“Hajin, we are here!”
Oh, I fell asleep again. Somehow I always fall asleep whenever I sit in a car for a while. I opened my eyes, and saw we were in a small parking lot in a strange-looking neighborhood.
“Wanna get some ice cream to wake up before the game?”
Getting out of the car, I noticed a big black sign hung on the gray building right in front of us: “Korean Baduk Association.” It looked rather drab, but I was still excited to be at the most important place in the country for baduk players. My teacher walked across the street into a tiny corner store. I followed him and picked out a watermelon popsicle from the ice container. My teacher grabbed several more ice creams from the container, explaining that we should share with other people at the TV studio.
Inside the building it was cooler and darker. The walls were painted a worn-out pink. It was not far from the entrance to the Baduk TV studio room. I was curious to see the rest of the building, but the game was to start at any time now.
The first person we encountered at the studio was Jeremy. He was drinking water in the short hallway.
“Hey Jeremy, long time no see. Wanna have ice cream?”
My teacher showed him the plastic bag of different ice cream treats, and he picked one out with a quiet thank you.
“This is Hajin, your opponent today.”
Jeremy nodded while unpacking the ice cream and I studied him. He was wearing a striped t-shirt and jeans. I felt a bit self-conscious about my dress, wondering if I was overdressed. Teacher went to visit the broadcast crew in their office to offer ice cream, and we stood right there eating our ice cream quietly. I didn’t know what to say, and he wasn’t saying anything either.
Soon, a tall adult man came out of nowhere with a rolled paper in one hand, and started telling us about the rules. We can leave the playing room quietly if we want to use the restroom. We shouldn’t touch the board or move the chair. Act normal, and don’t mind the people and the cameras while we play. We did nigiri on a table by the side of the room, and I got black.
I knew it was extremely unlikely for me to win. He was much stronger than me. Still, I wanted to put up a good challenge. My parents will be recording it on our VCR later when it airs. Plus, a professional player was commentating this game, though I didn’t get to meet him yet, because he was already filming the intro when I arrived. I took a deep breath, and played my first move on the upper right corner star point.
My plan was to make the opening as simple as I can, and to avoid unnecessary fights. If I could somehow stay even with my opponent until mid-game, then maybe I would find a chance to win. Thus I took another star point, and white grabbed two 4-3 points. At this point, I couldn’t help approaching one of the corners. I made a high approach to the corner that was facing my side. In almost no time, Jeremy made two space high pincer as if he was waiting for me to play there. I know this joseki, it’s the “Magic Sword,” I thought to myself, as I placed the large knight’s move. I was happy because I knew this area would be pretty much settled after the joseki. The joseki sequence continued – white attaches, I hane, and white extends. I was playing rather quickly at this point as well. And when I played on the star point, I was expecting white to jump. But, Jeremy extended. I vaguely remembered this was also possible, and haned in the corner, hoping white would make a bamboo joint. Instead, white haned back. I froze at that moment. I sat there not knowing what to do. My time was ticking. I felt an enormous pressure from all the lights and cameras. I imagined the commentator saying he doesn’t understand why I am spending so much time in the middle of a joseki. Or maybe he already figured that I had no clue about this variation.
Only when I was almost at the countdown, I mustered enough courage to push and cut. I thought there must be a reason why white usually makes the bamboo joint instead of hane. White ataried my cut from the second line, and when I connected pushed in the center. Now I was completely lost, and the countdown already began. I wanted to cry. I continued to play but the situation got worse and worse, and I lost a big group in that corner. Even before I had a chance to go to any other corners. Now I really wanted to cry. I wanted to resign but didn’t even know how. Eventually I just didn’t play in countdown, and lost on time.
Coming out of the playing room, I was feeling guilty and ashamed for the horrible game. My teacher lightly patted my head and said it was okay. Nothing was okay in my mind. If I could, I just wanted to walk away from that place and teleport to home.
“You didn’t know the joseki, young lady?”
An old man in a suit asked me in a warm voice. He must have been the commentator. I nodded.
“You showed some good reading there, though. It would be hard for anyone to navigate that without knowing the joseki. Don’t be too disappointed. You can come back next year.”
“Cheer up! You wanna see the other floors of the building?” Teacher asked. I thought about it and shook my head. I still just wanted to go home, and I wanted to come back to this place when I get stronger. Right now, I was feeling too sad to do this important tour.
“Haha, okay. Let’s go home then. I am sure you will be coming back here again and again.”
Like that, we headed to the teacher’s car in the parking lot.