A Travellerspoint blog

International Holidays

Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Lunar New Year

sunny -10 °C

I spent New Years Eve exploring Frankfurt, when the clock struck 12:00am I was flying over Russia, and I spent New Years Day in Seoul and Busan. I felt like this was a perfect representation of my current lifestyle, full of travel and new experiences. Being in Korea has allowed me to meet so many people and experience traditions and holidays that are different from mine.

American Thanksgiving

As a Canadian I have always celebrated Thanksgiving, but it has never been an overly important holiday. My American friends Nichole and Joe speak of Thanksgiving like it is the greatest holiday of the year. So I was lucky enough to share this holiday with them. They invited me and my Korean coworkers over for a delicious dinner. These are the people I have considered my Korean family since I am so far away from my Canadian family, so it seemed perfect to spend this day with all of them. We all squeezed into a shoebox sized apartment, ate dinner, and shared what we are thankful for. It was a really great night with amazing people.

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Christmas

As you all know last year I celebrated Christmas here in Korea, I had a wonderful time but it wasn't the same as sitting around my Grandma's table with everyone I love eating delicious turkey, the best mashed potatoes, and having the choice of five different desserts. So I can't even explain how thrilled I was when my boss let me go home for the holidays. I kept it a secret so I could surprise my mom's family, it was hard to send emails to my grandparents and aunt telling them how sad I was that I wouldn't see them, but it was all worth it when I walked in on Christmas day.
I have missed Canada while being overseas, but I am used to living away from my friends and I have become very independent so I rarely think about not being in Canada. When I landed in Toronto I was so overwhelmed with emotion. Just walking off the plane all I could think was I'M IN CANADA! Everyone around me spoke English, there were Christmas decorations EVERYWHERE (Christmas isn't big in Korea) and snow was falling. Simple things that you take for granted made me so happy, when I was lost I could ask for help, people are friendly, and the airport's T.Vs and signs were in English. It was amazing! I spent the entire Toronto to Ottawa flight crying, I am sure people on the flight thought I was crazy, but it had been so long since I had been home. Once the flight landed I couldn't get off the flight fast enough, I knew my mom, dad, and sister would be waiting and I just wanted to hug every single one of them.
The best way to describe being at home after spending so much time away is that it was easy. Everything was easy! When you walk into a grocery store you can find things you need, and if you can't find something... well you can ask someone for help. When you go to a restaurant you always know what you are ordering, and modifications to a meal are possible. Personal space is guaranteed (except on boxing day of course) and your friends and family aren't living half a day behind you. Thank you to everyone who made time to see me during my short visit, you really made my week home a great one!

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설날 Lunar New Year

Last Lunar New Years was spent exploring Shanghai. This time my friends and I decided to try to see more of Korea. The five of us rented a car, bought animal hats, made t-shirts and spent the next four days exploring Korea. Since we live in the second busiest city in Korea, we wanted to see more of the countryside.

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We started our trip by driving along the coast. Here is a map of the route we took and the places we stopped.

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Our first stops were not far from home. The first one being Gijang, it was a beautiful area with old fishing boats everywhere.

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The second stop was Jinha. Where we sat by the beach and ate dumplings and fishes. Fishies are one of my favorite foods in Korea. They are little fish shaped pancakes filled with red bean or custard. They are so delicious!

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Our first night was spent in Andong. Andong is located in Gyeongsangbuk-do Province, and it is the home of Confucianism in Korea. During the Joseon period, Andong was the home to many nobles. A lot of the homes still stand today. We were able to explore one of the traditional villages while we were there.

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We made a rule that if someone yelled 하지 마 (stop in Korean) then we had to stop. With many stops along the way...

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we made it to our second destination, Muju Ski Resort. It was cold, but it was great to see the snow, and the mountains were beautiful. We ended up staying in a traditional style Korean hotel. I will never get used to sleeping on the floor.

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We got up early the next morning, which was made easy by the uncomfortable floors, and headed Southwest towards Damyang, a county in Jeollanam-do. This area is well known for it's bamboo, and my friend Nichole just loves bamboo, so our next stop was the Jungnogwon bamboo forest. With tall bamboo and falling snow it was both peaceful and beautiful.

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On the last night of our trip we decided to go to Hwasun Resort, to relax before having to head back to work. The resort was in the middle of nowhere. That night we bought some beer, went bowling, and had a great time. We spent the next day at the water park and the sauna.
I am happy that I was able to see more of Korea before I leave.

Here is a video Nichole and I made to help us remember the great times we had on our Korea road trip!!

Posted by stephyg 04:57 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

北京市

Beijing and Korea with Dad!

sunny 17 °C

I have officially been in Korea for a year! I haven't been doing a very good job with keeping everyone updated on my life over here in the ROK, so I will attempt to fill you all in. If you haven't heard, I am staying in korea an extra six months. I swore that I wouldn't even think about staying in Korea longer than what my signed contract required, but somewhere along the way friends, money, adventure, and my students were the things that convinced me to extend my time here. I think my decision to stay was made easier once I got to see my dad, it was the little bit of home that I really needed. I picked him up at the airport after work on the 15th of July, and I can't even explain how excited I was. My dad has been my greatest support system while embarking on this journey and I was so excited to see him and share my experience.

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The first place I brought him was Haedong Yonggungsa Temple. This is one of my favorite temples. It is a pretty unique temple since rather than being in the mountains it sits on rocks facing the ocean. While we were there we met a wonderful Korean couple who we had drinks with, they were so friendly and interesting. We all shared stories about our families, countries, and cultures.

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We also did a lot of hiking while dad was here. There are so many places to hike in Korea so I took dad on my two favorite hikes, Seong Jong and Beomeosa.

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I told dad before he came that he had to experience a Korean baseball game. Korean baseball games are nothing like the games we see in Canada. They are more like a hockey game... with even more excitement and energy. People are drinking, cheering, and dancing. The atmosphere of the game is almost better than the game itself. In the seventh inning we all get orange plastic bags which are quickly turned into devil ears, hats, or bows.

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One of the best parts of dad being in Korea was that he got to meet my kids and my friends. He has heard so much about them, so it was nice that he could finally see the people who have made this experience so great. My kids were thrilled to meet him and hear all of his stories.

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After our trip to Europe, where we caused havoc on tours in Austria and drove on the train tracks in France, Dad and I thought it would be best that we never travel together again. So, I am not sure why we thought it would be a good idea for us to travel to Beijing, though we did have a lot of fun seeing the sites, hanging out with the cops, and raiding tea shops!

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The way the vacation started should have prepared us for what was to come. We spent our first day in Shanghai, it was beautiful, I enjoyed showing dad around the French Concession and the Bund. Afterwards we took a 4 hour flight to Beijing. It should have been an hour long but the weather forced us to fly there twice, I was not impressed.
Day one in Beijing was great. When you think of China, Beijing is what you imagine. It is very traditionally Chinese, unlike Shanghai. It is impossible to forget that you are in a communist country as you walk around the streets of Beijing. There are cops everywhere, watching everything you do. If you simply touch or take a picture of something that you shouldn't, they will be sure to let you know. It was strange being in a country that is run so differently from what I am used to. Before going to Beijing people described it as being dirty, and they were right. It isn't dirty in the sense that there is garbage everywhere, but the air quality is ridiculous. In the five days that I was there I did not see blue skies or stars, the smog and pollution is like nothing I have ever seen.
We met some really nice girls my age on our first day in Beijing, they were English majors, and like in Korea people always want to practice their English with foreigners. After talking for awhile we all decided to go have some tea. I was a little skeptical so I kept my purse close the whole time, but I figured tea was pretty harmless. They brought us to this great traditional tea shop, they had a little tea ceremony where we tried lots of different types of tea. It was great to talk to the girls, they told us a lot about what it is like to live in China, and in return we told them all about Canada and the many other places we have been. They were so intrigued by our travels, since it is very difficult for them to leave their country, they have never left Beijing.
When we got the bill we almost had a heart attack. After checking the exchange rate the bill came out to $1000... for tea! The girls expected us to pay but I quickly assured them that they were going to be paying half. Once we got to the hotel we made sure to ask the concierge what he thought of the whole situation, we were soon advised to call the police. Shortly after the police came to get us and we jumped in the back seat of the cop car with our translator. The last place you want to be while in a communist country is in the back of a police car. They got us to bring them to the tea shop. I have never seen people move so as when they saw us and the cops. They immediately started saying, "money, how much you want?". Being from Canada we figured we would let the cops talk, but they stood back and let us deal with the situation. While I am sure we could have asked for their life savings and their first born child, we just left with what we had paid. On that note, tea is not as harmless as I once thought it was!

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The next day we headed to the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, and the Forbidden City It was an absolutely amazing day! It was so neat to be in places that have so much history, I could have spent days just walking around.

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We had such a great time while he was here and I was really sad to see him go, especially since it will be a long time until I see anyone from home. The trip to China and the visit from my dad made me really excited to travel South East Asia with Trista after my contract is over. I miss everyone a lot, only seven more months until I am home!
Steph xoxo

Posted by stephyg 20:34 Archived in China Comments (1)

맛있어요!

The strange food I have grown to love

sunny 27 °C

As one would expect, the food in Korea is very different to what we are accustomed to at home. I was a little worried coming over here considering I am not the most adventurous eater, but it seems as though I have attained a when in Rome type of attitude. I told myself I will try anything once (I draw the line at dog) and if I don't like it then my first try can be my last. This has allowed me to try many foods that I would have quickly turned away from in disgust.

Rice - 밥 (Bap)
Once upon a time I really enjoyed white rice. Well Korea has quickly made it something I greatly dislike. Koreans eat rice with EVERYTHING. I have never been served a Korean meal that does not include a lovely colorless and nutrionless bowl of white rice. I don't think I will ever eat white rice again once I leave Korea.
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Sometimes if you are extra lucky, your rice is purple... though this is rare.

Seaweed - 김 (Gim)
I remember trying dried seaweed once at home and I thought it was absolutely disgusting. Some how my attitude towards seaweed has changed and I love it. I prefer dried salted seaweed. It is a great alternative to chips, especially since Korea fails miserably at making chips. For some reason they think chips should be sweet, even cheetos in Korea are sweet.
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Kimchi - 김치
Koreans can 'kimchi' just about anything. The most common is cabbage. The cabbage is fermented and doused in a spicy sauce. Koreans eat kimchi with every meal. When I first tried it I was a little unsure about it, it has a very distinct taste, not one that you can compare to any food at home. I have grown to love kimchi, and my meals feel incomplete with out it.
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Kimchi Jigae - 김치 찌개
Kimchi jigae is one of my favorite things to eat in Korea. It is a spicy soup made with vegetables, kimchi, and tofu. It is served in a little black bowl and it is still boiling like it is on the oven once it is placed in front of you.
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Pork Cutlet - 돈가스 (dongas)
Dongas is delicious, but terrible for you. It is breaded deep fried pork cutlet. It is usually served with rice and vegetables. It seems to be a popular choice among Koreans. This isn't a surprise since most of their favorite meals are deep fried. Koreans love deep fried chicken. When I ask my kids what their favorite food is, the answer is always chicken. When you walk down the street in Korea you can be sure to see at least one chicken place per block.
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Rice Omelet - 오므라이스 (Ohm rice)
Koreans do not eat eggs for breakfast like we do at home, but they still find a way to fit them into their meals. Ohm rice seems to be one of the only main dishes that contains eggs. It is like an omelet, but instead of being filled with delicious cheese and vegetables, it is simply filled with rice and topped of with mayonnaise and ketchup. Definitely not my favorite, though kimchi ohm rice which is filled with spicy rice is pretty good.
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Dumplings - 만두 (mandu)
Mandu is just like the dumplings you get at home, though you see them more often here. My favorite mandu is filled with 김치 (kimchi), they can also be filled with 고기 (meat), noodles, or vegetables.
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Rice Cake - 송편 (Songpyeon)
Songpyeon is a dessert made from sticky rice and red bean. The rice is kneaded and mixed with water, which causes it to have a somewhat doughy texture. Red bean looks a bit like a kidney bean but it is sweet, and it can be found in a lot of Korean desserts. You can even get red bean popsicles! I have only recently acquired a taste for this strange snack, but now I really enjoy it.
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Dukboki - 떡볶이
This is yet another Korean food that revolves around rice. It consists of pieces of soft rice cake mixed with fish cakes (from what I am told fish cakes are like the fish version of a hotdog). Sometimes there can be ramen in it too. All of these things are mixed in a spicy sauce. It is delicious and loved by all my students.
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Salad Soba
Salad soba is probably the closet thing to a salad you will find in Korea. It is so delicious and one of my favorite meals when I am not in the mood for Korean food. It is salad with ginger dressing and soba noodles on the bottom. When you are done your meal, which includes free refills on anything, you get a bowl of ice cream. The owner is really friendly and loves when we come into the restaurant. The atmosphere and the meal make it a great place to have dinner.
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Vietnamese Spring Rolls
This is my favorite non-korean meal. You get to make your own spring rolls. First you put all your vegetables and meat in a big bowl full of boiling broth in the middle of your table. While that cooks you dip your rice paper in hot water to make it soft. Once everything is ready you fill the rice paper with meat, vegetables, and sauce. Once you have had enough of the spring rolls, they will cook rice noodles in the rest of the broth. If that isn't enough they cook egg and rice in the pot after... just to be sure that nothing is wasted. You definitely feel like you have gained ten pounds after this meal!
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Clams
The first time i went for clams I was brand new in Korea. I was a little unsure of what to expect as we walked up to the restaurant since it looked a little dingy with tarps everywhere covering tables rather than walls. I was pleasantly surprised by how great this meal was. They serve you lots of raw open shelled clams, which you cook at your table in garlic butter. Other interesting seafood is included, such as shrimp with eyes, though we preferred playing with them.
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Gimbap - 김밥
The best way to describe gimbap is like sushi without the seafood. It is almost the Korean version of a sandwich. My favorite gimbap is 고추김밥 (gochu gimbap) this gimbap is filled with hot peppers and hot sauce. I can handle spicy food, but sometimes this can be too spicy, it burns your mouth and makes your tongue feel numb, but I still love it. My other favorite gimbap is 참치 (tuna) it tastes just like a tuna sandwich would taste if it were wrapped in 밥 (rice) and 김 (seaweed)
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Chicken Butt - 닭똥집
Yup, you read that right... chicken butt. This was not something I ate willingly and truthfully the first time I tried it I left the restaurant having no idea what it was. My friend Sarah saw them on someones table and insisted that they were mushrooms so she order them despite the waiter insisting that they were not mushrooms. We tried them and quickly realized that the waiter knew enough English and he knew that these chewy weird tasting things were not mushrooms. After one taste we had all had enough. You would think that you wouldn't find this type of food frequently but a couple weeks later I tried it again not knowing, but my friend who loves it quickly told me it was chicken butt. I haven't had any it since then, and I don't recommend it to anyone.
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Bullfrog
Bullfrog isn't something I found in Korea. This odd meal was eaten while I was on vacation in Shanghai. When people say frog tastes like chicken they aren't lying, it really does. It looked like we were eating chicken wings, it was actually pretty good! Much better than chicken butts!
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These are just some of the things my dad has to look forward to trying while he is here. Only two more days till their are two Gladstones in Korea... a very scary thought.

Steph xoxo

Posted by stephyg 17:00 Archived in South Korea Comments (2)

A day in the life...

24 °C

안녕하세요!

My last few months have been both crazy and routine over on this side of the world. As I approach the end of my contract with only four months left in Korea I am strongly considering extending my contract until my kids graduate in March. These kids have become so important to me and I think leaving them will be the hardest part about leaving Korea. Doesn't matter how tired or down I feel in the morning, once I get to school it is a guarantee that my kids will cheer me up within minutes.

School continues to be crazy with one event after the other. I survived graduation where I was required to teach my students a dance to Mamma Mia. They dress the kids up in ridiculous outfits so they can show off their skills to their parents. Luckily none of my kindy kids graduated so I still see them everyday. Here is a video of their graduation dance as well as some pictures of the outfits.

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Korea has strangely become my home over the past couple of months, and I no longer feel like a visitor here. I figured I would upload some videos I have taken over the past eight months to show you what my life is like here in Korea. Since most of you will never get to experience Korea, this seemed like the best way to share my experience. In this video my friend Sarah and I decided to walk around Jangsan to show everyone where we live.

Here is a video of little Annie. When I first got here Annie did not talk, there was nothing I could do to get her to smile or participate. After a lot of effort, she came out of her shell and now I have more trouble getting her to be quiet during class. She is five years old Canadian age and I absolutely love her. This video shows the kind of conversations I have on a day to day basis at school. Annie decided to show me the noises her dad makes while he sleeps. She then proceeded to tell me that he is fat because he eats many cookies and drinks many 맥주 (beer).

Every month I have to come up with some sort of dance for our birthday party celebrations, then I have to spend countless classes teaching my students. Even though I teach them the dance I still have to dance at the back of the room so that they can copy all my super cool dance moves. Surely I look ridiculous but there is no shame in teaching kindergarten, so we dance, we look ridiculous, and we have fun:) Here is a video of my kids dancing to Party in the USA.

This next video is of Sunny. Sunny is the class clown, he drives me absolutely insane but somehow remains one of my favorites. He is always telling the craziest stories about dragons and flying busses. The other day Sunny affirmatively told me that he was certain that vegetarians do not eat little boys. I tried to explain to him that no one eats little boys but he had a whole story to back up his theory.

So as you can see my life pretty much revolves around the kids I teach. When I am not teaching I spend my time exploring Korea, catching up on sleep, and recently lying on the beach. I am really looking forward to the next month... my dad gets here in mid July and we have booked an awesome trip to Beijing. I can't wait to finally see someone from home, it has been so long since I have seen family, and it will be great to show him around my home.
I miss and love you all xoxo

Posted by stephyg 08:08 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

Lunar New Years

The Year of the Rabbit

sunny 9 °C

I spent most of January anticipating my trip to Shanghai. To begin the New Years festivities we had a great celebration with the kids at school. It was a great way to learn the details about Lunar New Years and its importance. All of the kids wore their hanboks and they looked so adorable. We learned how to bow properly and how to play their traditional game yut.

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This was the first Lunar New Years I have ever celebrated and spending it in Shanghai "The Whore of the Orient" was the best way it could have been spent. I wasn't sure what to expect when heading to China, I thought that it would be relatively similar to Korea. While their were some similarities between Korea and China, China reminded me a lot more of home then Korea ever has. Shanghai is extremely western which surprised me. They have many stores that we have in Canada, and there are westerners everywhere.
When we first arrived in China, it was New Years Eve and it felt and sounded like we were in the middle of a war zone. Fire crackers were being set off everywhere on the sidewalks and the streets, While in the Bund you could spin in a full circle and see fire works coming from every which way. Clearly the rules regarding firework safety are a little different on this end of the world. We spent our first night touring the Bund which made me feel like I was on vacation in Europe!

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We felt that we should start the New Year just like the Chinese. This meant waking up early to head to Longhua Temple, the biggest temple in Shanghai. While at the temple, it was the first time since arriving in Shanghai that I felt that I was in what one would think of as stereotypical China. To say people were everywhere would be an understatement. I eventually gave up trying to walk and I simply let the crowd push me. Personal space was not an option at any point during our visit. Also everyone in the temple was praying with burning incense in their hand, so while being pushed around it was important to look through the smoke to be sure that your arms and your hair remained unscathed. Crowds aside the temple was amazing. It was so beautiful and it was great to partake in such an important Chinese tradition, especially since this is my year, the year of the rabbit.

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After the Longhua Temple, we continued being tourists by heading over to the Yuyuan Garden. It was not easy to find the gardens, while I have slowly built up my abilities to speak basic Korean, my Chinese is limited to ne-how (hello) and she-she (thank you). This language barrier got us dropped off in the middle of a busy street to figure things out on our own. With half of our group missing we went on the hunt for both our friends and the garden. While searching we were able to see all the festivities going on to celebrate the year of the rabbit. We also got to try the greatest mandu (dumplings) I have ever had in my life, I can't even explain their deliciousness... I tried to find them again after the fact with no luck. Here are some pictures taken while walking around.

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We finally found the garden and it was absolutely beautiful! It was crazy to think that this beautiful peaceful place existed in the centre of all the madness outside. This garden was built in 1559 by Pan Yunduan as a private garden for his parents to enjoy in their old age. We spent a lot of the day walking around enjoying the tranquility of the garden.

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Our nights were as packed and crazy as our touristy filled days. Some of the night time highlights were our boat tour and the Shanghai Circus. Shanghai has to be the most beautiful place I have ever seen at night, especially from the Bund. Since we all fell in love with the night scene along the Huangpu River we decided that a boat tour on the beautiful dragon ship that we deemed the asian titanic was a must!
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This only describes a fraction of what we did and saw in Shanghai, but since Korean life has become more crazy than ever, I figured I would keep it short and sweet. Shanghai was definitely an incredible city, and I had such a great time. It is so amazing to be able to add more countries and cities to my list of places been on a monthly basis.

Miss you all,
Steph xoxo

Posted by stephyg 06:09 Archived in China Comments (1)

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