Frugal Friday: How I spent 2 hours today getting the most bang for my grocery bucks.

There’s a chicken warehouse about a km away from my place, where I go to buy the chook necks for the dogs’ breakfasts. They have fantastic bulk deals in meat, so every holidays I go there and buy a bag or two of either breast, thighs or drumsticks and spend some time parcelling them up to use in the upcoming term. This time I couldn’t go past chicken breasts at $6/kilo. So cheap!

If I’d bought the “skin off” version I’d be paying $2/kilo more. But why on earth would I go that when I have dogs? Tonight, instead of their meat patty and dry food dinner with some yoghurt, I’ll replace the patty with the chicken skins. They’ll be in ecstasy and it’ll cost me nothing.

As I was cooking and chopping and measuring, I thought I’d do a ‘Frugal Friday’ post about everything I was doing today in the kitchen between 10AM and 12PM to save money and make everything stretch a little bit further.

Most of the bag of chicken went into these packaged-up portions. I use Skinnymixers recipes a lot and she tends to have the protein in 700g lots, so that’s what I’ve packaged them in.

I label all my freezer things with masking tape and a pen. Works like a charm. I decided to do this after the day I was running late for work and didn’t have time to make a salad for lunch, so I grabbed what I thought was one of my Emergency Lunches from the freezer. Imagine my dismay at lunchtime when I opened it to find a couple of uncooked drumsticks in some marinade instead of the Butter Chicken I was expecting…

So far I had 6 meals’ worth of chicken to feed 3 adults and have at least one or two lunches left over with each meal. Not a bad start…

While I was doing this, I had 2 Costco chickens on the stove, making stock. I’d been to Costco a couple of days before and I picked up two chooks. At $6 a pop, how can you walk past them? We’d had a couple of dinners and lunches from them, so today I put the carcasses and the leftover meat into a saucepan of water, brought them to the boil and then simmered them for a couple of hours. I read somewhere that if you add a dash of vinegar to the water it helps draw out the calcium from the bones. I have no idea if this is scientifically valid or not, but I do it just in case.

This is real ‘set and forget’ stuff. I can get 3 or 4 soup bases out of each chicken. It just burbles away on the stove while I’m busy doing other stuff.

Once it’s done, you drain the bones and meat from the stock.

DON’T do what I did once – I cleverly put the colander in the sink and poured the stock and carcass into it – only to watch all my precious stock go merrily down the drain.

Once the stock cooled a bit on the bench, I popped it in the fridge to get cold. Later, I’ll skim any fat from the surface and pour it into plastic containers to freeze. Nearly every Saturday we have soup for lunch, using up any sad veggies, leftover pasta or rice and things like that. I flavour it with chicken stock paste, or tomato paste, and throw in beans I’ve cooked from scratch and frozen – anything that will be tasty and that I need to use up.

Here’s the meat I saved from one of the carcasses. I’ll probably get 2 soups’ worth of meat from this. I like to freeze them in shallow containers lined with baking paper, so when I take it out to use them I can lift it out of the container and snap off how much I think I’ll need. It’s crazy how much food is left on a leftover chicken that would normally have been thrown in the bin.

 

I mentioned the chicken stock paste that I make. I had some vegetable stock paste still in the fridge, but I’d run out of the chicken stock paste. Making it yourself is so much tastier and healthier than using stock cubes. You can definitely taste the difference. So I used one of the breasts in the bag of chicken to make some stock paste, while another 700g of meat was used to cook dinner for tonight – a Chicken Tikka Masala. I had both thermomixes cooking this up while I was busy chopping the rest of the bag of chicken into the portions you’ve already seen.

I’d call this stock paste ‘Liquid Gold’ if it was a liquid! It has a heap of salt in it, which is the preservative, and it lasts in the fridge for weeks. I’ll put one jar in the fridge and the other in the freezer and I’ll be right for Chicken Stock paste for the next 6 months or so.

There’s enough chicken skin here to keep three little dogs very happy tonight.

The recipe for the Chicken Tikka Masala calls for 70g cream, but I always use the yoghurt I make myself. I use an old Easiyo container to store it in, but I make it in the thermomix for around $1/litre.

This capsicum was soon chopped up and thrown into the bowl, but have a look at what I’ve got planned to save money here in the future:

Here’s a sneak peek at the mini greenhouse I’ve got. Once the garden gets going, hopefully I’ll have lots of produce chopped up and frozen to use throughout the year. AND all of these plants are heirloom vegetables, meaning that I can save their seed for next year and I’ll never have to buy seeds or plants again.

The bag of chicken breasts wasn’t finished yet! Now that Spring is here, I like to take salads, rather than cooked lunches, to work. I decided to steam the last couple of breasts so that I could shred them and use them as protein in my salads or on pizzas.

Here’s a shot of the Chicken Tikka Masala cooking on the left, while the steamed chicken pieces are cooking on the right. Meanwhile, the second Costco chook is bubbling away on the stove behind me and I’m stacking the dishwasher. I have a podcast on my iPad and it’s all happening!

Once the chicken was steamed and then shredded, I portioned it up into small handfuls.

9 single-serve meals’ worth of protein here, either for salads or pizzas. This is making me feel all warm and fuzzy – I love having meals prepared for Future Frogdancer and the boys.

Speaking of preparing meals – here’s dinner. I’ll just have to cook some rice and then the boys and I can help ourselves. There’ll be enough leftovers to freeze for an Emergency Lunch or two as well.

While all of this was going on, I was bagging up the chicken necks that I’d put into piles of 5 and flash-frozen. Each pile is enough for breakfast for the dogs. All I have to do is remember to grab one at night when I feed them, so by morning, they’ll be defrosted. (The chicken necks, not the dogs.)

And finally, all of the veggie scraps and the dog hair that Ryan23 cut from the Cavaliers yesterday was put into the compost, so that one day it’ll all be recycled into feeding the plants that will then feed us. Apparently, hair adds nitrogen to the soil. Who knew?

For around 2 hours in the kitchen, pottering around and listening to podcasts, I’ve organised around 20+ meals for us. The main cost was for the chicken, with the bag of chicken costing $36 and the 2 Costco chickens costing $12. (But we’d already had 3 or 4 meals from those Costco chickens…) 

Anyway, it’s impossible to calculate how many actual servings this will all produce. My boys are adults and they are sometimes here for dinner, sometimes not. They eat a lot – they’re men. So some dinners are totally eaten on the night, while others have leftovers that get packaged into smaller lunches for people the next day.

But I like to calculate how much it costs me per meal, obviously with the shredded chicken portions only serving one person, while the diced chicken and soup stock could be serving as few as 3 people or as many as 5. So let’s just count each meal portion as 1, with each soup stock counting as 3 meals.

9 X shredded chicken + 6 X diced chicken + 6 X soup stock + 1 X Chicken Tikka Masala = 22 meals’ worth of protein.  Plus the 4 meals we had from the Costco chooks before I made stock from them = 26 meals overall. (I won’t count the dogs’ dinner of chicken skins tonight! Let’s call that a bonus.)

$36 bag of chicken breasts + $12 Costco chickens = $48.

$48/26 = $1.85 per meal of protein. If I was able to estimate how much it would be per person then the costs would go down even further, because the dinners and Costco chicken meals are covering multiple servings that I haven’t accounted for. I’m pretty happy with that.

I think that the 2 hours or so that I spent in the kitchen today was certainly time well spent. By the time term starts in another week I’ll have my freezers and pantry prepped and ready, so that Future Frogdancer won’t be driven to get takeaway meals when she feels tired at the end of a long week.

This makes me feel all Laura Ingalls Wilder – my family is being looked after and I’m ready for the zombie apocalypse, should it occur.

I like feeling prepared.

 

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Advertising North Korea style (4): The Bigger; the Better.

We arrived in North Korea about a week after this went live. This is the LED display on the Ryugyong Hotel, a building which has been unfinished for the last 30-odd years. When we were driving to our hotel we made a special trip to stop the bus and see it. Our two North Korean guides were practically bursting with pride, while Matt, our Aussie guide and a fellow tourist Pierre, who was on his 9th trip to the DPRK, were absolutely agog to see it. Pierre took this picture (@pierredepont on Instagram). The excitement was palpable.

The huge LED display at the top of the hotel shows a huge North Korean flag unfurling and rippling triumphantly in the wind. In this little series, I’ve talked before about how the Kim family uses specific images and symbols to sear their brand onto the hearts and minds of their people. How powerful is the almost magical sight of their flag rising up 105 floors over their showcase city and shining its light over everything?

Remember, this is a population who has absolutely no internet. They’ve never seen photos and film of the bright lights of Times Square or Tokyo or Melbourne. They’ve never seen billboards or logos or commercials. “Just Do It” means nothing to them, while as for the notion of Coke adding life or Red Bull giving you wings? Incomprehensible!

But here is their Dear Leader providing a magical display of dazzling technology that will be the envy of the world. Along with their nuclear program, which is an equally huge source of pride.

The nuclear missiles even made it into the local Cake decorating show, while a guide at the birthplace of Kim Il Sung, the first Leader of North Korea who is worshipped like a god, casually mentioned their successful nuclear program right at the end of her speech extolling the virtues of the Kim family and their leadership. Talk about electrifying! It wasn’t at all what you expect to hear when viewing historical monuments. Yet it’s par for the course here.

Here’s my view of the Pyongyang marathon, viewed from the rear. (I’m not very fit.) This arch is a replica of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Our Korean guide took great pride in telling us that it is 16 feet taller than the original. This particular Arch has the date that Kim Il Sung left Korea, vowing never to return until his country was free from Japanese rule, and the date of his return in 1945, when the Soviets installed him as the head of the government.

That last little piece of information isn’t known here. The legend states that he was a guerrilla fighter who, along with his soldiers, fought bravely to succeeded in defeating the Japanese, practically single-handedly. The arch was built for him by a grateful nation, with the Kim legend sculpted all over it.

It’s solid, huge and not to be argued with. How could it be based on falsehood, when it’s so darned substantial?  

Pyongyang, and indeed the whole of the country as far as we could see, is dotted with ultra-large monuments to the regime and the country. This is the Hammer (industry), sickle (farmers), and the pen (students) that make up the fabric of society. The interior is lined with sculptures showing the heroic people and the fatherly figure of Kim Il Sung looking after them all.

Right from when the grandfather, (Kim Il Sung), took the reins of government, then the father, (Kim Jong Il), and now the son, (Kim Jong Un) – they’ve always been incredibly focussed on linking intense patriotism with the mystique of their family branding. This monument is on the Reunification Road, which our guide described as a Roman Road leading from Pyongyang directly to Seoul in South Korea, built so that when the American Aggressors finally leave the south, the two split nations can finally be whole again. ASAP.

This idea of the two nations being wrongly and shamefully split because of American greed is a pervasive one. The North Koreans have been sold this idea since birth and they are totally convinced that every Korean person longs whole-heartedly for reunification, which the Great Leader is, of course, working night and day to achieve. They get emotional when talking of how their country has been ripped in two and they long to be reunited with family members who are currently out-of-reach on the other side of the border. They pay lip-service to the idea that the government would have to be a committee, because “the people in South Korea are used to their way of running things and we have no wish to change ours”, as our North Korean guide said.

By holding the dream so clearly in front of the people and continually telling them that he is working tirelessly to bring it to fruition, the cult of personality surrounding Kim Jong Un and his government is forever seen as a boon and a blessing by the people. The branding of the Kim family and its leadership is continual and constant.

It’s not just the people in the Kim family who are lauded and féted at every opportunity – it’s their philosophies and ideas that are sold to the people as well. This is a country convinced that the world banded together to crush them in the Korean War and it was only by the wisdom and bravery of their leader that they managed to survive. Here is the Juche Tower, built in the centre of Pyongyang, with the red flame always lit up at night so the light of Juche is always shining for the people.

Juche is basically a philosophy built around self-reliance, where you don’t ask for help and you solve all problems yourself. On the face of it, it sounds quite admirable, with images of independence, a strong backbone and a willingness to search for ways to solve things instead of weakly relying on someone else. However, for a leader of a hermit kingdom who definitely doesn’t want his people to be looking outside the borders for fresh ideas and help for any problems, this philosophy is ideal. 

Juche ideals are threaded throughout the culture, with pop songs being sung about it, with books and newspaper articles extolling its virtues and references to it being made in every speech and concert broadcast in the country. A huge proportion of the university courses that are offered to workers are about Juche and the Leaders’ lives and the classes are (I’m told) learned by rote and the students memorise them.

Consumer goods and having the latest gadget is definitely not a ‘thing’ here. Immense pride in their country, their leader and their way of life most certainly is. They are convinced that their standard of living and their way of life is equal to, if not better than, the rest of the world. That’s some pretty efficient advertising right there…

And here is where the narrow focus of the regime on selling themselves comes to the ultimate fruition – here is Kumsusan Palace of the Sun – the most sacred place in all of North Korea, according to our guides. I wrote about it in more detail here, but in brief, this sprawling complex houses the embalmed bodies of the two deceased leaders.

It’s a Very Big Thing for a North Korean to be given permission to come here, with our guide telling us that before she got this job, she’d only been here once, when she turned 16. And this is from one of the privileged people who are able to live in Pyongyang, where her family has presumably succeeded in pleasing the regime for the last 3 or 4 generations. It’s truly a rite of passage for the people to be able to come here.

No cameras. No unseemly behaviour. Tall, serious soldiers everywhere. Passages and halls over a mile long, which are serviced by travellators. The dress code is strict and inflexible. Oliver from our group had to borrow a pair of trousers from another guy, otherwise he wouldn’t have been allowed in. I forgot to pack my black dress shoes and, thankfully, realised in time and raced out to buy a replacement pair in Beijing.

Reports vary about the amount of money spent to turn this place from a residence for Kim Il Sung into his mausoleum, with reports ranging from 100 million dollars to 900 million, if you can believe a sum so astronomical. There are chandeliers, marble walls and floors and ceilings that are at least 15 feet high. Priceless artefacts are everywhere, along with immense statues that we were expected to bow to.

This place is a shrine. If you, as a citizen, are permitted to come here, you are deeply honoured. It’s a triumph of form over substance. It’s where I, as an outsider, could clearly see the successful use of the Kim family’s branding and selling of itself as the saviour of the people.

The people who were queuing up to view the embalmed bodies of the Kims were not fearful or forced to be there, as you’d expect if they were scared to be sent to a re-education camp or something. They were deeply and genuinely reverential, convinced that they are the most fortunate people in the world to have such leaders.

Here in the West, we’re bombarded by advertising from all directions. We have the internet, spouting what are supposed to be new ideas but is, in reality, becoming more of an echo chamber each day. We have commercials on tv, radio, Youtube, Facebook, in the movies, on top of buildings and along our roads and railway lines. We’re awash with it all, to the point where we’re blasé about the whole thing.

However, in North Korea, the advertising is narrow, focussed with a laser-like intensity on one thing. Keeping Kim Jong Un in power. It was truly fascinating to watch the power of advertising techniques being used in such a different way than we’re used to. The item they’re being sold is very different to what we’re used to seeing, but the psychological tricks and methods they use are pretty much just the same as ours. People are people.

One day the regime will fall and the borders will open and the way of life in the DPRK will change forever. Until that happens, the 25 million people who live in the bubble of isolation that is life in North Korea will continue to believe the message that is sold to them. Why wouldn’t they? Apparently, they’re the most fortunate people in the world…

I hope you enjoyed this little window into North Korea. Previous posts in this series:

Advertising  – North Korean style (1): Where the Leaders are Larger than Life.

Advertising – North Korean Style (2): Where a Picture Says a Thousand Words.

Advertising – North Korean Style (3): Teach the Children Well.

I blogged extensively about my trip on my personal blog, Dancing With Frogs. I took over 3,000 photos while I was there, so it took me around 5 months to slowly work my way through them all and blog about each day.

Here is the first day of the North Korean leg of the trip. This post has all the rules and regulations that we needed to be aware of before we set foot in the country. If you’re really interested, you can simply sit down with a cuppa and scroll your way through the posts and experience the trip as I did. It was a fascinating trip and SO MUCH FUN!

Well, being alone and lost in the forest near an army camp and (what I later found out once I was back in Australia) about 20kms from a Detention Camp mightn’t have been fun, but it was certainly interesting. So was our 6-star hotel in the middle of nowhere.

Running a marathon was never on my Bucket List, but I’ve done it now. Well.. sort of…

Going to the DMZ was absolutely not what any of us expected, thanks to the Gift Shop.

Mingling with the locals? Don’t mind if I do. Dancing with them to celebrate a birthday? Why not?  Who wants to eat a meal cooked with petrol? Mmmm… how could you not? It was delicious, and only a little smelly…

Anyway, those links are just a sample, if you’re at all interested. It was a trip to remember!

 

 

 

Why would ANYONE want to retire early(er) from teaching?!?

Don’t get me wrong – I love the actual teaching part of teaching. The kids are lively and funny and I laugh like a loon every single day at something someone does or says. Anyone who says teenagers are hard to handle hasn’t taken into account their wonderful senses of humour.

The people I work with are great, too. A few days ago I came into work early and had a long conversation with Alice about last night’s episode of Australian Survivor. She’s a twenty-something Maths teacher who sits near me in The Danger Zone (our little section of a very large staff room). Brock, who sits diagonally opposite to me, has opened up a Milk Bar on his desk, which, when he opens it, has lollies that he gives away to give everyone a boost.  I’m a fan of the Sherbies and the green snakes. Liz, who sits next to me, is another podcast person and we share hot tips about the ones we’re listening to. She gives me the heads up on really interesting books that she finds, too.

BUT – it’s not a total pleasure-palace here.

Yard duty on the oval in either the depth of winter or the heat of summer is no fun. No shade, no shelter from the elements and having to keep an eye out for footballs, soccer balls and balls in general. We don’t even have the fun of nabbing smokers since they cut the Smokers’ Tree down. Getting the after-school-on-Friday yard duty at the front of the school is also terrible. The kids hang around in clumps and talk, instead of zipping off home to start the weekend. WHY?!?

Though, on the other hand – It was my birthday last week. Every year, when it’s my birthday I give lollies out to my classes. On the last period of the day, I climbed the stairs to my year 7 English class. They threw me a surprise party. They filled the room with balloons, brought some lollies of their own and put this GORGEOUS fluorescent tutu skirt on my head as a hat. I wore it for the entire lesson. In the last 5 minutes, we played Silent Balloon Tennis. (It wasn’t silent…) Then, when the bell went we popped all the balloons. It was wonderful.

Granted, that day was pretty good – but there are some things that drive me crazy about this job.

The marking. Honestly, English teachers may have far more fun and have more interesting things to talk about in the classroom than Maths teachers, but we pay for it in the marking. I share space in The Danger Zone with a few Maths teachers. They come back with a pile of tests – a few ticks and crosses and they’re done. If only essays could be marked like that… I’m considered a fast marker and it still takes around 3 hours to mark a typical class of 28 essays. Multiply that by 5 classes, which is the full-time teaching load and that’s… (reaching for her calculator because it’s numbers)…  roughly 15 hours marking essays per term. Then there are grammar tests, wide reading assignments, Letters to the Editor etc.

Teaching English is great – assessing it is a little dull.

Though… every Friday we have ‘Handcream Friday” in our staff room. Brock goes around with a couple of tubes and we can choose the fragrance and we all go off to class with beautiful-smelling hands. It’s a little luxury we look forward to all week. I brought back this tube of Horse Oil hand cream from North Korea to add to the collection. Not many people wanted to try it, especially the vegetarians and vegans. To my surprise, it’s actually not too bad.

At the moment our staffroom is full of really great people, but there have been times in the past when people have been sitting near me who really annoyed me. Anyone in an office can identify, I’m sure. They’re either stupid, or selfish, or incredibly egotistical. And you have to put up with them in your general vicinity every day, sometimes for YEARS.

However, in this job you can make your own entertainment. When I had to stand on a street corner during the latest Cross Country to direct kids along the way they had to go, I wore my North Korean soldier’s hat and my number from the Pyongyang marathon. That was a lot of fun. I had kids saluting me as they ran past, with kids from China and South Korea doing double-takes when they saw me. I’m not a sporty person, but these days are ok.

But does anyone really find Meetings enjoyable? Especially when they’re held just because the time has been set aside for them and there’s really nothing of ground-breaking importance to discuss. If I’ve taken the train to work on a meeting day, it makes the difference between catching a direct train to my station, where I’m home in 45 minutes, to catching a train that stops at Mordialloc, where I have to get off and wait for another train to come through, which adds anywhere from 10 – 15 minutes to my trip. Meetings. Not a fan.

Though it’s not all gloom and doom. As a teacher, you get to escape the school sometimes. I’ve been on many trips to the Theatre, Art gallery, beaches on the peninsula, the Werribee Sewage farm, the Zoo, walks along the Yarra river etc. Also lots of incursions, where Authors, artists, motivational speakers and dance/drama/martial arts/ sports groups visit the school and our classes attend. We have a thing called ‘Medieval Day’, where the year 8 History classes come to school in fancy dress and they spend all day going to specialist classes where they learn about medieval weaponry, crafts, education, sports and they finish with a huge feast in the Hall. Every year I hope that my Year 8 class has English on that day, so I’m rostered on to supervise. It’s so interesting!

 The commute isn’t so hot, though in all fairness I have to say that I brought this one upon myself when I geoarbitraged 2 years ago. I used to live 2 minutes from work. Now it’s more like an hour’s commute each way. That’s a LOT of time taken out of your day. I did it for the money and it was totally worth it, but on those dark winter’s mornings at 5:20AM, I think wistfully back to the days when I’d get up at 7:30.

On balance, I’m one of the fortunate ones who, once I get to work, I enjoy it. It’s varied enough to be interesting and I’m surrounded by people I like and who seem to like me. I have a curriculum I have to teach, but once that classroom door closes behind me I can teach it without being micromanaged.

So what had me coming home last week and going through my financials, hoping against hope that another couple of hundred thousand dollars had miraculously landed into my accounts overnight?

Stuff like this, that’s what.

Things like a brilliant new idea for marking essays, which, when I tried it last week, moved my marking time to 70 minutes for just 7 essays. It’s more intricate, which will be good for the kids, but the technology on the spreadsheet isn’t working properly. It was rushed out, probably because it’s someone’s pet project higher up and they wanted the bragging rights. It’ll make them look good, but in the meantime, it’s added so much stress and extra (unnecessary) work for the rest of us. At the moment it’s only being used in year 8, but the admin has plans to roll it out over the whole school in the future. Yikes!

I had to ask myself: do I really want to spend extra hours upon hours of my life doing this?

As it happens, I still have to put my head down and barrel along for the next couple of years. I’ve reached lean FI, but I want my retirement to include lots of travel, which, when you’re coming from an isolated country such as Australia, is expensive. I need to work longer to include some extra padding in my portfolio to pay for those plane flights.

But if they keep on loading us up with unnecessary bureaucracy and ‘busy-work’, I may not be answerable for the consequences… (Fiji and Bali instead of Europe and the UK??)

As I said before, I’m lucky in that I like most parts of my job. However, I’ve realised that I don’t want to be doing it into my 60’s.

But I’m interested to hear from others. I’ve been a teacher my whole life so I know very little about other careers. What parts of your job are the spurs that drive YOU onwards to FIRE?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertising North Korea style (3): Teach the children well.

After the second post in this little series, I had a comment sent in from The Firestarter which said in part:

“Absolutely fascinating subject… I really enjoyed the post! While I get the point that the techniques used on the population are very similar, there is surely a large element of “if you do not comply you will be hurt” and the people there must know this as well. I’m not saying that a large portion of them don’t engage in loving the leaders “willingly” because they’ve been brainwashed, but law of averages suggests that with 25 million there will be a lot of free thinkers in there that have to toe the line anyway or be subject to brutality. This makes it a world apart from consumerism, which although has the “brainwashing” part by using all the psychological tricks they can throw at us, really lets people act out their own free will.”

Of course, that’s true – there are people who are able to see past the spin and, if they’re able, they take steps to evade and/or escape the country altogether. However, I went in expecting there to be more evidence of citizens cynically regarding the constant spin about the regime – but there wasn’t. People genuinely regard themselves and the country as a whole as being utterly blessed in their heritage and their leadership.

A huge part of this is as a result of their education system.

The regime in North Korea inherited an illiterate population when WWII ended. In the years since then, they’ve worked hard to develop the education system throughout the country with great success. Both primary and secondary schooling is compulsory, with many, particularly in the more privileged pockets of the country such as Pyongyang, going on to further education.

But the curriculum is very different from those of other countries. Children, particularly in the country, are taught basic reading, writing and ‘rithmetic, with hours a day spent on memorising long passages from books either written by or about the Great Leaders. They are expected to spout stories and accounts off by heart from these books, while at the other end of their schooling, a lot of the extra tuition people undertake after their work hours are Studies in Juche Philosophy, (Juche was first developed by Kim Il Sung – it means self-reliance and only looking within the DPRK to solve any problems. It’s an entire philosophy too detailed to go into here), and studies from the collected works of Kim Il Sung. This, of course, means that people in the DPRK are woefully under-educated when compared with the rest of the world. Escapees are horrified when they reach South Korea and realise how much studying they have to do to catch up. Re-education is also required, due to the many fanciful tales of the Great Leaders’ exploits and the history of their country which are out and out lies.

This room was one of the first things we were shown when we toured the primary school. They were proud of this natural history room, which the teachers had made themselves “in the manner of our Juche ideals.”

The children are taught this philosophy, which encourages total focus to be on North Korea and its superiority to the rest of the world. They are taught that everywhere beyond its borders are downtrodden, poor and we’re all envious of the way the DPRK runs the country and looks after the interests of its people. The fact that the teachers built this room themselves, with no outside help or input, was seen as a source of much pride.

This was the first classroom we went it – a computer class. I was the second person in the room and as I walked in and moved along the back, I couldn’t help but notice the IT guy frantically working to connect the big screen.

I took this shot to show the IT guys back home at school. They couldn’t believe it! I suppose this is more Juche ideals at work.

We were shown an English class, a dance class, a singing class and a sports class. It was all designed to show us how modern and cosmopolitan their curriculum was, how talented and bright their children were and how North Korea is thriving, judging by these cherubs.

While we were watching these gorgeous little girls do their dance class for us, trying their little hearts out, Wally slipped away. He took a wander all by himself around the halls with his trusty camera around his neck. The next photo is mine, but all of the following photos of the art in the halls of the primary school are from him.

This was at the top of the stairs on the second floor. It gave me quite a turn to see this as we rounded the stairway and came up the second flight. I work at a secondary school and last year we had a political photographer put up huge blown-up photos of refugees and people in bomb shelters in the Middle East around the campus. Our principal purposefully selected photos that wouldn’t be too confronting to the sensibilities of our students. No guns, wounds, bodies etc. Too scary for our 12 – 18 year-olds.

Yet this image is positioned at the head of the stairs where these 5 – 11 year-olds would see it every day. Things like this inevitably leave a mark.

The narrative that the North Korean people have been told for the last 60 years is that for 150 years the Japanese ruled their country and the Koreans were treated worse than animals. (Which, to be fair, has quite a bit of truth to it.) Then, during WWII, the brave and glorious Kim Il Sung and his soldiers fought the Japanese and drove them away from Korea and finally – the Koreans were FREE! (In actual fact, the Russians were the ones to drive the Japanese out – Kim Il Sung didn’t have his own army of guerillas. He was in the Russian army as a minor officer. The Russians thought he’d be a good man to run the country.)

Then the evil American Aggressors divided the Korean peninsula down the middle and stole half of it. They would have taken it all but the wisdom and bravery of General Kim Il Sung prevented that from happening and so the North Korean people are the only Koreans who are free.

In 1950 the American Aggressors and the South Korean puppets invaded North Korea without warning. (Actually, the opposite happened.) General Kim Il Sung mobilised his country’s army and they fought the Americans all the way down to the bottom of the peninsula – near;y driving them into the sea. The cowardly Americans called up 17 satellite countries to help them fight and between the might of all these countries, the DPRK fighting on all on its own was driven back. (This was an account which is clearly referring to when the UN stepped in to help with the war. On our tour of the War Museum in Pyongyang, our guide recited the list of countries 3 times. Australia was third each time. Awkward…)

The country of North Korea was nearly bombed out of existence by the US. (True. A third of their population was killed in the Korean War. That’s horrific by any standards. ) So now the DPRK must stand alone, vigilant to protect its borders, knowing that the American Aggressors and the Japanese Imperialists would like nothing better than to sweep in and retake their glorious country.

It’s a wonderful mixture of paranoia, fiction and myth-telling, based on truths, half-truths and complete lies. This means that the population is very easy to handle. Sell them this story constantly, coupled with the constant stories about how fortunate they are that the Kim family is prepared to sacrifice their own lives to work for the good of the people for the first time in 200 years, and you’ll have just about everybody believing in you. Take away the internet and close the borders and there are very few people left to argue.

Once that’s done, surround children like this little girl with constant lessons and images like the following ones:

Judging by the date on the bottom left of this ‘artwork’, this is showing the kids how the evil American and South Korean puppets invaded their beloved country.

Graphic image. Look at how resolute she appears.

See how young they are?

This looks like Holocaust material, doesn’t it? With roughly one-third of their population bombed out of existence by the UN in the Korean War, it would be easy to play on their fears of such a thing happening again. These children would have Grandparents and Great-Grandparents who would remember the war. But failing that, every family would have stories that were handed down.

These children were singing shrill songs that sounded like marching songs. Songs about love and the individual desires for fulfilment are not sung in North Korea. Instead, the popular songs are all about the struggle for Reunification, the adoration they have for Kim Jong Un and how by pulling together they will bring the DPRK back to its rightful place as the country that the rest of the world looks up to.

See the long nose on the priest? This picture is having a go at both organised religion and Americans.

Meanwhile, the children smile sweetly and perform for the tourists. I was wondering what went through their minds when the embodiment of all they’ve been taught to fear rolls up in their school in a group and smiles at them. It must feel very strange.

The following pages are taken from a fascinating book called “This is Paradise! My North Korean Childhood” by Hyok Kang. The Maths questions he’s talking about are the very same sort of problems that these children in the photographs would be learning. They are all phrased like this.

Kang goes on to write that “Our schoolbooks would spend page after page glorifying the ‘victory’ of the DPRK against Japan in 1945 and against the United States and the Southern puppets in 1954. (In fact, North Korea was invaded by Russian troops and was not liberated by the armies of Kim Il Sung. As for the Korean War, (1950 – 3) it did not conclude with a victory of the North over the South, because the demarcation line was left unchanged.) And just as the definitions in our dictionaries were politicised, we were trained to speak in ready-made phrases. We didn’t say ‘the Americans’ but ‘the American imperialists’ or ‘the American bastards’ or even the ‘yangkubegi‘ (western long-noses.)”

When you train people to think and speak in sound-bites, you’re controlling how they think. But then again, we all know that Coke adds life, a Diamond is Forever and that we should Just Do It. And when we Have a Break, we should have a Kit-Kat. And of course, when all else fails, For Everything Else, There’s Mastercard.

(Please excuse the mug! This shot was taken at my desk after we got back.)

This book is a prime example of the books that children and young people are made to read. The language is flowery and over-the-top, with Kim Jong Il portrayed as a man who is vastly superior to anyone else. Even at 6 years of age, he was instructing adults in anything from political science to agriculture. Truly a leader to admire!

This is the first of three pages of the table of contents. Here’s the opening page:

The children of North Korea have textbooks written exactly like this. Their minds are sponges and this is what they grow up absorbing. The regime’s message falls on fertile ground.

Incidentally, the whole book was around 200 pages filled with over-the-top language such as this. I ploughed through it and finished it, but it was a hard read. From what I’ve read and researched after I came back, everything written to or about the Leaders must be phrased in this effusive over-exaggerated way. It must be exhausting.

But still, kids are kids. Oliver, one of the tallest and kindest men I’ve ever met, brought heaps of toys and pencils and textas from Germany. He was very popular with the children once they realised that he was giving away free things. Kids were walking away clutching small trinkets, eyes round with wonder.

Maybe little things like this will make some of the kids realise that not all they’re told and sold about Westerners is true…

Or maybe not. The education system is a solid base that the government has grabbed to ensure that they deliver their message to the population when the people are too young and unsophisticated to know fact from fiction. And when everyone around you is immersed in the same bubble of stories, fear and lies, it must be very hard to step back and think critically about what is real and what is not.

Going back to the comment I quoted at the start of this post by  ‘The Firestarter’, I’ll close with another quote from the book ‘This is Paradise!’ by Hyok Kang, about when his parents decided to try and escape into China and were trying to get him to agree to come with them. He was 18 years old at this time.

“I told him I would rather be a beggar in North Korea than follow him to China. I replied in set phrases that I had learned at school, along the lines of, ‘Let us safeguard socialism’, or, ‘I will fight to the death to protect socialism and the Great Leader Kim Il-Sung!’ …I had stopped going to school. It was my decision, but I should also point out that, given my state of mind, and since my father was worried that I would report him to my classmates, he himself had forbidden me to go… [My mother also] tried to persuade me to follow them. … She added that we would spend a year in China, no more, and that we would earn money and come back to North Korea. Reluctantly, I finally agreed.”

This book was written in 2007. It’s pretty safe to say that he has never elected to go back!

I’ve linked all of this talk on education in with advertising, which in a fast-and-loose sort of way it is. The regime has been selling the stories about itself to the children for over 60 years. Here in the West we have tv ads and product placement bombarding our kids and us from our earliest years. In a strange sort of way, it’s similar to what the kids in the DPRK are also bombarded with. It’s just that their ‘products’ are far more focused and powerful than ours…

The story of how Frogdancer Jones won her freedom.

In 1996, my then- husband and I bought an ugly little 1950s weatherboard in a quiet suburb near the bay. We had 4 sons: a nearly 5-year-old about to start school the next year; a 3 and a 2-year-old and the baby of 3 weeks.

This house had one lounge, one bathroom, one toilet but 4 bedrooms. We figured that as time went on we could extend. We had a deposit of 40K. The mortgage was 96K.

A year later we divorced and I had to buy him out. The court set the figure at 18K so I went to the Commonwealth Bank to refinance. The bank knocked me back, saying that they’d refinance me LESS than my current mortgage, (which I was making the payments on every month like clockwork.) I couldn’t believe it. I’d lose the house. Where would the boys and I go? I went home and cried for three days.

Then I got angry.

I rang Dad and asked him to come over and look after the kids. Then I dressed in what little ‘office’ attire I had left after 7 years at home with the boys and I marched back into the offices of the bank. I was very clear about my future prospects, my unblemished banking record and the fact that although I was a single mother with 4 children, that didn’t automatically mean that I was a no-hoper loser.

The mortgage rose to 115K. I paid out my husband and the boys and I settled into our new life as a single-parent household. I decided to stay at home with them, primarily to give them the stability that a divorce had taken away from them, but also because the childcare fees for 4 children would eat up any wage I brought home. I cleaned houses to get a little extra cash when Mum could look after the boys, but basically, we lived on the smell of an oily rag.

The next few years were very hand to mouth. There were child-support dramas that saw some very tough times, but I knew that as long as I could make it through until Evan began school, then I could make the whole thing work.

When Evan started prep, I began teaching again, first as a CRT/Emergency teacher and then I got a 9-month full-time teaching contract at my local high school, the same year that my oldest, Tom, started there in year 7. This school was the reason I’d chosen the area way back when we bought, as it had an excellent reputation as one of the top 4 non-selective government schools in Melbourne. Nothing but the best for my boys!

I had security for 9 months with this contract. Our car was falling to bits so I bought a three-year-old Ford Station Wagon, which made the mortgage rise by another 15k. I vowed to have the mortgage down below pre-car levels by the time the contract ran out. I did.

I kept getting contract after contract at the school. Meanwhile, I cleverly fixed the mortgage rate for 5 years, only then to see interest rates plummet. D’OH! Not what the plan was supposed to be! Still, I consoled myself with the fact that at least I knew how much my payments were, and if it wasn’t for the Commonwealth, I wouldn’t even HAVE a mortgage. I kept on.

When the school offered me a permanent position, I knew that now we were safe. I took the boys on a holiday to Bali, ( then Thailand the next year because we had so much fun), and I started renovating. My plan at first was to pay off the house and then save for a new bathroom and kitchen- but then I thought it’d be better to get it done while they were all still living with me and we could all get the benefit.

Ironically, this time when I went back to the bank to talk refinancing, they offered to lend me 260K. I laughed, remembering how just a few short years before I was deemed to be a Bad Risk. I didn’t want to spend that much money, because I still had my over-arching dream to be debt-free.

So the mortgage rose to $199,995.
There was no way I was going over the 200K level!!
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I got rid of the ugly asbestos cladding that looked like bricks made of chocolate icing. We had ducted heating and evaporative cooling put in, along with a new kitchen, bathroom and a continuous gas hot water service so we could have our showers the exact temperatures that we liked – and we weren’t constantly heating up a tank of hot water and paying for it. And a fence:
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Since then, I chipped away at the mortgage, enjoying each time it fell another 10K’s worth. At first, it was slow, but then momentum started to build up. It became like a game, seeing what else I could shave off our expenses to get the total down more and more, month after month. I chose not to do a lot of things on my way towards freedom, but one choice that I decided to do made a huge difference.

In 2012 I went to a Thermomix demonstration held by a blogging friend from my personal blog and I bought one. I loved the machine and it started me thinking…

Three weeks later I became a consultant. Nowadays we’d call this a ‘side hustle’ but this was way before anyone was coining that phrase. I knew that I needed to make more money and my Etsy shop selling knitted hats just wasn’t cutting it.

From memory, my mortgage was hovering around the 100- 90K Mark.

In 2012 I worked full-time as a teacher and did thermomix on the side. I earned a free trip to Hong Kong for a week, which I was rapt about. Being able to travel was one of the sacrifices I’d chosen to make to get rid of the mortgage.

In 2013 I swapped my mortgage to UBank. At the time it was 77K. The lower interest rate made a HUGE difference. The principal started melting away before my eyes. I redoubled my efforts and started hurling every dollar I could at it.
My house had a leaky spot in the guttering. It needed painting. My curtains were so dated it was embarrassing. It needed awnings out the front. But I kept patting her, saying, “Don’t worry, hold it together. Let me pay you off, save for Europe in 2015 and then I’ll look after you.”

In 2013 I invested more time in Thermomix, going part-time with teaching by dropping a day and 17K in wages to take on a Group Leader position where I was managing a team of consultants. I was scared to drop my wage, but if I wanted the job in Thermomix I had to attend fortnightly meetings on Friday mornings. I gave it a go, thinking that if I was able to double what I was losing, then I’d be happy.

I did that. I also earned another free trip, this time to Sun City in South Africa. Who would have ever dreamed that an ordinary single mother of 4 would be able to see African wildlife IN AFRICA, let alone walk through the bush behind real adult lions and cuddle lion cubs? Life was beginning to brim over with possibilities…

December 19th 2013, I was lying in bed first thing in the morning. It was the last day of the school year. I pulled up my UBank statement on my iPad and couldn’t help but notice that my savings were $10 more than my mortgage.

The mortgage was $12, 330.

It was more than flesh and blood could stand. I paid it all across. I had no emergency fund, no holiday savings, no nothing.
But I had my freedom. It only took 17 years.
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