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!

 

 

 

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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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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North Korea trip.

Here’s a shot for those who believe that tourists in North Korea are kept in a little bubble and that everyone we interact with are actors. That’s an awful lot of actors to hire, just to fool 12 tourists!! There I am, dancing with the locals with my sunglasses on, looking cool. It was so much fun.

I’ve left this site pretty much to itself, but I’ve been blogging about the trip on the other blog. I really want to get this done, so this site has a few tumbleweeds in it at present. I’ll be back!

Day 2 – Beijing.

Day 3: Beijing, Dandong and Pyongyang, North Korea.

Day 4: The Pyongyang Marathon

Day 4, continued. Pyongyang

Day 5 – Pyongyang – The Subway

Day 5, Pyongyang continued. The Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum.

Day 5, continued. Monument of the Party Foundation and the Juche Tower.

Day 5, continued. Grand People’s Study House, parks and the Mansudae Grand Monument.

Edited to add: It’s now July 5. I’ve ‘only’ got 5 days to go on the trip. Sifting through those photos takes a lot of time. Once I’ve knocked North Kore on the head, I’ll be back here.

 

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.

 

 

Freedom beckons…

Oh thank goodness! Term 1 finishes today, (oh happy day!), and I marked the last essay from my year 9 class yesterday. I’ve cleared the decks of all the corrections and I can leave for my overseas holiday with nothing at work to mop up before I go. I’m taking an extra week so it’ll be 3 glorious weeks of freedom before I come back. Whoopee!

As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in the school’s lecture theatre watching two year 12 kids trying to learn to waltz. It’s part of a dream sequence in the play we’re putting on – ‘Jasper Jones’. It’s the first rehearsal of this scene and they’re stressing about stepping and counting and turning. The boy playing Charlie looks a little like an adolescent giraffe, all arms, legs and elbows, while our ‘Eliza’ has a look of fierce determination on her face as another student counts, “Step 2, 3… turn 2, 3…  step 2, 3…”

Learning a new skill is always hard at the start, but I know that by the time May 2nd, 3rd and 4th come along, they’ll be floating, seemingly effortlessly, around the stage.

As I was watching them I was thinking about writing something for this blog and it occurred to me that learning how to get control of your finances is a bit like learning how to dance. At first it all seems really hard. You step on your partner’s toes, you misstep, then start to move smoothly, then stumble again…

Once you have control of your budget and you become debt-free, it’s all smooth sailing. Then you realise you have to learn about investing. You discover the world of FI/RE and all of a sudden it’s like learning the tango. It’s a whole new dance. All those scary numerals!  The new terms and acronyms! Argh! What’s an ETF? A CAGR? ROI, IPO and a REIT? Why are they important and why should I care?

I’m sure some people take to this like a duck to water, but personally, I found it hard. I’ve spent a lifetime actively avoiding anything to do with Mathematics and there are far too many numerals involved with investing for me to be comfortable with it. As it is, it’s taken me around 5 years to become what I’d call a moderately educated investor. Anything too spreadsheet-y and I still mentally run screaming for the hills, but I’ve reached the stage where I’m now gritting my teeth and slowly chipping away at it.

By the end of the rehearsal ‘Charlie’ and ‘Eliza’ were waltzing around the stage in each other’s arms, still stumbling occasionally but for most of the time, they were in step with each other and in time to Doris Day’s singing. I smiled as I looked at them and at the other student who was still counting time, “Step, two three; Step, two three!”

It’s a work in progress but I know we’ll all get there in the end.