This week we’ll present extended coverage of the Korean World Amateur Championships (KPMC; click here for our winner’s report on December 8). Below you’ll find U.S. rep Eric Lui’s delightful reminiscence of the event, where he went undefeated for five rounds, losing only to champion China in the final (Ben Lockhart did the same thing last year, except his final round loss was to Korea). Tomorrow we will have a Q&A with Eric about the event, and finally we will present a brief review of his 5th round game against Hong Kong.
It’s been nine years since I participated in the first Korea Prime Minister’s Cup. My memories of the occasion as a whole are dim at best, but I can still recall a few fragments of the extravagant outdoor opening ceremony, and the completely bonkers closing ceremony that had players and local Korean folk holding hands and running in circles around the plaza square into the night.
Turn the clock forward and it’s time for the 10th Korea Prime Minister’s Cup, held in Seoul’s Gangnam district. While the first KPMC was lavish in style and grand in execution, the 10th edition thrived on the strength of its organizers, a charismatic and multilingual group who couldn’t have been more welcoming. The genuine camaraderie among the players and organizers produced a truly festive atmosphere.
Before each round, music played from a large boombox at the front of the stage. In particular, a rousing rendition of Chicago’s hit song “If You Leave Me Now” put me in a whimsical mood before my important fifth-round match against the player from Hong Kong. If only Peter Cetera were there, he would finally be able to cite definitive proof to any naysayers who claim that his music has yet to reach an international audience. “You see?” He might say, pointing vigorously to a video feed. “I made it!”
The standout performer this time was Cristian Pop of Romania, who, in a first-round heavyweight clash, defeated Japan’s Dr. Shinichiro Osawa, a neurosurgeon and former teacher of the star player Ichiriki Ryo 7p. Pop would go on to finish 3rd. My last-round defeat at the hands of China’s top-rated amateur Hu Yuqing, the tournament winner, landed me in 4th place on SOS. Hu has terrorized the amateur go world for well over a decade, and, playing in his 6th (!) KPMC at the raw age of 34, shows no signs of slowing down.
The closing ceremony was well-attended with VIPs such as Seo Bongsoo 9p, chief referee, Kim Seungjun 9p, Lee Hajin 3p, secretary of IGF, and Martin Stiassny, president of EGF. The highlights featured a male performer, clad in headgear with a long wavy band attached to the brim, executing aerial cartwheels around a circle in a breathtaking display of athleticism and artistry, and a moving interpretation of Secret Garden’s iconic “Song from a Secret Garden” by a quartet on traditional Korean instruments including a vertical fiddle, a bamboo flute, and a long zither.
The next day was the traditional sightseeing day and the first snow of the season. Later that night, while walking in downtown Myeongdong, Seoul’s premier shopping district, clutching bags filled with cosmetics and various beauty products, it crossed my mind that in less than half a day, I would be on my way to the airport and this trip would become just a memory.
When we reached the end of the street, I looked back, shivering slightly in the freezing cold, and took it all in: the bright lights, buildings that seemed to touch the sky, hustle and bustle in a world I didn’t understand, and felt strangely at ease.
In that moment, I saw myself four days ago, sleep-deprived and slightly haggard upon arrival. I recalled the interesting conversations, laughter, and failed attempts at procuring more food. I thought of the first time I participated in this tournament, so eager and determined to prove something.
I felt pure joy at having had the opportunity to play in this tournament again, and a twinge of regret about all the pictures I had forgotten to take, yet I took solace knowing that others would not have done the same.
I remembered standing on an outdoor patio at Tokyo Narita Airport, watching from a distance as a plane barreled down the runway and took off into the sky, my hopes and dreams soaring with it, and I smiled inwardly as I realized how much there was to look forward to.
And then the moment was gone. I heard a voice, and a sudden gust of wind brought me back to earth. Following a few steps behind a small crowd into a donut shop, I rubbed my hands together in anticipation of warmth.
Tomorrow: a Q&A with Eric about the 2015 KPMC.