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Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Poverty of Literary Rhetoric

"What we anticipate seldom occurs; what we least expected generally happens." - Benjamin Disraeli


While literature can be fun to read, one has problems when extracting ideas and theses from it and applying it to the real world.

Since the context of literature is itself, there is no external check on the validity of the morals we can draw from it.

This is showed up when you have 2 quotes which sound equally nice but which have diametrically opposite messages. Independently, both would seem compelling but juxtaposed, there is no way to adjudicate which one should prevail.

For example, we have everyone's favourite quote from The Unbearable Lightness of Being:

‎"Looking out over the courtyard at the dirty walls, he realized he had no idea whether it was hysteria or love.

And he was distressed that in a situation where a real man would instantly have known how to act, he was vacillating and therefore depriving the most beautiful moments he had ever experienced (kneeling at her bed and thinking he would not survive her death) of their meaning.

He remained annoyed with himself until he realized that not knowing what he wanted was actually quite natural.

We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come.

Was it better to be with Tereza or to remain alone?

There is no means of testing which decision is better, because there is no basis for comparison. We live everything as it comes, without warning, like an actor going on cold. And what can life be worth if the first rehearsal for life is life itself? That is why life is always like a sketch. No, sketch is not quite the word, because a sketch is an outline of something, the groundwork for a picture, whereas the
sketch that is our life is a sketch for nothing, an outline with no picture.

Einmal ist keinmal, says Tomas to himself. What happens but once, says the German adage, might as well not have happened at all. If we have only one life to live, we might as well not have lived at all."

And now we have another (much less well-known) extract, this time from Tony Parsons's One for my baby: a novel:

"Everybody wants one more chance."

"What's so bad about that?"

"It makes a mockery of the past. Can't you see that? It chops your life up into these little bite-sized morsels. If you have endless goes at getting it right, then you will never get it right. Not even once. Because constantly starting again turns the best thing in the world into just another takeout. Fast love. Junk love. Love to go."

"Don't you want one more chance, Alfie?"

"I've had my chance."

As a side note, literature's romantic obsession with extremes (as embodied in both extracts) is not just fallacious but perilous. The unexcluded middle is where we must all live in reality.

See also: A Point of View: Why books do not prepare us for real love (previously featured in this space)

My brother-in-law's latest bout of stupidity

My sister writes:

"Tabea [my cat] recently had a bout of conjunctivitis. She was given a bottle of eye drops, and was a v good girl about it,unresistingly allowed [my husband] to apply the eye drops for her.

Last week I also had a spot of eye trouble and was given eye cream by the GP. Unlike the conjunctivitis eye drops I have used before, this was a sticky viscous cream that does not 'drip' from the bottle. In fact it wasn't even a bottle but a tube, and the cream was the consistency of cake icing.

I asked [my husband] to apply my eye cream for me.

I was wondering why it was so fluid as I was expecting something sticky.

He realized he had used [the cat]'s eye drops on me.
Thankfully it appears no major harm was done, which is good, because [my husband] is rubbish as a seeing eye dog."

Links - 12th May 2011

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." - Voltaire (1694 - 1778), (Attributed); originated in "The Friends of Voltaire", 1906, by S. G. Tallentyre (Evelyn Beatrice Hall)


Multi-Tasking Can Make You Fat

STOMP - Singapore Seen - Sit properly when sleeping on the MRT -- especially if it's the Reserved Seat
"Isn't upskirting illegal? This person should be arrested for tsking this picture."

Text of Sr Consultant Dr Paul Tambyah's speech at SDP's Rally - "As a medical doctor, I come into contact with patients on a regular basis. I hear them tell me that in Singapore, you can afford to die but you cannot afford to get sick. I see people who have to sell their homes and move into rental flats to pay for their medical bills. Do you think this is right?... The problems with our healthcare system are known to you all – mostly they are about money... [Medishield] is the only national compulsory health insurance in the world that practices such cherry picking... Every year [Medifund] is not fully utilised as it is so restrictive... In fiscal year 2009, the Singapore government spent only 1.4% of GDP on healthcare – the lowest in the developed world... a government that is obsessed with annual KPIs and short term gains, cannot see far enough into the future... Do not be afraid that someone will track your vote. It is impossible. They cannot even catch a limping man in a baju kurung swimming across the sea with a rubber ducky... Dr Vivian Balakrishnan is an excellent eye surgeon. Singapore needs good eye surgeons. You can help return him to clinical practice"
Economics 101 meets Economics 404 again

Thank You, Sir! - On the Politics of Gratitude - "'a) We should be grateful to the PAP for what they have done all this while.'... On a logical level, I do not understand the notion of being 'grateful' to an institution that exists for - revelation! - the main purpose of serving a country's interests... gratitude is, in an impersonal sense, necessarily tied to supererogation: giving more than is required... It is odd and awkward to say, I suspect, that I am grateful to the Royal Mail for delivering my parcel... I'm relieved that my hairdresser Caz didn't screw up my haircut, but it doesn't quite translate into gratefulness. Above all, I might be glad for the existence of these services, especially when they prove themselves efficient... Evidently, Lee Hsien Loong went beyond his obligations as a human being to become our Prime Minister. For that reason, we ought to vote him in again. Am I the only person who thinks this is ludicrous?... I had a brilliant teacher who actively chose teaching over a high-paying job as a lawyer, because he believed it to be more meaningful... There is an element of personal sacrifice. Yet, what does this have to do with guaranteeing them their jobs? Should my teacher, then, never be sacked, even though he fails to impart the syllabus?... People do not tell each other to shut up because Labour once helped develop the NHS. I think our tendency towards simplistic gratitude is a symptom of how immature and stunted our democracy is, and we best abandon this nostalgic, irrational, backward-looking mindset if we wish to progress any further."

City Harvest Church encouraged congregation to vote PAP!

Jason Fried: Why work doesn't happen at work - "Managers and bosses will often have you think that the real distractions at work are things like Facebook and Twitter and Youtube and other websites... The real problems are what I like to call the M&M's, the managers and the meetings... managers are basically people whose job it is to interrupt people. That's pretty much what managers are for, they're for interrupting people. They don't really do the work, so they have to make sure everyone else is doing the work, which is an interruption... meetings are just toxic, terrible, poisonous things during the day at work"

Reasons for Supporting the Minimum Wage: Asking Signatories of the “Raise the Minimum Wage” Statement - "“A minimum wage increases unemployment among young and unskilled workers.” Over time, economists have become less favorable to the statement... The average level of support for the minimum wage is somewhat higher among labor economists than among AEA members"

Publication Selection Bias in Minimum-Wage Research? A Meta-Regression Analysis - "The minimum-wage effects literature is contaminated by publication selection bias, which we estimate to be slightly larger than the average reported minimum-wage effect. Once this publication selection is corrected, little or no evidence of a negative association between minimum wages and employment remains."

Why has the British National Minimum Wage had Little or No Impact on Employment? - "There is little or no evidence of any employment effects. The reasons for this include: an impact on hours rather than workers; employer wage setting and labour market frictions; offsets via the tax credit system; incomplete compliance; improvements in productivity; an increase in the relative price of minimum wage-produced consumer services; and a reduction in the relative profits of firms employing low paid workers"

Minimum wage effects in a developing country - "The available empirical minimum wage literature, which is mostly based on US evidence, is not very useful for analyzing developing countries, where the minimum wage affects many more workers and labour institutions and law enforcement differ in important ways. The main contribution of this paper is to present new empirical evidence on minimum wage effects for a large developing country, Brazil. Using a monthly household survey panel from 1982 to 2004 I find evidence of a wage compression effect for both the formal and informal sectors. Furthermore, I find no evidence of employment effects in either sector"

THE PUBLIC EDITOR; Is The New York Times a Liberal Newspaper? - "Apart from one excursion into the legal ramifications of custody battles (''Split Gay Couples Face Custody Hurdles,'' by Adam Liptak and Pam Belluck, March 24), potentially nettlesome effects of gay marriage have been virtually absent from The Times since the issue exploded last winter. The San Francisco Chronicle runs an uninflected article about Congressional testimony from a Stanford scholar making the case that gay marriage in the Netherlands has had a deleterious effect on heterosexual marriage. The Boston Globe explores the potential impact of same-sex marriage on tax revenues, and the paucity of reliable research on child-rearing in gay families. But in The Times, I have learned next to nothing about these issues, nor about partner abuse in the gay community... On a topic that has produced one of the defining debates of our time, Times editors have failed to provide the three-dimensional perspective balanced journalism requires. This has not occurred because of management fiat, but because getting outside one's own value system takes a great deal of self-questioning"

Snarky Adventures in PAP-Land - "I skipped over to George Yeo's Facebook Page, to get a feel of PAP voter sentiments. That is when I realised I had stumbled into an irony-free, sarcasm-proof place where good grammar and proper spelling retire to die. It was a little bit unsettling also to note how sycophantic and obsequious some of the remarks were...
Mohamed Sultan: I seriously think that Singapore education system is failing. Many do not know what is "Courtesy" & respect. If not because of founding father, the guy above will become cleaner in Malaysia & oversea. or he can be a fisherman.. :) fisherman from fishing village call Singapore.
Alfian Sa'at: I need look no further for evidence that Singapore's education system has spectacularly failed...
FC: Citizens of ALjunied GRC please vote wisely, if we lose a great Foreign Minister like Mr George Yeo, it would be the greatest loss of all SIngaporean.
Alfian Sa'at: We lose 10,000 Singaporeans every year because of the PAP's policies."

Teen fakes pregnancy as a school project

My vote is against fear - "My vote in GE 2011 will be against ideals and parties that disrespect me and my views. My vote will be against arrogance, bullying and intimidation. My vote is for a better place for humankind. My vote will be against fear."

Woman Uses Sperm from Oral Sex to Impregnate Self, Gets Child Support - "The courts ordered the man to pay about $800 a month child support in spite of his ex-girlfriends devious scheme"
Woo hoo! Feminism!

Photographer Ad FAIL

Mind the gap: Asian income gulf shows economic model's flaws - "Inequality, up to a point, is a spur to efficiency. But excessive inequality holds people back and stifles consumption. No one can be expected to spend freely if they have precarious, poorly paid jobs and scant social protection"

Why Going Green Can Make You a Jerk - "When people bought $25 worth of eco-friendly products, they were more likely to cheat, lie, and steal than people who spent $25 on non-eco products. Basically, the researchers trace that to The Green Halo Effect, meaning that when people do something objectively good by buying eco-friendly stuff, they think they've earned moral credit—and have the right to transgress in other areas"

The personal touch people moving into Potong Pasir used to get (picture)

LOW THIA KHIANG WINS BIG. WHAT NEXT? - "Twenty years ago, when the opposition won four seats, the newly elected Low declared, “This is the beginning of the next lap.” It was a quoteworthy soundbite, but wasn't the most accurate prediction. The opposition went into reverse gear after its 1991 success. Last night, Low asked Singaporeans to get ready to “walk this journey together towards a First World Parliament”. He may be no more prescient now than he was two decades ago"

Calling animals 'pets' is insulting, academics claim - "“Derogatory” language about animals can affect the way that they are treated. “Despite its prevalence, ‘pets’ is surely a derogatory term both of the animals concerned and their human carers,” the editorial claims. “Again the word ‘owners’, whilst technically correct in law, harks back to a previous age when animals were regarded as just that: property, machines or things to use without moral constraint”... Phrases such as “sly as a fox, “eat like a pig” or “drunk as a skunk” are all unfair to animals, they claim"

War Dog - "Dogs have been fighting alongside U.S. soldiers for more than 100 years, seeing combat in the Civil War and World War I"

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

$29 million a day vs $12 a day

Conversations - 11th May 2011

Me: The PAP is very good at Economics 101. Not so good at Economics 404

MFTTW: That's because we get Engineers to make Economic Policy

Someone: Women are so vicious
Gabriel I'm disturbed that you can come up with so many reasons for her malice

Obviously you've been doing too much research on the female psyche for your own good

Someone on a use of Freud: psych or english student?

Me: english, naturally
because he was a fraud

Someone: hahah
why is eng lit so fond of his theories?
don't they have any frameworks of their own

or is it because it's obsfuscating enough

Me: because he talks rubbish
and they like to talk rubbish

Someone: yeah lor

I can't think of any way in which the discipline has contributed to knowledge
serious navel gazing down there

Me: =D

@queenofejungle: i'm looking forward to seeing some castles in italy
too!! @drugstruck / Top 10 castles of the world

Me: Versailles is not a castle... Not all châteaux are castles. And
wtf Mont St Michel?!?! Anyway I've visited 4 haha

@queenofejungle: so cool! i wanna visit castles too and have a feel of

Me: Istana Garden (Sultan Garden) and the Sultan Palace, Johor Bahru | Limsimi.com - Johor Bahru Hunts

@queenofejungle: basket!

Someone: got pple scold me for not playing games haha
hard man

Me: huh who

Someone: my friends loh
say should have been harder to get
make him work harder

Me: your female friends ah

Someone: yar

Me: this is why dating in singapore sucks

Me: One song I'm not singing - "Indonesia my lovely country"

Someone else: what about "malaysia truly asia"

Me: It is truly Asia what:

- Bad weather
- Corruption
- Poor infrastructure
- Limited democracy

PPBI: "if a GRC falls I buy you one hour with a social escort of your choice."

so how?

Me: I feel like donating it to charity
you want?

PPBI: uhhhhh
no thanks

like hello

TC: so sad
make her happy!

Me: -_-

TC: hahaha am i irritating u

Me: I'm going to start sexually harassing you in french again

"Can Singapore cope with the Trojan horse of democracy?" - you can't make this shit up!

Can Singapore cope with the Trojan horse of democracy?

NOW that the euphoria of having an opposition party breach a bastion of People's Action Party - the multi-seat constituency that is the GRC - has settled somewhat, it may be worthwhile to examine the road ahead.

The Workers' Party's decisive capture of Aljunied GRC suggests that many opposition voters want an alternative voice to the Government; that they are tired of having a government that implements policies without enough consultation. Having an opposition voice in Parliament will alleviate this state of affairs, so they think.

But this may also reflect a negative mentality: have an alternative voice, or things would get worse. The WP's call for a First World Parliament is seductive but it does not sway me, having seen its effects when I lived abroad where alternative voices to the government proliferated.

Street marches and parliamentary debates are interesting side shows. But citizens in these countries must also bear with what many Singaporeans would find hard to imagine or accept - inefficient and unpredictable provision of social goods in transport, security and health care. Vandalism and crime rates are also high.

Governments often change hands between the major parties after each election, due largely to the inability of the politicians to fulfil their electoral promises, thereby leading to instability nationally. Perhaps we have come to take Singapore's efficiency for granted and thus hold the PAP to higher standards; an unintentional function perhaps of an overly efficient PAP government.

I am convinced by the rationale of some of the PAP's leaders that a small nation state like ours cannot expend unnecessary time and energy in formulating policy.

The reality that faces us is not replicable elsewhere. We simply do not have the resources to manage impasse after impasse.

Those with a liberal slant often carry a romantic ideal of a democracy where politicians debate for the good of the people.

Well, there have been many debates in these democracies, but name me one that has managed to achieve the good for most of its people, if not all?

Chan Jia Huan (Ms)

Presumably she doesn't say the pledge.

"Sometimes, the saddest thing about Singapore is not that we have an authoritarian government, but that the people think it's the best thing that's ever happened to them"

Review: Song Hua Jiang Restaurant ("Dog" meat)

So on Sunday evening I discovered that a place in Jurong East - in Singapore! - was advertising dog meat* on its menu.

* - There is supposedly "no known humane method of slaughtering dogs for human consumption", but then a vegetarian would say the same of animals in general.

Seeing the many xenophobic, hypocritical and/or self-righteous comments on EDMW, I knew I didn't have much time before they would stop selling it (if they had in the first place). However I had class on Monday, so the earliest I could make it was today.

At first I was supposed to go down with Edward and a friend of his. He was supposed to pretend to be a PRC, which would increase the odds of our getting the real thing, but when I was almost there I found out that he thought the whole thing was off since it supposedly wasn't real dog. However I was literally getting off the MRT at this point (it's within walking distance of Chinese Garden MRT - just opposite, in fact) so I decided to dine there, especially since Melvin told me that "actually i went there before. their food is quite good. their lamb skewers are nice" (though I didn't find lamb skewers on the menu)

"Song Hua Jiang Restaurant", Blk 350 Jurong East Ave 1 #01-1233 S(600350), one of 3 restaurants in the same row that look like they could've been plucked from China (except the menus have fewer translation errors)

It was full - presumably a result of the publicity. As they say, there's no such thing as bad publicity! So I had to wait 15 minutes before getting a seat. And the inside felt like China - I only heard one non-PRC table.

"Dog Meat Tripe in Sauce (False), $8" and "(False) Braised Dog Meat, Tofu and Dry Cabbage, S$14"
I asked if either was spicy, and was told the latter was spicy but could be made less so, while the former was not spicy. So I decided on the former (besides, it looked smaller)

Dog Meat Tripe in Sauce (False)
I'd eaten quite a bit for lunch (another story) so I didn't have any carbohydrates. Contrary to what I had been told, it was quite spicy - I wonder what the other would've tasted like. It was also a cold dish, and was quite nice (and a generous portion too), apart from being extremely salty.

As for the million dollar question - was it dog?

In newspaper interviews, the owner said that it was actually pork meat, but this didn't resemble pork meat, being too dark and rough. But then, it resembled dog meat even less - at least the dog meat I had at Pingyao:

Dog Meat Hotpot. The bona fide dog meat was more uneven in texture, had more fat, was more tender, was redder in colour and had a heavier taste (no wonder it's supposed to be heaty). But then different cuts of an animal can taste differently, so.

All in all, the meat it reminded me the most of was donkey (though I forgot to tell them that):

@liangkaixin's colleague bought some 'dog' back, and no one dared to eat it, but it didn't look like either 'dog' dish on the menu:

In fact, what her colleague bought most resembled:

"Chicken and Mushroom Soup"

The lady boss asked me "你是本地人?" and then commented "*a lot of things I didn't transcribe* 佛跳墙,里面是佛吗?" ("Are you local?... Buddha Jumps Over The Wall - do you find a Buddha inside?"). She also said they had been subject to telephone harassment.

I also decided to have some dessert:

"Eggs in Hot Toffee"
When I ordered this the girl told me that it was egg. Hurr hurr. Amusingly the English is more accurate than the (poetic) Chinese.

The dessert. Which came with a bowl of water - at the start, when it is too hot, you dip the fried egg into the water and it cools it down so it won't burn your mouth. I was skeptical at first but it really worked - and the dessert did not lose its crispiness. The egg itself was very light.

Closeup of strands of 'toffee' in the dessert. By the end there was a large disc of solidified 'toffee' left.

Amusingly, all throughout the evening, I heard "狗肉" ("Dog meat") uttered. But that's to be expected, given the publicity.

My Starhub data connection was awful at the restaurant, but when I stepped outside it improved. Perhaps this was a form of protection from hypocritical (at least the non-vegan ones - see my essay on animal rights), self-righteous Animal Activists, or xenophobes under the guise of Animal Activists.

At least my data connection worked for long enough for me to check the translation of "ashamed" in Mandarin ("羞愧"), so I could tell the lady boss that I was very ashamed on behalf of Singaporeans, and apologised to them on their behalf. She said that she was very 感动 (moved).

I mentioned to the lady boss that I'd had whale meat in Singapore before, and she asked me if it had not been a small portion. I agreed and she pointed out that if she was serving real dog meat, it wouldn't be such a generous portion. I concurred.

$15 of whale in 2009

I asked if business had improved in the last few days, and was told that it was normally this good. Then someone said something else about if business was bad, people would feel sorry for them, which I didn't really catch.

The quality of the food was quite good, and both dishes and 2 drinks (Aloe Vera water and some PRC drink) cost me $23.80. I should be going back again with Melvin and Ban Xiong (the owners said they sold the place for personal reasons, so we only have a few months!)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

On War, Revolution, Politics and the Left

"The only hope is that if Chamberlain wins and then begins seriously to prepare for war with Germany, as of course he will, the LP3 will be driven back to an anti-war policy in which they will be able to exploit the discontent with conscription etc. The policy of simultaneously shouting for a war policy and pretending to denounce conscription, rearmament etc. is utter nonsense and the general public aren't such bloody fools as not to see it. As to the results if war comes, although some kind of revolutionary situation will no doubt arise, I do not see how it can lead to anything except Fascism unless the Left has been anti-war from the outset. I have nothing but contempt for the fools who think that they can first drive the nation into a war for democracy and then when people are a bit fed up suddenly turn round and say "Now we'll have the revolution." What sickens me about left-wing people, especially the intellectuals, is their utter ignorance of the way things actually happen. I was always struck by this when I was in Burma and used to read anti-imperialist stuff. Did you see Kingsley Martin's ("Critic") article in last week's N.S. about the conditions on which the LP should support the Government in war. As though the Government would allow any conditions. The bloody fool seems to think war is a cricket match. I wish someone would print my anti-war pamphlet I wrote earlier this year, but of course no one will"

--- George Orwell, 12 October 1938

N. China - Day 9, Part 2 - Great Wall (Mutianyu)

"A door is what a dog is perpetually on the wrong side of." - Ogden Nash


N. China
Day 9 - 7th November - Great Wall (Mutianyu)
(Part 2)

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Mounting a cannon

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Sitting near a cannon

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Really strange souvenir to take

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Mountains and sole leaf on a branch

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Interior of a tower

On top of this tower, the wind suddenly threw up a flurry of leaves, which was a magnificent sight:

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Flying leaves and delighted Chinese

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Flying leaves without delighted Chinese

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Another mountain view, with unrestored sections in the distance

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Another mountain view, with unrestored sections far in the distance

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Restored section, cable car station and Homage to Mao ("忠于毛主席" - "Loyalty to Chairman Mao")

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A Red Bull cost ¥15. I think on Taishan near the top it had cost ¥10.

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Another near-vertical section

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"Vendors only" - this is how they avoid paying the admission fee

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"Flattering Angle"

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Yet another vertical section

And then, we came to the end of the restored section of the Wall.

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"Non-tourist section. No admission!"

Naturally, there was no fun in stopping there, so with some other intrepid tourists, we continued. Well I did anyway - Charis stopped after a while.

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Ruins stretching into oblivion

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The overgrown unrestored section

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Unrestored section and graffiti

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At parts the wall (in the sense of what was to our left and/or right) had eroded away, making for the possibility of an exciting tumble down the slope

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Ruined tower

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From my height, I could survey the wall extending into the distance - and decided to stop there, as it wouldn't get better. While it would probably get harder (clambering around towers and the like)

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More unrestored sections

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A survey of the distance I had hiked, with the paen to Mao in the background

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Ruined tower

I then made my way back

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Unrestored section which ran perpendicular to the official route

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Pensive man

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Gateway to the Unknown

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Charis Climbing

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I'm not sure wth these ang mohs were doing.
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