December 12 was a rest day for the go competition at the SportAccord World Mind Games, but for a dozen or so of the players and officials, it was an opportunity to pay an afternoon visit to the Zhang Guan Gun No. 3 Elementary School. This is one of the schools in Beijing where the pupils also learn to play go. About two dozen schoolboys, dressed in light blue school uniforms, were lined up inside the school gate to greet the bus carrying the players and officials, escort them to the school meeting room, and present them with self-made gifts. Also on hand were Ms Cao Xuemei, the school’s Secretary General, Mr Guo Jingui, Mr Li Hongwei, and Mr Shi Lei, three of its directors, Mr Ren Ping, its go coach, and Mr Bai Rongzheng, Chairman of the Elementary and Secondary School Sports Association of Beijing.
After introductions, Ms Cao described Zhang Guan Gun No. 3 as a big school where the teachers work hard and the 6500 pupils enjoy themselves. A beaming Mr Bai then gave a welcoming speech in which he touched on the great value to the pupils in being able to learn from some of the world masters of go. Mr Ron Froelich, Vice President of SportAccord, replied with a speech in which he touched on the value of mind games and mentioned that one of the world masters currently competing in the chess division is a Russian boy only thirteen years old.
And then the entire group moved across the hall to the school’s go classroom. The desks in this room are special wooden models with go boards on their surfaces and built-in containers for stones. Twenty-two blue-clad schoolboys scrambled into their seats. The eleven seats facing them were taken by Chinese team player Piao Wenyao, Chinese Taipei’s fifteen-year-old player Wang Yuan-jun, European players Cornel Burzo and Jan Simara, Japanese player Yamashiro Hiroshi and team captain Ko Reibun, Korean players Kim Hyemin and Park Junghwan and team captain Choi Kyubyung, American player Mingjiu Jiang, and International Go Federation Vice President and former American player in the World Amateur Go Championship Thomas Hsiang. Each of these eleven started right in, playing two opponents at once, without handicaps, the pupils taking black.
This pretty much filled up the room, so while play continued, Mr Froelich and some of the other officials were given a guided tour of the school’s exhibition hall. Representatives of all 55 of China’s minority groups have visited the school, some bringing ethnic costumes and handicrafts, which were on display. Also on display was a folded uniform betokening the assistance China had lent to Haiti after its earthquake, and gifts received from the people of Haiti in return. It was explained that since China has so many minority groups itself, it takes a special interest in the smaller countries of the world.
In an unscheduled event, Andrew Okun, the American team captain, dropped in on a lesson in a regular classroom to give some second graders a chance to practice their English. They peppered him with questions. Where do you live? Los Angeles. Do you like chicken? Yes. Do you also like duck? Yes. Do you like ice cream? Yes, I like it too much (patting midsection). After ten minutes or so, Andrew ended the session with a question to the class: Do you like studying English? The class went wild in shouting Yes.
Back in the go classroom the games were still in progress. On the whole, the pupils were acquitting themselves well but finding that without a handicap, beating world-class professional players and even world-class European amateurs and IGF Vice Presidents is not so easy. Unfortunately, the bus had to leave and some of the pupils’ parents had come to get them, so the games were cut short, farewells were bid, and a smiling group of players and officials returned to the Beijing Intercontinental Grand Hotel.
– James Davies