This is an extract from There Goes English Teacher by Karin Cronje (below), published by Modjaji Books.
“Victoria, I’m going to Korea!”
“Above us somewhere.”
Victoria and I are crouched on the loo in my son’s bathroom, squashed between a window and the shower wall in an effort to read the world map stuck on the shower wall. I go up Africa’s west coast. She takes the right side of the world.
“I’m lost in America. I’ll come over to your side.”
“Here it is,” she says. “This spot near Japan.”
“It’s not very big, hey?”
“It’s far, Karin.”
“It’s bloody far. But that’s where I’m going.”
Victoria seems worried. “What are you going to do there?”
“Why do you want to go away?”
“I can’t sit under the oak tree looking at the mountain and wondering where the hell I am in my life for another moment. Besides, my money is running out.”
“You should not have given up those contracts with the publishers.”
“I want to dedicate my life to something, do an ethical, moral kind of thing. I don’t want to promote authors and their books any longer.”
“You did that coaching course.”
“Yes, but the training was really bad. And I suspect coaching is a new bandwagon full of poorly equipped people.”
“You’re not a teacher.”
“I’ll make it up as I go along.”
“I don’t know.”
I don’t know either. And how is teaching going to be moral?
“You write, all these years. Ag no, man, Karin.”
“Oh yes, the writing.”
That’s a never-ending saga.
Perhaps I should reconsider. The list of pros is strong, though:
I’ll have time to write.
I’ll build a pension for myself and save Victoria’s.
I’ll get my son through architecture; he’s not even half-way.
I’ll hopefully make a drastic mind-shift and change the tone of my novel. Perhaps then my main character will be more palatable.
I’ll be giving up Victoria, the house, my friends. And what about my country? I suspect I love this land. I’ll be giving all this up to go and make Korea my home. To go and emigrate.
My son! Though mother and son should separate now. It’s natural. But my heart, my beautiful Marko boy!
Best not to get into this now.
How will my leaving affect my father? And Jasper, my deepest love, Sir Jasper the schnauzer.
Stop now! These are things for cons.
Never mind pros and cons, they are window dressing. I suppose I could get those contracts back. Still.
To hell, I’m going.
From working out the pros and cons six weeks have passed, in which I have re-arranged my entire life, thrown away my son, my dog and everything dear.
The house has been let to wonderful people who will build on a bathroom. The rent will go straight from them to the builder, who has been commissioned. The plans are to be supplied by Marko, who will liaise with the architect, who will give him sketches. For a few hundred rand the builder’s draftsman will draw up the plans. Victoria will work for the wonderful people.
Marko, in the small cottage, is stocked with pots and pans and stuff from the kitchen he’s been eyeing for ever.
Clothes have been bought since Korean sizes are for the tiniest in the West. I have the most awful Clarks practical sandals and great knee-high boots.
Farewells have been said, with a party duly held. Jasper is at my very best friends, Hazel and Ernst (can’t think about the last hairy kiss between his eyes); Marko has been farewelled (definitely can’t think about this); my jewellery is in Brian’s safe – my friend-cum-kind of lover who is now promptly not a lover anymore. All other valuables are not so neatly in boxes and parked at good friend Adel’s. My paintings are under a bed in friend Thea’s house. Brian sat for hours and copied my discs and now my music’s on iTunes. It was a hell of a job. And he’s given me a Lonely Planet (“You know nothing about Korea, you did no research”). He’s also got me on Yahoo.
I stopped over in Joburg, saw my friend Helena, who came to the airport to say goodbye. I have my family’s well wishes. I have five sleeping tablets from my dad and he knows not to die soon.
And here I am in Economy class with at least 15 kg of luggage hung around my neck under the snazzy new jersey. Economy class is horribly cramped. How could plane designers make you walk through Business class to here, where individuals become a horde, with mixed body odour and limbs and heads and sighs and longings and hopes stuck together into oneness?
There’s something wrong with me. I’m forty-eight and I’m leaving all that’s good behind. Life is a lot like a bangle. Kind of solid and devoid of definition. Until the love of friends does its thing and a gossamer filigree emerges. Perhaps this whole Korea thing is a bit of a mistake. Ag no, man, Karin, said Victoria. Ag yes, man, Victoria, it was all meant to be. The way it happened was a sign.
There I was, sitting under the oak tree, catatonic with anxiety after the contracts with the publishers had been given up, and realising that life contemplation brings no income. And then I heard about someone who was teaching in Korea and I just knew that was what I was going to do. But how to get a job? So I sat some more. Until I spoke to a colleague from my employment days whose South African friend Leona was visiting from Korea, at which the catatonia lifted and I rushed over to see her.
Yes, Leona said, it’s a financial paradise, but you’ll have to apply.
God help me, I can’t apply for things.
But in stepped another South African, a nephew of Leona’s friend, Paul, and his Korean girlfriend Mae, bound together in throbbing new love. Mae got onto her little Korean phone and spoke to her friend Sarah, a hagwon owner, and right there and then I had a job, together with the hagwon owner’s telephone number and email address, which are now in the new Yahoo account.
“What is a hagwon, Mae?” I asked.
“It’s a private school for after government school.”
“Will my contract stipulate my working hours? I’m also going there to write, you see.”
“We don’t make contracts. No worry. You can trust.”
Yes, said Leona, it’s how it works. She taught at hagwons before teaching at the university in the town next to where I’m going to be. I was still sceptical, but Paul, who is at the same university as Leona, confirmed it.
And now I must sit back, eat the Economy class food and forget my father’s sensible question whether I know anything about teaching English to foreigners. And never mind that under home language – if Sarah had ever asked – I would truthfully not have been able to put down anything other than Afrikaans.