Pingyao 2019

The Spring trip to Pingyao was the most memorable part of my final year of middle school. The train ride there was a very long four hours, and during that time I learned that some trains had seats that could turn around. I also learned about the countryside beyond the window and that I had overestimated my snack appetite.

By the end of the trip, I learned that the people of Pingyao, Shanxi, really enjoyed flour. It was mostly used in noodles, and had an entire 90-minute long live show dedicated to it. I also learned more about the culture of Pingyao, and that vinegar was also a specialty.

The Pingyao Challenge, or the Amazing Race, was my favorite part of the trip. It was actually quite successful because we managed to get all the items and places on the list with ten minutes or so to spare. We also learned to collaborate with each other, despite being from different homerooms.

Because excessive walking tired most of our group members out, we paid for an electric cart to drive us to our final destination. The driver seemed to be driving for a long time, even longer than it would take us to walk. We thought we were being kidnapped for a second, but he then explained he had to drive around the main roads for pedestrian safety. After getting over our initial fear, it was a pretty funny moment of the trip.

The most challenging part of the trip was, by far, the extreme amounts of walking. I have never been a particularly sporty person at all, and even walking for a long time really exhausts me. But I still powered through it (mostly), and the high rankings or WeRun were almost worth it.

A memorable part of the trip was definitely the show. It was tiring because we had to stand for the majority of it, but it was still had me shook. The performances were very dramatic and emotional, and at some parts even scary. But it gave a very powerful message and furthered the people of Pingyao’s love for flour and noodles. It also showed the importance of home and family.

For the first time in a few years, I don’t have a ton of recommendations for this trip. It really good rooms, activities, food, and more. I could perhaps recommend more time during the after noon or late morning to explore Pingyao, because we only got nighttime and I felt like we could enjoy more scenes during the day. Overall, it was a really fun trip and I wish I could do it all over again.

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Make Me Pretty

When you meet someone, it is likely that the first thing you notice is their face—hair length, eye color, smile, et cetra. But it is their personality, who they are on the inside, that you must become familiar with in order to maintain a relationship with that person. That is not the case in the world of Uglies by Scott Westerfield, where society values physical beauty over individuality. The book contains many riveting themes on the value of beauty and individuality. The protagonist, Tally Youngblood, lives in a world where everyone is either an Ugly or a Pretty. Once a teen reaches the age of a sixteen, an extreme cosmetic makeover transforms them, gives them high cheekbones, huge eyes—the basic definition of rudimentary beauty. However, Tally meets Shay and her views on the once perfect society of Uglyville and New Pretty Town are severely altered. Throughout the story, Tally has many conflicts with Special Circumstances and herself. Would she betray her newfound friends to become pretty? Dirty secrets about the miracle operation are revealed along the way as well.

The protagonist, Tally, has strong but impressionable beliefs. It is expected of her, as she had lived in a closed society for fifteen years with no contact to the outside world. However, she is in no way weak. Once faced with the choice of the Smoke or becoming pretty, she chooses the Smoke. Even after accidentally activating the locket, Tally still helps as many Smokies as possible and eventually decides to give up her individuality to help Maddy and other Pretties with the lesion problem. With frizzy brown hair, thin lips, a flat nose, and beady hazel eyes that are much too close together, Tally is simply your ordinary, everyday Ugly. Peris, one of her old friends who was a new Pretty looks down upon her, but Shay does not. Shay sees something more, which was why she chose Tally as a friend and trusted her so quickly. David also sees the beauty beneath her not-so-beautiful physical appearance, which causes conflict—mainly jealousy—between Shay and Tally. Overall, Tally is simply your cliché dystopian girl protagonist, much like Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, Tris from Divergent, et cetra. A strong girl who, after discovering the dark side of her society, fights to spread knowledge and overthrow the unjust leaders. There also is some sort of love triangle thrown in there somewhere.

The predominant theme in Uglies is that the ability to think for yourself far outweighs the value of physical beauty. In the beginning, Tally excitedly counted down the days to her operation. But her mindset begins to change when she first meets Shay, a girl who turns her nose up at Pretties and focusing on escaping to the Smoke instead, where she can keep her individuality. She tells Tally to come along as well. “Shay’s eyes flashed. ‘Or maybe when they do the operation—when they grind and stretch your bones to the right shape…and stick in the plastic cheekbones so you look like everybody else—maybe after going through all that you just aren’t very interesting anymore.’” (Westerfield, 49) This line makes Tally realize for the first time the dangers of the operation that turns everyone “pretty”. The task is a difficult and dangerous one, Tally did see how it changed people’s thoughts. With a newly Pretty friend Peris, a small part of Tally does believe what Shay said. “Perhaps the logical conclusion of everyone looking the same was everyone thinking the same.” (259) After spending a while in the Smoke, many terrible secrets about the operation are revealed by David’s parents. Named Maddy and Az, they were previous doctors who prepared the operation themselves. The reveal the problem with brain lesions, a result of the surgery. It often changed the minds of the new Pretties. With everyone having the same amount of physical beauty, it did make sense that your inner personality would be equalized as well.  “Your personality—the real you inside—was the price of beauty.” (388) At the end of the book, Tally realizes what really is important—not beauty, but individuality. A large part of that is the ability to think for yourself, which disappears along with your physical flaws during the surgery. Beauty is nice to have, but thinking for yourself is what differentiates you from the rest of the world. And that makes you powerful.

Our current society today mirrors the one of Uglies very strongly. In our world today, especially in social medias such as Instagram, we are shown many instances of the “ideal” body, or the most mainstream idea of beauty. Big eyes, full lips, skinny waists. Those qualities are seen so many times it’s a wonder how people are not bored of them yet, but some spend all their lives striving for that goal, to look as pretty as society’s definition. Their self-esteem is also lowered as they are fed more and more examples of “perfect” people. That may push those individuals to brink and force them to change themselves, to give up their personality and ideology for superficial beauty. Of course, there are still those who realize that what is inside is far more important, which is true. Individuality is far more more important than your body shape, and your unique ideas far outweigh the value of shallow beauty. A surgery can be invented to make everyone look equally pretty like in Uglies, but as Tally eventually realizes, the ability to think for yourself is the most important quality of a functioning human.

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See You on the Other Side of the War

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Stand Up and Stand Strong

It’s 1775, and the colonists are enraged over Britain’s unfair taxation. The book Give Me Liberty—a quote by Patrick Henry that sparked the American Revolution—by L.M. Elliott writes from the view of thirteen-year-old Nathaniel Dunn, who lives a difficult life as an indentured servant living in colonial Virginia. He is originally bought by a cruel blacksmith, but in a twist of fate including a runaway horse, he meets Basil. Nathaniel then begins work under Basil, who also teaches him about music and books. Whether to fight for liberty or stay low and stay safe is a difficult choice for such a young person. Nathaniel also meets new friends, including Ben, who teaches him more about liberty for the colonists. However, his old friend, Moses, is fighting for the British. As a runaway slave, his beliefs are obviously very different from Nathaniel. But at the end, Nathaniel finally learns to stand up for what he believes in, for it is the only way to achieve his dreams.

A constant theme throughout the novel is that the only way to achieve your dreams is to stand up for what you believe in. “‘Come with me?’ Ben’s voice was uncharacteristically vulnerable. ‘We could use a good man like you. Please?’ Asked like that, Nathaniel could not refuse. He couldn’t sleep anyway. Plus, he suddenly had a new interest in the colonists’ demand for liberty.” (Elliott, 246) Liberty was introduced to Nathaniel first by Ben. He, along with John and other boys, work for Edan Maguire, a slightly unstable and strict man. Ben and Nathaniel become fast friends. “The choice was simple. ‘I am going with you, then,’ Nathaniel said stoutly. ‘I want to get back at the British for Ben, too,’. He almost, almost confessed that he could bear the thought of losing Basil.” (258) Another very important person in Nathaniel’s life is Basil, his master and teacher. He cares about the old man dearly, and goes off to fight against the British not only for liberty and independence, not only for Ben, but also to look after Basil. “‘No, Moses. It’s not like that. I’m free now. I choose to fight.’ Moses crossed his arms in disgust. ‘You going to fight for people who whine for their own liberty and keep me in chains?’” (323) Nearing the end of the book, Nathaniel finally learns what he believes in and what his dreams are. Moses was an old friend of his, whom he has known for longer than Ben and Basil. But when faced with the difficult choice of choosing between his friend and his own dreams, Nathaniel ultimately selects what he believes in. It never is easy, but sometimes you do need to let go of the old to make room for the new. Saying goodbye to Moses was difficult, but Nathaniel knew it was what he needed to do. The only way Nathaniel could achieve his dreams was to stand up for what he truly believed in—liberty.

Another character whose story shared the same thing is Steve Rogers, also known as Captain America. As a scrawny kid who got beat up a good half dozen times a day, it would make sense to just stay down. But Steve never did that. The one thing he wanted was to become a soldier and fight for America in World War II, but he couldn’t due to to his asthma and various other health problems. Nonetheless, he still stood up every time he got knocked down and never gave up in what he believed in—doing the right thing. He eventually takes a super-soldier serum that makes him physically much stronger. People think that the serum was the only thing that made him strong, but that is not correct. The serum simply amplifies the what is within the taker—good becomes great, bad becomes worse. What made Captain America so strong is his sense of righteousness. Like Nathaniel, Steve also had an older, wiser person in his life that taught him many important lessons—Dr. Abraham Erksine. The person in Steve’s life closest to the role of Ben or Moses would be Bucky Barnes, his childhood best friend and who fought alongside him in the war. Like Nathaniel Dunn, Steve Rogers stood up for what he believed in. That is an important lesson to everyone.

“Compromise where you can. Where you can’t, don’t. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right. Even if the whole world is telling you to move, it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye, and say ‘No, you move’.”

-Sharon Carter quoting Peggy Carter in Captain America: Civil War

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The World Turned Upside Down

The American Revolution was the first instance in history where a country broke free from its ruler. The idea of independence came from the people, who realized that a tiny island across the sea should not be able to rule their entire country. The Boston Massacre of 1770 was what mainly sparked the revolution. The colonist patriots saw how ruthless and cruel the British were (from their perspectives, at least), and began to demand change. It ended with the Battle of Yorktown, 1781. Over the course of a long seven years, America finally broke away from Britain and could call themselves their own country. This video explains five turning points of the American Revolution.

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The Ten Dollar Founding Father Without a Father

In 2004, Ron Chernow published a great biography, Alexander Hamilton, on a man most people had never heard of. Some may know him from the genius musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton: An American Musical, which premiered on February 17th, eleven years after the biography was published. But for the most part, this Founding Father is not as well-known as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the others. Born out of wedlock on a tiny Caribbean island and orphaned at a very young age, Hamilton’s childhood was miserable and virtually nonexistent. As a teen, the young genius was sent to New York to pursue his education. He had an important role in the American Revolution and was George Washington’s right hand man in battles, as well as the first Secretary of Treasury of the United States. What most people fail to realize was how influential Hamilton was to the creation of the United States of America. Hamilton was a polymath with a high skill of writing, but he was not just a simple writer who used big words. Alexander Hamilton had many relationships with numerous distinct individuals, including his best friend, John Laurens, his wife, Eliza Hamilton (née Schuyler), and his first friend and eventual killer, Aaron Burr.

John Laurens was Hamilton’s best friend. “Laurens became a passionate convert to abolitionism, which was to create a strong ideological bond with Hamilton.” (94) Because Laurens and Hamilton had very similar interests, they immediately connected and became best of friends. Like Hamilton, Laurens was also desperate to fight in the war and make a change. They became close at the beginning of the revolution. “Lest Laurens experience a jealous pang, Hamilton added a few months later: ‘In spite of Schuyler’s black eyes, I have still a part for the public and another for you,’ and he promised he would be no less devoted to his friend after marriage than before.” (132) Many letters were exchanged between Hamilton and Laurens, and certain historians may even think their intimate friendship as something beyond just friends. “At the very least, we can say Hamilton developed something like an adolescent crush on his friend.” (95) Either way, Hamilton and Laurens were very close even after Hamilton married Elizabeth Schuyler. “After the death of John Laurens, Hamilton shut off some compartment of his emotions and never reopened it.” (173) Unfortunately, Laurens was killed on August 27, 1782, at the Combahee river. Hamilton may only had known Laurens for a small fraction of his life, but their relationship was one of the closest he ever had.

Elizabeth “Eliza” Hamilton (née Schuyler) was Hamilton’s wife and love of his life. “Although a touch absentminded, Hamilton ordinarily had a faultless memory, but, returning from Schuyler one night, he forgot the password and was barred by the sentinel.” (129) Love can cause a person to do many odd things. Hamilton was a smart man with strong beliefs on everything he is passionate in, and could completely drown himself in his essay-writing. But Eliza managed to distract him from that, which was a truly incredible feat. “She is most unmercifully handsome and so perverse that she has none of those pretty affectations which are the prerogatives of beauty.” (130) This line was written in one of his many letters of Eliza. It was easy to see how Hamilton was head-over-heels in love with her. The prodigious writer had used some of his most exquisite words ever written to describe her. “Eliza Hamilton never expressed anything less than a worshipful attitude towards her husband. His love for her, in turn, was deep and constant if highly imperfect.” (367) Eliza had the purest and most good-filled heart of anyone in Hamilton’s life. Unfortunately, Hamilton did not match that kindness. In the summer of 1791, the married and overstressed man had an affair with Maria Reynolds. It was not even just a one-time matter; she even went over to his house frequently while Eliza was away with the children. Eventually, Hamilton published The Reynolds Pamphlet which told the world of his affair. While he overwhelmed the world with his candor, he also broke his loving wife’s heart. But being the impossibly kind woman she was, Eliza did not divorce Hamilton and even eventually forgave him.

Aaron Burr was Hamilton’s first acquaintance and his eventual killer. “Hamilton’s attendance at the Elizabethtown Academy brought him into the immediate vicinity of the younger Aaron Burr, who had attended the same school several years earlier.” (43) Hamilton and Aaron Burr met during their college years, with Hamilton being slightly younger. Both being orphaned geniuses, they connected quickly. They had certain beliefs that were different, though, and they would eventually turn them against each other. “Afraid to adulterate his own party, Hamilton spiked this coalition and became an immovable obstacle in the path of Aaron Burr’s ambitions—a position he was to occupy so frequently in the future years that it finally drove Burr into a frenzy.” (421) Hamilton was, to Burr, the greatest obstacle in all of his political paths and achievements. In the final election between Burr and Thomas Jefferson, a man Hamilton despised since the very beginning, Hamilton still gave Jefferson his endorsement. That caused the latter to win by a landslide, which of course also resulted in Burr losing by a landslide. That was perhaps when he finally snapped and decided to put an end to Hamilton jeopardizing of his political pursuits. “He must have assumed that, once he fired, Burr would be too proud or too protective of his own political self-interest to try to kill him.” (704) The Burr-Hamilton duel occurred on July 11, 1804, in Weehawken, New Jersey. Burr’s shot killed Hamilton. Hamilton did not shoot Burr, though. In fact, he barely even aimed. He pointed his gun up into the sky, while Burr panicked and shot. Hamilton passed away a day later from his injuries. The man was gone, but his legacy still remained.

From a very young age, Hamilton constantly obsessed with his legacy, what the world would think of him after he was long gone. He wanted desperately to make a difference, to create something that would outlive him. Though he died at the early age of 49 years, his dream did come true. Over the course of his short but full life, the most important thing Hamilton wrote was most likely The Federalist Paper, crafting 51 out of the 85 installments. He also led the Annapolis Convention of 1786, as well as the Treasury Department. Those are just a tiny fraction of Hamilton’s great achievements. But it was not all him—his ever-loving wife, Eliza, played a huge role in preserving her husband’s legacy. John Laurens was one of his first and closest friends who introduced him to the Revolution, and Aaron Burr was a man who may not have been the kindest to Hamilton but was still a crucial part of his life all the same. The story behind the man on the ten-dollar bill is great, and the people next to him were even greater.

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Soldier Segei’s Sad Story

What had changed in Russia from 1905 – 1939?

The rulers were very different. In 1905, Russia was ruled by a Tsar (Nicholas II), and the power was passed down from generation to generation. The problem during this time was that the classes of citizens were much too separate. The rich and powerful lived in luxury, but the majority of the lower class workers lived in poverty. In between, Lenin was an important government figure and the Soviets, along with the Bolsheviks shared that power. By 1939, the entirety of the power belonged to Joseph Stalin and Stalin alone. Stalin’s rule was by far the harshest. Thousands of people were sent to the Gulag, a horrible prison camp where people were literally worked to death. They were given this punishment for tiny things, even just being ten minutes late to work. Every day, a couple people would be killed for no reason at all. This was known as “Stalin’s Purges”.

What had stayed the same in Russia from 1905 – 1939?

Much of the population, especially the peasants, still lived in poverty. In 1905, it was the wealth divide that was the main problem. It was extremely unfair for the workers, because their hard work produced the food and other necessities the rich simply enjoyed. Changes were made during the 34 years that elapsed, but at the end in 1939, poverty was still a huge problem for Russia. It was arguably even worse, considering the Gulag prison camp where living conditions were considerably more impoverished. There was always a small fraction of wealthy people, but the majority of Russians always lived in squalor.

In 1939, how were Sergei’s and Alexander’s lives the same or different from 1905?

Sergei’s life stayed relatively constant during the 34 years between 1905 to 1939. He was a soldier throughout all those years, and the lives of most soldiers were not affected. In fact, his living conditions were considerably better than the majority of the population.Soldiers weren’t loaded, but they did have enough food to live. However, the story could have ended very differently for him solely based on who he supported. At the start in 1905, Sergei could be loyal to the Tsar like most of the other soldiers and face no consequence. But under Stalin’s rule in 1939, supporting anyone other than the “Man of Steel” himself could very possibly be punishable by being worked to death at the Gulag, or if Sergei was lucky, death.

Photo Citations:

  1. “Russian-Polish Tension: Anger at Bitter Truths.” RT International, RT,

  2. “Soviet Models 1918-1951.” Paradox Interactive Forums,

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Living Life to the Fullest

For my multimedia blog post, I decided to do a podcast on theme. This was a new form of media that I have not really explored before, so I thought it would be good to give it a try. Over the course of five minutes, I explain the themes in They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera. The three I included are the importance of love, the unavoidability of death, and living your life to the fullest. To support my ideas on these three themes, I used a total of 11 quotes from the book, with 2 being written by a person other than the author but still included in the text.

Created with iMovie

Photo Citations

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Imminent Death

It isn’t rare for your favorite book character to die, especially for avid readers such as myself. It hurts a lot every time, but authors seemingly enjoy killing off their best protagonists. I believe that under the false explanation of how the character had to die in order to “advance the plot”, the author just wants to mess with us readers. Perhaps it is unfair of me to make this statement, but the liters of tears I have shed over ink and paper support me. They Both Die at the End is no different, but at least the author, Adam Silvera, gives us a blatant warning in the title. The setting of this book is far-flung, spread all over the vast city of Manhattan, New York. Here, I will be focusing on three specific aspects that I feel are important to the plot. It is set in the future, at a time where the Death-Cast exists. The Death-Cast is basically used to tell you that you will die that day. Two more particular places that are important to the story include the Cannon Café and the Travel Arena.

The first significant aspect of the book’s setting is the existence of Death-Cast. “Death-Cast is calling with the warning of a lifetime—I’m going to die today.” (Silvera, 1). This piece of dialogue is spoken by Mateo Torrez, one of the two main protagonists of the story. He, along with Rufus Emeterio—who we will meet later—are both unlucky receivers of Death-Cast, who tells them that today is their last day in this world. “Death-Cast can only provide a date for when someone is going to die, but not the exact minute or how it’ll happen.” (7) Though Death-Cast is some pretty futuristic technology, it still has its limitations. The fact that they can only tell the date is rather inconvenient, as may prevent the receiver from living the day to the fullest. It is difficult to live with no regrets when you could literally drop dead at any minute. “Rufus, I feel for you, I do. But I’m not at fault for your death, and I unfortunately have many more of these calls to make tonight. Can you do me a solid and cooperate?” (20) It is easy to dislike Death-Cast workers. Normal citizens must think them as emotionless robots whose only job is to inform people of their untimely death. But I think it would actually be very difficult and emotionally draining on their end. They have the most depressing job in the world. Even after years of work, they still would never be completely numb to it. “The officers were pursuing a Decker who was signing up for Bangers, the challenge for online feeds that has had a heartbreaking amount of daily hits and downloads the past four months.” (292) The purpose of Bangers was for Deckers to kill themselves spectacularly. Deckers—being the people who already knew of their impending death—would record themselves dying doing something insane. If the audience was entertained, they could vote for them, and the Decker’s family would win a decent amount of money. However, if they weren’t interested, the Decker would simply waste their last living day. The original purpose of Death-Cast was to make people value their lives a lot more for the last day, and give them time to say goodbye to loved ones. Unfortunately, the opposite happened for some people, such as the Deckers on Bangers. They lost all regard for their lives, and instead chose to do daredevil stunts that robbed them of any chance to live a good last day. “Death-Cast called Howie Maldonado at 2:37 a.m. to tell him he’s going to die today. His 2.3 million Twitter followers are taking it the hardest.” (310) A lot more people are affected when celebrities receive the Death-Cast alert. In addition to their families, all of their fans would be devastated to hear that their idol would be awaiting death today.

An important place in the story is Cannon Café. “We reach Cannon Café. There’s a triangular sign above the door with an illustrated logo of a cannon blasting a cheeseburger toward the café’s name, with French fries exploding wayward like fireworks.” (131) The first important location in the story is Cannon Café, where Mateo and Rufus go to for their last breakfast. “Rufus shakes his head. ‘Nah, not kidding. I come here a lot and wanted to roll through one last time.’” (133) This café is particularly close to Rufus’s heart, because he came here many times throughout the past few months, and even chose to come on the last day of his life. “If there’s anything else I can get you boys please just shout for me. Even if I’m in the back or with another customer, I’m yours.” (136) Perhaps the reason why this particular café is so close to Rufus’s heart is because of the people there. The waitress who spoke this kind line was called Rae, and she cared a lot about Rufus, a regular. In the popular drama TV show Riverdale, the characters congregate at a particular diner too. It’s called Pop’s Chock’Lit Shoppe, and the characters go there regularly to discuss the mysteries happening in their small town. This is present in most forms of media, with meet-up places ranging from the Starbucks down the block to a tiny restaurant in the middle of the woods.

Another crucial area is the Travel Arena. “The main entrance is a little crowded as Deckers and visitors look up at the gigantic screen listing all the regions you can visit, and the different kinds of tours available: Around the World in 80 Minutes, Miles of Wilds, Journey to the Center of the United States, and more.” (281-282) The Travel Arena is made for Deckers to be able to enjoy experiences around the world without actually actually traveling. There is also no risk of dying during the exhibitions. It is free for Deckers and sick people, but tourists must pay $100 dollars as an entrance fee. “I hope our trip today manages to put a smile on your face and leaves a wonderful memory for any guests joining you.” (282-283) Underneath all the great effects and lifelike visuals, the tour “around the world” creates only artificial memories. Although, it is very difficult to travel around the world in one day, so the creators of these trips are really trying their best. It leaves Deckers with a—albeit false—feeling of not regretting experiencing more in life. Around the World in 80 Minutes is most likely based on the book Around the World in 80 Days, a classic adventure novel by Jules Verne. Published in 1873 and originally written in French, it has been translated into over seventy languages today. It is also one of Verne’s most acclaimed works. It tells the story of Phileas Fogg, who attempts to circumnavigate the world in 80 days because of a bet his friends made of £20,000. It is not unlike how the Around the World in 80 Minutes tries to take you on a global journey in a ridiculously short time.

They Both Die at the End made me cry a lot when reading it. It’s a good book, but what makes it more powerful is how the author literally tells the reader that the two protagonists will die at the end. And yet, when they die, we are still devastated even though we knew how it would end all along. Setting is crucial when writing a good book. In this particular story, the story is set in a futuristic time where Death-Cast exists, and particular places include the Cannon Café as well as the Travel Arena. It is a very great read, and I definitely recommended it. The tears are beyond worth it for the incredible story They Both Die at the End. It teaches people to live each and every day to the fullest.

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The Innocence Behind the Bloodshed

A short documentary on the Boxer Rebellion.

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