04 Aug 2010 @ 10:18 PM 

We are lagging pretty far behind on everything, we’re just gonna have to have a huge update when we get back to the US.

After waking up in Pamukkale, we all showered early and headed to buy a bus ticket for the next leg of our Turkish journey. We went to the tourism office and walked up to the desk to begin the wheeling and dealing ritual necessary to get anything done in TUrkey. Behind the desk was a kid who was about 14 years old. Apparently he runs the tourism office. The funny thing is I am not kidding. After buying our bus tickets, the 14 year old informed us his cousin could cut us a good deal on tickets into the “cotton castle”, so we met with another guy to buy discount tickets. He invited us back later to eat his mom’s cooking, which we promised to keep in mind.

We arrived at the travertines and found them to be as impressive as expected. It looks like waterfalls coming down snowy mountains, but it is actually made of white limestone composed of mineral deposits from hundreds of years of hot mineral springs flowing down the mountain. You are not allowed to wear your shoes, which was unpleasant at times, but overall it was an amazing walk up the hill. At the top of the hill we were surprised to find extensive ruins of an ancient civilization, which our ticket also included admission to. We wandered around the ruins until the sun got too hot to bear and we headed back down the travertines. Sadly, we missed half of the ruins, including ‘Cleopatra’s pool’, but we didn’t know that until later. Luckily we all thought it was a totally worthwhile experience without the things we missed, so it was no big deal.

We then headed back to eat the cooking of the bus ticket boy’s aunt. It was as delicious as promised. We then headed back to the hotel to gather our laundry and get on the bus to Marmaris. The hotel brought us our laundry still dripping wet in plastic bags. This made us very sad and would result in all of us smelling quite terrible for the next week. Luckily we all love each other very much.

We took a bus from Pamukkale to Denizli to wait for our big bus to Marmaris. In the parking lot, we saw a terrifying looking cross dresser and wondered where in the world a Turkish cross dresser would be taking a bus to. We would find out the answer to this later…

Meanwhile, we sat on the steps of the police station in the shade and a police officer came out and gave us some wacky Turkish fruits that looked and tasted like a combination between a plum and a fig. I thought it was delicious and sweet, Chris said his was not sweet at all. We realized later that night that his probably wasn’t ripe yet, and therefore slightly toxic. Poor Chris, he pooped everywhere.

The bus to Pamukkale was mostly uneventful and in Marmaris, we got on another bus (are you noticing a pattern?) that was supposed to take us to our hotel. The bus kept driving and driving and people kept getting off, but the driver kept telling us we weren’t there yet. Finally when we had driven almost all the way down the main strip of town, the driver escorted us off and into a hotel… that had a different name than ours. Turns out he was trying to get commission at some hotel he had an agreement with by taking advantage of dumb tourists. When he realized we weren’t dumb, he ran back to his bus and drove away, leaving us stranded. After asking around and hiking quite a way, we found our REAL hotel. The owner was nice and showed us his famous fat cat, which was truly the fattest cat ever. It was a sphere cat. Then we engineered a clothes line in our room and hung out our moldy clothes to dry while we walked up and down the main street, which was beach and sea on one side and crazy clubs on the other.

The next morning we walked to pick up our ferry tickets and then had doners again, only these doners came with a surprise. The surprise was an extra hidden fee to eat them while sitting at a table. Then we went to get on our high speed ferry to Greece. It was a crazy boat that lifted out of the water and ‘flew’ to Greece. This meant it moved according to every little wave it hit, which resulted in many people on the ferry throwing up, or at least wanting to. I was one of those that really wanted to. When we came into port, I ran from the boat, through immigration, through customs, and to a bathroom. The first thing I did in Greece was throw up like crazy in a public bathroom. At least I wasn’t alone, everyone else in the bathroom was also throwing up.

We decided to walk through old town Rhodes and try to find our hotel. The hotel was situated in the middle of town, so it looked like we probably wouldn’t have to walk too far. We walked for about ten minutes, only to find ourselves at the total opposite side of the town. Turns out it was even smaller than we thought, which actually made us very happy. It meant that all of our time in Rhodes could very easily and pleasantly be spent on foot.

I can’t say enough wonderful things about Rhodes. It is beautiful, the beaches are beautiful, the town is quaint, the people are nice, and we had a great time there. It was a little expensive, but that was to be expected. To save money, we went shopping in little markets and ate feasts of bread and cheese and meats. We spent our time there walking around, playing cards, and generally relaxing. The last day we went for a swim in the sea. It was so clear that I saw a huge school of fish swimming nearby and got too scared to venture out too far into the water. Chris, however, braved the risk of fish and swam all the way to the stairway to nowhere and dove off. AJ sat on the beach and admired the view. We walked to pick up our ferry tickets for that night and then spent the remainder of the evening at our hotel bar waiting for nightfall while Chris applied to medical schools.

We walked out to our ferry around 11pm and boarded. As we headed up the grand escalator onto the boat, we all started to freak out at how fancy the boat was. A concierge guided us to our own personal room, with four beds and a bathroom with a shower. We wandered around the boat awhile and Sunil and Chris climbed to some places that were probably off limits. When the boat finally started, we sat on the deck in the back and admired the view and had some drinks. We then went to our room and played some games of cards that we all hardly remember and went to bed. When we woke up, we all showered in the best shower we had encountered up to that point and then had a little snack before the boat landed. I wish we could have stayed on that boat forever, or at least for a few days.

We took public transit into Athens and walked to the temple of the Olympian Zeus. We snagged the student discount multiple entry ticket, which meant we had four days to see all of the sights of Athens for only 6 Euro. We then tried to find the old Olympic stadium and walked and walked until we thought we might be lost, so we turned around and went back. The next day when we actually found it, we realized we were actually about 10 feet from the entrance when we turned back. We then hung out and played Monopoly Deal at the hostel bar for the rest of the evening.

After a good night’s sleep, we woke up and headed out to find all of the famous ruins of Athens. We climbed up to the Acropolis and wandered around for a bit and then headed down to the old Olympic stadium where the boys decided to race around the track. They were in flip flops, which fell off, and they kept running on the black asphalt in 95 degree sunny weather. Needless to say some people had burnt feet for the rest of the day.

After that we took it easy while the boys recovered and ordered a wake up call for 3am the next day so we could catch our flight to the airport. We walked to the bus stop in the dark on the quiet streets and got onto the empty bus a few minutes before it was supposed to leave. A few minutes after it was supposed to leave, we hadn’t started moving yet and people were pouring on the bus. When the bus was packed with people like sardines, we finally left for the airport. On this ride, we had some conversations we probably would have gotten dirty looks for if the people around us spoke English. Then Sunil started releasing terrible amounts of poop steam from his butt on the crowded bus. We were very glad to get to the airport and get off. We had a nice German breakfast on the plane and switched planes in Munich. It was a nice easy flight into Frankfurt. From here, our German adventures began. Because most of these adventures circulate around food and speaking terrible German, I will let Sunil write about them because those are his two favorite things. Well, I guess poop is his favorite thing, but those two are probably pretty high on the list too…

Posted By: Robin
Last Edit: 04 Aug 2010 @ 10:18 PM

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 21 Jul 2010 @ 11:09 PM 

The pictures for the Mongolia part of our trip, so you can check those out now!

Finally, our train pulled into the Yekaterinburg station and we deboarded. Waiting for us 2 feet from our train was the travel guide assigned to take us to the border monument. On the way, he explained that there are actually three border monuments, and, as it was a Friday, there would be lots of weddings at them, which there were. The monument closest to the city was installed by the mayor because he was tired of taking guests all the way to the border (which is a mere 33km farther). This border monument is clearly not at the actual border. The second monument we passed was the old monument that the city tore down, which prompted an outcry from the people, so they just plopped it on the side of the road in no particular geographic location. The last monument was the real one on the real border. Sunil frolicked around in Europe and Asia at the same time and we probably ended up in the background of a million wedding pictures.

The next day, we got on a terrible train made of wood for 24 hours. We had the top bunks and a morbidly obese lady had the bunk below, so we were confined to a tiny bed where you can’t even sit up for 24 hours. It was pretty hot and we got pretty crabby. That’s all I am going to say about that.

The next morning we arrived in Vladimir and checked into a nice hotel because they have no hostels. Sunil finally showered and turned the water brown (insert racist joke here). We then took a bus to Suzdal, which is a tiny town famous for its many churches and its honey mead. It was really nice to spend the day walking around a quiet, small town in the middle of nowhere. We had an expensive meal at the kremlin monestary and tried the honey mead. It sadly tastes nothing like the name, it is very dry and acidic. I don’t think I am a fan. I also tried caviar. Also not a huge fan. I was, however, a fan of Suzdal.

We took the bus back to Vladimir and walked around the town during the afternoon. Vladimir was picturesque and we enjoyed wandering around. We then went back to the hotel where I washed some clothing in the bath tub like a peasant laborer. Then we accidently fell asleep at 8pm in the glorious air conditioning. At about 11pm we woke up, realized it was too late to go do anything, and drank some beers to facilitate our going back to sleep.

At 5am we woke up to board a train to Moscow, marking the true end of our trans-siberian journey. We arrived early in the morning and headed underground to use one of the busiest, largest metro systems in the world. It puts any other metro I have seen to shame. The stations are ornate and decorated with gold, stained glass, and mosaics. The trains come once every minute and ten seconds (seriously) and you can get everywhere using them. We dropped our bags at our hostel and headed out to see the city. First, however, we needed nourishment. We hit the nearest McDonald’s where Sunil ate a hamburger made of shrimp. Then we went to Red Square, which was huge and beautiful. At the other end of the square is St. Basil’s cathedral. It is just as lovely as on TV or in photos. We both got in for a pittance due to us having University of Washington ID cards and the ticket taker being English-challenged enough to believe we were students. Every surface on the inside is covered in ornate paintings, carvings, and art.

We then went to the Kremlin, where karma bit me in the ass. Here, they would not accept my fake student ID and I had to pay 1,050 rubles to enter, which is about 5 times any other entrance fee in all of Russia. We went to the armory, which was what made the ticket so expensive. It is a huge museum of the treasures of Russian royalty. Inside is a room full of giant diamonds… which we somehow managed to leave without finding. The rest of the kremlin involves a lot of churches with crazy art inside. We saw a lot of paintings of Jesus.

While walking around Moscow, we saw something called the ‘Red October chocolate Factory’, so we got really excited and decided to go there after the Kremlin. Sadly, ‘chocolate factory’ is Russian for ‘former chocolate factory’, so our oompa-loompa dreams were crushed. We saw some more sights in Moscow, like a fountain park and an advertisement for a metal-museum exhibit called ‘kamasutra spoon’, which contained warnings that it wasn’t for ‘easily offended persons’. I know I will wish I had gone into that exhibit for the rest of my life.

We got back to our hostel just in time to avoid a huge thunderstorm. Once the sun started to set and the weather started to clear up and cool off, we headed back out to red square, St. Basil’s, and the Kremlin area to take some more pictures. On the way out, we passed a man dressed in business attire sitting slumped over on the sidewalk. He had a few drops of blood on his shirt, but we assumed he was drunk or napping. On the way back, hours later, he was still there and hadn’t moved an inch and looked creepily stiff… in retrospect we decided he was probably dead.

The next morning, we went to the fallen sculptures park, which was the place where Russia stashed monuments in danger of being vandalized after the collapse of the Soviet Union. There were a lot of Lenin heads and a Stalin with no nose. Then Sunil went to Lenin’s tomb, where he saw the actual dead body of Lenin. Sunil managed to see two dead bodies in under 24 hours in Moscow. Some travel site said I wouldn’t be allowed in Lenin’s tomb in sandals, so I bought some postcards and drank kvas while I waited. Sadly the travel site was wrong, so I missed dead Lenin for nothing.

In the early evening we boarded the fastest train in Russia to go to St. Petersburg. We had a very expensive airplane style meal to celebrate my almost birthday and arrived in St. Petersburg in under 4.5 hours. Tomorrow we will explore the wonders of St. Petersburg and then board a plane for Turkey via Latvia to meet up with some friends for the rest of our journey. (Yes, Chris, I am talking about you).

Posted By: Robin
Last Edit: 21 Jul 2010 @ 11:09 PM

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 17 Jul 2010 @ 11:09 AM 

we have been able to upload all of our pictures and we will link to them in a couple days

six days ago, we were on the shores of lake baikal eating smoked fish and skipping rocks. since then, we have travelled over 10000 km (and not showered once!) and almost made our way to europe.

from lake baikal, we headed to irkutsk and saw a few of the sites there along with chatting with some random actor. he was a little quirky (like most theatre people are), but it provided some entertainment as we chugged down the local drink of kvas, which kinda tastes like a fermented fig drink. the actor also gave us a card that had the schedule of his performances from 2003 (and he told us to go to one… weird man).

in any case, that night we were taking a flight to vladivostok. because of random russian visa bureaucracy and stuff (which there is no reason to really outline it all), we were flying to the beginning of the trans-siberian and then getting on our train there. our flight to vladivostok left at 3:55 AM, and we spent around 6 hours in the airport eating chocolate and sitting on the internet.

we arrived in vladivostok around 10 AM local time and got to the center of town around noon. very shortly after arriving in vladivostok, we noticed the russian national uniform for women. regardless of where they were going, what they were doing, or what the weather was outside, it seemed like the appropriate wear for russian women is the absolute tightest and smallest clothes humanly possible. robin complained about it all the time (and still does), but i have yet to find a reason to complain. we grabbed our train tickets and got some lunch at a hot dog stand. as we were hanging around the stand, some random local asked us “tourists?” and proceeded to ask us if we wanted to grab a drink with him. robin was much more hesitant than me to say yes, since he was a middle-aged man who looked kinda dirty, but i told her, as long as we’re not going down some random alley, we should be safe grabbing a drink at the local cafe.

the man’s name was david, and we chatted about whatever we were able to communicate because his english was limited. he taught us a card game called дурак (pronounced doo-rock, meaning “fool”), which is the national card game of russia. after finishing our drinks, he really wanted to show us around town, so we walked the streets of vladivostok seeing the sites and playing more cards in a random park.

after some time, we finally parted with david and made our way to the beach. we had heard that there is a lot of rusted metal at the beach and you shouldn’t go there unless you’re confident about your tetanus shots. luckily, i just got mine a few months ago. from the beach, we walked along the shore of the pacific, then through the streets of shops until we (really just me) settled on eating a cinnabon. it turns out that cinnabon and baskin robbins are the only two american chains in vladivostok.

once we were done running around vladivostok for a while, we went to the supermarket to get provisions for our five-day train ride. and at 10:20 PM vladivostok time, we were on the rossiya, the 001 train of the russian train fleet, headed west toward moscow.

thankfully, the rossiya is the nicest train that we have been on and the first few days turned out nice for relaxation because we needed some rest. during our second night, a nice russian man named maxim offered us some of his dinner and a beer, and then we played some cards with him (of course, we played the russian national game). after some rounds of cards, he showed us pictures of his work. he happens to be an engineer of some sort, dealing with oil in the far east of russia. he had a few pictures of magadan, an area surrounded by many volcanoes, and specifically one that was oozing lava when he was there.

for the next few days, we didn’t really converse with anyone in our car, it turned out that we were a little unlucky in landing someone in our compartment that would be cool to hang out with. most of the people in our compartment were middle-aged woman or families with a lot of children. we continued to just live our life on the train, grabbing extra provisions at some of the stops. we weren’t lucky enough to snag any more smoked fish, but we did get a bunch of hot dogs in fried bread and piroshkies.

the toilets in our train car went out of order halfway through the trip, and we were forced to go to the other cars to use the bathroom. one night, the bathrooms in the adjoining train cars were also deemed unfit to use. at some point in time, i asked robin whether we were allowed to flush toilet paper down the toilet and she told me “obviously not! there are signs everywhere!” and then decided to hold me responsible to destroying numerous toilets on the train, because i refuse to not flush toilet paper down the toilet.

during our second-to-last day, we met a man named alec, who spoke really no english, but wanted to play cards with us. when robin decided to take a nap, i got to test out a little of my russian skills and talked with him about how his son is in the army and how he works for the government. he was only on the train for a few hours, and once he left, his spot was filled with another middle-aged woman.

it turns out that russians are very generous people. almost every day, we were offered food or drinks to consume. either they were all really nice people, or they felt very bad about the kinds of meals we were eating (like bread and sausage, or instant noodles, or bags of chips). i want to believe that they’re just nice people.

so, at this present moment, we have our last couple hours on this train. we will be getting off at yekaterinburg, a city right on the border of europe and asia. in fact, one of the main reasons we are stopping here is to go to the border monument. once we have arrived in yekaterinburg, we will have completed a train journey of over 7000 km, roughly the distance from the northern tip of alaska to the southern tip of florida. and once we are off this train, we will be able to get a much needed shower.

Posted By: Sunil
Last Edit: 17 Jul 2010 @ 11:09 AM

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 10 Jul 2010 @ 7:43 PM 

Click here to view the pictures for this entry!

The last morning in Beijing we decided to take a quick trip to the Forbidden City, which was a few short blocks from our hostel. We waited in a long, long line in the blazing sun and got our eyes poked out by a million tiny Asians holding giant sun umbrellas. Finally, we entered the Forbidden City. It probably would have been cool if we wanted to fight our way through the mosh pits of Asians to see into the buildings, but we aren’t the type of people that enjoy pushing other people down stairs, so all we saw were a lot of buildings that looked the same. I started calling it the Forbidden Shitty because I am funny. The garden at the back was also probably beautiful, but it was so crowded you couldn’t see much. I would not cry if the city had stayed forbidden.

After that, we headed to the old Olympic Park, which was still pretty active, although not with Olympians. Then we got onto our wacky Asian sleeper bus and headed for the border. We reached the border sometime between 2 and 3 am. As we got off the bus, someone took our bags, said ’50 yuan’ to us, and loaded us into their truck. It is customary for people who own guest houses to pick you up at the border and let you sleep the remainder of the night in one of their rooms, so that was what we were doing. In the morning, we woke up to the sound of masking tape being pulled off a roll. We went outside to see what the commotion was. They were taping up electronics boxes full of god knows what and loading them into the backs of many waiting jeeps. We turned a blind eye because we felt it was something that didn’t concern us, and headed to the border. Waiting for us at the border were the same jeeps. So much for blissful ignorance. You can’t walk across the border, so you have to haggle with a jeep driver to take you across, which we did. We rode in a stripped jeep full of 7 other people and electronics boxes across the border. It was so full they had to throw Sunil’s backpack on the hood of the jeep while they drove around. We made it into Mongolia and spent the day in the train station until our train left that night. We also bought a box of imitation oreos (called Stereos) for 1,350 Mongolian Tugrik, which is almost exactly $1 USD.

The Mongolian train was very nice and in the morning we arrived in Ulaanbaatar. We walked into our hostel and found the following items: a western toilet, toilet paper, a real shower, and internet with facebook. After gleefully rolling around in all of these newfangled things, we headed out to walk around the town. We went to a very worthless but expensive orientation for our trip the next day and then ate at BD’s Mongolian Barbecue, the first American chain restaurant to be opened in Ulaanbaatar. The next morning we got on a bus and headed off into the wilds of the Mongolian Steppe.

We arrived at the first family’s ger and played with their six year old all day. I came to the conclusion that this kid was actually probably smarter than me. He also spoke more English than most ger-dwelling Mongolians. He bit Sunil a lot. That night we rode camels 10km to a rock with scarves tied on it. My camel had collapsed humps, which made it the third worst smelling thing I have encountered in my life. Riding a galloping camel with a wooden saddle for 10km is very, very unpleasant. It actually rubbed the skin off of my butt, which resulted in my walked the 10km back. We ate some Mongolian dairy products and hit the hay.

The next morning we rode horses to the next family’s ger. This was the first time Sunil had sat on a horse. We reached the ger and had some delicious lunch and homemade Mongolian vodka (distilled from butter) and took a ride out to Swan Lake, again on horses. By this time, Sunil discovered that he liked riding horses. We had some great dinner and slept like logs. It stormed that night, so we had to skip our horse ride the next day and head back to Ulaanbaatar. On the way, we stopped at a naadam and ate some naadam meat pies. Our bus was stuck in Mongolian traffic for hours, so we got in pretty late and squeezed in a few hours of sleep before our early bus to Ulan Ude, Russia. On the bus, we met two guys from Finland who became our traveling companions for the next day and a half. We killed some time in Ulan Ude, saw the world’s biggest Lenin head, and ate a million tiny pizzas in a beer tent outside the train station. Kalle, one of the Finnish guys, was celebrating his birthday that day, so we also drank a million beers and then napped in the train station until our 3am train.

We slept on the train and woke up to two dead fish next to our beds. They were looking at me. We got off the train and found our Finnish friends, who had a crazy story for us. Apparently, their train tickets were for a prior train, which the train ticket selling lady didn’t tell them. So when they were trying to find wagon #22 on a train only 11 wagons long, they started to freak out. A Russian guy waved them over, told them he was the train’s captain, and for the low, low price of 3,000 rubles (which was twice the price of their train tickets) they could sleep in his bed and stow away on the train. So they did. We all ate some lunch and laughed about their adventures and parted ways. Sunil and I took a taxi to Lake Baikal. Our driver couldn’t find our hostel, so we had some wacky adventures trying to get the address.

We finally arrived at Olga’s Guesthouse and bathed using some buckets and a pot. We walked around the lake and ate some smoked fish (this time there were 6 fish eyes looking at me), drank some beers, and met some Russians. For some reason, everyone in Russia thinks Sunil is German. I think this is funny because the Russian word for ‘German’ also means ‘idiot’. We headed back to Olga’s for a lavish home cooked meal and went to bed shortly thereafter.

This morning we woke up and ate some more home cooked food (Sunil got yelled at by Olga for not eating all of his oatmeal). We are now about to go eat more smoked fish and take a mini-bus or boat back to Irkutsk. Tonight we will fly to Vladivostok and begin our trans-siberian adventure!

Since we will be on a five-day train, we will not be able to update our blog until July 17. But, the good news is that we have been able to upload A LOT of pictures! So everyone (mainly just you, Chris), don’t go crazy if we don’t update for six days!

In what country did Mongolian Barbecue originate?


Posted By: Robin
Last Edit: 21 Jul 2010 @ 11:11 PM

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 02 Jul 2010 @ 5:21 PM 

there are still more pictures to come, but we have a few pictures for this blog entry, so click here for them.

after leaving tibet, we departed for xi’an and beijing, the two crown jewels of the chinese empire. xi’an i known for the terra cotta warriors and we were planning on seeing it the next morning because we got in a 9 PM. the hostel we were staying at was really promising, it had a very clean and nice shower, and even had fast wifi in the room (!!!). as we started to upload a lot of pictures, the power randomly went out around 1 AM and didn’t go back on until we checked out. this meant that there were no hot showers and no more internet, therefore putting the constant hold on our pictures.

whatever the case was, we made it to the terra cotta warriors around 10 AM. earlier in our china trip, there were a lot of backpackers at a “backpacker’s hostel” who ranted about how the terra cotta warriors were terrible. since i think most backpackers are pretty stupid and try and outdo each other in how much more independent they can get (and how many more off-the-beaten-track tourist sites they can go to), i figured their opinion was practically worthless. it turns out that after seeing the terra cotta warriros, i can’t even fathom how someone could go there and not like them. the site was like an open excavation pit that you can see the work and progress they have done and continue to be doing, along with the hundreds of warriors they found in tact in the first pit they discovered. it’s very ridiculous how these clay figurines are still standing hundreds of years later. and they are all different looking, which is insane.

robin had a field day at the terra cotta warriors because she is obsessed with archaeology, and also had very high impressions about the site. we both left there with very high feelings and also discussing how people could possibly not like it that much. on the way out, we saw the greatest site ever: a subway. we hadn’t had a sandwich in days and were craving one, and subway was the perfect find. funny enough, subway in china is exactly the same as subway in the US.

in the second part of our day in xi’an, we wandered the city and walked on the city walls. also, robin bought a new camera, which meant that i didn’t have to hear her cry about a camera anymore, which is doubleplusgood for me. at night time, we boarded a train to beijing (and weirdly, the people in our cabin were from the US, so we got to speak english on the train).

our train arrived three hours late, and coupled with our taxi driver dropping us off at the wrong place, we got to our hostel five hours later than planned. it was raining pretty hard, so we decided not to go see the sites that day. we had to get to one of the long distance bus stations to book our overnight bus and the guy gave us a ticket that i have no idea is real. hopefully we actually get on the bus. but we also did book a dinner at one of the best peking duck restaurants. before we went to dinner, we stopped by tiananmen square which i didn’t think that was as large as things make it out to be, and snapped some photos of the world’s most populous country’s national capital. we also found out that this was robin’s first visit to a national capital!

so beijing roast duck (peking duck) was probably the best food i’ve had in a long, long time. the pieces of meat lightly stick to the crispy skin and it all just melts in your mouth when you start to eat it. it was so delicious, and because we liked it so much, we went AGAIN to get more duck the next night. the beginning of our second day, we booked a great wall hike and spend about three hours hiking around on the jinshanling great wall. the sun was beating down on us and it was a little hard scrambling up crumbled pieces of wall, but it was still very fun and gave us a good workout. it also gave robin a good sunburn.

in the evening, we went to the night market and i ate sigma’s relative, which tasted much like schnitzel. robin then bought a few english language books at the foreign language bookstore because she’s anti-social and likes to dig her head in books in public places. we ended the night by eating our second duck and watching brazil lose to the netherlands. also, i fixed robin’s computer so i could use the internet. the power outage had screwed with robin’s computer enough that we weren’t able to access the internet, but it’s not a problem anymore.

so today is our last day in china, and we plan on visiting the forbidden palace and then getting on our overnight bus to the mongolian border. we’ll be in mongolia soon and we really don’t know what’s in store for us. stay tuned!

What are the second and third most populous countries?


Posted By: Sunil
Last Edit: 11 Jul 2010 @ 07:31 AM

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 29 Jun 2010 @ 7:37 AM 

click here to view the pictures for this entry!

at this present moment, we are sitting on a train bound for xi’an. we have just concluded our tibet trip and we are both sad to leave the roof of the world.

after spending three days in lhasa, the four of us (me and robin, and our two internet travel partners gabriel and sabrina) hopped into a toyota land cruiser and made our way toward everest base camp. it takes two days of driving to make it to base camp even though it is only around 500 km from lhasa. the scenery of tibet reminded me a lot of arizona actually because tibet is full of broad valleys with brown mountains and not a whole lot of vegetation.

our first destination on the road trip was yamdrok lake, one of the three holy lakes of tibet. other than the interesting viewpoint we had at 4700 m, robin had to brave what she called “the worst toilet in the world.” it was a non-western toilet for westerners, so a lot of old people who couldn’t or wouldn’t squat had pooped and peed all over the floor, then stepped in it and walked it everywhere. there were also no trash cans, and you can’t flush ‘sundries’ in china, so soiled toilet paper and feminine products were everywhere. the best part was that they made her pay 2 RMB after she peed for their ‘bathroom maintenance’. good thing that is only about $0.28. out of her bitterness and rage, she stole a picture of a yak (which they charge like 20 RMB for).

after leaving yamdrok lake, we made our way to gyantse and then onward to shigatse, where we stayed the night. i was excited that night since the USA game was going to be playing at 10 PM. and though the US is out of the world cup right now, i was still able to witness one of the best endings the US has had in a while. oh well, damn them ghanans for knocking us out two times in a row!

on day two of the road trip, we started the long road to everest base camp. there really isn’t a whole lot to see between shigatse and EBC and the road seemed like a long one. finally, about 60 km away from EBC, we got our first glimpse of the mountain, and then shortly after, our driver decided to screw the road and do some offroading to save us some time. we also stopped to help another land cruiser that followed us; our guide and driver thought that their car didn’t fare as well on the offroading and they needed help. it turned out that the people in the car had diarrhea and needed to stop.

we made it to EBC at 7:30 PM and found ourselves a hotel (which is a tent made of yak hair with a fireplace that burns yak dung for warmth and had one occupant who sleeps in the back and cooks for you). we had her make a HUGE pot of fried rice; we ordered the three fried rices on the menu and told her to mix them together. she laughed at us for ordering it. at about 10 PM, we were informed that only two guests other than the guide and driver could stay in the tent and that two of us had to hide when the police came. so robin played anne frank and hid in the back room, while i played elian gonzales and ate some cuban sandwiches (and also hid in the back room). after the police left, we went back into the main room and played some cards with our guide and driver. and then we all retired for the night.

the next morning we had the option to hike to the real everest base camp, which was 4 km up the road or to take a bus up there. since we were all full of ourselves and didn’t think that the altitude would stop us, we all opted to hike. and it really wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be (this is coming from the only person on the trip that didn’t have any problems with altitude, i must have some sherpa in me). when we made it to base camp about an hour later, we snapped our photos and admired the view. and it was all downhill from there.

on the way back from EBC, we ran into a problem. along all of the roads in tibet, there are numerous checkpoints. we reached our first checkpoint outside of EBC and found out that sabrina didn’t have her passport. and without that, they were really reluctant to let us pass. our guide called all the people that she knew at EBC to see if they could find her passport. all of us just lingered around trying to figure out what to do if they can’t find the passport. we collected the canadian embassy’s phone number since they would probably be able to safely get her to where she needed to be (even though we were literally in the middle of nowhere). after some time, the checkpoint told us they would let her pass if she could show some other form of picture ID, so she went in to show her student ID. at about that time, we were informed that her passport was found and was being sent with another tourist group and she could collect it from them in shigatse. and so we headed in that direction.

the next morning was the unveiling of a thangka in shigatse. the panchen lama was to come from beijing to be at the ceremony. for any of you that traveled to dharamsala with me, you would remember that the real panchen lama was kidnapped by the chinese government and then a fake one was installed later. so apparently, the fake panchen lama was in shigatse with us.

we started our drive to namtso, another holy lake of tibet, and stopped enroute at a hot springs. throughout our whole tibet trip, we had kept seeing the same few people all over the place. and especially two of them, frank and bong, were everywhere with us. they were on our train from chengdu to lhasa, i saw them walking around lhasa, we saw them at EBC, and now at the hot springs. we found out they literally had the same itinerary as us. but sadly, i forgot to ask them for their email address.

at the hot springs, we ate an egg boiled in hot spring water, and showered away all our dirt. it was a pretty relaxing few hours after all the driving we had been doing. at around 8 PM, we made it to namtso. the accommodations and all the shops were like tents scattered around the shore of the lake. we had dinner and fed half of it to the stray dogs that were hiding in the restaraunt. after eating, i knew i had to do some duties before it got too dark to find my way around.

it was actually impossible to find the bathroom in the nighttime. i had gabriel hunt with me, but we found it to be impossible. i decided to drop trow in the middle of an open field, but also found that to be impossible because there were hoards of dogs running around barking at me and that wasn’t really condusive to me going to the bathroom. so i gave up.

the next morning, i headed out to the lake and skipped rocks with a couple tibetans. then we all packed into the land cruiser for our last drive and made it to lhasa around 4 PM. we separated from our guide and driver, and i was a little sad to part with them. i loved our driver especially. he would sing in the car and had some quirky humor. but anyway, we had scheduled to take pazu (the person who arranged our trip) out to dinner that night, so we went to his cafe, dropped off our stuff, and then went to the market to buy souvenirs. we came back to his cafe and he informed us that we were going to go to some tibetan restaurant that gives out a set meal of 20 dishes or so and around 15 of us were going to go to dinner together and have quite a lavish going away dinner.

and lavish it was. first came out the cold dishes, which were vegetables and hoisin sauce, cold beef in a chili sauce, some sort of animal cartilage (i was told it was ear), strip of animal stomach (which someone referred to as ‘organ’), and mushrooms in a hot sauce. then the hot dishes started coming out: curried potatoes, beef and vegetables, cheese and yak momos, yak steak, and the best eye pleaser of all, meat stuffed in yak hooves. i’m actually probably missing a lot of things because there were a million things on the table. but it was an amazing dinner and a great way to say goodbye to pazu and lhasa. i’m gonna really miss being in tibet.

after saying our goodbyes, we took a cab home and returned to our hostel. me and robin said our farewells to our tibet partners gabriel and sabrina, and we retired to our rooms. the next day we got on our train bound for xi’an, and we bid tibet one last goodbye.

What is the Tibetan name for Mt. Everest?


Posted By: Sunil
Last Edit: 11 Jul 2010 @ 07:28 AM

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 21 Jun 2010 @ 11:01 PM 

click here to view the pictures for this blog entry!

we are finally back to having some internet and are able to update with more of our adventures! we are currently in lhasa and are about to start a trip to everest base camp tomorrow. so here is a collection of our past adventures:

we left off somewhere in chengdu. the day that we were there, we went to the panda research base to go look at the most unadapted creature ever. despite being very bad at life, the pandas are amazingly cute creatures, and i freaked out many times during the trip at the park. i actually really want to take one home and nuture it like i would my own baby.

in any case, there were also red pandas, which robin was obsessed with since they are redheaded like her. we heard that you can take pictures with red pandas, but for some reason, that day they weren’t letting people take pictures with them, which was kinda sad. so we left the panda base slightly disappointed.

when trying to find our way back to downtown chengdu, taxis were offering double the price of a ride to downtown to take us down there. we basically told them to eat garbage until they finally brought the price down to what it should be. and then we went back to our hostel and got ready to get on our train ride to tibet.

the ride from chengdu to lhasa is 43 hours long. right before boarding the train, i had a diarrheal explosion and i went into the train station bathroom looking for something that resembled a western toilet. sadly, the western toilet looked like it had been bombed, and the only other option was a long trough that eight other people were pooping in. so, i just sucked in all my pride and joined them.

we boarded the train at about 9 PM and pretty much went to bed shortly after. the next morning a baby pooped in our train car. see, in china, they don’t use diapers for their babies. babies just have slits in their pants so they can poop everywhere. so i guess trains are no different. surprisingly, it didn’t really smell bad, so it was more humor than anything.

the train ride went pretty smoothly. even though it was long, it wasn’t totally terrible. they played the kenny g version of my heart will go on over and over and i was known to sing it quite loudly during parts of the trip. the scenery was pretty aweswome, from huge mountains to plains of yaks and sheep. we also got a little altitude sickness since the train reached an altitude of 5000 m (16400 ft). it wasn’t really hard to breathe, but we both got really huge headaches. by the time we reached lhasa (12000 ft), our headaches had subsided a little bit, but they were still prevalent enough.

we were greeted in tibet by our guide and driver. to travel in tibet, you must be part of an organized tour group and have a paid guide. we split the costs of our tibet trip with two canadians that i found online. we hadn’t met them yet and we were on our way to the hostel to meet them.

the person who organized our trip was a man named pazu kong who owns a cafe in lhasa, so we went to his cafe to meet him. he gave us a couple of lemonades and we chatted with him while he showed us a bunch of magic tricks. soon after, we met our trip partners, gabriel and sabrina, and the four of us went an indian restaurant for dinner.

the four of us seemed to get along very nicely and since they were from vancouver, we all had something to talk about. the next day, which was our first full day in lhasa, we went to the jokhang temple and sera monastery, which were both full of tibetan culture and very interesting. we all kinda had the altitude headaches, but starting to slowly get over it. sabrina felt a little sick that night, so me, robin and gabriel went to spinn cafe to hang out and play canasta and chill with pazu for a while.

the next day, we visited the potala palace. there was a ton of security around the place since it is like the crown jewel of tibet. all around tibet, there are chinese military people holding shotguns since tibet is under a constant state of a maybe-riot, and china needs to make sure they have tibet under control. and the potala palace had so much military everywhere that it is almost sickening. some tried to disguise themselves by dressing in a variety of pilfered tibetian authority-type uniforms, so there were actually probably twice as many as we saw.

but military aside, the potala palace is incredible. you have to hike up 500 steps to get to the main chambers, and in lhasa’s altitude, it’s ridiculous difficult to do the hike. the potala palace has 1000 steps, 1000 rooms, and 1000 windows and it is probably the most pretty building that i have seen. i have to say that i was a little sad when they showed the throne of the dalai lama and knowing that he will never sit there again. they showed us the room he used to stay in, and most of his belongings were still there, including the clock that brad pitt’s character in seven years in tibet gave him.

across the street from the potala palace is a large square with a huge flagpole with the chinese flag. also in the square is a large phallic pillar with the chinese stars, which probably symbolizes china using its muscle to conquer tibet. after being here for a couple of days, you hear from so many people about all the things that were destroyed during the cultural revolution, and even some people slyly express that tibet and china are different countries. it is sad that in our lifetime, we will not see a free tibet. and it is pretty dumb that it has to follow under the idiocy of mao zedong (he also has an ugly mole).

china might kill me for those comments! hopefully they aren’t reading this right now! if this blog is never updated again, please contact the embassy. that is all.

What is the second tallest mountain on Earth?


Posted By: Sunil
Last Edit: 11 Jul 2010 @ 07:27 AM

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 17 Jun 2010 @ 6:54 AM 

Click here to view the pictures for this entry!

Loyal blog readers, it has been a crazy few days for your beloved adventurers. We also found out that facebook, twitter, and youtube are all BANNED here in China, so it looks like we won’t be on there to tell you about new blog entries (and therefore will stop spamming your news feed). So now I will try to start back at the beginning of our Mainland China travels, although that seems like ages and ages ago.

We boarded an overnight train to Guilin at 6pm. On this train, I was first introduced to the ‘non-western toilet’. Trying to use one of these for the first time in a moving train probably isn’t the best idea, I don’t advise it. We arrived in Guilin in the midst of a downpour, where we met the man responsible for getting us to our tour of the Li river. The downpour was turning the stairways into waterfalls, but some helpful Asians grabbed onto us and pulled us under their umbrellas for protection. The river cruise was beautiful, despite the rain. We sat across from a family where only the 5 year old son spoke English, he was very sweet and kept giving us candy, which to our surprise turned out to be beef candy. Weird, but a cute gesture nonetheless.

We got off of the river boat down the river in Yangshuo, which is well known for being a backpackers’ paradise. It was a quaint little town, and after the rain let up, we enjoyed wandering around the streets looking at all the markets and their creative English translations on signs. We ate at an Australian themed bar in honor of our friend Jac, where we drank giant, giant $1 beers. Did I mention they were giant? By this time, we were feeling pretty great about life, so we headed to the famous rooftop bar of our hostel, Monkey Jane’s, to watch the world cup game. The view of the karst scenery from the rooftop was breathtaking, to say the least. We met some self proclaimed ‘charming Danes’ and continued to drink with them all night. They were finishing up the backwards version of the trip we are on, so we had a lot to talk about. Monkey Jane sponsors and plays in beer pong tournaments every night, and somehow Sunil became our Danish friend’s beer pong partner. They ended up playing several tournaments, some for prizes and some for pride. They beat Monkey Jane once and lost to her once. We also met a guy from Jerusalem, who entertained us with tales from the places we are about to travel to. As can be expected in a city with $1 giant beers, the night gets a little hazy at this point, but I know it was a great time.

The next morning, we woke up at 6am to meet our next guide for our tour of the rice terraces. Monkey Jane was already awake and was so amused that we were also up that early, she gave Sunil a free shirt. He seems to get lots of free shirts traveling.

The rice terraces were beautiful. We saw a show and sampled some food by some of the local minorities (4 of China’s 55 ethnic minorities live in the Longji rice terraces). We hiked up two peaks to see both sets of rice terraces, which I whined a lot about while we were doing it, but it was worth it. We then boarded a bus back to Guilin, which is where things started to head downhill for yours truly. We arrived at the hostel in the pouring rain, only to realize I had left my camera on the bus when they booted us off in the middle of the street. When we called the tour guide, he said it was not on the bus. The most beautiful pictures of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life were gone, along with my ability to take any more pictures. Needless to say, I had a full scale melt down.

The next morning, we headed to the train station, only to find out right before the train was boarding that the person buying our tickets had purchased them to depart from the city’s nothern station. We were at the southern station. We hailed a cab and paid the driver a hefty sum (for China) to get us there on time, which she did. The ride also had the effect of making my life flash before my eyes, pretty exciting stuff. We hopped on the train and met some new Chinese friends and played rummy with them for hours. Teaching a card game without using any English is actually pretty funny, and we had a good time. Sadly, our friends were not taking the train as far as us and deboarded in the middle of the night. At around 3 AM, Sunil finally had to stop being a baby and poop in the nonwestern train toilet because he had liquid poops that needed to come out. From what I hear, he ruined the toilet, although I don’t know how you ruin a hole in the floor of a train. He also ate an anti-diarrheal pill to make sure it didn’t happen again on the train.

We arrived an hour late in Chengdu and our ride to the hostel was nowhere to be found. We wandered around the town searching for wireless or anyone who spoke English. Neither existed. At this point, I started insisting that I hated China. This was probably an unfair judgement, in retrospect, because eventually some kind man off of the street helped us out. He found us some friends in a business with internet after the internet cafe turned us away for not having IDs issued by China. He then called the hostel and walked us there, which was quite a hike. Sunil and I wanted to give him at least some money to take a cab back to where we found him as it was forever far away, but he refused. We arrived safe and mostly sound at Sim’s Cozy Garden Hostel, which is actually more like an entire town. They are currently washing our clothes for us (which smell god-awful from being sweaty and wet from the rain in backpacks for days) while we drink orange soda and watch soccer. Tomorrow it’s off to see the pandas and then onto a two day long train to Tibet. Hopefully Tibet will involve less being lost and less loss of personal items and personal dignity. Although Sunil still might be pooping his brains out, so I’m pretty sure we should just give up on the dignity now. If he’s not pooping, he will update you on our Tibet adventures once we have some!

Whose face is on all of China’s currency?


Posted By: Robin
Last Edit: 11 Jul 2010 @ 07:25 AM

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 12 Jun 2010 @ 7:05 PM 

Click here to view the pictures for this blog entry!

Before entering mainland China, Sunil and I practiced living with millions of Asians on Hong Kong island and Macau, both of which are the muggiest places on earth. This has resulted in Sunil and I seeing the insides of a lot of grocery stores, which we pop into every few blocks just to cool off. The stores here must pay an arm and a leg to use the air conditioning as they all leave their doors open to air condition the streets on purpose. Crazy.

Our first day in Hong Kong was wildly successful, considering the fact that we can’t speak, read, or understand the language and planned on getting around via public transportation. First things first, we had to eat, so we ate at some lunch at a random noodle place. We walked to the Star Ferry terminal and took a ferry out to Hong Kong Island, which was actually my favorite place so far. The downtown area is very well maintained and beautiful with all sorts of free pubic parks that are about ten million times larger and prettier than anything I have been to in the US. We took the world’s largest escalator system (which is outdoors) up to mid-Victoria peak. We then headed back down side streets past the Hong Kong Zoo and Botanical Garden (also free) to the Victoria Peak Tram. We loaded into a tram with a hundred Asians and headed up to the top of the peak, where we took pictures and ate at McDonald’s. After we took the tram back down, I saw a walk through aviary park (again, free to enter), so I insisted we climb about a million stairs to go to it. Inside, I got pooped on by a bird. Oh, karma, you are hilarious. By this time, it was getting late, so we decided to take a subway back to Kowloon. As Sunil got onto the subway car, the doors slammed shut, and let me tell you, those things are not stopping for anyone. There I was, alone on a subway platform in a sea of Asians. I was momentarily terrified. Luckily, the trains come every 5 seconds because we are in Asia, so I hopped on the next one and met Sunil at our stop. We hugged like we had been seperated for years. I really like Hong Kong, although honestly, it is probably because of the prevailence of the English language here.

Sunil wants me to mention that early the next morning, he had his Asia meconium. He found it pleasant. I found it gross.

The next day, we woke up and stuffed ourselves to bursting on $5 of baked goods, including a chicken curry doughnut. Then we took a ferry to Macau, which used to be under Portugese rule, so in addition to having a lot of Portugese food, the secondary language is Portugese instead of English. Macau is a strange, strange land that consists of Vegas-like casinos, restored historic buildings, and dilapidated ramshackle neighborhoods. We walked the ‘strip,’ which was entirely empty. We walked into a casino, which was also empty. We then decided China is lying about Macau bringing in more gambling revenue than Vegas, as a day in Vegas where all the casinos were empty would cause the town to implode on itself. We then stumbled upon historic Macau, which was my favorite part. It was also the hardest part to navigate, so we kept ending up lost in ramshackle Macau. This was my least favorite part of Macau. We took a bus to Fernando’s, a famous Portugese restaraunt and again stuffed ourselves to the bursting point. By this point we were exhausted, so we took a brief respite on the beach and then took another village bus back to the ferry and headed back to Hong Kong, where I immediately passed out and Sunil woke up at 230am to watch the US v. England soccer game on my computer. Crazy. This morning, we are checking out of our hostel to head over to mainland China for the rest of our journey. I think we are ready for the onslaught of Asians awaiting us there. Next stop: Guilin!

What is the best finish the US National Team has had in the World Cup?


Posted By: Robin
Last Edit: 17 Jun 2010 @ 07:33 AM

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 10 Jun 2010 @ 6:11 PM 

Link to our pictures for this blog entry!

at this present moment, i am sitting in a room about the size of my closet in seattle, filled with about ten asians. i can’t understand a word any of them are saying, and i probably stand out more here than i ever have in the usa. so i have resorted to blogging, and here it goes:

once we were done with our mini-road trip, we spent a few days relaxing in the really, really hot arizona sun. i didn’t think that my family would allow sigma to stay at their house (mainly because my whole family is afraid of animals), but surprisingly, my dad was accepting of it. and by the end of sigma’s stay, even my dad wanted to say goodbye to his new friend. sigma is a social butterfly; she makes friends well!

we used our time in phoenix mainly to prepare for the long road ahead of us. there was a lot of time spent unloading cars and packing backpacks and other totally uneventful stuff. but we also got to hang out with a few of my friends to keep us from going crazy. but when it was finally time to leave arizona, we headed to our first of many legs of public transportation: the greyhound to los angeles.

if you have lived your whole life in the united states and you have some resemblance of money, chances are that you haven’t been on a greyhound. and it’s probably a good thing, too. we appeared at the station at 1 AM, about an hour before our bus was to leave. it came about an hour late, and we were forced to sit on a very dirty floor (my pants would stick to it when i tried to get us) with a lot of completely crazy people all around us (there was upwards of 15 people in there with jailhouse tattoos). so once our bus came, it was greeted with much applause by us.

on the other end of the greyhound ride was the los angeles bus station. it was not any bit more classy than the phoenix station, as in the women’s bathroom, someone was washing their clothes in a toilet (or so robin says). we were pretty much done with greyhounds and made our way to eat lunch at philippe’s and hang out with robin’s uncle and aunt.

with gary and julie and their kid ayden, we went around santa monica pier and got a great breath of fresh ocean air. and after the pier, at their place, we were greeted with much alcohol and food as we chatted it up about all sorts of stories from robin’s family. julie even managed to lose her drink, which we were not able to find even though there really wasn’t many places for it to go, and we all had a great time. from there, we were off to roscoe’s with my longest tenured friend, adam.

it is pretty much a necessity for me to go to roscoe’s chicken and waffles with adam every time i visit him, and this was no exception. robin got to experience the immaculate combination of chicken and waffles and also got to nap while me and adam and some of his friends played on his wii for a while until we continued our quest. our next stop was to hang out with shannon in downtown los angeles.

shannon, robin and i grabbed a drink at a very exquisite marriott and had some great chats about life. we then went to her place and played with her adorable dog while he peed all over the place and put stuffed animals the size of its body in his mouth. we stayed the night there, and by the time we woke up, it was pretty much our time to get ready and leave for the airport. our trip was about to officially begin.

the airport experience went fairly smoothly and within a few hours, we were ready to board our plane. since we needed to readjust to the time difference, it was advantageous to stay up during the whole flight (or only take a short nap), and it was pretty easy to do just that because of the loads of inflight entertainment. i also drank all sorts of free liquor to maintain a buzz for about half the flight. and when the 13 hour flight concluded, we had to hop on another flight, so our traveling kinda felt like one punch in the face after another.

at about 2330 local time, we had finally made it to hong kong, our first real destination. we both were like zombies who had been up for way too long, and somehow figured out our way to our hostel using a combination of a train and a taxi. i had heard so much about how amazing this city is and i’m pretty excited to see what it’s all about after robin is done showering and we can go explore, but my impression right now really reminds me of india in the early nineties. it’s also so muggy outside that the laptop cover fogged up. oh well, it’s still time to explore all that is hong kong! seven million asians, here we come!

In what year was Hong Kong transferred to China?


Posted By: Sunil
Last Edit: 10 Jun 2010 @ 06:27 PM

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