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Visit and promote Go in Sofia

This year, in Europe, a new Go association was born. It is in Bulgaria which is famous for my favorites, yogurt and roses.
This newly born Go association was an opportunity for me to visit and promote Go in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria where I joined Mr. Yoshiteru Abe, 9 dan, who was sent there from the Japan Foundation to introduce Japanese culture.

As soon as I arrived in Sofia, what I felt was, first of all, the atmosphere was like East Europe when I visited about 10 years ago. The buildings and streets look quaint and even those cars driven are antiques. But in the city, the number of cars has double in the last 1 or 2 years and I heard that there is a terrible traffic jam in the mornings and in the evenings.
Bulgaria has been liberated from communism for over 10 years and has settled to join the EU 3 years later and seems to be developing every day.

Bulgarians shake their heads side ways when they mean `Yesí and nod when they mean `Noí. At the beginning, I was confused and puzzled. That is their custom connected with their history from the past. Long ago, even though there was a king, people could not obey the invaders at the time and under the pressure of obedience, that was the sign of a spirit of independence. By the way, people in India also nod and shake their heads like Bulgarians. Is there anything in common ???
Also, their writing is different. Itís not familiar alphabet but cyrillic writing which was created in Bulgaria and later it spread in Russian countries. That writing made me feel as if I was in a foreign country.

The main event, this time, is the first Go tournament since the Bulgarian Go Association was established. The tournament took place at Sofia Art University located behind Aleksandar Nevski Memorial Church, the most famous place in Sofia and in front of the university, there is a National Library. It is right in the middle of the government offices. By its name, it sounds grand but the building is old and I cannot say that it is very clean. By the level of Bulgarian society, may be, thatís average.

On Saturday, Go school was held and on Sunday, 9X9 and 13X13 and 19X19 Go board tournaments and the tournament for different levels were held. For 2 days, in total, about 50 people gathered. 40 of them including beginners were children and more than 10 of them were young people in their 20s and 30s. Even though the history of Go in Bulgaria is short, there is a Go teacher teaching at a school. It is a little surprising, isnít it?

The number of Go boards and stones, by the look of it, was not enough for the tournament. So everyone brought their 19X19 Go boards and somehow, the games were able to start.
By the support of the Japanese Embassy, some 9X9 plastic Go boards were prepared but the rest were Chinese made blue vinyl sheet Go boards and they even used a magnetic Go board for teaching sent by the Nihon Ki-in. Because the average monthly income in this country is about $200, it might be difficult to buy Go equipment. But in reality, itís necessary to think of making Go boards and use something to replace the stones.

`I have been playing Go on the internet for 4 years. And this is my first time to play Go against a person.í said a young lady who was at the tournament. She was quite good and is 5 or 6 kyu in Japanese level. Not only in Bulgaria, but this kind of case is increasing recently.
Unexpectedly, maybe, Go has spread by the internet to places we donít know. The effect of the internet is certainly unknown.

For 2 days, I had a lot to do, not only teaching but also appearing on TV shows twice and visiting the Ministry of Education and I had a chance to talk to a vice-Minister. The vice-Minister, Ms. Anda Palieva, is an elegant and wonderful lady. And she seemed very interested in making Go part of the curriculum at school. Mr.Ioni Lazarov, the president of the Bulgarian Go Association, and Mr.Ivanov Emil, a Go teacher at a school, were with us, too and we talked about the future of Go. Go in Bulgaria has just started like*new buds of trees but I felt that there are a lot of possibilities to spread Go through the help of many people.

The best memory of this trip was that the children who came to the tournament on the weekend invited me to their school. This is a public school in the suburbs of Bulgaria. At first, I was welcomed by seasonal flowers, lilacs, at the entrance of the school and bread, a Bulgarian product, which I was given by the students in national costumes. And then, students showed us traditional Bulgarian dance. It was so fun that I and Abe sensei danced together with them!

Abe sensei and I were busy playing many Go boards at a time, by dividing students into 2 groups and giving lectures. But Abe sensei really loves Go. I think it is very unusual for professional Go players to have their own Go board wherever they go and whenever Abe sensei has time, he says `game!í and starts playing games of Go with anyone. Even in a restaurant, he brings out his Go board as if the time between the meals arrive is valuable for him.
Of course, the local people there were very happy with the reaction of Abe sensei.
The barrier of languages is not scary with a Go board and the communication in their heart was perfect. I, too, was so happy to spend time with such a wonderful sensei.

Next year, 2005, a new face from Bulgaria will participate in the World Amateur Go Championship which will be held in Aichi prefecture. Iím looking forward to it.

See you soon.

Q&A of Yuki Shigeno 2 dan go
2004.7 July
sent Question