In The Way

Halloween Celebrated in China

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Costume Board Game night at our apartment with awesome missionary friends and teachers from the school. We played Saboteur & Carcassonne!

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WeChat obscene emoticons meet Walter White and Jesse from Breaking Bad. Awesome.

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Morning Halloween commute to work

 

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Pumpkin Joe

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Pumkin Aimee

Maze view from the top. So much fun to make and the school loved it so much they are keeping them up indefinitely

Maze view from the top. So much fun to make and the school loved it so much they are keeping them up indefinitely

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Teaching my kids the word for Spider and to not be afraid of scary creatures. They absolutely loved it.

 

Today Valerie and I started teaching Swing Dancing to some expats, mostly the people you see in the first photo at the top of this page. :) I personally had just as much fun listening to the music when making the playlist as I did actually dancing, ha!

Here’s one of my favorites.

Enjoy.

October Update: Highs and Lows

Things in China are going pretty well for the most part. I haven’t updated in a while besides lots of pictures on Instagram / Facebook, but I figured it was high due a new blog post. I would like to write about our first Taobao order, which was a whole blog post worth of experience in itself. So, without hesitation, here’s some current highs and lows of our experience in China.


 

HIGHS

  • We got paid! Our first payday came October 10th, and it is nice to have some cash in our pocket here. While we have plenty of cash saved in our emergency fund to fly home at any point, we had not been paid since the end of July in Milwaukee, essentially going all of August and September without any income.
RMB, Yuan, Kuai, Money, complete with our Dave Ramsey style Envelope system. Budgeting gone global!

RMB, Yuan, Kuai, Money, complete with our Dave Ramsey style Envelope system. Budgeting gone global!

  • Figuring out how Taobao works. Thanks to a very helpful post on Reddit we figured out how to order things on Taobao, which is basically like Ebay for Everything in China. We got lots of American food including BBQ sauce, spices in little baggies that look suspiciously like drugs, CHEESE!, butter, whole wheat flour, all sorts of stuff like this.
Oregano, Thyme, Rosemary, yummy Italian seasonings!

Oregano, Thyme, Rosemary, yummy Italian seasonings! Definitely not drugs!

  • We finally got a vacuum & an air purifier! While our apartment was relatively clean compared to many Chinese apartments, it had not been vacuumed since we arrived. Being able to vacuum gave us a bit of our sanity back as there was hair and other dusty particles on our couch from whoever lived here before us. The air purifier, I’m not really sure how much it does, but it takes out some of the pollution and dust from the air. Since we are trying to treat our apartment like its own contained International Space Station with plants and an air filter, this is nice to have. Makes our air more pure in our apartment.
Our air purifier. The blue light at the top means the air is relatively clean right now. This was about $110, but compared to lung cancer is quite cheap.

Our air purifier. The blue light at the top means the air is relatively clean right now. This was about $110, but compared to lung cancer is quite cheap.

  • We have found food that we like! We typically eat cookies for breakfast, but there is also sometimes 包子(BaoZi), which are a hot steamed bun stuffed with meat and sauce on the inside. There are also 热干面 (ReGanMian), which are a kind of hot noodle slathered in sesame butter. The Ramen noodles here are surprisingly good and there are about 100 varieties of them at the store. We also enjoy some street wraps, which are called 卷并, which literally translates to Rolled Tortilla Frybread, or something like that. We told the school that we didn’t really like the food they were serving us for lunch and they have succeeded in fixing it by making it hot, having more, and making it taste better, honestly. So now we eat at the Kindergarten for lunch most days. The food here is SUPER SUPER cheap. We can go out to eat at a restaurant for anywhere from 园10-25 RMB, or $2-4 USD. This is, for the most part, cheaper than it costs for us to cook within our own home, so we end up eating out probably about 1/2 of the days and eating in the other half.
  • We are learning some Mandarin, so can now sort of kind of communicate with people. Valerie and I meet with a teacher from the school on Tuesday nights for about 2 hours to study mandarin. We are focusing on questions, basic grammar, food vocabulary, pinyin spelling, character and stroke order, and pronunciation. All very helpful. While I typically do not understand hardly anything they say back to me, we now have learned some of the basic ways to form and pronounce questions.
  • We really enjoy our jobs. Working with 3-5 year olds is very rewarding. Kids are able to love and appreciate you as a teacher in a way that I did not even know possible. Several of my students run up and give me a hug spontaneously each day. We really connect with our students and the work is rewarding most of the time. Obviously, with any job, it has its challenges, but we really enjoy working at the school.
Chinese Fire Drill at school! A real live Chinese fire drill!

Chinese Fire Drill at school! A real live Chinese fire drill!

  • Our internet is good so we are able to Skype and call people in the USA pretty easily and consistently. We try to call someone almost every day despite the 12 hour time zone difference. This is really awesome, and I have started videoing with people on a very regular basis. This has been really nice, as we were skeptical about how good this would be before we came. China + Internet do not always get along very well, but thankfully Skype and calling over wifi works most of the time.
  • Badminton. We have been playing 2-3 times a week, and we both really enjoy it. There is a pretty OK gym at the school that we go to and play at, often with Wesley and Marissa, our friends/coworkers, and sometimes withsome of the Chinese teachers and other ESL teachers as well. They take this very seriously here and I really enjoy the sport.

    A badminton tournemant at a local university. Unfortunately they had the entire rock climbing wall closed for some reason in the other room due to this event. We asked the people at the front desk if they have a schedule of events for the gym so that we could check if it was going to be closed before travelling 1 hour across the city to go to the gym, and they said no. We asked them if it was on their website somewhere, and they said no. We asked them how we were supposed to know when the gym is open and she said the only way to know is by asking the rock climbing professor.

    A badminton tournemant at a local university. Unfortunately they had the entire rock climbing wall closed for some reason in the other room due to this event. We asked the people at the front desk if they have a schedule of events for the gym so that we could check if it was going to be closed before travelling 1 hour across the city to go to the gym, and they said no. We asked them if it was on their website somewhere, and they said no. We asked them how we were supposed to know when the gym is open and she said the only way to know is by asking the rock climbing professor.

 


LOWS

  • Air Quality. The air quality is really unbelievably bad. It is overwhelming at times. Last weekend we wanted to go out and do something instead of staying inside our apartment all day but as soon as I stepped outside I got a headache. I am very health conscious and so rather paranoid of things like lung cancer and other issues. It sometimes burns by eyes, and throat, and will leave me with a sore throat and cough for days. This is incredibly discouraging and we are trying to figure out ways to cope with it, but in my opinion, this really affects the quality of life for everyone in a city in China. The best way I can describe it would be to be walking next to a person grinding concrete with dust flying in the air, except that it tastes like dirt and chemicals. It’s really the worst. We are even considering getting a Wii so that we can do more physical activities within our apartment without exposure to the polluted air.
    Nice day with blue skies our second week in China. It was like this for about two weeks straight at the beginning of October.

    Nice day with blue skies our second week in China. It was like this for about two weeks straight at the beginning of October.

    More average day with pollution outside. I swear it is not natural clouds, just smog. Notice the lack of sunlight.

    More average day with pollution outside. I swear it is not natural clouds, just smog. Notice the lack of sunshine.

  • Mandarin is really really hard and can be quite discouraging at times. Sometimes when I try and talk to someone in Chinese they will just not talk to me at all and go find someone who speaks English. And I don’t mean try and talk to me, I mean, they will completely stop talking and go find someone else. Very discouraging. Anyways, we have learned some food, but conversation is difficult. Just today I took this picture below to memorize what is on this menu at the Baozi (steamed bun with meat inside) restaurant/tienda.

    Baozi menu. I will learn all of these characters so that I can try all the different kinds!

    Baozi menu. I will learn all of these characters so that I can try all the different kinds!

  • Making friends is difficult. I would really like to make some Chinese guy friends to be able to play badminton or soccer or something with, but there are not very many opportunities to do so. There is literally one male teacher at our school who is Chinese, the rest of us guys are English teachers. We have connected well with the group that we meet with on Sunday mornings for church, but I am having a hard time meeting new people and making friends. My plan for this is to just be really outgoing at the gym and join some people in basketball or badminton, as well as starting to play Xiangqi, a funky and very popular Chinese chess.
  • Traveling anywhere in any mode of transportation can be really frustrating. Biking is dangerous as people, scooters, buses, taxis, and vans will come out of nowheresville and cut us off. It is constant conflict management and it really stresses us Americans out. People walk out without looking to see if traffic is coming. It takes FOREVER to take the bus anywhere. Taxis are the best way to get around as they only cost about $3-5 USD depending on how far we are going, but in certain parts of the city it is just basically impossible to get a cab so we end up taking the bus which can take literally like 1.5 hours to go something like 6 miles.

    This was a car accident on a very major road. They were completely stopping traffic, and traffic was backed up for, literally, like 3 miles on this road. When people get into an accident, which happens very frequently, they stay in the exact spot until the police arrive. On this day it delayed our bus for about 40 minutes. Ugh.

    This was a car accident on a very major road. They were completely stopping traffic, and traffic was backed up for, literally, like 3 miles on this road. When people get into an accident, which happens very frequently, they stay in the exact spot until the police arrive. On this day it delayed our bus for about 40 minutes. Ugh.

  • Backwards China. Many things are done very inefficiently. Banking is a nightmare. Websites are buggy. Sanitation is a complete joke. Children are undisciplined. Bikes are super slow. People avoid saying no, instead of communicating directly. This list is long, but a lot of this is just culture shock, not right or wrong. Just challenging to adapt to.
  • Missing America, especially friends and family. 

 


That’s all. I am still posting consistently on Instagram, although I am considering switching to wordpress as a platform for the photos instead of Instagram for all of the people who are interested but not on Facebook or Instagram.

Questions? Want pictures of something in particular? Let me know!

Backwards China

Before coming to China I was told many things are done differently here. Some would say backwards. These have many reactions varying from disgust, surprise, disappointment, excitement, and remembering all cross cultural training from college to recognize that things here are not necessarily wrong, just different. So different.

Before I get to that, here are most of my students in the Deer Classroom:

Most of the students in the Deer Classroom.

Most of the students in the Deer Classroom.

Some noteable differences include:


 

- People Park Their Car Anywhere and Everywhere. Literally wherever they want. This includes in the middle of the road, on the sidewalk, in front of the gate to your apartment complex, on the sidewalk in front of a restaurant. You name it. If you think your car can fit somewhere, you can park there. From a driving perspective it is awesome. From an everything else perspective, it is just ridiculous.

- The heat is turned on in the summer. It is like 90 degrees or so outside during the afternoon here when the children should be napping at school. Since my office is also the children’s napping area, I get to see this every day. I typically set the air conditioning to a nice 25 C, or 77 F. When they nap they turn my air conditioning off and change the temperature up from 25C (77F) to 29C (84F), which is quite toasty. So I guess technically this is still cooler than outside, but sometimes they will just straight up turn the AC off during naptime which will lead my room to become in the 90s during naptime, in the heat of the afternoon.

- They often have air conditioning on with the window wide open next to it. ‘Nuff said.

- Lights are turned off more than they are on. At our apartment complex there are these awesome lights along the walkway that light up the sidewalks. They are only lit until like 8 or 9pm, after that they are turned off. Even better than this is that at the school’s gymnasium, instead of lighting the hallways to the rooms, the pool, and the gym, the staff uses flashlights to walk around and lead people to the room. When we went to play Ping Pong, they only turned the lights on over the table we were playing on instead of the same room. Not that electricity is expensive here – as far as I can understand it is much cheaper than the states.

Funky eyeball computer speakers to replace the ones I fried!

Funky eyeball computer speakers to replace the ones I fried!

- The electronics are different. Electronics have two prongs, not 3, and they are not polarized, which means that they do not have 2 different sized prongs. I have so far fried my computer speakers and my hot water heater trying to use their electricity. And that’s with a voltage converter and proper adapters.

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Cathy, our supervisor, and her husband Roy and their child at a restaurant about 1 block from our house! Yum!

- Hot soup or noodles are served 3 meals a day. Most notably including breakfast. While I enjoy hot soup and noodles for dinner, I find that eating hot soup for breakfast during the summer to be just, well, different.

- They do not drink ice water. Chinese people do not really drink ice water at all. They have hot water instead, often unflavored hot water. We got drinks and popcorn at the movie theater and they gave us a warm lemon tea water instead of ice water or something. This makes the ice bucket challenge much more of a challenge, really. It is hard to find ice!

- Traffic does not use turn signals. This can be very confusing. Many times people walking, biking, driving a moto scooter, or driving, will simply drive straight at you. With no turn signals, it makes it hard to get out of their way. Especially if you cannot see the motos because their lights are not on in the middle of the night. That is a thing.

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The rugrats themselves doing some sort of group dance thing. These group dance things are very popular here.

- Kindergarten and preschool here is loooooong. The students are here 9-10 hours each day. Compared to most preschools in the States that are only a few hours long, this is quite extensive.

- Meetings, and everything else, are done last minute here. The Chinese work system does not really consider your personal out-of-work life important. So they will often ask you to do things very last minute without considering that you might have personal plans. We have a good understanding at this point with the school about this, that if we are not told at least 1 week in advance, that it probably will not happen if it is outside of work hours. We have a good cultural excuse. The Chinese work long, long hours, like 10-11 hrs a day at the Kindergarten and are typically not paid any more than 8 hours of work per day.

- Most children, before they are potty trained, pee in the street. In fact, they do not even have diapers on. They just wear sort of little pants with giant holes underneath. I would post a photo of this but I feel that it would be inappropriate. So when they need to go, they go, pretty much wherever they want. I have seen kids peeing in the ‘hospital,’ on sidewalks, in the grass, over grates, over trash containers, pretty much wherever. Just today a kid peed right in front of the entrance to the school, right between where the students wash their hands and before they have their temperature checked by the nurse. With no effort by anyone to clean it up. I guess that’s why the new laminate floor in the entrance to the school is yellow!

Air pollution blocking out the sun.

Air pollution blocking out the sun.

-While Traffic is Scary, Bicycling Is Quite Safe, and Slow Here. We bought the fastest bikes we could find for under $200. They cost about $50 each, and they are low quality Chinese single speeds. My bottom bracket is creaking already. I do not think it will survive. However, we live about 1 mile away from the school so it is about a 9 minute bike ride to school and 9 minute ride back. Very slow, easy, and nice. There are giant bike lanes and sidewalks separated by trees from the main road, which makes cycling feel much safer than the states. Suburban areas in the USA are scary to bike in. Mind you, we bike THROUGH some very polluted air and water, but at least we are not competing with cars going 60 MPH next to us.

Meat is chopped, not separated. The bones are not removed from the meat here, so eating it can be a bit of a challenge. Instead of having  a section on the lunch tray for milk, there is a section on the lunch tray for spitting out bones and things like this.


There is much more that we are missing, but that will have to do for now! Thanks for reading, and feel free to Skype or WeChat us sometime! We’d love to talk!

I should also note that I have been adding a photo each day on Instagram at instagram.com/dshinabarger . Let me know if you want to see pictures of anything in particular! It seems like most people like pictures better than text anyways :)

Thanks for reading!

First Week in China

We have arrived in Wuhan, China.

Valerie with some other teachers from the school after getting breakfast after going to the Grungy "hospital."

Valerie with some other teachers from the school after getting breakfast after going to the Grungy “hospital.”

Here’s a summary of what’s been going on.

We arrived on Thursday, and have spent this week either getting physicals, at the school preparing for students who come this upcoming Monday, and resting and recovering from jetlag.

A combination of the nasty pollution here and jetlag resulted in me being sick pretty much since we got here off and on. Upon immediately arriving I felt super dizzy. I thought that this was just from lack of sleep, but it continued for several days, and I still have it a little bit. Jetlag also results in me not being hungry when I am supposed to, and having a hard time sleeping at nighttime here.

The pollution is bad here. Very bad. Surprisingly bad. Valerie and I have bought a few plants for our apartment, and plan to buy more. We want to treat our apartment like the International Space Station – creating our own oxygen with plants.

Some examples of the pollution here:

  • The visibility is extremely low. You can probably not see for more than a few miles away, whereas in the states you can see for more like 10-20 miles away, if not farther on a clear day.
  • We have not really seen the sun very much since we got here. Some of this I think may be due to the weather system, but instead of having sunny days it seems like we have hazy days where the pollution, quite literally, diffuses the sunlight and stops it from reaching the earth.
  • We mopped our porch outside and after about 4 days it needed mopping because it was covered in a thin layer of dust/dirt/pollution.
  • I sneeze at least a dozen times a day, and try and blow my nose constantly. I am trying to keep my lungs clear of the stuff.

    While you can buy pocket kleenex here, this is the more popular option. A rather genius little device: Toilet paper roll/kleenex dispenser.

    While you can buy pocket kleenex here, this is the more popular option. A rather genius little device: Toilet paper roll/kleenex dispenser.

 

We feel quite helpless most of the time — we had to have other teachers from the school help us setup our gas, internet, phones, gas, and water. You cannot drink the water — it must be drunk from a water cooler. It costs $2-3 USD for 5 gallons of water or so. Now that we have everything setup we are able to relax at home much better.

Here’s how stuff is going with the school:

The teachers at the school are quite friendly. A new principal of the kindergarden arrived the same day we did for work, so she is new. She smiles a lot, but is very strict and we refer to her as Umbridge. I think this is a bit harsh, but it seems like the cultural is just rather pushy in all directions here. They do things differently here, and not really in a way that I like.

This has been our week:

  • Monday: Go to the school 8AM sharp. Meet some of the other teachers, get a tour. Then we get whisked away to a hospital about an hour away in the Guanggu District for a physical where they take our blood, get a chest x-ray, check our body fat, get a picture, that sort of thing. They were very fast and efficient, and at the time I thought the hospital was kind of grungy. There was basically no wait for any part of the process so the whole thing maybe took 35 minutes or so. Very fast. We get free lunches at the school but we are so late to lunch that they have run out of chopsticks and most of the food is cold. Oh well.
  • Tuesday: Go to the school. Wesley goes over a lot of the stuff we need to know about the schedule and classes and things, but we are interrupted multiple times by the higher ups with questions about how many English teachers are coming back, what classes we will teach, and other events going on this week, as well as debating whether we are getting paid for being at the school or not.
  • Wednesday: We took the day off to sleep in, watch Malcolm in the Middle, and work on getting internet setup. Our internet seems OK – most of the time it is fairly fast, but a few times we have gone to call landline phones in the US and it has been way to choppy to understand what the other person is saying. Sorry, Nonnie.
  • Thursday: Woke up at the crack of dawn to go to a different hospital for another physical. This hospital was incredibly grungy and gave me a much more optimistic view on the healthcare system in the US of A. I don’t think they ever mopped the floors, I saw several open wounds, there are no bandaids anywhere to be seen, there are long lines with people cutting in line to have their blood drawn, we wait for over an hour for the x-ray, there is one lightbulb per hallway, and I was too scared to look at the bathrooms. I’m surprised – it seems like  this place chose to reject the idea of how germs spread, or anything since Louis Pasteur and modern medicine.
  • Went to school, prepared the classroom, got our QQ — instant messenger setup, dug out flashcards, reviewed lesson plans. Internet stopped working around 1pm, so that ended a lot of our productivity. Tonight we go back to the school soon for some sort of meeting with the children’s parents. We were only told yesterday that we needed to be at this meeting — before that we were told NOT to come to the meeting. The lack of notice for anything and miscommunication can be very frustrating. We were told TODAY that our hours of working are supposed to be 7:30-5:30 now instead of 8-5. What? The most frustrating part of this whole scenario, and any other changes, is that we are pretty much powerless with whatever the heck they decide to do with us. Our only real bargaining power is, “If you do this, we will leave,” which isn’t really useful since we don’t actually intend to leave at this point.
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    My classroom, the Deer classroom

    Our apartment is quite nice. My only complaint about it is the air pollution. We have awesome air conditioners, nice garden and trees outside, and are within about a 2 minute walk of many restaurants and shops. Our kitchen is pretty tiny and does not have an oven. We will buy one so we can cook cookies — a great American tradition. We live in an apartment complex pronounced Wonka Mailee. And the kindergarden school looks like a colorful castle – so we go from Willy Wonka land to the Kindergarden Castle.

    You can see what our apartment complex looks like behind this woman. We see this woman everyday on this road picking up recycling. Sometimes she picks it up and takes it away, othert times she hides it in the bushes.

    You can see what our apartment complex looks like behind this woman. We see this woman everyday on this road picking up recycling. Sometimes she picks it up and takes it away, othert times she hides it in the bushes.

    I have started making Mandarin flashcards — like 5 per day. I will start taking mandarin lessons soon, I am trying to decide who will be able to teach me. My coworkers at the school hardly speak any English, so it has already forced me to start learning certain phrases like, “I don’t understand.” and “How do you say” and “Good morning.”

Hoping to get more plants soon, and maybe see if we can order an air purifier from TaoBao.

Questions on anything? Ask away!

Going to China!

David:

Valerie and I are preparing to move to China for one year to become Kindergarten English teachers. We have our stuff packed, our finances in order, and are pretty much ready to roll. As much as you can be ready for this sort of thing.

Our flight leaves Wednesday morning at 1AM on August the 20th. We should have a VPN when we get to China, so I am hoping and planning to blog every once in a while with pictures and things. This will be our main blog site during our trip, so please, subscribe via e-mail, add us to your feedly, or just check my (David) Facebook, where links to this blog will be showing up.

One thing about moving abroad are the neverending questions. Questions, questions, questions. They never end. Most of these questions were asked directly to Wesley and Marissa. There are many that I have not included as well.

I thought I’d compile all of the questions I have asked of Wesley and Marissa Lawton, or of the school, so far, along with some concise answers.

Here they are:


 

QUESTIONS

  1. What is the time difference? About 12 hours, depending where you live. So 7AM in Wuhan is 7pm in MI, give or take an hour. Wuhan is 12 hours ahead, so 7PM on Friday night is 7AM Saturday in Wuhan, China.
  2. What is the weather like? Hot and coldwise, it is like St. Louis. So below freezing in winter, very hot in the summer. However, it is also a tropical monsoon area, so lots of rain during summer, and more sun during winter.
  3. What is your apartment / living situation like? It is two bedroom, and supposedly has an American style bathroom and shower, and we will be in a high rise apartment with an elevator. But we will know better once we are there.
  4. How much are plane tickets? Well, we got our tickets for around $710 per person, for one way. So round trip would be at LEAST 1500 per person. And that is purchasing them like 2-3 months in advance.
  5. Are you certified teacher? To Chinese standards, yes. But in reality, not really. We completed an online TEFL course which took about 40 hours, plus $200 or so per person. It was officially a 140 hour course, but definitely did not take that long. It was really easy, and I learned a little bit about grammar.
  6. Did you have to get a Visa? Yes, we got a work “Z” Visa. We used a website called Chinese Visa Express so that we didn’t have to make 2 visits to the Chinese embassy.
  7. What is the work like? We will be Kindergarten teachers teaching English. I am really looking forward to it, and I expect it will be a lot of fun.
  8. How much stuff can you bring with? For both Valerie and I we get: 4 giant checked bags, 2 carry ons, and 2 personal items/small backpacks.
  9. Are there any foods that are impossible to get while there? Cheese is really hard to get. So is Mexican food.  But apparently you can use a website called TaoBao, which is like Amazon, to order cheese and refrigerated American dairy products delivered straight to your door.
  10. Are there big spiders or other creepy crawlies? Not really. Or so they say.
  11. What is the pay like? We will be getting paid around $18,000 per person for the year, plus healthcare, housing, and meals at the school, as well as flight reimbursements. While not the most amazing pay, it is much better pay than the US Peace Corps or other similar “Volunteer” experiences. We expect to use a good chunk of the payment to pay off our student loans.
  12. Do you have access to fresh fruit? Yes.
  13. Is Facebook blocked? With a VPN, no.
  14. Can you buy coat hangers and umbrellas in China? Yes. They are made there.
  15. Do you need to speak Mandarin to survive? No, and yes. Valerie and I are both hoping to study, and take lessons, while in China. At this point in my life I can count to 10, say hello, thank you, and my name is David.

Thanks for reading, everyone! I look forward to continuing to update you on our newest adventure!

-David

 

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