Below you can find the diary of Jonas Welticke who, in his unique artistic writing style (not quite unlike his go style), gives a first-hand recount, highlighting selected details of his experiences during the CEGO Academic Programme in Beijing.
2013/14 Diary (Senseis)
2014/15 Report (Senseis)
2015/16 Introduction (EGN), Article (EGN) and Report (Senseis)
CEGO training 2016/17
Over the course of 6 months from September 2016, there were 6 brave Europeans as well as one American living in Beijing in order to become the new incarnation of God, or at the very least to get closer to the perfect game of go!
For Stanislaw Freljak from Poland, as well as me, Jonas Welticke from Germany, this journey started somewhat earlier during the rainy days in the beginning of 2016, in the form of constant stress with nightmares casting Li Ting telling you how "Ur rating is not good enough!", and the shameful crawl under your bed expecting shelter from the sight of the go board on the other side of the room which lately looked rather distressing as if it was not pleased with your performance.
Despite all this pressure, we both miraculously managed to achieve some good results and 6 dan rating by the time the EGC went underway, which was our key to the programme.
Tournament in Urumqi
The programme then basically kicked off at a tournament in the nice ambience of huge amounts of policemen enclosing our hotel in Urumqi, who for some reason looked very suspiciously at me while I was just waving them kisses.
The Europeans did very well there, except me, with an overall record of 71:41, and also scored the first two places with Ilya Shikshin 1p and Artem Kachanovskyi 1p. Ali Jabarin 1p was the best among us CEGO-people on fourth place. (Separate report here.)
After that tournament we went to Beijing by plane with minor complications due to Oscar Vasquez's name - and seriously who could blame them, I tried a hundred times and probably still got it wrong.
After arriving, we were presented with a shocking image of a mess - a mess someone might envision on a bad trip - surprisingly called "our apartment".
So it was quite a relief to imagine our totally exhausted bodies being forced to leave almost immediately.
Thus the next morning we all got up especially early and took a bus - with others from the school we would attend - to Huai'an.
Huai'an was not very far from Beijing and the hotel we stayed at was not very far from a mountain range, so on the first evening, we had time and we went there together. After 2 minutes, the group of 6 people became a group of two as the rest was too scared and the mountains seemed too far.
Oscar and me - the lone survivors - made it halfway to the mountains after somewhat over an hour with a lot of hick-ups and decided to go for the mountain with an improved pathing the next day. The mountain had a really heaven-like scenery as the sun stared down on us, we could watch sheep move around on the mountain and all in all it was just a very sincere atmosphere inbetween all the farm people who have never seen a foreigner before.
The tournament itself was 11 rounds and although the districts odor was similar to my grandma's farm backyard we had some enjoyable games. We all ended up somewhat in the middle of the field from the tournament, with Mateusz being the best westerner.
Life at school
When we went back to Beijing, our school training finally started and a beneficial order was processed in favour of our stress relief: clean-up and repair of "our apartment".
Although there were always some inquiries concerning our apartment which were distressing and not really processed, like the room of Stanislaw not having the capability to produce light without the sun, we fortunately had no time to be concerned by these futilities as our schedule was pretty tight.
Then a big cycle tournament, which basically decides which league you were going to start from, was our first challenge at school, lasting for a week consisting of 11 rounds in total. The first ten leagues were in one school, which was called highschool in order to relate to their respective average age. The other school starting from approximately the eleventh league, we called it kindergarden for that matter. While Vjacheslav, Oscar and me ended up in kindergarden, Stanislaw, Ali, Eric and Mateusz went to highschool.
(Note: Both schools are operated by Ge Yuhong Go Academy, a close partner of CEGO and sponsor of the EGF Academy.)
From our teachers we got chinese names: Jonas - Qiaonasi, Stanislaw - Stash, Oscar - Ousika, and Vjacheslav used his last name Kaymin as Vjacheslav was basically not logically pronouncable for the Chinese - the closest they could get sounded something like "fijiisland" to me.
Every day we had to wake up at 8 because first up in school was the daily tsumego test - lasting for an hour in kindergarden. There were three different levels on the tests and two in highschool: difficult - super difficult - extremely difficult. While in highschool the test was more focussed on quantity - 24 problems each - the kindergarden one was more difficult in comparison to the strength of the people supposedly solving them - with ~15 each. The correct answers were marked by the teachers so that we could see how much we sucked our improvement over time.
While my performance on the test was rather stagnant, Oscar improved somewhat and Kaymin improved a lot, ending up with him catching up and getting better results than me.
After tsumego we played one of our cycle games, a cycle being the round robin tournament inside a given league à 6 people, or one life cycle of you feeling motivated to beat these kids to you feeling exhausted by their overwhelming fighting spirit.
During the break between game 1 and 2, me and the two kiddos (Oscar and Kaymin) often played table tennis, growing so competitive in it that we started making up our own rating system, played tournaments etc., even though Oscar was significantly better than Kaymin and me till the end. Which also lead to us inventing a different style of table tennis played with a soft and bigger ball that was allowed to be hit twice with your racket - in which we happily kicked his @$$.
It's really important to get some balance in terms of sports!
Occasionaly we felt the urge to provide our body with energy, often through ingestion of food into our digestive system. This was a very nice thing to do in Beijing, as the food was usually nice and comparatively super cheap.
In the evening there were reviews in Chinese in both schools and on some days we had them in English which was far preferred by most students - especially myself - as my Chinese skills were limited to "Hi", "Bye" and "Fancy a cup of coffee?".
On weekends the schedule was easy-going in comparison:
On Saturdays a team tournament for some money and some self-study, Sundays our Chinese class with a very pleasant teacher, some self-study and in the evening free games.
Also we played some basketball and football on weekends. The basketball games were a lot of fun, though the fighting spirit felt on the go board was not relieved by everyone on the court. Some preferred to cosplay a stone Buddha while others searched anxiously for the clock after each and every move they made, because of which others seemed like surreal anime characters in comparison.
In general the school's atmosphere, sometimes hosting funny birthday cake fights, was pretty relaxed, the kids were lively and the teachers were very friendly and entertaining. Of course we focussed mostly on go, but there was also time to just meddle around with one another or to have a conversation - for which you largely needed Chinese though as there were only about three kids/teenagers who could speak some English.
A nice exercise after losing to someone was to make up nicknames for the kids. Some we knew the name of we called them accordingly, like Tsai Ming Ao or Lian, who were good friends with Kaymin and Oscar. Other names included "blue-glasses boy", "green boy", "yellow boy", according to what they wore usually and names of girls were usually our expectation of their age like "12-year-old girl" or "2-year-old girl" to which we added the real age once we knew it.
An expected conversation on the important matter of "who is stronger than whom" sounded something like this: "I think blue-glasses boy is somewhat stronger than Oscar and Kaymin, the 11-year-old 4-year-old is stronger than him and the 12-year-old 16-year-old is certainly even stronger, but the 13-year-old annoying girl (whom no one actually ever recalled being annoying, but rather funny) is certainly the best of the group."
With this of course Kaymin and Oscar would often disagree, led by their youthful rivalry with the other kids which definitely also helped them improve even more. Even I had some friend-foe rivalries with some of the other people studying in the schools which made for very exciting games generally, and of course when at first I was losing to someone constantly, my urge to beat them grew and grew, and when I finally won, it gave me a huge amount of satisfaction!
The idea of a tesuji list came up in which we recorded our godly moves as well as a list for the times the devil took control to mess up paradise. In the end though we just recorded like four of those game-deciding moves and it was quite evident that for both of those lists I would have most appearances as my play style resembles Counterstrike more than playing go, as Jeff once put it.
In general, over our time in the school Oscar and Kaymin managed to climb up a lot of leagues up to maybe league 11/12. I got up by one or two and was hovering around league 10, Stash was above me generally by ~two leagues and the pros were mostly some leagues above that.
Restructuring of the group and tournament in Ning'bo
In November when the American Eric left the apartment, Germany and Spain (me and Oscar) took over his room - which is an interesting idea for a fictional book on shifting political paradigms. In December we also had to say goodbye to Mateusz - part of Poland leaving China - and then our group of Ali, Stanislaw, Kaymin, Oscar and me went to a tournament in Ning'bo.
Slightly tired of Beijing, we were welcoming this change of sheets.
The venue was a beautiful hotel between mountains and sea which was just being transformed into a large scale holiday resort area, but already had an awe-inspiring feeling to it.
The first night there were some Chinese women in the dining hall who were super excited about the idea of their kids playing with us. They set up their hotel room with some go boards and tea. After some negotiations over who would play, me, Oscar and Kaymin played against three of them and Oscar and me played another game with another oponent each. As it turned out our opponents were not as strong as expected - the strongest maybe dan level but the others far beyond it. Anyway, as everyone was enjoying themselves and the mothers were smiling, it was fun times.
The next few days Stash entertained us with interesting riddles all day everyday - even more entertaining maybe were the failed attempts by Oscar to open his mouth. Also we were playing some card game a lot - which Ali taught us - where your partner saying "king" means he needs a queen, him holding his cards in two hands means you gotta say "Camps" and him saying “Aligator” with a silent "a" means his sign is a fluke for the opponents to confuse it with the real one - so obviously the most amazing card game in the world.
The last night we watched some cool movie and had interesting conversations about society and politics, though seemingly not interesting for everyone as Kaymin pushed us out of his room. Anyway, we continued throughout the night and broadened all of our perspectives, had a very respectful exchange of ideas and I felt it was a genuine experience - lovely.
Next to all of this we even played some go games in the tournament - Ali was the best European and I had a good performance, both with about 50% win rate in a strong field.
Last few weeks
While in the bus back home we were already missing that place a lot, and in a restaurant back in Beijing - while drifting in endless daydreams to that shore in Ning'bo in summer, a fresh breeze after a sunny climb on the mountain with the clear blue sky above me - I lost my bag of clothes right there.
Fewer and fewer people came to school, leading to us playing in first league in the end and feeling like the best - until January 20th when the school closed, because of Chinese new year on January 28th.
Then we started meeting Ali and his girlfriend Zhaohui several times to play another awesome game: Resistance.
While some played rationally good moves all the time, others tried suboptimal play to confuse the opponents and others yet - like me - did not even understand the game at all and thus proved that randomness can win as well.
At times we shouted at each other, at times we cried or laughed together, but whatever happened - in the end we were best friends nonetheless.
Before really saying farewell though, we had one more go-related thing to do: a tournament to decide who among us would receive the honour of representing CEGO in the EGF professional qualification!
Stash and I were the favourites of course and our assistant and supervisor Mr Liang told us that maybe we should just play each other to decide who would get the wildcard, but both of us thought that would not be fair, thus we also included Oscar and Kaymin in the process of making up the tournament system and how we would decide who would be the champion.
After long, nerve-wrecking, soul-crushing and heated discussions (that lasted about five minutes), we concluded that a double round robin with an hour and thirty minutes would be the way to go!
We played in an aesthetic go club recommended by Ali.
After the first round already had both underdogs winning - Oscar vs. me and Kaymin vs. Stash - we were already anticipating the worst... and so it came.
Oscar won both games against me, 1-1 against the other two and thus he played the final against Stash.
There was a lot of sweat in the air, the aura was dense and everyone was quiet. The game was on a whole new level unknown to me and I couldn't even decipher what was happening. But as the dust settled, the final lullaby was sung and Stash hit the clock bowing over the board... everyone finally understood it: That little Spanish boy with a shy smile, messy hair and a weird moustache is going to participate at the EGF pro qualification!
Thus the biggest upset in the history of upsets was born and I only had big congrats for that great man and mind in a small body and shoes!
We celebrated this with some Pizza Hut: also my and Oscar's preferred way of having a 10-times more expensive, but also very different meal in China. It was like a small window into the west for us, even though neither of us had ever had Pizza Hut before, which in retrospect somehow makes it a bit Chinese, haha.
For the end it made a nice celebration party, even though for me it was bittersweet as well ~
When everyone else left, I felt somewhat missing them and the time spent together, but also looked forward to the reunion with my family. And as I was the last one to leave, I had time for something so strange, go players would normally not even consider it: sightseeing.
Tian'anmen square - a staple for sightseeing in Beijing - was really huge and around it I found some cheap souvenirs which was very convenient. The picture of Mao on that huge building in the middle and enclosed by other somehow significant buildings - not that much into sightseeing that I'd remember any of it of course - gave me a feeling of being super small in comparison.
Also I went to the summer palace - better known as "The Ice Palace" at this time of the year and the Zhuyuan Park, better known as "The Ice Park" during that period. Both full of aesthetic and beauty in harmony with nature and definitely worth a visit. I spent quite some time there, just enjoying the view, the atmosphere and using the time to contemplate reality, life and what's the purpose of it all.
In general the people in China seemed very nice and the differences were not big, but there are certainly some interesting things for westerners to understand about Beijing.
Toilets are maybe the biggest downer for any super spoiled brat from Europe.
Usually they are just a hole in the ground, literally.
On the way to highschool, but also in many other parts of Beijing, some old people play xiangqi on the streets which looks pretty cool, if only it was weiqi instead...
In the kindergarden they sometimes hit the kids with some kind of ruler - once during our stay they overreached this authority: hitting some kids for coming a few seconds late just to mark a precedence. (Also, in China people come a little late and it's not the end of the world usually.) Westerners generally are exempt from these procedures, though.
In stark contrast to this, the police is very different from what westeners, like myself, would expect of China. They are equipped with no weapon but their words, a uniform and their main purpose seems to be to guard communities and maybe help with small difficulties in the community. At least it seemed nicer to me than how policemen in the west are generally seen as authority and it was very different from the militarised police I expected in Beijing.
The smog, however, is not a made-up propaganda, but certainly a thing and somewhat annoying.
As a real potato it is maybe not that strange not to be able to breathe good air most of the time, but sometimes you will miss it and also it's troublesome if you want to do sports.
They pay nearly everything with their phones and have a variety of services I've never seen before - for example you can take a bike from several different companies - from almost any corner - for very cheap - just by using your phone to unlock it and you are able to lock it wherever you want!
Another interesting anecdote: If you forget your stuff at a restaurant, they seem to generally run after you in lightning speed just to give it back to you. This happened to us several times and definitely is something which left a lasting impression.
My time in China was full of awesome experiences, surrounded by cool people and the game I love so much. It was of course tough sometimes, especially when having a losing streak, but when feeling miserable, being surrounded by go boards to hit people with or stones to throw at their faces is not all that bad.
I have to thank CEGO, the EGF and both schools for this opportunity and of course the people I played there and the Europeans I stayed with for an all around enjoyable time!
If you want to become the next AlphaGo or find the answer to the meaning of life, this is certainly a trip for you, so pack your back with a lot of love for go, tolerance for something new and some candy for the kids - come on don't be so selfish!
Most importantly the mindset to enjoy all the beauty and even the flaws, because that's what it takes to enjoy every minute and every breath!
PS.: After the trip Oscar directly won the U16 European Youth Championship and Kaymin won the U20 one, Stash won the Olomouc tournament and I still suck.
(Written by Jonas Welticke)