There Goes English Teacher – A Memoir
Review: Karen Watkins
Karin Cronje had a company publicising and promoting authors but on a whim and inspired by a friend’s promise of a life of “financial paradise”, the 48-year-old rearranged her life, left son Marko in charge of alterations to her Simon’s Town cottage and made her way to South Korea.
She had little idea of where it was and planned to teach English in a hagwon – a specialised cram school – despite not being a teacher and having Afrikaans as her home
Unable to understand a word, she arrives in a small backwater and is hit hard with culture shock.
Her life revolves around walking, teaching, shopping and eating. She has little time for anything else.
And she stands out against these small, slim, flat-chested people. It’s comical how she describes allowing people to grope her big breasts, men included.
Meanwhile, her background has evaporated as she drifts away from her anchors. Back home there are problems with her tenants and she misses Marko, her schnauzer and her friends.
But writing keeps her going, working on her latest book and her new friend Dae-ho, her “guru man”, a Buddhist, healer who does yoga and teaches her calmness and how to breathe.
She then goes home for four frantic weeks where she sees everyone for the shortest of times. She writes, “for them nothing had changed.
“But I have been to the moon and as a result the earth no longer has the same shape.” She adds that many foreigners “go back to this place that they could not wait to leave”.
She realises that South Africa is home, where her heart is, where emotion is not hidden behind politeness.
“Oh God help me, I want my people and the veld and the light and our high heaven”.
Her realisation is that the misery is not because she is in South Korea but simply because she is not home. And yet three years later when she does go home her life does not improve.
Marko completes his architectural degree and visits for a short time but eventually cuts the apron strings.
This book is a hard, heavy, demoralising story of a woman going through her midlife crises as she exposes layer upon layer of uncertainties, ageing and angst.
Karin Cronje is the author of two novels, Vir n pers huis (1998) and Alles mooi weer (2008), which she finished while in South Korea and for which she won the Jan Rabie-Rapport Prize. She is now a part-time lecturer in the music literacy department at Stellenbosch University.
We have a copy of There Goes English Teacher to give away.
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