Skimming Deep

Searching, traveling, talking, reflecting, and exploring. Read along with me as I continue on my journey through life.

Month: December, 2012

Taking a Break

I've been spending quality time with family the last almost two weeks that I've been back in the U.S. This is the longest I've spent with family (parents, siblings, little 'uns of the next generation) since… summer vacation when I was in college, I think! What's strange is that my family no longer lives in Maryland where I grew up. Now half of them (my parents and a brother and his family) are in Arizona. So I'm in a town and state that I'm not familiar with, and I don't even have childhood friends around that I can reconnect and hang out with.

My main activities have been

  • hanging out with my niece and nephew, laughing at their antics and their silliness. They're 3 and 5, and they're a lot of fun to be around. They have such distinct personalities, and they're fun to talk to and play with.
  • cooking and baking sporadically. It's always a little weird cooking in someone else's kitchen where the pantry and cabinet contents aren't the same, and the equipment isn't the same. But I'm getting back into the groove. I've made some different cookies (glazed lemon shortbread, pumpkin-chocolate chip). My mom and I made 김밥 (kim-bahp, or Korean nori rolls) for dinner one night. I could eat 김밥 everyday. I love it! We used deli meats, but I usually use Spam. mmmmm.

  • experimenting with a sourdough starter that I brought back (shhh!!!) from New Zealand from one of my WWOOF hosts to make sourdough bread. I made one loaf already which was a little dense but still tasty. And I'm now working on my next loaf, waiting for its 12-18 hour rise (till tomorrow morning).

  • taking walks and hikes around the neighborhood. The Arizona landscape is so different from my New England part of the world or even the world that I was in for the last three months. Cacti, lots of mountains, brush, sand…

I'm trying to take each day for what it is and to relax and enjoy this free time. And trying to read some books. I'm in the middle of reading Barbara Kingsolver's newest book Flight Behavior. I'm a big Kingsolver fan. I most liked The Poisonwood Bible, a fascinating read about a missionary family living in the Congo. She's a great developer of characters and plot, and I was especially interested in the political bent to that book. Animal, Vegetable, Mineral is also great, a nonfiction almost-autobiography written by Kingsolver, her husband, and daughter about their life in southern Appalachia, living off the land. It was really inspiring to read that after Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma.

The latest is about a woman and her family living in rural Tennessee. An unexpected natural phenomenon happens in the hills in their backyard and it totally changes her life (I'm not going to say what it is here because it's just too cool. You should read the book!). She goes from being a young mother and wife who's not very happy with her life to immersing herself in this occurrence and getting a job with researchers who are investigating the phenomenon. Two months after the chain of events begins to unfold, we read, “Two months ago. Impossible. Her world had been the size of a kitchen then. Now she had a life in which…” and Kingsolver proceeds to explain the changes that have expanded Dellarobia (the main character)'s life.

Our world is only as big as the prior experiences we've had– places where we've been, people we've met, information we have gained, food we've tried, languages we've heard. It's amazing how much our world expands as we learn and experience new things. And the size of our world affects how much we really SEE.

For example, before I started recognizing edible plants (herbs, vegetable leaves, fruit trees before the fruit has grown), I just saw green leaves on stems and trunks and branches. So all of that green just looked the same, and I could easily see it as all the same– plants. But now, I recognize, for example, rosemary bushes, basil plants, lavender plants, and on, and a garden is no longer just lots of greenery but is a bunch of different things we can eat. I'm still learning so much about edible greenery, but once my eyes have been opened to the different kinds and colors of even just the leaves, I see garden landscapes with a whole new consciousness.

Broccoli, cauliflower, and purple cabbage (I think)

Travel has expanded my world. But also just taking the time to observe and reflect. Observing my family members. Observing new plants that I don't recognize. Observing the sky at different times of day. Observing my body's reaction to the REALLY dry air. Observing, reflecting, drawing conclusions, adding to my brain's file cabinet of consciousness.

Reflections on 3 Months of Travel

I’ve been back in the U.S. for a little over a week now (it feels so much longer already!  My travels seem like a dream!), and I thought it would be good for myself to do a post on my overall reflections from my travel.  At the halfway point, I wrote a reflection post; and just for the sake of closure, and for my own processing, I’d like to use the same format to look at the 2nd half of my trip (quickly) and also my overall trip.

SECOND HALF OF MY TRIP: (Nelson, New Zealand to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

LOWLIGHTS

  • My first few days in Bali.  I was overwhelmed by the heat and humidity and the touristy facade to EVERYTHING; and it being Thanksgiving, I was a little homesick, too.  Once I hit Amed for the scuba course, though, everything turned around.
  • The heat, humidity, pollution, dust in the big cities in both Bali and Malaysia.  I missed the fresh, cool air of New Zealand.
  • Getting tons of mosquito bites and even some allergic reactions to tiger balm (that’s my diagnosis, at least) on my left leg in Malaysia.  I was so itchy for days it wasn’t even funny.  The Malaysian mosquitoes were quite vicious (and that was confirmed by another traveler I met).
  • Saying goodbye to New Zealand.  I was so sad to leave that beautiful country.

DSC06206

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The biggest highlight (not only for the 2nd half of my trip but overall, I’d have to say) was getting my Open Water Diving scuba license.  It was such an amazing experience from start to finish, not only because it was so fear-inducing and fear-conquering but because I was able to see beautiful aquatic life 15-20 meters underwater.
  • The markets in Malaysia.  Sights, sounds, smells, tastes (the ones I ate at)… all amazing.
  • Cooking meals for my host family in Kerikeri in New Zealand.  We ate so well together, and they were so appreciative.  It was great fun.
  • The food in Melaka, Malaysia.  So mouthwateringly good.  And like nothing I had ever eaten before.  I wish I could have some now.
  • Riding a scooter around Pulau Pangkor.  It was so liberating and fun.  I wasn’t even going that fast, but it was so nice to be going faster than walking speed and not be in a car.

LESSONS LEARNED

  • Traveling in Southeast Asia as a single, young-looking (because I look a lot younger than I actually am) woman raises lots of people’s curiosity and admiration.  I was surprised by this because in New Zealand, it was quite common to find other single female travelers. In Asia, though, that was something that was not common, and I always had to figure out what kind of answer to give and was even wondering why they were asking.
  • I am not a great tropical-region traveler.  I always knew that I’m not good with heat and humidity, but being in Bali and Malaysia during their rainy season where I think the humidity was even higher than other times of year was quite a challenge.  I kept hoping it would cool off in the evenings but it didn’t.  And my spirits were definitely a little lower as a baseline because of the humid weather.  If I could travel in a tropical area and always have a pool or ocean to jump into to cool off, I think I’d be much better off.
  • Bringing some laundry detergent with me was a good idea.  I was washing some of my clothes almost every other day in Southeast Asia because 1) I didn’t have a lot of clothes and 2) I was sweating profusely each day and didn’t want to be a smelly person.

OVERALL 3 MONTH TRIP

LOWLIGHTS

Overall it was an amazing trip, and I didn’t experience ANY mishaps, accidents, dangerous moments.  I was pretty good about staying alert and not doing anything too risky (except for diving, but that was with an instructor, and it didn’t seem dangerous to me), so I was OK.  So the only lowlights I can really think of that stand out were

  • mosquito bites
  • the over-tourism of Bali
  • some of the traveler’s guilt I felt in Bali and Malaysia, especially the poorer areas

HIGHLIGHTS

  • As stated before, I think the scuba diving course, staying in Amed at the Geri Geria Shanti Bungalows, and meeting the amazing people there was a highlight.  I will never forget those first days diving in the amazing reefs and the shipwreck.  It was truly amazing and life changing.
  • All my WWOOFing placements were great, and I am still in touch with most of the people and hope to go back someday.  I learned a ton, got to really get my hands dirty (literally), and got more in touch with nature than I ever have.
  • Seeing lots of sunrises and sunsets in all three countries was wonderful.  I was basically awaking with the sun and sleeping when it got dark, rarely using an alarm clock at all, even when I had things I had to do.  I was outdoors most of the time, and I really enjoyed that– the hiking, the walking, the exploring, getting to know new flora and fauna.
  • FOOD!  Both in New Zealand and Malaysia.  In New Zealand because so often it was organic, fresh from a garden or a farm and often homemade.  In Malaysia because it was just soooo good.  I wasn’t crazy about the food in Bali.

LESSONS LEARNED

  • I really, really enjoyed traveling on my own, and I don’t think there were any moments that I felt like I couldn’t do something because I was by myself.  However, I think it would have been enjoyable to have a companion at various points to celebrate the high points together (or even to have some company when I was homesick over Thanksgiving.).  On the one hand, I’ve really gotten to enjoy and value solo travel, but I don’t think I’ve been put off from traveling with someone(s) for ever.  It’s nice to have someone to reflect with at the end of the day, to talk through decisions with, and to enjoy the good times with.  I think that’s why I really enjoyed the places where I met great people with whom I could talk and connect with.
  • Keeping an open mind- being ready to meet new people, try new foods, go down new paths- is important to me for travel.  I could have planned everything before I left, down to the hour, but I didn’t have the time nor the energy to do that kind of preparation.  So I ended up figuring out my general itinerary a few weeks in advance and then went day by day.
  • Tripadvisor is a great resource for accommodations.  The reviews that I read were accurate for the most part.
  • Having a Schwab account with ATM card was a HUGE asset.  No ATM fees anywhere, and I could withdraw any amount of money from any ATM machine.
  • I went the cheap route for as much as I could but splurged here and there– last dinner in a town, the scuba course, last hotel for all my travels.  Those splurges were nice treats to myself, especially when I had gone budget for everything else, including walking that extra mile with all my baggage instead of getting a taxi.

FOR THE FUTURE

I know travel is always going to be a part of my life, as it always has been.  I’d love to go back to New Zealand and explore more of the North Island and the southern part of the South Island.  I’d also like to try WWOOFing again at some point if I can, maybe somewhere else in the world– Italy, France, Japan…

So to wrap things up, here’s my itinerary:

  1. Landed in Auckland from Los Angeles.  1 night.
  2. First WWOOF home outside of New Plymouth.  10 nights.
  3. Wellington with a family friend.  2 nights.
  4. Seresin Estate in Renwick.  15 nights.
  5. WWOOF home outside of Christchurch.  9 nights.
  6. Wanaka.  3 nights.
  7. Franz Josef.  3 nights.
  8. Punakaiki.  2 nights.
  9. Nelson.  4 nights.
  10. Wellington.  1 night.
  11. Intercity overnight bus.  1 night.
  12. WWOOF home outside of Kerikeri.  8 nights.
  13. Auckland airport.  1 night.
  14. Ubud, Bali.  4 nights.
  15. Amed, Bali.  5 nights.
  16. Sanur, Bali.  2 nights.
  17. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  2 nights.
  18. Pulau Pangkor, Malaysia.  2 nights.
  19. Melaka, Malaysia.  2 nights.
  20. KL, Malaysia.  3 nights.

TOTAL: 86 days

  • 3 countries
  • 16 towns/ villages/ cities
  • airplanes, trains, boats, scooter, taxi, buses, cars, bicycles
  • almost 2000 photos and short videos
  • three pairs of pants, two pairs of shorts, some t-shirts and tanktops, my Keen shoes, a pair of Tevas, and other clothing

I’m happy to share more detailed tips and information for anyone that’s looking to travel to these places.  Ask while I still remember!  Leave me a comment!

Finding my Footing

I've been back in the U.S. for about a week now, and it's been like a hazy dream. Because it's the holiday season, and I'm back with family, I feel like I'm in visiting mode. So in some ways it doesn't feel like my travels have ended. I'm still living “out of a suitcase” (meaning my clothes aren't in a bureau or closet where they will remain permanently for the next year, at least), and not in my own bedroom or occupying my own kitchen with my own dishes, spices, sauces, cooking utensils. Funny how my own bedroom and kitchen are what dictates my feeling in my own home. Sleep and food matter to me most.

My immediate steps post-travel have been unpacking, sorting through my photos to post and share in some kind of coherent way, and reconnecting with friends (mostly by phone and email). But what about when that ends?

Christmas is two weeks away, so I'll be occupied with baking, preparing recipes for family dinners, wrapping some presents, and getting ready for a family reunion.

And then after the new year, I'll be going to a yoga teacher training retreat in Sedona!! I've been wanting to do a teacher training course, and when I was traveling, I did research on programs in Asia which might have worked for me (cost, timing, location). And although I found some interesting programs in Bali, Thailand, and Malaysia, the timing didn't work out. So while I was in Malaysia, I did some more research on programs in the U.S. and found this center, 7 Centers Yoga Arts, in Sedona that had a training for right after New Year's Day. Perfect! Timing was perfect. Location was perfect. The cost was around the range of programs wherever I looked.

After some hemming and hawing (could I afford it? how would I know if it was a good program? would this be a good time?), I decided to do it because when else will I be able to take a month off to do a teacher program? And the cost now will be recouped later in life; it's not a totally sunk cost. Yes, I'm taking more out of my savings, but it's an investment in myself and my skills.

The course will take me through the beginning of February. Then I really need to start figuring things out. The big questions remain:

  • Where will I move to?
  • What kind of work will I be doing? Or, more to the point, what will I do to make enough money to pay for housing and food and bills?

And the small questions that come under that are also lingering in my mind:

  • If I leave Boston, how will I move all my stuff? How will I tell everyone and say goodbye for real?
  • If I move to a new city (at this point, I'm only considering cities where I already know people. I don't have any desire to move somewhere where I don't know anyone at all.), how will I start over finding my community and setting down roots?
  • Will I be OK? Will it be scary?

I'm trying to “lean into uncertainty,” and not stress too much. I've learned, especially this past year, that when I stress and worry, all that happens is that I'm stressed and anxious and everything turns out OK. Instead of being stressed and worried, then, I might as well enjoy each moment and day as they come, especially since I won't be able to enjoy this kind of free time once I start working again.

I tend to gravitate toward the safety of answers and certainty. I want to learn how to live with questions and uncertainty.

The yoga training/ retreat will be good for me to get grounded again. I'm looking forward to it. We're supposed to disconnect from technology for the month and take the time to meditate, reflect, and breathe/sleep/eat yoga. It will be a cleansing experience in many ways.

In the meantime, I'm listening to lots of Christmas music to make up for all the lost weeks since Thanksgiving when I usually would start listening to my collection of Christmas songs. And I'm gearing up to do some baking and cooking this week. Pumpkin muffins. Lemon cookies. Maybe experimenting with some new recipes.

 

Four Airports in Three Days

In three days, I went through four airports, crossed the international date line and went through four time zones, and got to eat some great meals in all the cities I went through. And now I'm in Arizona, trying to get into the Christmas spirit in the 60 degree weather!

I started in Kuala Lumpur, hanging out in the airport for many hours, waiting for my late evening departure.

The flight to Los Angeles went through Narita/ Tokyo, so that leg was about 7 hours, and I was able to get in a little bit of sleep and a movie. We arrived at dawn as the sun was rising.

I had a nine hour layover and had arranged to meet a friend of mine's mother. I hung out at the airport to wait for her, and we found each other despite never having met each other. It was such a sweet meeting– my friend's mom speaks only Japanese and a few phrases of English, and I only speak English with a few words of Japanese, but we managed to communicate with a lot of sign language and body language. She took me to Narita, the small town where the airport is located. There was a long street of cute shops and restaurants leading to a temple, so we took a nice stroll down that street. It was a chilly day, especially coming off of hot and humid tropical weather. But I had prepared myself for the cold, and with the help of a scarf that she lent me, I was fine. It was a beautiful, crisp winter day.

The highlight of that few hours was the sushi! We went to this little sushi bar right as it opened. Edokko Sushi. It was a tiny little place, but the sushi chef seemed to know everyone and was super friendly. The fish was so fresh and buttery smooth. So simple and so delicious. I was happy. And it was only a short train ride from the airport. Good tip– if you ever have a layover in Narita, go here! It opens at 11:30am and they have great lunch specials which seemed pretty reasonably priced.

I got back to the airport with a heavier bag (my friend's mom bought me some goodies to bring back to the U.S.– Japanese pickles. Yum!), and I finally got on the plane for my next destination, Los Angeles. This was the long leg of my flight– a 10 hour flight. It was a bit of a bumpy flight but we got into LA Monday morning with no mishaps.

I spent a day plus a little extra in Los Angeles, bookending my travels with great food (see my earlier LA post for what I had three months ago as my farewell from the U.S.). As always, my stay in LA with my cousins was a gastronomic affair. We had Korean BBQ for dinner at Kalbi King.

I was stuffed beyond comfort. We had all kinds of beef and pork, and it was delicious. Plus I had a bowl of naeng-myon, a cold soup noodle dish that is great with Korean BBQ.

The next day a few of us went to get lunch at Pizzeria Mozza, Mario Batali's restaurant in town. Thin crust pizzas with amazing toppings and great appetizers and even better desserts. We each got a different pizza and shared. Mine had bacon, leeks, roasted garlic, and goat cheese. Soooo good. And the crust was amazing.

A mix of the three types of pizzas that we ordered.

The desserts were incredible, and since my cousins never do things in moderation, we each got a dessert and shared.

The lemon ice cream pie (upper right) was delicious. And the caramel ice cream with peanuts was great, too. But the best dessert was the Butterscotch Budino (bottom middle)– it's what this restaurant is known for, and it was amazing. A kind of butterscotch creamy pudding with a caramelly top…not too sweet and just so good.

Then it was off to the airport again for the last leg of this travel odyssey. And it was a short flight– just about an hour from Los Angeles to Phoenix.

That was the last flight for 2012. The next flight will be back to the East Coast at some point, but for now, I'm sitting tight in Phoenix with family. And then maybe a few road trips.

Thanks for following me on my journeys! This closes the travel portion of the blog for now. I'll be reflecting on the journey and share some thoughts when those crystallize. But from here I'm working on my next steps of “real” life. Where I'll be living. What I'll be doing. It's still blurry, and I'll be releasing some ideas on the blog to get feedback, but until then…

Kuala Lumpur: The Finale

Kuala Lumpur is an interesting city. I can't quite put my finger on what it is. I guess the word that comes to mind most quickly is “MIX.” It's a mix of so many things: cultures, architectural styles, modes of transportation, languages, people, foods… And my whole time in the city, I only came across white tourists a handful of times. The rest of the time, I was surrounded by different kinds of Asians– South Asians, east Asians, Malays, mixes of ethnicities. And I couldn't tell who was a tourist and who was a local.

The Petronas twin towers overlooking small side streets with hawker stalls.

I was in KL a total of about five days, and there's so much that I saw, so here is a random assortment of highlights:

  • The markets were definitely my favorite part. I saw six in all:
    • Chinatown at Petaling Street— I wrote about this in my first blog post about KL. I went back to Chinatown as almost a homebase, mainly to eat! On my last day, I went back for some asam laksa and tofu fa. I was looking for this guy who was making a sweet treat (a cookie wrap with sugar and peanuts inside), but I think he only comes out at night. Bummer. The best part about this market for me was the food. Otherwise, it's just lots of vendors selling bags, gadgets, and typical Chinatown-wares. Not my interest.

    Chinatown in the morning before the vendors and hawkers have set up their stalls. Quite peaceful in the morning.

    • Central Market and Kasturi Street— this is more of a tourist market, I think. It's right across the street from Chinatown. There are tons of vendors selling Malaysian and Chinese trinkets, souvenirs, batiks, keychains, clothing, etc. And there's a food court of more “upscale” food– not that it's expensive, but it's more expensive than the hawker stalls in Chinatown for sure! It's a fun place to walk around and buy souvenirs for people back home, which I did on my last day.
    • Pudu wet market— this was the first “wet” market I went to in KL. It's called wet because they sell fish and meats and to keep the meats fresh and cool, they use ice and water which means the pathways are often wet. There were so many colors– the fruits and vegetables, the plastic bags used for customers, the meats, the makeshift signs and tables and umbrellas covering the stalls. And so many sounds– people yelling their prices and their products, butchers chopping their meats on wooden chopping blocks… I loved it! I really wished I had access to a kitchen so I could have bought some stuff to go home and make. I had some congee at one of the hawker stalls. Most markets have areas where they sell prepared food; it's just a matter of finding that section!

    • Imbi market (also called Pasar Baru Bukit Bintang)– another wet market with the same kinds of things as at Pudu. This place had a better set of food vendors, and I tried a few different things. Pohpiah, milk tea, and the wantan mee. I also bought some kuih because they were just so darn pretty.

    • Kampung Baru night market— I read up on this and this night market supposedly opens up around 6pm on Saturday night and goes until the next morning, the wee hours. I didn't want to be out walking around so late, so I went around 7pm, and I must say I didn't get the best vibe. I saw a few rats as I was walking toward the market area (my first rats that I've seen in all my travels these past three months! I was surprised I hadn't seen more, actually). And the market just wasn't as interesting. I think I was probably too early for the full night market feel. Also, I just didn't feel so safe there. So I came, saw, and left.
    • Chow Kit wet market— this was another great market. It felt bigger than Imbi and Pudu… but with these markets, it's hard to get your bearings. I just walked down paths, meandered to the right and to the left, ended up somewhere new… I could have done this for quite awhile in any of the markets to really map out my path, but I didn't take the time. There were lots of fresh produce at this market. This market also has more of an Indian/ Malay feel than the other markets I'd seen. So I had a noodle soup at a hawker stall– the vendor called it soto ayam– a curry soup with chicken, I think. It was good.

    I loved walking around these markets, mingling best I could with the locals. I rarely saw any other tourists. I'm sure I stuck out, though, with my backpack and iPhone taking photos. But it was great fun to just walk around and use all my five senses to just soak in the environment.

    I usually went in the early morning (since I was waking up anytime between 5am and 7am everyday), which is the best time to go to be part of the crowds of people who are buying what they need. Markets just aren't the same when there's no one around. I loved the hustle and bustle of the shoppers and the vendors.

  • Air conditioning. So it's not so eco-friendly of me to think this, but in this tropical climate, I was so appreciative of the blasts of a-c that were ever present in shops, stores, public transportation, my hotel. I'm just not meant for tropical weather, I think. I really felt like I was melting. I don't think the actual temperature was higher than the low 90s, but the high humidity, burning sun, and heat-absorbing asphalt all combined to make it feel like it was in the 100s. I was dripping sweat the minute I stepped out the door. I needed a handkerchief to wipe the sweat off my face and neck every few minutes. Not fun. So a-c was a welcome treat. I even went into malls (which I usually can't stand) to get some a-c relief.
  • Craft Cultural Complex (aka Kompleks Budaya Kraf). This was a nice surprise. I ended up spending a few hours there. It's a combination museum, artist colony, exhibition area, and store. It showcases traditional Malaysian arts– batik, songkat, woodcarving, silver and other metalwork, painting, and other fabric arts. The artist colony consists of little huts all over the campus that are artists' workshops. They do their thing in these huts and people can walk around, talk with them, and admire their work. What I really enjoyed, in addition to seeing the artists' huts, was doing my own batik piece for just 15 MYR ($5). I got to pick out an already prepped design, and then I got some paints and I went to work. Very cool and so worth it. Batik is basically creating designs with wax and then using paint and water in those wax-outlines. I bought some souvenirs, too.

My batik creation of a gecko. Purty!

  • Batu Caves Hindu Shrine. This was a last minute sightseeting decision. I hadn't even really known about this place until Sunday, my last day in the city before my evening flight, when I was trying to see if there was anywhere of interest that I had not yet visited. I did a bit of research and read about Batu Caves. It sounded interesting as a landmark plus it was a train ride away which would use up some of the ample time I felt I wanted to use up. So I paid one MYR to take a 30 minute train ride out of the city to this really impressive and jaw-dropping natural PLUS man made wonder. Batu Caves itself naturally formed– caves with really cool craggy stalactites from above. Really tall, too. The shrine part was built by people and includes some small Hindu temples scattered around the site as well as two really really tall Hindu gods– Hanuman and Murugan. Really really tall. These photos don't do their height justice. But alongside the caves, it's really quite cool. I'm glad I went. The site also includes a 272 step hike up to the cave entrance, and then you walk around inside. Totally worth the trip. And it was free except for the 3 MYR or so that I spent on public transportation there.

Murugan on the left (the 272 stairs are to the left of his statue) and Hanuman on the right.

I'd say in all, I enjoyed my stay in KL. I'm not a big city person, though, so I could only take so much at a time. I splurged my second time around and stayed at a nicer hotel– the Sky Express Hotel, right near Bukit Bintang which is the hip, happening shopping district (still, only $60/ night!!), so I did some sightseeing in the morning and early afternoon, came back and rested for a few hours, and then went to get some dinner. It was nice to have a spacious and clean air conditioned room to come back to for a few hours.

Now ready to go back to some non-city living. Back to the U.S.!

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