I teach English in Japan, but I am not a native speaker… How?

Hello Stasia, I have a question…

“How did you manage to get the job as a Polish woman? I’d be so happy if you can tell me that it’s not impossible for me to work as a teacher in Asia, even though I’m not an English native speaker, because I wanted to be a teacher since elementary school and it’d be a pity if I couldn’t do that in Asia.”

“How you are able to manage to stay in Japan for so long? I know there is a holiday working visa for 1 year and the student visa which can be extended depending on the school you go to if I  am correct. If it isn’t a personal question what visa are you on?”

” How were you able to get a job in Tokyo?”

“I don’t know if it is okay for you if I ask, but I’m a bit curious on how you got to Japan?”

(↑actual quotes from some e-mails I received)

Take a seat, make yourself a cup of piping hot coffee. This is going to be a long read.

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For as long as I can remember I have been good with words. As a child I read tons of books, wrote short stories (which were mini-copies of my favourite books but anyway), and took part in literature and language competitions (with bigger and smaller successes). When I was 9 I found books with Russian stories for kids, so I taught myself to read Russian (but I guess it wasn’t that difficult for me since my mother is Russian). When I was 10 years old, I started studying English at school. Kinda late, huh. When I was in Junior High School I watched German TV everyday and accidentally taught myself German. I was a pretty ambitious kid, but one day I realised that there will always be things I will never be satisfyingly good at. So I had to focus on skills that I knew would never fail me. I went to a good high school, there were some really smart people, super talented at maths, physics, history and other stuff. I was good at languages. It was pretty much the only thing that made me feel better about myself at that time (I swear to everything in this world, I would never again want to go through that hell high school was for me). Studying English was never a boring chore for me, I got a lot of satisfaction out of finally being able to read books from my childhood in their original language (Harry Potter!) and to watch favourite dramas without subtitles.

Now we have to jump straight into 2009

I passed my high school exams with flying colours and the only thing I had to do was choose a university. It was not the proudest moment of my life, I admit, but instead of joining my parents in the UK, where I could have probably gotten into a good uni without any big problems, what did I do? I chose to stay in Poland. Advice for my Polish readers: if you ever get a chance to study in the UK or somewhere like that — DO IT. Do NOT repeat my mistake.

I fixed my mistake a few years later, but I’ll get to that.

I started studying Far East Studies at Jagiellonian University. I know it won’t tell you much if you’re not Polish, but it’s kind of relevant. I studied a wide range of subjects connected to Asia — Religions in Asia, History of South East Asia / China /Japan / India, Confucianism, Chinese and Japanese Literature and Art, even Philosophy or History of Manga and Anime. I also started studying Japanese there. I completed 2 years of studies.

 Here you might stop and think: “Wait wait, only 2 years?” Please continue reading, and you’ll know what happened next.

 

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OK. We’re in the year 2011 now

For a bunch of reasons, I was trying to come up with some ingenious plan that would take me to Japan after my graduation. One of the reasons was the same as yours probably — because I wanted to live here. I figured that as a Polish person with a Polish diploma from a Polish university my chances were rather slim. Could I change it?

Yes, I could. 

I sent out a bucket full of e-mails to universities in the UK asking whether transferring directly onto the 3rd year would be possible. I’m pretty much sure I emailed all the British unis that offer Asian courses. I got one positive reply.

From Leeds University.

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My offer was conditional. Successful completion of two years study at my uni and at least 7.0 in IELTS. I still have this letter, so why not show it to you?

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The first requirement wasn’t a problem, I had pretty good grades. I was super stressed before my IELTS test because I didn’t study that much, but at that time I was staying in London with my parents and I had a part-time job, so you could say I had speaking practice everyday. A week before the test I bought textbooks for IETLS and hoped for the best. My overall band score was 8 (with 9 in Listening and Reading parts, 7,5 in both speaking and writing) — I was over the moon, because it was even more than they required.

Long story short, I transferred directly onto the 3rd year of Asia-Pacific Studies at University of Leeds.

I loved my time at Leeds. I truly regret I hadn’t started my studies there, as it all turned out better than I thought. I joined the Japan Society there, met lots of lovely people, and first and foremost – I spoke English everyday. I wrote essays in English, read complicated stuff in English, passed my exams in English.

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I had my last exam on the 25th of May, 2012. On the 29th of June 2012, I was admitted to the degree of Bachelor of Arts with Honours Class II Division i (= upper second-class honours) in Asia Pacific Studies.

Leeds will always have a special place in my heart.

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But at the end of the day, having a diploma from a British university was only one of the things I needed to get into Japan.

One thing you have to know: Poland DOES NOT have a working holiday visa system. That left me with 3 choices: 

1. Studying Japanese in a language school in Japan.

2. Getting married to a Japanese national.

3. Getting a job and getting a sponsored working visa.

Let’s discuss the choices.

1. It costs an insane amount of money and I did not have anywhere near enough. Besides, students can only work part time and if I were to study in Tokyo, I wouldn’t be able to support myself. Asking my parents for a monthly allowance was NOT an option.

2. No, I’d never do that just for a visa.

3. The only option left. I knew that I didn’t have much to offer on the Japanese work market, except language skills. But how could I compete with thousands of native English speakers, who had the same dream of living in Japan? Every night before going to bed I would check job listings, and every night I would see this → “Requirement: must currently reside in Japan / must have a valid visa / must be a native speaker”.

Anyway, I had nothing to lose so I didn’t give up. I did the TEFL course and got a Japanese language exchange partner, so I could practice teaching.

In April 2012 my father agreed to help me, so I could keep saving money and bought me a ticket to Japan, 11th of July ~ 9th of October. As you know, I never got to use the ticket back to London.

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I was ready to take a risk and go to Japan without a visa, find a job and get my visa status changed while already there. That was my plan. I knew it would take time and I needed a substantial amount of money to survive in Tokyo. Moreover, I needed some experience working in an all Japanese environment. At the end of April 2012, I got two part-time jobs in London. From 7 AM to 4 PM I worked for a Japanese catering company based in London. I prepared airplane food for the economy class passengers of JAL (Japan Airlines) and business passengers of Virgin Atlantic (flights London → Tokyo). From 5:30 PM to 11 PM I was a waitress at a sushi bar in Golders Green in London, Cafe Japan. I had Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Indian and Mongolian coworkers. It was tough, but a week before I left for Japan I had almost 3000 pounds of savings (my parents and my sister helped me too).

If you traveled to Japan by either JAL or Virgin Atlantic some day between April and the beginning of July in 2012, there’s a pretty big chance you ate something I prepared.

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The most important part comes here. After my last exam I moved to London and stayed at my parents’ house. I worked part-time, studied English on my days off and continued to check job listings. There was one company that regularly posted job offers on Gaijinpot.com. They didn’t require being a native speaker, they required a native level proficiency in English. I found out that they were holding seminars in a few British cities, and one of them – in the middle of June — was scheduled for London. I attended it and expressed my interest in working for them. I got invited to an interview a few days later. I remember it took place somewhere near Grosvenor Gardens in London in a super fancy building. I was interviewed together with a British guy. I don’t know whether he got a job. I informed my interviewer that I actually was coming to Tokyo soon, and a few days later I got an invitation to the last interview. And it was supposed to be in Tokyo.

BEFORE THE INTERVIEW

/Me from 2 years ago really loved filters/

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ON THE DAY OF THE INTERVIEW (in London)

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As you know, I came to Japan on the 12th of July 2012. At Narita Airport I got a stamp saying “temporary visitor visa” with an expiry date, 10th of October.

On the 17th of July I had my final interview.

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A week later I got a reply from the company. I got the job! Maybe they saw a potential in me, maybe they knew that as a person dependent on them, I wouldn’t easily quit my job after a month. I don’t know, but anyway, I have to be grateful that they gave me a chance.

I got my working visa on the 25th of September. If you want to know what visa I have, no problem — I can tell you that. Language teachers in Japan get a Specialist in Humanities & International Services visa. There’s one more thing I’d like to add here: when I was still a student I sent an e-mail to the Polish Embassy in Japan asking what options Polish nationals have if they want to live in Japan, and I asked whether it was possible to change one’s visa status from tourist to a working visa…. and I was told it was not possible. It’s not true. I am not the only person who has done that, in fact a lot of people come here, get a job and get their visa status updated.

IT IS POSSIBLE.

 I started working on the 8th of October 2012 and I haven’t changed my job. I teach all kinds of people, of various occupations and ages. I teach business English and daily conversation English. Do my students mind that I am not a native speaker? I don’t think so.

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So this is it! This is how I managed to get a teaching job despite being a non-native speaker of English. It’s all about studying hard and working hard.

If there’s a will, there’s a way.

Good luck!

Impromptu conveyor belt sushi in Omotesando!

Do Japanese people eat sushi everyday? – No.

Is sushi cheap in Japan? – Yes and no.

Is it possible to find good sushi at a cheap price? – Yes (if you’re not very picky)!

Is supermarket sushi edible? – If you like metallic taste of disappointment – yes.

Have I ever eaten expensive sushi? – Yes. 

How expensive is expensive? – For me it was 3300 yen for 11 pieces of nigirizushi for lunch. 

Was it better than cheap sushi? – We’re comparing apples and oranges here.

∗∗∗

Sushi in Japan is considered festive food, eaten on special occasions. I have been teaching English lessons for over 2 years now and I just repeat what I’ve heard from all my students. I have taught probably well over 300 people by now. I routinely ask them “How often do you eat sushi?” – answers vary, but in 90% of cases I hear “once a month maybe…?” For Japanese people sushi = expensive sushi. Cheap sushi is a snack. I cannot imagine master Jiro Ono — the owner of Sukibayashi Jiro (3 Michelin stars!) — serving crab salad, tuna mayo, seared salmon and cheese nigiri sushi and other rather free interpretations of what sushi should be. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll get a chance to try his amazing sushi worth gazillions of yen…? Well, anyway, the 10th of November was not that day.

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It was rainy and gloomy that day, so when I saw colourful pieces of sushi zooming round a small conveyor belt, I thought “Why not! I haven’t had sushi in aaaages!”….

…..so here it is — my impromptu conveyor belt sushi adventure.

HEIROKU SUSHI

 5-8-5 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0001

→map←

heiroku.jp

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You noticed the English text on the blackboard? Omotesando is a touristy area and I got a feeling that this place would serve touristy sushi too. There were at least 5 foreigners there, including myself, and that really doesn’t happen that often. Not everyone likes it, so I’m warning you now — in a place like this, they WILL try to speak English to you because you’re a foreigner.

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MENU

(you can click on it to enlarge it)

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Tuna salad

It doesn’t exactly look like a definition of scrumptious, but surprisingly it’s really delicious! Looks can be deceiving. 

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Salmon roe ♥

Cheap kaitenzushi chains usually serve ‘fake’ salmon roe, you’ll know if you’re a salmon roe lover. ‘Fake’ salmon roe is too soft and watery, it doesn’t pop in your mouth. Real salmon roe is a bit hard, like tapioca and it pops when you chew it (which is somewhat satisfying… Or am I weird…)

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Fatty salmon and suspicious looking green onion

All the sushi ingredients should be fresh. But then again I shouldn’t complain because this particular sushi cost like ¥130?

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Crab salad

I really don’t know why I chose crab salad sushi as it’s my least favourite. I can’t even count how many times I gave crab a chance and it failed miserably.

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Natto & raw quail eggs & onion

I’m a big fan of natto (fermented soybeans)! I always eat it mixed with raw egg, green onion and some other ingredients and it is really delicious, please believe me! I must share my secret recipe one day — if you dare to try it, there’s actually a pretty big chance you’ll like it!

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Salmon

Who doesn’t love it? Even cheap salmon is good. Not tasty salmon does not exist.

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Torched salmon & onion & mayo

It’s not your usual sushi, but the salmon + onion + mayo combination is just perfect! Sometimes I’m wondering what ancient Japanese would say seeing today’s wild sushi variations though.

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Overall!

It’s not my usual restaurant review, since this kaitenzushi wasn’t Final Fantasy themed, had no Rilakkumas whatsoever, and didn’t even have toilet-shaped dishes. Just your usual kaitenzushi chain. The place has a great location — right on the main Omotesando street, surrounded by big brands, perfect! They have a menu in English, their staff speaks some English (and will not hesitate to use it), it’s nice and clean and everything….BUT! If you are looking for budget sushi — find Kurazushi or Sushiro. Wider selection, even lower prices and a fun ordering system. I guess they’ll be the next in line to be reviewed by shichijyuuni.com!

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Thanks for reading and if you happen to have visited this place, let me know what you think of it! ♥ (and any restaurant recommendations would be appreciated!)

How to: Budget fashion in Tokyo aka lookbook vol. 5

If you can find oden in a convenience store in your neighbourhood, it’s high time to put your favourite high waist shorts and cropped tops in the closet. This summer in Japan was rather moody — we had to survive the heat that seemed to emanate down from the sky and the endless concrete streets of Tokyo didn’t make it any easier. And then just after that we experienced a 15 degree temperature drop the following day that might just have caused a wave of summer colds.  Finally it’s the season of our favourite over-sized sweaters, beanie hats, slouchy socks and heavy boots — hipster paradise! Add a mandatory seasonal pumpkin Starbucks coffee to it and you’ll get the quintessence of autumn fashion.

What are this autumn’s essentials every fashionista should have in their wardrobe?

…to find out what that is, check my article in the November issue of Connect Magazine!

↓↓↓

 CLICK HERE *pages 21, 22 and 23!*

(I know that oden in convenience stores is old news already, and nobody remembers the summer heat anymore but I wrote this article way back in September and I just had to post it here, let’s just ignore the fact that it’s the middle of November right now!)

Lookbook vol. 1

Lookbook vol. 2

 Lookbook vol. 3

Lookbook vol. 4

Today, I will present you a whole ton of my October outfits. 

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1.

/photo taken in Harajuku by vivarilakkuma ♥/

white shirt: GU, something around ¥1000

black tunic: GU, around ¥900

black skinny jeans: GU, ¥1490

boots: best Jumble Store find so far, Glad News, ¥1900

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2.

 

/photo taken by my tripod/

black cropped top: bought at Shilin market in Taipei for 250NT = ¥940 (wow, it wasn’t that expensive in August!)

black cardigan: Forever 21, ¥1500?

The black boots you’ll see in the following photos, because they were the only boots I took with me to Korea and I think they’re awesome: STYLENANDA, original price about ¥6000, I paid a bit less

/the jeans shorts have made numerous appearances before so I won’t mention them again I guess/

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3.

 

/photo taken in EcoLand in Jeju/

black turtleneck: SPINNS, ¥1200

jeans: WEGO, ¥4000

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4.

 

/photo taken at a food market in Jeju/

shirt: GU, ¥500

belt: H&M, ¥1100

skirt: GU, ¥1490

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5.

 

/photo taken on the top of N Seoul Tower♥/

striped top: bought at a large shopping center in Dongdaemun for 5000₩ = ¥528

coat: bough at the same shopping center, for 60000₩= ¥6300

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6.

 

/photo taken at Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul/

grey bodycon dress: Forever 21, ¥1500

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7.

 

/The quality of this pic is not so good, but the background is pretty badass! Jeju, Sangbangsan/

black bodycon dress: STYLENANDA, about ¥3000

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8.

 

/photo taken somehwere in Daikanyama/

grey neck warmer: WEGO, ¥1800

red sweater: bought in Hongdae in Seoul, 10000₩ = ¥1060

checkered skirt: GU, ¥1490

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 …aaaaaand this one!

9.

 

/it was my last day off before going to Korea so I went shopping in Harajuku and I didn’t care much about make up or hair… Looking very plain I got asked to pose for a few fashion snapshots for FUDGE magazine, to check it out clickHERE← /

white shirt: GU, ¥1000

grey top: random shop in my town, ¥1400

black skirt: GU, ¥1200

bag: COACH, ¥22000 (I threw away all my cheap bags and treated myself to one proper bag, which I hope will last me years)

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Thank you for visiting my blog ♥

Around Taipei in 3 days & YouTube debut ?!

Was this blog supposed to be only about Japan? I’m not really sure. I know that I started it with the intention of showing other people places that are nice, maybe add a few anecdotes, write an informative guide for those who begin their adventure with Japan as well as simply give a glimpse of what a daily life of a regular person like me looks like. Naturally, since I happen to currently reside in Tokyo, most of my updates are about Japan. But! My range of interests is much broader and I think that everyone through their lifetimes should explore as much as they can while they still can. Where is this introduction going? I’m a bit worried that some readers might be disappointed that there has been so little content about Japan these days.

All I can say is: open your mind! Asia is one heck of a land with thousands of different cultures. All so different and fascinating. I would love to visit Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore and many others, there’s literally too many to list. In the last 2 months I have visited Taiwan and South Korea again. While videos I took in Korea are being edited into something somewhat cohesive, here I present you a short clip of my Taiwan adventures.

It is my very first video, forgive me my camera shyness (I’m a much better writer than speaker) and a husky voice (as I found out later, I went to Taiwan with raging tonsillitis).

Enjoy 🙂

Some extras for those interested in Taiwan and the spots I visited!

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Minquan West Road

The area around the hotel I was staying in — you can’t see it here, but the very first thing I saw when I stepped outside the hotel was a bajillion of MOPEDS. They were literally everywhere.

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Street art

My first impression of Taiwan? Street art! Everywhere I went I could find not only mopeds but also interesting graffiti, installations, projects etc. I loved it!

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Downtown Taipei — Zhongshan!

Main streets immediately brought Shinjuku to my mind, but I didn’t want to be a typical tourist and wanted to explore those cute narrow streets, often hiding the best spots in town!

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Awesome street art on and around the Zhongshan Station building!

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One of the things that surprised me was the rule forbidding eating or drinking anything on the train. Of course I didn’t plan on bringing a Happy Meal and pigging out on it on the metro, but even chewing a gum is forbidden there and the fine is no joke. No chewing gum or bubble tea even on the train platform!

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Taipei 101

Until 2004, it was the tallest tower in the world. The view was really nice, but I guess it would be much more beautiful if it wasn’t obstructed by clouds of smog. Either way, it’s definitely worth visiting!

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 Ximen

 I really loved it there. It was a town full of life and cute places. It looked a bit like Shibuya, but it had this unique atmopshere I felt only in Taipei. And let’s not forget that the toilet restaurant I wrote about → HERE← is actually located in Ximen.

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Shilin Market

I wish there was a place like this in Tokyo… Delicious food, clothes, shoes, souvenirs, sweets, everything you need basically — and all that at prices so cheap it would be a sin to leave the market with empty hands. I left it with a full belly, full shopping bag and believe it or not — my wallet wasn’t empty either! Must go!

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I traveled by myself so I had this freedom of going wherever I wanted. I tried to explore the market a bit more and you should do it too, if you ever find yourself in Taipei. All the hidden shabby streets I found were simply beautiful, I swear Taipei has the best atmosphere.

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Did I mention I was actually a bit sick during my stay in Taipei? This poster made me feel a bit guilty for not wearing a mask…

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Traditional Taiwanese hairwash!

I had this RuRuPu series guidebook with me –It’s a popular guidebook in Japan, basically they recommend places where you can communicate in Japanese, describe them in detail and mark on the map. I had no idea that something like ‘traditional Taiwanese hairwash’ even existed until I saw pictures of it in the guidebook. YOU SHOULD TOTALLY TRY IT! For 800 NT I got a hair scan (?) — I could see my hair and scalp skin magnified and could see all that damage years of dying my hair did to it. Then I got this glorious hair wash which was the best thing that ever happened to my hair and the skin of my head. It took about 20 minutes and then I got my hair professionally styled. HAIRGASM!

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Plastic surgery ads!

Not only in South Korea. They were everywhere in Taipei too, though I noticed that face and body improvements people in the photos got, were rather minimal compared to the posters I saw on the streets of Seoul.

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Ten Ren’s Tea

The tea here is to die for! I have never seen so many awesome flavours in my life. Let me just add that they were delicious, freshly prepared and cost about 40NT? Sooo good! And this also where I got all the souvenirs for my friends and family I mentioned in my video.

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Beautiful street art in the beautiful Taipei. 

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 Thank you for reading! ♥

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