Saturday, August 28, 2010

Looking Back

One week from today at 8 a.m. I will get on a plane and head back to the good ol' U.S. of A.  One year passes by pretty fast doesn't it?  All in all, I enjoyed my time here and today I had a lot of time to think about it (being sick will do that to you) and even though I didn't necessarily accomplish all of my original goals I have new goals and a lot of new knowledge.  Just goes to show you that what you may think you want or what you think is best for you is actually not.  I came here to be like 6-7 dan and even though I haven't accomplished that I have come much closer and I know how to get there if I want to.  What have I really learned then, if my main goal wasn't realized?

I learned that it makes much more sense to spend the time you are given in the pursuit of enjoying yourself or working towards enjoying yourself.  The kids taught me that.  Their parents pressure them into learning English.  Of course some parents do it more so than others but with the amount of money they pay to go to ECC they really want their children to learn.  What do the kids do in the face of all this pressure, of going to a school where the teachers don't speak their language?   They try their best but they do it in their own way.  They try to have fun with whatever they're doing.  If that means they have to take their storybook and make a hat out of it then that's what has to be done.  As a teacher it makes me nervous that they're not learning anything when they spend their time in class drawing themselves in a helicopter, gunning me down in my own home, but then again they turn around and bust out a perfect English sentence.

I learned that everybody is different and it's perfectly alright to not blend in a group but that if you put forth even the slightest amount of effort you can get along with a lot of people.  Everyone is not going to be your best friend but some people could be if you just give them a chance.  How did I learn this?  From other expats.  There are tons here, and a lot of people here might not have spent time to get to know me at all if we were in the U.S., but since we gotta stick together out here it makes you more open to working with people and being more flexible with whom you associate with.  This also leads to meeting more cool people who have tons of things to offer if you just open your ears and listen.

Self pity is a waste of time.  I won't go too much into detail here, but I had a long, LONG conversation with someone whose life experience was a lot like mine.  We both grew up with no father although his father was around for the first part of his life where mine wasn't.  That having been said, I don't know which is worse, knowing your father and then having him say "Bye" as opposed to never having met him.  I always rejected the "someone else has it worse" than you thing that people always say.  "It could be worse!" but I always thought "Well, it could be better too!" but actually there's no point in even thinking any of that.  Other people have things in their life that hurt them and you have things in your life that hurt you.  It's all about how you look at it.  In many ways, my life could've been a LOT worse with my father in the picture, so I could be lucky and should focus on that rather than being negative for no reason.

Don't care what people think about you.  This one comes from being stared at constantly.  I know I need a haircut when Koreans start staring at me and middle aged Korean women go wild eyed when I get on the bus.  The afro confuses the crap out of them.  I get stared at by children that don't go to hagwons (it's a tell tale sign) and I get stared at by old people when I speak English on a bus and they feel uncomfortable because they don't understand what's going on.  With all this staring going on, I just got to the point where I was like "I can't satisfy you no matter what I do so I'm just going to carry on with my life and you'll just have to re-order yours or continue staring practice."

All in all, it was totally worth it to make the trek out here and I'll be back.  While I'm in the U.S., I'll be working to promote my book series, write the next few books, do some Korean-English translations and just having a blast. comments

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Day 222 - Eat Mexican Food in Korea (made by Koreans)

Hello all you loyal 365 Brand New Days Readers.  Your entry for today has been outsourced to our offices in Suji, South Korea.   I, Jonathan Hop, will be taking over for Kristen's new thing of the day, and let me tell you, a lot of my plans fell through :)  This project is harder than it looks.  At first I wanted to do a Nore-Bang, which is a karaoke place, but then no one wanted to go and I remembered I did go once before (I just suppressed the memories).  In fact, being a work night it was pretty difficult to get people to do anything,  but I was determined. I've been in Korea for about a year so I've done a ton of new things already so trying to find a new thing was a challenge.  But, I had a plan.  My co-worker Matthew and I were going to go to Lotte World, a huge indoor amusement park with a roller coaster and everything.  We were going to drop down from some 15 story tower and scream our heads off.  I'd never been to an amusement park so it was high on the list.  Which brings me to one of the lessons we learned that day.

Never trust Jon Hop to read directions.  Ever.

The directions started from Seoul Station, but I read it as "Go to Seoul Station and then go to Jamshil", and then my mind moved Jamshil from its original position close to Jon Hop to beneath Seoul Station.  Here, I'll translate.  Jon Hop thought Lotte World was on the other side of Seoul, like 40 minutes or so, when actually it was right next to him and he went across Seoul anyway.

'Nuff said.

So, no Norebang.  No Lotte World.  No cooking troupe cuz they're playing on another day.  Matthew and I were both feeling dejected, sitting in the PC cafe sitting next to some Korean guy with blonde hair that looked like he walked out of an anime convention.  What were we going to do?  Then we saw a sign from God.  Well, actually from Dos Tacos. See, unlike back home, Mexican food is NOT popular here.  They have T.G.I. Fridays, Bennigan's, McDonald's, Coldstone, you name it, but Mexican food is not the thing.  They just opened up the first Taco Bell in the country a few weeks ago and that created a huge buzz.  They sold out of food the first day, as in the restaurant didn't have a packet of hot sauce for anyone.  So, we were both starving and thought to ourselves, "Hey we haven't eaten Mexican food in Korea."

Imagine this.  You are dropped from a plane into the middle of the Sahara desert with a half full canteen and little to no hope.  You crawl your away across hot desert sands, the blistering heat sapping away your strength as you realize all you have left in your canteen is sand.  You see a mirage in the distance, a hazy apparition seemingly from nowhere that forms.  You miraculously gain enough strength to inch your way forward.  A beautiful, cool lake of crystal clear blue water shimmers before your very eyes.  After having spent a year eating Korean food, quesadillas looked like this:

Yo quiero Taco Bell.

Nachos never tasted so good, and Guacamole was never more delicious as it was at Dos Tacos located in Seoul Square plaza.  Now you can say "Well you've eaten Mexican food before."  Well, that part is true but it was my first time at Seoul Station and my first time at Seoul Square.  ALSO, in no way shape or form did I expect to come across a billboard for a Mexican restaurant let alone find one where the waitress speaks perfect English and I can enjoy quesadillas and nachos with a bottle of Dos Equis half the world away.  I also figure I can use up all the new stuff I've been doing all year, from high fiving an 85 year old woman who pushes a cart full of cardboard to the dump every morning to convincing my students that if they didn't behave the Terminator would be their teacher and mow them down.  So I offer up my plethora of experiences to the novelty Gods and ask them to accept my sacrifice of enjoying the best damn burritos in the land of Kimchi.  Also, no Mexicans were involved in the making of said Mexican food.  

Normally Kristen ends with a Jerry Springer style after thought, reminding us of what lesson we've learned that day and how our lives are the better for it.  I could probably talk about globalization or something where we're all learning each others culture and whatnot, I could even babble on about some of the lessons I've learned in Korea.  Instead, I'm just going to close with the fact that on the train today, I saw a young 20-something girl with the word "Gangbang" emblazoned across her chest.  Dictionaries, for the love of god.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Making the most of it

I walked back into the hallowed halls of the Yu Changhyuk Baduk Dojang today after nearly a 2-3 month hiatus.  I felt that my Go would best be served by studying alone instead of with a teacher and also I was just plain burning out.  But, since I'm coming home on september 1st and I'm not sure when I'll be able to get back out to this fab country I decided I should suck it up, walk in there, and study my butt off until I get home.

Today was a busy day at the dojang.  It was FILLED with kids because they were getting new students for the upcoming school year.  The owner and the head teacher were both surprised to see me as I came out of nowhere and was like "Hi, so, yeah Go."  They put me in the non-going-to-be-professional class which is where all the 4-5d's go and I was owning face.  I went 3-1, and I only lost against the one kid cuz his Go was super crazy, leave weak groups everywhere and somehow live by reading kind of style which is hard to counter.  I missed a tesuji that would've won me the game and that was that.  The kids were nice, they expected me to suck and were really surprised when they lost, but thankfully no one cried.

My attitude was wonderfully different.  I wasn't sitting there trying to push myself.  I made a point of smiling during my games to improve my mood, and told myself if I wasn't having fun to just walk out.  If I had thoughts like "man these moves are making me angry", I just let said thoughts float away into nothingness and get back to the game.  I was mentally tired and beat after 4 hours of training but it was that good kind of tiredness where you know the next day you'll be tougher.  The thing is, I didn't get any reviews from the teacher but that didn't matter, I still learned by just doing game reviews myself and reading books.  I've found that also, I don't like studying alone, I like studying with people around me.  I wondered how the kids learned so fast without the teacher systematically going through each one of their games.  Normally the teacher just floats around the room, goes off to organize something or sits with his planner.  Rarely if ever do they do game reviews, so I thought maybe the kids just absorbed his knowledge.  Actually, it's not so much that, it's just the mood of being around other people who are also laser focussed on what you're doing and just enjoying the atmosphere I think. comments

Sunday, August 8, 2010

More on joseki

I gotta say I'm a little bummed I couldn't make it to this year's Go congress because of work but I vow that next year I will go.  Plus, it'll be in Los Angeles and I've only been in that city on layover while I was heading to the wild and wonderful country of Korea.  Anyhoo onto today's lesson.

Currently I'm working on the last installment of the "So You Want to Play Go?" series for dan level players and I'm having a blast writing it.  It has been a little tough because I couldn't break it down into sections like I had the three previous books, as in I didn't think it made any sense to have a section just on "Attacking" or "Sabaki" since I think most dan players have all of those concepts down.  So I did something I swore I never would do, write about joseki.

I asked Kim Dongyeop 9p about what one should do to get stronger and he told me that studying tsumego and joseki were the two most important things to get stronger quickly.  I knew about the tsumego but the joseki part surprised me.  I was always told that just studying joseki made one weak.  You wouldn't have the creative power to handle the varying situations you'll encounter in Go, so studying joseki would be a mental crutch.  Actually that's not true.  Once you reach a certain level you know enough to avoid the bad moves, and you can look at a joseki not to just be the bible of all Go knowledge but to show you good moves and better yet, help you understand why other moves are bad.  There are tons of josekis and it really is important to understand as many as possible.

As I'm learning more joseki though, I find it challenging to come to a point where I can say I "understand" a joseki, because in every game it's like there's this part where you just do your own thing.  Like take for instance this joseki.

I think just about everybody knows this joseki but the devil is in the details.  Nowadays you want to play White 14 because the Tiger's mouth feels just a tad slow and this gives more territory.  The problem is, the cut.  I know, you knew that, and you probably also know about the ladder.  But for those of you in the audience who don't...

When Black cuts with 1 this sequence will erupt.  Now instead of White 6 there is this really awesome Chinese trick move where you play 6 at 7 but maybe at some later date I'll show it to you.  What happens is a semeai begins and Black doesn't have enough liberties (5 to 4).  When Black cuts with 11 White has to protect that group so it doesn't get swallowed and makes enough liberties by connecting at 4.  The question then, is what to do with the two outside White stones.  If the ladder is good for White then Black's inside group dies.

Black can be fancy with this net stuff but White 2 is a tesuji for White to get out.  Now the ladder doesn't work because once Black ataris at 9 White gets out with 10.  Now, that's all well and good and maybe there are a few 1-2 dans that haven't studied this before, but let's go into why this is important: ladder breakers and aji.  See, Black may be dead on the inside but like I said before, it's a capturing race meaning if White loses liberties he has to take away Black's so he doesn't die.  That means Black can get a world of forcing moves.

For instance Black can start the semeai with 1.  All of this is pretty much forced.  Notice how neither of White's groups are doing so hot in the liberty department?  Let's put all of this together and see it at work in a real game.

This is Gu Li vs. Wang Yao.  Seeing as how we already looked at several sequences the lower right should be obvious.  Now onto Black's ladder breaker move.  How do we actually proceed in the lower right?

Black got his two moves in the upper left but now White fights Black in the lower right part to keep from being sealed in.  While White has almost no power at the top he's not going to let Black have much power at the bottom.  38 also helps to attack the two top Black stones so that Black cannot build a wall there to pester White's other group.  Black Influence there facing the top moyo would be bad for White.

I found so many different ways to play this position out but the strategy was usually the same.  So, at no point did I feel I mastered the joseki but I did feel that a part of Go strategy was much clearer to me and I could actually apply it to one of my own games.  Stuff like this will be in the fourth book, but I'd love any comments on what you'd like to see in it.  Email me at with any suggestions, or just to say hi!