Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Part 8 GANGNAM Style: Visiting North & South Korea 2014

November 10th, 2014 at 10:00 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer

FinalTanks, Planes, Temples and some LoTR Southron Warriors

Hauling back to Seoul and Incheon from the JSA and the DMZ on the border with North Korea, it was back in to the streets.  I really like this picture, which for me sums up so much that is South Korea.

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After the official tours, we took a guerilla tour of our own through some of the back streets, and got lost, to see how real South Koreans live. I really enjoyed this.  Lost down catacombs of chaotic streets laden with produce, boxes, and the detritus of enterprise, we were stared at, but discovered a cloistered, cozy, close-living vibrant community.  People live close together, this is a major urban center after all, but there was a sense of village that our central NZ cities do not have to the same degree.

I’ve mentioned and photographed many of the more humourous Engerish oddities.  A visitor to Korea may be flummoxed by this, as well as the various ‘nazi’ flags flying on buildings. These of course denote temples or places of historic significance, and are actually a very ancient peace symbol (present as wall tiles for example, in the Christ Church Cathedral).  If you know your nazi symbols, you’llrealise the arms are actually in different orientations (inverted) than that used by Hitler and Co. But still, a bit disconcerting if you are uninformed.

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Being from Christchurch and having some responsibility for the Container Mall, I was surprised to come across this urban Police Station IN A SHIPPING CONTAINER.  “Snap!”

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These cool sculptures represent each of the months of the year. And en route, there is this red button on the subway.  Not a Nuclear Apocalypse reset button, but it does say “Do not lean on this button, Emergency Train Stop” which in New Zealand would just be too tempting.  Not in Korea, where people are most obedient of official imperatives.

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Wherever you go on the South side, there is a very real commitment to the ultimate re-unification of the Korean peoples. Signs like this are indicative, expressing the sentiment.

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Korea is of course an ancient culture, so they have wonderful architecture (both ancient and modern). We came across these scarlet traditional warriors, which reminded me of Southrons (Haradrim) from Lord of the Rings (see here: Wouldn’t like to cross them: Kung Fu, Tae Kwon-Do and other martial arts, most likely, and they’d all do well in ‘Mouvember.’ But if those dudes are too scary, there’s always the Blues Brothers behind them.

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Because of the Korean War that New Zealand soldiers participated in, we went to the Memorial Hall for Incheon Landing Operation that celebrates the support of Americans and other nations for South Korea, particularly the First Marine Division.

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This is one of the planes used in the Korean War, set in a garden.  You can climb right up to the cockpit, where you meet this…dummy.

The museum has great arches, steep stairtcases and alleyways which lead to dramatic sculptures and memorials. It is a very steep layered complex, with some precipitous drops, dangerous for children or energetic teenagers, that would never be allowed in New Zealand.

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The Koreans feel quite passionately about the Americans actually putting ‘boots-on-the-ground,’ something very non-PC these days (so ISIS is allowed to murder, rape, torture and massacre its way through children, women and innocent men. But that’s another story).

These steps for example lead to this, a huge bronze sculpture of the landing American soldiers (thus the name of the museum park) backed by a massive sculptural wall carved in relief (which you can see behind it).

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Some more hardware, parked throughout the campus.

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To the left of this amphibious Buffalo armoured vehicle, you can see the New Zealand flag (3rd from left).

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and third from the right, the Australian flag.

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This is an American M24 Chaffee tank.

As mentioned in Part 1, this was my first trip to Asia.  It was great, exciting, different, dynamic, and I hope you’ve enjoyed the sharing of the journey. But it’s always good to get back to New Zealand, the best place in the world.  Let’s hope DPF is not eaten by a Cayman or catches gets of those urethra fish while he’s up the Amazon without a paddle.  Jal itsuh.

~ JS.

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Part 7 GANGNAM Style: Visiting North & South Korea 2014

November 9th, 2014 at 10:00 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer

The Axe Murder Incident & A Bong on the Border

Before leaving the JSA (Joint Security Area), a post on the notorious Axe Murder Incident.  As mentioned, tourists have been killed in the JSA.  In 1976 there was a very serious incident that almost re-ignited the Korean War.

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Within the JSA stood a large poplar tree on the South side that blocked the South’s view of various points within the JSA ‘corral’ (OP 5 and UNC CP3).  In terms of preparedness for a sudden surge from the North (they have a barracks on site, and build tunnels into South Korea) this need for an unobstructed view is understood.

At UNC CP 3 there is a guard and the site sits next to the Demarcation Line. It is described by the on site troops as “the loneliest place in the world.”  Regular JSA site pruning and trimming was accepted by both sides and had been carried out without incident over the years. However, this area was often walked around by Korean guards as they looped around from their side via the Bridge of No Return and to the Barracks.  So, perhaps in one sense they came to accept it as ‘North Korean territory.’ At least the branches that spread out over on to their side.

Four UNC guards and six South Korean Service Corps began some routine cutting. They were questioned by a North Korean guard, who told them to leave the tree alone. Normal procedure would be for either side to call an immediate on-the-spot Security Officers Meeting in the conference room, but the North did not do so, nor lodge a protest.

Because the North had expressed interest in the tree, the South commander organised an additional ten security staff and put in place a number of other reasonable precautions, including cameras.  The workers had arrived at 10.30am to do the work. Ten North Koreans arrived and were briefed on the work.  20 minutes later, the North officer ordered the South to stop working.

The work continued. He took off his watch, wrapped it in a handkerchief, placed it in his pocket, and yelled “Kill the Americans.”

The North Koreans grabbed the workers’ axes in the and around the tree and targeted the two American officers nearby who immediately went down.  One of the workers drove the truck in front to try and protect the mutilated body of Cpt. Boniface.  This broke the momentum and the North Koreans scrambled back across the Bridge of No Return but not before Cpt Boniface and Lt Barrett had been hacked to death.

The incident escalated tensions, military assets were scrambled, and tensions rose.

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A few days later, several S. Korean and American units formed a ring around the tree (Operation Bunyan) and Engineers cut the poplar down limb by limb. The soldiers were told to defend themselves if attacked.  A number of back-up units were positioned in a chain outside the JSA, for immediate backup and assistance if things went sour.  The Bridge of No Return was blocked by a truck. The delicate issues were eventually resolved at a Joint Military Armistice meeting. But this tree came close to sparking WW III.

You pass this site on a tour of the JSA.

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Operation Paul Bunyan, 1976, and the trimming and final felling of the poplar tree, which took almost an hour amidst highly strained international tension.

Leaving the JSA and back to the Dora Observatory and military base (see Part 4) below. You can see the viewing platform at the far left.

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And some military hardware, as well as this man having a surreptitious bong, in the carpark.

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With one of the Observation Post guards at Dora.

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South Korean ROC at Dora. Cool guns.

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And finally, the view from the balcony towards North Korea and I think the Kaesong Industrial Complex (NK).

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Next time, Final (Part 8): Tanks, Planes, Temples and some LoTR Southron Warriors.

Part 6 GANGNAM Style: Visiting North & South Korea 2014

October 27th, 2014 at 9:00 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer

Typical shopping plaza in South Korea (Incheon) that at night transforms to a Times Square-type neon tapestry. And some more of that modern architecture I mentioned.

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Back to the JSA.  So, this is where the two Korean borders converge inside the DMZ. The Joint Security Area is the only portion of the Korean Demilitarized Zone where South and North Korean forces stand face-to-face and ‘share’ an enclosed area that straddles both countries. For this reason it is often called the “Truce Village” by the media and the military or as I call it the Standoff OK Corral.

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North Korea is above the red MDL line (Military Demarcation Line) which transects the blue conference rooms. The House of Freedomis the main gathering building for South tourists with the curved roof (photo below) across which is the Panmon Hall or Tongilgak I think it is also called. Behind that is a North barracks which is why this area is so tense.  It could be overrun quite easily, which would essentially cause a war.  Note that there are lots of access roads on the North side up to the MDL, but hardly any on the South, which identifies the respective intents.

The MDL line is demarcated by a series of white 1m high wooden posts set at 10m intervals so that the boundary is unequivocal.  The post line extends between the blue conference rooms as a concrete sill, which you can see in the photos. Inside those buildings, the space becomes ‘shared’ but the north half is seen as North Korean, etc.

The JSA is used by the two Koreas for diplomatic meetings and, until March 1991, was also the site of military negotiations between North Korea and the United Nations Command (UNC). Troops and even past Koreans leaders have actually met here, to agree terms, set boundaries and protocols.  For example, North & South Korean troops met and mingled while inspecting open casket repatriations of UN troops in 1993.  In the conference rooms, the respective parties meet turn and turn about (ie they have turns to call a meeting) to discuss minor armistice violations, various admin., and the Olympics. There are two representatives of the Chinese army present.  Only the senior officer of the calling side speaks.  A statement is read first in Korean, then English, then Chinese.  These meetings are extremely formal, often hostile and always unfriendly.  There are no mutual greetings or handshakes.

I asked why some of the South side soldiers stand half obscured behind the buildings.  This is to present only half a target in case of a sudden attack, ie at least two soldiers might remain to defend the MDL.  This indicates how hazardous this duty is.

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In this photo is the North Korean Tongilgak white building at the back. Note in this older photo it has only two stories. The concrete ‘post’ sill runs left to right immediately behind the brown soft hat North Korean with his back to us.

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In our photo 2014 you can see the North Koreans have added a third story, apparently a recreation room. But it is hardly ever used, sitting there simply to be higher than the South Korean Freedom House (see below).

The blue buildings are conference rooms and management rooms where officials from both sides can meet.  For example, the two security forces for the JSA meet in the blue building to the right to discuss tensions and incidents in an attempt to diffuse issues.  Despite being very formal and not friendly, it seems to work.  The blue building to the left is the conference room and we move single file in to here under strict behaviour instructions and with an armed guard.  The 38th parallel goes right through this building and even the central table, so half is North Korea.  There is a door on their side that is locked from the outside.  South Korea has a door on their side, also locked from the outside.  At agreed periods, each side can bring their tourists in to this conference room where a number of high level meetings have taken place, but never together.

Note the number of windows, 3 for each side and one in the middle which is neutral. If you were to escape to either side, this is the place and there have been attempts. There was a gunfight when a man fled from the North side over to South Korea.  He dropped into a sunken garden area (before the current complexes were built) and there was a gun fight.

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The door to North Korea. The ROK soldier stands guard on the North Korean side of the room, during their allocated inhabitation period.

Inside the conference room, which is bright sky blue, are mahogany tables and chairs.  Its quite cramped and only really for conferences, rather than tourists cramming in.  But its fascinating being in here and standing ‘over the line’ on the North Korean side.

This obscenity actually explains a lot about North Korea.  For them, much of the division is about their mana.  They want everything equal and even minor imbalances are seen as threatening their fragile sense of nationhood (ala the Axe Murder Incident, more later) or cultural self esteem.

Take North Korea’s big white Tongilgak/Panmon Hall behind.  It used to be only two levels, but when the JSA nations put some communications stuff on their roof, which made it slightly higher, well the North Koreans immediately built that whole third floor, simply to be “higher” than South Korea.

Below is what the view is from the North side.  You can see the communications installations covered over by the curved roof, Freedom House.  You stand between the two central pillars and then move into one of the buildings in front on the right hand side.

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Leaving the Standoff OK Corral we take a short bus ride around the rest of Punganuk and pass a North Korean town a short distance away that can be glimpsed through the trees. This is Daeseongdong. The West has a large flag pole at the JSA, so the North Koreans came in and built this massive obscene flagpole and hung a gigantic flag from the top at Dong, to be “bigger” than South Korea.  In both cases, the West has not responded tit for tat, content to allow the North Koreans to feel they are ‘superior’ by peeing higher up the wall. You can see it quite clearly through the trees, a forbidden zone, untouchable fruit, with its hideous flag fluttering above them.

I can’t help but think about Orwell’s 1984, and what life must be like for people living in this rather run down grimy village so close to the liberty and freedoms of the West.  If only they knew.  I suspect only the most “politically correct” people (with family hostages elsewhere) are allowed to farm here.

As we drive around this area, we are strictly forbidden to take photos of towers and aerial installations, etc. The whole visit is very sobering and you can sense the tension. Then we come to the spot where some tree pruning became violent and fatal.

Next time: The Axe Murder Incident.

Part 5 GANGNAM Style: Visiting North & South Korea 2014

October 25th, 2014 at 9:00 am by Kokila Patel

by John Sringer

Before we get to the intensity of the Joint Security Zone, some more humourous Engerish.  Off Springs 2 and 3 outside the ‘Sodomy‘ restaurant or is it “Soda Me”? Then there’s Kolon Sport and the Gimpo Bridge.

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North Korea sponsors about 9000 carefully managed tourists a year from the north side through China.  To visit North Korea from the South side, the only way is at Panmunjeom via the Dorasan loop and Imjingak (see Part 3 & 4) facilities “on the road to Panmunjeom.”  But to actually go in to North Korea other than through Tunnel 3 in the DMZ, you have to visit the Joint Security Area and Camp Boniface.

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Here’s a map that helps get your head around the set up.  We are in the DMZ that bisects North & South Korea along the 38th parallel.  We’ve travelled by bus from Seoul to the Dorasan Observatory, Imjingak and through Tunnel 3 inside the DMZ.

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Now we’re off to the Panmungak (complex) at Panmunjeom. There are lots of names, and it’s a bit bewildering how they all inter-relate.

New Zealand was a signatory and founding member of this initiative, so, like the UN, our flag flies onsite and we occassionally have personnel posted here as part of the joint initiative, ie, the West verse North Korea.  NZ was of course active in the Korean war. Camp Boniface is the military base and its slogan is “In Front of them All.”

We pull in to the parking area of the Panmaungak. This is the Joint Duty Office (JDO) of the KPA/CPV in the JSA.  The UN and military obviously love acronyms. We are taken into a briefing auditorium.  There is a clunky propagandist short war movie that explains the essential facts, and then we are told, in no uncertain terms, that as we go into the JSA we must never point at the north side or the soldiers, be respectful, not make sudden movements, and stay strictly within the clearly designated areas.

At one point SkyGoddess is sternly told to stop gregarious gesticulation by HusbandOfAppropriateMoments (akaHeWhoMustBeObeyedThisOnce). A woman who wandered outside these areas was shot and killed by the North Koreans and there have been other incidents involving death. Soberly, we are then given this form to sign.

It’s not every day you waive responsibility for personal “injury or death“…as a result of a “hostile enemy act.” There are one or two spelling mistakes, which I circle before I sign.

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We are escorted the whole time, and our guide is a delightful American Sgt from the midwest.  He is armed, and answers all our appropriate questions. I have a long chat with him afterward about what its like working here. He briefs us that if we run towards North Korea, he will do his best to grab us and pull us back, but if we get across, we are on our own and will have to make the best life we can in North Korea.

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We enter a polished marble hall and there are helmeted UNCSB-ROK soldiers stationed about in a Tae Kwon Do pose, fists clasped.  They stand like this on four hour rosters and are immovable and impervious. They are armed; all we have are special red or blue plastic badges to allow us inside. I surmise blue is for wisdom, red is for ‘Gen Y. can I have some more money.’

Then we’re out onto a dais area where most people view North Korea across a short distance.  Many famous people have some to this point, including the Clintons, Helmet Kohl, Margaret Thatcher, Barack Obama etc.  We are allowed to take photos at certain points. I am on the left, and a bus passenger steps too far to the left and a Tae Kwon Do arm immediately flings out to create a rigid human barrier through which he cannot pass.

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We get a few seconds each to take photos in front of the line.  Its a scary place. You can see this from the expressions of the TwentySomethings who are kinda freaked out by Panmungak.  I tell them their red badges are targets. Panmaungak is like a zoo and we’re looking at the North Koreans.  Except they have guns and can shoot us.  They watch us through binoculars. I wonder if they were befuddled by my Dr Who shirt?

Tomorrow: we cross the line.

Part 4 GANGNAM Style: Visiting North & South Korea 2014

October 23rd, 2014 at 8:59 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer

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This trip we had two opportunities to visit North Korea, once over the border, and once through one of the tunnels (now closed, obviously) dug by NK to invade South Korea. It’s important to understand that North & South Korea are buffered by a DMZ – De-Militarised Zone. It’s a narrow strip of no mans land full of mines and fences. There was no peace treaty signed by the two Koreas so technically they are still ‘at war.’ The North vs South fences do not abutt eachother, there’s a wide fenced off neutral zone inbetween. This helps relieve tensions and fatal incidents (more of which later). This area converges together at the famous Joint Security (JSA) Demilitarised Zone which I’ll post on tomorrow.

It is vital to bring a passport or you cannot visit. It’s an early start for us, and at the Incheon subway station en route to Seoul where we’ll catch a bus, it transpires more than one of our party has forgotten to bring theirs. So Male50Something is dispatched at a trot back to the hotel to open various rooms, and safes, and recover missing passports.

Walking through the bus at Seoul, the passports are assiduously checked by serious-minded soldiers. They pause and check your photo against your mug, peering into your face for inherent terrorism. I pull my best ambivalent pacifist look. Anyone without a passport is taken from the bus. Serious stuff.

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The first view of North Korea is across the Han River where it runs into the Yellow Sea. The shoreline is heavily fenced with watchtowers at regular intervals, which makes you feel you are inside a camp. It runs for miles and miles closing off this watery weak spot along the border. You can see this barrier in the left hand corner of this photo returning from the DMZ, which is an exhausting place, zonking out two of our party.

The first bus stop is Imjingak Tourist Park, at Paju, Gyeonggi-do, which bares several scars from the Korean War. It’s the closest borderland to the DMZ and is the hub from which you get to grips with North Korea at the Dora Observatory, Dora Station and the 3rdTunnel.

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This is Imjingak

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Imjingak Park was built so that refugees from North Korea could face the home of their ancestors and pay homage. There’s a viewing platform offering a glimpse of North Korea and it’s also home to the Freedom Bridge, built in 1953 to bring 12,773 prisoners across. You can also see the bullet-ridden train that once ran the railway between North and South Korea. There’s a huge Tibetan-like Freedom Bell. The S.Koreans are deeply committed to peace and unification and have thoughtful memorials and displays like this “Peace Wall” throughout the Imjingak leisure park.

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This interesting artwork is made of rocks collected from different battlefields in 64 nations. It’s a memorial to the futility of war. That’s actually North Korea DMZ behind the wall memorial.

From Imjingak we take the bus to the Dora Observatory and military base. This features a wide walled balcony from which we can observe North Korea across the DMZ.  There is a yellow line, across which you cannot take photos (so you cannot shoot North Korea, and we are advised to strictly follow this protocol). Looking out through the observation binoculars I can see a North Korean man working some rice fields. It is very quiet, no vehicles moving people or activity.  We are told many of the buildings are actually fake (iemovie props).  They can tell this, as the windows do not match the supposed floor laterals.

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But perhaps the highlight at Dora is one of the many North Korea tunnels discovered at this location. No photos are allowed. Before you go in, there is a small museum and we are briefed on how the tunnels were discovered, and why they were made.  There are several interesting artifacts. The wall plaque below shows the discovery.  They are so deep, almost 80m they are very difficult to locate.  Soldiers go in and listen, just like WWI.

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We don hard hats and are taken in to Tunnel 3.  It is 400m long and 76m deep, one of 4 found so far, dug by the North Koreans to attack Seoul from their side

(see map at top). It’s fascinating and eerie. It slopes down and is a long walk.  Quite hard for tall people, as it is Korean size and at 5 ft10” I have to stoop the whole way while walking which is hard work. Try 400m at a crouch.  You totally need the hard had, as the sound of dozens intermittently bashing against the exposed irregular rock ceiling echoes down the narrow corridor cut through solid rock.

It’s quite claustrophobic, so don’t go in if you are in any way anxious.  The walls and ceiling are a rusty coloured rock.  At the very end, we can see drilled holes where explosives were laid by the North Koreans, but most of the tunnel was hand cut. The termination is now a series of concrete chambers.  These sit three deep as bulwarks and one is filled with water.  Our end has an open window in the casement so you can see in for security purposes.

It is a very interesting experience, and technically, we cross over in to North Korea through this violating tunnel, now sealed with concrete bunker rooms. Maps show us the several tunnels attempted by the North (like Hamas into Palestine) through which North Korea intended to amass thousands of troops for a surprise invasion to take Seoul.

So this is quite serious stuff. The South Koreans are consequently very vigilant and continually listening and probing for tunnels.

Next time: The famous Joint Security (JSA) Demilitarised Zone. A really scary place.

GANGNAM Style: Visiting North & South Korea 2014 Part 3

October 22nd, 2014 at 9:00 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer

Koreans have a high work ethic and everyone works in Korea, from young to old. This may be because they have a much leaner welfare system than New Zealand [insert ACT policy quotes here]. You see few beggars and bums on the streets of Korea and lots of ancient grandparents minding family shops.

Which brings me to the bowing.  Korea is structured with social customs that EVERYONE honours.  A senior person is always deferred to (which had implications for Korean aircraft safety and protocols and prompted changes to inflight cockpit systems across all airlines. Co-pilots and junior staff had to be trained to question senior pilot decisions). For example, a younger person will always nod and use both hands to an older person, and serve them food or a drink, never in reverse.  An older person would only use one hand to reciprocate to a younger person, etc. This creates widespread respect and social cohesion between the generations, something we completely lack in urban NZ.

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Note the tiny cart underneath which will be pushed by an elderly person.

As an example of the work ethic, there appears to be a civil recycling system in the city, whereby businesses put all their clean rubbish outside, and an army of people come with little push trailers to collect it up. No sooner is it out, than it’s gone. I saw one man unpacking a fridge for his shop, and an elderly woman standing there waiting for the box. The army of collectors take it to numerous small back alley sorting yards on every other block, discretely tucked out of sight, where they sort it all by hand, and obviously sell the material.

We saw this in operation in a back alley self tour we took through the catacombs of Incheon to see what the city was really like for ordinary people. This process cuts down the need for rubbish trucks in the streets, which would be problematic. (Actually, a bus became cast down a sloping alley close to our hotel. Pretty funny observing the extrication). For the load you can see pictured, a person would receive a few dollars. These workers are often elderly people, perhaps without sons or daughters to support them. It’s a win-win system focused on people and their need to work and support themselves, keep the streets freer of trucks etc., and distributes recyclables locally. Again, an evolved social efficiency. Despite this, Incheon still has a litter problem.

Generally Korea is pretty clean and tidy, but quite badly littered in big public spaces (I guess just because there are so many people). But you do observe constant street sweeping with Harry Potter brooms by random people and shop owners.

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We saw only two ‘street people’ the whole time we were here. I think this is because Koreans are prepared to work and are less lazy than some Kiwis. I met this man in a Methodist Park dedicated to John Wesley and gave him some money. He was most appreciative and humble. None of the demanding attitude I meet quite often among NZ homeless persons who have a sense of entitlement.

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Prices and currency comparisons are easy in Korea. It’s Won 000s to the NZ $1, so $50,000 Won is $50 NZ Kiwis. Easy peasy when shopping and comparing. It’ll cost you about $20 for a full night out, drinks incl. which because of the number of restaurants, is much cheaper than in NZ.

I tried these silk worm bug casings (below). They are actually very nice. Also, periwinkle type shells – suck out the cooked thingy inside. Also very nice.

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Incheon is full of tall pack-‘em-in-sardine-style apartment buildings, and we noticed they are numbered 101 etc.  This helped us not to get lost, until we did, and then realised EVERY apartment skyscraper on every lock is numbered 101, 102 etc. So, that didn’t help. Despite a lot of utilitarian Soviet-style residential stacks, Incheon has some welcome modern architecture. I also like how the Koreans take a little time and not much expense, to paint the underbelly of their over bridges, so life at street level is a little more pleasant than Soviet concrete. A good idea for Christchurch. Such a simple inexpensive idea.

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Like London and NY, Incheon and Seoul are, by necessity, cities of subways. This is something Len Brown is attempting, but it’s simply too expensive for New Zealand. The subways are easily negotiated in a different language, are efficient, and very clean. But note your routes and take smart phone pics of your relevant stations.  You also need to talk to someone about the fare cards, how to top ‘em up at the machines, otherwise you’ll get marooned inside the labyrinths.  Best to travel in a pair or more, so you can hand back an access barrier card if your partner’s barrier pass has expired.  Problematic for us a few times.

Following a subway ride to Seoul it is a long bus ride to the North Korean border and the DMZ.  The pickup is a large square in Seoul, and while we were there, there were large memorials to the horrific ferry tragedy a few days earlier.  The outpouring of concern and care was very moving, and Koreans perhaps engage with such issues as much for the humanity as ‘correcting’ Korean mana, apologising and restoring balance.  For example, I went over and spoke to some police officers, but they did not want to be photographed with the ferry memorials in the background.

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The border with North Korea is scary.  This pic sets the tone.  More next time as we cross the border….


Part 2. GANGNAM Style: Visiting North & South Korea 2014

October 20th, 2014 at 9:00 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer

As mentioned last time… 

“Hilarimouse Engerish abounds.” Not wishing to be superior or disparaging but it is humorous seeing Engerish featuring so prominently across South Korea, such as the brightly neon-lit SODOMIA Hotel on Rodeo Street or the Queen’s Room. And it’s near cousins…

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 But at least there is “happymoney.”
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Hauling in to Incheon International Airportfrom Christchurch, the first thing I noticed was how QUIET everyone disgorging from the plane into the Incheon cattle yards are.  A large hall full of sardines, and EVERYONE is silent, respectful.  This seemed very unusual to me.  In European or American contexts, people would be chatting and talking. Not here. It appears to be a public mindset I suspect a survival instinct in a society so full of people.
I really like Incheon airport.  It is spacious, well-lit, caters to people, and has won several awards.  The architecture is spectacular. Public sculpture is very modern in South Korea.  Although, there are glitches.  This gigantic phallus on the main drag outside the airport.  “Sou Korea..velly fertile?” They even light it at night. Ahem.
7KoreaPic copy
ongdo Central Park is worth visiting.  It has the distinctive “Tri-Bowl” building. It supposedly represents the “sky (airport),” “sea (port),” and “land (metropolitan traffic network)” but I just see inverted Columbia space shuttle booster rockets.
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Then of course, there is this (below) [not photoshopped].  “Sou’ Korean boys… velly good flow.”
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Korean food is flavourable and delicious; the style is to go to open air BBQs where the staff roast different meats in front of you and you wrap it in various vegetables and edible leaves with your fingers. A common drink is Soju (“burned liquor”) which is like Saki. Korean food is balanced with good fresh vegetables. Cost-wise Korea is about the same as NZ but eating out is a bit cheaper because they have the populace to drive down establishment costs, something we should consider in NZ (ie try some Immigration).
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Being rather high up, and from Christchurch, we were perturbed to find this small wooden box in the closet in case of fire. I guess you climb inside it? Inside was a tinfoil fire blanket and a thin rope that you tie to a hook on the wall by the window that doesn’t open. We spent about 20 minutes each trying to open the window at various stages of our stay, which is set ajar. Merely a hope of saving yourself as you burn to death. We never did work out how the box would help. Maybe just tentatively reassuring and ticking a hotel insurance box.  Everything inside was completely useless.

Part of our visit was for a wedding. One of my new relatives is Eun Yee Un who collected us and was a marvelous host, but knows not a shred of English, or us Korean. Yet we communicated well and thoroughly enjoyed eachothers company all week.  Lots of smiling and nodding and laughing, universal human language.  Koreans are most generous.

Next time…off to North Korea.

GANGNAM Style: Visiting North & South Korea 2014. Part 1

October 17th, 2014 at 11:00 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer

My eldest son lives and works in South Korea, and recently we got an opportunity to visit there as well as North Korea. Despite being well-travelled it was actually my first visit to Asia so I jumped at the chance (North Korea fascinates and appalls me). So, swinging in both wives and two Off Springs, it afforded an occasion to post some reflections by Kiwis and an American in our party of five on ‘Megasia’ in the style of DPF’s yak haul up to Base Camp earlier this year. The Marathon Runner followed me to parliament, so here’s some reverse serendipidy in the spirit of Political Hack (not Yak) Travel Blogginess.

We used Incheon as base camp (Incheon is kind of a whole separate city suburb of Seoul, with its own International airport). Here is a typical street scene.

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Obviously the first thing that strikes you in Asia, is it is very busy. Incheon is also very young; lots of twittering yooths and fashionable androgenous lovelies. Young Koreans ape western fashions, hairstyles and looks to-the-max. There are actually seminars and forums on how to ‘look more western.’ This tends to result in boys looking like girls, and vice versa, or like Justin Bieber (who is neither), but I understand that is actually desirable today. Gender is so passé and nineties. Queue the 2014 man/woman Labour nominee for Whangarei Kelly Ellis, or the opening monologue of the Capaldi Dr Who [Strax on the ambivalence of gender].

I suppose this is symptomatic of living in a massive culture where conformity is everything. Contrary to western prejudice, all Asians do not look the same; that is just ignorant. My son can tell Japanese, Koreans, Chinese and Malaysians apart. They are also very competitive, as much as Aussie and Kiwis are (who do look the same).

Breakfast with my wives at the posh hotel (Benikea Incheon Royal Hotel, I know, sounds posh, aye?) and I’m hit immediately by the courtesy and customer service orientation (not a sexuality) of all Koreans. But Engerish is still a problem.

“Serial” instead of cereal at breakfast written in perfect calligraphic penmanship and slotted in to a golden holder amid the virgin white napkins. This (inevitably) prompted a polite English Teacher “see me” guidance and correction on a napkin handed respectfully to the Consiergé so-as not to embarrass. Can’t help myself.

Hilarimouse Engerish abounds. Not wishing to be superior or disparaging…[Tune in for Part 2 soon].

Below: Something odd for breakfast. When traveling I am adventurous (more on that later). These actually turned out to be lychees, so not so weird after all.
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Monday Motivator – Koh Russei Serenity

May 19th, 2014 at 11:13 am by Richard Hume

Monday Motivator 22

Koh Russei Serenity, Koh Russei Island, Cambodia

Cambodia is an amazing country to visit and offers just so much to the traveller looking for a little more than the ‘usual’ – if you have been there you will know what I mean. One thing I didn’t expect was the amazing set of islands off the coast of Sihanoukville.

Located in the Gulf Of Thailand several kilometers of the mainland Koh Russei Island was a lovely place to spend a few days. Each evening I would make the short trek across the island through a forest and past a military base to this stunning and deserted beach to capture the sunset.

Click on the image for a larger view of this photograph.


Richard []

YouTube: Timeless – A Panoramic Journey

Monday Motivator – Scenic Highway 163

January 13th, 2014 at 9:39 am by Richard Hume

Monday Motivator 9

Scenic Highway 163, Monument Valley, USA

I love visiting the USA and am always blown away by the amazing photo opportunities this incredible country offers.

If you have ever been to Monument Valley then you will know how immense this landscape is. This photograph was taken early one morning along Sate Highway 163 as I looked for an alternative view of the famous spires.

Click on the image for a larger view of this photograph.

Free Wallpaper – Desktop or iPad

You can download it as a free Desktop Wallpaper HERE  – Last weeks photo ‘Delicate Arch’ is also available – please share with your friends.


Richard []

Monday Motivator – Delicate Arch

January 6th, 2014 at 9:35 am by Richard Hume

Monday Motivator 8

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah, USA

A very happy 2014 to you all. I hope like me you have got out and about in the last few weeks either locally or overseas. I have hit some beaches in Northland and have some new photographs to look forward to seeing. I always get my motivation by planning my  next photographic trip, so for me I am just putting some final touches to a South Island trip which I think is going to be really special.

Being that today is the first day back to work for many a little motivation may be in order – I selected this photo simply because it is an awe inspiring location.

Click on the image for a larger view of this photograph.

We are doing some maintenance on the website this week so this photograph will be available as a wallpaper download next week.


Richard []


Weekly Wallpaper | Mount Egmont / Taranaki From Wai-iti Beach

December 12th, 2013 at 2:27 pm by Todd Sisson
Mount Egmont at sunset, Waiiti Beach, Taranaki, New Zealand - stock photo, canvas, fine art print

Mount Taranaki / Egmont at sunset. Viewed from Waiiti Beach, Taranaki. New Zealand landscape photography by Sarah Sisson

My four week winning streak with posting Wednesday Wallpapers on an actual Wednesday came to a grinding halt yesterday due to flaky internet service all day.  The frustration was well worth it though –  as van-loads of embattled Chorus technicians were hooking up the new fibre cabinet down the road – our rural ADSL speeds have more than doubled overnight!

Today’s image was made by Sarah during our caravan delivery trip, last school holidays and I am posting this as a ‘reminder-to-self’ that the world will keep turning when school breaks up tomorrow 😉

See you next week!

Cheers – Todd

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Cheers – Todd [website] [facebook] [Blog]

Wednesday Wallpaper | Sunset From Punakaiki, West Coast

December 4th, 2013 at 9:25 am by Todd Sisson
Punakaiki Beach at Sunset, West Coast, South Island. Beautiful New Zealand landscape pictures by Todd Sisson.

Punakaiki Beach at Sunset, West Coast, South Island. New Zealand landscape photography by Todd Sisson.

This week’s wallpaper was made during the middle of ‘winter’ over on the West Coast – it was barely worth wearing a jersey.  This balminess was quickly remedied with an 8 hour drive back to Central Otago 😉

There’s a little story about the making of this shot on the blog, including details of my questionable child-minding skills…

See you next week!

Cheers – Todd

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This image is now available as a limited edition Canvas Print Framed Print | Fine Art Photographic Print.

Thanks for your support!

Cheers – Todd [website] [facebook] [Blog]

Wednesday Wallpaper | Crown Range View, Queenstown NZ

November 27th, 2013 at 11:31 am by Todd Sisson
Late Afternoon, Crown Range Road, Queenstown, New Zealand - stock photo, canvas, fine art print

Late afternoon scenic view from the Crown Range saddle. Queenstown, New Zealand. Landscape photography by Sarah Sisson.

This week’s wallpaper was made, by Sarah, earlier this month during a workshop in Queenstown.

You can read a little more about it over on the blog, including shooting data (for any tech-heads or out there)

See you next week!

Cheers – Todd

Free Wallpaper Download

You may download the large version of today’s image from this link:   Password = wwp

This image is now available as a limited edition Canvas Print Framed Print | Fine Art Photographic Print 

Thanks for your support!

Cheers – Todd [website] [facebook] [Blog]

Wednesday Wallpaper | Sunrise At Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes

November 20th, 2013 at 7:14 am by Todd Sisson
First light plays out on Mount Robert - viewed from the jetty at Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes.  New Zealand landscape photography by Todd Sisson.

First light plays out on Mount Robert – viewed from the jetty at Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes. New Zealand landscape photography by Todd Sisson.

I love this spot.*

I grew up in Nelson and I recall many fun visits to Lake Rotoiti with family, schools and scouts over the years – I even learned to ski up at Mount Robert, before  global warming (cue flamefest) left it looking like this in mid winter…

This image was made the day after my Grandfather’s funeral back in August, adding another layer to my catalog of Lake Rotoiti memories.

Cheers – Todd

*the sandflies suck – those I don’t love…

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The image can also be found on our website as a limited edition print.

Thanks for your support!

Cheers – Todd [website] [facebook] [Blog]

Wednesday Wallpaper | Spectacular Sunset Over Lake Pukaki

November 13th, 2013 at 1:36 pm by Todd Sisson
spectacular sunset and lenticular cloud formation over Lake Pukaki Mackenzie basin, south canterbury new zealand

We are on the road at present were blessed to witness this incredible sunset and lenticular cloud formation over Lake Pukaki last Saturday Night. Mackenzie Country, South Island New Zealand.  Photography By Todd Sisson

Yup – I’m back….

Apologies for the no-shows over the past month or so, the task of building our new website has proven significantly more taxing than expected – it feels as if we carved the thing out of granite (using our foreheads as chisels).

But the good news is that a bigger, better, faster site is now up and live (seemingly, after more budget and deadline blow-outs than a US defence force project).  Feel free to check it out – we even have a working blog (with real posts on it 😉

As to the photo – this is one of dozens of killer  images that Sarah & I are collecting on a very productive one week road trip in Canterbury.  Check out Sarah’s (superior) version of this scene here.

Cheers – Todd

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Wednesday Wallpaper | West Coast Sunset

September 4th, 2013 at 10:01 am by Todd Sisson
dramatic clouds and pounding surf at Sunset over the Tasman Sea, from Gentle Annie Beach, West Coast.  New Zealand landscape photography by Todd Sisson.

Sunset over the Tasman Sea, from Gentle Annie Beach, West Coast. New Zealand landscape photography by Todd Sisson.

This is an image from a road trip we did with the kids two weeks ago to Nelson and the West Coast. The wheels fell off somewhat (figuratively) with a death in the family occuring and a whole lot of re-planning required – hence my absence once again.

Anyway, we are back into ‘normal’ life this week and busy at work trying to finish the new website that we started building 2 years ago…

Cheers – Todd

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‘Weekly’ Wallpaper | Sunset Silhouette From Somewhere Southern

August 8th, 2013 at 12:54 pm by Todd Sisson
Photo of Row of pine trees silhouetted against vibrant sunset clouds. Rangitata Valley, Canterbury NZ.

A vivid Nor’ west sunset silhouettes a pine shelter belt somewhere in Canterbury New Zealand.  Photography by Todd Sisson


This is another image pulled from our new photography eBook  Living Landscapes which, I am relieved to report, is selling well and garnering some great reviews now that it is out in the wild.

I have been writing some regular ‘how to’ posts over at the publisher’s website that may interest the photographers amongst you:

I think DPF has been reading this stuff somewhere – his travel photography is getting quite impressive, I’ll have to up my game!

See you next week.

Cheers – Todd

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Wednesday Wallpaper | Sunrise over Moeraki Boulders

July 24th, 2013 at 12:17 pm by Todd Sisson
Cover image of landscape photography book Living Landscapes - Sunrise over Moeraki, North Otago New Zealand. Landscape photography by Todd Sisson.

Sunrise at Moeraki boulders, North Otago New Zealand. Landscape photography by Todd Sisson.

The cover shot for our new photography guide Living Landscapes, which went on sale today – check it out if you are interested in learning all of our nifty tricks and secrets 😉

This image is one of a series of interesting shots that I managed to capture one very productive morning at Moeraki – I wish all of my 5AM starts worked out this well….  The wave motion is not photoshop jiggery-pokery, it  is a 2 second long exposure made while the waves were receding (wet and frozen feet are a must for seascape photography).

See you next week!

Cheers – Todd

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Weekly Wallpaper | Two Thumb Range & Rangitata River

July 18th, 2013 at 11:14 am by Todd Sisson
Sunbeams over the Two Thumb range, Rangitata valley. Canterbury New Zealand.  Landscape photography by Todd Sisson

Sunbeams over the Two Thumb range, Rangitata valley. Canterbury New Zealand. Landscape photography by Todd Sisson

I was super tempted to post another Milford image today – just to stir the pot on the tunnel news.  However, I am away on holiday and didn’t relish the prospect of  playing the role of  ‘burning sphincter through which a partially digested enviro-flamefest passed’ on a sunny winter’s day 🙂  David has dutifully kicked off the debate over here though.

This image is another recent discovery from the archives that I used in our upcoming ebook (which will hit the e-shelves next Tuesday). Sorry about the PC-desktop unfriendly format, but I like this one a lot and just felt like sharing it.

Cheers – Todd

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Wednesday Wallpaper | The Road to Mount Cook, Autumn

July 10th, 2013 at 1:34 pm by Todd Sisson
Aoraki / Mount Cook from Peter's Lookout in Autumn, Canterbury, South Island, New Zealand - stock photo, canvas, fine art print

Mount Cook and SH 80 to the Hermitage – from Peter’s lookout. New Zealand landscape photography by Sarah Sisson.

I really should post one of my images again soon, but I keep finding nice ones by Sarah during my travels through the archive.

The beauty of this image is that up-and-coming landscapers like @Beautox and @FredInTheGrass can’t replicate it – some wandering greeny task-force have bowled the infestation of wilding larches that give this scene its Nordic Autumnal vibe….

Cheers – Todd

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Wednesday Wallpaper | Whale Bay

July 3rd, 2013 at 1:28 pm by Todd Sisson
Summer time view of Whale Bay, Tutukaka Coast, North Island. New Zealand photography by Sarah Sisson.

Summertime view of Whale Bay, Tutukaka Coast, North Island. New Zealand photography by Sarah Sisson.

Yet again I find myself drawn to another warm beach image….

The landscape photography eBook that has consumed my life for the past month is now in the hands of the designer and should be hitting the ‘shelves’ late this month.

In more uncharacteristically collaborative news – Sarah & I will be instructing at the first of celebrity HDR photographer Trey Ratcliff’s New Zealand Photo Adventures in late October (don’t hate me @Beautox! ;-).  Check out the details – not cheap, but certainly a world class experience.

Cheers – Todd

Free Wallpaper Download

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Canvas Prints

This image is available on the website, – I have also just loaded last week’s Cathedral Cove image .

Thanks for your support!

Cheers – Todd [] [facebook]

Wednesday Wallpaper | Cathedral Cove Sunrise, Coromandel

June 19th, 2013 at 11:31 am by Todd Sisson
Coromandel Peninsula New Zealand.  Landscape photography by Sarah Sisson

Sunrise through the cave at Cathedral Cove, Coromandel Peninsula New Zealand. Landscape photography by Sarah Sisson

This beautiful scene was beautifully captured by Sarah during our very productive visit to Cathedral Cove last December.  A little warm beach action would not go amiss at present – I tells ya!

I’ve been chained to my computer for the past month (largely unconnected to the web) in order to write a behemoth ebook on the art of landscape photography.  It is off  for editing and design at present and should be back in the next few weeks – I’ll keep you posted….

Cheers – Todd

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Wednesday Wallpaper | Morning Mist, South Westland

June 5th, 2013 at 9:24 am by Todd Sisson
Early morning mist near Fox Glacier.  West Coast, South Island New Zealand.  Photography by Todd Sisson.

Early morning mist near Fox Glacier. West Coast, South Island New Zealand. Photography by Todd Sisson.

Morning mist and mellowness is the tone of today’s wallpaper. This was made somewhere on the Fox Glacier flats, near Lake Matheson – if you look closely, the Southern Alps are visible in the top right.

Cheers – Todd

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See you next week!

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Wednesday Wallpaper | Mitre Peak Mirror Reflection – Milford Sound

May 15th, 2013 at 10:21 am by Todd Sisson
Mirror reflection of Mitre Peak in Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park. South Island, New Zealand.  Photography by Todd Sisson

Mirror reflection of Mitre Peak in Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park. South Island, New Zealand. Photography by Todd Sisson

It’s Wednesday Wallpaper / (Fortnightly Foto?) time again.

This week we return to Fiordland for a majestic morning view of Mitre Peak & Milford Sound.

Apologies for the gratuitous use of alliteration…

Cheers – Todd

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See you next week!

Cheers – Todd [] [facebook]