As our car entered the parking lot, I recognized the place. I looked at Colin sitting on the passenger seat. He didn’t say anything, but I imagined he was also thinking about the time we were here for the trip to Japan.
“This is the parking lot for Master Grimm’s dojang,” I told Brad, who had not been here before.
“Alright kids, let’s leave your luggage in the car for now.”
We all got out of the car and stretched our legs.
“Oh, you are here already.”
We ran into Master Grimm in the hallway, right outside the entrance to his dojang.
“Yeah, the highway was not very busy. How are you doing?”
“Very well. So, I met Hajin and Colin before, and this boy must be Brad?”
“Yes. He and Hajin are about the same level.”
“Sounds good. Sara and many other students are at the KBA today playing in the league. So, Hajin can wait here until she comes back, and maybe you can take Colin and Brad to the dorm to put away their bags and come back here?”
“Then, let me call Pete. He will show you the way to the dorm.”
My teacher left with Colin, Brad, and Pete, and I walked into the dojang. It looked the same as before, except that there were only about a third as many students compared to the last day we were here.
“Hajin, can I talk to you in my office?”
Master Grimm saw me walking around, and called me into his office. I nodded and followed him.
“Please, take a seat.”
I sat in front of his desk.
“It’s been a few months since Japan. Have you been training hard at baduk?”
“I know you will be here just for three weeks and you are still quite young, but I expect you to be as serious as all the other students here. As you probably know, they are here to become professional players. It’s extremely competitive and they can’t afford being distracted. Do you understand?”
“Today and tomorrow, you will be studying in division C, but from Monday you will be assigned to D. That’s your class, but division D doesn’t meet on weekends. Your teacher, Mr. Park, is a strong amateur player with decades of teaching experience. I know some students find him difficult, but in his heart he wants you all to get stronger. Do your best to follow his instructions.”
“Here is your homework.”
He handed me a thin book, its printed pages bound with plastic rings and a laminated cover.
“It’s about a thousand life and death problems, without answers. You can finish this book before you leave if you solve about fifty problems a day. But you have to do all the things Mr. Park tells you to do first, okay?”
“You can leave now.”
Outside, I found a classroom with a sign ‘C’. There were about 10 students quietly studying inside. I didn’t see any adults around, but the atmosphere was still tense. I sat at a corner table and opened the problem book.
“Hajin, Sara’s here. Let’s go for dinner.”
I looked back and found my teacher and Sara. Behind I also found Brad and Colin, each holding the a problem book like mine.
“Hi Hajin! So great to see you again!”
Sara gave me a warm hug.
“Sara, what do you recommend for dinner around here?”
“The place we usually eat is really good, but we eat there pretty much every day, every meal. How about some Chinese food?”
“Sounds good to me, kids?”
Teacher looked at us, and no one objected.
At dinner I sat next to the teacher and Sara. I wasn’t very hungry, but I had so many questions already.
“KBA is the place we went for my game?”
I asked my teacher, remembering his conversation with Master Grimm.
“Sara, what is the league? You play in a league at the KBA?”
“Yeah, it’s officially Yeonguseng League, but we just call it the league. There are 10 divisions, and number 1 is the highest. Each division has 10 people. In every league competition, you play everyone else in the same division, so nine games, and we have about one competition each month. After it’s over, the top 4 players go up a division and the bottom 4 players go down.”
“Oh… What is your division?”
“I am in 10. I was higher a few times, but kept falling again. I am not sure if I can survive this time either.”
“How do you get into 10?”
“There is a qualification tournament every three months. The top 12 players are guaranteed a spot, and usually a few more get in because people leave the league, either because they became pro, or they got too old. The age limit is 18.”
“I see. Master Grimm said I will be in division D here. Which division are you in?”
“I am in B. In A, we have young pros and players who are either 1 or 2 in the league. When you are somewhere between 3 and 10, you are in B. In C, there are students who are getting close to entering the league, and D is a level below that.”
“Is Mr. Park scary?”
“Oh, yeah. He yells at students a lot. But you will be fine. He is usually nicer to girls.”
Somehow that didn’t make me feel more comfortable.
“Where is your luggage?”
Sara asked, and I looked at my teacher.
“It’s in my car. I can give you a ride after dinner.”
“That’s okay, we can walk. It’s really close.”
“You sure? Then you and Hajin can take the luggage from the car after dinner, and I will drop the boys at the dorm and head for Daejeon.”
This decision bothered me a bit, as I expected my teacher to be there when I first go to Sara’s house. I wanted to say something about it, but when I thought about what to say, I realized I had no reason to object. My teacher had a long way to go back tonight, and I didn’t think there was any chance I would change my mind about staying here for three weeks. Maybe it was best I went there alone with Sara, to ask her more questions on the way.