If you prefer your sporting pursuits to be more cerebral than physical, be sure to brush up on your board games before travelling to Asia. Mikey Leung is no grandmaster, but he still enjoys checking out the chess scene on his Asian adventures…
“On the streets of China you can see groups of old men strategically slamming wooden pieces on boards in a fervent display of chess machismo. Across this enormous nation the game is essentially the same, though round wooden blocks with painted Chinese characters take the place of carved wooden figurines. Therefore, mastering this game involves not only learning some new rules, but also a few Chinese characters as well.
For instance, there is a special piece called the ‘cannon’ which tends to stump newcomers: in order to attack an opponent’s piece the cannon must ‘fire’ a cannonball over an intersecting piece. Don’t get it? It took me a while too. Imagine my surprise when I got to Vietnam and discovered they also played the same style of chess, which I later learned was a relic of the two nations’ shared history.
A little further down in South East Asia, particularly Cambodia and Thailand, I discovered another style of chess called Makrook. While I was teaching English at a Thai primary school, my students gladly taught me the fundamentals of the game. The bishops and the queen were replaced with little Buddhist stupas, although this game could also be played with a western chess set. Some scholars postulate that Makrook is closest to the original form of chess, although the game’s actual origin is also a highly debated topic amongst chess enthusiasts.
In any case, a game of chess wherever you are in the world guarantees some most memorable moments. Joining in is a great way to interact with people and you will meet new friends who speak a similar language, even though you might understand little of what they say!”
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* photo by Michelle Ferreira – Intrepid Photography Competition