"Otsukaresama deshita!" Waya calls out over his shoulder as he all but bolts out of the Go Institute’s central game room. A slow grin spreads across his face as he hastily changes out of his slippers and into his sneakers.
Waya doesn't even mind that he just got unexpectedly trounced by Shindou during yose in that final game, even though that would normally irritate him for the rest of the day. His vacation has just begun! This time tomorrow, he'll probably be stuffing his face with some bizarre and delicious Korean food! in Seoul! with Isumi!
They’ve taken small trips in the past, even before they started dating a few years ago, but this will be their first international trip together and it’s going to be a for a whole week. Granted, it's officially for a go conference where Isumi has been invited as a panelist and asked to do some publicity afterwards, but Waya was able to register to compete too and they're planning to stay several extra days for sightseeing.
When he reaches the elevator, he sees Touya sitting on a bench with his hands folded, waiting for Shindou. Waya greets him with a cheerful grin as he presses the elevator button. Touya gives him a nod in return, looking slightly taken aback.
Waya is bouncing lightly on his heels and humming softly to himself as he waits for the notoriously slow elevator to make its way up to the fourth floor. He can feel Touya staring curiously at him as if he were suddenly having trouble recognizing him.
"Ah... I heard from Shindou that you'll be accompanying Isumi-san to the go conference in Seoul this weekend. Is it true that this will be your first trip outside of Japan?"
It's a polite question, but coming from Touya, Waya thinks he can hear a hint of veiled skepticism underneath. Still, even Touya's condescending attitude can't spoil his good mood.
"Yep!" Waya replies brightly.
"Well, you must be very excited then. It's fortunate that you'll be traveling with Isumi-san, since he’s been to Korea so many times in the last few years. It'll be like having a private guide."
"It's true, Isumi's great at traveling!" The unexpected compliment makes Waya beam on Isumi’s behalf. Waya's been trying for years to warm up to Touya, for Shindou's sake, without much success but maybe it’s finally getting easier.
As if summoned by Waya merely thinking his name, Shindou bursts through the door, sullenly changes his shoes, and flops down on the bench next to Touya with an exasperated sigh.
"Ugh, Waya, what was that yose all about? I don't even feel good about beating you. That was embarrassing," Shindou gripes.
"He was probably distracted by his upcoming trip to Seoul," Touya remarks.
Waya bristles slightly at this, even though it's true. "Sorry, Shindou. I'll bring you back some super fermented kimchi to make up for it."
"Ha, right. Oh yeah, you're traveling with Isumi! Aren't you nervous?"
What is Shindou talking about?
"Why would I be nervous?" Waya replies irritably.
"Well, Isumi speaks Korean now and knows Seoul really well. And he’ll be introducing you to all his Korean friends. I'd be pretty nervous."
"Shindou, shut up," Touya hisses under his breath.
Waya hasn't really thought much about meeting Isumi's Korean friends. Here at home, everybody knows them equally well because they’ve been inseparable for the past decade, but what if these new people think he’s goofy or not good enough for Isumi? Actually, now that he thinks about it, he’s never been out of Japan before, and the only Korean he knows is that “annyeonghaseyo” means hello and “paduk” means go… What if he does something embarrassing?
"I'm not you, Shindou," Waya retorts. A familiar scowl settles over his face as he turns to check the elevator. Why is it still on the second floor? Why does everything suck? Especially Shindou. And Touya, by association.
"Screw this, I'm taking the stairs," he grumbles as he swings open the door to the stairwell exit.
"Have a great trip, Waya!" Shindou's voice echoes loudly from behind him as he stomps down the steps.
Waya stares helplessly at the contents of his suitcase strewn across the bed. He thought he had finished packing yesterday, but now he's sure he's bringing all the wrong things.
Does he really need five camouflage shirts? Maybe it's too much for a six day trip. Isumi is always saying he looks great in camo, but what if these Korean friends of his think he's a big dork with no fashion sense? He anxiously chucks two of the shirts onto the floor.
And what is this thing? Waya dubiously picks up a plastic cube with weirdly shaped prongs. Shindou had lent it to him and said that he would need it to convert electricity or something. That just sounds ridiculous. Why would electricity work any differently in Korea? He's not traveling to a different planet, not even to a different time zone!
Waya opens his closet and looks with dismay at the stacks of neatly folded army green and brown clothes before him. He'd made fun of Shindou for all his corny "5" shirts when they were younger, but Waya is 22 now and still dressing like he did as a teenager.
He spies a shopping bag tucked in the corner. Shigeko, Morishita-sensei's daughter, had bought him a bunch of new clothes for Christmas years ago. Waya frowns as he plucks out a pair of tight metallic jeans with the tags still on them. Weird. Why would she want him to wear something so uncomfortable?
Well, girls are good at shopping and that kind of thing, right? They must know what they're doing. He can't let Isumi down.
Waya takes a deep breath and stuffs the shopping bag into his suitcase.
"You'll be fine. I'm right here," Isumi says soothingly.
Waya loosens his grip on the armrests. "I'm fine. Really!"
At least they're finally on the plane. He had no idea airports were so big and maze-like. Just getting through security and to their gate had been a harrowing ordeal. Thankfully, Isumi knew where he was going and he stuck close and made sure that they didn’t get separated in the crowd.
"Look out the window! We're starting to take off!" Isumi exclaims.
Looking is a mistake. Waya feels his stomach lurch as the plane gains speed and the ground seems to tilt backward. He jerks his head forward and forces himself to take deep, slow breaths. Isumi looks at him worriedly and rubs his shoulder.
"Are you okay? Hey, just pretend it's like a roller coaster, except it stays in the air. You love roller coasters!"
Waya hates roller coasters, but Shindou had dared him to ride several in the past and Isumi loves them, so he's never admitted it.
"Right. No problem. Just like a really slow roller coaster... that doesn't crash back down," Waya says with a strained laugh.
Anyway, he's fine. Okay, he may have almost squeaked as the plane took off, and when it made several BUMPS in the air, and WHAT WERE those noises?? But he’s fine. He’s going to be fine. Alright, he probably did squeak just then because now Isumi is holding his hand and that's freaking embarrassing, he's not a child. Waya's about to tell Isumi that but... it does feel nice and it's helping him calm down. He supposes he can put up with it. Yeah, this isn’t going to be so bad... the worst part is clearly over.
Then his ears pop and he barely stifles a squeal. Isumi tells him it's the change in air pressure, but he's not buying it. What if it's a brain hemorrhage or something??
"How long have we been on this plane?" Waya gasps.
"... Fifteen minutes," Isumi says apologetically and squeezes his hand.
Another hour and forty-five minutes to go until Seoul. Ughhhhh.
Waya stumbles aboard the train from Incheon Airport to Seoul Station and collapses onto a seat. It's a good thing that they're staying in Korea for six days, since it might take him that long to feel mentally prepared to board a plane again.
"How about dinner before we head to the hotel? I bet that will help you feel better," Isumi offers.
"Dinner sounds great," Waya replies with a brave smile. The hardest part was over. They made it to Korea!
"I was thinking we could try samgyetang. It's not spicy and it's really healthy and filling. I think you'll like it."
Waya nods absently at the unfamiliar word. He's distracted by the pack of middle school girls sitting across from him who keep giggling and pointing at his hair. Now they're starting to take photos of him with their giant cell phones. He doesn't know what they're saying, but he keeps catching a word that sounds like "shiny."
Waya scowls and looks into his lap. He doesn't need a mirror to know that his hair is particularly spiky right now, both from the gross recycled air in the plane and from the way Isumi kept messing with his hair during the flight. Middle school girls are annoying in any country, it seems.
They exit the train and head to a small restaurant inside the station. Isumi impressively says a bunch of things in Korean to the staff and, a few moments later, Waya's jaw drops as their server starts piling their small table with tiny dishes of different types of vegetables until there is scarcely any room left.
"Wow, this looks amazing, Isumi! So everyone here eats their meals on small dishes like this? Too bad there isn't any meat or fish though."
Isumi chuckles. "These are just banchan, the side dishes. They serve these with every meal. Wait until you see what I ordered for us."
Soon, the main course arrives. It's a whole small chicken with its legs crossed, like it's relaxing, sitting in the center of a still-boiling cauldron of soup. Waya's stomach growls in anticipation. He likes it already; it's crazy-looking and probably crazy delicious.
Isumi hands him a pair of flat metal sticks and says, "Korean chopsticks are fantastic! You can use the flat edge to cut things like a knife!" as he deftly saws through a thick piece of kimchi and pops it into his mouth.
Meanwhile, Waya's chopsticks clatter to the table when he attempts to wrangle his fingers around them. The different weight and shape make him feel like he's learning how to use chopsticks for the first time. It's unsettling, but he's too hungry to linger on it.
He picks up a small side bowl of what looks like miso soup and begins to lift it to his face.
"Ah, Waya! You can't pick up your soup to drink it here. Use this spoon."
How can an object be so benign, yet seem so bizarre? The handle is long and unwieldy like a chopstick and the spoon seems too wide and shallow for soup. Nevertheless, Waya slowly lifts a tiny, shaky spoonful of soup to his lips and takes his first sip. Only thirty more sips to go at this rate... Ugh.
Waya gives up on the soup, it’ll be cold before he gets much with this weird spoon, and opts to remove the lid from a small metal bowl sitting nearby, revealing fresh, hot rice. He grins. Rice! Safe and familiar, even in Korea. He aims the unwieldy chopsticks at the bowl.
"Oh, Waya... in Korea you need to use the spoon to eat rice too."
Waya can’t handle it, it’s too much for one day, too much for one meal, he finally snaps.
"WHY ARE KOREANS OBSESSED WITH SPOONS?"
Isumi looks concerned, but at least he doesn’t laugh, and Waya immediately feels guilty for the outburst. After all, it’s not Isumi’s fault that Koreans apparently have a spoon fetish.
“Don’t worry,” Isumi reassures him, “You’ll get used to it soon enough and just try the samgyetang. It’s delicious, you’re going to love it!”
They finish the rest of the meal without any further surprises, but Waya feels as frazzled as his hair. At least the chicken really was as tasty as it looked.
Finally, they take a taxi to their accommodations. During the ride, Isumi tells him that they're staying in a small guesthouse located in a hanok, a Korean home built in the traditional style, in a neighborhood called Bukchon. Isumi says it’s a quiet, old-fashioned neighborhood located between Gyeongbok Palace and Changdeok Palace, and Waya pretends that those names mean something to him. Apparently it’s within walking distance to a lot of historic attractions for the couple of days when he’ll be on his own while Isumi is busy doing publicity with Korean Go Weekly after the tournament.
By this point Waya is pretty sleepy and he doesn’t have much to say while they check into the guesthouse and are shown to their room. He crawls onto the blanket laid on the floor and finds just enough energy to grumble about the lack of proper futon and tatami in their room while they settle in to sleep, but Isumi curls up behind him and buries his face in the crook of his neck and his bedding tirade soon dissolves into a gentle snore.
The Seoul Paduk Expo only spans a weekend, but the schedule is packed. On their first full day in Seoul, Waya and Isumi wake up early, don their matching team polo shirts and pants, and head to the Coex Convention Center in Gangnam for a busy schedule of games and demonstrations. Waya’s in his element at the conference. He's still feeling a bit overwhelmed by the signs and the sounds and the people, but at least inside the convention center, everything is fine. He even meets some of Isumi's friends briefly in between events. They're wearing team polos too, so Waya fits right in. He can't speak to most of them without Isumi serving as translator, but thankfully they don't seem to think he is a big dork after all.
As always, Waya has go, and Isumi, to help him feel grounded. They play in back-to-back team matches and Waya feels a rush as he and Isumi take on the Korean pros together. Later, they attend several interesting panels held by famous Korean go commentators and Isumi impressively keeps up a hushed, rapid translation of what’s being said just for Waya’s sake.
They don't see much of each other on the second day because of Isumi's scheduled interviews and demonstration games, but Waya's perfectly content to hang out in the game area signing up to play open matches all day.
Waya is feeling pretty good about Korea at this point. He keeps handing over coins and bills and that are way too small, since 100 yen is 1000 won here, and he also almost gets hit by cars a few times, because drivers in Seoul are INSANE and he keeps looking in the wrong direction, but it's sort of exciting to be somewhere totally new.
The slim woman seated across from Waya slumps in defeat and bows her head over the goban. Waya doesn't need to understand Korean to comprehend her meaning. He gestures at the group of stones in the lower right where she made a poor move that ultimately cost her a crucial 3.5 moku during yose and shrugs sympathetically. She laughs ruefully and nods as they begin to clear the board. They exchange bows and friendly smiles as the closing bell rings, announcing the end of the day’s scheduled games.
Isumi finds him in the crowd after the closing ceremony. There’s a young man following closely behind him.
"Waya! There you are!" Isumi says, grinning. "I know it’s been awhile but you remember Hong Su Young, right? Since I have to attend that dinner with the conference organizers tonight, he’s invited you to have dinner with some of the Korean pros."
It’s been years since Waya last saw Hong Su Young, so long that he didn’t even recognize him as the same kid from that ridiculous afternoon when Shindou hadn’t even known that Korean go pros were stronger than most Japanese pros. Hong must be around 19 now, but with his bowl-cut hair and slight frame, he almost looks like he could still be in middle school. Waya already knew that Isumi had planned to ask one of his friends to keep him company, but he chafes at being babysat by someone several years younger than himself.
"An… Annyeonghaseyo," Waya says tentatively, bowing in return.
To Waya's shock, Hong replies with "Hisashiburi desu, Waya-san."
"You can speak Japanese now?" Waya blurts out.
"Yes. You know Shindou Hikaru, right?"
God. Why the hell does every conversation turn to Shindou?
"... Of course, what about him?"
"I started learning Japanese so that I could make him say my name when I defeat him in a match. He really drove me nuts with his cocky attitude."
Isumi grins widely. "I think the two of you are going to get along just fine. I have to go now, but I'll see you later tonight." With that, he squeezes Waya's forearm affectionately and thanks Hong Su Young before darting off into the crowd.
Waya smiles at Hong. "So, where are we going for dinner?"
"One of my favorite restaurants is near here. Can you handle spicy food?"
Waya thinks about curry rice and wasabi before saying, "Sure, of course," with a casual shrug, trying to be brave and adventurous like Isumi.
Hong gathers up several other Korean players. A few of them are familiar from the previous day and thankfully, his fear that Ko Young Ha might be among the group proves unjustified. He’s managed to avoid Ko so far this weekend, hopefully this means Isumi hasn’t become friends with him. Waya’s not sure how he’d deal with that. He’d certainly never be able to tell Shindou. Waya never cared much about Ko's occasional inflammatory remarks about Shuusaku but that guy's always been insufferably smug and overly chummy, and it only gets worse every time he wins the annual "Sexiest Go Player" poll in International Go Quarterly. Waya's pretty sure the poll is fixed, there’s no way someone could win it four years in a row, and Ko Young Ha's hair isn't even that great.
Once assembled, there are six people in the group, though seemingly only Hong Su Young can say more than “hello, nice to meet you” in Japanese and Waya can only say “hello,” “thank you,” and “go” in Korean so he’s not expecting much conversation. But, to his surprise, the other players seem excited to meet him and urge Hong to translate for them.
“They asked me to tell you that Isumi-sempai is well-liked and quite famous in the Korean go world and that they are glad to meet you because he talks about you so much,” Hong says, smiling.
“Oh! Please give them my thanks! Actually,” Waya whirls around to face the whole group and bows politely. “Kamsahamnida!” he says, happily deploying one of the only phrases he knows in Korean. They return his bow, smiling.
Wow, when he was a teenager, he'd never have suspected that one day, Hong Su Young would be chatting with him in Japanese about how great Isumi is!
As they continue down the road towards the restaurant, Waya can’t help but contrast Isumi’s relationships with these Korean pros to the way that Shindou and Touya interact with pros from other countries. Even though Shindou and Touya only care about their mutual rivalry, they nonetheless constantly pick up all these one-sided unrequited rivalries with people like Hong Su Young. But Isumi is different. If Shindou had gone off to China, he would have come back with five spare rivals, but Isumi befriended all the pros he met in China and he seems to have done the same here in Korea.
After walking for a few more minutes they arrive at a dak galbi restaurant, where there is apparently only one item on the menu. It's chicken chopped up with cabbage, potatoes, rice cake and a few other items he doesn't recognize, and it's cooked on a large, round skillet in the center of the table.
When the cooking really gets started, Waya realizes that he's in big trouble. His dinnermates start drenching the contents of the skillet with bottles of a red sauce that Waya had assumed was ketchup. His eyes start to water immediately. It’s not ketchup. He doesn't know what it is, but it smells very, VERY spicy. How on earth is he going to eat it when he can barely handle just smelling this meal? What would Isumi do?
Waya realizes that he's seriously miscalculated, but there's nothing he can do at this point but push on.
"Don't worry, there'll be rice too!" Hong says reassuringly.
The waiter delivers a small, metal bowl of rice just for Waya, as everyone else’s rice has been added to the fiery volcano forming in the center of the table. Waya works up sufficient courage to pluck a small piece of chicken from the smoking, bright red skillet. He eyes it warily, clasped tenuously in his unwieldy, metal chopsticks. It’s still steaming and is completely coated in the fiery sauce. It is the very definition of hot and he knows he's going to hate it. But... these are Isumi's friends, and they went out of their way to include him, and dammit, he absolutely has to eat it. It can't be that bad, right? None of his dinner companions have died so far, after all, and they’re shoving whole spoonfuls of the stuff into their mouths.
Waya has his bowl of plain rice poised at the ready to soothe his tongue after the devil chicken. He takes a bite and chews as quickly as he can. Oh, god. His nose starts to run, his eyes start to water, he can no longer feel his tongue, but he keeps chewing. He will never be able to eat another piece, but he has to finish this piece and... he's done! Oh shit, everyone is looking at him.
"Waya, okay? Too spicy?" one of the Korean players asks in halting Japanese.
Waya ducks his head, embarrassed, and puts a big bite of rice into his mouth. It starts to help, but he's still... crying a little, and snotty, and possibly drooling. He reaches for the small glass of water next to his bowl and quickly drinks it in one huge gulp.
It... was not water. Now his lungs are on fire and he's confused and can barely breathe. As his coughing fit subsides, everyone else at the table giggles a little nervously while seeming really concerned.
"Oh Waya, sorry! That was soju, not water, but you're really a Korean now!" Hong says admiringly.
Waya thinks this is the most humiliating meal of his life, but his dinner partners insist on refilling all their glasses and his with soju and downing round after round of shots to cheers of “fighting!” and “one shot!” Nobody seems to notice, or at least nobody mentions, the fact that he doesn't eat any more of the dak galbi. Every time his glass is empty, a different person refills it and cheerfully insists that he does a shot with them. He can’t keep track of how many shots of soju he’s downed, and all he’s had to eat is one bite of devil chicken and a small bowl of rice.
Just when Waya starts worrying that he won’t actually be able to stand up after this “meal,” Isumi appears saying he’s done with work for the evening and suggesting that they return to the hotel. And wow, that sounds nice--no more flaming meals full of pepper sauce, no more endless rounds of soju with people he barely knows. Nope, just a nice quiet room where he can snuggle up against Isumi and fall fast asleep like the drunk, overwhelmed tourist that he is.
"How was dinner?" Isumi asks as they walk to the subway station.
Waya can only shake his head wordlessly. Suddenly, he feels Isumi's fingers brush against his before gripping his hand tightly.
"Isumi! We're in public," Waya exclaims, slurring slightly.
"It's fine. In Korea, men hold each other's hands all the time. No one thinks anything of it," Isumi explains mildly. "Personal space is different here. Just look at those kids."
He gestures at a bench where several teenage boys crowd around a single smartphone. They're sitting on each other's laps and have their arms wrapped tightly over each other's shoulders to keep from toppling over.
"Oh. Well. In that case..." Waya squeezes Isumi's hand gratefully and keeps holding on to it until they reach the hotel.
The following morning, he’s incredibly hungover. After he tells Isumi the full tale of the Dak Galbi Fiasco, Isumi assures him that it's one of the spiciest Korean dishes and that not everything will be like that.
"You're not going to starve to death here. Only a couple of dishes are that spicy. For the most part, Korean food isn't very spicy, it just looks spicy because of all the kimchi and red pepper paste. Anyway, we’ll get bulgogi for dinner tonight and I promise it won’t be spicy at all."
Waya grunts in response. His face is mostly mashed into the pillow, maybe permanently.
"I have to head out for an interview now. I'm sorry, I'm still going to be busy for a few days even though the conference is over. You'll be okay on your own, right?"
Waya manages something resembling a reassuring smile. It must have worked because Isumi pushes his hair aside to press a quick kiss to his forehead.
"You’ve got my cell phone number and the notes I made for you are sitting on the table. I'll see you later tonight!" Isumi says. By the time he shuts the door on his way out, Waya has already fallen back asleep.
A few hours later, Waya wakes up to a slightly less pounding headache. He figures that Isumi would be really disappointed if he just stayed in bed all day instead of doing some exploring so he forces himself to get up.
An hour later, he’s wandering nervously through the streets around the guesthouse and looking for somewhere to have lunch.
He has a short list of recommended foods, written in Japanese and Korean, that Isumi had prepared for him. Isumi SWORE that these foods wouldn't be spicy. He scans the list, quietly muttering to himself in an attempt to pronounce them--gimbap, gogi mandu, dwejang jjigae, galbi tang, mul naengmyun, seolleong tang, and chopchae. Isumi had texted him a picture of a chain restaurant called Gimbap Nara. He promised that they'd be everywhere and that he could order any of these foods there. Of course, Waya could live off hamburgers from Lotteria or even subsist off the Korean versions of udon and tonkatsu but he wants to do this travel thing right, to prove his ability to himself and to make Isumi proud.
Waya gets gogi mandu for lunch because it is the easiest thing to pronounce from Isumi’s food list. He’s proud of himself for managing to order it and insanely happy that it isn’t spicy. After lunch, he walks along the wall of Changdeok Palace, according to his map, before venturing into the hilly roads lined with artists’ studios and preserved old homes surrounding their guesthouse. In his aimless wandering through the winding, quiet streets of Bukchon, he somehow ends up near Gyeongbok Palace. Another palace? How many palaces are there in this city?
He follows the sounds of cymbals and drums to a green-and-red tiered gate. Groups of men in brightly-colored uniforms with odd hats are performing some kind of complicated routine with huge banners and giant spears. He observes them bowing to each other and changing positions a few times and realizes it must be the ceremonial Changing of the Guards.
Waya stands there transfixed by the fascinating and unfamiliar spectacle unfolding before him. He's more than a little proud that he even managed to figure out what was going on and he sort of wants to look up the significance of why everything is so brightly colored at the palace--all primary greens and reds and blues. Although he's never been, he has a hunch that the Changing of the Guards at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo would be a much quieter affair and after seeing this, he's intrigued to check it out when he gets back. As the ceremony ends, Waya thinks that he’s finally starting to understand a little bit of why Isumi must enjoy traveling back and forth to China and Korea so frequently.
As he wanders back toward the guesthouse, he’s jarringly pulled out of his introspective mood by the piercing, excited screams of middle school girls. He whirls around to see a pack of them pointing frantically at him.
"Shiny!!" they shriek and whip out their camera phones.
Ugh, not again! Waya turns to run, but sees another group coming his way. Did school just let out or something?? They freeze and start to shriek in excitement.
"Shiny?" he finally asks bewilderedly.
"Shiny!!" they answer happily. Then, to Waya's horror, they start moving their arms, in sync, and chanting.
"EVERYBODY! EVERYBODY! EVERY, EVERY, BODY!"
Waya finds an opening and sprints away.
Middle school girls. He will never understand them, not in any country, or planet, or universe.
On the second day of Waya's solo adventures in Korea, he decides to tag along to one of Isumi's interviews out of curiosity.
It's early in the morning, but Isumi looks handsome and mature in his neatly pressed suit. This interview will be aired on a Korean television channel dedicated solely to go coverage. Waya tries to stay in the back, out of the way, when the filming begins.
Thanks to the Japanese interpreter sitting beside Isumi, Waya is able to understand the questions being asked. Isumi nevertheless responds almost entirely in Korean and Waya is so proud of him that he doesn't really mind that he can't understand what he’s saying. Even though Isumi has had a lot of practice with interviews by now, he still looks embarrassed when the program host praises his go playing and international appeal, but his shyness disappears when he responds to questions about traveling in Korea and playing with Korean pros.
As Isumi answers the questions in his usual straightforward and respectful manner, Waya can tell that everyone in the room is completely charmed by his humility and enthusiasm for their country. It reminds him of his thoughts a few nights ago at that dinner with Hong Su Young and it’s suddenly incredibly obvious why Isumi is so popular abroad even though Touya and Shindou have had more dramatic go careers.
And yet, despite all the success and apparent fame abroad, the attention is clearly still surprising to Isumi, who continues to lack confidence sometimes and doesn't look like he'll ever be fully comfortable in front of a camera. Waya couldn't be prouder that everyone else is finally recognizing Isumi's strength too. Now Isumi just needs to start recognizing it in himself.
The interview continues for awhile and Waya is starting to feel weird about standing around and doing nothing when he overhears his name.
He looks up and Isumi is gesturing at him while speaking to the program host. The young woman widens her eyes when she sees him and excitedly exclaims something in Korean. Waya feels himself suddenly pushed forward until he's standing in front of the camera with Isumi and the woman.
"Wha... what's going on??"
"I told them that you're a Japanese pro too and it seems that they want to take some photos of you," Isumi explains sheepishly. "Would you be okay with that? You don't have to."
Oh, they noticed him too! Waya fights the urge to pump his fist in the air and instead shrugs. "Yeah, sure, I don't mind."
Isumi gets dragged off to another room for a separate interview and Waya ends up taking photos with most of the staff. Everyone seems really happy and excited to see him and Waya is loving it. They even ask him to pose with a goban and Waya happily obliges with a few action shots.
Isumi returns and looks confused as he watches the photoshoot.
"Hey Isumi, do you think it's because Go Weekly covered one of my games the other week? I wouldn't be surprised. I really dominated that game!" Waya asks as he pretends to dramatically slam down a go stone.
Before Isumi can answer, the young program host comes running up to him out of breath and clutching something in her hand. She gestures at the cameraman as she holds the flat object in front of them for the photo.
Waya looks down at the CD’s cover and sees five guys with his exact hairstyle and wearing camo outfits staring back at him. His jaw drops. The shutter clicks.
"SHINee!" The woman exclaims happily.
"What the hell? I look like a member of Shinee! How many doppelgangers can I have!?" Waya fumes as Isumi walks with him to the subway station.
Isumi chuckles softly. "Cheer up, Waya. They don't really look like you, it's just the hair."
"See, this is "Le Ping" all over again!"
"Well... Le Ping really does look like you."
Waya glares. "This really isn't funny." He knows he's irrationally upset, but he can't help it. "It's just that... well, I thought they noticed me as a go player too. But it turns out I just look like someone from a stupid boy-band."
Isumi slips his hand around Waya's. Waya feels a bit weird about all the hand-holding for a moment before remembering that Isumi said Korean guys do this all the time. He exhales slowly and tightens his grip. Maybe it's not all bad here.
They reach the station entrance and Isumi lets go of Waya's hand to tousle his hair instead.
"What's next for you today?" Waya asks.
Isumi rubs his neck tiredly. "Let's see... an interview with another Korean go magazine, quick lunch with some pro friends of mine, and then an appearance at a local go tournament. All this go stuff and I've hardly had a chance to actually play."
"Oh, wow," Waya says awkwardly, and a bit enviously. "Yeah, that's too bad."
"Anyway, I can't wait to see you later tonight. You brought the food list with you, the maps, the guidebook...?"
"Got it, I'll be fine," Waya grins up at Isumi, feigning confidence. He feels a pang of loneliness as he watches Isumi disappear down the road, but he takes a deep breath and heads purposefully down into the station.
When Waya emerges back at Anguk Station, he starts walking along the same path that he explored yesterday. Despite his reassuring words to Isumi, he feels awful and decides to stay close to the guesthouse rather than potentially adding getting lost to his terrible mood. Maybe he can try to catch the Changing of the Guards ceremony again. He begins walking back towards Gyeongbok Palace but along the way, he comes across a small park.
Waya freezes as he hears the unmistakable and incredibly comforting sound of a go game in progress echoing from within the park. Yes! Without hesitation, he hurtles into the park.
Several hours later, Waya meets up with Isumi for dinner. Isumi orders kimchi fried rice for himself to let Waya try kimchi in its mildest form and suggests bibimbap for Waya.
"Well, I'm beat," Isumi sighs. "All that silly publicity stuff is finally over. I'm really sorry again that I’ve been so busy."
Waya nimbly pops a giant slice of pickled radish into his mouth with his metal chopsticks. "No worries. I think I finally got the hang of being in Korea."
Isumi grins. "Oh yeah? Why's that?"
Waya elatedly shares the discovery he made that afternoon: a secret go club whose members seem to adore him.
"I played go nonstop until dinner! They shared gimbap with me for lunch. It’s kinda like a weird sushi. It’s not spicy, so I liked it! We got along great, even though I don't speak Korean." Waya twirls his chopsticks in the air thoughtfully before continuing. "That's because we spoke the universal language... of go."
Isumi coughs as he puts his water cup back down.
"I know, that sounded cool, right? Anyway, they liked me so much that they even gave me a nickname: Ai Go! They kept saying it to me over and over. I guess because they could tell that I love go, haha. Why are you making that face?"
"Ahh... there's too much vinegar in this side dish. Anyway, it's great that you had such a good time today!"
When the big metal bowl of rice and vegetables arrives, Isumi tells him to mix all the ingredients together with his chopsticks and then to eat it with his spoon.
Waya good-humoredly jokes about Koreans and their spoons before using the chopsticks to break apart the fried egg that sits atop the bowl.
He stops. Underneath the egg, there's a giant, ominous glob of bright red pepper paste.
Isumi notices his hesitation. "What's wrong?"
Waya gestures helplessly at the red, hot center of his bowl of bibimbap.
"Oh no, sorry about that! Usually they give you a bottle of pepper sauce and let you adjust the spice level by yourself."
Waya scrapes it off. Clearly this country is out to get him.
After removing the offending pepper sauce and eating a bit, Waya has to admit that bibimbap is pretty good. About halfway through the meal he feels brave enough to try the kimchi fried rice. He's in Korea after all, he can't possibly go this whole week without trying kimchi. Shindou would never let him live it down and no doubt all of Isumi’s Korean friends are going to ask him his opinion of kimchi at some point.
He eyes the bright red rice suspiciously before taking a bite.
"Oh my god! Isumi, how can you eat that! You... You said it was only a little spicy! Are you insane! Are you trying to kill me!"
Isumi, looking chagrined, says "I... I don't think it tastes very spicy."
"How can you say that! It seriously isn't spicy to you? I'm dying from one bite!"
"... I guess my tastebuds have just changed from traveling. This is much less spicy than most of the food in China."
"I’m serious! Why are you smiling like that?"
"Oh, I'm sorry! It's just that you look so cute when you're flustered. I swear I didn't mean to mislead you about the kimchi being spicy."
"I'm not flustered. I'm filled with righteous indignation!"
Isumi's only response to that is to take another bite of his OUTRAGEOUSLY SPICY kimchi fried rice.
“Waya, it’s already 11 am. Are you done changing yet? What’s taking you so long?”
Waya can hear a rare hint of irritation in Isumi’s voice through the bathroom door, but he can’t stop staring at his reflection in horror. He wanted to surprise Isumi with the cool new clothes he brought with him, but now he’s not so sure. These skin-tight silver jeans might be starting to cut off circulation to his legs.
“Damn it, Shigeko… wait until I get back to Japan!” Waya mutters.
He hears a knock on the door.
“Seriously, are you okay in there?” Isumi says worriedly.
Waya takes a deep breath and opens the door.
He waits for Isumi to say something reassuring, but Isumi can only gape at him in shock.
“It’s Shigeko’s fault!” Waya groans. “I only brought the clothes she bought for me and my favorite camo stuff, and I can’t wear camo here anymore if that means people are going to mistake me for Shinee all day!”
“You look more like an idol singer in that get-up,” Isumi finally manages to say through his laughter.
Waya tugs awkwardly on his matching metallic cropped vest. “I can’t go out like this. I don’t know what to do.”
“Why don’t we just wear our team polos today? I was going to suggest that earlier. I bet you’d be a lot more comfortable in that.”
“Oh yeah, our polos! Great idea, Isumi!”
They quickly change. Isumi insists that they might as well wear their full uniforms, down to the matching khakis and tennis shoes.
Waya grins. No one is going to mistake him for Shinee in his Japan Go Institute polo!
“Alright, we finally have our first free day together! What should we do first?”
Isumi smiles. “I was thinking we could go to Namdaemun Market for the afternoon.”
They head to the subway and pop out onto a major road. After a couple of seemingly random turns, they’re suddenly in a very big, bustling street market. There are endless rows of vendors lining both sides, and even in the middle, of the streets as far as Waya can see. Each vendor seems to specialize in one particular item but there’s a huge assortment of different vendors selling pretty much anything and everything---clothes, electronics, souvenirs, eyeglasses, food, everything.
They pass by a place selling K-pop merchandise but thankfully Isumi doesn't comment on the dozens of pictures of Shinee adorning the stall. Waya still crosses to the other side of the street, just to put as much distance between the pictures and himself as possible. At least he's not wearing camo today. Wearing their team shirts had been a good call.
They spend a couple of hours aimlessly wandering around the market, stopping occasionally to try some new, delicious type of street food or to gawk at strange items for sale.
Waya’s noticed an unusual amount of stalls that seem to sell nothing but socks. While Isumi is distracted chatting with a vendor over the price of...oh god, metal chopsticks, Waya occupies himself with investigating a nearby sock vendor rather than thinking too hard about whether his boyfriend is insane.
So many socks! Socks of every color. Socks with anime characters on them, socks with English phrases on them, socks with...socks with K-pop stars on them. Ugh, there’s Shinee on a pair of camo socks! Waya is cursed. He is obviously cursed! This whole country is out to get him, mocking him even on their socks.
And, wait a minute… He looks up and makes sure that Isumi is done with the chopstick vendor before gesturing for him to come over.
"Isumi, are these ramen socks?"
"Oh, yeah, that's the logo for Shin Ramyeon. It's the most popular kind of cup noodle in Korea but you wouldn't like it, it's spicy."
Oh my god, Waya has to buy these for Shindou! Of course, that punk doesn't exactly deserve a souvenir. But, ramen socks! These clearly belong with Shindou and they’re too ridiculous to pass up.
Now that he’s bought something for Shindou, he should probably get something for everyone. His parents, Morishita-sensei, Nase… Ugh, this is going to be some work! He gets distracted for a while, wandering down the road selecting gifts.
"Hey Waya, we have dinner reservations at N. Seoul Tower so we should start heading over that way soon."
Waya quickly pays for the purple pocket square that he hastily selected as a peace offering for Touya (He has no idea what to buy for Touya, but he's trying!). As they walk out of the market, Isumi mentions that they can either take a taxi up to the summit or walk uphill a bit and then take the ropeway cable car.
"Woah, a cable car!" Waya enthuses. "I've never been in one, that sounds cool!" Isumi smiles and leads him through a series of quiet uphill streets. Just like in the marketplace, Waya has absolutely no idea how Isumi knows where he's going, but he's walking with a determined pace so Waya supposes he must have secret internal GPS or something.
They turn a corner and suddenly there it is, the cable car. This is going to be so much fun! Waya didn't even realize until ten minutes ago that for his entire life he's had an unmet need to ride a cable car but obviously the whole trip has been leading to this. Look at those cool glass and metal cabins zooming up and down the mountainside on suspended cables!
In a few minutes, they're boarding the next available carriage. As soon as the door snaps shut, an incredibly loud dance song starts blasting inside the tiny, packed cable car. Waya uneasily moves closer to Isumi. The ground slips away beneath them and the car starts rocking back and forth, dangling above the treetops by nothing but a wire. As the chorus starts chanting "sorry, sorry" unendingly in English, Waya realizes that he's very sorry indeed that he ever got into this cable car.
Why did he think this sounded like fun!? This is...this is even worse than the plane. He thinks he might actually be turning green. And did... did that song just call him a "shorty!" The horrible song ends and he thinks that whatever comes on next, it can only be an improvement after that. He's focusing on the music so that he doesn't have to think about anything else that his senses are telling him right now.
The next song starts with a screeching violin and an eerie pipe organ. The horror-movie soundtrack vibe is already starting to creep him out and then a voice begins ominously whispering "Shinee's back" over and over again. No, no, this is too much to ask of him! He squeezes Isumi's hand even tighter. Wow, when did he even pick up Isumi’s hand anyway?
Isumi leans in and asks, "Are you okay? Is it the amount of people in this thing freaking you out or the height?"
"It's...it's everything, and most of all it’s this stupid song! Why is it always Shinee!!"
Isumi looks really concerned so Waya supposes that he must look as bad as he feels. “We’ll be at the top really soon. You won’t even have to listen to this song all the way through and we won’t take the cable car back down, okay?”
Sure enough, Shinee is still singing about how they’re “so curious” when the cable car makes one last terrifying bump as it lands. Waya all but bolts for the door as soon as the conductor opens it.
After he spends a shaky minute inhaling huge gulps of air and learning how to use his legs again, he looks up and realizes that they’re in a rather nice park. The giant, mountain-top radio tower that he’s been seeing from different angles all over the city is right in front of him... oh, so that’s N. Seoul tower. Wow, they’re going to have dinner in there!
They cram into an elevator that goes up to the observation deck and, as has been his experience in all matters of public transportation in Seoul, they cram far more people into the elevator than Waya would previously had thought possible. There’s an elevator attendant wearing a uniform and speaking in eager, rapid-fire Korean but Waya doesn’t understand any of it. Regardless, he doesn’t even need Isumi’s explanation of “she’s telling us to look at the ceiling,” since the attendant keeps gesturing emphatically up at the...perfectly ordinary looking elevator ceiling.
Waya is just about to ask Isumi if this is some bizarre Korean custom when the elevator starts moving and the ceiling jumps to life with a video presentation. “I wonder why they make us watch a ceiling video in this elevator,” he thinks, just before the rapid acceleration of the elevator makes his stomach lurch and his ears pop. He keeps it together externally, he thinks, hopes, but inside he’s shouting, “Oh god, first the cable car and now this! This day is turning into almost as bad as the airplane day!” At least the elevator ride is very brief. He’s pretty sure Isumi didn’t even notice him twitch when his ears popped.
They emerge onto a circular observation deck and... wow... Isumi wasn’t kidding when he said that Waya would need some time to take in the view.
In front of them, the skyscrapers of Seoul sprawl out in every direction, bisected by the wide, serpentine Han River and enclosed on nearly all sides by jagged mountains. He’s seen huge cities before of course, he’s from Tokyo, and he’d noticed some of the mountains in Seoul in his daily meanderings, but he had no idea just how many mountains there were or that several of them were completely engulfed by the city. It’s odd seeing the deep green, forested peaks dotted like punctuation amongst the endless grey and white buildings that stretch to the horizon.
Waya sort of loses track of time wandering from window to window, drinking in the Seoul skyline and, only occasionally, making Isumi mug for some truly terrible selfies with him. The sun is just starting to set and the view keeps getting better as the colors deepen and change. He’s all but forgotten about his harrowing experiences in the cable car and the elevator when Isumi says, “Waya, we should head up to the restaurant now.”
Another elevator! It must show on his face because Isumi quickly amends, “It’s only two floors up from here and I’m told the view is even better up there.”
According to the sign in the elevator, the restaurant is called n.Grill, so Waya isn’t prepared for the aroma of French food and the fancy plush chairs and white tablecloths that confront them when they exit the elevator.
“Isumi, this restaurant seems really expensive…” Waya says, cautiously eyeing the hushed room and the discreetly attentive wait staff. He’s giving Isumi an out in case he hadn’t realized just how upscale this restaurant was when he made the reservation.
“It’s your first time out of Japan and it’s our first big trip together. It’s worth celebrating,” Isumi responds resolutely.
They're soon seated at a small table by a window and given menus. Waya gulps at the prices listed and frantically rechecks his mental calculations to convert from won to yen.
"It's fine if we split the bill, really," Waya insists.
"Don't worry, it's my treat. I'm just glad we're here together," Isumi says with a smile and the dazzling nightscape of Seoul shining behind him. "It's been a long few days for us, hasn't it?"
For Waya, it's been a bizarre and exhausting roulette of spicy food, mistaken identities, and extreme highs and lows, but right now, he wouldn't want to be anywhere else. He feels an overwhelming tension seep out of him, leaving him a little shaky and a bit giddy, and he can't do much else but grip Isumi's hand tightly and say, “This is really, really nice.”
“I feel like I haven’t seen you in ages,” Isumi sighs and squeezes his hand back. “All these jobs took a lot more time than I expected. I’m sorry again.”
“You really don’t need to apologize. If anything, I’m sorry for being such a pain to travel with and for stressing out over everything,” Waya replies with a rueful laugh. “I know it’s annoying. I wish I were as good at traveling as you are.”
“Waya, of course Korea is overwhelming at first. I’ve just been here a bunch of times already!”
“Oh yeah, I know.”
They order their meals and descend into companionable silence. After a while, Waya can feel Isumi glancing at him with a slight frown.
Waya pauses with his water glass halfway to his mouth. “What?”
“Remember that time we took Shindou to a Korean go salon and he told everyone that he didn’t know that people play go in Korea?”
The couple at the table next to them glare as Waya almost drops his glass and starts silently shaking with laughter. Isumi grins.
“Okay, fine,” Waya says after he recovers. “I’m not as bad as Shindou. I can say that at least.”
“You’re doing a great job of adjusting to a new country, seriously. When I first went to China, I was so paranoid that everyone was watching me and talking about me at lunch that I would just eat as fast as I could and run away.”
“Really? You didn’t tell me that before!”
“Yeah! I was right about that once though. When I first played Le Ping and lost, he made fun of me to a bunch of insei and I didn’t understand what was going on.”
“What! That little punk!” Waya snarls. Isumi laughs.
“Anyway, I’m just saying that it’s normal to be paranoid and nervous at first. You’re doing fine. Just trust yourself to find your own path, just like you’re always helping me to do.”
“Well, it’s easy to support you! But yeah, it’s hard to follow your own advice…”
Isumi smiles at him fondly.
“My own path…” Waya muses. “That’s right! We should visit that go club I found tomorrow!”
“The one where they call me ‘Ai Go!’”
“Oh, right! Yeah, we should definitely stop by.”
After dinner, Isumi suggests that they wander through Myeongdong which he says is “like Shibuya.” Waya’s never been a big fan of shopping, but the lights and sounds coming from the district across the street do look intriguing and he’s in a really good mood, so what the hell.
“Sorry about that,” Isumi says not ten minutes later while deftly maneuvering them onto a parallel side street. “I keep underestimating just how much you dislike crowds. Let’s get out of here.” They’re still surrounded by young people elbowing each other in their haste to get into the endless, blazing neon palaces of consumerism that line the roads here, but he can see a gap in the crowds a few blocks up and reasons that that must be the edge of the shopping district.
Wait. Dislike crowds!? Did Isumi just accuse him of disliking crowds? Waya is from Tokyo, he’s not going to be defeated by any crowds! But okay… maybe Isumi has a point, it has been a rough day crowd-wise. Still, Waya can’t help but feel like it’s a moral failing on his part, having to retreat out of Myeongdong.
Isumi hails a cab apologetically muttering, “We were only walking through Myeongdong on our way to Cheonggyecheon and this will be faster. We’ve done a lot of walking today anyway.”
They hop out of the cab at an unremarkable-looking corner and Waya wonders where, exactly, they are and what they’re here to do. It isn’t until they cross the road that he sees the gently lit river and walking paths winding just below street level.
"I thought maybe we could take a quiet walk instead," Isumi says.
Waya releases a breath that he hadn't realized he was holding. "That sounds perfect."
They head down the steps. Isumi slips his hand around Waya’s and they begin walking alongside the river. The wide path is softly lit with golden lanterns and the bright faces of couples speaking in low murmurs. The glittering high-rises of Seoul frame the starry sky above them. Myeongdong already feels like a distant memory.
At some point during their walk, Waya impulsively buys two giant cotton candy balls and Isumi is jokingly comparing them to the size of Waya’s hair when Waya spots a familiar figure walking towards them with a tall, gorgeous woman at his side.
Ugh. It couldn’t be anyone else. How could this be happening now after he’d managed to avoid him at the go conference? But it’s definitely him. Same long, flashy red hair that shouldn’t even look good and that cocky, model-like swagger. Who else would have the nerve to walk around with a white shirt half open in public?
“Ko Young Ha!” Isumi says cheerfully and waves his cotton candy ball at him.
Waya bows stiffly.
“Ah, Shin-chan!” Ko Young Ha says with a brilliant smile.
Shin-chan?? Waya unconsciously tightens his hold on Isumi’s hand.
“And… Waya,” Ko Young Ha says. He pauses to look Waya up and down, and then Isumi. Waya is just beginning to narrow his eyes suspiciously when he actually has the nerve to smirk.
What the hell! Like they’re the weird ones!
“Shin-chan, it’s great to see you again so soon. Will you have time to do any more traveling in Korea before you leave?”
“Ah, no, unfortunately. We’re flying back to Japan tomorrow afternoon.”
“That’s too bad. I thought perhaps you were on your way to Jeju.”
“Not this time, but maybe next year,” Isumi replies with a smile.
Ko Young Ha’s model girlfriend flashes Waya a wink as they part ways. Waya’s hand is starting to get coated in melting sugar and he angrily gnaws a tuft of cotton candy as they continue walking.
“We just did several media appearances together this week,” Isumi explains.
“Did you see the weird looks he was giving us?” Waya complains. “What the hell! We look exactly like everyone else walking around here.”
“That’s true, we do look like everyone else here.”
“Do you think he could tell that we’re dating?”
“Well… probably. I was giving you some intense looks. Maybe he could tell that way.”
Waya rolls his eyes and bites off another candy tuft. “He’s such a weirdo.”
Isumi squeezes his hand. “Let’s start to head back to the hotel.”
Waya beams. No point in letting Ko Young Ha ruin his mood. He and Isumi just had the best date ever and they still have one more day left in Korea to enjoy together!
The next morning, Waya tosses the television remote back onto the futon, where all his clothes and souvenirs are neatly spread out on top of the covers.
“Heh, I found that go channel,” Waya snickers. A giant goban fills the screen and disembodied hands slowly place black and white stones onto it alongside running commentary.
“What’s that?” Isumi’s voice is muffled through the bathroom door.
“Nothing,” Waya calls out as he starts rolling his shirts together tightly, the way Isumi had showed him. He’ll need as much room in his suitcase as possible. How did he manage to accumulate twice as much stuff to bring back home??
He’s carefully wrapping a shot glass with his socks and feeling like a pro-traveler when Isumi’s face appears on the television! He’s wearing a different suit than the one he wore when Waya went with him, so this must have been on a different day. He’s standing in front of the game that’s now projected behind him and gesturing at different groups. Waya is about to call out when Ko Young Ha suddenly sidles up next to Isumi and leans across him to point at the same group of stones.
“What the hell! You again!?” Waya squawks and throws a sock at the TV.
“What’s wrong?” Isumi hurriedly bursts into the room, clutching a towel around his waist. Waya points angrily at the screen.
“You didn’t mention that Ko Young Ha was in one of your interviews!”
“Hmm? Oh yeah, I did a bunch of publicity events with him. He’s one of Korea’s top young pros after all.”
“A bunch?? Multiple events??”
It doesn’t help that Isumi rubs the back of his neck confusedly at the exact moment when his TV doppelganger does the same.
“Ugh! Oh, nevermind.” Waya drops the sock that’s now clammy from being balled up in his fist.
“Hey, you know what? We should drop by that secret go club you found before we head to the airport,” Isumi says, stepping back into the bathroom.
“Oh yeah, the go club!” Waya’s scowl disappears as he stands up and grabs the remote. He watches with satisfaction as Ko Young Ha’s smirking face disappears into a blank screen.
Waya confidently walks a bit ahead of Isumi leading the way toward Gyeongbok Palace. As they head into a small park nearby, the sound of clacking go stones grows louder.
They come across a small clearing filled with old men hunched intently over gobans, occasionally glancing up to raucously heckle each other.
"Annyeonghaseyo!" Waya loudly calls out.
"저 녀석 다시왔네!" A few men energetically wave him over to an empty goban. Waya saunters up to the goban and gestures at the one next to him.
"How about a quick game, Isumi? You said you weren't able to play much go on the trip."
"Sure, we have time for one game." Isumi sits down and politely bows to the man who takes a seat across from him.
Both pairs do nigiri and bow to each other. Waya and his opponent quickly launch into an early battle. Waya’s leaning forward and he knows his grin must be slightly manic, but the only thing better than hanging out in this park is being here with Isumi. He starts slamming down stones like tiny bolts of lightning, practically playing speed go. At his side, he can hear Isumi placing stones calmly but decisively. He doesn't even need to look at the goban to tell that Isumi has the advantage too.
"Ai go!! 윽, 이 꼬맹이들 진짜 잘하잖아" His opponent groans as Waya deftly captures several more stones.
"Ai go!" Waya cheerfully replies.
"좋아, 그럼 이건 어떠냐," the man grimaces as he starts invading Waya’s group of stones in the upper left, but Waya easily deflects him. "Ai go!!"
"Ai go!" Waya shouts back happily. He turns to watch Isumi’s game while his opponent takes his time deciding his next move.
"바둑 한 수 감사드려요," Isumi says to his opponent.
The man blinks, probably surprised that Isumi can speak Korean. "한국 말 할줄 알아? 이 꼬맹이도 알고?"
"네, 같이 일본에서 왔는걸요."
Isumi's partner places a stone and leans over to Isumi.
"이상한 꼬맹이로군 그래? 처음엔 우리한테 깐죽대는 줄 알았더니, 퍽 겸손한데다 바둑실력까지 굉장하잖아?"
Waya watches their conversation curiously while his opponent is brooding over his next move. Isumi's face is carefully composed as he puts down a stone, but the corner of his mouth quirks slightly.
"죄송해요, 나쁜 의도가 있었던 건 아니에요. "Ai go" 가 일본어로는 "바둑을 사랑합니다"로 들리거든요. 여기서 이렇게 여러분들과 바둑을 둔게 한국 여행에서 가장 기억에 남을 것 같네요."
The man laughs. "거참 기가 막히는군. 아니, 화 난게 아니라! 그저 얘가 좀 모자란가 생각했지."
Waya taps Isumi's arm. "Hey, what are you guys saying? Did he mention that I played four of them at the same time the other day and won?"
"Oh, I'm just telling him how much you enjoyed playing go here. He complimented your skills and said it's been a memorable experience for them too."
"Yeah, these guys are great. Too bad we don't have more time for a team match! Let's finish this off quickly, Isumi, what do you say?"
"Fighting!" Isumi cheers. They high-five each other and immerse themselves in their games.
"Ai go!" Waya's partner laments again and lowers his head in defeat.
"Ai go!" Isumi's partner says to Waya with a thumbs-up.
"...Ai go!" Waya and Isumi reply, grinning.
After the game, the go players wish Waya and Isumi a safe trip back to Japan and one of them presses a small rice cake into Waya's palm.
As they head back to grab their luggage and go to the airport, Waya is quietly lost in thought. They pass by the Gimbap Nara restaurant closest to their hotel and he fondly remembers when he managed to order gogi mandu on his own.
"You know, Korea wasn't so bad after all, once I got used to it," Waya muses. "I'd like to come back again sometime."
Isumi smiles. "That’s great. Maybe next year we’ll go to Jeju."
Poor Waya, "Aigo" doesn't mean "Love Go." In Korean, it's the equivalent of saying "ugh!"
Sly Isumi! Nobody even knows that Isumi is sly because he's JUST THAT SLY! The evidence:
- Exhibit A: While kids in Korea do hang all over each other and adults often walk arm-in-arm, hand-holding between adult males is not common--Waya needed it though.
- Exhibit B: Throughout the fic Isumi recognizes but strategically doesn't explain things that would break Waya's nascent confidence--things like the real meaning of “Aigo.”
- Exhibit C: “Oh, hey, let’s just wear our matching outfits.” Wearing matching outfits is called “Couples Wear” or “Couples Look” in Korea and, well, it’s what couples do.
- Exhibit D: The “Jeju conversation” with Ko Young Ha. Jeju is the most popular honeymoon location in Korea and when Ko Young Ha runs into Isumi and Waya while they’re displaying just about every Korean “We’re together!” marker a person could have, he’s slyly asking if they’re on their honeymoon and Isumi slyly counters with a “not this year, but maybe next year.” So much slyness going around but our dear narrator Waya doesn’t pick up on any of it.
Alas, thus far SHINee has not undergone the Waya make-over described in this story, but we can always hold out hope for their next comeback, right ^_*
We hope this story has made you crave Korean food. Here's a handy recipe guide for the dishes featured in this story: Samgyetang, Dak Galbi, Gogi Mandu, Bulgogi, Bibimbap, Kimchi Bokkumbap (Fried Rice), and Gimbap. Isumi's "I PROMISE these aren't spicy!" recommendations for Waya that were only mentioned in passing are Dwejang Jjigae, Galbi Tang, Mul Naengmyun, Seolleong Tang, and Chopchae.
We strove to maintain accuracy in the geography and places described in this story. There really are Shin Ramyeon socks for sale all over Namdaemun Market, there really is a video screen on the ceiling of the elevator in N. Seoul Tower, etc. The only artistic license taken in our description of Seoul is the idea that you might be able to see stars while walking along the Cheonggyecheon. But hey, sometimes magic just happens!