Entry #21 – June 24, 1997 / Tuesday

The classroom felt uncomfortably warm today. Maybe it was the sunlight shining directly on my seat through the window. Our homeroom teacher was explaining the main characters from our reading assignment before we went through the exercise problems. Reading the passage was homework, but when the teacher asked who had read it, only half the students raised their hands. Time seemed to be moving too slowly, and I decided to do something I would never think of doing – I tore off a corner of my notebook paper and wrote, ‘this class is boring, isn’t it?’ and passed it discreetly to Mina, whose seat was right behind me. Soon, I got the note back with Mina’s writing on the other side. ‘Yeah, I am so tired.’ The thrill from exchanging a secret memo gave me some energy to sit through the class.

“I really need cold water on my face. Wanna come with me?”

I asked Mina as soon as the class was dismissed.

“Sorry, I didn’t finish my homework yet.”

“What homework?”

“It’s for the math academy.”

“They give you homework?”

“Yeah… I am so tired with everything these days.”

“Ugh. Can I help you with the homework?”

“Really? You would? Wait, can you do fifth grade math?”

“No…”

“Then never mind.”

“Sorry. I will be back soon. It’s too hot here today.”

I left Mina to walk to the restroom. I felt bad that I couldn’t help her. Then I thought it was fortunate that I never received homework from my baduk school. On the way back to the classroom, I checked my pocket to see how much money I had.
“Mina, let me get you ice cream to cheer you up after school.”

I told her as soon as I came back to my seat, and Mina gave me a happy okay.

“At least summer vacation is starting soon. Will you have more free time then?”

Mina and I were sitting on a park bench with our ice cream in our hands. I liked ice cream all year round, but it was especially good when I felt hot.

“I don’t think so. My mom said I will be going to an English academy in the morning. It will be just like going to the school.”

Mina sighed.

“Oh, that’s tough.”

I wanted to say something to make Mina feel better, but wasn’t sure what.

“What about you, Hajin? Are you doing anything special in the summer?”

“Actually, I am going to Seoul for three weeks.”
“That’s so cool! Are you visiting relatives?”

“No, I will be studying baduk at a dojang for the whole three weeks.”

“What is dojang?”

“That’s where you study baduk if you want to become a professional baduk player.”

“Do you want to be a pro?”

“I think so. I like playing baduk, and I could play it for living if I become a professional player.”

“I see. Then what will your family be doing in Seoul?”

“They are not coming. I will be staying at this girl’s house for three weeks. Her name is Sara, and she also studies baduk at the dojang.”
“What? Wait, you will be leaving your family for three weeks and stay at some stranger’s house?”
Mina looked really surprised.

“Sara is not a stranger. I met her on my trip to Japan. She is nice, although I have no idea what her parents are like.”

“That’s so terrifying! Will you be okay?”

“Um… is it?”

“Isn’t it? I can’t imagine not seeing my parents for more than a couple days.”

“Well, I am not worried about the three weeks actually. I might need to do something like this for years to become a professional player.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yeah…”

Now Mina was looking at me with sadness in her eyes.

“Wow… I guess I can’t complain about my math homework.”

Discussing it out loud, I felt scared about this unknown path to become a pro, but on the other hand, I was proud that I made Mina feel better.

Entry #20 – June 21, 1997 / Saturday

The room was already bright. I reached for the alarm clock and held it close to my eyes. I couldn’t see clearly without my glasses. Eight… thirty. What? Oh… No school today. Wait, it’s my birthday too! Sometimes I like to stay in bed until mom comes to wake us up, but today I quickly got out of the bed. It was my day today!

Mom and dad were already in the kitchen, setting up the table for breakfast. The comforting smell of seaweed soup wafted all around the house.

“Good morning!” I said as I entered the kitchen.

“Oh, Hajin you are up. Can you wake up Jane? Breakfast is almost ready.”

When I came back to the kitchen with Jane, there was a whipped cream cake with berries in the center of the table. As soon as Jane and I both sat at our seats, mom and dad began lighting the candles. My parents and Jane all sang “Happy Birthday,” and I was so excited and happy that I forgot to make a wish before blowing out the candles.

While dad put away the cake so that we could have breakfast first, mom brought out two huge gift boxes.

“Wow, your gifts are so big!”

Jane exclaimed, maybe half jealous.

I opened the smaller of the two. It was a soft and cushy plush rabbit. He had curly dark chocolate fur, and was wearing an ivory sweater and mint overalls. I instantly fell in love with him! I let Jane investigate the rabbit and opened the second box. It was a soft blue suitcase. Oh

“What is that?” asked Jane.

“It’s a bag for long-term traveling. I guess it’s for my Summer baduk study trip.”

I told Jane, and my parents nodded.

“Do you like your gifts?” asked mom.

I loved both of them. The luggage just made it feel so real that I was about to leave home for three weeks.

“Yes!” I didn’t want to get into that discussion, though, so I just said a big yes.

“Where are we going today? The EXPO park?”

Jane asked with visible excitement. In fact, I was also wondering what we were doing today. I doubted we would just stay home all day on my birthday.

“Hajin has to go to her baduk school today.”

“Really?”

“What?”

Jane and I were both surprised by the unexpected answer.

“Yeah, her teacher said there was special training today. Didn’t you hear about it, Hajin?”

I couldn’t believe this. I was already studying baduk from right after school to late in the evening. Why did I need to study even on my birthday?

“Do I really have to go?”

I knew asking this question wouldn’t really help, but I had to ask anyway.

“Yes, you should.”

Mom answered simply.

When I opened the baduk school door, I saw Colin, Brad, and Tom already sitting around a board. They were working on a life and death problem together.

“Hi!”

“Hey, you came too.”

Tom welcomed me with his usual friendliness.

“Why do we have special training today?”

I asked the group, wondering if I had missed something.

“No clue.”

Colin’s answer suggested that everyone was as puzzled as I was.

“Where is the teacher?”

“He gave us these problems and said he will be back soon.”

Colin showed me the problem sheets. There were two pages, and each page had 20 questions.

“Cool, everyone’s here!”

Teacher showed up with a boxed cake in his hand. I realized that we were here for my birthday.

“So, I brought you here today because it’s Hajin’s birthday today, and tomorrow is Brad’s birthday. We will have a joint birthday party!”

Brad and I looked at each other.

“Is it really your birthday today?”

“Yes. Now that I think about it, didn’t we talk about this before?”

“Maybe.”

“Anyway, I win! I am nine years old, and you are still eight!”

“Haha, true. That makes Brad the youngest here.”

Teacher laughed and agreed with me.

“Then, are we here for the birthday party?”

Tom asked. I could tell that he was asking if there really was going to be any training today.

“Yep, we will enjoy the cake, and you can go home as soon as you solve all the problems there. But since it’s a birthday party, I will let you guys work on them together.”

Oh well, we shrugged and turned our attention to the cake.

Entry #19 – June 17, 1997 / Tuesday / Part II

“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?”

“Yes!”

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.”

“Okay.”

“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.

Entry #18 – June 17, 1997 / Tuesday / Part I

“Umm…”

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.”

“Thanks.”

“See you tomorrow.”

 

“Mom?”

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.

“Here!”

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.”

“What surprise?”

“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.”

“Okay.”

“Bzzzt bzzzt.” Mom’s phone startled both of us.

“Your teacher must be here. Are you ready?”

“Yep.”

 

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.”

“I see.”

“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.”

“Oh.”

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.

Entry #17 – June 6, 1997 / Friday

I always wanted to be a polite person. In the stories I read, polite characters were my favorites, and they often had better results in the end. To be like these characters, I used polite language to my parents and I never used curse words or bad slang with anyone. The other day mom and I were at a shoe store, and listening to our conversation, the store owner asked mom, “Isn’t she your daughter?” When my mom said yes, the storekeeper said she had never seen such a polite daughter.

But I was having second thoughts about this. There are several boys in my class who are incredibly rude to everyone for no reason. Today, one boy was leaving the classroom after a class, and I happened to be behind him. Noticing me, he slammed the sliding door behind him, making the door close right in front of my face. I was so shocked and mad that I wanted to shout some bad words at him. Of course not only didn’t I manage to do that, but I didn’t say anything at all. It’s nothing, I told myself. Many hours have passed since this event, and somehow I can’t stop replaying the scene in my head, wondering what it would have been like if I had just yelled at him. Also, one part of me wondered if I was being a coward rather than polite.

“Hey kids, do you feel like taking a walk?” asked dad. Jane and I looked at each other and smiled. We both loved our family evening walks because it usually involved walking into the Baskin-Robbins in the central plaza.

“Yes, dad!”

We quickly responded, and began packing up the princess jigsaw puzzle we were working on. We didn’t mind disassembling it, because we had finished this puzzle many times before.

The night air was crisp and the whole neighborhood was quiet with the playground empty.

“How are things in Montessori?”

Dad asked Jane. Montessori is the preschool I graduated from, and Jane is still in her last year there.

“It’s okay.”

“Hajin, what about you?”

“Umm… I am okay, too.”

“Hajin, you seem to want to say something.” Mom jumped into the conversation. Sometimes it felt like mom can actually read my mind. After some hesitation, I told everyone what had happened at school that day.

“Do you think I need to be more brave?” I asked.

“No, you did the right thing,” said dad. Then he continued, “When I played baduk with strangers in some baduk clubs, once in a while I would meet an opponent who had bad manners. He would slam his stones on the board, or make distracting noises with them. If you care about the person, I would say you should try to talk to him sincerely. But you should remember that people don’t change easily, and they often become defensive when you point out their bad behavior. So, my philosophy is to turn a blind eye when they don’t mean much to you. You may be upset temporarily, but you will move on. On the other hand, if you react with anger or annoyance, you are likely to get into an argument, and the situation can get much worse. Plus, you wouldn’t gain anything anyway.”

I thought about what he said. I didn’t have the same experience at our baduk school, because anyone who misbehaved would get in big trouble with the teacher. Yet, it wasn’t hard to imagine such a situation, and I could see the similarity. Dad is right… The boy wasn’t targeting me in particular. That was just the kind of thing he did to everyone. If I had gotten into a fight with him today, he might have started picking more fights with me from tomorrow. I didn’t care about the boy, and the whole thing just wouldn’t be worth the trouble.

“I want ice cream. Who else wants some?”

Mom asked as we approached the plaza.

“Me!” Jane raised her hand almost instantly.

“Me too!” I raised my hand too.

“Me too!” Dad also raised his hand.

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.

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.