Archive for March, 2010


Nothing to Envy – book review

Barbara Demick’s book on the ordinary lives of North Koreans weaves together the testimony of several North Koreans from Chongin to build a picture of life in the Workers Paradise from the 1990’s onwards. The background to life in North Korea at that time is emergence of a food crises, peaking to famine and then on-going food shortages. Everyone’s life is affected and defined by the food shortage.

The lives begin in poverty but with stability and calm. The lives of those whose stories we hear all descend into tales of how they survived and who they saw die. What led them to leave North Korea, how they did it and finally the problems of assimilating to life in South Korea.  I stayed up late reading this book and then couldn’t sleep for the images it left behind.

Like so many others, these people did not necessarily flee persecution so much as were compelled to move on for food, or because life simply wasn’t worth living in North Korea anymore. After the ordeal of getting to South Korea many are quickly and easily cheated out of their money and left disillusioned and without a clear sense of purpose. Language is another problem; with so many English words part of the vernacular in South Korea, communication is tricky and causes the newly arrived North Koreans to stand out from the South Korean siblings.

Nothing to Envy is a breath of fresh air from political non-fiction books on North Korea. Admittedly I haven’t read some of the more recent books on North Korea. I am getting better at getting the library to order these books so I don’t have to pay for them or keep them after I’ve read them.  But there are so many books out there that present an over view of North Korea’s political system, food crises, and foreign relations and then use that information to argue why we should or should not try to engage with North Korea.  This book, thankfully, does not do that. It also strikes that very delicate balance of being readable and interesting to people who might know nothing about North Korea and those who are better informed.

Of course, others have read this book ahead of me and also put up reviews which may be of interest: One Free Korea and Life in Suzhou.


Hockey update

The finals are later today. No Asian team made it through. The Pakistan team have resigned/quit en mass due to their poor showing, which I think is a bit drastic. Spain beat Korea 2-0 in South Korea’s final match. Australia plays Germany in the final for the third time in a row. England and Holland will play to determine third and fourth place. Germany has won the previous two final’s matches against Australia. I’m going to miss the match because, coincidentally, I have my own hockey game this morning.

UPDATE: Australia beat Germany, Holland beat England


Hockey – no, not that one

The World Cup 2010 Men’s FIELD hockey is currently taking place in New Delhi, India. This is a welcome change after the hype of the Winter Olympics, which doesn’t usually interest me too much because I never played winter (read: snow or ice based) sports. I know that the South Korea women’s field hockey team is usually pretty good but I don’t much about the men’s team. Turns out they are ranked 5th in the world. However, they are not doing so well right now. They beat Argentina (world ranking 14) but have been defeated by New Zealand (world ranking 8). Looks like they will struggle to make it to the Semis. Apparently South Korea are the Asian Champions.

The Australian team is faring better. They were beaten, unexpectedly, by England but have come back strong and should make it to the semis. Currently ranked second in the world, we stand a good chance of winning I should think. They trounced South Africa 12-0 in a World Cup record drubbing. The final will be Saturday 13 March.

The women’s World Cup field hockey is due to take place in Argentina later this year. I would expect the Australian women’s team to also be among the favourites; they usually do very well. Next big hockey event for Australia, outside of World Cups, is the Commonwealth Games.

March 2010
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