Not all who wander are lost
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Not all who wander are lost
Welcome to a peek of my 6 months teaching English in China:)
Curated by Amira
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13.7.13 | Not all who wander are lost |
Amira's insight:

I don't know how many of you out there are actually following my blog, I assume that not many because I seldom post any more. But I wanted to let you know what this blog will contain. This blog will not be about everything I do. It will not share all my experiences and thoughts.

I want this blog to be a space in which I can share some insights that come to me during these months.. Some interesting experiences, some amazments about the world.

It might not make chronological sense but I hope you will find it interesting. Don't expect to discover everything I am experiencing here, just accept what I do post and make of it what you will.

The next passage is something I wrote a while ago on a particularly long train ride to Anhui province.

A boy flying a kite

On the roof of a dilapidated house

In a field of ruins

In a factory of dust.

He rises above it all with a tune in his heart and a kite in his hand.

He manages to create beauty

Immense beauty

In the wake of destruction.

His heart elevates with his kite

His kite flies as a flag

Symbolizing freedom.

Freedom of the mind

The freedom to be happy.

All his hopes and dreams

Seem possible as he watches

That colorful kite rise higher and higher

Into the grey misty sky.

He watches the wind blowing from

Different places on earth bringing hope

He watches the wind lift

Up the radiant colors

And broadcast them to the world

And in that one moment

When the kite finally takes flight

His heart soars so high

That he believes that anything


Is possible.

A boy flying a kite

On the roof of a dilapidated house

In a field of ruins

In a factory of dust

In a moment

Is happy.


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28.5.13 | Not all who wander are lost |
Amira's insight:

I started this blog posting about everything. Every new observation every new experience. But as life here in China has become more mundane more structured I find that I have less of an urge to write about it. I have gotten used to the culture, the weather, the teaching and even the food. Only the other day when I was talking to a friend that I had been out of touch with for a while did I realize once again how strange everything is here, how far I had really come, how amazing it was that I now felt that this was my life, my reality, my everyday.

The other day I was sitting outside at night in the city watching the crazy chinese city lights reflect and shimmer off of a river and all of a sudden I stopped and looked at everything and just felt “how in the world did this become my reality?”. I like it. Life can take you on some pretty crazy rides if you just let it.

I know I haven't posted in a while so I am going to try to backtrack and post about some things I have been doing over the past month. Hopefully I will do it in the next few day.

But now I want to give a short update as to what's going on now.

I have less than two months left teaching and I am trying to finalize my travel plans for when I finish. Teaching is pretty much the same. And when I say the same I mean that I teach the same class over and over again 32 times. I am getting a little tired of it and a little disappointed at the lack of continuity with my students. I love my students. But it is hard to feel like I are making a difference when I see them only once every few weeks.

That being said, I still enjoy the actual teaching very much.

We finally started to get some Chinese lessons (we were promised 2 hours a week from the beginning of the contract..) and I am starting to understand a lot more and am able to pick out words from conversations. So that is really exciting:)

This past weekend we went to Qingdao, which is a coastal city in this province, only two hours away and home to the famous “Tsingtao beer”. We went expecting a nice weekend on the beach in the sun (it has been very hot at school) but we ended up with a cloudy, cold and rainy weekend. It didn't matter though, just being on the beach was enough for me. It was so beautiful!

We stayed at a very nice, very cheap hostel that was located in the older part of the city.

Because of the rain we did more indoor activities which included lunch a local restaurant named for John Lennon with some chinese friends and a tour of the tsingtao beer brewery which included tastings of a few different kinds of beer.

It was a very nice weekend.


More to come soon:)



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18.4.13 | Not all who wander are lost |
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So the main problem with starting a blog is that you then have to continue it... :) Sorry I haven't posted in a while. A lot has gone by since my last post.

A few weeks ago N and I were invited to one of the chinese English teachers brothers wedding (try saying that 10 times fast..). We didn't know anyone there except for the chinese English teacher. It was one of the most culturally interesting experiences we have had here so far. I don't even know where to begin. The ceremony took place in front of the house that the grooms family built for the couple to live in after the wedding which was in one of the villages near our school. Outside was a table covered with red things of all sorts and incense. Red is a color that is said to bring good luck. The most interesting red thing that was there was a chicken, a live chicken tied by a red string to the table. When we arrived at the house all of the family members were there eating nuts and candies and waiting for the couple to arrive. The bride and groom arrived together and were welcomed in with many firecrackers, confetti and silly string spray. The ceremony was officiated by a local comedian and of course it was all in chinese so I didn't understand much but the main points of the ceremony is when the bride and groom bow three times to give thanks to the ancestors and then three times to the grooms parents to receive their consent to the marriage. Once the ceremony was over, candy and cigarettes were thrown into the air for the guests to collect and the photographer took photos of the bride and groom with their family and a picture with.... us, the two funny looking foreigners:)

Then we all made our way over to a restaurant for the reception. The thing that shocked me the most at the reception was the food. Never have I seen that many dead animals served at one meal. There was chicken, donkey, crabs, fish, different kinds of seafood that I couldn't identify, pig snouts, some sort of beef and turtle soup which consisted of a whole turtle which was then devoured shell and all.

The bride and groom came around and made a toast with each table and then the games began... literally. The comedian who officiated the ceremony then began hosting a round of game show games. Different kinds of competitions and karaoke. Karaoke is REALLY big in china. At this point the chinese English teacher who invited us insisted that we get up and perform an English song for the happy couple.  We had no choice in the matter. So that is how I ended up singing a “Westlife” song for a large room full of chinese people that I didn't know.

This is the first of a few updates about the last few weeks:)


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15.3.13 | Not all who wander are lost |
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Today as I was walking to my next class a student came up to me and gave me a folded piece of paper, a paper folding of a heart and a pen. A present, she called it. I unfolded the piece of paper to discover it full of English writing. The student then continued to tell me that this was a short story that she wrote out by one of her favorite authors, Eileen Chang.
The story really touched me. It is beautiful yet tragic and seems to me that it represents a lot of the mind set here in china. There is a lot of beauty, a lot of love and warmth, but along with that there is a lot of tragedy and pain that is slightly overlooked. The pain that is seen as a part of life. A pain that no one really seems to want to do anything about. As sad as that is to me, I do feel that people here really know how to find the good and the love in everything.
Emotions here are more suppressed than I am used to, but in their subtlety there is beauty.

Anyway, I thought that I would share the story with you guys:

Love, by Eileen Chang

This is real.
There was once a daughter of a tolerably well-off family in the country who was very lonely and sought out by many matchmakers, although nothing had come of their efforts.
That year, she was only 15 or 16 years old. One spring evening, she stood by the back door, hands resting on a peach tree. She remembered that she was wearing a moon-white tunic. She had seen the young man who lived across the way, but they had never spoken. He walked towards her, came to a halt close by, and said softly: “So, you’re here too?” She did not say anything, and he did not say more. They stood for a moment and then went their separate ways.
That was all.
Later, the girl was abducted by a swindler in the family and sold as a concubine in some far off town, then sold several times more, passing through any number of trials and ordeals.
When she was old, she still remembered that incident and often spoke of that evening in spring, the peach tree by the back door, that young man.
When you meet the one among millions, when amid millions of years, across the borderless wastes of time, you happen to catch him or her, neither a step too early nor a step too late, what else is there to do except to ask softly: “So, you’re here too?”.

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My five minutes of fame:)

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So yesterday I became an official celebrity here.
A local news station came to school and filmed one of my classes and then did a sort of interview with me.
It was so embarrassing!
They filmed a class in which I made a complete fool of myself (like a good English teacher should) and then after the class I was told to come to the “English corner”.
Now, we have been asking the school since we got here to give us a room to make an English corner for the students to come to in their free time but have not gotten one yet. Until that day there was no English corner in the school but, when the news station came they took an empty classroom and put a sign on the door that said “English corner” and thus the English corner was created:)
So I went into the room and in it was a cameraman and a news reporter. Then a swarm of all the Chinese English teachers in the high school came into the room. I was told to sit along with the other English teachers around a big table in the middle of the room and then all the teachers went around in a circle, each one asking me a question. Some questions were about me, some about Israel and the customs there, some about judaism and many about suggestions for different teaching methods. I did my best to answer their questions but some of them really put me on the spot! One teacher asked me if I was Christian and when I answered that I was actually jewish she asked me what I thought about christianity..
So basicly I went from being a giant panda that everyone stares at to being a local celebrity..hehe.
more to come later...

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1.3.13 | Not all who wander are lost |
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It is finally sunny out today. For the first time since I got here I see blue sky. Finally.
Since we have arrived here, in Xiasan, the sky has been grey every day, the air is always full of smoggy fog and it is freezing! But at least the people here are very warm and welcoming.
Yesterday was Yaping’s, our “chaperone”, birthday. So all the teachers in the office and us went out to a nearby restaurant to celebrate. It was really nice and relaxed. They are all really nice, of course we couldn't understand most of what was said but at least some was translated for us by the English teachers. There was a ton of food and they were very considerate and ordered many vegetarian dishes to accommodate me.
Apparently N and I have arrived in the #1 drinking province in China. We were told last night that there recently has been a study in China and it was discovered that out of all of China, the people in Shandong drink the most! Which of course means that at every meal there is a lot of alcohol (beer or rice wine), and it is custom here to make at least 6 toasts where you finish the entire glass each time. 6 toasts to welcome someone, 8 for great fortune, 10 for perfection, 2 for a lasting friendship and many more...
We had a lot of fun.
I started teaching two days ago, it is a very different experience teaching a class of 60 students who don’t really understand a word you are saying. I have never done anything like this in my life. But it is a lot of fun! The students are so sweet and eager to learn spoken English. This is so different than any type of teaching I have ever done in my life. I feel like I am putting on a show each time I walk into a new class. I have 32 classes to teach, each with 60 students in it. 1920 students. Wow.
I have never felt more like a foreigner in my life. There is nowhere to hide here, nowhere to blend in with the crowd. I am about as inconspicuous as a giant panda in the middle of the street. It is really hard to get used to being constantly watched, constantly inspected. This is the first time that most of the students here have ever seen a foreigner so we are quite a spectacle.
Another thing that is hard to get used to is not understanding anything. People don’t talk to you, they talk around you.  It is so hard to communicate, it takes a lot of work.
For now the school has put us up in a hotel nearby because our accommodation is not ready yet. So that has been nice... but I really want to get to our permanent living arrangement already!
We are pretty much in the middle of nowhere.. The nearest city is an hour and a half away by bus but the walk to the bus is about 45 min... But yesterday I discovered a very old and traditional village right by the school which has a very nice market every few days with fresh fruit and vegetables! The food at the school canteen is mostly edible but nothing more than that and they never serve any fresh fruits or vegetables. So this discovery was very exciting for me. At the market they also sell tofu by the pound!
The weekend is coming up which means we get to rest a bit! We are going to try to head to Weifang (the nearest city) to get some essentials and to try to see some friends from the program.
To sum up- we arrived here last Saturday and received a culture shock. But things are looking up. We are in the real China, not much westernization here. It is going to be quite an experience.
Until next time,

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10.6.13 | Not all who wander are lost |
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This week I discovered that I only have one lesson left with each class.

Time flies.

Last night there was a big arts performance at the school. It took place in the field outside. This was the first time that I got to see all of my students together. All 2000 of my students. It was a very overwhelming feeling, looking into a sea of thousands of students and pretty much recognizing all of them. It is so strange that these five months here are coming to an end.

Looking out over the sea of students, I realized for the first time that I have made a difference here.

At the performance we got the seats of honor, sitting in the second row right behind all of the principles (or leaders, as they call it here..). The show was great! Lots of singing, dancing, some funny skits (that of course, I couldn't understand at all..) and even some opera singing. The students seemed to enjoy it a lot and I loved it!

Tomorrow we are heading out for a week off. We decided to spend this vacation exploring our own province. So we are off to a very tall mountain, the birthplace of confucius and if we have time we might even stop off at the beach:)

When we get back we will have only two weeks left of actual teaching.. AHH!

And then off to the next adventure!

More to come...


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19.4.13 | Not all who wander are lost |
Amira's insight:

We had our first official vacation since we got to the school. 4 days off for the Qing Ming festival (the tomb sweeping festival) at the beginning of April. N and I decided to go on our first adventure on our own in China. We took a 12 hour train ride overnight on a hard sleeper, top bunk to the city of Kaifeng in Henan province.
Kaifeng is a very interesting city full of history and culture. It is also the only place that jews have ever settled in china over history. Kaifang is one of the few cities in China that has representation of many different religions (Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity).
Kaifeng is also known for its excellent street food.
So we arrived in the early morning, the sky was still dark and most of the city was still asleep. We came across quite a few street restaurants that served all different kind of food for breakfast. N tried some steamed dumplings that Kaifeng was famous for and then we went on our way to explore the city. We walked from the train station into the city walls (about a 15 min. walk) and enjoyed observing the senior citizens of kaifeng out for their various morning exercises around one of Kaifeng’s lakes which included tai chi, walking, hitting each other, yelling out at the lake and a few brave ones actually jumped in for a morning swim (it was freezing out!!). Then we wandered around for a while waiting for the major sites to open their gates. We tried some great street food (fresh soy milk made on the spot and some sort of fried dough with egg) and then went to the Buddhist temple. It is a beautiful and peaceful temple, full of buddhist monks wearing robes of different colors and beautiful plants and flowers. We rested there for a while and then went to check in at out cheap hotel. It was a little gryme but it had all the essentials (a working shower and a western toilet!!). After a bit of a rest we made our way to the Shanshangan guild hall. It was very beautiful but the best part of it was that we happened to come upon a performance of traditional chinese music. What struck me most about the music is that although there were about 7 different instruments playing and a singer, you could easily differentiate the special sound of each instrument. All the instruments played the same melody. There were barely any harmonies. There is no sound that fills the void between the notes, just many single voices playing together, apart. It is like the sound of many people marching together but each one easily differentiated from the rest, all singing the same tune, each in their own unique voice. It resembles chinese culture, the unison, the slow pace,the subtlety.
A lot of individuals masked as a whole.
As we left the guild hall we came upon a lovely tea house and made quick friends with the ladies there. We got to taste many different kinds of chinese tea and learned a lot about where tea comes from, how it is made and how to serve it in the correct way. The way that they serve the tea is so elegant and beautiful that it is mesmerizing. We then bought a brick of our favorite tea (pu erh tea) and decided to go find the remains of the Kaifeng synagog. After much search we happened to read the “fine print” in the Lonely planet guide informing us that all that was left of it was a well in the basement of a hospital. So we gave up and made our way to the amazing night market for dinner. The market was packed with people and street vendors selling all sorts of delicious and cheap food. My favorite was fried and roasted spicy tofu. We found a place to sit down and eat our various treats and met a very nice chinese couple. We made fast friends with them and learned a lot of chinese from the interaction with them. We then continued to roam the night market and got many tasty desserts. Then we called it a night and went back to the hotel.
The next day we had a not so early start. It was raining out but that didn't stop us. We made our way to the taoist temple and on the way stopped on one of the side street restaurants/vendors for breakfast (fresh soy milk and a melawach with an egg fried into it- really good!). On the way to the taoist temple we found some really nice markets in the allies of Kaifeng with all sorts of spices and all sorts of tofu. The taoist temple was beautiful, blooming with the first flowers of spring and packed full with chinese tourists. One of the things that have happened a lot since we arrived in china has been that all over the place whenever chinese people see us, they ask to have their picture taken with us. Now, because this was such a packed site, it was ridiculous how many people asked to take pictures with us!
After the temple we decided to make our way to Longting park. On our way we wandered the many allies of kaifeng, stopped for a lunch of freshly made noodles with egg and tomato and had a nice time talking to the locals with the tiny bit of Chinese that we have managed to pick up. Longting park was beautiful, large and in the first stages of the spring bloom. It surrounds three lakes and is full of flowers and trees. After a long walk through the park we were exhausted from a long day on our feet and got a taxi back to the area of our hotel. The day before we had walked by a massage place and were determined to find it again. We searched and searched with no luck and just as we decided to give up we walked right by it! This place had a nice homey feel, a neighborhood joint, with very nice people. We each got a foot and back massage for 30 yuan (about 18 shekel) for 45 min. It was really nice, entertaining and quite an experience. We then made our way back to the night market for dinner. This time we got a little more adventurous with what we tried. It was fun and delicious!
The next day we were supposed to get up really early and make our way over to another city in the province but unfortunately I woke up with horrible food poisoning and spent the day sick in bed. N went to the local pharmacy with her pocket dictionary to try to get me something to help. She brought back some traditional chinese medicine that was supposed to help with stomach problems (N called the chinese English teachers at the school to explain to us what is was) and I was feeling so bad that I was willing to give anything a try. It helped. The next morning I woke up feeling much better but still a little week. N went on to the next city without me and I had a nice relaxed day around Kaifeng touring the city walls. I then got a really bad allergic reaction to the chinese medicine!!! N and I then met back on the train back to school (another 12 hour ride on a hard sleeper). I was feeling pretty horrible at that point but somehow we made it back to school at 8am ready to start teaching. I got myself together and went into the office. Luckily I was told that all my classes for the next two days were canceled because the students had exams. So I got some time to rest and recuperate.
All in all we had a great time in Kaifeng. A beautiful city that is not too touristy, has no giant skyscrapers, is historic but still lived in and just moves at a very nice pace (the good food was even worth the food poisoning!)
Now we are back at school, back to teaching.

More to come,

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22.3.13 | Not all who wander are lost |
Amira's insight:

It has been a very long week.

We moved into new accommodation, this time with a sort of working shower! It is in the newest building on campus, and by that I mean that it is so new that it is not being used yet and it is still under construction.. The building will eventually be an office building for all the high level faculty at school. But for now they have set up rooms for us here.. in what will be offices. So N and I each have our own huge room with very little furniture to fill it with. N has decided to take the divide and conquer strategy by spreading all the furniture around the room to make it feel more homey and I have decided to go with denial. I chose a corner of the room and set up all my furniture in it pretending that the room is much smaller than it is. I am currently taking up about a quarter of the space in here. But I like it:)

We also have a room for the kitchen and we have a bathroom equipped with three squatting toilets, a very small and short cubical shower that sometimes works, two sinks and.... a washing machine!

The whole moving experience no matter how close you are moving is so stressful. Especially when you are juggling moving with your teaching hours at school.

This week I was invited to teach a class in another grade here at school (up until now I have been teaching the equivalent of 10th grade) senior grade two, the equivalent of 11th grade. From what I had understood from the invitation it was to be a one time thing, just to give the students a little taste of having a foreign teacher. So I agreed, since I had some free time. The class (which ended up being two classes) went well, nothing special. When I got back to my office the English supervisor informed me that the teachers in senior grade two wanted to make this a regular thing, meaning to give me an additional 18 classes on top of my 32! We worked it out in the end that the classes will be split between N and myself, but remembering names has just become that much more of a challenge.

Yesterday my students invited me to a show that they had put together in their Chinese class. Each time they finish reading a novel, they have a big production with creative interpretations of the book they read. Representatives from 8 classes put together some sort of performance (a Chinese folk song, a play, an interpretation of the book with modern music ect...) and then put on a show for the rest of the students in those 8 classes (about 480 students), their teachers and all of the supervisors and principles. I was picked up from my office late at night by two of the top English students in the grade and accompanied to the auditorium in which the show took place. I was sat down between them (really sweet students!). The entire show was, of course, in Chinese so I didn't understand much but the two students at my side tried their best to translate a few words here and there for me. Although I didn't understand much, it was so nice to see the students in a different kind of setting. Some students that have a really hard time in my classes really excelled there and it was so nice to see them in their element. My favorite part was when four boys got up and sang a very boy bandy kind of chinese song and got REALLY into it:)

This was the first time since I got here that I saw the students learn in a way different than just filling out workbooks and repeating what the teacher says. It was great to see them have some fun!

More to come....

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13.3.13 | Not all who wander are lost |
Amira's insight:

Sorry I haven't posted in a while.. I have been pretty busy... and sometimes a little lazy:)

So teaching has been going very well. Last week I taught 16 classes and this week I am teaching the other 16 classes. Still having a lot of trouble recognizing my students, let alone remembering their names. But they are all really sweet and nice. One of the classes I taught for the first time this week gave me a present as I walked into the class (a pink pig shaped backpack and a wall hanging) and most of the other classes just stand up and clap as I walk in the class. The attitude toward teachers here is very different than what I am used to...
One of the things I enjoy the most here are the conversations with students in between classes, they are so eager to learn about the world outside of China. One of the students was shocked to discover that my high school was not a boarding school and that I didn't study in class everyday from 7:30am to 10:00pm like he does. The pressure on the students here is so high. They are studying all the time. That is just the way of life here.

Our new accommodation is alright, except for the fact that we have no shower. Showering here has been quite an experience. There is one shower in the school for all the teachers and all the students. It is a privately owned “bath house”. One shower costs 5 yuan. Basically  you go in, get a locker (kind of like at the pool) and then there is a very big room full of shower heads (about 30). No stalls. No hot water. No privacy.
Aside from that, having a kitchen has been great! It gives us the option of cooking for ourselves when the food in the canteen is slightly inedible or when we wake up too late to go to breakfast!
We have been getting “meifa” (rice) and “manto” (steamed bread) from the canteen and making ourselves some very nice dinners with fruit and vegetables that we get from the local street market. On a couple occasions we have invited some of our new Chinese friends over for a “western style” dinner which was a lot of fun.
Ever since we got here we have been eating only with chopsticks (I am getting pretty good at it!) and when we got our kitchen, the school bought us a fork each. Yet still, I have been only eating with chopsticks.. The other day I realized why. Eating with chopsticks is just like picking at food with your fingers, only here that is considered civilized!!

Over the weekend we had a friend from the program who teaches nearby come and stay on our couch. We went to the Weifang zoo and saw Pandas!!! But my favorite part of the zoo was definitely the hammock courtyard. It was a huge area full of over a hundred hammocks! All there just to lay and relax on:)
The next day we had heard that there was an amusement park in the nearby city of Anqiu. So we decided to go check it out with a couple more of our friends from the program. When we got there and started walking around we discovered that it was not exactly an amusement park in the traditional sense but more of a very big and beautiful park. So we had a nice day in the end walking around in the fresh air, no roller coasters (or as the chinese call them “sky scraping cars”) though.

Over the weekend I learned a little more chinese! I can now say “I like pineapple” and “I want to eat pineapple”! These are very usefull sayings here because one of my favorite street foods in China is a hunk of pineapple on a stick, it is delicious!
Aside from all the questionable various animals on a stick street food here in China, there are many things you can buy on the side of the road from street vendors that I really like:
1. Pineapple on a stick.
2. Freshly baked whole sweet potatoes.
3. Caramelized apples/strawberries skewered on a stick.
4. Corn on the cob.

All of the above are very delicious and very cheap!!

Ok. I think that that is all for now.
More to come soon.

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5.3.13 | Not all who wander are lost |
Amira's insight:
So so tired. We moved into our new accommodation yesterday... Moved out of the hotel.. N and I both share one room with two beds, two desks, two chairs, two closets and two pairs of really funny looking slippers. Across the hall from the room are public squatting bathrooms for the whole floor... but no shower!! Down the hall we have another room.. Our kitchen! Fully equipt with a large refrigerator, a microwave, a water cooler, an electric stovetop, a table, four chairs and pans and dishes. The one drawback of the kitchen is that there is no sink! I never really realized how important a sink can be in a kitchen.
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