One board, 32 pieces, too many playersYou never know where advice is going to come from. Sometimes it just hits you.
Take the case of Eunah Jung, a 35-year-old resident of Hannam-dong. A few months ago she saw an ad for a cheap retail space in Itaewon, and decided the offer was too good to pass up. So she rented it, and got ready to open up a store.
The only thing she had to figure out was what she was going to sell.
Then it hit her: chess sets.
Why? “I don’t know,” Ms. Jung says. “It just hit me.”
She doesn’t know much about chess, though she’s sold scores of sets since opening her little store, Check, on the main drag, a few shops east of the fire station. In fact, Ms. Jung had never played a single game (other than a few on her computer) until this columnist came along a few evenings ago and zug-zwanged her into one.
We took a set outside, to a table on the sidewalk, and started the game. Then it hit us: a steady wave of kibitzers.
The first was some guy of probably Mediterranean extraction. After I goofed and let Ms. Jung capture my queen, he looked at me and said, “You are the loser.”
The next was a deaf Korean man. He glared at the board, said something in that deaf person’s way and moved one of Ms. Jung’s bishops. It was a foolish move, so Ms. Jung took it back. The man cackled and walked away.
A little later, a bum came along and leaned over the board. For a bum, he had a dazzling smile. Unlike the other lookers-on, he kept silent. After watching a few moves, grinning all the while, he bowed profusely and strode off. Politest bum you’ll ever meet. Korea must have a bum finishing school or something.
The next meddler was an unctuous Korean would-be Lothario who evidently had a crush on Ms. Jung, even though she’d told him in no uncertain terms that she was married. He’d brought her some cheesecake, but she waved him off.
The ultimate kibitzer was a taciturn American in a white T-shirt and Yankees ballcap. He sat and focused on the board until the game wound down and Ms. Jung, losing and distraught, agreed to let him take over. While trying to salvage Ms. Jung’s side, he dropped hints about his biography, saying he was doing work with the U.S. Embassy. If we’d been reading the papers last week, he said, we’d know why he was here. I said I’d been reading them and still had no clue. The man got checkmated and left, still a mystery.
Check is worth a look. The chess sets are made locally, and lovely to behold. Some are done in Korean warrior or Korean peasant themes, made of heavy pewter or softstone or faux jade. Most look handmade. The sets sell for 50,000 to 130,000 won ($45-$115).
Watch for Ms. Jung to organize chess tournaments, to be played on tables outside her store on, say, Sunday evenings. Beginners would be welcome. And they’d get a lot of advice.
by Mike Ferrin
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