“Hajin, wake up!”
Dad was softly shaking me, speaking in a low voice. He was probably trying not to wake up Jane in the next bed, but she was already making a noise that suggested she had awoken. I quickly got out of bed, remembering that I was going to Japan. Coming out of the bedroom, I noticed a suitcase and my school backpack already placed by the shoe closet.
“There are some chocolate granola bars in your bag. Share them with the teacher and Colin on the way,” Mom told me as she handed me a cup of orange juice and a small strawberry jam sandwich in the kitchen.
Half an hour later, at 7 am, my parents and I were standing by our apartment entrance. Soon, my baduk teacher’s white Hyundai appeared. He was driving and Colin was in the back seat. While my parents talked with the teacher, I took a seat next to Colin. He seemed sleepy too. The car began moving, and I fell asleep.
When I got up again at my teacher’s voice, the car was being parked.
“Are we at the airport?”
I asked as I was looking around. I saw buildings and people outside the window. It was clearly not an airport.
“No. We came to Master Grimm’s baduk dojang. We are going to the airport in their car, and I am leaving my car here while we are in Japan.”
“What is a baduk dojang?”
“A dojang is where you study if you want to be a professional player.”
“Master Grimm’s dojang is one the three strongest ones in Korea. We are going to Japan with their students. Exciting, right?”
I wasn’t actually sure why I would be excited. I was rarely excited to meet strangers unless they had some presents or something for me.
Master Grimm’s dojang was much bigger than our baduk school, and there were many people studying baduk in different classrooms. The whole place felt somewhat calm and heavy. In our baduk school, we would ask questions, complain, chat with other kids, and so on. Here, no one was saying anything. Whether they were playing with someone or studying alone, they were quietly focused on the board.
“Seems like they start even before lunch time here.”
I whispered to Colin.
“Here, students study all day. That’s what you need to do to become pro.”
Hearing my words, my teacher explained.
At the end of the hallway was the main room, and there were about 15 students sitting around in a few groups around Go boards. They were discussing some variations. I could see that they all had big bags like mine. The students looked older than me or even Colin, who is one year older than me.
“Ah, you are here.”
A thin man with big eyeglasses greeted my teacher.
“Long time no see. Here are the kids I mentioned. This is Colin and this is Hajin. Kids, this is Master Grimm, the headmaster of this dojang. He is also a good friend of mine.”
Colin and I both bowed to the Master. The Master seemed to be in a good mood, but it made me nervous to see him. It was my first time to see a professional player in person. I had seen them only in lecture videos, newspapers, and magazines before.
“Let’s go! Everyone, move to the parking lot. Our bus should be there.”
At Master Grimm’s command, people began moving out, and we followed them.
The ride to the airport wasn’t very long. I sat with Colin in the middle of the bus, and we both just stared out the window, sometimes listening to other students talk about a new restaurant by the dojang or how they lost certain games that they were totally winning.
It was about 10:30 am when we arrived at the airport. It was spacious, bright, and clean. I followed the group quietly through checking in, customs, and immigration, focusing on Colin and the teacher. I knew they were paying attention to me too, but I was feeling a bit nervous about not having my parents with me. What would happen if I got behind the group and couldn’t find them? I have my parents’ phone numbers and enough money to call them, I reminded myself. What if it happens in Japan and I can’t manage to call them? I had no answer to this situation yet, and thought I should better not let it happen.
“Hi, what is your name?”
I was sitting by the boarding gate when a girl started talking to me. She was one of the students from Master Grimm’s group.
“Hajin. I am Sara. How old are you?”
“I am eight. How about you?”
“Eight! You are really young. I am twelve. What’s your friend’s name?”
Colin wasn’t there at the moment, browsing the stores or something.
“He is Colin. Nine years old.”
“I see. Have you been to Japan before?”
“No. First time going abroad.”
“Cool! Are you excited?”
“What are you excited about?”
“Mom told me that Japanese ramen is good. She also said there are cat dolls that swing their hands.”
“Yeah, I heard about them too. I hope we get to see them all. I am mostly excited to leave home for a few days. Some of the guys you see here live at the dorm. But, my family place is close enough for me to walk to the dojang, so I can’t really do that.”
“Do you want to live at the dorm?”
“I kind of do. I was there a few times to have dinner. It’s a large apartment with four bedrooms. There are baduk sets and books everywhere, and the fridge has lots of food. I heard no one tells you to go to bed there. Although, you do have to get up with everyone else and have breakfast with them.”
“Do you not like going to bed?”
“I like to stay up until late. You know, doing what’s fun for me. Also, I feel like the people at the dorm improve faster. They are always studying baduk. I hate to fall behind.”
Suddenly Sara seemed stressed. I took out two chocolate granola bars from the bag and offered one to her.
“Thank you. I was feeling hungry. It will be at least an hour till we get the airplane lunch.”
She smiled, and we ate the bars.