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YOU HEARD ME.

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while – it’s from Shanghai back in December at week 15 in China.

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PRIVACY!

For those of you who know me, I am usually a private, generally shy person.  Anything outside of my “normal” self is just a show.  I can pretend to be outgoing and social, but it is fake because I’m not comfortable that way.  Everyone is different.  I’m grateful that my husband understands and loves me all the same.  He’s a social person – much the opposite of me – but we are happy.  There is a balance between us.

I’ve never lived in an apartment before.  I lived at my mother & grandmother’s house my whole life – even through college in order to save money & buy a car.  Then I bought a house with my fiance (now husband).  I’ve always had a certain bit of privacy.  We purposely bought a home on the border of the  ‘country sticks’ for land and privacy.  After just about 2 years of living in our home, we agreed to move to China for 2 years…

Apartment living is “trying” to say the least.  Even though husband is a manager, we somehow live on the first floor – and EVERYONE can see into our home.  Apparently we arrived too late to get a better apartment.  It is nice and convenient to bring in groceries and furniture – until there is a small Chinese man taking a piss outside your bathroom window… or the landscapers walk around and peer into your living room window.  It’s pretty much a fish bowl.  One thing I never do is close curtains because I like natural light, sooo, peekaboo!  I see you too!  Also, the placement of our kitchen sink (and window) is RIGHT next to the main door to our building so anyone walking in or out of the building can see me all day washing dishes.

Adding insult to injury, the second and third floor residents can see the ocean… I KNOW it’s there, but the sand berm blocks any view.  As a photography enthusiast, I am devastated that I can’t see the ocean.  That was one thing I hoped to keep me happy here.

This problem is not unique to the expat village because almost all people in China live in an apartment – and the buildings are constructed ridiculously close.  I assume this is the reason why Chinese are so much less modest than Americans.  It is no big deal for a man to stop on the side of a busy main road in Shanghai and take a piss (not even bothering to look for a bush)…  Or a mother in Qingdao let her 10-year-old daughter drop her drawers outside of the Metro Supermarket and take a leak right along the busy road… or a woman in the sauna at a hotel in Shanghai take a complete shower with the door wide open while she talks to a topless old woman in a chair about 10 feet away…  Or a man take an…uhhh…. number 2 in the middle of the Forbidden City (maybe he was just showing his support for the Party?).

I wonder if there is even a translation for the words modesty, shame, and privacy in Mandarin?

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The ability to wake up in the morning and take a hot shower is a luxury that most Americans would never think twice about.  Unless you’ve lived through a natural disaster that has resulted in loss of home or major power outages, everyone typical experiences uninterrupted hot water heater service – whether electric or gas.

Now before I go on – we DO have a hot water heater, although it is far from a typical western appliance and is 10 times more temperamental.  Each apartment in the expat village is provided with a hot water tank located on the roof of our building.  In theory, these tanks are a wonderful example for the USA in terms of energy conservation – but that the extent of my positive review.

First of all, the tanks are ugly.  Most Americans take pride in having a beautiful home and yard, and these water heaters definitely cause an eye-sore.  I think that solar panels are more aesthetic because they are flat and follow the slope of a roofline.  Many homes in Haiyang use these hot water heaters because it is either this or a coal/wood burning stove beneath a pot in the bathroom (more information in a bit).

Water Heaters

The water heaters are a hybrid solar / electric appliance.  Electricity in China is extremely expensive so this evolved to make use of a more renewable heating source.  After some research, I’ve learned that this Solar Water Heating (SWH) is widely used in several countries including Greece, Turkey, Israel, Australia, Japan, Austria and of course China.  From what I understand, the exposed piping is metal tubing surrounded by a near-vacuum glass cylinder.  I’m not sure if water or a separate fluids flows through the exposed piping to heat the tank.  Regardless, on sunny days, our water can get pretty hot – I’ve seen it at 95C (about 200F).

The biggest problem with the tank is that is a gravity driven system, rather than forced.  The hot water pressure depends solely on the head pressure of the fluid in the tank.  As you empty the tank during a shower, the pressure drops drastically.  Our cold water supply is a much higher pressure.  When taking a shower, this difference in pressure makes it difficult to obtain a temperate water temperature.  When you turn the valve about 1 degree to the right or left of the “sweet spot” the water goes from scalding hot to freezing cold.  There are two ways to alleviate this, but in a foreign country – nothing is easy to accomplish.    Ideally we could make the hot water line a forced system by installing a pump – but I’m not paying for it and we aren’t allowed to make such changes.  Second would be to install an orrifice in the cold water like to lower the incoming pressure.  However, without an actual pressure reading and no clue where to buy appropriate parts, this isn’t practical either.  Not to mention – I need full water pressure when I clean the bathroom…. Mold growth is a serious problem…  Alas, we are stuck with a difficult shower.

Another thing I hate is – because it is a passive system – you need to “manually” fill the tank.  Thank God that means just pressing a button!  We have a control panel is the master bathroom:

Water Tank Control Panel

This panel tells us the rough level in the tank (25/50/75/100%), and the temperature of the water.  After a shower, or using ANY hot water, we are in the habit to push the far-right button (fill).  The far left button turns on the electric heater.  Right now our high-temperature is set at 80C – so at 80C, the electric heater will shut off.  If it is a sunny day, the temperature will continue to rise until the sun sets.  Unfortunately you cannot fill the tank while using hot water.  The fill valve is located in the master bathroom so the hot water is turned off during the “fill process”.

Although the tank is a pain because it must constantly be refilled and heated, the worst is when the pipes freeze.  This has happened a handful of times during extremely cold nights.  If the heat tracing doesn’t work, I spend hours flushing cold water up the pipe in an attempt to defrost.   Also, sometimes we lose power for up to 12 hours at a time… without the electric control panel, the tank cannot be refilled or heated.

As much as I complain – the alternative in China is much worse.  We recently had lunch at our driver’s home.  While there, husband used the toilet…  Our driver ran up ahead of him to manually fill a tank to flush because they have no running water at the toilet.  There was also no shower and no hot water.  They heat water in a pot with a stove in the bathroom to bathe.  It’s a different way of life, for sure

After all of this, I am so-very-greatful for our reliable hot water heater at home.

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I’ll admit, there were several things about being the woman in a marriage that never really appealed to me.  I used to love cleaning… until husband and I moved in together.  I grew up living with my mother, grandmother, and brother.  Great!  Three women to split up house chores, laundry, and cooking.  My brother, well… bless his heart… took advantage of all of that… hahaha!
Granted he had to deal with 3 women growing up, so I can’t say that I blame him…  He still takes advantage of it as an adult!  When we were back in Pittsburgh, he would come to our house, hang out, play video games with my husband…. AND bring his laundry for me to wash…  Then over Christmas this year in China,  my brother came to stay with us from South Korea (where he does research for his PhD in Electrical Engineering).  ….so what would you guess?!  He brought some dirty laundry for me to wash.  The reasoning?  We have a clothes dryer….  Granted, it takes over 2 hours to dry a load of laundry – and shrinks anything I leave in too long – but it is a DRYER!  Think about when you buy new towels or sheets…. They contain a crazy amount of lint every time you use them.  You dry yourself after a shower and feel like you need another shower to get rid of the fuzz that stuck to you the first time you showered.  I’ve always put towels through the washer/dryer a couple of times to alleviate the lint (and any remaining production chemicals & dyes).  …Fast forward to China…  It is NOT standard to use clothing dryers (AT ALL)… electricity is just way too expensive and most homes do not have a gas line like we do in the USA.  Fortunately, the company pays our electric bill so I have no issues running the dryer.  At first we had no towels and no sheets – – – and no dryer.   When you hang dry sheets & towels inside (only place we can do it), the lint gets everywhere.

This was before I invested in a vacuum cleaner…  It is a stupid follow-a-long with no rotating brushes.  I bought it at Metro in Qingdao… but guess what!  They don’t sell replacement bags for it!  And I could NOT find a distributor in China.   FIGURES.   Thankfully, husband’s boss was just back in the good ol’ USA so we were able to buy replacement bags for him to bring back over.

But I digress… between the lint and the cat hair from our dear little “piglets”, cleaning was D*** near impossible.  I wasn’t the first wife here to buy a dryer, and I’m sure I won’t be the last.

The funny thing – the store that sold (us wives) the dryers said they never sold ANY dryers until we showed up in Haiyang.  These things were special ordered from Qingdao and I had to wait 6 weeks for mine.  This time would have been prolonged if it weren’t for Miss Li, the owner of our property management company, who is VERY “well-connected” in our town.

Regardless, I have one, as well as a front loading washer to replace the provided one which tied our clothes in knots to destroy them…

Laundry Room

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It has been a long time coming…  TOO long.  My original plan was to do all grocery/general shopping via bicycle, as I had done in Qinhuangdao.  Even though I had been told by husband’s boss and his wife that it wasn’t really practical, I was determined…  Then I learned the awful truth.  Just because you’ve lived here before doesn’t mean you know about a town with 100 empty booze bottles, random missing shoes, and used hypodermic needles on the beach in front of your apartment.  Very True.  We requested a driver from Avis (vendor to the Company) a few weeks after arriving.  That was a good bit ago.  Many weeks later they provided us with 3 drivers to interview and choose.  Our first choice was a highly recommended driver with *GREAT* English skills and experience driving in all of the major cities around us.  Basically – perfect.  Apparently there is a “guanxi” issue between the driver we picked and Avis.  To this day I wonder why they sent us a perfect driver to interview that THEY had not approved… THIS IS CHINA.  Regardless, My husband’s boss’s driver had recommended a friend to the company, and we also interviewed him.  I was very impressed with his enthusiasm – even though he knows little English.

Food From our Driver!

Food From our Driver!

There were two veggies I was not sure how to cook… Asian Taro and Chinese white radish…   Thank the Good Lord for Google!!!

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It’s a long overdue post, as usual, sorry.

It’s now half-way through January, but I wanted to keep my passionate loyal readers on edge for an exciting new story!

My brother arrived from South Korea on December 23.  He is doing research for his PhD in Electrical Engineering at university in Suwon, South Korea(Brother, please post the name – it has at least 20 letters and I can’t ever remember it!).  (Don’t ask me about it – he’s much smarter than I am!)  I took a ‘Company’ driver to Qingdao to meet him at the airport.  Seriously, the only thing worse than flying to your destination, is PICKING UP someone who is flying.  I always assume the flights in China will be late.  Since we’ve been here in September only 1 out of 8 of my flights were actually on time.  Point being, my brother’s flight was late, and we arrived much too early at the airport for my taste.  By the time we left the airport, it was dark… Brother asked what was ‘out’ there along the highway to Haiyang…. farms… farms… farm…   …   …   …  Eventually we arrived at the expat village and got into our place.  Husband had a managerial phone call that night, but that didn’t stop Brother from turning on the XBox and starting his video games….   I said, “ahhhhh….. just like HOME!!!!”.  That was the point.  I wanted to have Christmas as much like HOME as it could be – for all 3 of us.  I know our families suffer with our absence as well – but they have a much larger support system.  We have other expatriate friends here, but family is not something you can replace.  Brother was able to come, and because he is ridiculously similar to Husband’s younger brother, he sorta played two roles… BOTH of our younger brothers.

Christmas weekend was pretty uneventful.  All I wanted was to have the two most important men in my life to rest and enjoy themselves in a way that felt like home in Pittsburgh.  I’m pretty sure they did just that.  Basically I spent 12 hours a day on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in what is (kind of) a kitchen… and they played XBox and watched movies.  To me this was perfect.  They were happy and I was able to provide them some sort of “home feeling”.

Brother and Husband enjoying Christmas

Our Christmas Tree – purchased from Metro in Qingdao…

Chinese-bought Christmas Tree

Chinese-bought Christmas Tree

This was our Christmas dinner.  Some of the sides were leftovers from Christmas Eve, but still tasted good.  We had a leg of lamb, potato salad, leftover Boulder Chicken (Husband’s favorite), salad, veggies and spinach-artichoke dip, pineapple, and Champaign.  I can’t ever reproduce what my Mom and Grandma, or what Husband’s Mother can do, but with the limited resources in China, I think I did a pretty acceptable job!  Further, I KNOW that Husband and Brother appreciated it!  🙂   And THAT was all I wanted!

Christimas Dinner

Christmas Dinner

After Christmas, the three of us went to Qingdao for two nights.  Personally, I knew I needed a few days to rest from the hours and hours in the kitchen!  While here, we toured the Qingdao Beer Museum.

 Brother and Husband at Qingdao beer museum

Brother and Husband at Qingdao beer museum

For New Years, we all went to Shanghai.  I figured there was no better place to get a taste of the West than Shanghai.  We stayed at a hotel in the French Concession area – which I had heard about, but never seen.  It was awesome, a good mix of East meets West.

We managed to eat dinner one night at M on the Bund – this place has one of the best views of the Pudong District of Shanghai.

 

Husband and Brother at M on the Bund

 

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I know it’s been a while since my last post (for the 5 of you that really care!), and I apologize.  Thanksgiving week was hectic to say the least.  To give a quick rundown, there was a huge dinner held here at the expat village for members of both companies involved in the project.  Of course, China is the only place in the world where you invite 80 people and somehow 120 end up showing up.  This was not an event I wanted to participate in but it went ok.  In general though, we ended up spending more money on food for people who didn’t contribute, and that I don’t even know, than we would’ve for a nice catered dinner at a local hotel for the two of us.  It went ok, but I won’t do it again.

That aside, I am really excited for Christmas.  This is my absolute favorite time of year because (normally) we spend a lot of time with family and friends.  Unfortunately I haven’t seen my family since arriving in China and I regret not seeing them during these Holidays.  Mom and Grandma, I miss you so much!  Uncle M., Aunt K., M, J, and J, I miss not seeing you this year! Same to my mother and father in law and Chris/Em/Sof, Court, and Geoff.  The holidays are not the same without you all, but be sure we are thinking of you!

On a good note – my brother is coming to Haiyang for Christmas!!!  I’m sure he and dear-husband will play video games most of the time (Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3) – and that is PERFECT!  It will truly feel like home!  I’ll do my best to make a good American Christmas dinner – which will be a challenge because (a) I never hosted Christmas dinner and (b) we have a lack of kitchen appliances/supplies/utensils/cookware, and (c) THIS IS CHINA!  I was able to find lamb legs (bought  2!) at Metro in Yantai.  I also want to prepare a nice potato salad even though it will never be as delicious as my G-Ma’s potato salad.

The plan (so far) is to spend Friday to Monday in Haiyang, then go to Qingdao from Monday till Wednesday and spend the remainder of the week, till January 1st in Shanghai.

There are two things that would be wonderful to happen before Christmas.  First, we applied, interviewed, and chose a driver many weeks ago… we are still waiting to actually GET our driver.  He speaks pretty good English, so he’s worth the wait, but it is still frustrating.  Husband told me we will probably get a substitute driver for a bit while our actual driver completes the qualifications he needs with Avis.  I hope we have SOMEONE by the time DJP comes!!  Next, we are STILL waiting for our sea shipment to arrive.  We were told several weeks ago that paper work should be done… alas we have heard nothing about a final date yet.  This isn’t a huge problem, but it’s getting a LITTLE FRIGGIN cold in Haiyang and we have NO WINTER CLOTHES.  I rode my bike to the site for exercise last week and felt sick the rest of the day from the cold.  If they would at least deliver my winter hat I will be a happy Haiyang resident!

Oh that reminds me!  I finally received my residency Visa in China a few weeks ago.  Husband has had his resident Visa since I was in Japan.   In retrospect, I now understand that – for sure – everything happens for a reason… If you recall, my passport/visa and wallet were stolen on our first attempt to come here in September.  After thinking about it, however, I only had a single entry-30-day visa.  When husband’s parents were coming, I would NOT have been able to show M.I.L. around or go to Japan due to visa restrictions and residency applications.  My second China visa was a 60-day-multi-entry Visa that allowed me to travel out of China before I had attained resident status.  All the stress and trouble we went through actually did pay off.

Anyways, back to Christmas!  I bought a fake tree at Metro in Qingdao.  It was only about 50USD and looks very similar to the one my mom used to have.  I purchased 720 LED lights for it, as well as ornaments, garland, and a star.  There are lights in our front kitchen window, the office window, and along the banister in the living room.  I’ve tried to make the house look at least a bit like our house at home, where every corner is festive this time of year.  Unfortunately, Jade (the “stupid” cat), finds some sort of sick pleasure pulling every ornament off the tree and chewing on the tree and garland itself.  I spray her with a water bottle but I’m starting to wonder if she thinks it’s a game.  She sits there while I spray her in the face and just looks at me with her dumb stare as if she’s saying “wtf are you spraying me for?”.  Hence, our ornaments have slowly moved UP the tree as I take them off the floor and put them back out of her reach…  I’ll try to post a picture of our decorations this weekend.

For the past week I’ve been suffering from migraines…  I’m not sure why because it’s not like I have any stress here.  I’ve never had a migraine before, aside from stress headaches in high school and college…  I feel better today.  🙂

The strangest thing happened last night…  Dear husband signed up for a two-year contract and was pretty adamant about not staying longer than 2 years.  We were talking about our driver and having to sign a 2 year contract – even though we’ve been here for 3 months, and he said we just won’t extend for longer than we need him.   I thought wait, EXTEND?  What is going on?  I asked him, “I thought you just wanted 2 years here?”   He said originally just two years, but now he really likes his job.  He asked my opinion… I said it depends if we have a baby… I would want to spend more time in the states to share a baby with my family, especially my grandmother who has no great grand-children.  (Just throwing it out there… nothing is ever planned or carved in stone.)

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A few weeks ago I posted pictures from a menu of a restaurant here in Haiyang.   This past Saturday, Dear Husband and I went to dinner with some Americans and Chinese who work for various companies involved in the project.  If you recall one menu item was Brine Ducks Head. … (https://laowailisha.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/pictures-of-the-week-week-3/)

Yep.

We ate it.

Honestly, I really liked it too!  There just wasn’t a whole lot of “meat” on it.  The brains are the majority of the edible part.

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View of the Bund from M On The Bund restaurant

Pudong Skyline

Yu Gardens

Busy Saturday in Shanghai Bazaars

Terra Cotta Army at Xi'an

 

Xi'an Big Goose Pagoda

 

Muslim District of Xi'an

Xi'an City wall - the oldest and most well preserved city wall in China

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Tokyo: 27 October

This is an account of my second day in Tokyo.  I took a day-long bus trip with MotherInLaw and several other wives of The Company whose husbands were there on business.  You never really know what to expect on a bus tour, but this trip was pretty awesome!  Our fist stop was the Tokyo Tower, a communications and observational structure which gives beautiful views in all directions of Tokyo.

View from Tokyo Tower

We were told it is 333 meters high – 3 being a lucky number in Japan.  The tower itself is very Effiel-Tower-Esque.  During the day it is colored a regulatory orange and white for air safety regulations, but at night, the entire thing is lit up beautifully.

View "UP" the Tokyo Tower

During perfect clear days you can see Mt. Fuji from here.  Not so today…   Regardless, the tower had a good mix of visitors.  There were a few bus tours of Westerners, possibly some Chinese, many Japanese, and a good number of Japanese school kids who seemed to be having a good time.  The Japanese school kids wear uniforms up until the end of middle school (at least, I’m sure it varies by school).

Japanese School Girls

Japan appears to be a nation of uniforms to me… Most business men and women all wear similar black suits and white button-down shirts.  The culture is completely foreign to me so I cannot say much about it.  In general they are VERY polite people who bow constantly and say Arigato (Thank You). I’m convinced that our tour guide was the cutest and funniest little old Japanese man in this country!!!  One of the first things he educated us about was Japanese Metro… He said “On morning train… MANY men specialized in pushing… many many men!”  He said, “In Japan… No room to get fat!  Too much pushing!  It make you skinny!”  Then, by our surprise, he said, “Most women in Japan have very flat breasts because of pushing on metro in Tokyo…  but if you take train in Tokyo, get squished skinny… and then have long life!!”

Our next stop was a tea house and bonsai collection.  We were the second group to the tea house so I had a bit of time to check out the 300 year-old bonsai trees…YES… THREE HUNDRED YEARS OLD!  This one is much smaller than the image portrays.  It was roughly 2.5 to 3 ft tall.

300 year old bonsai

I’ve had a few bonsai trees before, all ending in a rather bitter end…  I need to make a point to try again when we are state-side.  The tea ceremony was interesting to see.  I had no idea there was SO much ceremony to a tea ceremony.  There were about 20 of us crammed into this tiny tea house so it wasn’t comfortable.   The woman conducting the ceremony sat at her own table with a pot of boiling water, a tea bowl, a cloth to wipe the bowl, a tea caddy, tea scoop, and a whisk.   Her outfit was a traditional Japanese Kimono with slippers.  She ceremonially made one bowl of powdered Japanese green tea which was given to the “most important” guest – the guy who happened to be seated nearest to an alcove in the room.  Everyone else received our tea from a back room.  When the tea is handed to you, the most important side of the bowl faces you.  This side had a painting of Mt. Fuji and a bonsai (I think) on it.  To drink the tea, you first need to turn the bowl 1/4 turn clockwise so that you don’t drink from the most important side.  After bowing to the hostess, everyone drinks the tea.  It wasn’t too bad, but it is very different from Chinese green tea, and any green tea I’ve gotten in the States.

Formal Tea Ceremony

Cooking on Mt. Fuji lava!

Lunch was a barbecue/hibachi style at a Four-Seasons hotel in Tokyo.  The meal was prepared in front of us on a heated lava

Beautiful Gardens at the Four Seasons in Tokyo

stone stove from Mt. Fuji.  The gardens outside the restaurant were beautifully Japanese and included a 500 year-old sacred tree.

After lunch the bus took us to the imperial palace. Unfortunately you can’t actually see the palace aside from New Years and the Emporer’s Birthday.  The closest we were able to get is outside the double bridge entrance.

Imperial Palace

Samurai Kusunoki Masashige Statue at Imperial Palace - Looking towards Emporer

After the walk back to the bus, several women needed to use the washroom.  One woman had not spent much time in Asia and had the funniest reaction to seeing the squatter-toilets in this basic rest room.  “WHAT is that!?!?!?”  I laughed and joked with her.  On my first trip to Asia, I had known of the ‘squatters’, so it was no big surprise.  I’ve always wondered what a newbie reaction would be, and I was genuinely amused.  I did feel bad for her, but I imagine that if I had never seen a shitter like that, I would freak out too.   To my utter delight, there were INSTRUCTIONS on how to use a squatter.  Normally this would appear on my Picture of the Week post, but it is too intertwined with this trip.  I did like the instruction to flush used T-P.   This is directed at Chinese because in Chinese public toilets there is a trash can to place your used paper…. PEEEYOU!!!   Ya, it stinks after a while.

Just.... Purely.... Awesome

The next part of the tour was a boat cruise.   After Shanghai, I know these are fun because you get uninterrupted views of the cityscape.  The one in Tokyo was less impressive than the one in Shanghai, but I still got a pretty awesome shot:

Tokyo Sky Tree and Asahi Beer Hall skyline

The Asahi Beer Hall is the weird building on the right with (what looks like) a flame on top.  It is meant to represent the “burning heart of Asahi beer” as well as foamy beer head on top of a beer-glass-shaped building.

From there we went to some temple which I cannot remember the name of.  I was most interested in the shopping area before the temple.  They had a lot of similar cool stuff from China bazaars, but there is NO bargaining.  Ok, so I spent 3 times as much as I would in China for the same thing, but it was nice to have a break from haggling over a few dollars.

Dinner that night was a few blocks from the hotel.  Us ladies walked a few blocks to a local restaurant with sushi and tempura.  The sushi was delicious and half as expensive as the serving I had on my first night in Japan.  (Although 45 USD is still much more than I would spend at home for sushi.)  Regardless, it still melts in your mouth and I  would definitely go back to this place.  If I can find the name, I will post it.

Yummy!!!

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