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.

{C1A0D2FC-0979-42A2-93A9-9605A85154E0}Img400
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. 

Review: Airbnb in MELBOURNE

In a world where hostels are too crowded and hotels are too boring, the internet has given us Airbnb. For those of you who have been living under a rock, then I’m about to make your 2016 even better. Airbnb is an amazing website which allows for a truly unique travelling experience. You choose the place you’re going, punch in some dates, adjust the price range per night and voilà! It gives you so many different options, from a room in a house or apartment to the entire house and apartment! If you’re staying somewhere where your host is also living, it allows you to really immerse yourself in the culture and lifestyle of the place that you are staying. Or if you opt for the entire place and share it with some friends, it gives you so much freedom to explore and do what you want to do.

IMG_0160
Our beautiful Airbnb apartment! 

So… my friends and I were planning to spend New Years Eve in Melbourne and we were looking at accommodation. Hotels were crazy expensive per night per person, and hostels just didn’t seem ideal. Then we came across this listing on Airbnb. A beautiful 2 bedroom apartment in central Melbourne. We contacted the host, Mel, who was extremely prompt in replying. We agreed on a price, we paid and we were booked in. Upon arrival we were blown away with the quality of the place we were staying. Across from Federation Square, Flinders Street Station and we could see Hosier Lane from our window. The place was beautifully decorated (and even came with some beer in the fridge). There were board games and DVD’s and when we were a bit worse for wear in the morning, we would lay on the fold out lounges that were incredibly comfortable. With such a perfect location and amazing people to spend my time with – we had the ultimate getaway. Though I believe our time was only so amazing after some solid planning. So here’s what I recommend doing when booking with Airbnb so that your time can be as amazing as ours!

IMG_0157
A list of sites and things to do in Melbourne. 

Do’s

  • Read the reviews. Airbnb asks people that stay at a property to review it. After you finish your stay they bombard you with emails reminding you to leave a review which is a win win situation. You get to read the review your host left you, plus add what you loved and what you thought could be better (if there’s anything). Reading the reviews are absolutely essential to secure the right place for you.
  • Contact the host. You’ll be staying at their property so make sure to carry yourself in a mature manner. If you’ve got any questions about the property, now’s your time to ask.
  • Google Maps It. Look up the location on Google Maps to ensure you’re in a good location. Look for famous landmarks or central areas.
  • Read the house rules. Generally each property has their own ‘house rules.’ This may include information like where to pick the key up, how to operate the air conditioning/pull out loungs, where you can and can’t smoke and if it’s ok to have parties. We were staying in a residential building so of course we couldn’t throw a wild party. It’s important to read these to make sure you get the right place for you.

Don’ts

  • Break the house rules. If they say ‘no smoking,’ then don’t smoke. If it says do the dishes before leaving, then do the dishes. This is out of respect to the property owner, and to ensure you don’t incur any cleaning or damage fees.
  • Try to squeeze more people into a space. The number of people the property sleeps is set at that for a reason. Any more and you’re at risk of breaking something or getting kicked out. Just be honest and I’m sure they’ll be able to accommodate your needs.
IMG_0178
The view from our window. Hello Melbourne!

In Conclusion… Our 4 nights away in Melbourne was made more spectacular by us staying in such a beautiful apartment. It was honestly worth every cent and I’d highly recommend it to anyone with a group of 4-6 people looking for a great location.

If you want to stay at this apartment, you can enquire with the host here. 

IMG_0239