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"Teo, Heather, and Fernando are traveling to Ecuador to finish a design on a chocolate factory for Kallari, thanks to a grant from Architecture for Humanity and the support of RATIO and RAYae."

The Night shift at the Salinas Chocolate factory… Tuesday, November 11, 2008 |

We were on our way to Salinas at 9am this morning to meet up with Carlos (one of the Kallari leaders) to visit the chocolate factory…The journey is about 6 hours from Quito and we were driving in an extremely foggy condition on the Andes mountains….it was pretty dangerous as the edge of the road is literally by the edge of the mountains…dropping down at least a few hundred feet..but we managed to arrive in one piece…Pheww!!
The air is pretty thin here in Salinas and the weather is very cool…and misty...but this small self-sustained town is great...We took a tour with a local guide to a few micro-factories here in Salinas…the cheese factory, candy and chocolate factory, handicraft and soccer ball factory..Etc…we then were showed the machinery for chocolate making process...just heather and myself is allowed into the room…or I would call the ‘The secret chamber’…haha..but we did take some pictures as the manager of the facility explained to us on how it works…we then head back for dinner at the hostel.

...It’s 12:30 am now, Mee Leng and I just got back from the chocolate factory with Carlos (one of the Kallari leaders) both of us volunteered to help out by making chocolate bars..Yes! 85% cacao content..pretty good stuff. There were 7 of us working on this shift…Carlos, Melaina, Thomas, Mee leng, myself and two other locals….as Kallari is renting the facility at night to produce the chocolate bars for an order to export to Japan. It was awesome….both mee leng and I enjoyed a lot working through the process of actually making the chocolate bars..and of course having some fun as well and getting to know more about the other volunteers ..we will be posting some videos and images soon once we have the chance to edit it to make it shorter….

By actually making the bars…it made me appreciate a lot more on how the locals here strive to make a is certainly not a huge factory that it is fully automated but rather using an extensive hand made process…starting from scratch to the final product. The process of chocolate making will also inform and help me in the process for designing the upcoming 2nd stage of the Kallari chocolate factory in Baeza …and being there tonight will help me in the upcoming weeks of planning and designing for this great cause!

- Teo and Mee Leng -

Pachamama, Shopping, Radio... Monday, November 10, 2008 |

Yesterday we headed out to Otavalo after our breakfast meeting with Veronica, a local architect that is starting an AFH chapter here in Ecuador.

As we passed through the countryside, heading towards the city, the scenery was beautiful, the landscape changed as we went over each hill. Fernando had the day off from translating, so I did my best translating from Italian or Spanish...I'm amazed how my languages have come back to me. A requirement, when not much English is spoken anywhere.

Otavalo is a shopper's paradise, especially when that shopper is me. So many beautiful crafts and textiles, and paintings, and sculptures, and bags, and jewelry, and beads, and silver, and chess sets, and wow…I might have to go back… Teo mentioned Pachamama in his blog…and let me tell you, she is present in this country. She is all around in everything you look at and in all the faces you meet. As I walked with everyone down one aisle, we came to a booth with beautiful masks (I have a collection from around the world), one caught my eye in particular and as the artist described the work, is ending statement was “this is the face of Pachamam”, I knew right there and then, that she had to be mine. So now she is wrapped up tightly waiting to come back to America with me for awhile.

On the trip back we each took our turns dozing off, while watching the scenery pass by…seeing how Pachamama can do amazing things in this world. We ended the day with an interview with Marco from a local and very popular radio station…his voice made me melt…and it was fun talking with him about everything chocolate (he loves some chocolate). I wish I could have spent more time with him, he has done some amazing things in his life. (he had a nice German Sheppard too, that I couldn’t help giving some lovin’ to, I miss my dog!)

Today we spend 6 hours in the car, heading to Salinas de Bolivar. The Kallari leaders will meet us there and we will tour a chocolate factory. Should be great, once we arrive. My body is screaming at me about all this time sitting in the car, but I don’t mind. Ecuador has so much to show me…

Volcano eruption in Quito… Sunday, November 9, 2008 |

It is so strange that I just received a call from Oswaldo telling us that the Tungurahua volcano in Quito erupted this morning…and authorities closed the airport because of the ashes from the eruption. We were at Otovalo this morning but fortunately the airport is back in service and will not affect our flight back to Indianapolis on Wednesday…crossing my fingers!

We started the morning with a meeting with Veronica and talked briefly about her endeavor of starting an AFH chapter in I shared with her briefly on how I got the Indianapolis chapter started and with our meeting we think that it will be a great idea to be able to link our chapter here in Indy with Ecuador’s chapter…so for more information about further development …please visit the Indy AFH chapter website as I will be updating the progress on the website soon …our first international collaboration will be for Annie’s project here in Ecuador (if you are wondering who is Annie..I will be posting her story on how she got started and why she is helping the community for the project soon in the AFH website)

We then headed out to Otovalo and maaannn!… a very beautiful place…with incredible scenic route and unique market scene….we also met with Annie and talked some specifics on what she and the community needs ….its a very touching story and I commend her for her humanitarian efforts.

While driving back to Quito and looking out of the window…the scenery inspired and reminded me of the word of wisdom from the Kallari leaders ….‘Pachamama’ or ‘Mother Earth’ in Kichwa language….thanks to Diego, the Kallari main leader. The new implemented design of the Chocolate factory will not only reflect the identity and mission of the Kallari group representing the indigenous people here but also finding its roots to reflect the wisdom of its culture….Viva Pachamama!

Before heading back to the Hostel we were invited for an interview for a radio station here in Ecuador...the team were all very excited and will soon post some images...thanks to Mee leng for documenting the process….

so that’s it for tonight and we will be heading to Salina...a 6-7 hour drive from Quito to visit a chocolate production factory….so I would need to go to bed now….as it is almost 12 am …..have to wake up around 6am …..

-Teo and Mee leng -

The octopus and its master... |

It’s 12:30 am now and the band on the street is still playing, probably for a few more hours. The night life here in Quito where the hostel is located is very much alive …restaurants, night clubs, coffee bars etc….a cool hang out place for youngster predominantly. We left Tena around 7:ooam to visit the site and head back to Quito. Well, aside from the scenic drive back to Quito...we stopped by at Edwin’s house (Oswaldo’s friend) for his pirate themed birthday…and we had a great time just hanging out and tasting local food prepared by his wife and mother-in-law and a few other helpers….we then had a pirate treasure hunt where we were given clues to locate the prize….everyone received a cd at the end from our host Edwin. I had also won the prized toy octopus from the pirate fencing competition where players are randomly selected for a duel and winners of each round will be fighting again with other winners until the final duel...with wooden sword….and YES! I was crowned as the Pirate warrior of the evening.

The game was simple…just fight until you get the other person and if you get the other person’s leg you will be limping with only one leg, of you get the arm then you will have to fight with the other arm…hmmmm…probably if both arms were disqualified. ..maybe using the mouth will be the last resort...or just limp away as fast as possible...well it’s complicated so I will be posting a video for everyone’s viewing pleasure soon…..Mee leng and I had so much fun.

We were so tired today as we also tracked down the site and believe is pretty wild down there…..crazy insects that bites, thorny scrubs and uneven terrain with mud pits…thinking that going down is hard but compared to climbing up….it is even tougher…..but the site visit confirmed the design of the Kallari chocolate factory’s identity and I’m very confident that the design on the new site will be more meaningful and contextual…and also conveying the vision of the Kallari organization to be the leader and model for the other communities, within Ecuador and around the world…from their words over and over again..’ we want to have a top notch facility where our vision can prosper the region’….they obviously have a great group of leaders and also the help from volunteers around the world to assist them in the path of success…we are proud to be a part of it!

In a few more hours…I will be meeting with heather and Veronica...(a local architect that is interested to start an AFH chapter here in Quito)...around 7:30am then rush back to meet with the group at 9:00am to head to Otovalo…a celebrated market town of Ecuador…to experience the local culture …for myself personally…its crucial to absorb as much as possible with the visit that will help in the enhancement of the project….but at the same time probably getting some indigenous handicrafts as souvenirs…so I will be reporting tomorrow night about the trip … till then I will try to get some sleep….

- Mee leng and Teo -

Buh-bye Rooster! (I'll miss you) Saturday, November 8, 2008 |

I fell asleep last night, fully clothed, with glasses still on...and I was out until this morning! Roosters, you have not had the last cock-a-doodle-do with me!

Yesterday we visited a Kichwa community only accessible by walking across a crazy wood plank bridge. Here we found a museum that was started by a local woman with the support of Kallari. We learned many interesting things about jungle survival (I don’t know that I could), making traps, and the daily life of the Kichwa. Diego told us more about what changes happened in the communities when the Catholics came…probably enough said for this forum. His passion for his community is so infectious! We had a nice swim in the river to cool off on an especially hot day. We had dinner with the Kallari leaders when we got back into town. Each step of the way we were trying to extract good information from the leaders, trying to inform them on the process of architecture and what we need in order to see this project through to the end. So instead of one long meeting, we had many! Seems like an ok way to do business, right? Swim in the river, talk about planning, have some dinner together, talk about programming, have a beer together in the evening, talk about expectations…nice!

This morning we got up early and headed to the site, the entire team, Kallari leaders included. We hiked into the site itself, steep, steep, steep…no Stairmaster can prepare one for what we did. Diego was a helpful partner for me and offered his hand many times to help me down the rough parts, it must have looked like some weird dance that we were doing as we stepped from one grass clump to the next, being careful to avoid the holes of muddy water.

The site has many opportunities for the project, challenging for us as designers, of course…but it’s fantastic nonetheless. There is a great view from every point on the site. A few natural terraces will have to be supplemented by our own. It was very easy for each of us to picture the new chocolate there!

After we headed back up to the street from the site (ouch, by the way), we had a talk over refreshments and Diego (head of Kallari) couldn’t have been happier over the fact that we had all had the chance to bring our own energy to the site.

Tonight I will fall asleep in Quito listening to the music from down the road (about an hour ago there was a band, of the marching type, playing outside…hmmm). Rooster (he deserves name by now…maybe he can tell me what it is next time I go to Tena) will be crowing too far away from me to hear him in the morning, but I won’t forget him…


Dippidy Dip… Friday, November 7, 2008 |

Today we had a very unique experience as Diego (The Kallari leader) brought us to the indigenous Kichwa museum called ‘Museo Rio Iloqulin’ but in order to get there we had to walk across a long suspension foot bridge with magnificent views of the Napo River and track along a narrow path for about 15 minutes to the museum. There we were educated with the way of life of the indigenous tribes from their day to day utensils, weaponry, animal traps to mystical plants for rituals…all in all a great introduction to the history and culture of the tribes in the Amazon. We then took a dip in the river with crystal clear water...definitely the best dip ever in a hot and humid day…Then we headed back to the town of Tena and had a casual dinner then a drink at a local bar where we talked regarding the strategies to go forward with the design of the Kallari Chocolate factory…The leaders are very appreciative of the effort and professionalism that we have shown and in our mind that we are doing this for the good of the Kallari communities and No regrets!!…for what we have done and what we will be doing in the upcoming weeks…volunteering in the weekends after work for this effort….
We will be heading back to Quito tomorrow at 7am and visiting the site for the last time …..but that’s not the highlight….but attending Oswaldo’s friend private party…the Theme ….’The Pirate”….which we have no costumes…so what Mee Leng and I were thinking to get a few teabags for our eye patch…just joking…but we will definitely have a good time tomorrow….by the way his friend also happens to own an Inca observation post along a trading route … archeological site where they have found a giant pot with human remains in it ….an Inca burial ….so we will see ……

-Teo and Mee Leng -

Monkeys, Ocelots, and Grubs, O my! |

I woke up this morning welcoming the rooster. I think I might actually miss him when we leave Tena tomorrow.

Wednesday was a fabulous day filled with canoe rides on the Napo River, watching cacao famers climbing easily into the top of trees to get us wonderfully sweet seed pods, tasting the meat of fresh cacao fruit, watching the cacao farmer and a leader of Kallari make a small thatch roof, getting my face painted with a plant that his daughters found (red seeds make the paint), learning about the process of growing cacao, learning about a plant that seems to do everything for them (the plant makes thatch roofs, panama hats, toys, provides shade, and is edible), watching someone eat the grub of the palm tree, and most importantly learning how Kallari really changed his life. We had a lunch of fruit from the farm and it was more than plenty. The farmer’s wife offered us “chicha” (I don’t know how Teo got out of it), I was obligated to drink at least some…I was glad I allowed Carlos to help me drink the rest because Fernando and Veronica both got a little sickly. Yesterday we found out that this farmer (Cesar) was featured in the New York Times in a story about Kallari,
read it here. After leaving the farm we got to see monkeys (woohoo, I love monkeys!), the biggest rodent in the world, ocelots, turtles, parrots, more monkeys (woohoo, I love monkeys!), and some other interesting creatures of the Amazon. It was quite a long day filled with learning, absorbing the culture, and thinking about how all this information can be incorporated into our project.

Yesterday was a fabulous day filled with informing Kallari on how they can improve their existing facilities, giving the information on how we can turn this dream into reality, informing them of the architectural process, brainstorming on ideas on how to put the existing project into the new site, eating cooked grubs, talking philosophy at the end of the day with Carlos, talking about how we can make even more of an impact with this dynamic organization. Their quiet ways that they have changed so much here is infectious. We can’t help but want to do more for them.

Today we have decided against the rafting trip they had planned for us, and have opted to have another working session with them, reinforcing the same things we went over yesterday. Teo is keen on getting more design time in (way to go master designer). The rest of us are keen on making sure that we have enough to complete the process when we leave.

The sun has been shining for three days now, the city is coming to life, and its going to be hard to leave this wonderful place.


First comes the slimy then the chewy Thursday, November 6, 2008 |

We had a productive day today …as we visited the Kallari production center where they are building 2 new structure for drying cacao seed. We then went to have lunch at an authentic Kichwa couple food stall …where we both had whole tilapia fish wrapped and grilled in leaves and also tasted the famous
‘Chuntakuro’ or more widely known as the slimy fat grub looking worm…yes…it’s a little slimy at first but when it comes to the skin…its very chewy and soft….pretty disgusting but the seasoning was not that bad…We then head back to the Kallari office and had a great meeting…where we talked about the design a lot and came to the conclusion that we had to forgo a rafting trip tomorrow in order to get another meeting with the Kallari leaders before we head off back to Quito., I think its all worth the while as we are here to help the community to finalize the design with the new site….so it will be another working day tomorrow…..

- Teo and Mee Leng -

The Napo River Trip and the Return of Android… |

We set off from the hostel around 9:30 am and headed out for breakfast before joining Carlos and Arias for the trip to visit the farm of a local Cacao farmer. We took a boat ride to the farm (yes, a very cool ride there) and were showed around the farm. We were educated on how the tree was planted, the cacao fruit (and yes…we tasted it and it was great) and how cacao flower pollinate etc...We were also shown how to find BIG juicy worms from the tree barks…a delicacy and protein source for the locals…( and No…we did not have the courage to bite the head off and suck the slimy juice of the worm) …but one of the Kallari leaders did. Then we headed up stream to a sanctuary called Isla Parque Amazonico, a sanctuary in an effort to conserve the natural splendor of the Amazon's animals and plants... we saw a bunch of monkeys and most of them were roaming around freely, birds , boars, Capybara (World's Largest Rodent), turtles and more….But the most important part of the trip was being able to meet and talk to the beautiful family at the farm and to see how dignified, friendly and generous of them to show us around when they could have work that day to sustain their day to day life….that was something that will remain in my memory for a long time…
We then took a long scenic boat ride back to the dock and drove back to Tena…and had the best meal since we arrived here in Ecuador. but it comes with a price ….which was to be served by the strangest waiter ….we called him the ‘Android’….He is really funny and we were all very impressed with our meal and experience only cost us around $7 for a full dinner…pretty impressive….and the food is ‘ Muy delicioso ‘ …so. its time for Mee leng and myself to get ready for another day (its 7am now)…which we will start with breakfast and heading for a Team meeting at the Kallari office….and will be visiting the site again …then going River rafting…no idea what we are doing but it will be great I’m sure….

- Mee Leng and Teo -

New site..New challenges..Same vision |

On our way from Quito to Tena, capital of Napo Province...we stop by the new site that Kallari has purchased and the settings is just magnificent, with views of layered mountains. Two creeks defined the edge of the site to a pizza shaped lot down to the river with a combination of the meandering road and the steep is a very different experience to design the submission through images and descriptions in comparison to actually experiencing the whole procession to get to and to stand on the edge defining it .The intention of this visit is to rework some of the design program/intent to fit the new programs and needs of the Kallari group and to react to the new constraints of the newly purchased site...The presentation last night was great as we have at least 20-24 people showed up wit the team blazing off and Mee Leng filming and recording the process …A Successful Presentation and from what we were told by the local architects that the Kallari leaders was very happy and impressed by the presentation and it seems that the synergy of the teams improved as we have spent some time together to know each other. Yesterday we were schedule to visit a lagoon in the Amazon jungle for leisure and the hour ride there was pretty rough….11 people attended the gathering and it was pouring while we were there…we had some snacks at a pavilion by the waterfall overlooking the gorgeous view of the Napo River ….and of course with a Tarantula nesting above us on the ceiling of the pavilion….A few could not resist the cool refreshing water and jumped in for a swim while Mee leng and I was busy exploring the scenery. We also met a furry friend; a stray skinny dog…and we were busy seeing what we could give to this new friend with what we brought….he was pretty satisfied after 2 small packs of crackers and some tuna in a can... that made its day…
We were introduced a term from the Kallari elders called ‘Pachamama’ with a literal translation to be "Mother Earth", a goddess revered by the indigenous people of the Andes. with the notion of embodying more nature into the design of the Chocolate Factory. Everyday is a new chance to be inspired by the Amazonian culture as there is so much to learn from the people, culture and nature here in the Andes….

- Teo and Mee Leng -

There is no escaping the Ecuadorian Rooster Wednesday, November 5, 2008 |

Alright, the roosters need to be told something. At least they have one thing going for them...they are precise...530 am...(insert rooster noise here)...15 seconds....(insert rooster noise here)...15 seconds....(insert rooster noise here) get the picture! Why am I the only one that can't sleep through it in our group??? At least its not the end of the day, and I feel way more coherent....

At least I got the chance to see the blue skies peaking through the clouds this morning...welcoming in our new president. This American is glad this day has arrived. I might have had to stay here, had the election gone the other way.

So, yesterday....during the day we visited the greenhouse where they raise the cacao trees from seeds and trimmings. Then off to the place where they take the fruit, ferment it, and dry it. This was Kallari's first development and it was interesting to see how they adapted their design over time to fit the process. We had about a 3 hour lesson in fermentation, drying, plant growing, organic certification, and whatever else we asked. Then off to a lagoon overlooking the rapids of a river, where we had lunch and the gringos sat on the rocks and watched the Latinos take a swim.

In the evening around 630pm we all made our way back to the Kallari office, so we could present our project to the leaders of Kallari...or so we thought...Carlos said that we should wait a few minutes because there were a couple (2) delegates from a German company that would be we waited a bit. About 10 minutes later 10 people arrived, and the wives of all the we ended up presenting the project to about 25 people, totally unexpected! But we were up for the challenge. We presented the project and it seemed to go really well. I am so glad that I reconnected with Fernando, because as Oswaldo said to me during the meeting, he thought Fernando could sell his dead grandmother a new car. Fernando is amazing, he brings across the emotion that we are feeling, but maybe can't express...bravo Fernando! We had some tough questions by these people from the German company (they were from Colombia, I came to find out)...but seemed to be able to answer all they needed to know...they spoke English, so it was a little easier. Probably the best part of the meeting was when we opened the 3D model and everyone sat there with their mouths open and a few ooos and ahhs came from the room...We ended the meeting when the German company people had to leave...and after they all said goodbye, one of the volunteers (who works freelance for BBC) pulled me aside and asked me if I understood who the Germans were...I didn't...they are the money, they have been in communication with Kallari about financing the project. Holy crap! I guess the German government has some kind of program that funds project in developing countries and this is part of that....So....they made their way out of the building and the leaders of Kallari gathered us around and expressed how well they thought the meeting went, Oswaldo and Veronica were both super happy about our presentation and everyone was smiling from ear to ear. Carlos, who is normally very stoic and doesn't show much emotion, was excited. Oswaldo said that this was something that he has never seen. Carlos then invited us to his house for some "vino de cacao" (yummy by the way). Oswaldo said that this was something that he has never seen.

So it was a great coincidence that these representatives were here, because they were only here for some meetings and training of their own. It really helped to show them the direction that Kallari is headed, and the possibilities for them to invest in and organization that can do so much. organization in Tena, Ecuador bringing a team from America, Puerto Rico, Malaysia, and Serbia to design a chocolate, right?

Time to get ready for the day...the roosters have stopped there crowing...jerks...


Simply....Amazing Monday, November 3, 2008 |

What and amazing day. We began with an early breakfast at the hotel and then went off to the airport to get the “big car”, suitable for driving to Tena. We are fantastic architects and found way to pack 6 people and their luggage into the car. I have to admit that we were amazing. However, more amazing was the driving of Oswaldo! Most of the way is paved now, but we spent about 45 minutes on unpaved roads, with big potholes, washed out places, and scary drivers. Oswaldo only had to apologize a couple of times to me (I am the owner of the car, he says) We saw the new site and spent time talking about how we would modify the project to fit…we saw the old site and agreed that the new site was much better. In the car, as I sat talking in Italian to Oswaldo, Teo and Mee Leng were speaking Chinese, and Veronica and Fernando were speaking Spanish…how amazing is that? We made our way to Tena and had lunch/dinner overlooking the river. Then off to our afternoon meeting with Kallari. We met with 3 of the leaders; the 4th was finding a way to the city. Introductions were made all around and Fernando was an amazing translator. (that’s a lot of amazing people on this trip). We then went out for some more drinks and Diego, the 4th leader, finally came. He told us his story of growing up and going to school without shoes, and now he is the head of an organization that dreams of international endeavors. So, yes, he is amazing too. I don’t feel so amazing in my writing skills…but its 11:30, and we have to ready to go by 745…It will be amazing if we ever get a good night’s sleep!


Wow, almost forgot to mention that we were threatened with hot peppers in eye if we don’t make this project happen…I have this picture in my head of sleeping peacefully in Indiana and at 500 in the morning, Ecuadorians creeping in through the window and opening my eye for the pepper! Yikes…we also talked about headshrinkers today, but not threats of that…

Quito Tour Sunday, November 2, 2008 |

It was a great day to start from Hostel Arupo with a tour on foot around Quito but not so much in the car as Quito is jam-packed with people and traffic was horrific..mostly due to the fact that today is the celebration Day of the Dead (All Souls' Day). The street scenes is the most interesting and Mee leng and I think that the colonial old Town, with beautiful cobbled inner courtyards, narrow streets and a lot of plazas where you will be able to see Quichua-speaking women in their traditional clothes carrying their children on their backs in tightly wrapped blankets, Mucho military looking police partroling around and of course tourists....just like us... We also managed to shoot some videos and a lot of images of this awesome cultural exploration. Our great host Oswaldo and Veronica also took us to see important monuments such as The Virgin Statue in Quito located at the top of a small hill El Panecillo: in the middle of the Colonial part of Quito, the Independence Place, Plaza Santo Domingo, The La Basilica church, The Monument on the Equator and much more...
So here are a few taste of Quito and its street life...I will be posting an Equadorian dance exhibition that we found while navigating through its meandering passages......

- Teo and Mee Leng -

Arrival! Finally! |

We have arrived! Teo, Meeleng, and I arrived at the airport last night to a sea of humanity...I really can't imagine what we would have done if I didn't seen Fernando's smiling face looking for me. I think I know how the Beatles felt everytime they got off a plane or out of a car, that's how many people were there. Fernando says that whenever someone comes home in latin america, the entire family has to come to greet them at the airport. We all piled into Oswaldo's car (shhhh, there were 7 of us in a 6 passenger car) and he took us the hotel. We then felt the need to go out for some Pilsener (Ecuadorian beer), and we got to know each thing was clear, Oswaldo and Veronica are fantastic people. Fernando and I were woken up in the morning by some crazies singing at the top of their lungs at 600am in the breakfast room...yes, in the morning, as in 5 hours after we got to bed. I just started to laugh, because, really, how absurd...We decided to get up and walk the city for a bit, came back and had breakfast with the whole crew...and then we were off to be tourist for the entire day....Quito is fantastic...we straddled the Equator...had a typical meal....and then at 600pm started our work! We met for about 3 hours regarding the project, our roles, Kallari, and whatever else seemed to come up. We will be heading to Tena tomorrow, with a quick visit to the site and then meetings with the heads of Kallari in the afternoon. I'm going to try to get some good sleep tonight...we have to be at breakfast at 730am, maybe we'll do the singing for the hotel in the morning.

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