Book Review: Escape From Camp 14

So as part of my New Years Resolutions, I committed to reading more. I thought an achievable goal was 1 book a month – seems easy right? Well let’s just say it’s the end of February and I’ve only just finished my first book of the year Escape From Camp 14. My best friend lent it to me with the advice “if you read this before bed, you’re going to struggle to sleep.” And as I write this review and pass on a recommendation, I will also leave you with the same advice. Plus maybe have something joyous to do after you’ve finished reading for the day because this book is indeed intense, dark, confronting, confusing and troubling.

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Source. 

Based on a true story, this gripping book tells the complex, dark, courageous and crazy journey of Shin, who was born and raised in Camp 14, a labour camp in North Korea. Before reading this book, I honestly didn’t know much about the atrocities that happened in North Korean gulags. You just assume it would be horrible, but hearing not only what occurred there, but how he thought and felt was truly horrific. North Korea is obviously a place that we don’t hear about in the news. If we do, it’s because Kim Jong-un has conquered a mountain, or had an elaborate birthday party. We rarely hear stories and voices of those from outside Pyongyang (the capital of North Korea).

What I really took from this book is the power of the mind and media. Born and raised in a labour camp, Shin had never heard anything about an outside world let alone seen what was over the fence. He believed what he was told by camp officers, because – well… what else is he to believe? Like the famous, quote ‘if you control the media, you control the mind,’ and I think that whoever wrote that quote had been to North Korea. It was fascinating to read just how far the government go to control and suppress its people.

A Chinese-made portable media player, which North Koreans call "Notel", is seen in Hunchun city
A Chinese-made portable media player, which North Koreans call “Notel”, is seen in Hunchun city, China. Source

Blaine explains how bad quality American DVDs such Charlie’s Angels  or South Korean and Chinese TV shows, were smuggled into North Korea from China and that for many North Koreans, this was the first time being exposed to the outside world. He states that DVD’s and DVD players are actually owned by a lot of working class people as it was a way to make sure that the party can control what the people are viewing. This is something that has stuck with me and something I don’t think I could ever forget.

There are a lot of things in this book that I don’t think I will ever forget. The brutality endured by Shin and the thousands in labour camps, plus the oppression of an entire nation is absolutely horrific and I hope that freedom can come to the people of North Korea in the future.

Thank you to my friend Zina for recommending this book and thank you to the author and to Shin for bravely sharing his story.

For more information, I’d definitely recommend reading the following article by Reuters. 

Girl in the Woods: Life Inspiration

I’m on a mission. On a mission to read some great books. There’s nothing I love more than spending a Summer’s day at the beach, buried in my book. I bought this book a few weeks ago and after finally having the time to read and reflect on this little treasure, I just had to share with you some of my thoughts.

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Girl in the Woods by Aspen Matis is a beautiful memoir that explores the delicate connection between nature, healing, growth and self acceptance and development. On her second night at college she is raped. She then decides to hike the Pacific Coast Trail, from Mexico to Canada. This book is not about rape or being a victim. It’s about being a survivor, not only through sexual abuse and self acceptance, but literally surviving the American wilderness.

As a young woman just trying to survive university and the struggles of everyday life, reading Aspen’s personal, emotional and brave story of her overcoming such things is not just inspiring but deeply motivating in my pursuit of happiness, travel, connection and love. I am extremely passionate about the educational and healing power of travel and I feel that this book beautifully illustrates this.

But it’s not all sad and serious. I don’t think she intended it to be this way at all. Of course what happened is horrific and you can’t write a memoir without including such a life altering event. But I think the real life changing event for me reading this book, was how she grew, learnt, changed and accepted herself over 2 650miles from Mexico to Canada.

So here are some of the things that I’ve taken away from such an engaging book.

(There are a few spoilers ahead, but I haven’t given anything away yet).

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Some of her pictures taken on the hike.

No means no

If it doesn’t feel right, it’s OK to say no. Saying no doesn’t make you uptight or frigid. It simply means that right now, in this moment, you are not consenting to have sex with someone. It also doesn’t mean you don’t like or love that person. But how that person responds to you saying no, will definitely say a lot about how they truly feel about you.

Speak to be heard, not just listened to

Aspen wrote this book with purpose. She later spoke at her college where she was raped and by her speaking up about what happened, a woman in the audience felt empowered to do the same. If we have something to say, we deserve to be heard, not just listened to and marginally acknowledged. When her parents choose not to acknowledge her rape, it’s absolutely heartbreaking. The only people she’s ever been dependent on her whole life had let her down. It is not only up to us to speak out, but for the people we’re talking to, to do something about it. Her way of speaking about it was through her journals. By doing this she was able to write about her thoughts and emotions but also contemplate them and grow. This also reflects society and the urgent need to know how to help someone who needs it.

Nature is dangerous and it may try to kill you, but it is beautiful

Aspen writes about survival. This trail is not just a pleasant hike you go on to tick off your bucket list. You need to have the deepest motivation and commitment to the trail and yourself. There are few incidences where she is short of death, but as the saying goes… what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Not only does she survive off of the land and care packages her Mum sends her, but also rape. She writes ‘the trail had shown me how to change.’

Life has a funny way of working itself out

She meets her husband on the Pacific Coast Trail. When she finishes and they are catching a ride back to civilisation, she admits that she could of taken another path in life. One that involved her finishing her studies, living out her life as a high school teacher and being mediocrely happy. The path of the Pacific Coast Trail started with her rape, but it ended in her becoming Aspen Matis. She fell in love, she learnt how to survive by herself, and ultimately the Pacific Coast Trail served as nature’s way of healing her body, mind and heart.

Overall, I felt like I was walking the PCT with Aspen. With every page I could feel the miles she walked that day. It’s a difficult book to read because there are such personal reflections, but I think it’s what we need. In order to offer help to others and allow others to seek help, we need to be educated about what to do in situations like this. To empower women to stand up for themselves and teach men not to rape. This book is extremely captivating and I thank the author, Aspen Matis for sharing such a beautifully personal experience.

 

 

 

A Love Letter to Paris and a Few Tips on How To Be Parisian

So there’s this book. A beautiful little book, that sits neatly on my bookshelf. The thing about this beautiful little book, is that you cannot simply ‘read’ this book. No, you believe this book. Live it. Breathe it. Know it, with every inch of your body, and by the time you turn to the final page…. you know exactly ‘How To Be Parisian, Wherever You Are.’ This charming little book is written by four very beautiful, and very French women; Sophie Mas, Audrey Diwan, Caroline de Maigret and Anne Berest. They share their secrets to the world about How to be Parisian. 

My favourite French things; Coco Chanel Mademoiselle, red and black nailpolish and my gold plated Pierre Laniere watch I bought in Paris for my 19th birthday.
My favourite French things; Coco Chanel Mademoiselle, red and black nailpolish and my gold plated Pierre Laniere watch I bought in Paris for my 19th birthday.

A must read for those of you who have ever day dreamed their way to Paris. Ever since I was little, I remember being captivated by the City of Lights. And as soon as I made it through high school and ventured on my GAP year, I went to Paris not once, not twice, but three times.

Those who say they ‘didn’t like Paris’ or ‘thought it was dirty,’ then you obviously missed the whole point. Paris isn’t meant to be perfect. It is dirty, there’s gypsies everywhere and the Metro does stink like urine. But while you were so busy worried about a little dog poo on the sidewalk, you completely missed the beauty that lies in every street. Every arrondissement has a different story to tell. Your job is to listen and let the streets guide you along the way.

One of my favourite photos of Paris. Taken from the Sacre Coeur, this is Paris at dusk. Before she wakes up.
One of my favourite photos of Paris. Taken from the Sacre Coeur, this is Paris at dusk. Before she wakes up.

‘Parisian women never try to appear to be something other than what they are. They want above all to become the best possible version of themselves.’

The best version of themselves. Isn’t that what we should all strive for?

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‘The signature item is an attitude. It is the gun in your holster that makes you feel well dressed and invincible’ 

And personally, it’s my leather jacket (which is coincidentally pictured in the book). I bought my leather jacket in London. I saved up my money for it and may have even sacrificed some food for that week to purchase it, but now that it’s mine I couldn’t picture not having it in my life. It’s me. I feel fierce when I have it on. Not only because it looks great, but also because I’ve invested good money in something that is timeless. Now that’s smart investment.

And what about the French Language? C’est très beau. I’m currently studying it at uni, and despite how difficult the passé composé is, I will always love speaking it. For more reasons on why you should learn French, you can read more here.

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‘When it comes to kissing, the Parisienne does it the same way she does everything else: with cinematic flair. Preferably, all kissing should take play in the middle of the street. The city is after all her stage and she treats each kiss like a once-in-a-lifetime performance. She wants to be unforgettable- both to the man clinging to her lips and to the people passing by. Like any good actress, she immerses herslf completely in the role and amost expects a round of applause when the curtain falls and the end of her scene. Breathless, of course’ 

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“Always be fuckable: when standing in line at the bakery on a Sunday morning, buying champagne in the middle of the night, or even picking the kids up from school. You never know.”

You’ll constantly have ‘ah-ha’ moments which resonate with everyone’s unique experiences of Paris. I’ve seen Paris in many different lights. I’ve been there in Summer, Autumn and Winter, I’ve seen the touristy parts of the Lourve and the Eiffel Tower, gotten lost in the streets of Montmartre, been to Disneyland, ate excessible amounts of cheese and croissants, watched cabaret shows and delved through the flea markets. I love Paris, it’s people, history and culture, and I’m so glad I can have a little bit of it on my bookshelf.

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So you think the image of Paris and being Parisian is overrated. Well my friend, I’m not sure there’s anything else I can do to convince you. I say that there’s nothing wrong with a little daydreaming, and if you happen to daydream about Paris, the City of Lights, so be it.

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The Moulin Rouge. Haven’t been inside yet, but it’s on my list.
Bringing my ballet shoes with me to Paris. Dream come true
Bringing my ballet shoes with me to Paris. Dream come true.
Being fancy at the Palace of Versailles.
Being fancy at the Palace of Versailles.