Ahhh, Summer… It’s sad to see you go, but we had fun this year.

Summer came and now it has gone. There is a sadness in my heart, but I’m also happy that it is starting to cool down a bit. Heat getting up into the 35+ degrees was getting a little too warm for this Kiwi.I must say that this summer was pretty good. This was my third summer here and I think that I have finally gotten to the point where I don’t feel I’m continually melting like some ice cream a kid dropped on the side walk.

There was a lot of fun had, especially on my first trip to Jeju Island. The co-workers and I packed up and shipped out to enjoy Korea’s most famous get away. Here are a few snaps from our trip.

I live in South Korea…

“Teacher, why are you still here?” I replied, “Because I live here.” The same student then follows up with, “But Teacher, Kim Jong Un tell foreigner get out of South Korea.” This has now sparked the attention of a couple of boys, who then pipe up and say, “Teacher, Teacher what about the missile? Nuclear. Mushroom cloud! Teacher, boom, boom, boom.” This all takes place at the start of my last speaking class for the evening. I thought I’d run with it, as it was getting my students talking in English on something that was interesting and relevant. “Well, if they drop a nuclear bomb, it would make no difference if I was here or in New Zealand. It would probably affect the whole Pacific region.”

I can’t really remember how the rest of the conversation when after that. But, it is the first time that I have had a slightly serious conversation about the current events surrounding the two Korea’s, with my students. The only other time anything came up in class was a couple of weeks ago. A student asked me what I thought about Kim Jong Un, to which I brushed it off with a cheeky, “Ah, he’s crazy” comment, to get a laugh. But in all honesty, I couldn’t answer her question. It got me thinking for a few days about what I really thought about the whole North Korea/South Korea situation. My students weren’t the only one’s asking questions. I’d received a few concerned emails from back home, and wanted to put my family and friends minds at ease. It was that weekend that a friend and I decided to head out into our local community and take some footage of an average Saturday afternoon.

A lot has happened since that weekend. The North stepped up its rhetoric, throwing words over the boarder at the South, and the South, joined by the U.S, had a few words of their own to throw back at the North. Then China does it’s part to try and get everyone to calm down. And that’s the thing, there are a lot of words being thrown around. Now, I’m not playing down those words, because words are powerful. Words have the power to cause action, whether it be to harm or to protect, to bring fear or to bring peace. I guess this has got me thinking about how I talk about this topic when I’m around others.

Mostly, what is on the news is brushed off by Koreans, they’re use to it. It’s been nearly 50 years of the same stuff, only said in a different way. But there is that sense of underline anxiety, no one really talks about it, but I feel it there. I have asked my co-workers over the past few weeks (usually over a couple of beers) what they think. Usually it’s the same, brush it off, it’s nothing new, attitude. One Korean co-worker did say, “If they drop a bomb, then what can I do, I just die.” She chuckled, took another swig of beer, and continued smoking her cigarette. That pretty much sums up most South Koreans opinions, and I think I’m beginning to understand it now that I’ve lived her for nearly two years. Threats from the North are nothing new, and if the South Koreans stopped and panicked every time a threat was made, they would get nothing done, they would be crippled by continual fear. They know the threat exists, but they also know that life must go on.
Check out this article that a friend of mine wrote, “Seoul in a State of War”, proof that life and living still goes on.

There is a resilience here that is different to back home. Korea has had one hell of a history, the 1950’s Korean war being the most recent. Korea has suffered through numerous occupations and invasions of it’s lands throughout it’s history prior to 1950. They have had to work through those times with blood, sweat, and tears because life must go on. This is their home.

“Teacher, why are you still here?”
“Because I live here.”

Barefootwestie: The Winter Edition… Minus the Snow.

Even though I liked playing in the snow, I’m glad that it, along with the killer slippery ice, has melted into a pool of water like the wicked witch of the west. It’s nice that I, and others of the human race, are now able to leave a state of hibernation and get out into the fresh air. I’ve been putting my compact Nikon camera and iPhone to work lately, and enjoyed taking a few snaps here and there.

I think that Hwaseong Fortress is one of my favourite places to walk around.

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Barefootwestie: The Winter Edition

Winter came, and now it is going. I don’t much care for the “freezing my rustafarian neah neahs off” part of the Korean winters, but I must admit that it’s pretty fun playing in the freshly fallen snow. Quite a treat for a lass that grew up in a place where winters only consisted of rain and hail that kinda looked like snow if you were lucky. So, alas, here is some of the fun that I got up to this winter.

Fun in the snow with Sammie!

Skipping in the snow from Barefoot Westie on Vimeo.

Trip to the DMZ. Korea’s Two Realities.

So it’s been a while coming, but I finally found the time to write about my trip to the boarder between South and North Korea. This was on my “Must Do” list during my time in South Korea. So a friend and I booked a tour.

Living in South Korea is like living in two separate worlds. The only thing is it’s really easy to forget about one of those worlds. South Korea, particularly Seoul, has a lot going on. There’s everything from fashion, art, K-pop, to amazing food, culture, and crazy traffic. The list could go on forever. It’s certainly not a dull place. That’s why it’s easy to forget that only one hour out of the city lies the most heavily guarded border in the world!

We left with our tour early on a Saturday morning. About fifty people, all foreigners, piled onto the bus. We left Itaewon and headed down the highway that would take us to the border. By all accounts this started as any other bus journey. Buildings, traffic, people walking on the footpath. Then the scenery started to change slowly. No longer were there the big buildings of Seoul, they despaired into the distance, the traffic started to thin out, and the barbed wire and check points with ROK (Republic of Korea) soldiers started to line the highway. It was only 30min into our journey…

Going to the border, in particular the DMZ, is the closest any non-South Korean can get to North Korea and have the opportunity to stand on North Korean soil (other than actually traveling to North Korea, which opens up to the rest of the world for only ten days in a year). I say non-South Korean because it’s impossible for a South Korean to get this close unless they are in the army. My Korean friends found it difficult to understand why anyone would want to go there, especially foreigners. But at the same time I could see some of them knew that they could only ever dream of having such an opportunity.

After going through a number of check points, the only bridge that connected over the river to the border and our destination, all while being under strict instructions to not take any photo’s, we finally arrived at the American base for our briefing at the DMZ (De-Militarized Zone). This would be our final stop before entering the Joint Security Area (JSA) where the border was.

At the base we were assigned an American solider armed with a 9mm automatic hand gun, who would be our guide. We entered the briefing hall for our briefing which included signing a “Visitor Declaration” stating,

“1. The visit to the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom will entail into a hostile area and possibility of injury or death as a direct result of enemy action…”

“Although being on the alert for unexpected condition, the United Nations Command, the United States of America, and the Republic of Korea cannot guarantee the safety of visitors and may not be held accountable in the event of a hostile enemy act.”

After signing our life away, we were given a short slide show presentation showing the history of the JSA and it’s establishment during the Korean War in 1952, to the present day. Next, we were escorted to another bus that would take us to the JSA. This is a short video of what I saw on my trip.

Trip to the DMZ from Barefoot Westie on Vimeo.

It’s a strange feeling standing so close to something, yet it’s so far away, that the possibility of it ever being in reach seems a foolish dream. Standing there, on the border, with only a thick line of concrete to mark what belongs to either side. To step over seems so simple an act to change a life. A line, a line… I wonder what the North Korean solider was thinking when he completed that simple act only hours after we left. He was the first person to cross that part of the border in about forty years. For him, it was not such a simple act. It cost the lives of the North Korean men he shot to make his escape to the South.

It’s hard to comprehend the magnitude, complexity, and how deep the sorrow is for the Korean people, on both sides. I don’t think I will ever be able to comprehend it, but despite my inability to do so, the Korean people of the South are. They have hope. Hope that runs deep in the face of challenges and great adversity. One such hope is in the form of Dorasan 도라산 Station. Their slogan, “남쪽의 마지막 역이 아니라 북쪽으로 가는 첫번째 역입니다” – “Not the last station from the South. But the first station toward the North.” This station was once active, but after the shooting of a 53yr old South Korean woman in the North, the South Korean government eventually had to stop the train from running. The hope is that it will one day become active again.

I must say, it was a very surreal experience to come back to Seoul after being at the border, seeing the third infiltration tunnel, and Dorasan Station. My friend and I got off the bus that had taken us into what seemed like an alternate reality, only to reemerge in the hustle and bustle of Seoul. What was surreal was going from the border, to an international fireworks festival on the Hun River in the middle of Seoul. The contrast between the two events… words fail to describe it. The only thing I can think to compare it to is like watching an epic war movie at a theater, the feeling of full immersion, then two hours later the lights come back on and you step back into your reality. That’s a bit like what it felt like. The only thing is, neither was a movie. They are two realities that exist at the same time.

Even now, four months after my trip, it still confounds me that these two realities exist. In the midst of coffee shops on every corner, cell phone outlets ever ten meters, high rising apartment buildings littering the skyline, people going about their daily business of work, school and family life, and the partying that happens in my area every night. It’s so easy to forget.

I hope I don’t forget the day I spent at the border. It’s perspective on life and living that it gave me. I hope I don’t forget the complexity of the struggle of this peninsular, the one people that share it, and the two nations that make it. I hope that I don’t forget that these two realities exist, and that one is no less important than the other. Both exist, both are true. Both are Korea.

First Snow Fall 2012

Wednesday mornings are a great time to relax, especially while drinking a coffee and reading a couple chapters of “The Hobbit”.

Catching up on my reading before I see the movie...

Catching up on my reading before I see the movie…

Today was a little different in that as I was sitting in Starbucks it began to snow. This is the second time I’ve had a white Christmas, the first snow fall is always exciting. This is what I saw…

Walking home

Walking home

Outside my Academy

Outside my Academy

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The view from my apartment building

The view from my apartment building

Ah, snow… It’s pretty awesome when it first starts to fall. Something quite magical about it… especially when you’re in the middle of reading a wonderful, and some what magical book like “The Hobbit”.

Been a while…

Hey all!

Well, it has been a while since I posted a blog here. So many different reasons why I have been slack about posting, all of which can be summed up in a four letter word, LIFE. However, I hope to revive my little life updates here and share some of my latest adventures and thoughts.

I’m still kicking back in South Korea and enjoying it for the most part. It’s my second year here now and I’m nearly six months into my second teaching job. I finished up at my little academy half way through the year and was sad to go. However, I managed to find a job teaching middle school students in the same city. Quite a change from teaching kindergarten (ankle bitters) and elementary, but a nice change none the less. I think I prefer the lethargic, sleepiness of teenagers, those little ankle bitters were wearing me out hahaha.

My new academy has caused a number of culture shocks for me. For example, wearing make-up to work everyday is such a mission, not to mention uncomfortable and inconvenient, especially when I want to rub my eyes! Panda eyes are not a good look when teaching a class full of teenagers. Not cool!!! Oh, and then there’s the whole wearing skirts business. Not that it’s a requirement, but I’m pretty sure that I wasn’t going to be able to get away with the whole wearing jeans thing anymore. Thank goodness it’s winter now and I can wear pants again. Overall, I think the biggest shock was working with other foreign teachers (Native English speakers), and being able to understand the conversations that were going on around me. I was the only non-Korean teacher at my last academy and had become accustomed to not being able to understand what was being said around me. Though, this did make for some perfect opportunities to create my own dialogue.

Bowling night with some of the foreign teacher I work with.

I’ve had a couple of fantastic adventures of the slightly extreme variety. I went on a tour to the DMZ, which is on the border of South and North Korea. Intense at times, exciting, and very eye opening. I’ll have to dedicate another post to that adventure.

Signing my life away…

I also thought I’d get a good birds eye view of Korea’s beautiful mountains, so paragliding took care of that. A pretty awesome experience.

Just checking out the view :)

All in all there have been a few changes and some great experiences along the way. However, I have to end it here for now. Keep an eye out for my following posts. I hope you will enjoy reading about some of the things I’ve been getting up to. Oh, and feel free to drop me a comment here or there. I always enjoy hearing news from back home, or where ever you may be in the world.

Until next time…

Oh, Mince Pie, Where for Art Thou!? Hunting for mince pies in Itaewon.

What is a Korean without kimchi, an Italian without pasta, the English without tea, what, I say again, what is a Kiwi without a mince pie? The answer… nothing!

After living in Korea for six months, I felt it was time to put some decent effort into finding that ever comfort of all comfort foods, the famous mince pie!

I’d heard rumours from some kiwi contacts in Seoul that there was a Jesters store in Itaewon (I know it’s Australian, but this is a Kiwi in desperate need!!). It was time to investigate if the rumours were true, especially now that the Korean winter has finally set it. I’d had enough of spicy noodles. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like a nice hot steamy bowl of ramen just as much as the Korean living next door to me. But my Kiwi yearnings for that glorious mince and cheese pie were becoming too great to ignore any longer.

So that was it, I put on my black duck down jacket that makes me look like a puffy marshmallow, grabbed my favourite beanie with the cute little bobble thingie on the top, and messaged my friend. Let’s go to Seoul!!

The trip into Seoul, Itaewon, took just under an hour, a small price to pay (about $2 to go such a long distance) for the grand prize that awaited us. It was unfortunate that while traveling on the subway, during one of the many jolts the train made every now and then, that I managed to bite my tongue whilst chewing on some gum. As blood slowly started to fill my mouth, I begin to worry that this might prevent me from enjoying the fullness of my first mince pie in Korea. Not to mention that it tasted rather weird mixed in with the peppermint taste of the gum that I was chewing. But lucky for me, it was only 10 minutes into the journey that this took place. By the time we reached Itaewon the bleeding had stopped.

After two subway line transfers, one slightly swollen tongue, and that bursting feeling of badly needing to go to the bathroom, my friend and I emerged from the underground subway into Itaewon. The place I like to call “Waygook Town” (Waygook is the Korean word for foreigner).

Itaewon, the place where waygooks barter with Korean merchants, looking for a bargain, and probably getting a little ripped off if you don’t know what you’re doing. The classic imitation items of famous brands, “I ‘heart’ Korea” t-shirts, the cool little souvenirs including tomahawks and knuckle busters, and the biggest strawberries I have ever seen in my life!!

My friend Alisa and I began our walk past the Itaewon markets. Trying not to walk into other people is like trying to avoid hitting a swarm of flies. After all the sidestepping and a few minor collisions we came across a shoe sale…. Well that was it, Alisa was very keen on having a look inside, and I must admit I was a little curious myself. After browsing a few more shops and stalls, where I found Buzzard’s t-shirt (hope you like it Buzzard!), we were on the hunt for coffee. Alisa took out her Galaxy TAB to look for the nearest Starbucks. After waiting for a couple of minutes, I told her that it was easier if we just “followed our noses”. A look of confusion was spread across her face – “follow our noses” what does that mean? Every now and then I forget that some expression must seem extremely strange to my Korean friends. I then had to explain to her that it meant we should just pick a direction, walk and see what we find. That I had a feeling that we would find one if we just headed down the street a little further. It seems as though that this is a foreign concept to her as well. Koreans don’t “just follow their noses, or walk in a direction and see what you find,” it’s something I’ve noticed. In a culture that is continually connected to the internet anywhere, anytime, for almost nothing (especially if you can hook into some free wireless), they seem to have little sense of adventure, and a huge lack of direction (not mentioning anyone by name… Gloria!)

Ok, I digress… so we walked down the street a little further and we stumbled upon a Starbucks. It had been a while since I’d had the pleasure of indulging in one of Starbucks delicious caramel macchiato’s. It was worth the nearly $6 that I paid for it. It was the best caramel macchiato I’ve had since I’d arrived in Korea. Mmmmmmm delicious!

Mmmmmm caramel macchiato!!

After fuelling up on coffee, it was off to the English book store “What The Book?” one of Korea’s biggest English book stores. Apart from filling my need for a mince pie, I had recently finished “The Hunger Games” trilogy, and needed to get something new to read. And for Alisa, this was an afternoon/evening of firsts for her. Itaewon is perceived by Koreans as almost another country because of all the waygooks, and is seen as a slightly dangerous place because of this. She said she had always wanted to go to Itaewon, but wasn’t much of the adventurous type. I told her that’s why she has friends like me. To which she replied in a joking manner, “But you’re not a foreigner, you are Korean hahaha.” A nice complement I thought. She’d always wanted to go to an English book store, and was rather excited about going to “What The Book”.
Well, I could spend all day in a book store, and I managed to limit myself to three books. Alisa picked up a couple of kids books she planned on reading to her friend’s son.

Soooo, after a little window shopping, delicious coffee, and book shopping, it was finally time to complete our ultimate mission. Finding Jesters and downing a couple of pies!
It’s at this point in which I shall hang my head in shame, as I confess to using my iPhone to locate Jesters. I know, I know…. But these were desperate times, and I did end up using my nose, once I figured out the general location of Jesters.

It was nearing 7:30pm, and the rumbling in my stomach was becoming greater as the anticipation of eating my first mince pie in Korea mounted to near explosion! I’d located Jesters on Google maps, thanks to the wonders of technology all we needed to do was cross the street, turn a corner, and there it was, in all its glory, JESTERS!!!! It’s as if the heaven’s opened and a choir of angels appeared singing Handel’s famous “Hallelujah Chorus”.
I could hardly contain myself; I’d been hi-fiving Alisa at Starbucks in preparation for this very moment, where if I had entered a state of awe, and was unable to muster up a hi-five, I would have covered that base earlier on in the afternoon. Lucky!!

What to choose, what to choose…. How would I make my decision??? I decided to go with a good old favourite of mine, the “mince and cheese pie” aptly named the “Billy T” (after a famous NZ comedian). Alisa, a little unsure of these things called mince pies decide that it was best to go with the waygook on this one. She wanted to know what were the most popular pies in NZ? I gave her a list of five pies to choose from, but told her that the ‘mince and cheese’ was probably the most favourite of all.

So that was us, two “Billy T” pies, some hot chips, some tomato sauce, and a couple of Pepsi’s.
When we sat down to enjoy our meal I was so excited that I had to take a photo and do a live update on Facebook. As I was relishing the moment of success, I noticed that Alisa was staring at her pie, wondering what to do with it. It was at this point that it occurred to me that she probably has no idea how to hold it, let alone eat it. Something that I’ve taken for granted. A cultural reverse had occurred right before my eyes. The first time in Korea where I’ve had to show a Korean how to eat something they had never seen or heard of before. I was slightly stunned for a moment as this dawned on me. While I was emerging from this realisation like a stunned possum that had just seen a set of head lights, Alisa was tentatively attempting her first bite. I snapped back into reality and said, “You just bite into it”. She continued in her tentative/slightly sceptical/slightly nervous first bite. A little bite at first, then after figuring out that it wasn’t toxic, she took a larger bite. I took that as a sign of “this is ok, not too bad”.

Alisa. "My first pie!"

Mmmm, not bad...

After uploading my photo, it was time for me to enjoy the long awaited first bite of my mince and cheese pie in Korea. Ahhhhh I swear I heard that “Hallelujah Chorus” ring out as I took my first bite. Ahhhhhh, that satisfying taste of home, melted cheese mixed in with mince, and wrapped in pastry goodness! I even did the classic, get a hot chip and use it to scoop out the contents of your pie and eat it before it all falls off the chip. And much to my delight I saw that Alisa had caught on to this little act of kiwiness without me even having to coach her on how to do it.

MINCE & CHEESE PIIIIEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!

Soooo HAPPY!!!!

Mmmm chip n dip!! Yea baby, yea!!!

I have to admit that I indulged in a second pie that evening, a “potato deluxe”, a little naughty, but I might not get another pie eating opportunity for a while, so I had to make the best of this trip to Jesters.

Well, mission completed! A satisfied kiwi I was indeed! Alisa, was happy to have had a cultural experience kiwi styles, but wasn’t sure if she would make it a regular habit. But she assured me that she would indulge maybe one more time in the future. And to Jesters Korea, thank you! You have made this waygook feel a little closer to home!

A Westie’s theories on what that white stuff falling out of the sky is…

It’s December and I’m sitting in my little apartment watching the snow start to fall.

My Korean friends think it’s funny to watch me get all giddy over this white stuff falling from the sky. But I can’t help it, it’s the first time I’ve lived in a place where it has snowed before. I state this now so you will understand what I am about to tell you next.

As I was walking to work on Friday morning, I was somewhat confused as to what these little white flakes were falling from the sky. I didn’t think it was cold enough for it to start snowing, and not having experienced this before I started to theorize as to what it could possibly be…

1. Maybe it was some kind of special winter pollen from the trees…. But there aren’t that many trees around where I live. Maybe it was coming from the trees that were in the outdoor gardens of the bars that are on the fifth floor of the tall buildings that surround my neighbourhood. I figured that it would stop once I got past the trees.
I also know that at this point you may be thinking that I’m having a really blond moment, seen as pollenating happens in the spring. But this was a process of elimination, and I was on a mission solve this mystery!

2. After realising that pollen was not a possible cause, I moved on to the next logical theory. Nuclear fallout from Japan. I soon started to push this aside as a plausible theory…

Reason number 1: People would be running around like crazy people. Speaking is only 10% of communication, so when in doubt, I go with the 90% theory and do as the locals do. (Either that or I was the only one sane enough to know what the true nature of the white stuff falling from the sky was, and we were all going to die!!)

Reason number 2: I’m sure one of my work mates would have rung me to tell me of the imminent danger. (or… the secretly dislike me, and decided to leave me to a poisonous fate, were I would turn into some kind of mutant. Hmmmm actually a cool thought, I wonder what super powers I’d have…)

3. Nuclear fallout seemed a little far-fetched. There was only one thing left to do, and that was to do my own scientific experiment. Risking my life in the name of science I stuck out my hand and caught one of these little white flakes falling from the sky. On contact it disappeared and left a tiny cold wet patch on the palm of my hand. It was at that point I had an epiphany. This actually might be snow!!! I repeated the same experiment again, as any good scientist would do. I had to confirm that the data I had just acquired was correct. I caught another little white flake on the palm of my hand. Again it disappeared on contact, leaving a tiny cold wet patch.
There was no other explanation. After going through all the possible theories (all two of them…) I had to conclude that, yes, this was in fact snow!

Teaching Koreans kiwi slang, eating my first octopus, and other interesting things. “The Forgotten August Chronicles, Part II”

It’s been a while. How are you doing?

Well, as promised in my post, “The Forgotten August Chronicles of a Kiwi Chick in Korea. Part 1”, here is the latest on what I’ve been up to in my adventures in South Korea.

There’s nothing quite like teaching a bunch of Koreans some good old kiwi slang. I must say that I’m a little surprised that they have taken a huge liking to the phrase, “you’re an egg!” It’s the kiwi 80’s classic! And I remember using it all the time. It was revived last year in the kiwi film “Boy”, and I guess we just lost the awesomeness of using the phrase. Man is it a good one! My Korean friends love it! Now they use it all the time. It’s not uncommon for a couple of my friends to call me an “egg” nearly every time they see me now. They’ve also added to it, and now they call me a “green egg”. That’s what you get for wearing a green hoodie while teaching them the phrase “egg”.

The other phrases I’ve busted out with my kindie kids are “sup!” and, what for it…. “chur cuz!” This was sooo fricken awesome to hear coming from a 5 year old Korean kid’s mouth!! Hahaha, I could hardly contain myself. I managed to catch a little of it on camera!

Apart from teaching the finer points of the English language (Kiwi styles) to my Korean friends and students, I had the most interesting birthday dinner I have ever had in my life.
Hannah (co-worker) and I had our birthdays in the same week. It was decided that we would celebrate over dinner, so it was off to a local sea food restaurant just around the corner from our language academy. I was kinda dreading dinner, as I’m not much of a fan of sea food. But I didn’t want to offend my Korean co-workers. We had a huge pot placed on a gas cooker in front of us. What was so amazing about this was the live octopus in the middle of the pot, wriggling and clinging to the clear glass lid of the pot. I couldn’t believe my eyes! Haha, it was a totally new cultural experience for me! My co-workers thought my facial expressions of disbelief, intrigue/surprise were rather entertaining.

In my effort not to cause offence, I plucked up the courage to take a bite of the now dead and cooked octopus. It was as though there was were two opposing forces at work as I tried to place the octopus tentacles into my mouth. Every time I went to put it in my mouth, my hand suddenly withdrew, as if it had a mind of its own. This battle of wits must have lasted about five minutes, until I finally managed to put the octopus in my mouth and chew.
It was a little rubbery, the taste wasn’t so bad, but it felt really weird having the suction like cups on the tentacles roll around in my mouth. I had a mental picture of them sticking to the roof of my mouth, me freaking out, and running around like a crazy person. Rather dramatic, I know. But that’s what I was thinking at the time.

Needless to say, after a few attempts to eat other interesting things from the pot of sea creature surprise, I gave up, pretended that I was full, and afterwards went hunting for something that was already well dead before I ate it.

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