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Notes on the Geography of The Western United States: Oahu 2: Honolulu

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We'll start at the east end of Waikiki.

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We've just climbed up the western slope of Diamond Head, a nearly circular tuff cone about 400 feet high, and we're looking toward the highrises of Waikiki, sharply bounded by the Ali Wai Canal, whose dredging in the 1920s converted Waikiki from mostly swamps and rice paddies to dry land. Inland from the canal is the Ala Wai Golf Course, and between here and there is the modest residential neighborhood of Kapahulu. Downtown is in the distance.

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We're jumped four miles west to the Punchbowl, another tuff cone, this one holding in its crater the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. We're looking toward Ala Moana and Kaka'ako, which are commercial and residential neighborhoods between Waikiki and downtown. The bright circular building at the center-left is the Neal Blaisdell Center, named for a mayor from the swinging 60s. Not to worry: he was a Republican.

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The view from inside the cone.

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Back to the rim of the cone, this is the view west toward downtown and the harbor beyond, protected by Sand Island. The Honolulu airport is on the flat land in the distance. Just left of the center of the image there's a building that looks like the Kennedy Center in D.C. It's the state capitol, designed chiefly by John Carl Warnecke, the designer (surprise!) of the Kennedy Center. If you're got a good gig, may as well blow your horn.

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Pretty depressing, isn't it? How many ads have you seen of beautiful Hawaii, and then this. It's Bishop Avenue, named (wouldn't you know it?) for a banker, Charles Reed Bishop.

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A few blocks inland but still on Bishop, here's the trio of Capitol Place, the Pinnacle, and Century Square. Snuggling up to the Pinnacle is mostly windowless Hawaii Telcom. Have you cancelled your tickets yet?

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Here's 1971's Harbor Square, twin mixed-use buildings with apartments above six floors of office space. Look on the bright side: in 2016 you could buy a two-bedroom apartment here for under $250,000. Potted palms extra.

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I know: you'd prefer Collection, with apartments running about $775 a square foot.

When all else fails, you should get a job naming these buildings. You'd do a better job than whoever's doing it now.

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The highrises aren't just downtown, either. We've jumped seven miles west to the Lele Pono building near Pearlridge Community Park. We're about half a mile from Pearl Harbor, which you might have guessed if you knew Hawaiian. Why? Because "Lele Pono" means "fly right."

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Here's its neighbor, Century Park Plaza.

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How do we get downtown? For the moment, the answer is abysmally slowly, but if you can wait until 2020 (and beyond), you'll be able to take Hawaii Rail Transit.

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Some of the posts carry symbols of wind, rain, sun, coral, salt beds, and the ulu or breadfruit tree. The design is by Daniel Kanekuni from the local firm WCIT Architecture.

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Here's another symbol, a giant poi pounder. It's a nod to Una Craig Walker (1897-1987), who is said to have protected the native Haiwaiians. "Who from?" is a nice question, since her husband Henry was one of the titans of the colonial economy that displaced those Hawaiians.

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You just saw these gates from the other side. Why are they here, standing before the twin, grim towers of the TOPA Financial Center. The TOPA companies were created by John Edward Anderson, a Budweiser distributor who went on to grander things. Gets complicated, doesn't it? But stay cool: the building was completed in 1971 as the headquarter for Amfac. Would Henry Alexander Walker have countenanced the name Amfac? I'm betting not. Until 1966, very near the end of his life, the company was known as American Factors. Why? Time for another story. In the 19th century a German sea captain, Heinrich Hackfeld, built a Hawaiian trading empire. His inheritors were insufficiently prescient to change their nationality, and in the first World War, presto!, the Hackfeld companies were seized, sold to local Americans, and renamed American Factors.

And so to the gates: the Hackfeld management in 1902 commissioned a massive office block, of which only these gates remain, the building itself having been demolished to make way for the TOPA Center.

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So now you understand the H.H. You're ready for Trivial Pursuit, the Advanced Version.

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Is there more history in the neighborhood? Silly question. We've stepped a block closer to the sea. That's the cruise-ship terminal on the left, the Pioneer Park on the right. The Hackfield Gates are shrouded in those palms. Time for an about-face.

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Here we are at the Aloha Tower, built in 1925 to serve as an office building and beacon as well as a landmark. The Coast Guard moved the beacon to a TV tower in the 1960s, and the tower grew decrepit before a cleanup in the 1980s. The tower's architect, Arthur Reynolds, didn't mind; he had died a year before the tower was finished.

Note to anyone who wants to live to see their handiwork: try cooking.

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A minute's walk brings us to the Falls of Clyde, an iron-hulled four-master built in Glasgow in 1878. It went to work in India, then got demoted to tramp service. William Matson bought the ship in 1899 and over the next eight years The Falls made 60 round-trip voyages to California--seventeen days each way, back when tourists had time. In 1907 Matson sold the ship, and the Clyde was converted to a tanker run by Associated Oil ("Tidewater" was the brand). Somehow, the vessel was cleaned up enough to carry molasses on the journey back to the West Coast. The steel masts came in the 1970s. In 2016 the ship was permanently tied up in the harbor.

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It had company. Here's The Pride of America, property of the Norwegian Cruise Line. The name has some justification, because the ship was partly built in the U.S. In 2016 it was cruising to four of the Hawaiian Islands in a regular weekly circuit of Oahu, Maui, Hawaii, Kauai.

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Here's the nearby post office, built in 1871 and named for Kamehameha V, the Hawaiian king at the time. It was the island's first all-concrete structure; the wooden fascia up top are a later addition.

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Half a block away, this building is nothing special except that it opened as the Bishop Bank in 1877 and as such is the ancestor of First Hawaiian, still among the largest banks in the state. Charles Reed Bishop had started his bank, the Hawaiian Kingdom's first, in 1858. Only thing is, this building is not on Bishop Street--misses it by half a block.

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Across from the post office, this building opened in 1908 as the Yokohama Specie Bank, with separate sections serving Japanese, Chinese, and White ("Haole") customers. The bank also served as the agent of the Imperial Japanese government. Smart move? Maybe not. In 1941 the building was confiscated. For a while it housed a jail, apparently mostly for drunken GI's. Lately it's been a preschool.

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The handsomest building in town is near the foot of Bishop Street. The twin towers of the Amfac or Topa Center rise in the background, but in the foreground is the Alexander and Baldwin Building, a company (ironies here well up like lava) founded by the sons of missionaries. The boys swapped souls for sugarcane, and their plantations survived until 2016. What was left? Real estate, son: now about 90,000 acres, mostly on Maui and Kauai.

The building is from 1929. Built in the days before air conditioning, there's a loggia up top and a wide overhang.

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Geoffrey W. Fairfax calls this building the "gem of downtown Honolulu." (See his The Architecture of Honolulu, 1971. If you can find a newer guide, go for it.)

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The architect was C.W. Dickey (1871-1942), an MIT graduate whose career was spent in Honolulu. The material is terracotta.

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Portico.

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Tiles with Hawaiian fish.

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You don't see water buffalo in Hawaii now, but they used to pull plows.

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Step back into our time machine. We're landing in 1820. Looks like New England, doesn't it. And you know why.

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It's a frame house, begun as a one-room house in 1821 and built largely from timbers imported from Maine. The builder was Thomas Bailey Aldrich, who more or less copied a house in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The occupants were Mr and Mrs Daniel Chamberlain and their six children. Figured it out yet? P.S. The foundation is of coral blocks set in burned coral mortar. Doesn't help? But maybe the little gray cells are working now.

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Yes, yes: those were missionary houses next door to this, the Congregational church dedicated in 1842. It's built of coral blocks, too.

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Bingham was as severe as they come, and he served here for 20 years until he made such powerful local enemies that he was recalled by his New England overseers. He lived decades more but never got back to Hawaii.

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The small nearby cemetery contains this tombstone of one of the first native Hawaiian converts. Educated in the states, Kanui returned to Hawaii but succumbed to alcohol and was well and truly excommunicated. He then spent years in California before returning, broken, to the islands, where he died.

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A nearby stone marks the grave of one of the founders of Castle and Cooke, a firm which grew to control Dole Food.

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The tomb of King Lunalilo, who died in 1874 as the last surviving male of the Kamehameha dynasty.

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Honolulu had Catholics, too: the Basilica of our Lady of Peace was built in 1843.

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Nicer than you (or I) expected.

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Kamahameha IV and Queen Emma, however, belonged to the Church of England, which explains St. Andrews Cathedral. The shell was completed in 1888 of stone imported from England.

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Nave.

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This plaque is on the chancel ambulatory. Bishop Staley was a Cambridge graduate from 1844. Following his appointment as principal of the Collegiate School, Wandsworth, he was appointed bishop of the Kingdom of Hawaii at the suggestion of Wilberforce and Queen Victoria. He didn't have it easy: the American Board for Foreign Missions called him a British agent, despite Staley's denial of a political agenda. He asked for an American Episcopal bishop to replace him, but none could be found. Staley retired to England and died at Bournemouth, but not before writing Five Years' Church Work in the Kingdom of Hawaii, 1868.

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His replacement, Alfred Willis, lived up to the reputation of Victorian missionaries. Seeking funds to build schools, Staley wrote that "if I could give you a description of the social condition of these Islands--the style of domestic life still followed by the majority of the natives, unchanged by their nominal Christianity, which provides not a single safeguard for female chastity; the deadness of the moral sense of the ordinary Hawaiian, his utter indifference to his daughter's prostitution--you would understand of what incalculable value these Schools are to the Hawaiian race."

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Two blocks away, a palace was built for Kamehameha V. It's Aliiolani Hall, "House of the Heavenly Chiefs." Kamahemeha died in 1872, however, two years before the building was completed, and it instead housed the island's parliament and government offices before becoming, in 1893, the Judiciary Building. It still houses the State Supreme Court. The golden figure is Kamehameha.

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Across the street is the Iolani Palace of 1882, built by Queen Lili-uokalani of the Kalakaua Dynasty, successor to the Kamehameha line. It's often described as "the only true royal palace in the United states."

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The columns are cast iron; so are the stairs.

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So is the Coronation Pavilion, used now for the inauguration of Hawaii's governors.

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A little cozier, though not exactly a cottage. This is Washington Place, since 1922 the official residence of Hawaii's governor. It has had several other lives, including service as the home of Queen Lili-uokalani in her pre-palace days.

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Tired of history? No problem: let's go to the beach. Between here and Diamond Head in the distance you can make out the Halekulani Hotel, the Sheraton Waikiki, the Royal Hawaiian, the Moana Surfrider, the Hyatt Regency, and the Waikiki Beach Marriott. The land was largely reclaimed by the Hawaiian Dredging Construction Company in the 1920s. The beach sand is imported and replenished.

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Here's where it began: the Hotel Moana, now the Moana Surfrider.

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The inland side of the hotel faces Kalakaua Avenue. Here it is in 1901.

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And now. The two top floors were added in 1918.

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The Moana, which opened in 1901, was a project of Walter Chambelain Peacock working with Oliver Traphagen as architect. It was not a success and changed hands in 1907 and again in 1932, when Matson Navigation bought it. Sheraton bought the hotel from Matson in 1959; more recently, in 2007, Sheraton rebranded it as a Westin.

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The ocean side.

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Here's its neighbor the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, from 1927. The Aloha Tower had opened recently, along with new piers. More important yet, Matson had begun service with the SS Malolo or Flying Fish, which made California in four days and a few hours and which, luxury of luxuries, had swimming pools on board.

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Not every modification pleases.

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Industrial tanning.

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Need to go shopping? You can't miss the Ala Moana Center, perhaps the jewel in the crown of General Growth Properties.

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It's called the biggest outdoor center in the country and has sales per square foot way up there in the A++ trophy class. Ala Moana's changed a lot since it opened in 1959. Sears is gone, for example, but there's a Bloomingdale's and a Nordstrom and a Saks. You get the idea.

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But suppose you want to live near Waikiki, not just stay in a hotel. Well, can you walk a bit?

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We're in Kapaluha, just on the other side of the Ala Wai canal. Nothing five star here, but location, location, location. Figure on a million.

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Ocean view.

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Too much moolah? No problem. On the way up University Avenue to the campus of the University of Hawaii there's the creatively named University Gardens, built as you can probably guess about 1960. The building next door is the Moiliili Hongwanji Buddhist Temple. Shouldn't come as a surprise: about a fifth of Honolulu's residents are of Japanese ancestry. Whites are a bit less.

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The Ritz-Carlton Residences have a fine view of some of the apartments on Saratoga Avenue.

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Some famous architects have had a hand in Honolulu's highrises. You might pass by the Queen Emma Gardens Apartments, from 1964, and not even twig that the architect was Minoru Yamasaki.

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Not impressed? You want a house with character? How about this: wedged between Diamond Head and the sea on Kalalaua Avenue?

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A neighbor. Figure somewhere between 2 and 3. Million, that is.

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"O Lord, spare us needing a new roof." Same street, but on the ocean side.

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The cluster dates from 1932 and one builder, Earl Williams.

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Highrise neighbors.

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Can't afford any of this? Neither can the people camping out at Blaisdell Park on the shores of Pearl Harbor.

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More "Not what I expected"? Me neither, but I'm just terminally naive. What's your excuse?

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You've decided that want to be close to Honolulu but not too close. Here we're at Ewa Beach, 10 miles west of Waikiki. That puts us on the far side of Pearl Harbor, indicated by the green on the left. Yes, that's Diamond Head in the distance.

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The wall is a reminder that the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center is two blocks inland.

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But look: no people.

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Public access, too, even if it's a little rough.

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Had enough Waikiki? Try here.

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You can only walk so far. The nice thing is that the locals don't take the sign too seriously.

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Pearl Harbor is still in business, of course. Witness this X-Band radar platform. It floats and can be towed around like an oil platform modified for missile defense.

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And of course there's more history.

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What? You're thinking about Life Magazine and its photographers from back then? Hard not to. And yes, yes: this is the Missouri, and we're only a few steps from the Surrender Deck.

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It's up there with the crowd.

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Word for the Day: barbette, n., the armored housing at the base of a gun turret, in this case on the Arizona. The bit on the right is a concrete stabilizer to keep the hulk from shifting.

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Another barbette, submerged. Same ship.

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That bit of Pearl is accessible, but this isn't. It's a water tower built as the focal point for Hickam Field. More history: in 1934 the Army Air Corps wanted a B-17 base, and in the next year the Corps acquired 22,000 acres of tidelands and cane fields. Enter a planner, Howard B. Nurse, originally from Rochester, New York.

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Before we look around, here's a closeup of the tower.

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Ironic, no?

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The tower stands at the toe of a parade ground separating homes for officers and enlisted. Don't ask why. Up at the other end of the lawn is the headquarters of the 15th Air Base Wing.

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Nurse designed Hickam's buildings in a combination of Art Deco and Streamline Modern. Here's the Hickam Terminal, none too easy to photograph.

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The hangars are still standing, though some have been converted to office space.

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But here's the gem: base housing here has got to be the most perfect on the island. Here we're just next door to the Pearl Harbor Naval Hospital.

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Doesn't it beat all?

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Very, very quiet.

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The view may not be perfect--that's Ford Island--but the water's calm.

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We just jumped to the other side of Hickam, so we're in Fort Kamehameha. Yes, that's the ocean.

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The Fort Kamehameha chapel.

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No longer in the harbor: it's the Pacific Ocean in a pacific mood.

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It isn't always so calm. Depending which way you turn, it's eight miles behind you to Waikiki or, if you foolishly turn left, 6,500 to Antarctica. Maybe you'll be lucky and veer a bit to the southwest. It's only 4,400 to New Zealand.


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