A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure to write for the Hygge Rebel, a blog maintained by my friend Diamond. As I am told, hygge is loosely translated to "the Danish ritual of enjoying life's simple pleasures." Lovely word.
Here is my submission. the full post is here. http://hyggerebel.blogspot.ca/2016/06/chess-and-childhood-memories.html
It was a bright, summer day in Scarborough, Ontario in 2001. My parents had to go on a long errand, so they left me in the hands of close family friends who lived on the same floor as us. After I gave my parents a temporary farewell, I turned to the suite to see what it could offer me.
I was soon disappointed. I looked around and there was not a single action figure, comic book or pack of crayons anywhere. I guess that this reflected the inhabitants of the suite really well: the youngest child of the tenant was more than twice my age and size. He must have matured really quickly. Despite his formidable size, the youth named Andy was very amiable and treated me well. Seeing my despair of not seeing any toys, he tried to comfort me with a board game that he had in the closet. He called it “chess.” When he opened the box that became the board, I saw an array of wooden pieces different from each other, all carved beautifully. Fascinated, I wanted to learn how to play - partly because I wanted to play, partly because the pieces looked like action figures. Patiently, Andy taught me how the pawns, the rooks, the knights, the bishops, the queens and the kings moved (personally I think he made some up because I had to revise my repertoire of chess rules later on).
After a while, I seemed to have grasped most of the rules and was ready to play. Propped on a high chair, I shook his hand, or rather, let his hand engulf mine. My, was I terrible at it! Within a few moves I think I lost a pawn, then a rook, and eventually my queen. Clearly I was not very good at this.
Andy was enjoying himself. He let me take back all the pieces I wanted. Upon reflection, he did so more to amuse himself than to help me. Because even after an excruciating amount of takebacks I could not even claim a single piece. I was furious. At one point, he even taunted me with some naïve chants. I was about to cry. Never am I playing this game again, I vowed.
Fortunately, as I was about to get checkmated, my parents were back to pick me up. Ecstatic, I swiped the board and ran into my parents’ arms. Unsportsmanlike, I know. Sheepishly, my parents apologized on my behalf. Smiling, Andy also apologized for torturing me like that.
Luckily, vows made by 5-year-old me are non-binding. In retrospect, I guess that someone's first contact with a skill or a sport is in no way indicative of his/her future in that aspect. Now that I think about it, I guess he didn’t really have to apologize. Little did I know that I would be sparring with my dad three years later, at the age of 8. Little did I know that I would win my first scholastic tournament at the age of 10. Little did I know that I would have the chance to play in the Quebec Chess Challenge, eventually winning my section in my third appearance. Little did I know that I would win an FQE U2000 tournament, attaining the Expert title for a rating above 2000 right after my win. Alas, there was no way that 5-year-old kid could see what was in store for him.
But more importantly, I had no idea how much chess would shape my life. Chess has not only provided me with a hobby, but also a community. A big chunk of my friends comes from the people I spent time with in between rounds at tournaments or at chess camps. Though some friendships are better than others, most of them have transcended the chess board. And that was a good thing too. Because as I cut back on my tournaments as high school finished, it was reassuring to be reunited with my chess friends at Marianopolis, and later on at McGill. We even have the occasional glass of wine on Saturday night. I did not expect that when I started playing.
Chess has also brought exciting opportunities to me. As one of my English teachers once said, a lot of initial job-related opportunities are referred to you by a friend. It was a tough market, after all. One such opportunities was brought to me by my chess friend Shaohang He. He proposed to me the idea for PeersIdea, a start-up whose mission is to facilitate the one-on-one learning of hobbies. It’ll have an online platform where users can find teachers for any topic, such as chess, League of Legends, or yo-yoing. The emphasis will be on hobbies, though the teaching of academic subjects will also be present. Along with Shaohang, I am working with Marguerite - also a friend from chess - and some other talented programmers on this project. We are currently in the development stage and are following the timeline of the HEC Social Business Creation Competition. Five-year-old me would never have imagined that chess would take me here.
For some people, it was hockey. Others, figure skating. Others, trivia. But for me, chess was and continues to be my everything.
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