Entry #29 – August 17, 1997 / Sunday

“It’s so dark!”

Jane was puzzled how a restaurant could be so dark. I was surprised myself, too, but I didn’t say it out loud. Tables lit by candle light and well-dressed people talking quietly to each other seemed strangely natural. Mom said we were having dinner at the fanciest place in town. I pretended to look only mildly impressed. I didn’t want to reveal that I’d never been to such a nice place before.

“Welcome back, again, Hajin. We wanted to celebrate your return as soon as you were back, but we couldn’t get a reservation here.”

Said mom, once we were seated at a corner table. Jane was already flipping the big menu in front of her. It was rare for us to get our own menus in a restaurant – usually it would be printed on a wall for everyone to see, or only mom or dad would get a menu and order for all of us.

“It turned out to be great timing though. This way we can celebrate today’s tournament too!”

Dad added. He was referring to my qualification tournament earlier today. There was going to be a large women’s amateur baduk tournament in Seoul in a month, and today’s tournament was the regional qualifier. I participated in the ‘under 12 years old’ division, and won entry to the main tournament. I was excited to play in a big tournament in Seoul, but I wasn’t too elated. I was already confident I would make the cut.

“Congratulations, sister.”

“Aww, thanks! I hope one day we will go to these tournaments together.”

“I don’t know if I can get to your level.”

“Sure you can, it just takes time.”

Jane seemed unconvinced, but she didn’t argue.

“And, hard work.”

Dad joined our conversation.

“Speaking of which, Hajin, tell us more about your time at Master Grimm’s dojang. How was it?”

We’d talked about it on and off since I came back home, but often only mom and Jane were there. So I didn’t mind dad’s request.

“Mr. Park is by far the scariest teacher I’ve seen. He almost never smiles, and he can scold someone about one mistake for 10 minutes. But I haven’t seen anyone complaining about him. I think they just accept it. For me, I don’t have much to complain about in the first place because he was somewhat easier on me.”

Dad seemed really into my story, so I continued.

“I didn’t really make any new friends other than Sara. At the dojang, I only hung out with Colin and Brad, and at the end of the day went home with Sara. She has been really stressed about the League, and I felt sorry for her.”

“Do you feel like you are stronger now, after the training?”

I wished mom had asked my teacher that question, not me. If I did get stronger, would I notice? I wasn’t sure.

“Probably?”

“How was the tournament today? Was it any different from other tournaments before?”

I thought for a moment. First, about the tournament today, and then, about other tournaments I had attended in the past. Nothing really came to mind.

“I am not sure.”

A tall man in a black and white uniform came to our table with plates of soup.

“It’s our soup of the day, classic cream of mushroom. Champignon mushroom, onion, butter, and house-made cream. Would you like some pepper on it?”

“Ugh, I don’t like mushroom and I don’t like onion.”

Jane complained.

“Jane, it’s not polite to say that. Plus, you shouldn’t decide you don’t like it before even giving it a try.”

Mom looked serious. I secretly agreed with Jane, but it looked kinda nice, and smelled nice too. Maybe I will like it.

“Hajin, don’t grab your spoon until everyone is served, and wait for the adults to start eating first.”

Mom gave me a stern look. I quietly put the spoon back in its place.

“Okay, ladies.” Mom looked at us as soon as the waiter left our table.

“Let me show you how to eat soup properly. Hold your spoon like this, carefully take a spoonful of soup, moving the spoon away from yourself, and try not to touch the bowl with your spoon. Then, don’t bend down to the spoon, but lift it slowly to your mouth. When you eat the soup, use your lips, and don’t let your teeth touch the spoon. Okay?”

Jane and I both did our best to follow mom’s instructions, and we looked at each other as soon as we tasted it. The soup was heavenly.

Entry #28 – August 13, 1997 / Wednesday

I was staring at a life and death problem on the baduk board, but my mind kept flying to the idea of pretending to go to the toilet so I could take a peek in the next room. To my surprise, Jane had begun learning baduk while I was away. Now, Jane was at the baduk school with me, and sat in the beginner class in the next room. I welcomed this change with excitement – I no longer had to leave Jane to go to baduk school, and I could even help her learn. One downside, which I failed to anticipate, was that it was difficult for me to focus on my studies, knowing Jane was in the next room. I wanted to go see her, play with her, and maybe answer some questions if she had any. Of course she had her own teacher in the beginner class, but Jane always understood better when I explained things to her.

“Hajin, why don’t you play a game with Brad?”

Perhaps my teacher noticed that I wasn’t making much progress with my life and death problems.

“Can I use the restroom before starting?”

“Of course.”

On the way out, I looked at the next room through a small window on the door. The teacher was giving a lesson, and Jane was sitting in the first row. Then, remembering my excuse, I went to the restroom, washed my hands, and came back to the window. Jane was still watching the lecture. I was tempted to walk in and sit next to her, but instead I went back to my classroom and started a game with Brad.

That night, Jane and I were in our bed together as usual. We shared a queen size bed in our bedroom and had a separate room for studying. When my parents asked me if wanted my own room just before we moved to our current house, I told them I preferred sharing both rooms – we would sleep together, play together, and one day study together, too.

“Do you like learning baduk?” I asked Jane.

“Well, it’s not very fun.”

“Really? Why not?”

“Umm, I don’t know. Is it fun for you?”

I suddenly understood what Jane meant – actually, it hasn’t been really fun for me either, especially since it became more serious.

“Yeah, I guess it’s not always fun. But it’s fun when I win.”

“Oh, that’s true. It’s fun when I capture the opponent’s stones from the board.”

“When I lose, or feel stuck with a certain problem, it’s certainly not fun for me either. It makes me sad and frustrated. And that makes me want to get better.”

“What if you didn’t play baduk at all? Then you don’t need to get better.”

“Well, I can’t win if I don’t play.”

“We can do something else for fun.”

I imagined us doing the things we enjoyed together everyday, instead of spending hours at baduk school. We could read, ride our bicycles, do coloring books, and so on. It sounded more fun than studying baduk. But, it also felt a bit wrong – a life without any baduk in it.

“Or, we can study baduk together. I am sure you will like it more over time.”

“Okay.”