Loneliness and despair tragically overwhelmed a Korean family in Christchurch. Lincoln Tan and Catherine Masters talk to the 'goose' families, separated by choice
Three pretty Korean mums sit around a table at a rented apartment on Auckland's North Shore.
Their husbands are "goose" fathers, one says, drawing out the oo's as she repeats the strange English word.
"Goooose," she says softly, "like the bird. Because they fly from Korea sometimes ... migrate."
This is Christine, who prefers we use her English name, and she is talking about the phenomenon of Korean husbands who stay in their homeland to work while Mum and the children travel far away so the children may learn English and get a Western education.
Sometimes the husband flies in to visit his family, then flies home again and goes back to work.
If the husband is a goose father, these women are goose mothers. Like a protective mother goose, they fly away to give their young the best chance at life.
They sacrifice their family life, friends, culture, and sometimes their happiness.
The phenomenon, also known as astronaut or parachute families, is not confined to New Zealand - Australia, America, and Canada also have geese families - but bears examination in light of the Korean family found dead in Christchurch.
Though the cause of the deaths is now with the coroner, this family appeared to fit the goose family criteria.
The mother and daughters lived here while the father lived in South Korea.
After the women were found dead the father flew to New Zealand to arrange the funerals. Then he too was found dead.
The women in this apartment are horrified to hear the story but tell of the despair and loneliness some temporary migrants can feel when they land in a country with no family, no support and very little English.
Because they are not planning to stay, women such as these don't put down roots and can find themselves isolated, even with other new immigrants who are making New Zealand a permanent home.
Back home, it's not much fun for the fathers either.
Writing in the Korea Times, Agnes Goh-Grapes says "wild geese fathers" become lonely, isolated and restless.
She cites newspaper reports saying some die of heart attacks from overwork at night in their deserted homes or lonely offices, "trying to fulfil their main goal in life of sending as much money as possible to their beloved families abroad".
The reason, she writes, is that South Korea is a nation prepossessed by social status and reputation and that education rules supreme as a means to attaining these.
For the mothers in the North Shore apartment, the education of their children is indeed paramount. They put themselves through the misery for the sake of their children.
Korean culture expects mothers to do anything for their children, finding their own meaning as a wife and mother.
Another of the mothers, Christina, says Korean mothers want their children to fit in globally in the future with good jobs, thus Western education is all-important.
The purpose of their own life is to make the next generation better, she says.
None of these women have contemplated suicide, though Christina says she was so lonely and depressed she badgered her husband into leaving his job in South Korea, getting a visitor's visa and coming to live here for nine months.
He is here now and though their savings are dropping fast because he is not working, she is happier.
Christine says none of these three women, who met because their children attend the same school, are as badly off as some other Korean mothers.
She lives with her parents who are New Zealand residents and Bianca, the third woman, is here only for a year, so is able to endure her plight knowing the end is in sight.
Across town, though, for another goose mother life is far from happy.
Joanne Kim, 38, touched down from Seoul in 2007 with her then 7-year-old daughter.
Her story demonstrates the tangled perils of the goose family phenomena.
Living in New Zealand brought Kim to her knees, in large part because the language barrier meant she could not communicate with her neighbour.
Strange as it may sound, a complaint over garlic became monumental. She tried to kill herself.
"Although I am smiling on the outside, I am always crying on the inside," Kim says.
"When I think, I think in Korean and sometimes I just wish my mind has a The lonely plight of Korea's long distance families computer that can translate what I think into English, so that I can have a better life in New Zealand."
In 2008 her neighbour accused her of cooking with too much garlic.
Korean cooking uses a lot of garlic, she explains, but it had never crossed her mind this would be an issue in New Zealand.
One day the neighbour came knocking on the door of Kim's rented apartment, and initially Kim was pleased, thinking the woman had come to say hello because they had not yet met.
"Instead, she was just shouting in words that I cannot understand. So I just smiled back. I think she must think I am really stupid."
When her daughter came home from school, she asked the little girl to go to the neighbour to find out what the problem was.
"I found out the whole issue was about me using garlic in my cooking and she cannot stand the smell. She also said she would report the matter to the council and the police."
Kim got really scared. She didn't know what to do because she was new in New Zealand and didn't know the laws here.
Because her English is so poor, she uses her daughter as her translator, even though the child's English is also limited. Without her daughter, she dares not even go to the supermarket.
Because of the threat by the neighbour, she became so scared that every time there was a knock on the door she would run and hide.
"Once a courier man came and I thought it was the council, so I ran and hid under the bed until he went away. Life is really hell for me. My neighbour continued to give me hell. Even when we bought KFC home one day, she said she smelled garlic and would call the police."
Before she came here, Kim was told that New Zealanders were friendly. The reality is very different, she thinks.
Along with being frightened, Kim also became angry with people - especially her husband.
She was mad he had left her in a foreign land to cope on her own.
She was even angry with her daughter, "because it is for her sake that I have to make this sacrifice. My phone calls to my husband often resulted in fights but my last straw came when he said he couldn't take time off work to come solve problems here."
So she arranged for another Korean mother to take her daughter home from school and took sleeping pills.
Her intention was to end it all, she says.
She thinks many Korean mothers would, at some stage of their stay in New Zealand, contemplate suicide or think that life was not worth living.
"Because we are really reduced to nothing. No one even care or know if we are alive or not.
"It is not just one problem we face ... language, loneliness, immigration, so many layers of issues."
She thinks the Christchurch family were facing not one issue but layers of issues, too.
Even now, she is not sure whether it is lucky or unlucky for her that the woman who picked her daughter up from school that day decided to bring her home to Kim's apartment instead of to her own house.
The woman found Kim unconscious and called the ambulance.
While Kim's case is extreme, it seems clear many women from Korea suffer greatly in New Zealand, at least in the early days.
Massey University doctoral student, Hyunok Jeon, interviewed 10 Korean mothers for her thesis and found that not only did they find serious language obstacles but also that their time here challenged the traditional gender roles within their families. Initially, they may experience confusion about their changing feelings - and always the loneliness.
One woman told her she may never be able to forget the sound of the Fisher & Paykel washing machine.
"No, not because it is too noisy but ... when I first arrived and start living I had nothing to do ... so I did laundry every day."
Over time, though, the women have developed more independence and confidence.
In New Zealand they live outside previously valued role structures, far away from the rest of their family but with the opportunity to explore different ways of being a wife and mother, Jeon wrote.
One said: "I think I am happy here and I have become brave ... I have told him [her husband] that if he loves me, he should accept the happiness that I feel now. It is good for both of us."
All the women Weekend Review spoke to wished there could be changes to the restrictions of the guardian visa, which specifies just one guardian may accompany the children and prevents the mothers from working.
If husbands could come here too and either work, or at least run their businesses from here for the duration of the children's schooling, life would be very different, they say.
Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman, asked whether the Government might look at improving the lot of Korean mums, said through a spokesman that there were no plans for change.
Massey University social scientist Professor Paul Spoonley says there are ethical issues which need to be looked at. "The Canadians and Australians and the Brits and Americans are all concerned."
The problem is English education has become a business, which raises questions of pastoral care for the migrants.
Though no one is making people come here, we are happy to take money off them.
"So there's a sort of ethical issue of, if you take their money what else are you going to say that they can do or can't do?"
He thinks we need to look at the possibility of creating different conditions for the guardian visa category - perhaps letting the mothers study full-time or get a job, and maybe let the fathers apply for a temporary business visa, which currently is very specific in its requirements.
Meanwhile, for mothers like Joanne Kim who took the sleeping pills, life remains tough.
Her husband came to New Zealand after she tried to kill herself but only for six months on a visitor's permit. She says she held on to him often and told him she wished they could live together as a family in New Zealand.
They moved to a new apartment, where at least the new neighbours leave her alone, and had a long talk.
In the end, they decided for the sake of their daughter, Kim would stay on in New Zealand.
"So I take it that this life that I am living is no longer for me but for my daughter, that she may have a life that is better than mine in the future. But that doesn't mean I am still not lonely."By Lincoln Tan Email Lincoln, Catherine Masters Email Catherine