Kim Yeo-won is a timekeeper at "go," or baduk, following two players from the beginning until the end. She is one of only 10 timekeepers in the country, making it perhaps one of the rarest occupations in the world. The turnover is very high as timekeepers last an average of one year, and the 23-year old is a veritable veteran at five years in the job.
Timekeeping in the game of baduk, can be nerve-wracking. When the timekeeper counts seven or eight and is about to call a timeout, the hearts of the audience and of the timekeeper herself begin to pound. But there are baduk players who do not flinch even just before the count reaches 10. Kim understands it as the nature of competitors, "who want to use all the time given them to the full."
Timekeepers cannot take a break during games that sometimes lasts six or seven hours. Unlike the players, who can take a break to freshen up, timekeepers can never leave their seat. Because baduk is a game without a referee, timekeepers occasionally play the role of a judge when needed, and often assume the role of assistant producer for broadcaster as many games are televised.
Although the salary is not that high given the various roles the job requires, there is unending supply of aspiring timekeepers as the competitions are a master class for students of the game. Kim says, "My skills in baduk improved greatly as I learned a lot from the field by watching the great masters at play."
She started in the job by occasionally substituting her timekeeper friends, and has not given up hope of becoming a professional baduk player herself. "Every competition counts a lot for baduk players as that is how they make a living. Therefore the job carries a great deal of responsibility. I don't want to stand still and just keep counting time, so I study the rules of the game whenever I have any free time," she says.