Awesome Korean Adventures

Living and engineering like never before

Fresh Out of Mornings

I just experienced the best feeling in the world. I’m talking about the feeling when you select all folders related to school work and press delete. I’m all but finished with my studies at Ajou University and Korea too, since there’s only a couple more days left of my exchange student life. Living here feels like living a completely different life. It’s like time has stopped in my other life, even though that’s not the case. In Finland, I’ll go back to cooking and cleaning by myself and back to the cold, but I’ll also have my friends and family close.

The past few weeks have been super busy. Even though the exam results don’t really matter, since we only get an S-mark, I still wanted to try my best. Since I’m grateful to JAMK and ASEM-Duo fellowship for this opportunity, I feel like I have an obligation to do well. The teachers haven’t updated the course results so I’m not 100% certain on my Korean language 2 final exam, but other than that, it should be alright.

At this point, it’s no exaggeration that coming here has changed my life. Not only did I learn about foreign cultures and people but I also have a newfound appreciation for my own country. I think Korea is a great country, but honestly, I won’t miss it. I’m gladly going back to Finland. Still it was worth it to come here and I think everyone should try student exchange if they have any interest in it. Now to packing and getting ready to go back!

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The Final Spurt

 

Right now, I’m knee-deep in school work. In Distributed System Design, we are making a browser-based weather application. It uses weather data from Foreca and Open Weather Map and shows the data to the user. There’s a lot of work because I’m working with both JavaScript and Java programming languages. Since I’m the only one who can do the client-side of the project, I have to also use basic web technologies and learn the Thymeleaf template in order to make the client work. Not only that, but creating the client means that I must manage the client to server communication too. Of course, I’m also working with Lauri who is writing the code for different parts of the application, so we have to communicate what each of us needs the other to do.

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As for the Business Statistics course, it’s not getting any easier. Since my teammates are seemingly handicapped, I have to do each assignment by myself. That said, it doesn’t matter because I need to learn these things anyway. After some strenuous calculations, I realized that I need around a 57/100 mark or higher from the final exam to reject the null hypothesis… I mean pass to pass the course. It should be doable but not easy by any means. In comparison, the other courses should be easy to pass.

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In Korea, there are a lot of cafes. Then there are also animal cafes. Specifically, in the crowded area of Gangnam, there is a place called “Cat Attic”, which, you can guess, is a cat café. When I went there the first time with Lauri, there was a chubby cat with a smug look on it’s face waiting for us at the gate. The entrance fee included one drink of choice. Since it was the first item on the list, I picked an Americano. Frankly, Korean coffee is nothing like it is in Finland. Anyway, it was nap time for the cats so not many of them were on the move. The sleeping cats still looked cute so I took pictures. One of the cats, a dark brown one, sat unmoving on my lap for a good half an hour. Still, my favourite one was the huge black cat, which had a mane of hair, almost resembling a lion.

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We went to a dog café, and raccoon café as well. Yes, raccoon. The dogs were not as exciting though, mostly just smelly and very loud. The staff had to constantly clean the place of urine and god knows what else. On the other hand, the dogs were a lot more active than the cats, reason being the food that people were giving them. The raccoons were pretty cool too but they were more like a mascot of the café.

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Last week there was a concert on the campus. The performers were the Suwon Philharmonic Orchestra. Jasmine wanted to go, since she likes the classical music, and I tagged along since the tickets were free anyway. That night, the Jonghap Hall auditorium was packed with people. Despite that, I didn’t see many exchange students there; most of the audience were Koreans. I had never been to a concert like that before, so I didn’t know what to expect. The conductor of the orchestra seemed full of energy as he was jumping around in a funny way. All the while the other members of the orchestra were busy with their instruments. Even from close up, their fingers were going too fast for the eye to see. On top of that, there were also two singers with powerful voices. They were singing extremely loud and fast, but still, it seemed as though they never had to take breath.

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Korea vs Finland

“What do you think of Korea? How is it different than Finland?”, some people have asked me. Although Korean and Finnish people have things in common, such as politeness and quietness, there are many differences between the two countries and their people. Honestly, I find myself thinking more highly of Finland after spending more time here.

The first thing to note is that the people don’t speak English very well. One time, when I went a barbershop, I tried to explain my haircut in layman’s terms, very simply. Despite that, they had no idea what I wanted. Instead, they tried to communicate with me using a Google Translate app so I just told them to do whatever. It ended up fine though, so I’m not complaining. I think Koreans work really hard on whatever they decide to do in life, which is why they do so well in many areas.

Contrary to Finland, rules are only guidelines here. We are constantly threatened with severe punishment if we break a law or a rule, whether it’s smoking near a building or submitting a document after the deadline. However, when something happens, they don’t take any action. I’m sure that In Finland, these rules would be more heavily enforced.

Also, Korean engineers could learn a thing or two from Finns. Firstly, the websites are horrible in terms of user experience, and often times only partially translated to English. Disgustingly enough, we also have to use Internet Explorer or some sites don’t work. In classrooms, the desks and chairs are less than great to say the least, but I guess it could be worse. On the other hand, the subway system in the Seoul area is great. It’s super easy to go from Suwon to Seoul and back or even go to multiple stations on the way. The subway is likely the best thing in Korea.

In Korea, you can constantly hear cars honking at each other. That’s because the drivers don’t respect the traffic laws and often drive through red lights. Especially the motorcycle who drivers go through any small gap between cars with little to no consideration for anyone else or themselves. I’ve even seen bus drivers do a U-turn at a super busy intersection. The pedestrians act in a similar way. Many people go through red lights, which is a little crazy, considering the way people drive here. Also, Korean people never dodge others on the sidewalk. They will literally bump into you if you don’t dodge them yourself. I used to avoid them but now I don’t really care, as they will probably get hurt more than I will on collision.

Since the winter is finally coming, I’ve noticed some odd things. Finnish people would think it’s not very cold here, which in a way, it isn’t. The temperature only goes down to about -5 before the end of the year. Despite that, people often times wear a coat while inside, because the insulation is nothing like it is in Finland. Asians have probably never heard of double glazed windows and the walls are not much better. And for some reason, all the toilets and showers are positioned so that the cold air gets in and makes things very uncomfortable. Even the electric bills must be huge, to keep the buildings somewhat warm.

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Eaternational Day

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The day we’ve all been waiting for was finally here, the so called International Day. I couldn’t wait to not wear the Finnish national costume for the occasion. Deciding to check out the festival area after school, I went to class as usual. To our surprise and joy, the teacher told us that we are going to be doing some “research” at the International Day area instead, and so the class was dismissed. He told us that if he sees us at the site, it counts as attending the class. With that, wearing my fresh from-the-oven Ajou university jacket, I headed for the festival area.

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The festival area was located on a field of grass near the borders of the school. Each participating country was represented by a booth, where the exchange students showcased and sold food, drink, snacks and other miscellaneous things. Many people spent the whole preceding night cooking for the event for a chance at winning one of the prizes. Ajou had prepared awards for the best booth, best food and the best performance. Of course, Finland was the only country with no booth since we were too lazy to put in any effort. Unfortunately, I am not Savonian enough to be able to make fish-rooster. Although I bet people would have been disgusted beyond belief, if we showcased some good old mämmi.

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At first glance, I noticed the biggest crowd in recent history in front of the USA booth. I have yet to know what they were offering, however, since I opted not to wait in line. I only know that they had a million US flags hanging from the side of the stall, which is to be expected at this point. Little did they know about the upcoming elections. I guess since there’s a million of them here, the Chinese people actually had two booths. Instead of waiting in line for the US booth, I unwisely got myself a cup of totally-not-spicy Chinese food. Jasmine warned me about it but the other guy told me not to worry. Although I couldn’t distinguish the ingredients, she told me that it was “some fish stuff”. Well, as it turns out, the stuff was pretty spicy. That said, I managed to suck it up, literally, as we headed for the next booth.

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Next up, I wanted to see what the Uzbekistani guys were cooking. However, there was an intense cloud of smoke coming from over there. So instead, we spent the rest of the time walking around, chatting and taking pictures. I bought a plate of the Nepali food, which was really great in my opinion, and it seemed like Jasmine thought so as well. Interestingly enough, the Swedish guys were actually selling snus. And some kötbullarna. Evidently, everyone hated the liquorice at the Denmark booth. Only European things, it must be.

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Before leaving, we went to the voting area. I peer pressuredly cast my vote for China and of course Nepal for their food. Lauri also appeared there in his burgundy overalls and green sunglasses. What an unlikely combination, I must say. After the event, there were all these cool performances and of course the award ceremony. And we missed it because we misread the schedule.

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Halfway Home

As the midterm comes to a close, I pass the halfway stage of my exchange period here in Korea. So far, I’ve learned much about other cultures, things that I both like and dislike. Esp ecially regarding dormitory life, I only knew what I had seen in movies or games. I’ve also met great people along the way. Although I miss my old friends, I’ve met new friends during my time here as well. Now, after staying here for a little over two months, I have a decent grasp on the way things work. It’ll likely be more of the same now that I’m accustomed to living here.

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Nowadays I find myself untroubled by the nightly racket. Since the staff didn’t lift a finger to punish the Chinese people for being rowdy, I learned to live with it instead. I’m pretty sure they don’t even realize that most people find it really annoying. Another thing, some people like to play music in the shower and sing to it. Some guy even started singing a Chinese ballad at the toilet, when I was taking a leak next to him. I was almost in tears because he had the voice of an angel. Even the way people greet each other varies greatly. Finns, Swedes and other Europeans often settle for a “Hi” or “Hey”. Contrarily, the Uzbekistani people always say “Hello, how are you?” and expect a “How are you?” as an answer. Funnily enough, Jasmine once asked me “Have you eaten?” and I told her that I just ate before class. She ended up laughing because what she said basically means “Hello” in China.

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Before coming here, I took many things for granted. The difference in time makes it difficult to play games with my Finnish friends. However, when I was alone at the dorm, I could stay up late and play with them. In two months’ time, I almost forgot what it was like. Although I’ve already gotten used to living in Korea, I still look forward to seeing my friends again. It seems that Finland and Europe in general, are considered a paradise by many people. To be honest, the only things that I care about in Finland, other than pizza, are my family and friends, both of which I always took for granted.

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Lauri is likely the best roommate I could ever hope to have, and he also likes similar things as me. Together, we go to the gym and play badminton on a more or less regular basis. We went running a couple of times only, due to the severe lack of pururatas in Suwon. It’s great to have a person to talk to in Finnish. All the Uzbekistani guys are really nice and friendly too, although I don’t see them that often nowadays. In addition, my statistics course team is comprised of me and two Swedish guys. Unsurprisingly, they are quite similar to Finnish people. Lastly, Jasmine is just too nice towards me. I might be looking through rose-tinted glasses, but she seems like the greatest person to be around.

Inevitably, I will feel sad in December, when leaving everything behind. That said, I believe that all the experiences will make my life richer in the long run. I will leave with a whole new perspective and a newfound appreciation for things previously taken for granted. Still, I have almost two months left to go and I should make the most of it.

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Midterm is Coming

The midterm week is finally here. Because of that, normal classes are cancelled and everyone is getting ready for their exams. Lauri will be going to Hong Kong which means that I’ll be pretty much on my own here for this weekend. That’s fine, because I need some time after my last exam and I still have another one to do and an essay to finish. Many courses only have a final exam so my midterm is not too bad.

As for me, I already finished two of my three exams at the beginning of the midterms. The Korean language exam was easier than taking eyeliner from a Korean guy. It literally took less than 15 minutes to finish the exam and the teacher was actually helping us to do it. Quite frankly, understanding the teacher’s spoken Korean is far more difficult than any exam she could throw at us. On the other hand, however, I had Business Statistics and Data Analysis and Stuff -exam. For some godforsaken reason, we had to do the exam in an auditorium where the desk was smaller than the 10 page paper we used for the exam. On top of that, I also needed a cheat sheet with all the formulas and a calculator, so doing the exam was almost as uncomfortable as the chairs we sat on.

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Realizing that it’s getting colder on the weekend, I decided to go shopping for clothes. Instead, I ended up buying everything but that. First, I went to Lotte Mart again since there was some kind of festival with flowers and other stuff. I’ve noticed that there is always some kind of event going on somewhere, and I’m not sure the Koreans themselves know what it’s about. Anyway, I bought all sorts of random things, and went to Lotte outlets afterwards. There was one huge floor of men’s clothes. Although the prices were extremely low, there was not a lot of variety. Also, each little shop had some guy standing around waiting for customers so I wasn’t able to just look around. What’s more, they only spoke Korean, even though I’m the whitest guy in town.

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Right now, I’m chilling on my own at the dormitory. Since Lauri went to Hong Kong and I have time, I’ve been practicing my rhythm game skills and somehow I ended up also studying Chinese. It’s surprisingly easy compared to Korean or Japanese in terms of grammar. The tones, however, are not for the uninitiated. Although being on my own makes many things easier, I also like having Lauri here. I must’ve grown used to having him around. Normally, we would talk every day and play badminton or go to the gym quite often as well. I haven’t seen Jasmine either but she promised to make me Chinese food tomorrow. I can’t wait for that. Certainly, I should brush up on my babocheoreom way of using chopsticks.

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Just Korean Things

The most well-known attraction here in Suwon, is the Hwaseong Fortress. My family was visiting here for the week so we decided to go there together. We all wanted to see the #1 sight-seeing attraction. Apparently, there was some culture festival going on so the streets were filled with people, mostly Koreans. Nevertheless, we regrouped in Suwon and marched through the busy streets heading towards the fortress.

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First, we were directed to the Hwaseong Haenggung palace by the information desk lady. It was very similar to the Gyeongbokgung palace I went to earlier in the semester, because it was built during the same era. For a short while, we spectated some kind of horse riding show, where the riders performed tricks while riding, like hitting target dummies with weapons and other crazy things. One of the guys accidentally kicked down a pole that was marking the border of the area and someone had to hold it in place with his hands. Another guy was standing on his head on the horse while kicking the air at the same time.

The fortress itself was a short walk away from the cultural festival area. But first, we had to climb a million stairs to get on the hill. Any enemy trying to attack the fortress would have likely given up halfway through, we all thought. Once we eventually got up, we walked around and reached some kind of temple area. Looking around, I realized how high up we were. On all sides of the plateau, one could see the whole city of Suwon, as well as the mountains of Korea in the distant horizon. It makes a single person feel hardly significant.

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On another day, we decided to go and check out the war memorial located in Seoul. On the way there, we walked past a bunch of statues portraying the Korean war forces. Clearly, a lot of effort was put into this whole thing. In front of the main building was a huge front yard and in a circle shape stood the flags of all the nations that helped South Korea in the Korean war. Even Sweden had a flag there, even though they only sent 200 medics to help the war effort. We really should have considered sending at least 201 of us.

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Inside of the memorial building was a museum of sorts displaying all the weaponry used during that time, and describing the events from the beginning of the war to the end of it. The museum extended over 3 floors. They had a separate section for everything from guns and vehicles to information about war records each filled with all sorts of artefacts. There was also an area dedicated to the UN forces who were portrayed as heroes and saviours of the people. They used mannequins dressed in military gear combined with screens that showed bullets flying to demonstrate what it looked like in battle. It was a very unique way of doing it, and the whole atmosphere there was just that. Really makes one wonder why we don’t have something similar in Finland.

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Back to School

Believe it or not, I have been studying in Korea as well, hence the title exchange student. Like every other exchange student here, I ended up switching up a lot of the courses I had picked earlier. Not only that, but somehow I ended up with more credits than before. Getting credits here is a cakewalk compared to Finland anyway. Unfortunately, I had to drop some of the more academic courses due to them overlapping each other. That said, I’m happy with my selection of courses overall, because all of the professors on my courses are really funny and more or less knowledgeable. I think JAMK could use a change of teachers as well. Just keep Pasi.

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My one and only computer-related course, Distributed System Design, is taught by a Finnish professor. Thus, torilla tavataan. In this course, we have both theoretical classes as well as labs where we complete programming tasks using the Java programming language. I have only used C++ and C# before so the switch to Java was very sudden, especially since the course is for third year students. Still, I can handle it. Programming tasks used to be too easy anyway, and I’m not almost falling asleep in class like on Käyttöliittymä ja käytettävyys -course.

Ever wanted to know what it feels like to sit in a class having no idea what the teacher is saying? Welcome to Korean Language 2, the course where the only thing that the teacher can say in English is niceu. She also calls me Samuel Markusy. I honestly have no idea what she is saying most of the time because she speaks so fast and with a dialect. At least the grammar seems very basic. After glancing through the book, I didn’t find any grammatical principles that I didn’t already know, only some words. Although, if I was a complete beginner I wouldn’t learn much in the class, which sucks for those who are.

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I also play tenisy now. The course is completely in Korean so I just copy what the Koreans do while acting like I understand what the professor is saying. That said, I did understand when he said we had to buy our own racketsy. My Korean friend, Jay, also said that the professor thought I was very good. Although my technique is garbage compared to everyone else, I can hit the ball well enough and it works. We haven’t actually played any tennis yet, but it’s still pretty fun just training the techniques.

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Out of This World

Have a good one” said the professor as the final class came to a close and the high-spirited students rushed out full of hopes and dreams. Chuseok, or Mid-Autumn Festival, they call it. Originally a major harvest festival dedicated to honouring the dead, it is nowadays more about spending time with your family and eating moon cake. In Korea, the Chuseok is a three-day holiday during which most shops and restaurants are closed. So that sucks. At least I can get breakfast from KFC.

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Lotte World is an amusement park of sorts located in Seoul. I heard Lauri and a few other were going there so I asked a Chinese friend, Jasmine, to go there with me. It was the day of Chuseok when only a few shops were open. For this day, the usually crowded Suwon was reduced to a ghost town, almost like Suonenjoki. Not that I’m complaining however, because I prefer the peace and quiet, something I miss about Finland. Being able to chat properly in the streets is a blessing. Another thing that I also miss is the Finnish national food, Turkish pizza.

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Embarrassingly enough, I made us walk for a much longer time than was needed. Noticing there was a subway station much closer to school, I felt stupid, but at least we got to Lotte World eventually in two pieces. The subway system in question was surprisingly convenient and easy to access. We only had to load a few thousand won on our student ID cards and we could just hop on a ride. Luckily, Lotte World was very close to the Jamsil station.

Most of Lotte World was inside a building spread across multiple floors with some of the bigger attractions outside of the building. On first glance the place was crowded to say the least, but it can be even worse on some days, I imagine. As a child, going there would be the best thing ever, because most of the attractions were made for smarr kids. On the lowest floor there was also an ice skating rink. As a Finnish guy I found extreme hilarity in watching Asian people try to skate.

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Then Gyro Drop happened. We waited in line for what seemed like forever. It felt like death row. The Gyro Drop was 70 meters tall and that was 70 too many for me. Unfortunately, the height limit was 190 cm, and I couldn’t think of a way to grow 4 cm quickly enough and since I didn’t want to seem like a wimp, I went anyway. After we hit the ground I wanted to crawl up and hug the earth. However, I wasn’t able to, because I was shaking, palms were sweaty, knees weak, mom’s spaghetti. So, that’s my best Mid-Autumn Festival experience so far.

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Body and Seoul

Seoul trip! On our first weekend here after the orientation period ended, the Ajou buddy people arranged different kinds of teams and schedules for a sightseeing trip to Seoul. I went with Team B which is led by my overly energetic buddy Park Soo-Hwang or Dave. By the way, Asian people have these English names that, more often than not, don’t match how they look. My business & statistics professor’s English name is Ethan, but honestly, he looks more like a Charles. Regardless, Dave was nice enough to get us a bus that we could use to go around.

Gyeongbokgung, the first attraction we visited, is a royal palace from the Joseon Dynasty era built in 1395. The palace was enormous in terms of area and surrounded from all sides by huge walls. We entered through the main gate, called Gwanghwamun gate, which stood out from the rest with its double-roof, animal statues and guards with their tonnin-seteli faces. The inner area was a large open space filled with tourists taking pictures as well as young Korean students on field trips. Although they had guided tours around the place, I went looking by myself instead. There were at least two museums showing old Korean style architecture and design. Not only that, but a many other cool looking buildings that have names too hard for Finns to pronounce.

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Afterwards we walked around for a while. Close to the main gate was the statue of King Sejong, the guy who invented the Korean alphabet, hangul. In hindsight, he probably should have made different letters for both “L” and “R”, but as long as he didn’t come up with honorifics, he’s a cool guy in my book.

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For lunch we went to the populous Tongin Market. The whole place was like a narrow hallway between two streets and full of people. I think we went there at rush hour. On first glance there were a lot of stalls selling all sorts of food but also shops selling shoes and other clothes. Apparently there are many market areas similar to that in Seoul. If nothing else, it definitely seemed like a great place to get foot-and-mouth disease. Since I wasn’t super hungry anyways, I only ate a kimbap and some chicken while ignoring the fact, that it was served in a coffee mug.

Next up was the old town of Seoul, the Bukchon Hanok village, also known as hill climbing simulator. To this day my feet have nightmares of that place. It honestly felt more like a tourist trap than anything else with all the super expensive souvenirs. Overall it was quite disappointing.

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After an exhausting day, our trip concluded at Hangang Liver. The warm temperature mixed with the cool river wind made the weather feel very nice. My feet still sore, I sat around listening to a Korean artist. She was a good singer and very pretty. Later I hung out with a bunch of friendly Uzbekistani people and we ate at some burger place. It was like a poor man’s McDonald’s, which is saying a lot. Feeling instant regret, I longed for the days of unidentifiable spicy food and thought about the missed opportunity of beer & chicken. As more time passed and the sky grew ever darker, we said our goodbyes to Hangang and left for Suwon. Eventually, after 2 hours in traffic we actually got there. Next time I’ll go with a bike.

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