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Swine Flu!

Chinese Government: Not a fan of Mexicans nor swine flu

I hypothesized that these pigs (spotted on a highway in central Mexico) were perhaps being whisked away to a safehouse, to avoid harm at the hands of any area hypochondriacs...

I hypothesized that these pigs (spotted on a highway in central Mexico) were perhaps being whisked away to a safehouse, to avoid harm at the hands of any area hypochondriacs...

Day 12 of Swine Flu not-quite-as-much Frenzy. John & I returned this afternoon from a fantastic get-away from the hub of the furor, with 2 nights in San Miguel de Allende and 2 more in Guanajuato. (Check out the article I wrote for Inside Mexico regarding our escape here!)  Expect a run-down on our trip later this week, though I am including a quick preview to the right…

First, I wanted to give a quick update on one of the more shocking aspects of all the swine flu fallout. As I mentioned in previous posts, I was scheduled to depart this Friday for Beijing, China for an interim trip that is part of my MBA program with Thunderbird/ITESM (basically a combination of company visits + sightseeing). My fellow students and I were all getting a bit suspicious as flights to/from Mexico began getting the axe…  Aeromexico’s direct Mexico City-to-Shanghai route was one of the first to go. Nearby Japan implemented a new requirement of visas + medical certificates for all Mexicans entering the country (where previously no visa was required).

On Saturday morning, the MBA program finally announced that the trips for Beijing, Shanghai, and Tokyo were all “postponed” (indefinitely at this point). Although I was obviously disappointed with this turn of events, I think it was definitely for the best, particularly given the news coming out of China over the last few days.

Most of you probably already heard about Friday’s quarantine imposed on the hotel in Hong Kong where a Mexican national was diagnosed with swine flu. While this seems a bit harsh for the ~200 guests & 100 staff members at the hotel, one can perhaps understand their reaction given the none-too-distant bird flu drama. However, China continued to ramp up its response into “bat-shit crazy” mode over the subsequent days.

Saturday morning, my hopeful Beijing trip-mates & I received an email from two of our classmates who had arrived in Beijing (via Los Angeles) early to do an organized tour before the MBA activities. Solely because they showed their Mexican passports, they were set apart to have their temperatures taken (mind you, after a 12 hour flight with no sleep) for a second time. (They had already passed through the infrared camera temperature detectors with no problem.) Despite having no symptoms, they were taken to a Chinese hospital waiting room filled with camera-toting reporters, then to an isolated, filthy hospital room, and then to an old, crappy hotel that had been closed down for their arrival (and not in a good, “we’re expecting royalty” kind of way). They were told that the Chinese authorities wanted them isolated for 7 days.

I had not heard an update on Yamil and Claudia’s status until today, when I saw this article in Reforma. The article elaborates on some additional details (for non-Spanish speakers, I recommend www.freetranslation.com if you want to translate the whole thing) including:

  • they were told they had to either return to Mexico or spend 7 days in the hospital
  • the Chinese authorities at the airport refused their requests for a doctor to examine them at the airport, for a translator, and for a call to the Mexican Embassy
  • they did not want to leave the airport, but were given the “option” of either going to the hospital, or being put in a room full of sick people with all kinds of illnesses
  • the Chinese authorities promised a “quick test” at the hospital, but instead Yamil & Claudia were transferred to the infectious disease unit for 12 hours
  • as of TODAY (Tuesday), they + 8 other Mexicans are still unable to leave the crappy hotel, which is being guarded by police.

If the “Gou Men Hotel” mentioned in the article is the same as the “Guomen Hotel” I found listed in Beijing on Trip Advisor, the one scathing review listed seems to confirm Yamil’s initial comments of “less than desirable” conditions…

Anyway, the thought of “What would happen if I got sick during the trip? Would I be able to get out of China?” certainly had crossed my mind as a concern as the swine flu frenzy built up… but certainly not the thought of “Maybe I could be quarantined for no reason at all.”  The other commentary I have heard was that the Chinese authorities were giving “special treatment” to all Mexican nationals, including Mexican nationals who had not been in Mexico for months. No special screenings however for other-country passport holders who had just come from Mexico, nor citizens of other countries with swine flu cases. Which all makes total sense. 😛 To that end check out this Reuters article regarding the rapidly deteriorating China/Mexico relationship. Of course China has denied any discrimination towards Mexicans saying its decisions are solely medically based (here it is straight from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs)… you be the judge.

China also made the bold move of sending an airplane today to retrieve nearly 100 Chinese citizens from Mexico City & Tijuana. (Since clearly making them fly on a Mexican airline would be tantamount to a death sentence???)  To be fair, Mexico also sent a plane to Shanghai today to retrieve Mexicans, but that was largely driven by them being quarantined for no reason!!!

Well, more to come on the Mexico/China flu battle. Please send Yamil & Claudia your positive, H1N1 flu-free thoughts & hopes that they manage to escape this horrible quarantine and actually enjoy some of their trip to China, though I’m not sure that will be possible at this point…

 In other news, Mexico City is making progress with movie theatres opening tomorrow as well as restaurants (this article in English), despite some confusion over places that serve alcohol possibly not being allowed to open. Additionally, high schools & universities will open on Thursday, and elementary school on May 11th. Let’s hope things keep moving in the right direction!! Now off to bed to dream about my next michelada on the patio of a bar in Polanco…

UPDATE: Yamil & Claudia made it back alive & well yesterday (Wednesday May 6) on the special flight sent over by the Mexican government. They informed me they are recuperating rapidly! Welcome back!!!

Pig Flu Mexico City Day 6: in which we decide to eat lots of Bacon

As we close out Day 6 of Mexican Swine Flu Mania, it appears this virus has no intent of leaving the country quietly. A smattering of recent developments for anyone living under a rock:

  • The World Health Organization has raised the pandemic alert level to phase 5 on a scale of 6, meaning there is “sustained transmission among people in at least two countries”.  To get to phrase 6, the virus has to show an outbreak in two different regions. It believes “a global outbreak of disease is imminent.”
  • There are now 99 confirmed swine flu cases and 1 death in Mexico; 91 confirmed cases in the US and 1 death; other countries are being added to the list continuously. (UPDATE Thurs AM: now 5 confirmed swine-flu deaths in DF)
  • Mexico City has officially closed *all* restaurants; some are open for take-out only. The government will be paying them $50 PESOS a day to help offset their financial losses. (FYI, that is ~$4USD for the day.)  No such financial offsets are announced for street-performing clowns.
  • The Mexico City government has dictated a closure of all “non-essential government and private business activity” between the 1st and 5th of May.
  • The financial impact of this crisis is currently estimated at $57 million USD a day in Mexico City alone due to the drop in economic activity.
  • Suspicions regarding the source of the virus point towards a (seemingly absolutely disgusting) pig farm in La Gloria in the state of Veracruz. The farm is a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, and townspeople nearby had 1,800 cases of an “acute respiratory infection” back in February that apparently didn’t get mentioned to the federal governement (allegedly). Check out this excellent description of more interesting pig farm details.
  • Mexico is great for conspiracy theories; check this out for some hot proposals of how Obama secretly snuck swine flu into the country.
  • A number of countries are considering/instituting bans on flights to Mexico, foremost those whiners the French. So far so good on flights to China…will I make it onto my plane May 8th???

Given that you are all probably well-saturated with data points about the swine flu frenzy, let me share how I have spent my last 24 hours (besides working from home). We did indeed make our wild venture out Tuesday night to Costco & Chedraui (local grocery store) to buy supplies for aforementioned friend’s birthday dinner.

As you may or not be aware about Mexico City, many of its citizens (chilangos) have sort of a fatalist attitude towards life, perhaps stemming from the crazy/random things that seems to happen to/in D.F. (as per prior post re. swine flu + earthquake in one day). So instead of approaching things from the standard, American, hide-under-your-bed-until-it’s-over point of view, we decided to embrace the apocalypse & host a pork-heavy Night Breakfast. (i.e. tasty breakfast foods for dinner, heavy on the bacon)  Take that, pig flu!! We aren’t skerd of y’all.  Anyway, pics below from grocery store trip + bacon frenzy.

John is fully prepared to fight our way through the crowds at two grocery stores with his blue-post-it-mask.

John is fully prepared to fight our way through the crowds at two grocery stores with his blue-post-it-mask.

We came expecting a madhouse, but Costco turns out to actually be fairly quiet. Note conspicious absence of people near the pork section of the Deli on the left. Probably ~50% of people had masks on, but all store employees.

We came expecting a madhouse, but Costco turns out to actually be fairly quiet. Note conspicious absence of people near the pork section of the Deli on the left. Probably ~50% of people had masks on, but all store employees.

Contrary to Costco's belief, apparently Corn Flakes & Special K are *not* what people stock up on during a flu pandemic...

Contrary to Costco's belief, apparently Corn Flakes & Special K are *not* what people stock up on during a flu pandemic...

OK, this isn't super-relevant to the swine flu, but who was the marketing wizard behind this brand of hotdogs?? "See guys, the thing is, they really aren't food, since they are all just lips & *ssholes, so that's why we'll call them FUD instead. I already submitted the copyright. Whaddya think?"

OK, this isn't super-relevant to the swine flu, but who was the marketing wizard behind this brand of hotdogs?? "See guys, the thing is, they really aren't food, since they are all just lips & *ssholes, so that's why we'll call them FUD instead. I already submitted the copyright. Whaddya think?"

One of the fine selections on offer at the Costco deli was this "Pastel de Carne". I realize this is meatloaf, but directly translated it says "Cake of Meat". Mmmm. Luckily we were not confused by the Spanish "cake" word usage & did not mistakenly buy this as a birthday cake...

One of the fine selections on offer at the Costco deli was this "Pastel de Carne". I realize this is meatloaf, but directly translated it says "Cake of Meat" (or Pie of Meat). Mmmm. Luckily we were not confused by the Spanish "cake" word usage & did not mistakenly buy this as a birthday cake...

As we left Costco to go to the normal grocery store (Chedraui) down the hall, we passed the Costco cafeteria. FYI: Do not eat here. While their hotdogs + drink for $1.75 or huge slice of pizza for $2 SOUND like fantastic ideas, they are almost certain to give you the Mexi-poops. Best avoided at all costs; go back and buy yourself some Cake of Meat.

As we left Costco to go to the normal grocery store (Chedraui) down the hall, we passed the Costco cafeteria. FYI: Do not eat here. While their hotdogs + drink for $1.75 or huge slice of pizza for $2 SOUND like fantastic ideas, they are almost certain to give you the Mexi-poops. Best avoided at all costs; go back and buy yourself some Cake of Meat.

In the commercial center that holds Costco, Chedraui, and a movie theatre, many of the other small stores were shut down Tuesday night. But not the PET STORE, generally recognized as a bastion of cleanliness and sanitation. Good choice, Pet Store Manager! Let's press our luck & see if we can get some Dog Flu action going here.

In the commercial center that holds Costco, Chedraui, and a movie theatre, many of the other small stores were shut down Tuesday night. But not the PET STORE, generally recognized as a bastion of cleanliness and sanitation. Good choice, Pet Store Manager! Let's press our luck & see if we can get some Dog Flu action going here.

Inside Chedraui, activity was brisk but overall things seemed normal. The only sign of a run on supplies was this shelf that had been nearly wiped clean of canned soup & bags of pasta.

Inside Chedraui, activity was brisk but overall things seemed normal. The only sign of a run on supplies was this shelf that had been nearly wiped clean of canned soup & bags of pasta.

One promising item we observed for sale was this yogurty drink called "Svelty". I seriously considered buying a dozen to see if they could actually make me look svelty, despite all this sitting on my butt I am doing since our gym is shut down.

One promising item we observed for sale was this yogurty drink called "Svelty". I seriously considered buying a dozen to see if they could actually make me look svelty, despite all this sitting on my butt I am doing since our gym is shut down.

Our first shocking discovery at Chedraui was the number of pork products still for sale! Obviously there must be at least one sane Chedraui store manager out there who knows the swine flu is not transmitted by eating pork! Perhaps he should have a chat with Egypt before they make all their country's pigs take a dirt nap.

Our first shocking discovery at Chedraui was the number of pork products still for sale! Obviously there must be at least one sane Chedraui store manager out there who knows the swine flu is not transmitted by eating pork! Perhaps he should have a chat with Egypt before they make all their country's pigs take a dirt nap.

Next stop: the Chicharron stand!! For those unfamiliar, these are fried pork skins. We were curious as to how the chicharron business was faring with all the bad PR, but were not able to find any managers to ask about that NOR how they felt about the Egyptians trying to flood the market.

Next stop: the Chicharron stand!! For those unfamiliar, these are fried pork skins. We were curious as to how the chicharron business was faring with all the bad PR, but were not able to find any managers to ask about that nor how they felt about the Egyptians trying to flood the market.

We finally made it to the checkout. Here's me, getting the death glare from the people in line behind us as I prepare to pay with my FOOD STAMPS (job "perks" are a little different in Mexico). This is almost invariably a hellish process in which the checkout person cannot trust the amount of food stamps I have given them & so must count them 4-7 different times, each time rearranging/restacking the piles of food stamps to ensure no one knows exactly how much I am paying.

We finally made it to the checkout. Here's me, getting the death glare from the people in line behind us as I prepare to pay with my FOOD STAMPS (job "perks" are a little different in Mexico). This is almost invariably a hellish process in which the checkout person cannot trust the amount of food stamps I have given them & so must count them 4-7 different times, each time rearranging/restacking the piles of food stamps to ensure no one knows exactly how much I am paying.

As you can see, my first outing in Swine Flu City was fraught neither with drama nor blatant interaction with swine-flu-carrying crazies. Whew. So then, on to the Night Breakfast! To prepare for the pork-fest, we created an impromptu ofrenda for the Swine Flu, similar to those associated with Dia de los Muertos here in Mexico (but less ornate). It seemed only fitting…

John spends a moment to reflect at the Swine Flu Altar, with the feast that we are about to receive.

John spends a moment to reflect at the Swine Flu Altar, with the feast that we are about to receive. (and yes, he's wearing his Utilikilt, the defacto fashion choice for all men in times of influenza pandemics: www.utilikilts.com

Sasha confessed that being house-bound for days on end has left people slightly crazy, with a tendency to dress up their babies in things like Superman (or Superbaby?) costumes. I felt this was a good approach for making Ivan appear less vulnerable to viruses.

Sasha confessed that being house-bound for days on end has left people slightly crazy, with a tendency to dress up their babies in things like Superman (or Superbaby?) costumes. I felt this was a good approach for making Ivan appear less vulnerable to viruses.

Sasha's claims were backed up by the arrival of Alan with newborn daughter Ruby dressed in a Syracruse cheerleader costume. :)

Sasha's claims were backed up by the arrival of Alan with newborn daughter Ruby dressed in a Syracruse cheerleader costume. :)

The guest of honor, Ben the birthday boy, boldly made the first dive into the sea of bacon, eschewing all talk of pig flu on his special day.

The guest of honor, Ben the birthday boy, boldly made the first dive into the sea of bacon, eschewing all talk of pig flu on his special day.

Despite his tough talk, Ben was later seen communing at the Swine Flu Alter, offering ground pork leftovers to Herman, Jackie & George in an misguided gesture of goodwill.

Despite his tough talk, Ben was later seen communing at the Swine Flu Altar, offering ground pork leftovers to Herman, Jackie & George in an misguided gesture of goodwill.

To close the evening, I brought our final piece of bacon to the Swine Flu Altar in hopes of exchanging it for a cessation of the virus's attack on Mexico City. This may have been foiled by someone eating the offering when I turned my head for 2 seconds.

To close the evening, I brought our final piece of bacon to the Swine Flu Altar in hopes of exchanging it for a cessation of the virus's attack on Mexico City. This may have been foiled by someone eating the offering when I turned my head for 2 seconds.

That’s all the news tonite from the Hot Zone, but keep posted tomorrow for an expected update from the US Embassy & continued developments on the international flights front! Thanks to all for your thoughts & well wishes; we are staying safe and hopeful. May the bacon be with you.

Crazy Pig Flu vs. Mexico City: Day 4

As we wrap up Day 4 of Crazy Pig Flu vs. Mexico City and beyond, all is still well here on the Southern front. I have essentially not left our apartment building since Friday night, not so much out of fear as a lack of anywhere to go. As per all of the news, much of Mexico City has been pretty quiet the last few days, with all public events, schools, movie theaters, and a number of restaurants shut down. John did go into work at the Embassy today, but even that was quieter than normal, with the consular section shut down for the week to avoid having ~1600 people a day waiting in close proximity to get a visa. He commented that among the general public, mask-wearing ranged from between 20-50%, frankly not as high as I expected.

OK, I don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but these tapabocas (aka face masks) that my husband got today from the Embassy are outrageous. My best analogy: blue post-it notes with dental floss ties. I reckon this prevents the intake of swine flu about as well as a lucha mask, which I may consider purchasing instead. You will note the pug is similarly displeased.

OK, I don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but these tapabocas (aka face masks) that my husband got today from the Embassy are outrageous. My best analogy: blue post-it notes with dental floss ties. I reckon this prevents the intake of swine flu about as well as a lucha mask, which I may consider purchasing instead. At least the lucha masks reflect the shape of my face; these masks seem to assume my face is two dimensional. You will note the pug is similarly displeased.

Things took a turn for the apocalyptic around noon today when we also got hit with an earthquake. A cool 5.6 on the ol’ Richter Scale, I was initially excited because this was the first earthquake I have actually *felt* during our time in Mexico. The neighborhood we live in is one of the more seismically stable, so until this AM I had been deprived of any earth-shaking excitement. Luckily, no injuries or damage have been reported from this one, so at least it shouldn’t ADD to the general level of panic. That said, I think it is safe to say that most of us are awaiting the plague of locusts or frogs dropping from the sky, just as a bit of icing on the cake to follow our trifecta of druglords, swine-flu, and terremotos.

The CDC announced tonight a recommendation to avoid all non-essential travel to Mexico. What was originally a Mexico City school closure through May 6th, has now become a country-wide closure of all schools. Starbucks has even closed 10 shops in Mexico City & reduced hours of operation of others. You know when even Starbucks is willing to forego a few bucks, things must be tense.

Despite all of these signs of doom, as my friend Joy pointed out, there is so much we don’t know. We keep hearing stats on number of “possible” flu cases in Mexico City & corresponding numbers of deaths that seem to be a disturbingly high percentage. However, few stats seem yet available on how many mild flu cases have been seen or how many cases & deaths are officially, 100% sure, from the swine flu (this A/H1N1 strain). Word this afternoon from the Embassy (working with the CDC who is visiting Mexico at present) was that only 26 cases have *officially* been diagnosed as this strain of swine flu and only 6 of those cases have died.  Another article in Reforma (MX City newspaper) tonite stated the number of reported cases have been falling over the past three days.  Argh. Trying to keep up with the stats in a situation like this seems like a lost cause.

 

Thus far, air travel in and out of Mexico has not been impacted. However, many of us here are suspicious as to how long of a reprieve we will have… (especially those of us heading to China on May 8th for her MBA interim trip!!)… The airport in Tokyo is “thermo-screening” arrivals from Mexico to try & detect high body temps. Anecdotal evidence from US airports shows them not even making a cursory glance at incoming passengers as of today. Where is a good middle ground? Does closing borders/airports really help in a situation like this? Arguably no. But realistic assessments can hardly stand in the way of a media stampede over the cliff of reason, eh?
Speaking of over the cliff of reason, I want to let any fans of Jackie, George and Herman know that we are taking excellent care of them, taking every precaution to hide them from the pig-haters that seem to be lurking around every corner these days. (Well, at least Jackie and Herman are protected.) Overprotective, you ask skeptically? Um, hello people, it's called SWINE flu. Who do you think are its most likely victims?? (Note poignantly-titled sheet music book resting above the little dears on our piano.)

Speaking of over the cliff of reason, I want to let any fans of Jackie, George and Herman know that we are taking excellent care of them, taking every precaution to hide them from the pig-haters that seem to be lurking around every corner these days. (Well, at least Jackie and Herman are protected.) Overprotective, you ask skeptically? Um, hello people, it's called SWINE flu. Who do you think are its most likely victims?? (Note poignantly-titled sheet music book resting above the little dears on our piano.)

From a personal perspective, I am more sad than scared at this point, since most of what we’ve heard about this particular influenza strain is that it responds to prompt treatment from drugs like Tamiflu (of which we are assured there is plenty here in Mexico City). The difference in mortality rates between the US and Mexico cases is certainly concerning & curious, but also not inconceivable when one considers the disposable income that your average Mexican has to spend on health care, whether they would choose to spend it on an immediate doctor’s visit based on fairly unremarkable initial symptoms of fever/coughing/lethargy, and how that delay in diagnosis might negatively impact them when it turns out they have a strain of the crazy pig flu. Obviously after the shit-storm of media coverage, me and every other chilango here in D.F. will be sucking down Tamiflu ASAP if we have symptoms even remotely akin to those!

 

At this point, I am more depressed on behalf of Mexico, who needed this media blitz like a hole in the head after months of totally unbiased (ha) “Everyone’s being killed by narcos” coverage. Even if this influenza epidemic dies down over the next week, I fear it will still take a considerable toll on tourism throughout Mexico, since it is not as easy to draw a map showing where viruses don’t do business. Just within Mexico City, the number of businesses on lock-down + the number of parents who can’t go to work (because their children are home from school) will have a crippling economic effect if it continues long term.

To those of you potential travelers with trips coming up this summer, please don’t start making any cancellations yet!! I believe we’ll know a lot more by the end of this week as to whether this will wither out or continue to ramp into pandemic proportions. While obviously I agree with avoiding travel over the next couple weeks, it is hard to make any accurate forecasts beyond that & the CDC/Mexico government needs a few days to sort out the facts from the furor.

Anyway, that is the latest from the new “ground zero”. I will likely venture out of the house tomorrow to purchase groceries for an impromptu birthday-dinner we will host on Wednesday for a fellow “inmate” in our apartment building. This asssuming a) the grocery stores are open, and b) I find a face mask with more protection than blue tissue paper. Over and out from the hot zone!!

Luchadores in the Fight Against Swine Flu

This photo of up-and-coming luchador El Matador protecting two of his young, swine-flu-avoiding fans made my day today. Join El Matador’s fan club on Facebook to be kept in the loop on all his crazy shenanigans!!

Now that I may have more free time thanks to finally FINISHING MY 2nd TERM MBA FINALS today, also keep an eye out for an upcoming interview of El Matador, that will shed light on what everyone has been dying to know: How to Become a Mexican Luchador!!

El Matador takes on TWIN potential pig-flu carriers!! Down with influenza!!

El Matador takes on TWIN potential pig-flu carriers!! Down with influenza!!

If the druglords don’t get ya, the flu might…

In late-breaking news from here at my dining-room table Financial Accounting 12:30AM study session, there is a chance my final exam scheduled for today (Friday) may be cancelled due to a flu outbreak in Mexico City & surrounding areas. El Universal just reported that the Secretaries of Health & Public Education have decided to cancel all classes from preschool through university in order to control a possible flu epidemic. WTF???

There has been a flurry of instant messenging/facebook activity among my colleagues as we try to determine whether avoiding a suspicious respiratory infection is sufficient grounds for postponing our exam & being forced to think about accounting for even ONE MORE DAY. My vote (thanks to my mother’s insistence on me getting a flu shot this year) is a strong NO: FULL SPEED AHEAD!!!!

Other news sources ponder whether this may be related to a crazy new swine flu recently diagnosed in the States in TX & CA. Inconceivable!!! How could my good friend bacon turn on us like that???

Anyway, more news to follow shortly from the apparently cursed land of Mexico. Any chance of us convincing all those druglords that there is a “drop” going down this weekend at an infected pig farm? Is that actually a word druglords use to describe a drug deal or have I just been watching too much NYPD Blue from the 90’s?

***UPDATE***

Well sure enough, all the university campuses were on lock down today & for the remainder of the weekend. Since we could not go to campus to take our test, our accounting individual & team final exams turned into take-home, open-book, open-note exams (which I must admit was a pleasant surprise). It was all the more amusing as I had written to the professor earlier in the week asking if there was a chance that we might be able to use 1 page of notes during the exam, and he denied me. So, I felt obligated to send him another email today clarifying that although I did want to use notes and my husband does work for the all-powerful US Embassy, I did not incite an outbreak of influenza in Mexico City solely to get some help with accounting. 😉

As proof of how seriously us MBA students were taking the flu threat, here is a pic from the arrival of classmate Walter to the portion of our team exam:

Walter was taking no risks with the rampant flu epidemic in Mexico, and was similarly well-prepared with his accounting textbook at the ready...

Walter was taking no risks with the rampant flu epidemic in Mexico, and was similarly well-prepared with his accounting textbook at the ready...

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