A very Australian Christmas (a 2013 retrospective)

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Where have I been you ask, did I drop off the face of the earth? Yes and no….. Over the Christmas and New Years period I returned home to the down under to spend the holidays with my family in Melbourne.

Now I did the same trip last year and expect I will do much the same this coming Christmas. However the relationship developed with a country left behind in lieu of another is a bittersweet one, the return to said country equally so.

Upon leaving Australia after my last trip I retained a residual distaste for the country, questioning whether I would ever want to return to live there in the future. Despite having spent a fantastic few weeks with my friends and family, I found myself longing to return to Japan. This year however I have returned to Kobe in quite the opposite headspace.

For so long firm in my mind was the firm belief that I was a black sheep, not only amongst my family and peers but also within my country of origin, that I was somehow different from everyone else’s.

If there is anything that can shatter long held beliefs and redefine a person it’s two things, time and distance. As the saying goes ‘you ain’t know what you got till it’s gone’.

I guess the major turning point for me was finding myself begin to contemplate my future, not in Japan but post-JET. I guess seeing my long term friends my age back home getting on with their lives caused me to reflect upon my own situation. What am I doing in Japan? What kind of career do I want in the future? Shall I return to university for further study? What will my life have shaped up to be by my later 20s?

Over the past few weeks I have sincerely had some of the greatest times of my life, simply enjoying the company of the family and friends I left behind half a world away. From this experience I experienced a major shift in my mindset of what exactly Japan and the JET program mean to me.

Having had aspired to reaching my alleged ‘ultimate goal’ of living in Japan for almost a decade. I can now see with definite clarity that I had put the country on a pedestal, the way one might put a pretty girl.

Now I’m not saying I thought the country was all Sushi, anime and geisha as many do who have never been fortunate enough to visit Japan. Nor would I want to downplay the profound respect I have developed for its people and culture. But instead I would like to put forth that yeah, if you get an awesome placement like Kobe on the JET program (or even if you don’t), Japan can be everything that you ever dreamed of and more. But at the end of the day the experience like anything in life is going to be what you make of it.

I know I have said this in past posts but you can grow up and discover where you want to go in life quite rapidly here, today is the 588th day of my journey here so I would hope to have made some progress. Whether that is the product of conquering the hardships of living alone in a foreign country for the first time or unique to JET I couldn’t say. However I am a firm believer that this experience has helped set me on the right track to becoming the man I always needed to become.

I arrived in Kobe coming up 2 years ago a person I can look back upon with distaste, self-righteous, unempathetic and stubborn as hell. I like to think I’ve made a little progress since then, yet I realize the road ahead is long but if I have gained any insight it’s this:

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of ones ignorance”
-Confucius

I don’t want to say that I have come to some great epiphany either, rather that I am just walking my own path one step at a time learning with each one.
What I have learnt is to truly appreciate and treasure those you who love you, whether they live next door or a world away. Rather than worrying about winning the affection of others and what they think of you, simply be the best you you can be. Show a sense of empathy, respect for others opinions and a sincere interest in what those around you say and you will never want for company.

I have met so many amazing people in Japan from all corners of the earth in the short part of my life that I have been here, but I will be sure never to forget those friends and family I had in Melbourne neither.

To all that I saw and spent time with during my visit home I thank you for making my trip amazing. Particularity the efforts of my parents who took every step imaginable to do anything and everything to make my visit home a memorable one.

Till next time,

-Dan

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Mecha Cute Rilakkuma Tea Cover!

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For anyone living in Japan Rilakkuma リラックマ is very abundant and excessively popular. His name derives from the English work ‘relax’ and the Japanese word for bear (kuma), so ‘relax bear’.

He is one of my favorites since there is a rumor that he is in fact an ojiisan (middle aged man) in a bear suit. Based upon the fact that slightly below the back if his neck is a zipper that runs down his back. He kinda has the personality of an old guy too and enjoys lying around, eating sleeping and watching TV. Because of all this he is surprisingly popular with older men!

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Anyhow a couple days I walked into a conbini (convenience store) to buy my regular green tea and noticed it had a little package on top!

The current promotion includes this cute little sock with the tea that you can use to cover your bottle so that in the summer. The condensation that typically forms outside of the bottle is absorbed so it doesn’t not wet things in your bag!

There a 5 types to collect, drinkymashou!

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This Is Why I Love Summer Vacation!

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So I was quite ecstatic when the coach of the track and field club (who I have been training with everyday) finally asked me to go swimming with the students this morning. The school pool has sat tantalizingly cool and refreshing across from my desk but realistically a world away up until now!
Anyhow I just finished up spending the last 90minutes swimming with my kids, playing games and whatnot. Now with what feels like retinal chemical burns, it’s painfully clear why the boys laughed at me when I said I didn’t need goggles…… Shouganai live and learn ^^;

Cycling The Awaji Longride 150 (淡路島ロングライド150)

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Having become quite the avid cyclist since arriving in Japan, recently along with a couple similarly crazy friends we decided to tackle the ‘Awaji long-ride 150’ (淡路島ロングライド150) an annual 150km bike marathon around the island of Awaji 淡路島.

For those that don’t know of Awaji island it sits neatly in between connecting 2 of Japan’s 4 major islands Honshū and Shikoku. Being very close to Kobe particularly where I live if you’re facing south it’s likely you will catch a glimpse of it on the horizon!

The island is separated from Honshū by the Akashi Strait and from Shikoku by the Naruto Strait. As of April 1998 it has been connected to Kobe on Honshū by the Akashi-Kaikyō Bridge 明石海峡大橋, at almost 2km in length it is the longest suspension bridge in the world (no surprise I can see clearly from my school).

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How to get there:
I person cycled to Akashi City 明石市 as its only about 7km from my house, however here is a little diagram showing how much to expect to pay if your taking public transport.
There is a ferry from there that cyclists can use to take their bikes over, as the bridges which connect Awaji with other islands are exclusive open to cars.
One way tickets for adults can be purchased for 450円 and a bike ticket for an additional 200円.

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Here’s a pic of the Awaji team (minus our photographer Pete) on the 7am ferry. We departed on the day from Gakuentoshi at around 6:15am, arriving to Awaji within 20 minutes (it’s all downhill).

It was stepping off the ferry on Awaji that the real challenge began, for the most part the ride is quite straight forward and flat, we chose to go around clockwise as the few mountains that Awaji does have around the coast, are primarily on the eastern side of the island.
After a long morning and about 70km of varying giant hills and flats we all met up in the town of Fukura 福良 at around 1pm for lunch, as this is about the halfway point I would recommend it for a stopover, that said the variety of eateries leaves much to be desired (コンビニましょう?!).

Now our ragtag team all had varying bikes (mines actually a mountain bike) and varying skill levels, unlike the professional looking teams in matching outfits we saw perpetually overtaking us. So for more than half of the ride I found myself alone with the road, it certainly gave me a good 13-14hours or so to think (and sweat). By the time we all arrived back at the ferry port having completed the 150km loop the sun had long since set and we managed go jump on the 8:10pm ferry home.

Despite our fatigue and burning asses we decided to man up and tackle the final 7km from Awaji back to Gakuentoshi. We headed straight for a nearby izakaya 居酒屋 (Japanese style bar) where after one beer the long 165km or so of riding finally caught up with us and we all realized the sooner we were in bed the better (I actually fell asleep in my chair :p).

Anyhow it was a crazy 15 hours or so of pain, however I couldn’t recommend it highly enough if your an avid biker in Japan! In fact my morning ride to school now seems far easier since (it might just be in my head), next challenge……. Lake Biwa!!

Natsuyasumi 夏休み The Happiest Time Of The Year!

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Last Monday marked the beginning of natsuyasumi 夏休み (summer vacation) here in Japan, however compared to what those back home might think of it to mean, summer vacation in Kobe is a whole different kettle of fish!

It’s a well established fact that generally compared to their western counterparts, the Japanese like to work A LOT! Most people work huge amounts of unpaid overtime (teachers especially) every week without a peep of complaint, as that just how the world turns in the Japanese corner of it!
As a Kobe JET we have no obligation to work past our contracted hours, I rarely stay back unless I have more work than I can manage to complete during the day and so I am usually the first one out of the office at 4:15pm.

Now what does this have to do with summer vacation, to quote the words of my mate Matt whilst reflecting on summer in Japan:
It’s called natsuyasumi 夏休み yet both teachers and students must still go to school. I wonder what part exactly is yasumi 休み (vacation).

ALT-meme

That said I ain’t complaining, even though we have to come into school everyday it’s a pretty sweet deal. I spend my mornings training with my students, popping in and out of the various clubs checking out what they up to. The vibe this time of year is amazing, life is heaps chill, no classes, no obligation. Having planned all my classes for the foreseeable future I literally have nothing to do but enjoy life and do whatever takes my fancy.

I know my OTE is a busy woman and this time if year I do my best to help her out with creating materials and correcting stuff that aren’t really my job since I like to keep busy. However even after doing all of that I still find myself with a plethora of time on my hands. Now post lunchtime all the kids have usually gone home, what would I recommend to fellow ALTs to do in this time when you feel like you have nothing to do.

I personally work on myself, read, run, learn, study, write, relax. Natsuyasumi is a great time to reflect on improving yourself mentally and physically. The club activity training the students do is intense, no wonder they are all so skinny! Participating alongside them has done wonders for my relationships with my students, sure my Japanese still isn’t fantastic but when you have just run 5km alongside someone, sometimes that’s all the communication you need to solidify companionship.

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Also a word of advice, buy one of these for school, it will change your life!

Now outside of work this is a very exiting time of year for JETs, we have just said our goodbyes to the leavers and in the next 2 weeks the new kids will be arriving! In Kobe over the summer we have job training and run a week long summer school!

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In addition to all this we also have quite a bit of tokkyu 特休 (summer leave) which are extra free days off that we can use any time during the summer break.
I will be spending mine in a couple weeks time, heading down to Okinawa to get some relaxing, exploring and summer fun in with a couple of my good friends!

Last weekend I headed up to this little inaka town called Takeno with the krew, we hired a car since it was about 3 hours north of Kobe, around HERE

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Got some camping, BBQing, swimming and bonfire action in! My mate Pete and I took a heap of stupid photos along the way XD

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There is a certain magic and electricity on the air this time if year, life is good, the future is bright, THIS MOMENT, THIS TIME is exactly what I live about Japan and my life here as a Kobe JET!

tl;dr Summer in Japan is bangin’!

Ice Breakers Review

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Based upon my love of the Mintia mints I decided to branch out to an almost identical competing brand Ice Breakers.
Although similarly shaped and packaged the novelty Ice Breakers bring to the table is that rather being cool and minty as the name might imply they are in fact sour!
So far I have only come across 5 flavours, all if which I’m quite fond of, lets take a look at each!

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Ice Breakers – Sour Lemon

These would be what I consider to the the flagship flavor of the brand, slightly sour and fizzy they bring the lemon candy taste to the table right off the bat! A lot bolder than most of its Mintia counterparts, the only criticisms i have for the Sour Lemon flavour is that it breaks apart and dissolves quite rapidly and can get a little sickly if you choose to consume too many.
On a final note it leaves the mouth with an almost minty cool chill.
4/5

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Ice Breakers – Sour Blood Orange

Next up is Sour Blood Orange, although they feel remarkably similar as the Sour Lemon flavour when you pop one in your mouth and dissolve just as fast I feel they lack the kick of their cousins. The overall feeling I get from them is disappointment and a since of deflation, perhaps ultimate deliciousness is just too much to ask of an orange flavored candy……..
3.75/5

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Ice Breakers – Sour Green Apple
Ok we’re seeing a trend here with extremely similar tasting flavours, these ones at least have a slight green tint to the particles in them so I can tell them apart…… That said its not that their not delicious, only that they taste 90% the same as the lemon flavour.
Honestly though although its not appleish in the least they have this certain tanginess to them that is a little bit amazing. Definitely have won a place in my heart as an amazing sour candy!
4.25/5

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Ice Breakers – Sour Grape

Last but not least we have the Sour Grape flavour, these taste quite similar to the grape Minita just with an awesome sour fizziness to them! That said these really bring the sour to the table, not in a puckering way but at least it’s a lot more prominent that in the other Ice Breakers varieties.
Again the only way I can tell them apart from the others if I mix them up is by the purplish colouring that indicates the grape flavouring, still awesome!!
4.25/5

Kobe JET Scavenger Hunt 2013 (SCUNT)

On the evening of June 1st 2013, dozens of costumed, slightly inebriated Kobe JETs descended upon Sannomiya for another year of mayhem!

For this was the night of the annual Kobe JET Scavenger Hunt (The SCUNT)!

For those have been with me for the long haul the 2012 SCUNT was one of the first things I did when I arrived in Japan a year back, if you wanna take a peak I blogged about last years https://nihonomnom.wordpress.com/2012/06/22/kobe-2012-scavenger-hunt-scunt/

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The basics of the the game are as follows.
Prior to the event ALTs can put together teams of up to 8 people with a theme of some description, as points are awarded for ‘best’ dressed’ crazy costumes are a must.
Teams assemble at ‘tits park’ at 7PM of the night of the event and are given a list of clues to solve ‘the mystery’ by interviewing ALTs playing on the ‘home team’. As one successfully interviews ‘suspects’ they receive more and more clues, meanwhile additional points can be scored for taking specific ‘crazy photos’.

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Anyhow this years events theme was ‘Digital Kobe’. The following letter was the letter we received prior to its commencement.

Greetings,

First, on behalf of Aztechnology, I would like to thank you for volunteering for this peculiar mission. As you may or may not know, we function as the technological intelligence and advancement sector under the US Air Force. We create anything and everything from programs to Nano technology.

Recently, we’ve had a disturbance in our Master Server; –programs have started to malfunction or disappear. Then about 2 days ago a virus appeared in the system. It started rapidly corrupting files. We aren’t sure who’s behind it but whoever it is hides their tracks very well.Our biggest concern is our multi-billion dollar AI program N.A.V.I (Neural Artificial Visual Interface). For some strange reason she’s appearing and disappearing from the system as if she’s hiding. When we can access her she functions fine. So we are sending you and your teams into the server. Projecting human forms into the digital world is still a little new to us. However, we’re sure you’ll be fine.

You have 3 missions:

1.) Find out who’s behind this. Programs ALWAYS leave a bit of their coding somewhere; search for them. Also some of our programs are still functional but not accessible from here. Find those programs and get whatever information you could get from them before they are corrupted or officially off-line.

2.) Find NAVI, each group that finds her and take a “Screen Cap” saves part of her data.

3.) Find the virus dubbed “the Black Plague. We don’t expect you to terminate him but by taking a screen cap you will isolate him in an area for about 10 minutes.

I’ve created a anti-virus who will be your point of contact in the digital world. Her name is H.A.V.O.K (Hatter’s Anti-Viral Optimal Killer – Yes! We like acronyms !) Sadly, she was created in a rush and full of bugs. A patch was created for her so she won’t mistake you for viruses.

I’ve already created a direct link to your team captains. I’ll try to keep you informed about what’s happening out here.

Safe journey and good luck

Signed

J. Hatter
Chief Technician

So basically this years ‘interviewees’ were actually all computer programs. Each had a unique interface and teams had to use the proper technical commands to effectively extract information regarding ‘The Black Plague’.

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The ever amazing organizer JoJo

Alas with the following information at hand we set upon our task, meanwhile Chief Technician J. Hatter frequently sent updates via a Captains thread regarding the status of the viruses infection and whereabout!

Now on to my team!!!
This year I wanted to put my own crew together and so I set about rounding up the creative types from Gakuentoshi uniting us under the banner of the greatest cartoon ever made!
What time is it? Adventure Time!!
(Really Richie and I just wanted to be Finn and Jake as we find their characters very ‘relatable’)

Meet the crew!

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Finn and Fiona

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BMO and Lumpy Space Princess

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Princess Bubblegum and The Ice King

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Jake the Dog

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And last but not least Marshal Lee

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For those of you who don’t know what Adventure Time is…… for shame!
It is an amazing cartoon that resinates with demographic decades above its target market, allowing 20/30 somethings a nostalgic adventure into their childhood imaginations and so has gained has a colossal fan base (myself included)!


Here is the video of this years event with the results. Our team came in 3rd place however we would have got the most points for photo objectives ^^
We also won best video for our hilarious Harlem Shake!!! (Feat. Drunk Salary men)

And now onto the photos!!

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Being naughty on the train on the way there.

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Hugging a stranger.

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Kumi-taiso #1

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Kumi-taiso #2

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Kumi-taiso #3

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Vitruvian Man

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Under an umbrella

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Eating an onigiri

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Totem pole

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In a guillotine

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Man on a scaffold

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Torii barricade

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Invisible bike

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In water

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Fighting

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Chugging a can if drink in front of a combini

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Power Ranger posing

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Biggest phallus

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Hengao-ing

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Face covered in paper

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On a pachinko machine

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On one team mate

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In the air

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2 girls one pockey

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In a locker

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Does this make me any less of a man

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It’s a new fashionable hat

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Between to pillars

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Twin elephants

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This is why we can’t have nice things

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Call me maybe

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In an elevator

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Pig chef

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The iron throne

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You call that dancing, this is dancing

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A boy peeing

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This is going to hurt

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Heaviest breasts

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I am superman

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Kissing a rival team

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Haduken

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Nanpa-IMF an ojiichan

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Happi coats

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Inappropriate use of nameko

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Dancing with a stranger

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Kibasen with strangers

Of course there were another 8 teams we were racing against, check out some of their awesome costumes.

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ALT: Arkham League of Terror

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Hula hula nuku nuku apua’a

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Kitchen Invaders

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And of course a special mention to the ‘the Black Plague’ Jarryd!!

Catch ya next year kids……