Among the treasures from Asia that fill my house is one I especially prize, a chess set. The chessboard is almost two feet wide made of green and white marble. The thirty-two chess pieces, sixteen in white marble, sixteen in green, range in size from two and a half inches for the pawns to five inches for the kings and queens. Each piece is bottomed with thin and very fine red felt so that the pieces slide easily across the shiny marble board. The board’s bottom is covered with the same red felt. Nothing on it anywhere indicates where it came from or the language of the artist who created it.
I don’t remember when or where I got the chess set. I acquired it sometime during the thirteen years that I was regularly in Vietnam ending with the fall of Saigon in 1975. I might have bought it in China or Thailand, but my best guess it was Hong Kong, my favorite city in Asia that I visited as often as I could. It is probably more than fifty years old.
Until fairly recently, the board was well used. I played chess with all my children as they were growing up. And I had many friends over the years who enjoyed the game. I loved chess because of the very real intellectual challenge it offered, but I never played enough to become a master.
These days, the chess set sits unused close to my Steinway grand. My children have all grown up and moved away, and none of my friends are chess players. I don’t complain. Having the set close by to look at and treasure is enough.