Lessons from Literature 6: The Mandibles: A Family 2029 – 2047.

The Mandibles: A Family 2029 – 2047 by Lionel Shriver is one of the novels I was reading when I was away in North Korea and China. Kind of ironic, really, because it deals with what happens when the US government runs out of money to service their trillions of dollars worth of loans and defaults. Guess which country rises up to take advantage of the situation?

This is a relatively slow moving but gripping read. We see through the eyes of one reasonably privileged family what happens as their society gradually unravels at the seams. Shriver has clearly done her homework on how financial markets work and the implications and consequences when things start to turn pear-shaped. Most of us in the FI/RE community have started to scrape together a working knowledge of how the financial world works – you’ll find this novel VERY interesting indeed.

I loved it. I found it scary as hell, though the little titbits she puts in about other countries are very clever, particularly what happens to Australia and Japan. I think I gave it a 5-star review on Goodreads – it’s well worth using the link I gave at the beginning of this post to pop across and buy it. (I don’t get anything from it – I just provided it as a resource for Aussie readers. US readers will find it at Amazon.com)

I’ve put out another blog post on my trip, for those who are interested.

Day 2: Beijing. 

I’m back!

I’ve decided to blog about my trip on my personal blog, so I’ll post a link at the bottom of any posts I do here so that people who want to read about China and North Korea can do so. The photo above was taken at the Massed Dancing in the centre of Pyongyang,  just before I put my phone in my pocket and joined in. So much fun!

So far I’ve done one post and it took me 3 hours, so I’m guessing they won’t be coming at breakneck speed, especially considering that I have to wade through 3,200 photos and videos to choose the best ones to share. Don’t believe the stories that you can’t take photos in North Korea!

Here is the first post. 

We did Beijing first and last, with the DPRK as the meat in the sandwich. It was an amazing trip and I hope you’ll join me to see the photos and read about what we experienced. Travelling in North Korea and participating in the Pyongyang marathon is incredibly interesting  – lots of fun with an occasional dollop of “OMG – crazy!” to remind you that you’re definitely not in Kansas anymore.

To all those who voted for my post in the Rockstar Finance competition – it won!!!! Thank you so much for your support – it was very exciting to see my little blogpost reach the top of the mountain.


I never thought I’d be flying into THIS country…

PLEASE vote for my blog post in the Rockstar Rumble Grand Final. YES!!! My blog post about showing my boys about compounding interest and superannuation has beaten 126 other bloggers to reach the final round. I’m so excited – it’s the first Grand Final I’ve ever been in. I won’t know the results of the competition for another 3 weeks, because I’m going to a place with absolutely no internet, but don’t let that stop you voting! Please leap across and vote for mine, the keyword is “Mistake’.  – I’d really love to take it out.   🙂

Rockstar Rumble Grand Final Voting.


It’s been a struggle to reach FI, I won’t lie and pretend otherwise. Actually, it’s only on paper that FI looks as if it’s just about been reached – emotionally I still don’t feel it, so I keep jumping on that early morning train and heading into work each weekday. But what I will concede is that I certainly have more ready cash floating around at the end of the month than I used to have – and that means that I can finally have the freedom to travel.

Three years ago I took a term of Long Service Leave and went on a 9 week trip to the UK and Europe. This was the trip I’d been waiting my whole life to take and I denied myself very little! I bought so many souvenirs that I had to send a large box back to Australia via post because there’s no way I would’ve been able to get all of that baggage into my suitcase. It was a dream holiday and I’ll probably never have its like again.

Fast forward three years and tomorrow I’m off again! The brilliant thing about financial freedom is that when an opportunity opens up, you’re able to take advantage of it.  A woman I work with has a son who takes tours into North Korea. She went on a tour with him last year and I thought she was mad. Who in their right mind would take a trip into a country like that?  Talk about risky as!!?? She must have been insane!

Then she arrived back safely. She had a group of us around after school and she showed us the 600 photos she had on her phone. Clearly, the things we hear about not being able to take photos isn’t true. She told us that it was just like going back to the 1960’s and that she’d never felt so safe anywhere in the world. This piqued my interest. It’s certainly nothing like the conventional things we hear about the country. When she said, “Frogdancer, if you ever want to go, I’d be happy to go back again”, I started to think about it. It’s an opportunity to see a country that very few people get to see. I have no doubt it’ll open up to the world, just as China has, but for now, it’s a bit of a mystery. I said yes.

My friend wanted to go back in April, to take part in the Pyongyang marathon. She and her husband are doing a 10km run. Anyone who knows me in real life knows that exercise isn’t my strong suit, so I’m WALKING the 3km section. I figure it’ll be a good way to see the city.

Here is the tour I’ll be going on.

Let’s be honest: it’s a slightly scary place to be going to. We have had to sign a declaration saying that we’ll stick with our guides and won’t go wandering off. The tour conditions are very much like the ones tourists in China had to adhere to 20 odd years ago. When we get back to our hotels after dinner, we’re not allowed to leave, though we can wander the grounds. This rule apparently leads to many nights in the hotel bar, with lots of drinking and banter. Shouldn’t be too hard for a group of Aussies to keep up! I’ll have to switch from Shiraz to rice wine for the duration.

The hardest thing so far, for me, was the fact that there’s no ATM access to cash in either country. This means that I had to estimate how much money I’ll be likely to spend, then buy it all before I leave to take with me. How on earth do I know how much I’ll need?!? This has resulted in a sensible trip to buy money, where I had a responsible allocation of Euros and Chinese Yuan. Since then I’ve had 2 panicked trips back, where I was sure I needed more. I’m probably taking far more cash than I need, but I figure that it’s better to have too much than not enough. I’d better not get mugged though!

This will definitely be different to any other holiday I’m likely to ever take. This is a tour where we’re basically put in front of various things and given the party line. To counter this, I’ve been reading up on Twentieth Century Nth Korean history, both military and political; personal accounts and interviews from people who’ve escaped, and I’ve been watching every documentary I can lay my hands on. Scared myself silly a few times, to be honest. But I wanted to know the other side of the story while I was listening to them. Seems the sensible thing to do. And I always like to do the sensible thing…

So please vote for my post in the Rockstar Rumble. It’s been a hard-fought battle all the way through and I really want to win. This competition’s been going for weeks! I’m proud of my post and the idea I had to educate my boys and I’d love to be able to see it through till the end.

And there’ll be no more posts until I arrive home on April 21.  It’ll be interesting to see the comparisons between our dreams of FI/RE and how people live in a vastly different society. I have a feeling I’ll be very glad to get back home.