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Friday, July 01, 2011

N. China - Day 10, Part 1 - Datong, Yungang Grottoes

"Never explain--your friends do not need it and your enemies will not believe you anyway." - Elbert Hubbard

Except this way, your friends may become your enemies

***

N. China
Day 10 - 8th November - Datong, Yungang Grottoes
(Part 1)

I took the night train to Datong so I could see the Yungang Grottoes, but the night train was too fast so I got just under 6 hours of sleep.

This time I took the 软卧 (soft sleeper) again. They played muzak in the corridor, but it was soft and subtle, and not annoying Chinese radio chatter. It actually sounded a bit like Kenny G. However, even this expensive train had a guy spitting in the corridor. Gah.

When I exited Datong station there was some light snow, but it quickly passed. As I exited the station, I was ambushed by a Chinese man speaking in English and offering me a 9am tour. I declined at first, but then he showed me his CITS (China International Travel Service) badge. From Let's Go I'd heard that their tours were quite good, so I relented. Besides, his kungfu was excellent - he knew I was a foreigner even before I opened my mouth (probably because Chinese don't backpack).

The tours were to be 100¥ per person (if there were 3 of us), without lunch and admission. If there were 2, it'd cost 150¥ each. With a minimum of 5 people we could get lunch and admission for 330¥. Apparently if one person hired a car, it'd cost up to 400¥. So perhaps I had not been ripped off that much in Qufu. Then again, it was in the manager's interest to stress that his tour was better.

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"Hot water... 7:00-12:00, 17:00-24:00"
Ahh, the provinces!

He bundled me off with a Vietnamese guy living in Singapore and we went for breakfast.

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"性保健"
("Sexual health")
I love euphemisms. But as euphemisms go this isn't very euphemistic.

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The grit of a real Chinese city. Also see the dirty snow (it was the Vietnamese guy's first time seeing snow: I told him I was quite sad that this had to be his first time).

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"女人减肥"
("Slimming for Girls")
It must be an East Asian thing. This isn't even a big Chinese city!

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Eight Treasures porridge I had. You can see the Ninth Treasure at the top of the bowl and in the second photo. I asked the staff what the Eight Treasures were, and heard "Peanuts" before I lost track. I think there were Job's Tears inside as well.

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Meat Bing (wrapped) and Oil Bing ("油饼" literally, this was not mine)

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Lamb Internal Organs Noodles (I didn't have this)

My breakfast companion said China Southern Airlines was better than Tiger Airlines hah.

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My Meat Bing

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Menu of the place. Yes I know there's another word before 肉饼 but I don't recognise it so I'll just call it "Meat Bing".

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Sausages floating in glop

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Another sex shop. Maybe breathing in coal dust (the primary local industry is coal mining) makes one horny.

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Cock World Time Clocks in the hotel where the CITS office was. You can see that they stopped at different times.

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"Visit Singapore" ad on Qunar.com (a site to find out rail timetables)

The 3 most famous attractions here were:
1) The Yungang Grottoes
2) The Hanging Monastery
3) The Oldest Wooden Building in China (the Sakyamuni Pagoda aka the Yingxian Pagoda)

There were 4 of us in the end: me, the Vietnamese guy living in Singapore, a Malaysian Malay and a British guy working in Hong Kong. This was just enough to fit in a taxi (the manager didn't come along - his job was just to bring us together and coordinate with the taxi driver; if the 4 of us had hired the taxi ourselves, it'd have cost less than 400¥ - ahh coordination problems!), so we went on the tour visiting 1) and 2). We wouldn't be visiting Huayan Si in Datong but there would probably be no time anyway.

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"中国古都
天下大同"
"Ancient Chinese City
Datong Under Heaven"
This was on the taxi driver's headrest

I asked the cab driver if Yungang was a 5A site, and he said yes, adding that it was a World Heritage site. I said it would be my 88th, and he was stunned - perhaps because it was a lucky number.

The cab driver described most days' weather as "Ji1 Zhong1 Dong4 Re4". He was very proud of the best coal in Shanxi coming from Datong. I should've asked if the worst pollution in Shanxi was also in Datong.

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Yungang Grottoes complex entrance

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"Team against the ballot
Small pieces of storage
Explain the service centre"

The "service centre" was like a classy hotel.

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Service centre statue

I was a little disappointed to find that there were some renovation works going on. at Yungang However, I was delighted to find out that:

"经上级部门同意云冈石窟在景区建设期间热行门下30¥浮价"
("Since superiors have agreed Yungang Grottoes, during the renovations, will have a ticket price discount of 30¥")
This was the first time I'd ever seen this, and I certainly didn't expect it in China, where people try and squeeze every last Yuan out of you. So we paid only 100¥.

Before visiting the grottoes I had a look at a suspiciously clean temple complex (Ling Yan Temple): part of it was across the lake from the grottoes and another part was built on the approach to them.

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This is presumably one of the monks who came to this place, but I can't read his name.

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Processional gateway

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Elephant pillar
The elephant seems to have Indian influence.

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Carving of a procession

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Temple across the water

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Yungang caves across the lake

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Another suspiciously clean temple building

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Suspiciously clean beams

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Too-White Pagoda


Bells Chiming on Pagoda

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Hall at the end

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Carvings beside the steps

The men around the door told me that the temple was new (it'd been finished in September) and so by implication I should run along and see the real attractions here: the grottoes (it made me wonder why there were no information plaques around). All the same, it'd been a nice change from "Imperial" Beijing architecture.

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Painting inside hall


Apparently foreigners must join tours to go to Tibet.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Links - 28th June 2011

"As I grow older , I regret to say that a detestable habit of thinking seems to be getting a hold of me." - H. Rider Haggard

***

Language Log » Character Amnesia - "I've seen people stumped by even the simplified form of the character for "shrimp," xiā 虾, never mind the traditional form, 蝦, and Demick tells of "literate" people who cannot write zàijiàn 再見 ("goodbye") or "shampoo" (there are several possibilities). Even before computers, exceedingly few people could write both characters for "sneeze" (pēntì 噴嚏, simplified 噴嚏 [same]); though I've asked scores, I personally have never met any Chinese, including individuals with master's and doctor's degrees, who could do so... Because of their complexity and multiplicity, writing Chinese characters correctly is a highly neuromuscular task. One simply has to practice them hundreds and hundreds of times to master them. And, as with playing a musical instrument like a violin or a piano, one must practice writing them regularly or one's control over them will simply evaporate... is romanization inevitable?"

YouTube - 深圳 妙龄女子一吻救命 无惧危险用爱解危
Young man commiting suicide is saved by a female stranger's kiss

Diamond District sidewalks are paved with gold for Queens man - ""The streets of 47th Street are literally paved with gold"... The freelance diamond setter explained that he was sifting through "very valuable" New York City mud for tiny diamond and ruby chips, bits of platinum, white-gold industrial loops for jewelry assembly, and gold earring backs and loops from broken chains, watches, broaches and necklaces -- all carelessly dropped and now his to mine... Over six days, he says, he collected enough gold for two sales totaling $819"

Fukushima babies and how numbers can lie - "Human beings do not always behave the way some economists think we do. We're not totally rational creatures. And profit motive is not the only factor driving our choices. When you think about what information be skeptical of, that decision can't begin and end with "corporate interests"... we should [not] uncritically accept it when somebody says that radiation from Fukushima is killing babies in the United States. Just because the corporate interests are in the wrong doesn't mean that every claim against them is true"

Dating website for beautiful people dumps 30,000 members - "BeautifulPeople.com was attacked by a computer virus, some claim standards slipped and around 30,000 new members gained admittance... The website triggered anger in Ireland when it said that Irish men were among the ugliest in the world. This was based on the reasoning that only 9% of male Irish applicants to the site were accepted. Only 20% of Irish women are accepted, compared with nearly 70% of Swedish women who sign up. The prospects are even worse for British men, as according to Hodge, they are the most likely be rejected... Norwegian women and Swedish men have the greatest chance of being accepted into the club, while Brazilian and Danish men are also popular – along with women from Sweden and Iceland"

What Darwin's Doubters Get Wrong - "Fodor, Nagel, and Plantinga don't need to turn themselves into biochemists, but some awareness of the issues and advances would not be entirely misplaced. This total lack of interest in the science is surely suggestive. The critics are being driven by other, for them deeper, concerns. And as an evolutionist, I turn to the past for clues"

SHOULD YOU TEACH YOUR KIDS CHINESE? - ""

NHPR.org - Neuroscientists, Brain Injuries and Comic Books...Yeah
Head injuries in comic books mirror real life: They occur when helmets fly off, and they occur mostly to men

Death Star PR: An Open Letter to TIME Magazine re: Darth Vader - "In your article of June 17, you listed Darth Vader as the third worst "fictional" father... So many parents don't even care where their children are, or what they're up to, no matter the time of day or night. Not Darth Vader. When he couldn't find Luke, Vader dispatched thousands of remote probes into the far reaches of space. This was in spite of the fact that Luke had just become the Galaxy's Most Wanted terrorist, almost killed his dad and blown up 1.3 million of his friends and workmates. Are those the actions of a bad father? He even went to visit Luke on the ice planet Hoth and see how he was going at work, despite how far away it was and the fact that the climate there really plays hell with your cyborg body parts"

"Let's go to Japan" Meeting Tour for Global Singles - "You will be introduced to (and will be able to spend one on one time with) 10 different partners while visiting various tourist spots in Japan"

Just like in anime -- Chinese man gets nosebleed staring at hot chick

The Euphemism Treadmill - "Medical words like "idiot" and "retarded" became "mentally challenged" then "intellectually disabled" then "special" -- and now "special" is going out of favor (isn't that special?!) Yes, people use words to hurt others... Making words like "retarded" and "queer" taboo just give them more power to hurt. Embracing them takes that hurtful power away"

These ‘rules’ are already broken - "Setting out a cavalcade of rules that standard English does not comply with and never did, and representing them as instruction in how to write today, is dishonest... “Bad English”, lambasts words, phrases, and writers Heffer
dislikes... Unfortunately, we would be wasting our time discussing them with him; he speaks ex cathedra. “As a professional writer, I happen to believe that the ‘evidence’ of how I see English written by others, including some other professional writers, is not something by which I wish to be influenced”, he says (p.xviii). As he said in the Daily Telegraph (20 August), “English grammar shouldn’t be a matter for debate.” No point, then, in observing that they with singular antecedent, which he calls “abominable” (p.xiii), is found (“We can only know an actual person by observing their behaviour...”) in the writings of George Orwell, who Heffer calls “the finest writer of English prose”"

Scientist Makes Poop Burger (VIDEO) - "He combined the synthesized protein with soya and added some steak sauce for taste and dubbed it a burger. According to the video, which explains the process, it even tastes like beef"

5 fake sounds designed to help humans - "The car door clunk
The vroom of electric vehicles
The souped-up sound of stadiums
The secret static on your Skype call
The cashpoint whirr"

Logical punctuation: Should we start placing commas outside quotation marks? - "The British way simply makes more sense"

Doctors are not scientists - "Most readers of medical journals don't read the original articles. They may scan the abstract, but it's the rarest of beasts who reads an article from beginning to end, critically appraising it as he or she goes. Indeed, most doctors are incapable of critically appraising an article. They have never been trained to do so"

Female Infidelity May Violate Goose-gander Parity Principle - "Female cheating may just be a side effect of the enormous benefit males derive from spreading their seed as widely as possible."

Dark corners of the net - "Hackers spend time swapping tips about their favourite books, with choices ranging from Stephen King and a guidebook entitled 'Galactic Rebellion for Dummies' to the handbook of disenchanted youth, Catcher in the Rye. There is also mention of John Milton's 17th century epic poem Paradise Lost"

Scott Adams on feminist rage - "Is this an entire website dedicated to poor reading comprehension? I don’t think one of you understood the writing. You’re all hopping mad about your own misinterpretations... the content of the piece inspires so much emotion in some readers that they literally can’t understand it. The same would be true if the topic were about gun ownership or a dozen other topics. As emotion increases, reading comprehension decreases... You can see that the comments about the piece were little more than name-calling. When confronted with that sort of reaction, would it be wiser to treat the name-callers as you might treat respected professors with opinions worthy of consideration, or should you treat the name-callers as you would angry children, by not debating and not taking it personally?"

It’s Even Less in Your Genes - "Despite the evidence that organisms do not simply use resources present in the environment but, through their life activities, produce such resources and manufacture their environments, the distinction between organisms and their environments remains deeply embedded in our consciousness... The genes for IQ have never been found. Ironically, at the same time that genetics has ceased to be a popular explanation for human intellectual and temperamental differences, genetic theories for the causation of virtually every physical disorder have become the mode... [geneticists'] use of the terms “heritable” and “heritability” is so confusing that an attempt at its clarification occupies the last two chapters of The Mirage of a Space Between Nature and Nurture"

What's the connection between sex and happiness? - "Sex appears to have stronger effects on the happiness of highly educated people than those with low levels of education. The happiness- maximizing number of sexual partners in the previous year is 1. Homosexuality has no statistically significant effect on happiness, but a strong positive effect on the reported amount of sexual activity. Married people have more sex than those who are single, divorced, widowed, or separated. Money buys more sexual partners but not more sex."

YouTube - Lost In Austen: Trailer - "A thoroughly modern heroine threatens to ruin one of the worlds greatest literary love stories in this ingenious reinvention of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice"

France salutes end of military service - "Military experts have said conscripts are expensive to call up and then feed, clothe, house and train, but are of little use in a modern fighting force"

The Singapore Spirit

"The Singapore Spirit" is about surging GDP, money,... on Twitpic
"The Singapore Spirit" is about surging GDP, money, numbers and trend lines.

No surprises here.

Monday, June 27, 2011

France/Spain 2011 - Day 2, Part 6 - Hike to Perdition

"Any man who afflicts the human race with ideas must be prepared to see them misunderstood." - H. L. Mencken

***

France/Spain 2011
Day 2 - 18th March - Hike to Perdition
(Part 6)

I started hiking towards the Castle of Haut-Kœnigsbourg. Luckily I did it alone so I didn't slow anyone down.

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Roadside Shrine

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Châtenois church

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Grape vines

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Path and vines

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In the distance, the Château de Kintzheim

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Various destinations, including Santiago de Compostela, 2,259km away.

Having walked to Kintzheim, it was time to attack the path sloping up.

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Path

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Leaves looking like they belong to autumn

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The trail then went off the paved road

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And became a dirt track again

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Continuing through the forest

Tourist information had said the route was not too hard. The woman was WRONG.

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Both sides led to Haut-Kœnigsbourg. I took the shorter, hoping it was not deceptively so.

When I finally got to the castle, I found that it was under renovation.

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I also found that I had arrived at about 5:05pm, which was 5 minutes after the castle had closed; the supposedly 1 hour hike had taken 2. I tried telling 2 attendant my sob story, but neither was impressed and I was not let in (I was tempted to try crawling past the ticket booth, but among other things it was hard to do so after a difficult hike).

I was comforted by the knowledge that the most impressive part of a castle, from previous experience, was its exterior - and I could still see that. No, this is not sour grapes. Really. All in all, I rate this as my second most tragic travel story (the most tragic is when I walked what must have been 20km to the wrong lake and back)

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Portal of Honour

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South facade

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On the design of the South Facade

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Panorama

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Inside the courtyard (before ticket check)

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Ticket check (entrance to château)

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Site plaque and history

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Star Bastion

As I was being driven away from the château by a taxi driver, he suggested to me that a better idea would've been to take a taxi there and hike down. Ah well, hindsight. The taxi driver had come from Yugoslavia 45 years ago, and he confused me by saying that Yugoslavia had sent aid to Japan (he still referred to the group of countries as such). When I pointed out there was no more Yugoslavia, he said Bosnia and Serbia were the same (I doubt people in the Balkans would feel the same way now). Also he still had no local accent.

The taxi driver was tuned to France Musique, which I found a bit surreal because I subscribed to the same show (Histoire de... [la musique]) on podcast.

Adding insult to injury, I just missed 2 trains to Strasbourg, and the next train was supposed to arrive 1/2 hour late (in the end it came only 1 minute late - as opposed to Italy where the delay just keeps increasing). And for the second time in as many days, when I opened Orangina from a dispenser it overflowed on my fingers.

I'm not sure why people pay 2,5€ for a bottled drink from a shop when the vending machine a stone throw's away sells it for 2€.

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"A la memorie et en hommage aux français d'Alsace morts, victimes de leur incorporation de force dans l'armée allemande en violation du droit des gens
Ici
a commencé en octobre 1942
Le long cheminement de souffrances et de sacrifices qui les a menés vers leur destin tragique
Notre fidélité à leur souvenir restera garante de leur honneur"

("To the memory of and in homage to the dead French of Alsace, victims of their press ganging into the German army in violation of human rights
Here began in October 1942
The long road of suffering and sacrifice which led them to their tragic destiny
Our faithfulness to their memory guarantees their honour")

Another verbose World War II memorial. Given that conscription lasted in France for almost a century, this seems odd, to say the least.

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"Hotel-Wifi"
They're promoting their hotel for its wifi. That's sad. And it was locked anyway, bah.

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"Brules ta banque"
("Burn your bank")

An apparently homeless girl was sitting on the sidewalk with a dog on a leash. She was quite young, and usually homeless people are middle-aged and older and male. I had my suspicious. I gave her my pain aux amandes (almond pastry) I had bought with lunch and the dog growled at me, though it looked friendly. I would've petted it but it didn't seem like it would've been happy; homelessness does that to you. I wanted to take a photo but the flash might've made the dog angry (and the girl didn't want herself to be documented in my exposé of the failure of the welfare state [though she was fine with the dog] - maybe she wasn't really homeless), so I demurred.

I then made arrangements to meet locals for dinner and the next day over the phone. International SMS always had problems, so I called. Pay as you roam at $1.80/minute is an expensive way to practise a foreign language (especially given the indistinctness of telephone calls), ugh.

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Somehow unaccompanied minors cannot use this lift (they'd repaired the lift, and the wifi too!) And I don't know why there's a button for "appel d'urgence" (emergency call) - for a lift. In any event, 5 hot German teens ran into the elevator so I had no chance to take a proper shot.

When I got back to my room, I discovered a Taiwanese student on a Grand Tour of Europe. However he was eating what looked like Madeleines. He said he didn't like baguettes as they were too hard. I suggested he take advantage of 10€ lunch sets, and he said even 5€ for lunch was too much. Go figure.

For dinner I got driven to a restaurant in a ruined castle near Saverne - Haut Barr.

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The thinnest Tarte Flambée ever

I don't know how people just drink an apéritif during a meal - and no water. Alcohol just makes one more thirsty, no?

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Choucroute
I didn't like this, despite it being assorted pork products, as it was too bland (the mustard and horseradish didn't really help)

Talking to my host(s) I found that Alsatians still seemed upset at the Germans, not just for the annexation but also for conscription during the war. So they had to fight relatives in the French army.

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Crème brûlée

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Restaurant interior

Getting back to the hostel, I found that Haut-Kœnigsbourg used to have a shuttle in winter, but last winter there was snow and there had been a bus accident, so they changed the shuttle's availability. The guy added that the shuttle's details kept changing.

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Hostel restaurant menu. It's actually very interesting, and not just for the translations (their German seems better than their English).
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