october 31

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As a graduate student, over the past year or so, I have started to hold opinions on china, east asia, government policies and economic strategies.
But I do so lightly, gently. I chose, no, rather felt on an intuitive level, that any opinion or view could be refuted by opposing information. I don’t know if I have ever been a person with truly strong, stubborn views (certainly not compared to some people I know), but I think the combination of understanding economics (taught by professors who though subscribing to free market views, freely admitted their shortcomings and limitations), speaking three languages, experiencing living in different countries and interacting with different people, something inside of me protests against a truly dogmatic or one sided view of the world. I inhabit the grey, keenly aware of the shifting factors and effects that cannot be summed up with a pithy headline. once reached, my opinions still come with a silent “and yet” addendum.
i continue to feel this way in DC. something inside me rebels against too neat, too tidy an argument (though I certainly can appreciate an elegant concept or through line). writing off a country, a ruler, even a policy as wholly bad is not for me – i always try to pry out the sometimes minute seed of good that an otherwise useless or awful thing has caused, and the reverse for something good.
the world is too complex for our brains. it troubles me when we forget that, when we think a tidy narrative of racism, populism, ideology, religion or cynicism explains it all. just existing in this world and trying to understand it is a true act of cognitive dissonance that we have to bravely embrace, and not resort to low tactics. we have to be willing to say this is confusing and unexplainable and I will go on doing my best anyway. I will continue to give things the benefit of the doubt, to stay open, to hold room for the unimaginable. To admit you don’t have the answers and live the questions all the same.
So, I will go on with my innumerable readings, my talks and my conversations, holding the information in my brain, trying to make sense of it all, even as I know I cannot. Just trying is the aim, as it invariably has been, is and will be, in every fragment of my life.
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a day in the life

This is a little snapshot into my life as a grad student in Washington DC, as taken from tuesday 25 october. Not every day is like this – I work 3 shifts a week as a student worker in admissions, go to a lot of talks given by experts at school, and obviously do things outside of school too haha, but this is a little taste of a tuesday in my life!

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7:30 am: I wake up, get dressed and head downstairs. First stop, coffee and breakfast. I make porridge and then sit and work out what I have on today with the help of my diary. I set out tasks, sip my coffee and enjoy my porridge. I then have a read of my current book, Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl. I only have the last chapter to go so I manage to finish it.

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9:00 am: I walk down to our gorgeous neighbourhood library, which is less than a ten minute walk from our house – what a luxury. I return the books I’ve read, borrow the ones they’ve got on hold for me (What I Know For Sure by Oprah and Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl – I’m on a memoir kick at the moment). I sit down at one of their lovely wooden tables in a sunny spot and do some equity market reading for my class the next day on my laptop.

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11:00 am: My laptop is low on battery so I pack up to go. I walk a circuitous route home, enjoying the pretty street art, gorgeous turning leaves and stellar blue sky. Once home, I finely slice some cabbage I have in the fridge and stirfry it along with cracked black pepper, some dried chilli and some salt. I top it with some crunchy breadcrumbs. I also make a slice of peanut butter and honey toast for good measure, with some of my beloved Alvarado Street Bakery bread which is the closest thing I can find to vogels here.

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12:00 pm: I sit out on our upstairs balcony to eat it, and enjoy sunning myself and watching the crazy squirrels racing along the telephone lines.

1:20 pm: After doing work in the living room, it’s time to head into school for my two o’clock class. I end up biking to school in convoy with my flatmate which is novel because we go her route which is a little different to my usual. We park up and head into our respective classes.

I have comparative politics, which goes by fairly quickly. I spent a while on the readings this week, so I’m able to contribute by answering some questions. After class, I walk down the road to one of the other uni buildings and bump into an acquaintance from Nanjing. We catch up for a while and then I head into the cafeteria – it’s the weekly free cookie hour. I snag one for now and another for later and then head back to find my bike. I usually have a tutorial from 6-7pm on a Tuesday but we don’t have one this week because of midterms, so it is a nice treat to head home much earlier than usual.

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5:00 pm: I bike down 16th street which has an extraordinarily large amount of old, gorgeous churches. While I’m stopped at the lights I can’t help take a photo of this one illuminated in the golden light. I head down the road to Trader Joes. I lock my bike up outside and zip in to get groceries for the dinner I’m cooking my flatmates tonight. I walk out awkwardly as my arms are filled with the groceries I bought, but I stow them successfully in my bike basket and take off again – uphill this time.

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5:30 pm: I arrive home and get cooking. I’m making sausage casserole with rice and peas, a family classic. I have a cooking rotation with two of my flatmates, so 3 nights a week we have dinner together. It’s always a treat to have dinner cooked for you, and they always cook something yummy and different.

6:00 pm: while the casserole is in the oven, I sit down with some of my flatmates for an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a show we’re currently working our way through and just loving – we’re currently in season 3 (of 7!) We watch Buffy slay vampires and deal with teenage angsty friendships and it’s great fun.

7:10 pm: dinner’s ready. I dish up and we eat together at the table. We have a glass of wine in celebration of papers submitted and midterms completed which quite rightly deserves a celebration.

8:00 pm: I get back to my readings and keep working on those, writing detailed notes. I’m going to have to refer back to them anyway when I write my paper on the capital markets in China, so I may as well make it easier on myself and figure out the key points now.

9:45 pm: the content of the readings is no longer sinking in and I head up to have a shower. I put on my pjs and start reading one of my library books I Take You by Eliza Kennedy. It’s funny and gripping and feminist and I can’t put it down.

11:45 pm: I notice the time with a start and quickly put the book down, set my alarm, turn off the light and fall asleep, ready for another big day of uni.

thoughts on living overseas

i was at dinner last night with friends who have all moved overseas and one of them said something that really struck me. she said she wished she could tell everyone back home to go and live in another country for a while, as she just thinks it’s so important for your development (especially as we were all in our early twenties) and after thinking it over i definitely agree.

obviously travel itself is great for your confidence and resilience, but i also think making a life for yourself in a place is uniquely special in a way that a backpacking trip doesn’t necessarily equate to. making your own routines, finding your locals, making new friends, trying a new activity or hobby (me doing zumba and volunteering with kids in nanjing) all are part of making a life in a place. and when you push through the stress and the administrative dramas that characterise the first phase (along with excitement and new discoveries, naturellement) you find yourself happy in a place that you never knew you could be.
i.e. me in Nanjing: look at me! i’m away from my countrymen, not able to do the things i love (get books out from the library, cook, go to barre class, hang out with my family) and yet I’m ok. better yet, i’m happy!

and then when i left china. all the things that i felt so keenly being ripped away from me. street eats, constant language breakthroughs, pudgy babies all around, zumba, my new friends, fun conversations with chinese people all the time…. those were all things i just loved!

and yet. in london i’m back with my uni friends, back cooking (and loving it), finding new places and neighbourhoods, finding enjoyment in earning and being a productive member of society again, being in a multicultural atmosphere, enjoying architectural splendour and fun day trips.

and i realise. there are so many ways to be happy. there are so many ways to build a rich, full life.
life staying always in one place can feel one dimensional. and i’m not saying it is, but we forget about all the rich possibilities and choices we have available to us. moving somewhere new gives a new lens to view the world through, opens everything up and puts it all on the table. and makes us realise what we can do without and surprisingly enough be ok without.

it is bittersweet. right now I know that all the people i love and care about will never all live in the same place with me. that’s a hard thought. i’ll always be a bit behind in their life, communicating through social media and the odd message rather than in person hugs and walks and long lazy dinners. but how lucky am I that i can visualize a life in four cities (chch, dunedin, nanjing and london) and from those countless more, since i know what it is to pack everything and go somewhere new and start afresh and succeed?

on replay: open heart, open mind and you’ll be fine.

ps – i feel i’ve learned so much in my short life of 22 years. can’t imagine the lessons and wisdom the next 60 or so have in store for me!

i’m back!

hi! it’s been a bit, hasn’t it?

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…ok, more than a bit!

would it placate you to tell you that the last 4 months have been action packed and contained my 21st birthday, a graduation, two 21st party weekends in wellington and friends visiting Christchurch?

no? how about homemade gingernut icecream, mango tart, yeasted naan, sweet and savoury scrolls, a midwinter christmas dinner and a indian feast?

now I’m just teasing you, aren’t I.

seriously though, I’m well. and filled with happiness and joy to be blogging again, which is just as well, because..

blooming anna is going international!

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Nanjing, China to be exact.

and i can’t wait to share my adventures in the middle kingdom with you. I’m practising my tones, packing my bags and trying to squeeze every last bit of family and friend bonding, new zealand scenic appreciation and delicious flat whites into the last few weeks.

the last 8 months have been fantastic – so special to have this time at home which i may not have had if the terms hadn’t worked out the way they did.

of course cooking has been a great joy this year – always such a treat to use the home kitchen rather than the grotty flat ones i’ve had to contend with in recent years. it’s just as well as i won’t have access to one in China (I KNOW, how will i cope?!)

so, i’ll be back very soon with my no doubt scintillating thoughts on packing (aka the worst chore/activity there is), travel, and my impressions of CHINA!

i’ll leave you with the recipe for mango tart, which was absolutely superb and one of the tastiest desserts i have ever made! I made it for my mum’s birthday, and it went down a treat. this recipe inspired me, and then little and friday plus this lady online helped me narrow down the exact execution.

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Mango, lemongrass and coconut tart

lemon and coconut sweet pastry
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup toasted thread coconut
1 cup icing sugar
pinch of salt
250g butter, well chilled and cubed
1 egg
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp lemon zest

Blitz flour, sugar and salt briefly in food processor. add butter and process to breadcrumbs. add all other ingredients and pulse until it forms a ball.
turn out, gather to a dough and wrap in plastic wrap. let it rest for at least an hour.
you will use 2/3 of the pastry. either remove 1/3 immediately or roll out with this in mind. roll out to 3mm thickness and line a removable bottom fluted tart pan.
rest for an hour in the fridge.
blind bake for 15 mins with beans/paper in. remove filling and bake for another 10 mins.
allow to cool completely.

lemongrass custard
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
3 stalks lemongrass, sliced
600ml cream
1/4 cup cornflour

heat cream and lemongrass in a saucepan to a simmer. turn heat off and let steep for 20 mins. strain and return cream to saucepan.
beat egg yolks, sugar and cornflour until very pale and fluffy. add a small amount of hot cream, whisk to temper, then add the rest of the cream in increments.
pour back into the saucepan. place over a low heat and stir constantly. it is VERY EASY to curdle. when it comes to boil, remove from the heat and allow to cool completely in the fridge.

topping
3 perfectly ripe mangoes

peel mangoes with a potato peeler. Slice the cheeks and the other sides off. slice into half moon shapes 2 mm thick – you are aiming for delicate and flexible but not floppy.

dollop lemongrass custard evenly into tart shell and spread with a knife. arrange mango in rose formation.

serve! and wait for the compliments to pour in (it is just so good).

it’s good to be back in this space, friends!

lots of love, Anna, BA, DipLang, 21 years of age (how official this all sounds!)

the art of alone time

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being a raging ENFP, I’m not terribly good at being by myself, especially for long stretches of time. the uncomfortable feeling I’m told introverts get after being social for too long is what i get when i’m alone for too long – insufferable cabin fever. this used to manifest itself hugely around exam time, where hours spent being silent studying in the library would drive me cuckoo. frankly put, i want to be around (friendly) others most of the time.

however, as I get older, i’m learning to appreciate time spent alone. this was put to the test when my mum and sister went away for the easter weekend, and i had the house to myself for 4 days. Now, i was working for two of them, (hence why i didn’t join the trip to my favourite place), but two days and three evenings is quite sizeable for this extrovert.
but anna! I hear you ask. just because your mum and sister were away, don’t you know anyone else in christchurch? well yes, i do, but easter is a time of going away/spending quality time with your family that i feel like it would be weird to try and arrange social activities during it – not to mention that my two days off were good friday and easter sunday, on which nearly everything closes. popsicle date at the petrol station, anyone?

so – what have i been up to? relishing my time! while typically i greatly dislike cooking for one, we had lamb shanks in the freezer, which i just love. I used a great annabel langbein recipe to make them and also whipped up baked apples with custard. i hadn’t made the latter before, but we had cooking apples and i was intrigued – and they turned out great! the skin of the apple gets crunchy and flaky, kind of like a baked potato, and the inside turns to pure tangy fluff. and i guess the custard doesn’t hurt either ;)

my mum, feeling guilty at abandoning me, also left me lots of other treats, so come monday i may have trouble fitting into my work clothes!

to accompany this supreme comfort food, i read a dear katie fforde book, who i can always rely on for a sweet heart warming read, watched nz bachelor (i’d saved two episodes expressly for the purpose), and discovered a new web series (to make up for the hole in my life after finishing the lizzie bennet diaries and emma approved).

……i would also like to point out that i did laundry, went for a few runs, cleaned my room and vacuumed the house for when my mum reads this post ;)

my alone time also doubled as learning time. it’s very easy to get by without knowing how to do maintenance things around the house when you live with a. parents or b. boys, and as I have spent my entire life with one or the other, i duly know very little about all this.

BUT! the gods evidently decided this weekend i would learn real life adult skills, when the gas (that powers our stove) ran out on me one day, and a fuse tripped the next. to youtube i turned initially, before admitting defeat and phoning my mum. however, next time these things occur, i will be equipped and ready – i’ll even volunteer to be the one to sort it out! i’m still a little hazy on the whole tire changing thing (despite observing it being done twice), but, as I’m still on my learners, I have no doubt the time will come the very first time I’m driving alone (when i finally get my restricted licence).

i also took the opportunity to give the fridge a going over. with my food bag, we use up the majority of our groceries at the end of each week, unless we have leftovers from the recipes or bought extra stuff. I found beetroot, broccoli and radishes in the fridge and decided a salad was in order. riffing on a couple of ripe recipes, and stuff i’d seen online, i made this creation for my lunches this week.

i really like it – i prepared the beetroot in both raw slim juliennes and soft roasted cubes, plus blanched broccoli and edamame, sliced radishes, toasted sesame seeds and a tangy dressing (pomegranate molasses is amazing). i initially planned to make quinoa to go in it, but then i came to my senses.
However, if you like quinoa (i just don’t), feel free to toss it in – i’ve seen quite a few recipes which include it.

now, i’m off to enjoy what’s left of my alone time before my family gets back – i’ve enjoyed my weekend off so much that it may be a blow to have company!

enjoy what’s left of the easter weekend friends – my love to you all.

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beautiful beetroot salad

five beetroot, peeled
4 radishes, finely sliced
1 head of broccoli, chopped into 1cm bits
1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted
350g edamame beans, defrosted
optional extras that would also be nice: mint, kale, spinach, dried cranberries

dressing:
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
1 tbsp orange juice
2 tsp olive oil

preheat the oven to 180C. take two of the beetroot and dice them. roast in the oven with a little olive oil for 30 mins or until caramelised and tender.
julienne the three remaining beetroot. i used a mandoline – if you don’t have one, it may be easier just to coarsely grate them – it’s up to you. know that you will end up with red stained hands no matter what, and gracefully accept this. definitely make at least one bad joke about getting caught red handed (if you are alone while making this, there will be no one to groan despairingly at your lame humour).
boil the kettle. put the chopped broccoli in a large heat proof bowl and cover with boiling water. put a plate or lid on top and let cook for 3 mins or so. get a piece of broccoli out and taste to test the done-ness. if tender drain the broccoli, and try to get it as dry as possible.
to make the dressing, just mix all ingredients together in a small bowl.

toss together beetroot, broccoli, radishes and edamame. pour over some of the dressing – you don’t want to drown it. you can always add more later on if the salad needs it. scatter over sesame seeds and toss again to combine.

enjoy! i think spinach or kale would be nice, if you feel you need more greenery in your life. i’d be happy either way.
good served for lunch by itself, or dinner accompanied by chicken, fish or tofu.

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butterscotch walnut scrolls

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hi! let’s catch up on life shall we?

i just began a new job! i know what you’re thinking, you’ve been unemployed for nearly a month Anna? what are you doing girl! weeeeellll… long story there. I arrived back from wanaka on the 2nd of february, then raced up to wellington to visit my cute friends on the 7th. the day before i left, i placed two rather fateful job applications on trademe jobs. one a rather aspirational choice – a job that i loved the thought of, that would challenge and excite me – and the other a café job, so a pretty safe bet. the latter got in touch with me a couple of hours later, and i went in for an interview that afternoon. after two hours of straight interviews, i was offered a job on the spot, and was told to be in touch the next day to confirm i wanted the job, or the offer would disappear. i decided to take the job – it seemed frankly dumb to turn a guaranteed job down, and i knew that i really needed to get earning.

a couple of days later, while in wellington, i was contacted by the dreamy job for an interview. regrets!! the fact i was in wellington and so not able to come into the office wasn’t the worst of it – i started the other job the very day (friday) i was back in town and knowing hospo, would be required to work over the weekend as well. i just didn’t know when i would be available for an interview, and didn’t want to burn bridges with the job i’d just acquired – after all there was no guarantee i’d be offered this other (awesome) job. i sent back an apologetic reply and was so annoyed that i wasn’t in a good position to take advantage of the chance to interview. i soon fell out of touch with these people, and thought i’d lost my chance.

once i arrived back to christchurch, after a truly blissful time, i got straight into working at the café. it was… weird. fully anticipating to struggle heaps the first day (because, well: it’s the first day, it’s never going to be this hard or intimidating again!), it actually was not too bad, but in the days that followed, i could just not shake my unease about the environment, and the prospect of spending 40 hours a week at this place. my coworkers were weirdly forthcoming about how much they adored working there, and especially working for the boss – this machiavellian figure alternately up in the attic-like office, or prowling the floor, and the amount of rules down to the atom frankly irritated me. i’m all for a structured environment, but this felt clone-like. my doubts were confirmed when a throwaway remark about not enjoying being put on the feral dishes prompted a meeting (in the middle of my shift) up in the aerie, and when i confirmed that the job wasn’t really for me, things got nasty.

however! silver linings, y’all, because the very next day after my ungraceful exit, i made a visit to the workplace of the lovely job, and it turned out that things around the office had been busy and the job was still available! so, i went in for a couple of interviews, and at the end of the second one, was offered the place. i was absolutely over the moon, and texted all my friends, who had listened to my travails with kindness and sympathy. i am a working lady again, and frankly couldn’t feel better. the best part is, no matter how challenging or testing my new job becomes, it is always going to appear wonderful compared to the other one!

i also have a recipe for you! cinnamon scrolls are a favourite of mine – i find they’re the perfect amount of sweet without being sickly. and i have been eyeing up deb’s recipe for sticky pecan buns since she posted it! i have a favourite bread dough recipe which i used instead of her’s, which actually is a recipe for baps from the lovely (and kiwi) destitute gourmet. these were very forgiving, flexible delights and served very well for a sunday morning tea with one of my sweet friends. paired with strong coffee, they are a delight. and they even freeze well fully cooked too! i used our homegrown walnuts but either would be fine. enjoy! xx

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Butterscotch Walnut Scrolls

adapted from smitten kitchen and destitute gourmet
3 1/3 cups plain flour
1 tsp salt
50 g cold butter, in small cubes
1 packet instant yeast
1 ½ tsp sugar
125 ml milk
125 ml warm water
Blitz the flour, salt and butter in the food processor until it resembles breadcrumbs. Whisk in the yeast and sugar, then slowly stir in the liquids. Knead until a smooth soft dough (about 5-10 mins) and then put in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Leave in a warm place until doubled in size.
Butterscotch 
100g butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup cream
1/3 cup honey
1/4 tsp salt
Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat and swirl occasionally for 3-5 mins. Pour into the baking dish and pop in the fridge to cool before assembling the scrolls.
Filling
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
pinch of salt
30g butter, melted
1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
Stir together sugar, salt and spices. Put the dough on a floured bench and roll out to a large rectangle. Brush with melted butter and then sprinkle over sugar mix. Roll up and gently cut into 12 equal slices. Sprinkle the walnuts evenly into the butterscotch dish then arrange the rolls on top. Either let the rolls proof again immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight – then let proof in the morning.
Heat the oven to 180C. Place the scrolls in the oven and bake for approximately 30 minutes. Let cool on the bench for 5 – 10 mins before inverting the dish on a platter. Serve with pride!

happiness & heroines

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^^the only thing this opposite-of-a-hoarder collects^^
if you know me in real life, this post will come as no surprise to you – i looooove period dramas. in fact, #1 on my bucket list is to be an extra in a period drama. starring in one is just a little too unrealistic, you know? and if there’s one thing i appreciate, it’s an achievable to do list ;)
If i somehow got access to a time machine, Regency era London would be my first stop. but since time machines still belong to the realm of science fiction (a genre i’m much less partial to, by the way), i escape to this world via the page and the screen.
i’ve been on quite the historical classic bender recently – I read a couple of Heyer’s, Northanger Abbey and North and South, so i thought i’d write a post about my favourite places to get my fix:

 

books:

Georgette Heyer
my favourite author of all time. My grandma introduced me to her books when I was 13 and ever since then I’ve read every book of hers I could get my hands on. i just love their impulsive heroines, dashing heroes, hilarious characters dialogue, exciting plots and of course the perfect romantic endings. why none of her books have been turned into films or mini series is such a mystery to me!
my favourites: arabella, these old shades, devil’s cub, regency buck and the black moth.
Jane Austen
i’m a little slack in that i’ve only read pride and prejudice and northanger abbey (I know, i know) but her film adaptions are so great!! sense and sensibility is currently on my bedside table so i’m excited to let you all know my verdict.
Elizabeth Gaskell
i just read North and South but haven’t made it to the rest of hers yet – but apparently wives and daughters and cranford are both excellent!

 

films/mini series:

Sense and Sensibility with Kate Winslet and Alan Rickman – oh my goodness Rickman is INCREDIBLE in his portrayal of Colonel Brandon. This film has such an amazing cast and I could watch it over and over.
Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth – the definitive pride and prejudice adaption. colin firth and jennifer ehle are perfection as these characters.
Northanger Abbey with JJ Feild – the book drags in places so i reckon the film does a better job of advancing the story along, and Feild makes a very charismatic Tilney. love it!
Emma with Romola Garai – the best emma adaption! Garai is a sparkling Emma.

 

adaptions:

the Lizzie Bennet Diaries – haha you knew this was coming. so good!
Emma Approved – also fantastic – the leads have incredible chemistry and I’ve always had a soft spot for Knightley, who is portrayed impeccably.
From Prada to Nada – great fun, a lot less trashy than it may appear!
Clueless – again very true to the novel and with gorgeous leads.
and last but not least..
Austenland – i actually enjoyed this so much! if only austenland actually existed … you know i would totally visit.