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Aussie looking to move to Lake Chapala area


Bill Hely
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Hi everyone. I just joined and at a quick glance this forum seems to be more "by-Lake-Chapala-residents-to-Lake-Chapala-residents-about-Lake-Chapala-doings". So if I'm in the wrong place please direct me.

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I first stumbled across mention of Lake Chapala while hunting around the Internet for likely places to move to for the rest of my retirement, with a particular view to making my funds go further, as well as a lifestyle change. I hadn't really been considering Mexico, but the more I read about Lake Chapala and the expat communities around there, the more attractive it became. In fact, when I first heard of Lake Chapala, I was looking at property prices around Roatan, Honduras - which is still not off my list.

I've already done a lot of reading and research, watched a number of videos, but many questions remain.

For a start, I live in Brisbane Australia, and from here any travel to transpacific destinations can be very expensive. Unless you pick just the right time of year it can be around A$3000 to Guadalajara. I thought it would be a good idea to travel over there for a couple of weeks, get the lay of the land, then return to Australia and, depending on the results of my initial trip, prepare to move over full-time. So $2k-$3k just for the initial research trip airfare takes a nasty bite out of my resources. If anyone knows of a cheaper yet still practical way to get from Brisbane or Sydney to Guadalajara I'd love to hear it.

I have a house to sell in Brisbane, so I should be able to afford to purchase something in the Lake Chapala area. For living expenses, I have a Australian Single Pension paid fortnightly and a small amount of savings, plus whatever will be left over after the house sale/purchase.

I've seen a few recommendations that foreigners should rent for 6-12 months before buying. Good advice? It does seem like a very long time.

While I don't want to be too dependent on the expat community (I like to mix with the locals wherever I go), I would certainly like to establish relationships therein, and tap the knowledge base that they represent. Thus I wouldn't like to be stuck way out somewhere miles from any such community.

In that vein I am a bit confused about preferred locations around Lake Chapala. Looking at the map I see what appear to be villages all around the lake. Mezcala, Chapala, Ajijic, Jocotepec on one side; San Pedro Tesistan, San Luis Soyatlan, Tuxcueca Jalisco, Tizapan El Alto, Petatan (seems to be nothing but birds!), Cojumatlan on the other side. From what I can see Chapala is probably the main centre (???) and from the videos I've watched I do find it probably more attractive to me than the others I've seen videos of, although Ajijic is interesting also.

As to paying for travelling expenses, does anyone know if a Debit Card on an Australian bank might pose a problem?

There is quite a bit more I'd like to talk about, but that's probably enough for a first post.

 - Bill

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It's a good idea to rent first until you get a feel for the area you want to stay in.  You could make an expensive mistake if you don't do that.  About the airfare, there's not much anyone can do about that but sign up for the airline's you'll be using mileage plan.  The miles you'll accumulate will add up quickly.  It's predominantly Americans and Canadians here but there are certainly other expats here such as Brits, etc.

The only way to see which are you would prefer is to explore it yourself.  Chapala is the main town while Ajijic is more popular with expats but it's not for everyone.  The Mexican population is very welcoming & put up with all our foibles.  There are financial requirements you will have to meet to become a resident here and you will have to apply at a Mexican consulate.  The weather here is great all year with May as the hottest month until the rainy season starts.  For the most part the rain comes at night or very early morning.

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Can't speak to the airfare question, but as to renting 6 mos minimum so you can get to know the areas and see what fits your lifestyle.  Lots of things to consider from noise levels, security concerns, water / electrical outages, proximity to shopping, car or no car, internet outages, etc. and it takes a while to get to know what the various areas have to offer.  The north shore from Chapala to Jocotopec is where the largest number of expats reside.  The rest of the lake villages have smatterings of expats, but will require a higher level of spanish speaking.  

I would suggest reading as much as you can, establish some friends on-line before you come over, spend a couple weeks and see how it feels and then you'll be in a better position to make your decision.  There are a few web forums, this one, another called InsideLakeside, and MexConnect, and there are several groups on Facebook that offer lots of information.  Do archive searches to answer your questions as many of your questions have probably been asked and answered, but if you can't find anything on a subject ask it again.

I spent a year and a half researching before we moved and we're going on 6 years here.  I love it.  Buen suerte

 

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I would think moving from a culturally vibrant, ocean side city, to a rural farming community in Mexico, would be quite a culture shock. The Lake is nothing like the ocean, the beauty around here lies in the natural world, but as usual, humans seem to be trying their best to screw that up too. Rather than research the minutiae of living Lakeside, I would also look to other areas of Mexico. If you are willing to adapt, there are many architecturally stunning cities of Mexico, some of them offer "immersion" Spanish lessons, often involving daily walking tours, focussing on the history of that area, and the extraordinarily complex culture of Mexico. Within two to three months, you would most certainly be able to maintain a basic conversation in Spanish , and have knowledge to discuss more than the weather today.

As far as travel costs, the only alternative, which I have heard of, but know very little about, would be ocean freighters which accept paid passengers. Edit: I was curious about this, I would take the freighter from Sydney, through the Panama Canal, and ask if it is possible one way to Cartagena, Colombia, then from there I would take a bus to Medellin, which a hugely underestimated city for retirement, better weather than Chapala. From there, it shouldn't be too expensive to fly to Guadalajara. That's what I would do, if I was a single, retired guy looking to see some of the world, with a minimum of "adventure".

Do you like surf fishing, seems like many Australians do? If so, make sure you bring an Alvey fishing reel matched to their telescopic surf fishing rod. You would feel right at home if I take you to the coast(s) tooling around in the sands in my RHD Isuzu Wizard (also badged as MU - Mysterious Utility), turbo diesel.

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Gooday Mate,

  If you come to rent for a few months during the off season (June till mid Sept is the best) you will be able to find a place to rent  for the lest expensive price. 400 to 600 U.S. dollars. I do recommend that. Renting in Riberas or Chapala or San Antonio Tylajacapan would be central to the bus line if you are with out a car. I travel to the land down under every few years and yes the prices are a bit high. I shop for the least expensive to LAX then search a Mexican airline to Guadalajara to get the best price. Just did a search for June 1 to Sept 1 2017 on Interjet  and the price was 309 U.S. dollars round trip which includes two 55 pound suitcases for free. There is also Areo linea airlines to check out. I have found prices on the flight from Oz to Lax for anywhere from 800 to 1200 U.S. and missed one deal at 600  Round trip U.S.  This is a great place to retire, I have been here for almost 20 years now and still love it. I have great friends from the U.S. Canada and England and my dear Mexican friends so it is quite a mix you can chose from. Every time I go to Oz I nearly have a stroke at the prices so I am sure your Aussie dollar will get you a great life here. Let me know when you plan on being here (dates and if I am here at the same time) I will pick you up at the airport in Guad and shout you a stubbie! The Aussies are the greatest and have been so nice to me when I am there I will do my best to help you out while you are here. Pm me and if you have skype we can talk and I will try to answer any other questions you might have.

Edited by lakeandocean
added round trip
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One set of family from Sydney flew via a cheap flights to the US west coast SFO then a cheap flight to I think Las Vegas and then a mexican airline flight Vegas to GDL, 2014 and I think it ran them about $1800 US each for RT.  Another set of young people came thru Europe via a Australian vacation company flights and I think it was Sydney to Thailand to Germany to London to MExico City to Guadalajara and that too was about $1800.

 

Be creative. 

 

There is a more than one website that regularly post incrredible flight deals, find those and track them.

 

 

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One thing I really appreciate in Mexico is that it is a good blend of Europe meets America with extreme latin flavor, richer and spicier than other latin american countries.  The cities are mostly beautiful, full of colonial architecture, and the central parts of the city have varying degrees of European feel to them.  Gorgeous plazas, surrounded by stunning architecture and lots of outdoor cafes and restaurants.  The American part is that the larger cities have plenty of American chain restaurants like Applebees and Outback Steakhouse, IHOP, not to mention all the fastfood and many of the large American chain stores like Sears, Bestbuy, Radio Shack, Costco, Sams Club, Walmart, you name it, it is probably here.  At first glance that sounds like a serious negative, but for anybody who has lived a long time in a poorer South American country you will realize that this is a wonderful luxury to have access to businesses like that when you need something or miss something the local mercado doesn't carry.

Regarding Lake Chapala, it is made up of poor fishing villages in a stunningly beautiful naturalistic area with a near perfect yearly climate.  You will find little to none of the colonial architecture that is in other parts of Mexico.  The good news about the Chapala area is that it has not been over run with American chains.  The only ones we have is Walmart, Domino's, and Subway.  The expat population is mostly made up with American and Canadians but with a heathy sprinkling of people from all over the world.  You can find people from every country in the world living here.  Russians, S.  Africans, Icelanders, Japanese, Aussies, Kiwis, Egyptians, people come from everywhere here.  Ajijic is the village that has the most expats and the most expensive prices, I live a few minutes down the road in Chapala where we have less expats and cheaper prices, but even here you will run into Germans, Belgiums, Chinese, Aussies, Swedes, and several English not to mention the Americans and Canadians.  There is a fellow that runs the QQ hotel in Chapala who is also an Aussie.  Maybe, you could get in touch with him.

This area is certainly not for everybody, but those looking for the best climate in the world, affordable living, a stimulating lifestyle, but can accept the serious lacks of infrastructure and the sights of extreme poor living next to extreme wealth, will do great down here.

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9 hours ago, Gilligan said:

Can't speak to the airfare question, but as to renting 6 mos minimum so you can get to know the areas and see what fits your lifestyle.  Lots of things to consider from noise levels, security concerns, water / electrical outages, proximity to shopping, car or no car, internet outages, etc. and it takes a while to get to know what the various areas have to offer.  The north shore from Chapala to Jocotopec is where the largest number of expats reside.  The rest of the lake villages have smatterings of expats, but will require a higher level of spanish speaking.  

I would suggest reading as much as you can, establish some friends on-line before you come over, spend a couple weeks and see how it feels and then you'll be in a better position to make your decision.  There are a few web forums, this one, another called InsideLakeside, and MexConnect, and there are several groups on Facebook that offer lots of information.  Do archive searches to answer your questions as many of your questions have probably been asked and answered, but if you can't find anything on a subject ask it again.

I spent a year and a half researching before we moved and we're going on 6 years here.  I love it.  Buen suerte

 

Can't speak to the airfare either..... but CAN to the rent issue. We've been here 18 years, always rented, and would NEVER consider buying! Our reasons might not fit yours, but the base is the same -- come, see, explore, look around, find out how things are in various parts of lakeside, on the other side, in Guad, etc.  DO NOT make the mistake that some regret, and that's buying right away or shortly thereafter, before you really get the lay of the land.

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Wow, what a great bunch of replies!

I'll respond to everyone individually eventually, but maybe just take a couple of the quick & easy ones now. It's late afternoon here and I've been running around all day attending to the myriad of unsavoury things required of the Executor of an Estate. I'm a bit drained both mentally and physically at the moment so need to go and take a short siesta soon.

I really look forward to further interaction with you people, and meeting up with some of you in the not too distant future.

Thanks again for all your great advice.

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18 hours ago, Lulugirl said:

Chapala is the main town while Ajijic is more popular with expats but it's not for everyone.

The weather here is great all year with May as the hottest month until the rainy season starts.  For the most part the rain comes at night or very early morning.

Lulugirl, I'm curious about your "it's not for everyone" statement. That suggests there may be a downside to Ajijic. Can you be more specific please?

Hot doesn't bother me, I've spent most of my life in the tropics, and I don't have anything against rain – very conducive to sleeping.

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16 hours ago, Gilligan said:

water / electrical outages

There are a few web forums, this one, another called InsideLakeside, and MexConnect, and there are several groups on Facebook that offer lots of information.  

Thanks for the leads to other related web forums Gilligan. I'll definitely connect with them ASAP.

You mentioned "electrical outages". Are they common? What about brownouts and surges?

Also, do all houses have effective water filtration systems as standard?

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One thing you will notice about the Chapala area or what many people call here as Lakeside is that it is the real Mexico, all the villages and small towns are all bonafide living breathing Mexican villages, it is nothing like you will find in Cancun or Puerto Vallarta, its the real deal here.  Each village will have its own characteristics and differences.  It just so happens that Ajijic happens to be the epicenter of where most of the gringos have chosen to live, in and around that village.  Ajijic is very small and quaint, full of beautiful murals on the buildings in and around the plaza.  It has lots of nice cafes, restaurants and boutique like artistic little shops.  It is very nice, but many people complain that it feels very tight and claustrophobic, not much open space, the sidewalks and streets are all extremely narrow and super rough bumpy cobblestone even the sidewalks tend to be mostly the rough hard to walk on cobblestone type.  Of course there are Mexicans and Mexican families everywhere, but you will immediately feel surrounded by an over abundance of North Americans walking around everywhere and being the main patrons in the majority of the restaurants.  Which of course there is nothing wrong with that, but not everybody came to Mexico to be surrounded by North Americans everywhere.  Most of the restaurants will hand you an English menu and take your order in English, and basically Spanish is not required in Ajijic.  And most things in Ajijc tend to cost more, from housing, to fruit at the market, to restaurants, and etc.  If and when you come down here, I would recommend you spend a good week in and around Ajijic (to include San Antonio), then spend a week in Chapala, and maybe even spend a week in Jocotepec to see which you think you will like the best.  Electrical outages in the towns are not common, in Chapala it is rare and short lived, but in the further out neighborhoods or anywhere outside of the towns, they are more frequent.  Houses do not come with water filtration systems unless they were installed by the previous owners.  There are companies here that come to your house and install these systems like Ultra Violet light and reverse osmosis, those that have them usually have both for added security.  But the grand majority of Mexicans and expats a like buy the giant huge water bottles called garrafones, which are usually delivered to the door of your home and they sit on a special stand, a water bottle truck will pass by your home every morning playing a certain jingle or just saying agua agua agua.  They will remember who their customers are and will knock every other morning or so to see if you need any water. 

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15 hours ago, CHILLIN said:

I would think moving from a culturally vibrant, ocean side city, to a rural farming community in Mexico, would be quite a culture shock. The Lake is nothing like the ocean...

Ha ha.  Well, I know what you mean, but believe me, I'm pretty much over Brisbane. Cairns used to be great but the massive influx of Japanese and Chinese tourists have ruined it for those of us who remember it in the "good old days". Not the tourists themselves, but the spivs, sharks and other assorted "entrepreneurs" who have taken over and turned it into a plastic city.

I've lived in coastal cities and small outback towns, mining centres and fishing ports, on islands and boats, and pretty much everything in between. I think my culture shock days are well behind me.

Rather than research the minutiae of living Lakeside, I would also look to other areas of Mexico.

Too right! I want to look further at the East Coast possibilities, but might be too expensive for me. In Christmas/New Year of 1999/2000 I spent a couple of weeks in Cuba, and as part of that trip the travel agent included a couple of nights at Cancun, a day at Chichen Itza, and a few other things. I must confess I did like that part of the world.

If you are willing to adapt, there are many architecturally stunning cities of Mexico, some of them offer "immersion" Spanish lessons, often involving daily walking tours, focussing on the history of that area, and the extraordinarily complex culture of Mexico. Within two to three months, you would most certainly be able to maintain a basic conversation in Spanish , and have knowledge to discuss more than the weather today.

To my mind immersion is the only way to go. But would I have the stamina and patience? It's certainly an option I'll investigate further, as developing some degree of communication ability is important to me.

As far as travel costs, the only alternative, which I have heard of, but know very little about, would be ocean freighters which accept paid passengers. Edit: I was curious about this, I would take the freighter from Sydney, through the Panama Canal, and ask if it is possible one way to Cartagena, Colombia, then from there I would take a bus to Medellin, which a hugely underestimated city for retirement, better weather than Chapala. From there, it shouldn't be too expensive to fly to Guadalajara. That's what I would do, if I was a single, retired guy looking to see some of the world, with a minimum of "adventure".

Having worked at sea, both cargo and "fun stuff" (see below) I did take a quick look at freight transport. Not all that cheap and you have to be VERY flexible, but it's on my to-do list to investigate further.

Do you like surf fishing, seems like many Australians do? If so, make sure you bring an Alvey fishing reel matched to their telescopic surf fishing rod. You would feel right at home if I take you to the coast(s) tooling around in the sands in my RHD Isuzu Wizard (also badged as MU - Mysterious Utility), turbo diesel.

Surf fishing has never been my thing. I'm afraid I'm a blue water man. In one of my former careers I crewed and ran Black Marlin charters out of Cairns. In the process of having a big cleanup just yesterday I came across a photo of a 1,014 pounder I wired way back in 1975. That's me 2nd from the right at the waystation, and me with another big fish jumping on the wire. But those are things I've done – I don't need to be around them or do them again, so not a big factor in my choice of somewhere to live.

 

As you can see, I don't know how to properly use multi-quotes here yet.

Marlin 1975.png

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15 hours ago, bmh said:

I have a friend from Brisbane who lives in Chiapas 6 months of the year. She comes to CHiapas in the summer. If you are interested I can get you her e-mail and you could talk to her while still in Brisbane..

That would be great bmh. It's unlikely I'll be able to do anything until a couple of months into the new year, but the more info I can gather in the meantime the better.

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5 hours ago, Bill Hely said:

Lulugirl, I'm curious about your "it's not for everyone" statement. That suggests there may be a downside to Ajijic. Can you be more specific please?

Hot doesn't bother me, I've spent most of my life in the tropics, and I don't have anything against rain – very conducive to sleeping.

I just mean that I think different people like different things.  Personally, I just didn't like the vibe of Ajijic.  Not that there's anything wrong with it but it's not the area I wanted to live in.  It's noisy and I have dogs that don't like cohetes (fireworks.)  Parking can be an issue.  Only you can decide which area you prefer.

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6 hours ago, Bill Hely said:

Lulugirl, I'm curious about your "it's not for everyone" statement. That suggests there may be a downside to Ajijic. Can you be more specific please?

Hot doesn't bother me, I've spent most of my life in the tropics, and I don't have anything against rain – very conducive to sleeping.

Some folks think they have to be as "Mexican" as possible and the large expat population in Ajijic is a turn off for them.  For us, we appreciate having the convenience of by far the most and best restaurants in the area within an easy walk of the house, along with a lot of other businesses that are used to dealing with the expat community.  Ajijic is by far the best looking town along the lake and has the higher end real estate and higher prices to go along with it.

And we can walk to the largest English language library in Latin America, at the beautiful Lake Chapala Society.  We work at learning Spanish but limited hearing ability and old age makes that pretty hard to get much beyond the beginner skill level.  While we attempt always to use Spanish in the local businesses, we are very thankful for the fact that the folks there appreciate our limits and are happy to help out with some English.

We've got movie theaters, hardware, banks, numerous restaurants, doctors, the best gym in the area and a lot more an easy walk from our place in the SE Village.  That is a big plus for us.

Ajijic is no different than any other place where some parts are more upscale than others and the businesses and real estate prices are higher.  If you are focused on living more Mexican, Chapala, Jocotepec and even San Antonio are better choices for less money.  Ironically although San Antonio is much less expat than Ajijic, it hosts the main "gringo" grocery that sells a lot of imported stuff and draws from all over the area.

Then you have to start thinking about your tolerance to things like noise and traffic, and your preference for village versus hillside with killer views living, more rural versus in town, those sorts of choices.  Places up on the hillside have fantastic views but put you in the situation of having to get the car out when you need things.  We have a limited view of the lake from our roof top Mirador and great views of the mountains from our rear Terraza but nothing like the hillside view of the lake and the mountains on the other side.  But we can leave the car parked and walk.

Chapala has a big concentration of businesses easy to walk to from many locations.  Restaurants not so much.  The more we travel Mexico the more we appreciate the unique concentration and variety of places to eat out in Ajijic.  This is not only because of the expats IMO, it is also very popular with affluent "Tapatios" (people from Guadalajara) many of whom have second homes here and like to come and play on the weekends.

Ajijic is definitely a tourist town between the expat snowbirds and the Tapatios.  That has its upsides and downsides.

While we own our home, I agree that for someone coming into such a radical change of lifestyle is better off renting.  Some prefer renting permanently and putting up with having to move periodically.  We prefer having our own and avoiding moving. We hate moving and most of our renting friends have done it at least once since we arrived here 8 years ago.

There is an amazing range of choices in housing, location and life styles here in a very small area.  And the place still retains its semi-rural feel even while being 35 minutes from a major airport and 10 minutes further to a really big city that has everything.

Also the beach is just a few hours away and there are plenty of reasonable ocean side rentals and different beach town styles there.  Way too hot in the summer but fantastic from November through April.  We are going to a resort condo on the Pacific in December, 2BR deluxe with huge pools and all the amenities for $810 per week.  You can't touch something like that for the money north of the border here and I suspect Australia as well.

You have to get used to things like rotten roads, some trash on the streets, many loose dogs, and one of the poorest local governments in the state.  This area is not tidy like Australia.  And Mexicans like to make noise and shoot off the kind of fireworks we used to have in the U.S. (big and loud!) before the government nanny state banned them.

Mexicans have a lot more fun than the staid folks NOB.  That gets noisy and messy at times.  They are very hospitable and for the most part you are welcome to join in.  There are also a ton of opportunities to make a difference here.  Some of us concentrate on community maintenance and the orphanages, some focus on pets, some on religious activities and so on.  The great year round weather means you can be outside doing stuff most all the time.

Definitely come and check it out.  If you want to PM me after you arrive, I'd be happy to show you around some.

 

 

 

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7 hours ago, Bill Hely said:

Thanks for the leads to other related web forums Gilligan. I'll definitely connect with them ASAP.

You mentioned "electrical outages". Are they common? What about brownouts and surges?

Also, do all houses have effective water filtration systems as standard?

Electrical outages occur, but I wouldn't say they are frequent.  Things have improved from 5 years ago, but outages and brown-outs DO occur and it is something you need to ask about when you are looking at a specific area.

Filtration systems are probably fairly standard, but can vary from simple cartridge system, to cartridge plus ultraviolet, to upscale systems.  You probably should check when looking at renting a house and I only drink bottle water.  20 Liter garafons delivered to the house on a regular basis to avoid intestinal problems.  Some do, some don't, but I don't want to take the chance when the garafons are so cheap.

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I believe that within most of the towns electrical service has improved greatly.  In our part of Ajijic service has improved greatly and is as good now as what we had in Albuquerque IMO.  I have a generator sitting unused in my tool room.

We have a whole house water treatment system which includes filtration, softening and dual pass UV.  We have an additional filtration unit at our refrigerator.  We've been drinking the treated water for 8 years with no problems.  Water service reliability has also improved greatly.  Again, it depends where you are at.

I expect that not a lot of budget rentals would have a system sufficient for drinking water quality.  The usual is as noted to buy bottled water.

 

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True but no other villages with the concentration and variety Ajijic has.  Racquet Club and Vista Del Lago come to mind and there are some very nice fraccs west of town.

If that is one's preference, Ajijic is the center of expat life here.  I never have figured out why some folks find that fact upsetting.

 

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