A peripatetic author brings his travels to the page

by Len Lear
Posted 1/26/23

Chestnut Hill’s John K. Krieger will be signing copies of his newly published short stories this weekend at Booked.

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A peripatetic author brings his travels to the page


Chestnut Hill’s John K. Krieger, who will be signing copies of his newly published short stories this weekend at booked, could probably live in a mansion if he were allowed to exchange frequent flier miles for real estate. His offbeat collection “Glimpses,” chronicles a peripatetic lifestyle that led him to live and work in Russia, China, Japan, South Korea and France, as well as the Philadelphia area and California.

Krieger, whose father was a military man, spent five years of his childhood in Chestnut Hill before the family moved to California. He earned his undergraduate degree in French at UCLA, where he also studied the Russian language, and spent summers working for fish canneries in Alaska before heading to St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1989 to complete his final semester of college. He was still there in 1991, when the Soviet Union dissolved and became Russia. 

“Life was really hard there,” he told the Local in a recent interview. “You might wait two hours in long lines to get into a supermarket, and when you did get in, there was almost nothing there. You were hungry all the time. Any food would disappear quickly. Once I was in a crammed streetcar and started to faint, I was so hungry.”

Krieger began teaching in 1995. He chose to teach overseas for a couple reasons, he said. First, English-speaking teachers were highly valued at the time and reasonably well paid. Second, he said, employers were not as demanding with respect to credentials as were American universities, where professors are expected to have doctorate degrees and publish books. 

When he moved to China, Krieger taught mathematics, English, English-as-a-second-language, literature and even film. 

“In China you are like a movie star. People would stop me on the street and ask if they could take my picture or if they could give me a ride,” he said. “One time in South Korea, I went to the coast by car from Seoul on a narrow road – where another driver stared at me and hit my car. He thought I was someone he had seen in a movie.”

Chinese students were also much more respectful toward their teachers than were students in some other Asian countries, he said. 

“In China there was no discipline problem,” he said. “In Japan, the after-school ESL kids expected to be entertained, and they liked the most entertaining teachers, not necessarily the ones who taught them the most. In South Korea, the kids are spoiled and difficult. The adults were great, though.”

His traveling lifestyle has left him with an international sensibility, he said. 

“You lose your American ways,” he said. “You eat the way they do and live the way they do. You learn to adjust. 

In Japan, for example, the food is different from Japanese restaurants in the U.S.,” he continued. “There, they eat raw chicken, eel, which is big there, and horse meat.” 

In January of 2020, Krieger came back to the U.S. and began teaching in California. He taught math at a high school in Northern California for one year and then moved on to Southern California, where he has two children, 18 and 20. And that experience came with a whole new set of problems. 

“It's so expensive there, and there are so many homeless people,” he said. “In San Diego County, I had a rented space in a living room for $650, then a garage for $750. They kicked me out because they got someone to pay $1,100 for the garage. I was living in my car for a week.”

Krieger returned to Chestnut Hill, where his family members live, and is now teaching French at Archbishop Carroll High School in Radnor. 

“I have five classes, and four are perfect,” he said. “The other class has one disruptive kid, which is enough to disrupt the entire classroom.”

Krieger said the idea for “Glimpses” bubbled up four years ago – and getting it into print took some time. 

“I am the worst procrastinator in the world. I had trouble writing because I could only afford very cheap rent, and in those places you have to put up with a lot of noise, which drives me crazy,” he said. “Facing poverty is a bummer. That's one reason I stayed abroad for so many years. There are very cheap places in those countries where they pay you enough to live. Here it is dog-eat-dog.”

The stories in “Glimpses” are not the typical dramatic narratives that are resolved at the end of the story. For example, in one story, an American goes to visit a friend in an unnamed country. “The name doesn't matter,” Krieger said. “I want readers to use their imagination to wonder what life is like for these two men. What do they do for work, for example? I do not supply all the information. I want to make readers think. In my stories, I am opening a door to a dark room. A lot of questions can be raised in the stories, and the reader may have to fill in the blanks.”

For more information about the Jan.28 event, call 267-900-2999 or visit bookedch.com. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com