Chapter 7: Baduk (GO)

January 26, 2020
From COVID 19: A novel inspired by real events

Mrs. Emily Lee Parker was excited to see her neighbor Mrs. Kong finally come back from Wuhan, China on January 6, 2020. Mrs. Kong was there for almost two months. She left right before the Thanksgiving holiday to visit her sister’s family. Mrs. Kong lived alone in San Francisco after her husband passed away about two years ago.

She was becoming more and more lonely living in a big mansion all alone, so the trips to China became frequent and routine. She was even contemplating a permanent move to Wuhan, China, where her sister and sister’s family lived.

What am I going to do in a seven-bedroom house by myself? The kids are all grown up and have their own families to look after all over the States, and they’re not even visiting me in San Francisco, she thought.

The only friend she had was Emily, who lived next door to her, Pand they played the game Baduk regularly; on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Mrs. Kong, like Emily, was a woman of means and lived in a quiet residential area in Potrero Hill.

The Potrero Hill neighborhood house, affectionately known as the NABE, sits at the top of De Haro Street at Southern Heights Avenue, and has an incredible view of San Francisco, both the Bay and East Bay. It is also next to the Mission District in downtown, where there are ample restaurants and shopping, providing convenience to those living in a busy city.

Photo by from Pexels

When Mrs. Kong goes to China, Emily takes care of looking after her house. She opens the house for the cleaning lady, Bita, who was from Iran. When Mrs. Kong was in China, Bita came to clean the house only once every other week. Bita took a bus or train to get there and needed the money to live. Neither Mrs. Kong nor Emily knew exactly which neighborhood in San Francisco Bita was commuting from. Bita was a sole breadwinner of the house, and her parents, two small children, and husband all lived in a small apartment crammed up like sardines. Bita often talked about her living situation with Emily and wanted to clean Emily’s house when Mrs. Kong was out of town. But Emily already had a cleaning lady from her church, a Korean woman who also cooked Korean meals. Bita could not help Emily since she is Persian, not Korean, and Emily politely declined the offer but felt guilty.

Like Mrs. Kong, Emily married a wealthy Caucasian husband. Even though Emily was living and loving the American life, she missed Korean home cooked food terribly, and had to eat rice and a Korean dish for at least one meal a day. Luckily, her husband also acquired a love for Korean food after living with her during 50 years of marriage and did not argue too much about the kitchen table every day. He quietly wished, however, not to smell kimchee in his milk and cheese in the refrigerator.

Emily kept her life fairly busy after her retirement as a research coordinator under her husband’s laboratory, where she met Samantha’s father, Dr. Robert Parker. He was a renowned obstetrics and gynecology doctor at the San Francisco Medical School, and now he was an emeritus professor, enjoying his fully retired life playing golf. They had ups and downs in their marriage just like any other couple, but the most difficult problem they had to go though was infertility.

Luckily, much of the financial and medical access burdens was somewhat eased because of the position Robert had in medicine. They had only one child in their 40s, Samantha, whom they raised like a princess. They thought about adopting another child, but the application never went through, and they did not see the need as Samantha kept them very busy along with their professional careers.

Emily was enjoying her retired life with Robert playing golf and traveling around the world. She also attended the California Culinary Academy, which was located a few blocks away at 350 Rhode Island Street. She really enjoyed international cooking classes. The facilities included professional kitchens, student-staffed restaurants, lecture classrooms, a library, and a culinary laboratory. Emily’s hope was to learn more about Korean cooking, but the curriculum of the school had not reached Korean food yet.

Another activity Emily enjoyed was playing Baduk with Mrs. Kong. They usually met in Mrs. Kong’s house because sometimes they got noisy playing the game, especially at the end, and they talked endlessly over tea and cookies. Emily did not want to bother Robert, who read his books quietly.

Baduk (Go) is an abstract strategy board game for two players. It has two different colored stones; one set white and the other black, and an empty board which is a 19 x 19 grid. Players take turns placing one stone at a time, and the aim is to surround more territory than the opponent. The person with the black stones plays first, and Emily and Mrs. Kong often fought to have the black stones. Although China invented the game 2,500 years ago, it was Emily who taught Mrs. Kong how to play, and since then they were both hooked. They played the game for hours. Sometimes, Emily experimented in cooking international food she learned from the culinary school with Mrs. Kong, but Emily truthfully did not really have much talent in cooking. Mrs. Kong usually ended up cooking delicious Chinese food, but she let Emily try out a few dishes to spend more time with her.

Emily was picking Mrs. Kong up from the San Francisco airport that afternoon, as she had done for years now. Her drives to the airport had become more routine. It had been two months since she saw Mrs. Kong, and she missed her and was looking forward to having her friend back to play Baduk. Emily would also demonstrate her ability to make crème brûlée, a dessert dish she recently learned.

“Ne hou, Emily! Long time, no see, xie xie,” Mrs. Kong exclaimed as she came out from the narrow terminal to where the luggage was being picked up. Mrs. Kong spoke increasingly more Chinese mixed with English when she came back from China. Emily also spoke “Konglish,” a mixture of Korean and English to her many times. Between the three languages they often mixed, they understood each other fairly well and had no problems communicating.

“I worry, you come from Wuhan. You okay? Many sick from Wuhan,” Emily said. She could speak perfect English, but for some reason, when she was with Mrs. Kong, she did not want to speak English perfectly.

“Okay, okay, no sick.”

“Your family okay? Your sister?”

“Shi, shi.” Emily gathered that meant yes in Mandarin.

“Miss you. Your house ok. Bita came yesterday—clean your house,” Emily said.

“Xie xie, let’s play Baduk. No people, family play Baduk. I miss playing.”

They drove back to the NABE. Emily noticed Mrs. Kong was sniffing and coughing a little. Emily gave her the Kleenex tissues from behind the seat while she was driving. It was a very long reach to get the Kleenex tissue box. It is rather common to have sniffing after a long flight, Emily thought.

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