Hyeonseo Lee’s The Girl with Seven Names

I’ve just finished reading Hyeonseo Lee’s book The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story.

This is one of the best books I’ve read in the last few years. The story of Lee’s escape from North Korea and emotional battles along the way are deeply moving. It’s also harrowing to think that other North Korean defectors experience far worse treatment that Lee did.

A year or so ago I read Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. What strikes me the most in both of these books on North Korea is just how repressive the Kim regime is and the apparent lack of international action to rescue the general population from horrible human rights abuses.

While I strongly believe that every country should be able to govern without outside intervention there must be limits where outside intervention becomes necessary. Especially as people are being politically imprisoned and executed without any due process. Other abuses of this magnitude in other areas of the globe have resulted in war crime trials. I don’t know what it would take to intervene in North Korea but the international community cannot continue to be so lenient on a country that treats its citizens so poorly.

Embeded below is a TED talk that Lee gave before writing the book, it’s much lighter on details than the book. Additionally there is an SBS Insight program on North Korea that Lee took part in which features some of her, and other’s stories of escape.

Central Europe Adventures 2016 – Part Five: A Sunday in Munich

Sundays in Germany are quite different to Sundays in Australia. No malls, supermarkets or convenience stores are open. At first this seems really old fashioned and boring but after a weeks you start to really appreciate how relaxing it is to have a day a week where you are essentially forced to take a day off.

After having a traditional German breakfast of bread rolls, eggs and cheese we headed out for a walk to the Alter Nordfriedhof (Old North Cemetery). At first it is a little weird walking through an old cemetery but at the same time it is very actively used park with people walking and jogging along the various paths.

After eating a light lunch we spent the afternoon at the Deutsches Museum. The exhibitions halls in the museum are incredibly detailed. We started in the mines section which has you walk through many different eras of mine design and technologies from very early mines to modern technology. Next we walked into the biology area which had human sized models of cells.

We then spent the next the few hours walking through the more usual types of museum displays see the type of biplane that the Red Baron used, the telescope that was used to discover Neptune, Enigma machines, and a Cray Supercomputer. Finally we wrapped up the day with dinner at Paulaner am Nockherberg.

Central Europe Adventures 2016 – Part Four: Bavarian Adventures

After two and a half days in Innsbruck I caught a train back to Munich, first for a business meeting and second to spend the weekend with friends.

After my meeting had finished I had a few hours to kill while waiting for my friends to finish work. The great thing about Munich is there are so many great roads, buildings and shops to get lost in around the central city. Once my friends had finished work we went to the Hackerhaus for dinner where I had a great Sauerbraten (pot roast). We then rounded out the evening at a small hipster bar.

The following morning we headed out of Munich along the Autobahn to Regensburg. Our first stop was at the Walhalla Memorial on a hill above the Danube River just outside of Regensburg proper.

Continue reading

Central Europe Adventures 2016 – Part Three: Skiing at Axamer Lizum

On my third day in Europe I was up early enough and awake enough to go skiing. Each of the ski fields around Innsbruck runs a free tourist shuttle bus from various areas around the city directly to the ski fields. Find the area where the ski bus departed from was a little tricky even though it was essentially across the road from the hotel as it wasn’t very well sign posted, however, the buses had very clear labels on them and made the hour long ride out to the ski field very comfortable.

The snow that had been falling in the mountains the previous day also fell in the city overnight and as we headed out of Innsbruck and up the narrow mountain road to Axamer Lizum the snow on the ground and the trees kept getting more and more.

Fresh Snow in Innsbruck

Fresh Snow in Innsbruck

Arriving at Axamer Lizum a little after 9am I quickly found the on field ski hire and grabbed a lift pass and headed up the mountain. As the main chairlift from the base area climbed higher we ended up in quite a heavy fog which made the first few runs down the mountain very slow with visibility so low that I was skiing to route markers and having to completely stop to find the next one in the mist.

Fortunately, after an hour or so the poor visibility and light snow lifted and I was able to explore a lot more of the mountain. Although the field was “small” compared to some other fields in the alps it still provided plenty of open space and different runs that could be taken. The lower parts of the mountains through the forest was fun as it is something you don’t experience on New Zealand fields and the higher parts of the mountain gave beautiful glimpses through the clouds across the alps.

Overall, Axamer Lizum was the perfect place for a day of skiing near Innsbruck. The powder was amazing and I was very fortunate to ski on 15cm+ of fresh snow. I would love to go back to both Axamer Lizum and Innsbruck and spend a week or so exploring the other ski areas in the region.

Central Europe Adventures 2016 – Part Two: Innsbruck

Arriving in Innsbruck after almost 40 hours of travel, one would expect to fall straight into bed, but as it was such a beautiful afternoon I decided it go up to the top of Nordkette instead.

To get to the top of Nordkette you catch a very modern Funicular from the edge of the Innsbruck city centre to the suburb/village of Hungerburg. From here you switch to two cable cars which take you to the top of the mountain. At the top I walked around for at least 30 minutes in snow that was literally knee deep. The ski runs off the top were the steepest I’ve ever seen. After deciding against trying to get to the absolute summit of the mountain in the deep snow I headed back down one cable car to grab a traditional Austrian lunch – Apple Strudel and Red Bull.

Continue reading

Central Europe Adventures 2016 – Part One: Sydney to Innsbruck, Austria

(Note: this was posted in March but backdated to February).

For the second February in a row I jetted off to Europe for a holiday. Unlike last year this trip had a little more planning and was close to twice as long. Over the month of February I visited five countries and caught up with many friends.

To get to Europe I chose to fly on Etihad, whom I have flown to Europe with twice before. However, getting to Europe this time around was slightly different to previous trips, while I could take the usual Sydney to Abu Dhabi flight I chose instead to go first to Perth and then to Abu Dhabi. This allowed me three hours to stretch my legs in Perth and reduce the length of the ultra-long haul Australia to Abu Dhabi leg of the journey.

The trip got off to a bit of a nervous start though, when my first flight, from Sydney to Perth on a Virgin Australia codeshare, was delayed by an hour due to maintenance. The trip then got worse on the flight from Perth to Abu Dhabi as I had two pre-schoolers behind me who decided to yell at each other the entire 11 hour flight. Arriving in Abu Dhabi having had almost no sleep did not make me a very happy traveller, what’s worse is that Abu Dhabi airport has not improved from previous visits and is an extremely busy airport with dirty and congested passenger facilities – from security, to a lack of seating and toilets.

Continue reading

Happy 2016 – Harbour Fireworks from Sydney


This gallery contains 17 photos.

(Note: this was posted in March but backdated to January).

Once again I spent my New Years Eve on the edge of Sydney Harbour.

The plan for this year was to watch the fireworks from Blues Point. However, despite arriving before 11am the site was already totally full. So my friends and I ended up next to the Northern Pylon of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Bradfield Park.

As seen in the series of images below the fireworks off the bridge just kept on increasing in size as the performance went on and eventually the bridge was lost in a ball of white. Continue reading

Goals for 2016

Many of these goals are a continuation of goals from previous years

  • Get a stable job (this may involve leaving academia)
  • Continue learning German
  • Read 30 books
  • Travel and/or move to Europe or Singapore

More goals may be added during the year

2015 – The Year of Challenges and Opportunities

(Note: this was posted in February but backdated to December).

At the end of my 2014 goal review I wrote:

“Bring on new challenges and opportunities in 2015.”

Challenging would be a word that aptly sums up my 2015. From holding none to multiple jobs, changing churches, and teaching hundreds of students, 2015 presented plenty of challenges and also plenty of opportunities.

At the start of the year I set some goals which I subsequently completely forgot about, but looking back now I achieved four out of five of them. They were:

  • Get a stable job
    • Work life in 2015 was anything but stable, I went for months at a time without work or pay and then at other times I was holding five contracts at a time. Despite these ups and downs I was presented with the opportunity to lecture a whole course of my own. This was a great personal development opportunity coming less than two years after completing my PhD.
  • Continue learning German
    • This goal ebbed and flowed, but in the later part of the year I completed around 90 days of continuous practice on Duolingo.com
  • Learn python
    • I completed multiple Coursera courses on python and had to crash course myself through it to work on a Baxter robot in the middle of the year.
  • Go to Europe
    • I went in February on a whim after finding myself out of work.
  • Read 20 books
    • I read 33! (Below are some of the covers as shown by goodreads.com)

Some of the books read in 2015

Some of the books read in 2015

Continue reading

Exploring Henry Head and Cape Banks

(Note: this was posted in February but backdated to December).

At the end of December I went with a friend to La Perouse in the south east of Sydney. From here we walked through scrub to the Henry Head Battery and Cape Banks. This is a great short (6km) walk really close to the city and we had a lot of fun exploring the old military tunnels underneath Henry Head.