Paris

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Paris. The city of light. The city of love.  Whatever you want to call it, I was very impressed during my time in the French capital and it now holds a special place in my heart as one of my favorite cities in the world. I loved everything about it. The café lined streets, the symmetric gardens, the beautiful architecture, the efficient metro system, the incredible food, the vibes of the different neighborhoods, the picnicking in the parks. There is just so much more to this city than the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower. It’s a city that you can visit countless times in your life and never truly see everything. I spent nearly three weeks there and feel that I still barely scratched the surface. Nonetheless I did manage to see some of the main tourist attractions as well as a few other hidden gems a little off the beaten track. Here are some of the highlights of my trip to Paris:

 The Parks & Gardens

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For such a big city, the parks in Paris are plentiful. Walk a few blocks and you’re bound to find a patch of green somewhere–from the small hidden neighborhood parks to the grander gardens decorated with fountains and symmetrically designed fauna. I really liked taking walks through the Jardin du Luxembourg. Popular with tourists and locals alike, it’s a great place find to people watch. There’s also a really good place to get macarons nearby at Dalloyau. Parc de Sceaux was another favorite park, which is actually located just outside of Paris in the southern suburb of Sceaux. It’s huge and consists of a large symmetric lake, woodland walking trails, grassy fields where people come to play sports and have picnics. There is also a small, but beautiful château on top of a hill. You won’t find many tourists here at all, only locals!

The Picnics

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Picnicking is a popular French pastime. In Paris the parks were filled with people enjoying a meal on the grass. It’s very simple to go to the nearest store for bread, meat, cheese, and wine, grab a blanket, and simply find a place to hang out with friends and watch the life go by around you. One of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon.

The Eiffel Tower

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Of course no trip to Paris is complete without a visit to the Iron Lady. If you think it’s amazing by day, it’s absolutely incredible at night when the tower is bathed in golden light and a beacon shines from the top like a lighthouse. And each night at every hour on the hour, it suddenly lights up with a dazzling display of shimmering lights; like moonlight sparkling across a body of water. Absolutely incredible. We never went to the top, but we did enjoy some nice picnics under the tower on the Champ de Mars!

The Museums

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The number of museums and galleries in Paris seem to be endless. The most famous of these of course, is the Louvre. To be honest, I got a little bored at the Louvre. Aside from seeing the Mona Lisa, the Egyptian Hall, and the famous painting depicting the French Revolution, I wasn’t really keen on spending a whole day there. Maybe I would have enjoyed it more if I had gone with a tour group, as it’s a huge museum that can really only be properly done after several visits. Even some of my Parisian friends haven’t seen it all and they grew up there! I did like the Musée d’Orsay however, which is known for its impressionist collections, including some pieces from Van Gogh.  Sometimes the museums have free days during certain times of the month. It’s a good idea to find out when they are and just go to a random museum. You might be surprised at what you discover.

Montmartre

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Paris is divided into 20 districts (arrondissements). I only visited a fraction of these, but my favorite was probably Montmartre, the historic and artsy area in the 18th. We came here twice and really did nothing but getting lost and wandering around the narrow winding streets up the hill to the Sacre Coeur, a huge and beautifully built white marble Catholic basilica (I like to call it the French Taj Mahal). In some ways, being in Montmartre felt like being in a small village in the middle of a metropolis.

Walks Along the River

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Walking along the Seine is great by day and even better at night when the city lights dance across the surface of the river. My favorite place to start was from Notre Dame, through the streets on Île de la Cité, and then walk west from there ending at the Eiffel Tower. There are some famous bridges worth visiting along the way including the Pont des Arts (the famous “love lock” bridge), the elaborate and beautifully decorated Pont Alexandre III, and Pont de Bir-Hakeim, which was featured in the movie Inception and has some really nice views of the Eiffel Tower. The walk also takes you past other famous Parisian landmarks like the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Invalides, and Le Grand Palais.

Bastille Day
I was fortunate enough to be in Paris for La Fete nationale, or Bastille Day, which is the national holiday that commemorates the beginning of the French Revolution on July 14 1789. The day starts off with a big parade down the Champs Elysees and ends with a huge firework display right at the Eiffel Tower. The streets and parks within view of the tower all become packed by late afternoon, so it’s best to get a good spot early. Champs de Mars is probably the best place to watch the show, but we ended up finding a nice spot by the river. One of my favorite memories from Europe!

The Catacombs

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Under the streets of Paris lay miles and miles of underground tunnels lined with the bones of 6 million people. The tunnels are actually the remains of an extensive system of limestone quarries, which were filled with the remains dug up from overcrowded and unsanitary graveyards around the city. It’s a grim, yet very interesting attraction well worth visiting.

Canal St. Martin

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Another good place to get away from the tourist crowds is at Canal St. Martin in the 10th arrondissement in northeastern Paris. I only knew about this place after watching the movie Amelíe but apparently it’s a popular place where the locals like to hangout. The canal was built to link the Canal de l’Ourq in the north to the Seine and today you can climb the arched bridges and watch the boats go up and down the series of locks.

Palace of Versailles

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The Palace of Versailles is another must do while in Paris. It’s actually located outside of the city to the southwest. It was really hot the day we went and since we were there in July at the height of the tourist season, it was a long wait to get in. Once inside, you’re free to roam about home of the former monarchs of France. It’s huge and we spent a few hours wandering beautifully decorated corridors and gardens. I also recall having the best baguette I’ve ever had from one of the local bakeries in the town of Versailles.

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A Year On The Road

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It’s been a year since I left home. A year since I sat at the airport, anxiously waiting for my flight to New Zealand, wondering what I was getting myself into. With only a backpack, a camera, a laptop, and a few sets of clothes, I left behind my world of familiarity for the unknown. I was going alone, to a country I had never been to before, without any prior work lined up. I knew no one there. I wasn’t even sure how long I would be gone as I had only bought a one-way ticket. The thought of sustaining myself outside the comforts of the US and living abroad both excited me and filled my stomach with butterflies. But just as the old Dutch saying goes, leaving and getting yourself out the door really is the hardest part of the journey. Once that was out of the way, I realized that I could feel right at home on the road.

And now, one year later, I’ve been all over New Zealand, spent a summer in Europe, and now going on with another working holiday in Australia! It’s been an amazing year. A big thanks to my friends and family who supported my decision to travel and of course to the people I’ve met along the way that made it incredible. I look back at myself a year ago and see a different person. If I could leave a bit of advice for other dreamers, soon-to-be travelers and working holiday makers, here are five things I learned once I started travelling:

You Will Make Friends
Being able to find new friends was one of the biggest concerns I had before I started my trip and now that I think about it, it really should have been the least of my worries. Although I started my trip alone, I soon discovered that no matter where you go there will always be other travelers in the same situation as you looking for a friend. So don’t worry. You will make friends. Even better, they’ll be from all over the world! I still stay in touch with many of the friends I’ve made overseas. Having shared travel experience really creates close bonds. Some may only be a friend for a day, others a few weeks, and then there’s the few that last a lifetime.

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The Best Itinerary Is Not Having One
I had a planned itinerary for my first few weeks of my travels, but I found that it’s really better not to have one. It’s one thing to have a goal or something in mind for what you want to see and do, but when and how you do it will always be changing. You’ll meet new friends, you’ll discover a place you’ll love, and you’ll want to stay longer. That’s exactly what happened to me after my second week in New Zealand when I arrived in the Bay of Islands. I originally only wanted to stay four days. Unfortunately I had already booked myself a flight to the South Island, but after a short time I came back for the summer and stayed for three months. You just never know what might come up. Besides planning every little detail of a trip becomes super tiring very quickly (for me at least).

Learn to Love Spontaneity
Changing of plans is pretty inevitable when you travel (especially long-term), so just learn to embrace it. That and with a little spontaneity sprinkled in really makes life more interesting. When I first arrived in Australia I had no idea what I was going to do first. A few days later I’m on a road trip going up the East Coast with some people I met in Sydney and afterwards somehow ended up on a cross-country trip through the Outback! The possibilities are endless if you allow them to happen. Of course it’s always good to have goals and ideas on the things you really want see and do, but flexibility is key for those sudden opportunities. Some of my favorite memories while travelling were the unplanned and spontaneous days.

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Put Aside Expectations
Not every day on the road will be the way you envision it to be. You’ll have good days and you’ll have bad days. Sometimes there will be things out of your control. Bad weather. A canceled sailing trip. Missing a train connection. A famous landmark closed due to renovation. Things won’t always go according to schedule and having a lot of expectations really will just mean more stress and unhappiness when things don’t go right. Just enjoy each day for what it is and learn to appreciate the misadventures (sometimes they make for good stories!).

You’ll Be Surprised at What You’re Capable Of
When you travel, oftentimes you’re pushed to breach your comfort zone. You have to learn and adapt to new cultures and find ways to communicate with language barriers. You might even get yourself out of getting lost while finding your way around a new place. Unless you don’t want to make friends, you’re forced to interact and introduce yourself to strangers. You become more social. You find it easier to embrace change and the unknown. You become less afraid of things you might have been afraid of before. You become more independent. You might even learn a new language! Most of all, you become more confident with yourself and you’ll discover you’re capable of. It’s amazing how transformative traveling can make a person.

Cliff Jumping Waimea Bay

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Where I’ve Been

Good day everyone!

I’ve just returned from spending the summer in Europe and I am dead tired! 21 hours flying time with another 14 hour layover in Vietnam thrown in there for good measure. Anyway, these next few days are going to be well spent sleeping.

Europe was amazing! As you can tell, the motivation to update the blog was seriously lacking. It takes time sorting through tons of photos and writing about the experience. That and I really just wanted to enjoy my time time there without being “plugged in” too much. In fact I didn’t even have my laptop with me most of the time so it wasn’t really feasible to do so anyway. But now that I’m back in the Land Down Under, I’ll write a post from time to time on each place I went to: France, Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic, Italy, and Spain (and a very brief visit in Austria). For a sneak peek, here’s a photo I took. Brownie points to whoever can guess where it is!

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Anyway, like I said the next few days will be dedicated to sleep and getting ready to see Australia. I’m not even 100% where I’m going yet first, but the goal is to find a place to settle down and work for a little while. Unlike New Zealand, Australia is huge it won’t be as easy (or as cheap) getting around. Will I follow the backpacker trail and head straight up the East Coast to the Great Barrier Reef? Or maybe out west to Perth? Who knows. It’s a big country with lots of opportunities.

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Sydney

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G’day from the Land Down Under! Actually, by the time I post this I’ll be literally on the complete opposite side of the world in Paris. This post is just to catch up on what I’ve been up to for the past week since leaving New Zealand.

After a hop across the Tasman Sea, I finally arrived in Australia. I couldn’t tell you how long I’ve been waiting for this day. As a kid I had this weird passion for everything Aussie. That carried on with me into adulthood and I always told myself if there was only one country in the world I had to visit it would be Australia. I honestly don’t know why I’ve found it so appealing, its mostly a big desert with some nice beaches all around. But even in the initial one week I had in Sydney, I can say that I can see myself staying a while. Fortunately, an old friend of mine from home who now lives in Sydney offered me a place to stay during my visit. Once I got my stuff dropped off at her place, I went out for a walk to the Royal Botanic Gardens and the Opera House. Typical tourist thing to do, I know, but I couldn’t convince myself I was actually in Australia until I saw it for myself.

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The Opera House is such a neat building, it’s beautiful. The sail-like roof has always fascinated me. In fact in high school I did a report on it and the architect who designed it, so it was surreal to finally see it in person! Seeing it up close is impressive, but I’ve found that the best place to gaze on this iconic landmark is across the bay at a place called Mrs. Macquarie’s chair. Here you get an amazing view of the city and the Opera House with the also iconic Harbour Bridge as a backdrop.

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I was really impressed with Sydney. I’m not really a big city person, but I could see myself living here. For one it’s super easy to get around. The train and ferry system is very efficient and can get you pretty much anywhere. There are also so many neighborhoods around filled with nice cafés and restaurants (Australia is pretty big on the café scene). It seemed like everywhere I went there was some amazing aroma in the air that made my mouth water, especially in places like Chinatown and Bondi. For such a huge city, I thought it was fairly clean. Not a lot of pollution or litter lying around. The atmosphere is very lively, both day and night. Lots of people out running or doing some sort of sport, lots of people socializing with friends and colleagues in the parks. At night the restaurants and bars are alive with activity. Even in the winter (off-season), everything seemed busy.

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Of course there are the beaches. I made a few trips out to some of the city’s famous beaches like Manly and Bondi. From Bondi there’s a pretty neat walk that follows the coast for a few miles to Coogee Beach, another popular beach. And always surfers everywhere! In fact, one of my French friends I had met and travelled with in New Zealand also happened to be in Sydney the same time I was so he and another friend did some surfing at Manly Beach. It was my first time and I managed to stand on board (briefly) on my first try. Best of all, no shark attacks or jellyfish stings!

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On another day, we took a trip outside of the city to the Blue Mountains in the west. It’s very easy and relatively cheap to get to by train (two hour ride) from the city center. After New Zealand (and coming from the Pacific Northwest USA), I could hardly call them mountains. They’re more like hills, but the views were very nice. We were all surprised at how cold it was though! Bad idea to wear only a light jacket and shorts. It was also very crowded with other tourists, but we did a bit of walking around in the bush and managed to find a great viewpoint that was absent of other people.

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It was a great week in Sydney and even though I went out and did something or went somewhere new every day, I’ve barely scratched the surface of this great city.

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E Noho Rā Aotearoa (Farewell New Zealand)

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Tomorrow is the day I leave New Zealand, marking the end of my working holiday here. I find it hard to believe it’s already been nearly 10 months since I first left home. In some ways it feels like it was yesterday, in others it seems like it was a lifetime ago. It’s funny how time works like that. As C.S. Lewis once said, “Day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different.

Looking back now, I remember the last farewells to my friends and family before stepping on the plane toward what would become one of the most incredible experiences in my life. I remember the nervousness, the anxiety, the thrill, and the excitement of jetting off to foreign land. A land where I knew no one and somehow had to figure out how to get along on my own. It wasn’t until after my first few weeks in this country that I realized how easy it actually all was. To be honest, the hardest part about this journey really was leaving my front door. After that, everything kind of fell into place.

I found work. I found places to live. I found ways to move around and discover this beautiful country. Most of all perhaps, I found good friends from all over the world. This experience has helped me become more confident, more sociable, more willing to step out of my comfort zone, more focused on the things in life that really matter. I saw amazing places and did things that for the longest time could only dream of doing. I climbed volcanoes, walked on glaciers, rafted in glowworm caves and over waterfalls, boogie-boarded down mountains of sand, walked on beautiful beaches. It’s been an incredible journey and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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Thank you New Zealand for the adventure. Thank you for your beautiful mountains, your sparkling lakes and rivers, your lush foresth. The fresh air, the calm seas, the magnificent beaches. And of course all the people from here and far that made all the difference. I’ll miss you Aotearoa.

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How to Speak Like A Kiwi

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The Kiwi accent is unique. While many people from overseas might say it’s the same as the Australian accent, you’ll find that they’re actually quite different if you listen closely enough (and don’t ask a Kiwi if they’re Australian–they don’t like that :)). One of the most common and classic ways you can tell is by having them say “fish and chips”. An Aussie would tell you “feesh and cheeps” whereas a Kiwi would say “fush and chups”. This flattening of the vowel is very distinguished in New Zealand and is what makes it different from pretty much every other English-speaking country.

Generally their A’s (as in catch) sound more like eh, the E’s more like ee, and the I’s (as in fish) sound more like u. Also, the “ay” sound (as in bay) are more like ai (bai) and certain I sounds (as in “mice”) are more like oi (moice). Here are some more examples:

The short a as in “back” sounds like “behck”.
The a in words like “day” sound more like “die”.
The e in words like “went” sound more like “weent”.
The short i as in “kids” sounds like “kuds”.
The i in words like “ice” sounds like “oice”.

So the sentence “Today, Ben went to the backyard to see if the kids wanted some ice” actually sounds more like “To die, Been weent to the behck yahd to see uff the kuds wantud some oice.”

Another key feature of the Kiwi accent, like the Australians, the British, the South Africans, and people from Boston, is that they pronounce their R’s differently than in Canada and most of America. It’s much softer and sounds more like “ah” than the typical American pirate “arrrr”. So yard actually sounds more like “yahd”.

Also, similar to Canadian English, New Zealanders tend to end their sentences with a rising intonation–almost as if asking a question–so their speech sound cheerful and friendly. And like Canadians they say “eh” at the end of a question, only it sounds more like “aye”.

As an American I didn’t really find the Kiwi accent too difficult to understand, but sometimes found it amusing to listen to. Like that awkward moment when a Kiwi asks you to paint their deck (deeck). Or another time while hanging up some clothes on the laundry line at a hostel I used to work at, someone asked me to get some more pegs (clothes-pins in the US). What I heard was “cen you please go geet me some pigs?”!

Last but not least, you’ll need to know some of the vocabulary that is especially unique to New Zealand. Here are some common words and phrases I’ve heard:

Sweet As – Common expression meaning “great!” or “awesome!” You can also replace “sweet” with other adjectives like “cheap as” to mean “it’s very cheap!” or “cold as” to mean “it’s very cold!”
Bach – Pronounced “batch”. Means a vacation home or cabin
Boot – The trunk of a car
Brekkie – Breakfast
Capsicum – Bell pepper
Chiller – Refrigerator
Chilly bin – Cooler; ice chest
Choice – Nice
Cuppa – Refers to a cup of coffee or tea
The Dairy – Convenience store
Fizzy drink – Soda or pop
Good on ya! – Congrats or well done!
Heaps – A lot
Hoover – Vacuum cleaner
Hokey Pokey – A quintessential NZ treat that consists of bits of honeycomb toffee and vanilla ice cream.
Jandal – Abbreviation for “Japanese sandal”, or what Americans and British people call flip flops
Kai – Maori for “food”
Kia Ora – Common Maori expression for “hello”
Lemonade – Very different from American lemonade as it refers to drinks like 7UP and Sprite.
Mate – Friend
Rubbish – Trash; garbage
Stag Party – Bachelor party
Sunnies – Sunglasses
Tramping – Hiking
The Wop Wops – Out in the middle of nowhere
Ta – Maori for “Thank you”
Ute – Truck
Zed – The letter “Zee” in America is pronounced “Zed” in NZ (or as the Kiwis say, N Zed).
Yeah nah – I’m not sure exactly what this one means, but I think it’s basically a nice way of saying no.

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7 Things I Don’t Like About New Zealand

New Zealand is a great country. Everyone seems to rave about it. It’s beautiful, the people are friendly, it’s easy to get around, it’s a great destination for backpackers. Hardly do I ever hear anything negative about it. But of course, every country has its flaws in some shape or form. So here’s a list of my pet peeves and annoying things I’ve encountered during my travels in Aotearoa:

1. The Lack of Good Internet
Internet connectivity just isn’t as efficient as it is in most other countries I’ve been. Free, fast, and unlimited WiFi is almost unheard of. You can usually find free WiFi at places like coffee shops and cafes, but usually the connection is pretty slow. Some hostels also offer free Internet access, but usually there’s a data and time limit (on average around 100mb/day). On a more positive note, the mobile network is pretty good and I usually have no problem getting 3G on my iPhone in most cities and towns.

2. The Sandflies
If you think mosquitoes are annoying, just wait until you experience the nightmare of getting eaten alive by New Zealand’s sand flies. They’re much smaller, but they can really leave bites that will have you itching for weeks. They’re especially bad in Abel Tasman, the West Coast, and Milford Sound where they gather in hordes, but they can be found anywhere on beaches and in the bush near water sources. They’re slow fliers so I suppose you could avoid them by jumping around and walking in circles like a fool. It’s hard to simply sit and enjoy the amazing scenery without getting flocked by them.

3. The Bad Drivers
Don’t get me wrong, driving in New Zealand is awesome. With all its beautiful and unique landscapes, I’d say it’s one of the best countries to drive in. But when it comes to the drivers–that’s a different story. Contrary to the easygoing and laid back culture New Zealand is known for, everyone seems to be in a mad rush to get somewhere once they’re on the road. For one, pedestrian right-of-way is almost non-existent. Unless you’re crossing the road at an official crosswalk, nobody slows down or stops for pedestrians crossing the street. I’ve also seen a fare share of drivers crossing the center line to cut corners on curvy roads, drunk drivers, and slow drivers suddenly speeding up well above the speed limit while driving through passing zones. Not that these kinds of things don’t happen in the US, but I’ve noticed it more here than at home. For a country with a small population, New Zealand has some of the highest crash rates in the world. Kiwi drivers aren’t the only ones to blame however. Traffic collisions involving tourists are not uncommon, oftentimes distracted by the scenery or are just simply driving on the wrong side of the road.

4. The Expensive Food
For a country whose main industry is agriculture, you’d be surprised that things like vegetables and fruits are much more expensive here than you would think. $33/kg for limes? Really?

5. The Intense Sun
The UV levels in New Zealand are higher than anywhere else, thanks to a hole in the ozone layer above this part of the world. I’ve been to places that are much hotter (Florida, Arizona, Panama to name a few), but the sunshine there never felt like it does in New Zealand. On sunny days, you can literally feel the sun burning your skin on first contact and sometimes it can feel pretty uncomfortable. If you’re outside a lot, sunscreen is a must.

6. The Lack of Insulation in Homes
While New Zealand summers are often warm and pleasant, it does get pretty cold throughout most parts of the country during the winter–especially on the South Island. Which is why I don’t understand why many Kiwi homes and buildings aren’t insulated. Or have double-glazed windows. And with only a single fireplace or stove to rely on for heat, some houses can get quite cold and damp during the winter. One place I stayed at got so cold inside that I could see my own breath. The solution to stay warm? Just throw on another jacket.

7. These Sinks
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One side projects freezing cold water, the other boiling hot, and the sink itself is so small one can barely wash their hands in it. A major fail in engineering.

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