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Until 1493, chili peppers had never left the Americas. Today they've conquered the world. We're making a video series to find out how!
Until 1493, chili peppers had never left the Americas. Today they've conquered the world. We're making a video series to find out how!
169 backers pledged $25,228 to help bring this project to life.

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Hot Pursuit: How Chilies Set the World on Fire

$25,228

169

Chili peppers rule our world. Indian curries, Sichuan hotpot, Hungarian goulash—none would be the same without the beautiful, beguiling heat of the genus Capsicum. But go back 500 years or so, and the cuisines of Asia, Africa, and Europe were anything but spicy, because chilies had not yet left their homeland in the Americas. Thai food didn't burn; Korean kimchi was white. Then, suddenly, chilies hit the road—and quickly conquered the globe.

Hot Pursuit is a documentary series about how all that happened. How exactly did chilies spread around the world? How did they transform cuisines and cultures? Who are the people today pushing the boundaries of chili culture? And what kind of spicy future can we look forward to? 

Chilies are the most popular spice in the world—so why has no one ever told the story of how they got that way? It's time to fix that, and Hot Pursuit is going to do it! 

The spicy fried-egg salad at Err Bangkok; photo by Benjamin Schmuck.
The spicy fried-egg salad at Err Bangkok; photo by Benjamin Schmuck.

So, What's the Plan?

This Kickstarter would fund the production of a 30-minute pilot episode, set to take place in the country we consider the most "chilified" in the world: Thailand. (That is, it has more, and more-spicy, chilies in more of its dishes than anywhere else.) In Bangkok, we'll visit the Portuguese micro-neighborhood where it all started (sort of), and we'll plumb the depths of the city's ultra-spicy drinking-food scene. In the South, we'll encounter the rare varieties of chilies that give the region's curries their signature slow-acting but walloping heat. And in the Northeast, we'll break into sweats over papaya salad—and try to understand how chilies wake us up to other, more complex flavors.

But this isn't just about us burning our faces off. (Okay, it's maybe a little about us burning our faces off.) This is about the Thai people who've created and sustained a unique culinary culture. Along the way, we'll be meeting home cooks and Michelin-starred chefs, farmers and artists, and even some regular folks whose passion for spice makes them stand out, even in a country where it seems everyone is passionate about spice.

This pilot will function as proof of concept—a way to sell a full-on documentary travel series, the kind of show you watch on your favorite cable network or streaming channel. We've got a few seasons mapped out, and we're hoping that the enthusiastic support you're going to show us will help convince executives that there is a broad audience for this. The 20-to-30-minute format might be a sweet spot for some platforms, but others might prefer something longer—or even shorter. (How about a 24-hour Hot Pursuit network, all chilies all the time?) We're looking forward to keeping you posted on how this beast evolves!  

A market stall in Udon Thani; photo by Benjamin Schmuck.
A market stall in Udon Thani; photo by Benjamin Schmuck.
The moo pad kaprow (stir-fried ground pork with holy basil) that Matt made at a homestay in southern Thailand; photo by Benjamin Schmuck.
The moo pad kaprow (stir-fried ground pork with holy basil) that Matt made at a homestay in southern Thailand; photo by Benjamin Schmuck.

Just Who Are You Hotheads, Anyway?

Matt Gross (@worldmatt) is our host, a veteran food and travel writer who's worked for pretty much every publication out there, from the New York Times (where he was the Frugal Traveler) and Bon Appétit to Saveur, Runner's World, and Bloomberg Businessweek. Somehow he's managed to get most of them to run articles about spicy food: He's gone hunting for unlabeled, home-made hot sauce in the Caribbean; he's immersed himself in the hot-pot culture of Sichuan province; and he once entered a Carolina Reaper–eating competition (with unfortunate results). Last summer, he ate his way through Jamaica, Hungary, and Thailand for an Airbnb Mag mega-feature that's basically a test-case for Hot Pursuit. Even when he's not writing about chilies, he's probably making Sichuan chili oil by the gallon or island-hopping around Indonesia to do sambal research.

In short, dude is obsessed, to put it (ahem) mildly.

Dave Katz (@davekatz), the director of photography, is a filmmaker and photographer based in Brooklyn. His primary area of expertise is in food, with clients like New York Times, Food Network, Food52, among others. His curiosity for all things socio-historical and anthropological has led him into the world of documentary. You can find his work at katzcaptures.com. No stranger to the world of spice, he's the one explaining at Thai, Sri Lankan & Mexican restaurants that yes, he does want it that hot

This piece below, featuring the lively Persian cooking of Soli Zardosht, is a good example of the tone that Hot Pursuit (@_hotpursuit) will set—just use your imagination to add in interviews with restaurateurs, farmers, chefs & others:  

This piece Dave shot for Luke's Lobster is a good example of a longer video that tells a longer story about the history, mission and ethos of the company. (Complete with plenty of drone footage!)  

What Do You Plan to Do With Our Money?

The bulk of the money will be going toward production and post-production. First, we need to get ourselves to and around Thailand for about a week, likely in late January. Flights to get all of the crew to Bangkok and pay everybody's day rates. Then there's food, lodging, travel within Thailand. 

Then, once we return, it's time for editing, graphics, and additional sound recording. We'll have to pay for licensing quite a bit of music as well as all designing all of the graphics and illustrations that'll be sprinkled throughout the final cut. 

We want to hire a talented yet nimble crew to make sure this story looks and sounds its best. Fiona Murguia would be directing and producing, Andrew Weller would be shooting alongside Dave, and we'd hire a local interpreter/PA as well as a sound tech in Thailand. As for post, Dave would be doing the editing, then Zachary Korpi would be handling color correction and grading. All along, Say-Kheong Lim, aka @Mister.Kobayashi, is the mastermind behind our quirky graphic designs. 

Ooooh! Tell Me About the Rewards!

Honestly, we're almost as psyched about these rewards as we are about the prospect of making a TV show. Whether they're physical products or intangible experiences, they're great representations of what we're trying to accomplish—and you won't be able to get most of them anywhere but here:

[NEW 12/20/2018!] Sichuan Chili Oil

We finally figured out a way to make our Sichuan chili oil available as a reward! This stuff is crimson gold, chock full of high-quality ground dried chilies and Sichuan peppercorns, and based on a recipe Matt learned in Chengdu, China. It's decently spicy, highly aromatic, and ideal for drizzling over everything from dumplings to fried eggs to spaghetti. Check out the video below to see how we make it.

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The Digital Pilot

This is what it's all about—the pilot episode of Hot Pursuit, made possible by your generous support. Download it, watch it, re-watch it, pause it to giggle at Matt's sweaty face, turn the most hilarious moments into GIFs and memes, subtitle it in Finnish or koiné Greek. You'll be among the first to view it, before it goes live anywhere else. 

The Digital Cookbook

Over the past 15 years, Matt has spent a lot of time in the spicier parts of the world, and he's returned not just with a scalded tongue but with a cornucopia of recipes. This digital cookbook will show you how to make a thick, red Sriracha-like sauce; a fiery Caribbean-style sauce; a Balinese-style fresh sambal; a Jakarta-style sambal oelek; and a luscious, aromatic Sichuan chili oil.

The Hot Pursuit Handkerchief

Even those of us who love eating chilies all the time know: Sometimes, there's no escaping the sweats. (And sometimes, the sweats are the best part.) Deal with them like a proper adult with this insane handkerchief, designed by @Mister.Kobayashi and featuring the Hot Pursuit Hotheads.

The Smoke-Dried Thai Chilies

Now these are something truly special: Phrik kaleang, the chilies of the Karen hill tribe, are some of the hottest in Thailand. But these aren't just hot, they're smoke-dried, giving them a sweetness and earthy flavor that makes them flat-out addictive. Matt encountered them last summer in Udon Thani, in Thailand's northeast, and fell in love. We bet you will, too.

The Dad Hat

We only recently found out that the basic cotton baseball caps we've been wearing the last couple of years have been nicknamed (or officially named?) "dad hats." Whatever! They're great—they keep the sun out of your eyes, and they look pretty dope. Plus, they've got this cool embroidered Hot Pursuit logo by our pal @Mister.Kobayashi. You can eat them while eating spicy food, or while not eating spicy food—it's totally up to you.

The NYC/Chi Town Hot Sauce Expos

The NYC Hot Sauce Expo and the Chi Town Hot Sauce Expo are flat-out awesome—the best gatherings of spicy-food makers (and lovers) in this country, and possibly the world. The main event, of course, is the dozens of vendors, including stars like Puckerbutt and CaJohn as well as local heroes like Queen Majesty and Soothsayer—all of whom have copious samples for the tasting. But there's also music, cocktail demos, and some insane eating competitions (how many Carolina Reapers can you consume?). VIP tickets gets you access to the open bar, tons of food, and a chance to hang out and chat with the heroes who make the hot sauce scene so vibrant.

The Screaming Mi Mi Awards

A major feature of the NYC Hot Sauce Expo is the Screaming Mi Mi Awards, handed out to the best hot sauces in categories ranging from Caribbean Style and BBQ to Chipotle and (ulp!) XXX. How do the winners get determined? You'll find out as a guest judge. Expect a long, crazy night at Stanton Social, on the Lower East Side, during which you'll try dozens of competitors in a blind tasting, evaluating them based on flavor, texture, and use of heat. And don't worry—there'll be plenty of milk (and beer) to tame the spice, plus snacks aplenty. Matt's done this several times, and says it's one of the absolute best nights of the year.

Special Thanks

Loads of people are helping to make Hot Pursuit happen, but we want to give special recognition in the credits to those making an extra contribution.

Executive Producer

And for those who go above and beyond, who want to claim a major role in the production of this pilot, we're offering Executive Producer status, to be featured prominently in the credits.

Join Us in Bangkok!

If you want to make the biggest commitment possible (under Kickstarter's rules), we'd love to entertain you during the shoot in Thailand! Swing by a shooting location, meet a chef or two, join us for the wrap party, and spend a day with Matt doing a full-on food tour of Bangkok. Flights and accommodations not included, mostly because we can't imagine anyone really, really wants to spend 22 hours with us on basic economy and sleep in our weird-ass Airbnb.

Risks and challenges

As with all overseas video production, things may go wrong. The airline could lose our gear. The gear could break or get stolen. The people we feature on camera could be busy, sick, or uncooperative. Our jetlagged crew could fall asleep on set. Torrential rains could destroy the chili-pepper crops. Thailand could suffer another coup d'état. Or things could just get delayed and delayed in ways that are unavoidable and deeply frustrating (for you and for us).

But! We're basing most of the filming on Matt's research for his Airbnb feature—he's met the people and spent time on the ground in our locations, so our characters and storyline are solid. Really, we just need to get ourselves there, talk, eat, and shoot, and we'll be okay. After that, it's all in the edit!

Fiona, Andrew and Dave all have plenty of experience filming internationally, so the chances of the production going well are about as high as they can be.

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Support

  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $25 or more About $25

    The Digital Duo

    Wherever you are in the world, you can enjoy the fruits of our labor with a digital download of our pilot episode, plus a digital cookbook featuring Matt's favorite hot-sauce recipes (including his insane Sichuan chili oil!).

    Includes:
    • Digital download of Hot Pursuit's pilot episode
    • Digital cookbook
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  2. Select this reward

    Pledge $25 or more About $25

    OMG Sichuan Chili Oil!

    Whoa! We finally figured out a way to make our Sichuan chili oil available as a reward! This stuff is crimson gold, chock full of high-quality ground dried chilies and Sichuan peppercorns, and based on a recipe Matt learned in Chengdu, China. It's decently spicy, highly aromatic, and ideal for drizzling over everything from dumplings to fried eggs to spaghetti.

    Includes:
    • 8-oz jar of Sichuan Chili Oil
    • Digital download of Hot Pursuit's pilot episode
    • Digital cookbook
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    Ships to Only United States
    38 backers
    $
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  3. Select this reward

    Pledge $50 or more About $50

    The Heat-Seeker's Essentials

    Serious spice hounds know: When delving into chilies, it's nice to have a handkerchief on hand. Ours is designed by the always playful @Mister.Kobayashi with Hot Pursuit's signature hotheads.

    Includes:
    • Digital download of Hot Pursuit's pilot episode
    • Digital cookbook
    • 'Hot Pursuit' handkerchief designed by @Mister.Kobayashi
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    15 backers
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  4. Select this reward

    Pledge $50 or more About $50

    The Heat-Seeker's Essentials (+ Oil!)

    Serious spice hounds know: When delving into chilies, it's nice to have a handkerchief on hand. Ours is designed by the always playful @Mister.Kobayashi with Hot Pursuit's signature hotheads.

    Includes:
    • Digital download of Hot Pursuit's pilot episode
    • Digital cookbook
    • 'Hot Pursuit' handkerchief designed by @Mister.Kobayashi
    • 8-oz jar of Sichuan Chili Oil
    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Only United States
    6 backers
    $
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  5. Select this reward

    Pledge $75 or more About $75

    The Aficionado's Delight

    For some crazy reason, we thought Hot Pursuit backers might like some chilies—so we're offering these rare, smoke-dried Thai phrik kaleang, the chilies of the Karen hill tribe. Matt discovered them in Udon Thani last summer, and says they're spicy, earthy, smoky, and utterly delicious.

    Includes:
    • 4-ounce bag of smoke-dried "phrik kaleang" chilies
    • Digital download of Hot Pursuit's pilot episode
    • Digital cookbook
    • 'Hot Pursuit' handkerchief designed by @Mister.Kobayashi
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    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    10 backers
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  6. Select this reward

    Pledge $75 or more About $75

    The Aficionado's Delight (+ Oil!)

    For some crazy reason, we thought Hot Pursuit backers might like some chilies—so we're offering these rare, smoke-dried Thai phrik kaleang, the chilies of the Karen hill tribe. Matt discovered them in Udon Thani last summer, and says they're spicy, earthy, smoky, and utterly delicious.

    Includes:
    • 4-ounce bag of smoke-dried "phrik kaleang" chilies
    • Digital download of Hot Pursuit's pilot episode
    • Digital cookbook
    • 'Hot Pursuit' handkerchief designed by @Mister.Kobayashi
    • 8-oz jar of Sichuan Chili Oil
    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Only United States
    4 backers
    $
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  7. Select this reward

    Pledge $100 or more About $100

    Rock the Hot Look

    Keep the sun out of your face and look awesome doing so with a rad dad hat* featuring @Mister.Kobayashi's embroidered 'Hot Pursuit' logo. (* A dad hat is basically a baseball cap, but everyone's calling them dad hats now for some reason.) Also you get all the other awesome stuff.

    Includes:
    • Digital download of Hot Pursuit's pilot episode
    • Digital cookbook
    • 'Hot Pursuit' handkerchief designed by @Mister.Kobayashi
    • 4-ounce bag of smoke-dried "phrik kaleang" chilies
    • Dad hat with embroidered 'Hot Pursuit' logo by @Mister.Kobayashi
    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    12 backers
    $
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  8. Select this reward

    Pledge $100 or more About $100

    Rock the Hot Look (+ Oil!)

    Keep the sun out of your face and look awesome doing so with a rad dad hat* featuring @Mister.Kobayashi's embroidered 'Hot Pursuit' logo. (* A dad hat is basically a baseball cap, but everyone's calling them dad hats now for some reason.) Also you get all the other awesome stuff.

    Includes:
    • Digital download of Hot Pursuit's pilot episode
    • Digital cookbook
    • 'Hot Pursuit' handkerchief designed by @Mister.Kobayashi
    • 4-ounce bag of smoke-dried "phrik kaleang" chilies
    • Dad hat with embroidered 'Hot Pursuit' logo by @Mister.Kobayashi
    • 8-oz jar of Sichuan Chili Oil
    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Only United States
    7 backers
    $
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    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

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  9. Select this reward

    Pledge $150 or more About $150

    Expo Yourself to New Flavors, NYC

    The annual NYC Hot Sauce Expo is our favorite showcase for the latest and greatest innovations in the world of spicy foods. Back us at this level and, on top of all the other stuff, you'll receive a one-day ticket to the 2019 expo, taking place in Brooklyn on April 13 and 14.

    Includes:
    • Digital download of Hot Pursuit's pilot episode
    • Digital cookbook
    • 'Hot Pursuit' handkerchief designed by @Mister.Kobayashi
    • 4-ounce bag of smoke-dried "phrik kaleang" chilies
    • Dad hat with embroidered 'Hot Pursuit' logo by @Mister.Kobayashi
    • Ticket to the NYC Hot Sauce Expo, April 13–14, 2019
    • 8-oz jar of Sichuan Chili Oil
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    Limited 2 backers
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    Pledge $150 or more About $150

    Expo Yourself to New Flavors, Chicago

    The annual Chi Town Hot Sauce Expo is the midwest's best showcase for spicy foods. Back us at this level and, on top of all the other stuff, you'll receive a one-day ticket to the 2019 expo, taking place in Chicago on June 29 and 30.

    Includes:
    • Digital download of Hot Pursuit's pilot episode
    • Digital cookbook
    • 'Hot Pursuit' handkerchief designed by @Mister.Kobayashi
    • 4-ounce bag of smoke-dried "phrik kaleang" chilies
    • Dad hat with embroidered 'Hot Pursuit' logo by @Mister.Kobayashi
    • Ticket to the Chi-Town Hot Sauce Expo, June 29–30, 2019
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    Pledge $300 or more About $300

    You Are a Very Important Pepper, NYC

    Going to the NYC Hot Sauce Expo is one thing—going as a VIP is another entirely. This all-access, one-day pass gets you into the VIP area, where there's an open bar, spicy food galore, and the chance to mingle and hobnob with the hot-sauce cognoscenti.

    Includes:
    • Digital download of Hot Pursuit's pilot episode
    • Digital cookbook
    • 'Hot Pursuit' handkerchief designed by @Mister.Kobayashi
    • 4-ounce bag of smoke-dried "phrik kaleang" chilies
    • Dad hat with embroidered 'Hot Pursuit' logo by @Mister.Kobayashi
    • VIP ticket to NYC Hot Sauce Expo, April 13–14, 2019
    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    Limited 0 backers
    $
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    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

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  12. Select this reward

    Pledge $300 or more About $300

    You Are a Very Important Pepper, Chicago

    Going to the Chi Town Hot Sauce Expo is one thing—going as a VIP is another entirely. This all-access, one-day pass gets you into the VIP area, where there's an open bar, spicy food galore, and the chance to mingle and hobnob with the hot-sauce cognoscenti.

    Includes:
    • Digital download of Hot Pursuit's pilot episode
    • Digital cookbook
    • 'Hot Pursuit' handkerchief designed by @Mister.Kobayashi
    • 4-ounce bag of smoke-dried "phrik kaleang" chilies
    • Dad hat with embroidered 'Hot Pursuit' logo by @Mister.Kobayashi
    • VIP ticket to Chi-Town Hot Sauce Expo, June 29–30, 2019
    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    Limited 0 backers
    $
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    Pledge $500 or more About $500

    Judge the World

    One of the highlights of the NYC Hot Sauce Expo is the Screaming Mi Mi Awards, handed out to the best of the best in categories ranging from Wing Sauces and Chipotle Sauces to the ultra-hot XXXs. (Yowza!) Now you can join Matt as a guest judge, sampling dozens and dozens over the course of one night in lower Manhattan—and potentially influencing the course of hot-sauce history! Date TBD, but likely late March or early April.

    Includes:
    • Digital download of Hot Pursuit's pilot episode
    • Digital cookbook
    • 'Hot Pursuit' handkerchief designed by @Mister.Kobayashi
    • 4-ounce bag of smoke-dried "phrik kaleang" chilies
    • Dad hat with embroidered 'Hot Pursuit' logo by @Mister.Kobayashi
    • Guest judge at the Screaming Mi Mi hot sauce awards
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    Pledge $750 or more About $750

    We Love You, Man

    Show your love for us, and we'll show our love for you—by giving you a Very Special Thanks in the credits of the pilot. (The font size will be at least 10 points. No, 11!) If you can support us at this level, we'd jam ghost peppers in our eyes if you wanted. Metaphorically speaking, anyway.

    Includes:
    • Special thanks in the 'Hot Pursuit' credits
    • Digital download of Hot Pursuit's pilot episode
    • Digital cookbook
    • 'Hot Pursuit' handkerchief designed by @Mister.Kobayashi
    • 4-ounce bag of smoke-dried "phrik kaleang" chilies
    • Dad hat with embroidered 'Hot Pursuit' logo by @Mister.Kobayashi
    Less
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    Ships to Anywhere in the world
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    Pledge $1,000 or more About $1,000

    The Executive Suite

    Contribute $1,000 (or more!) and you'll earn a spot as an Executive Producer of "Hot Pursuit," featured super-prominently in the credits because, well, you're seriously making this thing happen.

    Includes:
    • Executive Producer credit!
    • Digital download of Hot Pursuit's pilot episode
    • Digital cookbook
    • 'Hot Pursuit' handkerchief designed by @Mister.Kobayashi
    • 4-ounce bag of smoke-dried "phrik kaleang" chilies
    • Dad hat with embroidered 'Hot Pursuit' logo by @Mister.Kobayashi
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    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    1 backer
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    Pledge $10,000 About $10,000

    Join Us in Bangkok!

    Don't just back "Hot Pursuit"—be a part of it! Fund us at this level (or above), and we'll invite you to visit us during the shoot in Bangkok. We'll have you swing by one of our locations, Matt will take you on a day-long food tour, and we'll all celebrate together at the launch party. Honestly, if we had the cash, we'd pick this one for ourselves.

    Includes:
    • Executive Producer credit!
    • Digital download of Hot Pursuit's pilot episode
    • Digital cookbook
    • 'Hot Pursuit' handkerchief designed by @Mister.Kobayashi
    • 4-ounce bag of smoke-dried "phrik kaleang" chilies
    • Dad hat with embroidered 'Hot Pursuit' logo by @Mister.Kobayashi
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    Ships to Anywhere in the world
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Funding period

- (30 days)