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Confidence

2007-01-25

During Go games, often we lose our own confidence when we encounter difficult situations. In this story, let me point out for my dear readers that difficult situations apply to our opponents as well. When we are confused and stressed, most likely so are our opponents. Realizing this fact may help us to avoid losing confidence.

I learned Go when I was in my high school senior year. Before Go entered my life, I was involved with Chinese chess playing, and with adolescence attractions toward girls. Had I started learning Go earlier, I would have become a stronger Go player today. But on the other hand, I might have missed some adventures that I like to share with my readers below.

The high school I studied was the best one in Taichung, which was the largest city in central Taiwan. The formal name of my high school was Taichung First High School For Boys. Clearly, such a name offered us the hint that there existed Taichung Second High School For Boys, and Taichung High School For Girls. Indeed, it was true that they existed. These schools were then followed by several high schools, either private or public.

Traditionally, only the graduates from these 3 high schools held some chances of eventually entering good universities. These schools enforced the rule of uniform wearing. For example, students in my school had to wear brown khaki pants and white shirts. The school for girls enforced wearing green shirts and black skirts. These uniforms became symbols of prestige in Taichung city.

The green color did not make girls look feminine and charming, in my opinion. After we became used to seeing it, however, it did, eventually. On the streets, when I saw a bunch of green colors approaching from afar, my heart would start pumping fast.

Naturally, I would love to assume that girls would start pumping their hearts fast when a bunch of white dots approached them. When I was in a showing-off mood, I would wear my school uniform and ride my bicycle around the streets for entirely destination-less and purposeless rides.

In one afternoon, it was time for me to have a hair cut, or else my hair would be too long, and hair being too long violated school’s regulations. There were two bicycles in my family available for me to ride. One was old-fashioned and also old. The other was stylish and new. It was just a short mundane haircut trip. So, I did not expect anything adventurous to happen, and decided to ride the old one. I might not have worn the school uniform, either.

The year could have been 1964, a few months after American President, JFK, was assassinated. In the morning assembly for students one morning, the news was delivered to us.

My house was situated in the west side of Taichung, near the suburban area. My best estimate is that the entire population was about 600 or 700 thousands at that time.

It took about 15 minutes for me to bike to the nearest barber shop. Expensive barber shops were located in downtown areas. I could not afford patronizing those. Besides, the haircut for me was too simple to have to employ those expensive barbers to do the job. No styles, just cut, cut, short, short. That was all.

Interesting things often happen when we do not expect them. When I just stepped in the barber shop, I saw a girl, about 14 or 15 years old. She did not fit in the environment of a barber shop at all. She should, instead, stand on the white cloud in the blue sky, high above and pure. At worst, she should belong to on the movie screens.

Many Chinese men have made the following remark: oh, yeah, western women are pretty. We know many of them are. But if we must elect prettiest ones, they must be Chinese women. If you see this girl I saw at that moment, you have to agree. Absolutely breath-taking. You may have to pinch yourself to make sure you are not in dreams. Or if, after seeing her, you immediately become religious, believing in the existence of God, we should not blame you.

After blinking my eyes and rubbing my eyes a few times, to make sure that what I saw was real, I was hoping, obviously, that she could be the one who was going to do my haircut. But a man came up to greet me. Later, I found that she was only an apprentice.

Luckily, when the haircut was finished, she was the one who washed my hair over the sink. My heart ached, fearing that the soapy water might ruin the smoothness of this angel’s hands’ skin.

After that haircut trip, I was thinking about her day and night. It was also the first time when I desired that my hair would grow faster. Possibly within two weeks, my hair barely grew 0.5 cm, and I hurried back to the shop.

To my great disappointment, almost heart-broken, I found that she no longer worked there. The information I received was that she had transferred to a bigger barber shop. Nobody knew which shop she went to.

For a bicyclist, Taichung city was very big. There were at least 30ish barber shops. And there was no such a thing as Telephone Yellow Pages, from which I could find the addresses of all the barber shops. To take a look at the inside of a barber shop, I must have pedaled up and down along every block of every street, spotted one, parked the bike, stepped into the shop, pretended to go for a haircut, and looked around. Before I was greeted by a receptionist, I had to hurriedly escape.

And what if she happened to be taking a break or taking that day off, so that she was not physically around in the shop?

I do not remember how I did the search, or where I acquired such a strong will to do the search. I do remember that in the following few weeks, after the school, I pedaled all over the places, swept every block in Taichung to look for barber shops, and to see if she was inside. My mother must have discovered my unusual behaviors, and I do not remember what kind of excuses I invented to divert her suspicion. (My mother would approve my involvement with romantic love only after I graduated from college, and the girl I chose must be brought up in a “cultured” family.)

In the southern district of Taichung, near a railroad, there was an upscale barber shop. And by shear luck and strong will, I finally found my angel inside! There were several young barbers working there, and she was one of them.

Again, let me only report what was retained in my memory. My confidence in chasing after her was fluctuating rapidly. Sometimes I assured myself that I was not a bad looking guy, and I studied in the best high school in the city. Sometimes I felt that there was such a huge gap between her and me. I was merely a book-worm high school student, and a teenage boy. She at that time looked much more mature, as if she had been an experienced woman in the workforce for a while.

Furthermore, her stunning beauty made me feel inferior. I imagined that there must have been dozens of haircut customers chasing after her constantly. They were well-established adults who were able to tip her generously. Such fluctuations engrossed my mind in those days. Confident, happy, then unconfident, sad, then repeat.

The business in her shop was usually very good. I had to sit there and wait for my turn. Furthermore, because I only wanted nobody else but her to serve me, I had to wait even longer. Waiting there did not help maintaining my confidence. I would perk my ears, listening to conversations between her and her customers. If they were silent, behaving purely like a customer and a barber, or if their conversations were restricted to superficial ones, I was happy. If they started to joke around, inducing her laughter, sounding as if they were close friends, then my heart cringed.

As I mentioned above, there was a gap between her and me, at least in the aspect of up-bringing, and the use of language. Once I was sitting, pretending to read something, and waiting, I overheard one of her co-workers speaking in Taiwanese, apparently in response to a question regarding who I was, “He is waiting for Mei-Yue, (beautiful moon, my angel’s name); he is her qi4 er2. (7th)”

Qi4 er2 was a Taiwanese (different from Mandarin) slang, of which I did not know the meaning at that moment. Possibly it was only used in the circle of blue-collar workers. Had I known the meaning of that slang, my confidence might have jacked up considerably. It meant “boyfriend”, which I found out much later.

I, slow and stupid, was never positive that I was the special one to her. My mind constantly discouraged me myself that I was at most one of her favored customers. Reversely, she might have been nagged by a similar thought, “Oh, he is studying in the best high school. How could it be possible that he will ever be interested in a girl like me, a worker with a not-so-noble vocation?”

See, when a situation is confusing, both we and our opponents in Go games will feel confused. Seldom are we alone.

There was once when it was my turn, and when it might have rarely happened that both of our confidences were at a fairly healthy level. Our conversation, conducted all the time in Taiwanese, was very pleasant while she seemed to take her dear time to take care of my hair.

“Your hair is so black and dense,” she commented.

Then I remember I was sharing my dream with her. See, Taichung is about 200 km from Taipei. Most good universities were located in Taipei. Today, a trip from Taichung to Taipei may take only about one hour. But in 1960s, it was a big deal. It took 4 or 5 hours by train. So, I told her that, after I would take the entrance exam, and enter a good university, I would take her with me, holding her hands to stroll under the trees in the university campus.

She tilted the barber chair on which I was sitting, was shaving my face, and listening to me intently. Her face was above mine in a close range. I even felt her breathing. Her face was beaming, with facial expressions suggesting to me that she indulged herself in blessedness, hope, and happiness. That moment was the peak of my adventure, and my fond memory. Could someone as smart as Einstein invent a time machine that can freeze a moment?

During the time I was waiting for my hair to grow longer, so that I could make my next trip to see her, I wrote her love letters. I do not remember how I got hold of the postal address of her home. Possibly, she told me herself. Or I asked for it from her co-workers.

Every day, I guarded the mailbox of our house very tightly, making sure that it would be me who fetched the mails first, but not my parents. At that time, I was the only child who stayed with my parents. All my brothers and sisters are older, and left the family for various reasons.

Strangely and sadly, I had never received a reply letter, not even one, from her. In one of the letters, I asked her for a date. I told her that I would wait for her at a certain landmark not too far away from her shop, at a certain time on a certain date. When that day arrived, I chose to ride the stylish bike, and waited for her nervously at the designated spot. Every minute elapsed as agonizingly slowly as one hour did. When it was the time specified in my letter, nowhere was she to be seen. I gave her 15 more minutes, 30 more minutes, one more hour, and two more hours, she still did not show up.

This aborted “date” was the end of my memory, except that one critical piece of information should be revealed to my dear readers. Even up to today, I do not know if she received my letters. And if she did, I do not know if she read them.

She was not interested in reading my letters? Was that the case? No.

Later, somehow, I found that she was illiterate . My angel standing on the white clouds high above was illiterate!!!

In Taiwan, in 1960s, theoretically, every child was supposed to enter an elementary school. But often in reality children in impoverished families, especially girls, were sent to the schools only for a very short while, just to evade the requirement of the law. After that, their parents pulled them out from the schools, and instead sent them to learn relatively low-level skills, so that they could help bring supplemental incomes to the families.

It is my sincere wish that she had not ever received my letters. It will be wonderful that there was inaccuracy in her postal address. If my letters did reach her home, my mind’s eyes could not bear to see the sadness and helplessness that must have emerged on her face when she was holding my letters.

By what reasons would she possibly feel sad and helpless? Not necessarily her inability of reading my letters. Rather, she must have been reminded of the consequence led by this inability -- the gap between her and her qi er was, indeed, too wide. After all, the scene of strolling and holding her hands I shared with her would never come true.

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