"Not her. What about your wife? She get angry if she hear you."
"He’s upset because his wife died several months ago," Grandpa Paik says to me seriously.
"Yes, three months ago. He knows my pain."
The discussion ends as abruptly as it began when the waitress, a slender young girl with long, black hair, serves round two — mugs of warm sake and beer. Grandpa Paik stiffly slaps her shoulder and says, "You forgot the glasses."
"Thank you, honey," says Grandpa Young.
Grandpa Paik, who has lived in the States for more than 10 years, tells me that before he retired he was a chemist who did the coloring for the faces of expensive watches, mostly Rolexes. His dream, however, was to be a boxer, and he might have made it if it hadn’t been for the war. While trying to make it as a boxer, he also worked a day job as a movie commentator.
"Back then, movies didn’t have sound. And they were black-and-white. So the theaters would hire a movie commentator. I would sit off to the side and read a script by a tiny light. The trick was reading in time."
He clears his throat to do his commentator voice, which sounds something like a TV anchor on speed. "‘And then, the man arrived to the city looking for the woman he loved . . .’ But if the man wasn’t on the screen yet, then everybody would start yelling."
They also jeered when the film broke, which it always did back then. "And they’d always re-thread it upside down. So I’d read, ‘The plane flew upside down over the clouds and below the land,’ and this got really big laughs. But nobody would think that was funny these days. You understand," he says to Grandpa Young, who nods. "But back then, it was so funny the whole theater would be laughing."
Grandpa Paik’s story still gets a big laugh from his friends, and it becomes clear that the men of the Na Sung Hangook Gi Won have re-created some of that "back then" in the here and now of this worn-down strip mall. It’s a universal "back then," when every community had a Gi Won — where, more than their words, men were understood by the number of times their eight ball made it into the corner pocket, how many mugs of sake or beer they could drink before passing out, and how they played their stones. What is Go? What drives Go players? From the beginning, the men ignored this line of questioning. Some because they knew better, and most because they didn’t give a damn.
After a third round of sake, the grandpas make their way back upstairs, where they can sing, shoot the shit, talk about broads and be left alone. With nothing left to prove and no need to justify their time, they’ve distilled the game to its purest form — a refuge.