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Travel Journo: 8 Days in North Korea

A travel journal by Erick Tseng, during his North Korea visit somewhere in 2015. The article was originally published via Medium.

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In September 2015, I traveled to North Korea to see, first-hand, what life was like inside the Hermit Kingdom. Much of the country was what I had expected: strange, ersatz, thick with propaganda, and every so often, seriously unsettling.

And yet, the journey was also filled with some truly wonderful, completely unexpected surprises. One thing’s for sure: North Korea really is unlike any other place on Earth.

Since my return, I’ve had a lot of people, friends and strangers, ask me about my trip. There has been way more curiosity about North Korea than I would have imagined — so much so, that I thought I’d write down some of my experiences, and share them with you here.

Pictures and stories alone can’t do justice to what it’s really like being on the ground in North Korea. As a visitor, you’re watched 24/7, you have no freedom, and you’re constantly tense and on edge. But hopefully, this post will at least give you a glimpse into what life is like in one of the most restricted, enigmatic destinations in the world.

Arrival

Pyongyang Airport was not at all what I had expected. The airport was relatively modern-looking and clean. I was a bit nervous going through passport control, but that turned out to be pretty uneventful. Everyone did have to go through special luggage screening in order to enter the country, and that’s where things got a bit more interesting.

I was bringing a fair bit of photography equipment with me: two cameras, a portable hard drive, lens filters, a bunch of spare batteries, and lots of extra memory cards. Upon seeing all this camera gear, security guards pulled me out of line and escorted me to a walled off, secondary security area, where they closely examined all my equipment.

I also had a smartphone and tablet with me, and had to hand these over for inspection. North Korea now records the serial numbers for all smartphones brought into the country. I watched as a security guard entered my devices’ digits into a log book, before he handed them back to me.
The government is particularly paranoid about foreigners bringing in any kind of literature that could be used to influence their people (e.g., the Bible). Finding nothing offensive in my bags, or stored on my memory cards, I was finally permitted to enter the country.

As it turned out, a lot of what I had previously read about North Korea was true. You are assigned government-trained “minders” who are with you 24/7. They monitor your activities, manage your itinerary, and tell you what you can and cannot do. You are in their custody for the entirety of the trip. There are always at least 2 minders assigned to a group, because the minders also have to mind each other, making sure their comrades don’t succumb to the devious devilry of us American imperialists. No joke.

The Rules

Before our shuttle had even left the airport parking lot, our minders were already beginning to walk us through all the rules we had to obey, including:

  1.  We must always travel in a group. For the entire trip, we almost never got to walk around outside. Instead, we were bused from place to place, even if we were only traveling 4 blocks. You’re definitely not allowed to do things like leave the hotel at night or explore the city on your own.
  2.  No photos of military sites or soldiers. This often proved to be difficult, given that nearly 40% of North Korea’s population serves in the military.
  3.  No photos of construction sites or any people at work. The government wants the world to see their country represented only by pristine pictures of perfection. Photographs of half-finished buildings and sweaty laborers apparently don’t make the cut.
  4.  If you take pictures of any of their Dear Leaders, you have to capture their whole figure. You can’t crop out any part of their bodies.
  5.  If you have any printed materials depicting the Dear Leaders (e.g., newspapers, magazine), you can’t crease their images. You also can’t throw these materials in the garbage, or use them as wrapping paper.
  6.  Whenever you visit a statue of a Dear Leader, your group will need to line up single-file in front of it, and bow. Your hands must be at your side; not in your pockets or behind your back.

Propaganda

 
The first thing you notice as soon as you pull out of the airport is the propaganda. It’s literally everywhere. Every street intersection, every building, every subway station, and even every subway car proudly displays portraits of the nation’s Dear Leaders. Banners and giant murals extol the virtues of North Korea and Kim Il Sung’s Juche ideology around self-reliance.

The country has propaganda vans trolling the streets with giant megaphones perched on their rooftops.

Every morning, at 6:30am, you awake to the delightful wake-up call of propaganda music blaring into your windows from the streets.

Even the people themselves are part of the propaganda machine. Nearly every North Korean wears a red pin patriotically emblazoned with the faces of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. I tried really hard to lay my hands on one of these pins, but tourists aren’t allowed to have them. They have to be earned through loyal servitude.

Even at work, there’s no escaping the propaganda. Factories, like this textile plant we visited, had propaganda posters plastered all over the inside and outside of the factory walls.
What was perhaps scariest though, was the propaganda we found inside the nation’s schools. During our trip, we visited two schools: 1) a primary school in Pyongsong, a small, provincial city north of Pyongyang, and 2) the Children’s Palace, a school in the capital city for gifted children. What we saw on the walls of these institutions was disturbing — gruesome images of war, killing, and death, side-by-side with Disney-like portraits of the Dear Leaders adoring (and being adored by) children.
On one of the war murals, the school administration had even covered up specific photos in advance of our arrival. Given how graphic the visible parts of the mural already were, I can only imagine what was hidden underneath. I asked our minder about these pieces of paper, and she sidestepped the question, saying that they were probably just touching up parts of the mural.

Our Gilded Prison

Because we weren’t allowed to leave our hotels at night, we got to know our hotels very well. We called them our gilded prisons. Thankfully, all of these hotels had some type of bar, and, as it turns out, North Korean beer is really quite good. So, most evenings, we just relaxed at the hotel bar, and bonded with other adventurous travelers and a very select group of locals who’ve been pre-approved by the government to mingle with foreigners.
In Pyongyang, we stayed at the Koryo Hotel. It’s one of the top hotels in North Korea, and equivalent to a 3-star hotel in the US. There was a huge fire in this hotel just a couple months ago, and a few tourists were arrested for taking photos of that fire. I don’t know what became of them, but one thing was for sure though, I was going to have to be extra careful with my photography.

The Pyongyang Elite

Living in Pyongyang is like living in The Capitol in The Hunger Games. Only the elite are allowed in. Out of the whole country, the propaganda here is the loudest, the love for the Dear Leaders is the most passionate, and life is as good as it gets in North Korea.

If you’re living in Pyongyang, you are the 1%
And with this status comes privilege that you won’t find elsewhere in the country:

  • You’re given free housing in high-rise apartments in return for loyalty and service to the country.

  • You have access to grocery stores that are stocked with Nutella, Oreos, Absolut Vodka, and… jelly shoes. Some of these pictures are a bit blurry, because you’re not allowed to take pictures inside any of the country’s stores. So, I had to get creative with my photography.

Products were arranged in perfect rows, and shelves were fully stocked. Everything was designed to show bountifulness and prosperity.
Notice in the top picture how many security cameras are hanging from the ceiling. There was more surveillance in this small grocery store than in my bank back home in the US.
  • You get to ride on Soviet subways.

  • You get to use a smartphone.

  • You even get to go to amusement parks and water parks on the weekend.

Clearly, what we saw in Pyongyang was definitely not representative of what life is like for most North Koreans. But even still, this was better living than what I had initially expected to see in the city.

A Soviet Concrete Jungle.

Overall, Pyongyang was much more developed than what I had imagined.

Sure, most of the city was comprised of drab, Soviet-style buildings — hulking Lego blocks of faceless concrete. But the sheer scale of it all was greater than what I had anticipated.

Fun fact:

The North Korean elites love revolving restaurants. They’re seen as a must-have for any high-end, luxury hotel. The top two hotels in Pyongyang — the Koryo Hotel and the Yanggakdo Hotel — both have one. So, to ensure its supremacy in the world of hospitality, the Ryugyong Hotel was designed to have not one, not two, but FIVE revolving restaurants! You can see them in the cylindrical cone at the top of the tower in the photos below.

Working Life

During our visit, we had a chance to visit a number of different workplaces, and all of them were just a little bit strange.

Textile Factory

One of our first visits was to North Korea’s largest textile factory. All the workers here were women, and it seemed like their lives basically revolved around this factory complex. This work site was like a school campus. It had dorms, convenience stores, and even a small library.

The convenience store had all your basic living essentials, including some really uncomfortable-looking cardboard toilet paper.

The dorm rooms were very basic. Women slept 7 to a room, and they were literally packed in like sardines, with their beds stacked side-by-side-by-side. The beaming portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il hung overhead.

They had prepared a model dorm room for us to see (the same one that Kim Jong Un was shown when he came to tour this factory, we were proudly told). When we were ushered inside, there was a woman fast asleep on one of the beds. This was pretty awkward, but our hosts didn’t seem to think so.
Our factory guide also proudly told us that Marshall Kim Jong Un himself personally picked out the paint color for the dorm walls (pink) and the wallpaper (some kind of a peach-taupe concoction).

The Car Dealership

Another absolutely bizarre business we visited was an auto dealership in Pyongyang called Pyeonghwa Motors. Here, they allegedly sold North Korean-made cars. I say “allegedly,” because I had serious doubts about how real this whole operation was.  In fact, the entire showroom felt staged, complete with fake customers conducting fake business, and having fake conversations with fake salespeople.  But don’t take my word for it. Check out this video I shot, and judge for yourself:
The Farming Cooperative
We spent a couple days driving around the countryside, and it was clear that life out here was not as easy as in the city.
We were taken to a cooperative farming operation on the outskirts of Kaesong, the ancient capital city of Koryo (basically a unified Korea, before the land was split into North and South).
The local guide was reasonably cordial, but he didn’t seem to know what to do with us. We took a quick walk through the fields, which was very uneventful. And then he showed us where the workers lived. I was surprised they let us see this place.
The homes were completely run-down and dilapidated. Most of the windows were barred, apparently to prevent break-ins — something the government would never admit was happening. The entrances to the homes pointed straight into their outhouses. I felt bad for anyone who would have to live here.
And that’s when you can’t help but wonder:

They would only be showing us this place if this is the best they’ve got. So, if this is the best, what does the worst look like?

The Dear Leaders

 

Throughout this post, I’ve made a lot of references to The Dear Leaders. Who exactly are these men? Let me break it down for you:
President Kim Il Sung — The granddaddy of The Dear Leaders. Literally. Kim Il Sung was the founding Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), and is referred to as the nation’s “Eternal President.”
General Kim Jong Il— Son of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il served as the DPRK’s Supreme Leader until he passed in 2011.
Marshall Kim Jong Un — Son of Kim Jong Il, the 32-year old is the current Supreme Leader of the DPRK. Fun story: Kim Jong Un’s exact birthday was always shrouded in mystery until Dennis Rodman accidentally revealed the state secret after returning from a visit to North Korea in 2013.
Amongst the North Koreans we were exposed to, the Dear Leaders are revered like Gods. Everywhere you turn, there are statues, paintings, mosaics, songs, and books dedicated to the greatness of these men.

On any given day, you’ll find North Koreans making pilgrimages to giant statues of their Dear Leaders, and paying their respects by bowing deeply and laying flowers at their feet.

Students will bring straw brooms, and dutifully sweep the steps leading up to their monuments.

Even newlyweds will visit these sites to take pictures, and to pay tribute.

Of the hundreds of statues we saw of the Dear Leaders, the one I loved the most was this one:
I secretly shot this picture at the entrance to the Pyongyang Water Park. They literally have Kim Jong Il chillin’ on a beach scene straight out of a Katy Perry music video. Photos were strictly prohibited, and they had a guard standing there whose only job was to make sure you didn’t take photos of this statue. I had to get really clever in order to grab this photo.

The Schools

During our trip, we toured two schools: 1) a primary school in Pyongsong, a small, provincial city north of Pyongyang, and 2) the Children’s Palace, a school in the capital city for gifted children.
Both of these school visits were simultaneously touching and disturbing
On one hand, the kids were truly adorable, and some of them were really impressively talented.

Internet vs Intranet

As expected, there was no Internet.
However, there did appear to be a national Intranet. It didn’t seem like most citizens had access to this either, but a couple institutions we went to did seem to be wired in.

War

The looming specter of war is ever-present in North Korea

The DMZ

For a country that is officially at war with its sister nation just to the south, the threat of conflict is very real in North Korea. And nowhere is this risk of war more palpable than at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea.
The drive from Pyongyang to Panmunjom, the border city at the DMZ, is 3 hours long — placing Pyongyang twice as far from a potential border battle, compared to Seoul, which is less than a 90 minute drive away.

The drive down to Panmunjom was really interesting. The highway was 6 lanes wide, and yet the road was almost completely devoid of cars for the entire 3 hour drive. We mostly just saw people biking and walking along the edge of the asphalt. The only other vehicles we saw were military jeeps and an occasional bus or two.

As we got closer to the DMZ, the military checkpoints got more and more frequent, and the soldiers at these checkpoints looked more and more fierce. Each time we approached one, our minders would emphatically remind us not to take any pictures.

One fascinating thing: every mile or two, the North Korean army had erected giant concrete towers by the side of the road. Some of these were thinly disguised as monuments. But these towers served a much more significant purpose. Should the South Koreans ever break across the border and march north, the North Koreans would blow up the base of these towers, causing them to topple over onto the road and block the advance of South Korean tanks.
When we arrived at the DMZ, the air was electric. The name Demilitarized Zone is really a misnomer. This was one of the most militarized places I’ve ever seen. Security was super tight. We were escorted by soldiers single-file around the compound.
The Korean War Museum
Another war-related visit on our trip was to the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum, or, as most people simply call it: the Korean War Museum.
The Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum
 
This museum was more like a palace, complete with an enormous crystal chandelier, a marble staircase straight out of the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, and a two story tall statue of King Il Sung greeting you as you walked into the lobby. I wish I could have taken photo of it for you, but cameras were strictly prohibited inside.
Our military guide was a rather intimidating, humorless soldier who spent most of her time elaborating on the evil and moral decrepitude of the American Imperialists. I really wanted to know how she rationalized the fact that she was delivering this speech to a group of, well, Americans.

Our rather intimidating military tour guide at the Korean War Museum

On display outside was a wide collection of damaged US warplanes and tanks.

Battered US warplanes and tanks at the Korean War Museum

The biggest trophy at this museum was the USS Pueblo, a US Navy ship that was attacked and captured in 1968. Our guide took us aboard, and pointed out, in painstaking detail, all the shrapnel holes the gallant North Korean sailors had shot into the hull of the ship. The pride was oozing from her voice.
The USS Pueblo, captured in 1968, and now on display at the Korean War Museum
Red circles indicate every shrapnel hole shot through the hull of the USS Pueblo (left); Sailor standing guard aboard the USS Pueblo (right)

Hope

 
 9 out of 10 people we saw in North Korea steered clear of us. However, making that occasional connection with the remaining 10% was so much fun. Sometimes, a smile would be returned, or, if we were really lucky, a wave. Almost all the time, these exchanges would be with kids or students.

I suppose it’s not too surprising that children and teenagers were far friendlier and more curious, compared to the adults. Perhaps they hadn’t been fully-indoctrinated by propaganda yet. Perhaps the hardships of life hadn’t begun weighing down on their shoulders.
Whatever the reason, seeing this next generation of North Koreans gave me hope — hope that someday, change will come for the North Koreans. And when it does, their country, and the entire world, will be better for it.

The post was originally published via medium.  For the full journal, you can visit the site

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Knowledge & Infos

What is Plasma donation and what is it for ?

A simple explanation about plasma therapy for commoners

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What is plasma

Our blood has plasma and blood cells. Plasma is liquid, blood cells are red blood cells, white blood cells (that produces antibodies) and platelets. Plasma is the liquid that has essential protein. The protein is extracted, collected and adjusted and used to treat people with immune deficiency disorder of same kind.

How does it work?

Antibodies developed against disease if completely recovered can be found in plasma, so it’s donated to any other person with same blood group affected with same disease to strengthen immune system and defeat the disease.

To put it in a perspective, blood donated by people who’ve recovered from COVID-19 has antibodies to the virus that causes it. The donated blood is processed to remove blood cells, leaving behind liquid (plasma) and antibodies. These can be given to people with COVID-19 with same blood group to boost their ability to fight the virus.

NOTE: Donating plasma is a bit more complicated than donating Blood, takes longer, blood is drawn out and cycled back to your body while plasma is extracted from it. Takes about 45 minutes to an hour unlike few minutes in case of blood donation.

In another words

When you are infected with any disease, your body produces antibodies to fight with the disease. So it is known that whenever you recover from a disease completely, your body will have developed some kind of antibodies from the experience that your immune system got attacked last time, so this time we know what it is so, even if it enters the body, we are already equipped to fight it. So in Covid-19 case, the recovered patients might have developed some kind of specific antibodies to stop the attack. So plasma donation is the process where the blood of a person who has already recover from lets say covid-19 is given to the current sick covid-19 patients in the hope that recovered person’s antibodies might help in the recovery of the sick person. Also, vaccines works on the same process. Our vaccines contains some type of similar virus like covid-19 which if injected should be harmless. But in the process, the body recognizes such type of new virus so it alerts the body to produce new antibodies that are capable of fighting them the next time. So when we are infected with covid-19 virus, the antibody kicks in because it’s similar to the last infection therefore stopping it before hand. So after vaccination, we are immune to that disease. Although, it isn’t sure that plasma donation in the case of covid-19 works. But still, it might.

The above answers are gathered from a KMAG Page on same title. We only have compiled them together to form this article.

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Explained: Murder of John Lennon

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On the evening of 8 December 1980, English musician John Lennon, was fatally shot in the archway of the Dakota, his residence in New York City by a 25-year-old Beatles fan, Mark David Champan, who had travelled from Hawaii to shot John Lennon. Chapman planned the killing over the course of several months and waited for Lennon at the Dakota on the morning of 8 December.

Reason

Chapman stated that he was angered by Lennon’s lifestyle and public statements, especially his much-publicized remark about the Beatles being “more popular than Jesus” and the lyrics of his later songs “God” and “Imagine”. Chapman also said he was inspired by the fictional character Holden Caulfield from J. D. Salinger’s 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye.

I would listen to this music and I would get angry at him, for saying [in the song “God”] that he didn’t believe in God, that he just believed in him and Yoko, and that he didn’t believe in the Beatles. This was another thing that angered me, even though this record had been done at least ten years previously. I just wanted to scream out loud, “Who does he think he is, saying these things about God and heaven and the Beatles?” Saying that he doesn’t believe in Jesus and things like that. At that point, my mind was going through a total blackness of anger and rage. So I brought the Lennon book home, into this The Catcher in the Rye milieu where my mindset is Holden Caulfield and anti-phoniness.

According to Chapman’s wife ,Gloria, “He was angry that Lennon would preach love and peace but yet have millions”. Chapman later said: “He told us to imagine no possessions and there he was, with millions of dollars and yachts and farms and country estates, laughing at people like me who had believed the lies and bought the records and built a big part of their lives around his music.” He also recalled having listened to Lennon’s solo albums in the weeks before the murder.

Chapman now, however, states that, he was young then and was foolish and selfish and was seeking self glory by killing the famous man.

Murder Scene Explained

Chapman planned the killing over the course of several months and waited for Lennon at the Dakota on the morning of 8 December. During the evening, he met Lennon, who signed his copy of the album Double Fantasy. Lennon left with his wife, Yoko Ono, for a recording session at Record Plant Studio. Later that night, Lennon and Ono returned to the Dakota. As Lennon and Ono walked towards the archway entrance of the building, Chapman fired five hollow-point bullets from a .38 special revolver, four of which hit Lennon in the back. Chapman then removed his coat and hat in preparation for the arrival of police—to show he was not carrying any concealed weapons—and remained standing on West 72nd Street. Underneath his coat, he wore a promotional T-shirt for the musician Todd Rundgren’s album Hermit of Mink Hollow. Perdomo shouted at Chapman, “Do you know what you’ve done?”, to which Chapman calmly replied, “Yes, I just shot John Lennon.” Chapman remained at the scene reading “The Catcher in the Rye” until he was arrested by the police.

Lennon was rushed in a police cruiser to Roosevelt Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

The West 72nd Street entrance to the Dakota, where Lennon was shot

About Mark David Chapman

Mark David Chapman was born on May 10, 1955, in Fort Worth, Texas. By the time he was 14, Chapman was using drugs and skipping classes. He once ran away from home to live on the streets of Atlanta for two weeks. He said he was bullied at school because he was not a good athlete.

Mark David Chapman, now a 65-year-old man, is an American criminal who murdered John Lennon. More than a dozen psychologists and psychiatrists interviewed Chapman in the six months prior to his trial—three for the prosecution, six for the defense, and several more on behalf of the court—and they conducted a battery of standard diagnostic procedures and more than 200 hours of clinical interviews. All six defense experts concluded that Chapman was psychotic; five diagnosed paranoid schizophrenia, while the sixth felt that his symptoms were more consistent with manic depression.

Chapman is in the Family Reunion Program and is allowed one conjugal visit a year with his wife, since he accepted solitary confinement. The program allows him to spend up to 48 hours alone with his wife in a specially built prison home. He also gets occasional visits from his sister, clergy, and a few friends.

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Blepharoplasty (Eyelid Surgery)

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Our human face is composed of various small functional and cosmetic units. One of them is our eyes. Eyes serve both as functional (a sensory organ of sight) and cosmetic (it is used to express emotions and do eye contact), so one can say that eyes play a vital role in both your functionality and beauty.

So, it’s not surprising that people get worried when the areas around their eyes face unwanted changes like drooping eyelids or saggy eye bags, since the area around the eyes play equal role in both aesthetic and functional value. To solve the woes of eyelids, there is a surgical option called Blepharoplasty, which is the surgery around the eyelid area, which might be helpful to those seeking to remedy it.

What is Blepharoplasty?

Blepharoplasty, simply explained, is the plastic surgery operation for correcting defects, deformities, and disfigurations of the eyelids; and for aesthetically modifying the eye region of the face. Medically, according to the Indian Journal of Opthamology, it is a surgical procedure in which the eyelid skin, orbicularis oculi muscle, and orbital fat are excised, redraped, or sculpted to rejuvenate the aesthetic look of the patient along with correction of any functional abnormality.

Why is Blepharoplasty done?

According to WebMD, as skin ages, it gradually loses its elasticity. A lack of elasticity plus the constant pull from gravity causes excess skin to collect on the upper and lower eyelids.
Excess skin on the lower eyelid causes wrinkles and bulges. On the upper eyelids, an extra fold of skin can hang over the eyelashes and get in the way of seeing.

So, Blepharoplasty is done to remove excess skin from the upper eyelids and reduce bagginess from the lower eyelids. It can be done for cosmetic reasons, i.e. to enhance the aesthetic look of an individual or it can to done to improve eyesight of people for whom the hanging eyelid causes partial visual impairment (usually on the elderly population)

Before and After

As you can see in the image below the visible difference from before and after comparison.

Eyelid Surgery (Blepharoplasty) - Health Tourism OnlineHealth Tourism Online

Should I get Blepharoplasty?

If baggy eyelids or droopy eyelids run in your family, or droopy eyelids are giving you trouble in your vision or you simply want to enhance your aesthetic appearance of the eyes, you may consult with a plastic surgeon to discuss your options. Usually, if you are in good health, you can go ahead with the procedure.

What are the risks?

Blepharoplasty, like all other surgeries, carry some risks, but due to the advancement of medical technology, all the risks are either temporary or easily mitigated. However, talk to your doctor to determine if any other factor increases the risk in your case.
Some of the risks include:

  • Infection and bleeding
  • Dry, irritated eyes
  • Difficulty closing your eyes or other eyelid problems
  • Noticeable scarring
  • Injury to eye muscles
  • Skin discoloration
  • The need for a follow-up surgery
  • Temporarily blurred vision or, rarely, loss of eyesight
  • Risks associated with surgery in general, including reaction to anesthesia and blood clots

All these risks can be mitigated and Blepharoplasty is considered safe in general.

If you are thinking of getting Blepharoplasty done, you may book a consult at AAVARAN skin Clinic or use their app to move ahead with the process.

Sponsor of this post is Aavaran Skin and Hair Clinic located at Durbarmarg, Kathmandu, which is known for professional Botox treatment in Nepal through certified doctors. We have collaborated with Aavaran Skin and Hair Clinic in creating informative contents as part of our mission of creating an informed society.

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