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  Shanghai, China journal.

Last year, I took a work trip to Shanghai, China. Luckily, I was there long enough to also be a tourist. It was an amazing, amazing trip. Hereís the journal I kept while I was there (slightly edited to remove any incriminating evidence/protect the identity of the innocent). I can't believe it's already been a year since that trip.

/ Day 1 / Day 2 / Day 3 / Day 4 / Day 5 / Day 6 / Day 7 / Day 8 / China myths Debunked / Other thoughts / Pictures /

Day 1 Ė August 13 and August 14, 2010.

  • The flight was insanely long. Ran out of things to do/entertain myself after about 3 hours. Not good when the flight is 13 hours. Other than a little turbulence, it was a peaceful flight. My wife snuck a letter in my bag. I was so touched that I got misty eyed before I even opened it. My wife is awesome. I need to remind myself every day how much she loves me and how lucky I am. Sometimes I forget Ö and right now that makes me feel like the biggest ass in Shanghai.
  • Shanghaiís airport is not nearly as confusing as SFO. This is surprising, considering that SFO is back in Cali and Shanghaiís airport is in, well, Shanghai.
  • At this exact moment Iíve been awake for 22 hours. Iím starting to get a bit wonky in the olí nogginí. I have to force myself to stay up and go to bed at a relatively normal hour so I can get past the jetlag hump.
  • The cab ride from the airport to the hotel was not nearly as insane as I was expecting. Yes, the cabbie drove ridiculously fast and swerved around cars at every chance Ö but the guy knew how to drive. Itís not like some of the San Francisco cabbies that pull those maneuvers, but donít have the driving skills to back it up. However, the guy did drop me off literally in the middle of the street on the other side of a barrier of shrubs. Walking in the middle of traffic is not fun, especially knowing that pedestrians do not even remotely have the right of way in Shanghai. One more thing about the cabbie that cracked me up Ö apparently they have speed cameras on the freeways in Shanghai. Each time the cabbie approached one, he slammed on the breaks. Obviously they are not affective. In fact, Iíd say itís particularly dangerous for the person behind the cabbie when they throw on their brakes.
  • Shanghai is hot. Damn hot. Extremely damn hot. And humid. Damn humid Ö you get the idea. It was 100 degrees with 90 percent humidity when I arrived. It literally (not figuratively) felt like a sauna when I exited the airport.
  • Driving the 30-minute drive from the airport to the hotel was interesting. I saw what looked like 400-year-old farm houses that were falling down in the middle of brand-new skyscrapers.
  • I already had my first communication breakdown trying to find my room at the hotel. I didnít realize that the hotel is in two buildings. The hotel staff kept saying to go ďdown street,Ē but I thought they were saying ďfloor threeĒ. The hotel room (when I finally got to it) is ridiculous. Seriously ridiculous. Itís not really a hotel room. Itís a 1-bedroom apartment that happens to be bigger than the first two apartments I lived in back in the day.
  • Iím so overwhelmed right now. I was going to venture out a bit tonight, but Iíve decided against that. Again, Iím so incredibly overwhelmed right now. The lack of sleep is not helping. Iím hungry Ö good thing I brought granola bars. Tomorrow I venture out. I have a full day of adventure planned.

Day 2 Ė August 15, 2010.

  • So, this is that jetlag thing everyone talks about. Hmmmmm. I donít approve. I could only sleep in 2-3 hour naps last night, which has left me super gritty today.
  • Woke up at 6 a.m. and looked out the hotel window and happened to see a guy crash his scooter hard. Not sure what happened Ďcause there was no one else on the road at the time. Mechanical problems? The thing that amazed me is that when people passed the guy laying motionless on the ground, no one walked by. Every single person stopped to try to help the man. The first evidence that China truly has a culture that is different that the United States. Back at home people wouldíve just passed by without a second thought.
  • Despite being back at my hotel at 5 p.m., day two was a success. I left the hotel at 9 a.m. after a severe anxiety attach wondering if I was going to even be able to get around. But I did and Iím back.
  • Everything in Shanghai seems to be one of four ages: 100 years old, less than 10 years old, currently being built or 1,000 years old. Itís really striking when you walk down a street and see people riding rusted bicycles (even saw a guy with a rickshaw) in a city with such a modern skyline.
  • You canít even begin to get a sense of scale from pictures of the skyscrapers in Shanghai. They're ridiculous. Huge. Ginormous.
  • At least four people told me Shanghai would be hot before I left. But nothing, NOTHING can possibly prepare one for 100-degree weather with 90-percent humidity. My clothes and my camera were actually hot to the touch. And at one point my camera lens fogged up from the humidity and heat. I hope I didnít lose any good pics as a result. I canít even imagine how much I sweated today. I drank at least five bottles of water and only used the restroom once. Speaking of drinking water Ö if you go into a store and canít read Chinese, donít expect every bottle of clear liquid to be water. At one store I accidentally bought some strange fruit-punch-tasting beverage. It did the opposite of quenching my thirst.
  • I went to the Super Brand Mall today, which was overwhelming to say the least. It was at least 8 stories of stores. The Toys R Us was awesome, but I didnít end up buying anything. There were more robots than one could possibly want in a lifetime, but most of them were either super cheap, poorly made knockoffs or were more expensive than ordering them online. Was still really cool to see it all in person.
  • The Huangpu river in Shanghai is a disgusting brown color and it reeks of lord-only-knows-what when you get close to it (Iím wondering if this is normal, or a result of the intense heat). I had never seen water that foul in person. When I was walking along the Bund I saw city workers (? Iím assuming) put out blocks of grayish-brown ice made from the river water so that people could cool down. I saw kids (and adults) putting it in their mouths and sucking on it/eating it. If I had any moisture in my body at that point I would have thrown up a little in my mouth.
  • Speaking of the Bund, the ďsight-seeingĒ walk along the Bund and the Sightseeing Tunnel were the letdowns of the day. First, the street signs were so confusing that it made it impossible to find the entrance to the tunnel. One sign pointed left, so I walked left for a couple miles. Then, a sign said to go right, so I went right for another couple miles (back in the direction I came from). Then (and this is the best) a sign pointed down to the ground, despite there being a lack of any stairs going down. A nice local that spoke English pointed me in the right direction. It ended up being another half mile from the down sign. The entrance is barely an entrance Ö but when you get inside the tunnel that goes under the river you understand why. As you take a tram through the tunnel, youíre presented with a rather unimpressive light show. I donít think they actually want people to see that non-fantastical sadness. But, when I failed to find it on the Pudong side of the river, I resorted to taking a ferry across the river. THAT was a fun ride.
  • I managed to make it to the Yuyuan Gardens and Yu Bazaar, which is a crazy outdoor mall in a massive bazillion-year-old building. Yuyuan Gardens was amazing beyond words. I canít believe that it was built hundreds of years ago and that it served an actual function instead of just sitting there looking awesome. The place was more crowded than any place I visited in Hawaiíi. But it wasnít that bad. Everyone was very cheerful and respectful of each othersí space. Even though it was crowded, it didnít FEEL crowded because of how awesome everyone was. And, obviously nearly everyone there was Asian. More proof that Americans are terrible tourists and the rest of the world isnít.
  • I did have one odd experience on the way back to the hotel. The cabbie was really upset that I didnít have exact change for the cab ride. It was really strange the way he acted. At least it seemed strange to me.
  • I walked at least 15 miles today based on the map I just checked. I didnít realize that I was sore until I got out of the cab after sitting for a while.
  • Now I need food. Speaking of food, it was so ridiculously hot that I had a green tea milkshake for lunch. Not healthy, but refreshing. The milkshake was topped with an odd assortment of sweet, speckled things (dried fruit?). I have no idea what they were, but they were tasty and unique. I have a feeling that if I ever taste that flavor again, Iíll have a weird Shanghai dťjŗ vu attack.
  • I had this altruistic plan to only eat things that Iíve never had before while in China. Another plan thrown forcefully out the proverbial window. I had a milkshake for lunch. Thoí it did have a bunch of topping that Iíd never eaten before and could not place. But the number one sad food moment happened on my trip to find dinner. Did I eat at a restaurant that I couldnít read the name nor recognize the food on the menu? Was I super adventurous? No on both accounts. I ended up eating at a Beatles-themed British-style pub named ďHard Days NightĒ. The bangers and mash were, hmmmm, not sure how to describe them. They werenít bad, in fact they were quite tasty. But, they werenít your typical British version, nor were they the Americanized version. They were the Chinese version with thin gravy served around the mashed potatoes (not over) and bangers that were tasty but oddly different in a way that I canít quite put my finger on. They tasted more like breakfast sausage than dinner sausage, if that makes sense. And the Guinness I had was pure heavenly goodness. After a day of walking more than 15 miles, that was the best beer I ever tasted.

Day 3 Ė August 16, 2010.

  • Woke up at 2:30 a.m. and couldnít get back to sleep. Jetlag is indeed a fierce bitch. If I donít sleep tonight Iím going to start hallucinating and/or following white rabbits down holes.
  • First day at the Shanghai office. Everyone was super friendly. The office has farm crops growing on all sides, despite the fact that it is in among industrial buildings.
  • Had a rather unimpressive Japanese dinner. Really, not much to say about that.
  • Bought three DVDs of movies still in the theater for the equivalent of $1.50. China rules.
  • Tomorrow holds the promise of more adventures after work. Iíll be heading to the 2010 World Expo with a co-worker. The following day Iíll be taking a boat tour down the Huangpu river.
  • I didnít talk to my wife at all today. Adventures just arenít the same when I havenít talked about them with her. Iíd expand but lack of sleep has made my thoughts have the consistency of cold tapioca pudding. Squish. Squish. Huh?

Day 4 Ė August 17, 2010.

  • Had a wonderful, amazing dinner packed with authentic Shanghai dishes. Broiled eel, tasty pork dumplings, sweet/spicy shrimp and green beans were all on the menu. One of the standouts was peanuts marinated in a sauce made of balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, sugar and cilantro. Surprisingly tasty. I must make this tasty dish at home. The sum of the whole is greater than the parts on this dish.
  • Despite the fact that I had no plans to go, I ended going to the Expo with a co-worker. Heís from the Folsom office visiting Shanghai, like me. Had a great time and got some fantastic pictures, mostly because the buildings were lit up and the ground was wet from rain earlier in the day.
  • The trip to the Expo was a spectacular example of language barrier failure. It ended up taking two cab rides to get to the expo because the first cabbie dropped us off miles from the Expo. Luckily, the second cabbie got us where we wanted to go. It was a bit of adventure for a while trying to get a cab from where we were dropped off.
  • Every day Iím finding more and more that I love Chinese culture. The people in Shanghai just seem to laugh more and enjoy life more than Iíve ever seen back home (in general). The media portrays China very differently than it actually is. The media once again has painted an incorrect picture based on a false narrative. (Gasp. The shock.)

Day 5 Ė August 18, 2010.

  • Iím writing this a day later, so hopefully I donít miss anything.
  • Good day at work. Iím struck by how happy everyone seems in general. In the office and out on the street there is laughter everywhere.
  • After work, a co-worker and I attempted to take a cab to a dim sum restaurant in a more run-down part of town on the other side of the river. In Shanghai, the areas on either side of the Huangpu river are considered essentially separate cities and the taxis rarely cross sides. As a result, they donít know the other side of the river very well. Our cabbie was an example of this. Despite us giving him a map and directions, he still couldnít find the place. At one point, he stopped on the side of the road to study our map. We could see the street sign where we wanted to go, so I took a picture of it and pointed to my picture, which actually worked. He finally got us where we wanted to go Ö but we couldnít find the dim sum place. It mustíve been unlabeled and tucked in an alley somewhere. Ended up getting dim sum in the Yu Bazaar.
  • Had difficulty ordering dinner. At this particular dim sum restaurant, you walk up to the front and pick out what you want, then the waitress walks you and the food to the cash register where you pay. I didnít realize that some of the dishes were for display only and once you ask for it, they bring it to your table later. She literally (not figuratively) slapped my hand when I tried to take one. I have to take my wife to a dim sum restaurant when I get home. Tasty, tasty stuff. The standout being a giant dumpling filled with meat and what tasted like a stew. You drink the liquid out of the bun with a straw, then dig into the filling. It reminded me of an Asian shepherdís pie. I know that Iím prone to hyperbole, but dim sum is quickly becoming one of my favorite foods of all time.
  • Took a 1-hour boat ride along the Huangpu river at night. The boat ride provides a wonderful view of the Pudong skyscrapers lit up at night. I canít even begin to describe how over-the-top the view is. Itís an assault on the senses. Every building is lit up and some buildings have advertisements flashing on the entire side of the building (all 100-plus stories). Ended up catching a later boat than I wanted, but it was well worth it. So far, that boat ride has been one of the highlights of the trip.
  • One of the lowlights is getting to bed at midnight, resulting in yet another night with less than six hours of sleep.

Day 6 Ė August 19, 2010.

  • After nearly a week of no media, I made the mistake of catching up on the news this morning. Iíve experienced mostly joy and happiness here in China and from the Chinese. When I read the US news it makes me sad. Even the simplest stories were filled with such anger and vitriol. In China, Iíve seen dirty, emaciated people standing on dilapidated sidewalks with smiles on their faces and laughter in their hearts. How can we be filled with such anger and distain when we have so much? I know that it is a clichť, but we really do have it good back home. Economy-shmeconomy, even with our current issues our standard of living is so much higher than elsewhere. It feels like such a waste of energy and so counterproductive to be so angry about such trivial things as politics and religion.
  • Iím wondering if the good nature here is the result of Buddhism? When I get home, I need to investigate. Iím intrigued by the tenants of this religion.
  • Had one of the more ďexcitingĒ taxi rides this morning. The driver had no idea where the office was at (despite giving him a map and him having a Garmin GPS). The positive spin is that I got to see a large amount of the Free Trade Zone. However, there was one point where he came (literally) within an inch of rear-ending someone. If we were going any faster, his slamming hard on the brakes would have been too little, too late.
  • Right now I am sitting at work trying to stay awake. I just did the math and Iíve had 28 hours of sleep in six days. That comes out to an average of 4.5 hours a night (assuming my sleep-deprived brain can even do math at this point).
  • Went to the Boxing Cat Brewery in the French Quarter. It was surreal taking a taxi/walking down the streets leading up to the brewery. The trees and buildings looked like they could have been in the fabulous 40s in Sacramento. Plus, the brewery (recommended by Lonely Planet) was owned and run by a guy from Texas and everyone spoke English there. I could have easily been eating a poí boy sandwich in Midtown. Speaking of my poí boy sandwich Ö it gave me a touch of food poisoning. Luckily, it was short lived (after a couple trips to the bathroom). When I told a co-worker next day about the food poisoning, he offered to get me whatever medicine/drugs I needed. Apparently, itís easy to get whatever you need in China.
  • Wandering around the French Concession was an interesting experience. There were so many interesting shops/restaurants/people selling stuff on the sidewalk. A lot of the buildings were art deco inspired. Unfortunately, it was dark and nothing was lit up, so I didnít get any pictures.
  • There are people working here at all hours. On the walk through the French Concession, I saw construction workers hammering away at 8:30 p.m. in the dark. Iíve also seen construction workers hard at work at 6:30 a.m. in the morning on a Sunday. It makes sense given the large amount of new construction happening in the city. If they didnít work all hours, it would probably take 100 years to finish it all.
  • The taxi drivers in Shanghai are given an ID number with their license. A low ID number means that theyíve been at it for a while. Also, taxi drivers are given stars on their license that are awarded for excellent service, navigation and driving skills. The driver that took me back to the hotel had both a low ID number and a high number of stars. The difference was astounding. The ride was so incredibly smooth (and fast). I noticed that this guy used the two-honk horn approach to alert everyone to the driving maneuvers he was performing. This guy was literally (not figuratively) the best driver Iíve ever seen.
  • Went back to the hotel early to get some sleep. Other than the brief spell of puking, etc., it was a night full of peaceful sleep.

Day 7 Ė August 20, 2010.

  • Last day at the Shanghai office. I have a ďTrain the TrainerĒ presentation to give. Other than that I donít have much more to accomplish work-wise on this trip. Yay, itís Friday.
  • Presented my training Ö successfully. Thoí, one person did fall asleep. He apologized afterward.
  • Tonight was an epic fail. Or, as Google translate tells me, ď史诗失败Ē. My plan was to take a taxi to the ferry, take the ferry across the river, then walk to Yu Bazaar for some dim sum and purchase trinkets. Despite having the address in Chinese and a map (A MAP!), the cabbie couldnít get me to the ferry. Instead, he unceremoniously dumped me godonlyfuckingknowswhere. I managed to walk to the Super Brand Mall. I did pick up an awesome shirt Ö but just found that itís a size too small. Sizes in China are different than in the U.S. I normally wear a medium t-shirt, but bought a large, which ended being more like an extra small. Suck. Then, taxis refused to take me back to the hotel. It ended up taking 45 minutes to get a taxi. Keep in mind that I still had not eaten dinner at this point and was pretty upset. I even slammed the door on one cab and gave what-the-fuck hands. Not my proudest moment.
  • Made it back to the hotel and went to a restaurant on the same block that was fantastic. Had to use Google translate on my phone to get a napkin and my receipt.
  • But! There is one positive to this night. I went to a convenience store next to the hotel and a 40-ounce Tsingtao and a bottle of green tea only cost me $1.25.
  • Iím really missing my wife right about now. Instead of drinking a Tsingtao alone a million miles from home, I would much rather be curled up on the couch with my head resting on her lap. One more day (plus a day of travel).
  • I almost forgot one thing Ė I experienced the worst tourist on the planet. While trying/failing to find a taxi out front of the Super Brand Mall, there was an Italian tourist walking behind me. For some reason he was speaking English (extremely loudly), but I recognized the accent. In his thick Italian accent he kept complaining (to reiterate: extremely loudly) about how sucky it was that he couldnít get a taxi. Every other word was ďfuckingĒ. He also (loudly) shouted something about China being the worst country on the planet. What a douche.

Day 8 Ė August 21, 2010.

  • My last day of adventure. As much as I would like to see everything Shanghai has to offer, Iím ready to go home.
  • Went to the Jade Buddha Temple, which was a 45 taxi ride from the hotel (mostly by freeway). Again, Shanghai is massive. This temple is absolutely amazing. They do have one great scam going on for which I must give them a high five. They employ guides that speak flawless English to give you a ďtourĒ of the temple for ďfreeĒ. They guide you through one or two buildings Ö on the way to the gift shop. Along the way they talk pleasantly with you, and flatter you often. In the gift shop they try to get you to buy overpriced merchandise that was allegedly made by students. Iím a sucker because I bought a trinket for my mother and a bracelet for my wife Ö and paid too much. Sigh.
  • The Jade Buddha Temple was beautiful. It felt really odd to be taking pictures of a place where people were worshipping. The place smelled of incense (not the hippie incense, but incense that actually smelled pleasant) because the worshippers were burning bundles of it. I wish I knew the significance of the act.
  • I had planned to go to the Peopleís Square, but ran out of steam. Instead I went back to Yu Bazaar to pick up souvenirs for the in-laws and souvenirs for my dad and grandma. I also picked up a couple things for my wife. I wish I found more things that I thought she would like, but most of what Iíve seen has been trinkety crap or waaaay too expensive. While at the Yu Bazaar I was approached every couple minutes by people wanting me to buy a watch or fake iPhone. Iím not sure why they followed me down the street, even after saying ďno, no, no, no Ö um, no.Ē Did they think Iíd change my mind after the fourth or fifth ďnoĒ?
  • Thereís a store a few blocks from the hotel called CarreFour. My co-worker described it as ďthe WalMart of ShanghaiĒ. I donít think thatís adequate. Itís like six WalMarts put together (but not sucky). The place literally (figuratively) has everything. Not only does it have the largest grocery section/store that Iíve ever seen, but you can also buy scooters, luggage, electronics, appliances, etc., etc. In the meat section they had a ton of Italian-style cured meats (like prosciutto) and salami. In dollars, it was a couple dollars a pound (a pound!). If only I could bring that back through customs. I did end up buying a bunch of tea. Iím debating going back after I pack my bags and pick up a couple more odds-and-ends. Thoí, I am not going to check a bag, so I have to make sure what I have right now fits.
  • Iím excited about going home tomorrow. It reminds me of the feeling the day before Christmas when I was 5 years old. I canít wait to see my wife and tell her about my adventures. Sure, weíve talked over Skype every day, but that sucks because of the delay and sound quality.

China myths debunked.

  • The drivers in Shanghai are easily the best drivers Iíve ever seen. The casual observer might think that they are bad drivers because they weave in and out of traffic, but theyíd be wrong. There is such a fluidity to traffic in Shanghai. Busy intersections move like a choreographed ballet. Yes, people weave in and out of traffic, but everyone is aware of that and does the same. So, when someone veers into a lane or swerves quickly, it is not unexpected. This means that the person they ďcut offĒ doesnít slam on their brakes and slow down traffic behind them. Also, the traffic lights turn yellow before turning red AND before turning green. The US needs to adopt this because it eliminates the 30-45 second lag when the light changes.
  • Iíve seen snake, bullfrog, turtle, shark, goose, baby abalone and various innards on the menu, but never anything we consider pets. Speaking of pets Ö in one of the more rundown neighborhoods, I saw a number of people walking meticulously groomed dogs. It was so jarring to see someone so unkempt with such a manicured pup (now that I think about it, I really missed a photo opportunity there).
  • Large, crowded cities do not have to be dangerous. Despite the insanely huge number of people in this city, I have never felt safer (sure, Iíve felt lost, but thatís completely different from not feeling safe).
  • I donít care what stupid narrative our government/media are trying to push on the American public, the Chinese (at least in Shanghai) like us. I saw so many stickers of US sports teams and pop culture on the sides of scooters and mopeds. Also, (again) mostly everyone was incredibly friendly to me. More than once, locals that spoke English would come up to me and offer help when I looked confused/lost/confused.
  • Stuff in China is cheap to buy Ė this is true and false. It depends on where you go. Some places, things are silly cheap (like DVDs and one meal for me and a co-worker that cost $25 total with beer, which would have cost at least $100 back home). But then, some stuff (particularly at the Super Brand Mall) was considerably more expensive than back home. It seems to match the fact that there is such a huge disparity between the well-off and not-so-well-off people in China.

Other thoughts and observations.

  • I wish I had some way to record the smells of China. Every smell seemed to be amplified. The food smelled either incredibly appetizing (street vender kabobs) or positively disgusting (stinky tofu). The same could be said of the people. I ran in to more than a few people that had a definite funk about them. If they were in a cartoon, they would have had stink lines coming off them.
  • Where do the Chinese get gas for their cars? I didnít see a single gas station the entire time I was in Shanghai. Are they underground? Are they not labeled?
  • Other than the giant CarreFour close to the hotel, I didnít see anything we could consider a traditional grocery store. Instead, the shops each specialize in a specific item. For example, there was a shop that sold fruit, one that sold meat, once that sold fish, etc., etc. I really like the idea of a shop being really good at one thing, rather than being just okay at a bunch of things.
  • I tried to explain to a co-worker at the Shanghai office the difference between LA and Shanghai in regard to feeling safe and the crime rate. When I explained that there are places in LA that you donít visit at night, a co-worker from the Shanghai office asked ďwhyĒ. When I explained that you would get robbed or beaten up, he just didnít understand the concept. He asked me why anyone would do that to another person. I wish I had a reasonable answer.
  • People really do drink a lot of tea in China. Not much else to say about that.
  • Shanghai is a massive, massive city. The city probably takes up the same amount of land as the entire Bay Area. To get from the hotel to the Jade Buddha temple took about an hour, mostly by freeway.
  • Foodwise, everything in Shanghai was fresh. You could tell that all fruits and vegetables were picked ripe and served shortly thereafter. It really made all of the food stand out because the ingredients tasted so good. Oddly, I had three separate Mandarin oranges that were all terrible. They were sour and what I would consider unripe.
  • The people in Shanghai use cars, bikes and scooters as transportation only. You donít see any blinged out cars or hear bass booming down the road. One co-worker from the Shanghai office was joking that he likes to ride bikes Ö but he does it because he has to, while we Americans ride for exercise. The fact that the people in Shanghai bike or walk everywhere is probably the reason that I didnít see a single fat Chinese person.
  • I was expecting Shanghai to be more polluted than it was. Iíd say that Shanghai has an equal level of pollution as, say, LA. However, the Huangpu did smell gross when you got close to it Ė possibly due to the high summer temperatures.
  • On the flight back, the plane crossed over Japan and I could actually see cars driving on the roads. I hope that isnít the closest I get to that country.
  • Iím realizing that a lot of the things that I adore that I had always associated with Japan are actually Chinese.
  • You canít drink the tap water in Shanghai. I dabbed a little on my tongue and it tasted disgusting Ė like metal shavings and stagnation. Everyone drinks bottled water in the city.

-Caruso Deluxe

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