From the Underground to the Top of the World

I must admit, it is getting hard to keep track of what happens between one day and the next.  So far there has been so much to do and not even remotely enough time for me to stop and enjoy everything that I wish to see and do here.  However, it is but only the first week still and there is much more time to dip my toes into the vast ocean that lies about me.  That being said, I will likely be writing this across the course of the week, instead of during just one session as I did with the last post.  Hopefully that will allow for better clarity on specific topics and a more detailed experience overall.  Moreover, I may experiment with just telling individual stories, events, or intriguing things that I find interesting, if but only for simplicity’s sake.  However I chose to write though, thank you all for your continued support.  It really does mean quite a bit to me.  But, without further ado, let’s talk.

The Party Never Stops

O.K. well maybe it stops after 3 a.m. but by and large I am quickly learning that the U.K. and likely the rest of Europe have a festive stamina that vastly dwarfs what constitutes mine.  Now don’t get me wrong, shaking me arse at a local shindig is all well and good, but I doubt I would be able to keep up with the rest of the general population.  I suppose it may just be the exhaustion of orientation week taking its toll, but from my limited experience I have a lot of work to do if I am going to keep pace.  After all, most clubs and pubs are open 7 days a week and you will find people at these establishments every night of the week.  For while in the States the average schedule to go out is dominantly Friday and Saturday night with a sprinkling of Thursday too, overseas there is quite a different mantra.  Simply put, there is never a bad time to go out.  In fact, since many students don’t have classes on Wednesday, Tuesday nights are particularly a draw to go out on the town.  This is because students at UE normally have lectures Monday and Tuesday, which are at set times.  Tutorials take place during the remainder of the week, and while they can occur on Monday and Tuesday as well it is up to the student to choose their tutorial and workshop times from a selection.  Thus, many students have either Wednesday or Friday off (as it happens my Fridays are free as well 😉 ).  In short, the term “school night” isn’t necessarily a thing here.  If I had to hypothesize why, I would say that this results from the fact that the majority of work here is done outside of class; by work I mean studying.  Frankly there just isn’t that much work to be done here.  For most courses, 50% of your grade constitutes the final exam, and the other 50% is either divided up into 1-3 papers and perhaps an assignment or two.  Moreover, grading here is particularly harsh.  While they do use a 0-100 scale, getting a 70 or above is exemplary.  Most students fall between 50-60 on their grading, but I see no reason why I can’t aim to hit 90 or above.  Gotta aim high, right?  Back to the matter at hand though; since independent studying is the tried and tested main way of learning here, that opens up the week to all sorts of adventures.  Personally, I’m not one to drink on a weeknight.  I’d rather go to the gym or do something productive.  Though … when in Scotland …

Mac, I Hardly Ken Ye

The Three Sisters is a great place.  Half club, half pub, half outdoors, and half underground.  You won’t find it on a “best of Edinburgh” list, and its clientele is a bit older than the average uni student, but it has a unique atmosphere, good music, and it’s only a 15 minute walk from Hermit’s Croft.  If you’ll recall my last post I described how I stepped up to the karaoke stage and lit it up with some T Swizz, but that was only Thursday night.  On Friday, there was simply more.  More people, more decibels, and definitely more alcohol. I can tell that y’all are probably cringing in anticipation of what I have to say, so I’ll just get too it.  At some point, during some song, I climbed onto the table where my friends and I were sitting and got on my knees and just air guitared like my life depended on it.  Thankfully, someone pulled me down after 10 seconds or so.  I wasn’t yelled at, or kicked out, but politely told “Don’t do that”.  In retrospect, it was a stupid thing to do, but people laughed and nothing broke so I suppose all’s well that ends well.

The night wasn’t over though, and somewhere between belting out “Cold Water” and grabbing another pint I had to make my way to the washroom.  What occurred was an event that prompted a discussion between myself and my friend Mac, as well as the washroom attendant.

Washing my hands

Mac: “Hey, there’s all this spray here, you could use any of it and smell all sorts of fantastic for the ladies.”

Cam: “Not a bad idea, green is my color, the green bottle it is!”

Sprays myself down like I haven’t showered in a week. Turns to leave.

Washroom Attendant: Grabs my arm “That’s not free.”

Looks down to see that there is indeed a change collector on the table.  Realizes that all my change is in my coat out on the dance floor.

Mac/Cam: In unison “OH SHIT.”

Without thinking, reach into my wallet and pull out the lowest amount of money that I have, a five pound note, and drop it in the change collector.  Attendant is delighted, and lets me leave.

Mac: “I gotchu bro.”

Cam: “THAT WAS FIVE POUNDS!  YOU STUPID IDIOT!  WHY DO I HANG OUT WITH YOU?”

Mac: “‘Cause I’m goooood.”

Cam: “Good at what?”

Mac: “You know ;).”

For those didn’t catch that Mac and I are in fact one and the same person, I hope that it isn’t too much of a revelation.  I find that saying Mac is much more polite to myself than saying “Drunk Cam”.  Before anyone thinks lesser of me though, I will say that I do know my limits, and am very cautious about how much I drink.  I just decided to drink a little more than normal the other night is all.  Moreover, I don’t actually talk to myself when I am a little twisted, but it does make for a good way of telling the story though.  That night taught me a lot of things, and while I did embarrass myself a bit I did gain a new understanding for pub life.  Namely:

  1. Always keep some change on you, especially if you go to use the washroom.
  2. Dance on the floor, not the table.  If they have a stage, it’s probably O.K. to dance there too, just check to see if others are as well.
  3. Scent up before you go out.  I already knew this one but I don’t have any cologne here yet.
  4. Squad up.  While it may be difficult to get into the club or pub as a group, it’s always nice to have some people to walk home with.  Thankfully I have a few American friends here to watch my back and were a blast to walk back with.

To conclude, here’s a life tip or two from me to you.  If you do go out, know your limit, as well as the rules and regs that each establishment has.  While they may not kick you out for doing something dumb, they could, and then you are the jackass in your squad that had to leave.  More than likely, if you do something stupid, you will be embarrassed, and will likely ostracize yourself from the local crowd.  Basically, don’t be a dick, to others, and to yourself.  Life is much more fun when you know what is going on around you and people are happy to be in your presence.

The Grass is Always Greener at the Top

Hiking is a proverbial right of passage back in the states, especially in a land as green and mountainous as Vermont.  Here in Edinburgh, the mountains that that would usually sit all around me are but relegated to a few ancient volcanic mounds, long dead and not about to engulf the city without warning.  Of these, Arthur’s Seat reigns as the highest and most notable peak, followed by the Castle Mound and Calton Hill.  As it happens, Arthur’s Seat and the Holyrood Park cliffs are but a five minute walk from my accommodation.  So, after rolling slowly out of bed following the preceding story (and popping a few ibuprofen), my fellow API kin Noah and Jack decided to summit the hill and take a seat upon King Arthur’s throne to the world.

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While not particularly long, the climb itself was a bit more demanding than Noah and I expected to find.  While Jack pushed up ahead, my calves screamed from climbing step after step that remind me of a journey right out of Grimm’s fairy tales.  It is important to note that there are two main ways up the hill; the stairs, as you can see above, and the ravine, which you can somewhat pick out in the top half of the picture.  Almost a straight drop down, this way caters to those who want the full and most rewarding experience of the hill.  Having gone down this way, I can only imagine the challenge it poses to those determined enough to traverse it.  Long story short, it’s on my to-do list.

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Once we finally reached the plateau that constitutes the top of the hill, I could not keep my breath to myself.  The view was simply stunning.  Miles upon miles of Scotland were visible in any direction, and even the wind could not diminish just how glorious of a day it was.  Everything felt right with the world.  Even the grass beneath my feet felt better on the soles of my shoes than any grass has before.  The air was clean, and a hint of seawater tingled my nostrils as I took the moment in.  Truly, I pondered, that I am further away from home than I ever have been before; and truly, I began to realize, that my home for the next few months was everything that my eyes could see.  With this in mind, I descended the mount, my hangover now completely worked off, and savored what had just come to pass.  Full minds however do not feed empty stomachs, so my companions and I descended into town to find a cheap but worthwhile meal to celebrate our new status as professional Scottish hill-climbers.   Thankfully, we had not far to go until we stumbled into this little place called BRAW Burger.  The friendly staff chatted us up and served one of the best burgers I had in a long time.  They even called the chips “fries” in honor of our stately heritage.  Well met, mates, thank ye kindly.

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A true staple of Edinburgh, I find myself lucky that I am but a five minute walk from one of the best views in all of Western Europe; and while I still have much more to see, I know know at least where I am and where I belong, at least for a few months to come.

You Can’t Beat the Hospitality of Drunken Irish Folks

Ah yes, the Irish, quite lovely people if I do say so myself.  I’ve only had but one experience with them here so far, but I found it amusing nonetheless.  This story occurs the night following the climb up Arthur’s Seat.

As typical Americans with nowhere to go and nothing to do, a few of my API kin and I decided to make the trek back to Three Sisters and dance our inhibitions of the unknown safely away.  As it was a Saturday night, the place was mobbed, and upon our entrance into the outside terrace we were greeted by a plethora of individuals whose inhibitions were already washed away in a sea of Guinness or whatever else was on offer that particular evening.  “Well”, I thought to myself, “I might as well try to fit in”, so I joined the queue for the barkeep and ordered up myself a pint of Guinness.  As I turned to walk back to my mates, these two lovely Irish people quickly started up a conversation with me.  Both my age,their names were Mark and Ria (I’m near 100% sure this was actually not her name, but it is how it reads in Snapchat)  they seemed sufficiently sloshed enough to not notice my American accent, so I attempted to understand their deep rooted dialect.  Mark, his arm on my shoulder and speaking 2 inches from my ear, asked me literally 5 different times where I hailed from, to which I replied the same answer each occurrence.  I would write a dialogue sequence below, but for the life of me I have no talent when it comes to writing the words of an intoxicated Irishman almost a week after the fact.  Yet I digress, and continued to converse with the two.  Ria was very kind, and was the first to ask for my social media.  Mark followed suit, but also made mention to follow him on YouTube, Instagram – the works.  He even proposed that if I ever needed a place to stay if I was ever near Limerick, I should just message him and he would find me a place to stay.  Hell of a nice offer, that.  I may just take him up on it should I travel that way.

In general, everyone I meet and talk to is more than willing to offer up a genuine sense of hospitality.  People are genuinely kind and want to know you, and will try to do what they can to accommodate you.  The concept of “strangers” in the U.S. does not reflect the attitude that people take towards each other here.  If you make the effort to get to know someone, it will likely be reciprocated back towards you.  Now, I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be any caution when approaching someone you do not know; I am saying that perhaps instead of raising our children to be wary of those that they don’t know we should teach them that everyone is a potential resource, friend, or just simply interesting to talk to.  Admittedly, I am a bit of a hypocrite on the matter, as I tend to stay fairly reserved and require a lot of courage to approach someone who I either fancy or need something from.  Regardless, I think it is a nice understanding that the people of the world are just like you and me, and have just as much to learn from me as I have to learn from them.  So thank you Mark and Ria.  Together, you showed me that the world can indeed be a friendly place, even if it is behind the guise of a few pints of Irish lager.

My relationship with the Irish aside, when we finally got into the heart of the club we decided to find the club section.  Situated on the level above, this area provided a larger dance floor, another bar, and a different style of music.  Moreover, they had tv’s where we could watch the Falcons crush the Seahawks in the NFL Divisional Playoff Round.  I ordered another drink and danced the night away with my friends Bridie, Britney, Lawson, Noah, and Mckenna.

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It was a fun night to be had by all.  However, I think Noah went above and beyond all my expectations for social interactions.  This kid talked to many, many people on the dance floor.  I’ve never seen someone so effortlessly mesh multiple squads the way this kid did.  In fact, when the rest of us decided to take off for the night, Noah continued his adventure with new faces and took a trip to Opium, another club not far away.  From what he has told me, it was “the best night of his entire life.”  He didn’t mention much as to why it was, but I’m sure it was a night to remember.  Proud of you, Noah.

The next morning I was looking over my Snapchat when I saw that someone in Mark’s crew had ended up in one of the city bins.  I tell ya, the Irish go hard.

Sherlock is Dope

I’ve never seen the show until now, and while I mainly used the day after my adventure with the Irish for rest, later that day our RA’s had us gather for some events.  For the first, Noah, Lawson, and Myself went to their afternoon pub quiz.  In typical Statesmen fashion we named our team “We Gon’ Win”, yet sadly we only tied for second place … embarrassing I know.  Next, we had to attend the mandatory info session but on by facilities that essentially went as follows:

If you break shit, call here.

If you need shit fixed, email here.

Don’t be a dick to your neighbors.

etc. etc. etc.

Of course, they did not use such course language, but they really could have just sent us the powerpoint to look over.  C’mon people, simplicity is key! The real highlight was the room we were in.  Situated in the old college, we were sitting in some sort of library with vaulted ceilings and what I believe were busts of all the famous alums ever to cross through UE.  Sadly, I did not snap a photo, but it was quite a sight to behold.

The last event of the evening was a get together to watch the season 4 finale of “Sherlock”.  From API myself, Bridie, Emily, and Noah attended.  I also met some fellow Americans from D.C., who were kind and also political science majors (represent!).  I was sitting there chatting and talking Packers football with Bridie when it happened.  An hour and a half of un-commercialized, unadulterated, British TV gold.  I was blown away, and having never seen the show before I was highly impressed and entertained.  Seeing the Brits in the room go nuts over it was also a pleasure to see.  People take their Sherlock Holmes seriously over here, and since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle went to school at UE, I guess that was to be expected.  A neat little nugget from not so much of a crazy evening.

Class

Oh joy, this section.  O.K., here goes.  Classes here are different.  For starters, you only take three instead of the average 4-6 back in the states.  Next, you have three styles of classes, which are lectures, tutorials, and workshops.  Lectures are given once or twice a week and usually to a crowd of a few hundred people.  For example, my Political Thinkers lecture is in the main lecture hall, and the +/- 200 of us cannot ask questions for the time of the lecture.  Tutorials, on the other hand, are more personal, and usually 20 or so students will be assigned to a specific tutorial time.  Though I have not had one yet, my Introduction to Political Data Analysis tutorial will take place in a computer lab, where I will learn to use SPSS.  Lastly, workshops are also more personalized affairs, and this is where the students can really get down to the nitty gritty of what they are working with.  I have three language workshops for Intro to Gaelic a week, as it is necessary to cover the material in a personal setting.

As for the work, here are my graded assignments for the semester:

Data Analysis: One short research paper (800 words), One long research paper (3500 words), Final exam (This post alone is well over 3500 words, I got dis)

Intro to Gaelic: Two class tests, one paper (2000 words), Final exam

Political thinkers: One paper (2000 words), Final exam

That’s IT.  This is all I will be graded on for this semester.  11 weeks of classes, and my finals will take place anywhere from May 1st till the 26th.

My first reaction to this is “Fuck”.  Fewer assignments means less room for error.  Moreover, the grading system here is much harsher as well.  On a 0-100 scale, the average grade in the UK is anywhere from 45-60.  A 70 here is essentially an A back home.  Thankfully, they have a conversion chart to explain to my home Uni that just because I got a 65 doesn’t mean that I failed.  I don’t expect myself to get a 65 though.  If I put the effort in, and give it everything I have, I think I can realistically pull off an 80 or above.  That being said, it still has sunk my stomach a bit, and I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t nervous about it.  Actually, I’m quite nervous about it, but I have faith in my academic abilities and will look to put my best work forward as I always do.  I don’t think it will be easy, but nothing about this journey is.  If I cannot even handle my courses during my study abroad, then quite honestly I wouldn’t deserve to be here in the first place.  I am going to crush this shit.  Bring it on.

For now, classes are fine though, Poli Data doesn’t start until the 23rd, and Poli Thinkers is just the next step of the philosophy class I took last semester, so I’m already in the zone for that one.  Gaelic is a combination of language workshops and history lectures, so the dichotomy is not something I am particularly used to.  It is interesting though, and while the language is a bit tricky to pick up I am slowly getting the hang of it.  ‘S e mise Cameron.  Tha mi às na Stàtiean.  Tha mi sgìth.  Baby steps … baby steps.

I may start my papers soon.  I’ve always liked getting my work done early and the sooner I can do these the sooner I can just enjoy the rest of my time abroad without having to worry about work other than finals.  Gotta say, it feels weird to be a student when you truly have no desire to do schoolwork while you are abroad.  At the end of the day, I am here as a student though, and I need to fulfill my obligations to do well to myself and others back home.  So, Uni, here’s to you.

#Comebackjacked

For a reasonable £75 semester fee, I bought myself a gym membership here.  I had heard the rumors that UE had a world class gym, but I was truly blown away by the sheer epic scale of the place.  Cardio gym, free weights, more cardio, personal weight machines, olympic lift room, multiple squash courts, basketball courts, even more cardio, TRX room, yoga room, boxing room, core workout room, fitness class room, and multiple locker rooms for both sexes.  Anything you could ever want to do to make your body better is warehoused here.  Moreover, it’s always busy.  I’ve been three times now and the sheer volume of people looking to get fit is, well, intimidating.  Luckily, we are all there for the same purpose; it is nice to be in a place where everyone values their health.  That isn’t to say people back home do not, but it is definitely much more apparent here.  I’ve seen maybe five or six overweight people in the couple of weeks since my arrival.  To me, that is not only out of the ordinary, it’s damn impressive.  The States need to get their shit together.  I am trying to do my part at least; for while it is tempting to go pub crawling every night, the sheer amount of walking I do, when I work out, and what I eat is completely within my control, and if I can come back home more fit than I ever before that would be pretty amazing.

Societies, Clubs, and Comedy

I cannot even begin to describe just how many societies (a.k.a. clubs) there are here.  Aside from the 60+ sporting teams, there are over 200 societies that I could find myself at.  Harry Potter, Scandinavian, Archaeology, Murder Mystery, Whiskey Tasters, Debate, and Equestrian societies are but a small sampling of what I become a part of.  Out of the many though, I found a few that peaked my interest.

Grassroots comedy club is just a place where students and community members alike can go, hang out, and perform a five minute set or so every week at “The Underground” in the Teviot Rowhouse student center.  It has a bar, balcony, lighting up the wazzoo and is just a neat little club-esque atmosphere.  Now, while I did not get up on stage myself, I did manage to catch the first show of the semester with my flatmates Lawson and Fabian.  It was dope.  Trump jokes were rampant.  Brexit jokes were on point.  Nothing was safe, and it was glorious.  Regardless of the raw performances, there is no better way to wind down than with a pint and some good comedy.  One of the performers also happened to be a world class freestyle rapper, for without even a moments hesitation he wandered the room and spit verses based of of whatever we happened to be holding up at the time.  Simply unreal.  For a pound entry, it is definitely something I will attend again if I need to laugh for a bit.

While it wasn’t a club event per say, some folks were playing some live jazz at the Teviot Lounge on the upper floor of the student center the other night.  Lawson, Ian, Noah and rented a chessboard and enjoyed a night of some friendly competition with some great live music.  Not a big event, but worth a mention.

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As for the clubs I wish to participate in, I decided to try some things a little out of the ordinary.  The first one is African Drumming Society, or Drumsoc.  There isn’t much to this one, it literally is just a group of people getting together and jamming out on a collection of djimbes for 2 and a half hours.  I have had some exposure to the drum throughout my life, but it was truly a treat just to let go of all my thoughts for a while and just feel the percussive rhythms permeating my chest.  The concept is so unbelievably simple, but it feels so primal and energetic that I can’t help but smile just thinking about it.  Considering it’s only 5 quid for a semester membership, I think that I will stick with it.

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Next, I am going to try out the modern dance society.  WAIT WHAT?  Yes, you read that correctly.  For a small fee per class I can learn how to do Jazz, Irish, Tap, Ballroom, Ballet, or Hip Hop dance.  While it is only the last one that draws my interest (I have a guilty pleasure of watching the step up movies), I think it would be a neat little skill to have to go to a club and actually not look like a complete white boy who can only do the macarena and the lawn sprinkler.  Moreover, it would be an extra workout session and a nice way to relax on a Friday evening before I go out.  Tonight is the first class, and I cannot help but feel stoked about it.  Fingers crossed that I don’t make a complete ass of myself.

I almost forgot!  Exchange 360 is a society exclusively for exchange students.  Lawson and I went to their first society party at Dropkick Murphy’s last night, and it was a hell of a good time.  I chatted up some New Zealanders, Australians, Americans, and a few other foreigners that were also spending the semester here.  While I might not join the club, they do throw a good party.  Plus, I got a free Super Bowl ticket to watch the game at DM’s, so if nothing else that was a good reason to go.

From One Castle Town to Another

Edinburgh Castle.  Wow.  That was a place to see.  The location where they hold the famous Military Tattoo every year, this extinct volcanic mound is laden with almost 3000 years of human history, much of it violent.  Never taken by force, only surrendered, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that I was walking into Helm’s Deep when I stepped through the aptly named “killing zone”.  Frankly, I do not know how or why you would try a frontal assault on the place, as the casualties would be too immense to warrant an attack like that.  Moreover, the walls surround an area large enough to fit a small town, definitely large enough to maintain the population during a siege.  IMG_0056.JPG

Inside, it has become very modernized, with cafes and shops lining the main road that winds up to the citadel.  There, the Crown Jewels of Scotland, along with the hall of fallen soldiers, lie.  For security purposes and out of respect for the dead I was not able to take any photos of these places.  I will say though that the Stone of Destiny, upon which all royalty in the U.K. are crowned, looked mighty inviting to sit upon next to the ceremonial crown, sceptre, and sword of Scotland.  Maybe in another era they would have been mine to wear.  Perhaps even in this lifetime I may find a way to become worthy of these items, but that may be just a dream.  Not bad for a life goal though.

The Castle also housed a small monastery.  Built in the 11th century, people can still get married at this location, and while I cannot remember the name, it is apparently the oldest building in Edinburgh today.  Outside this building lies a massive gun.  Again, I forget the name, but it was used to shoot 2 foot diameter cannonballs for 2 miles.  150 pounds of gunpowder were needed to fire the beast, and I can only imagine the kill count it has.

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The Great Hall was also grand, and while the walls were lined with weaponry of all sorts, the vaulted ceiling is what caught my eye.  Almost 1000 years old, it is the last original piece of the Great Hall, and a true architectural beauty.

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There is so much I saw at the castle, and still so much more I wish to see there.  Sadly, I did not take enough photos or arrive early enough to get the full experience.  I will probably stop back sometime before I leave, but for when I went it was a truly royal experience.

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a view of Calton Hill
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Overlooking Prince’s St.
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Hall of Scottish Fallen Soldiers
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API squad minus Emily and Noah, great picture Tara!

How Can I Do It All?

That’s pretty much it.  There is so much to do in this city, and I have barely scratched the surface.  I am actually worried that I won’t exhaust the amount of things that I can do during my time abroad.  In fact, is that even really realistic or possible?  I truly am not sure.  I will give it my best shot though and continue to report back as truthfully as I can.  I doubt every blog post will turn into the 5000+ word extravaganza like this one did, but I am happy to keep writing as much as I am capable of doing.  It has been a very good, very long week.  Tha mi sgìth.  Thank you again for all your support.

One For The Fam

Check it out guys, I got my clan history books and a Grant clan tartan scarf!  My family, Pratt, is a sept, or sub-family of the Grant clan.  My mother’s name, Fraser, is one of the major clans like Grant and played a major role in the Jacobite Rebellions.  This is the land of my ancestors, and I gotta make time for them, too.

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2 thoughts on “From the Underground to the Top of the World

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