nodded to this explanation, but I could sense that she was proud.
“Teacher, do you know my opponent?” I asked.
“His name is Jeremy. Three years older than you. He is actually studying at Master Grimm’s dojang.”
“Hajin, he is actually much stronger than you are. Do your best, but don’t be disappointed even if you don’t have a good game.”
The teacher’s voice suggested his concern.
“Is he stronger than Aiden?”
Aiden was the strongest in our evening session, and three years older than me. I never managed to beat him, even with two handicap stones.
“I think they are well matched. Speaking of Aiden, by the way, he is moving to Master Grimm’s dojang soon. He will be staying in their students’ dorm.”
“For the summer, like me?”
“No, he will be staying there indefinitely. Usually, you don’t leave a dojang until either you become a pro or give up a professional career in baduk all together.”
I suddenly felt a bit depressed as my mind pondered a few worries. I was playing against an opponent as strong as Aiden, in an even game, in front of TV cameras. And, one day I will have to decide whether to stay at a dojang indefinitely myself, away from my family, to become a professional player. Finally, although Aiden was never really nice to me, hearing that he will be leaving our evening session also made me a bit sad.
“Don’t worry. Who knows, Jeremy might fall in love with you at first sight and make some mistakes.”
I couldn’t help laughing at this silly joke, and my teacher laughed too.