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Journey to Japan

carrie
This song reminds me of what I have there waiting for me, and how much it could hurt to return...

(Thanks to the bro for this suggestion!)



Lyrics:
(http://www.quartet4.net/?p=315)

Ikimono Gakari – I Want To Go Home Now

Lyrics: Mizuno Yoshiki
Music: Mizuno Yoshiki


I wanted to fill the hole in my heart so I pretended to be nice and smiled
First meetings and final farewells restlessly pile up on my shoulder

I realize regrettably how hopeless I am and that’s my loss
I can’t be stronger so I closed my eyes and put up with it

Look, I can see it now

I want to go home now, back to the city where you wait for me
Give me a big wave hello and I’ll return it just as big
I want to go home now, back to the house where you wait for me
I’ve got a story I want you to hear and I’ll be glad if it makes you smile

I’m sure I can’t count everything that’s precious to me
There might be days when I stumble but I won’t cry anymore

Look, I can see it now

I want to tell you now, all about the tomorrow I see
I’m doing just fine, I’ll keep telling you as long as it takes
I want to tell you now, all about my steadfast dream
I’ve got a story I want you to hear and I’ll be glad if you nod your approval

I want to go home now, back to the city where you wait for me
I’ll grab that irreplaceable hand now and tell you once more
I want to go home now, back to the house where you wait for me
I’ve got a story I want you to hear and I’ll be glad if it makes you smile

twenty-something rage

carrie
I have recently been reacquainted with an old feminist friend from my university days. I was surprised to learn she had kept this old poem I had written and then framed for her (signature and all). I had almost forgotten about it. I haven't really written poetry in years, and I was really quite impressed with the words my 21-year-old self had produced. Oh, the rage. I love it.

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unnamed

but you're a feminist, they say,
as though that fact alone
could solve all my problems.
it's their weapon, their armour
when faced with that which they refuse to see.

but you're a feminist, they say,
as though at a snap of my finger,
I should throw out my short skirts, my mascara.
it's their blindfold, their shield
when faced with too much of my sex appeal.

but you're a feminist, they say,
as though I have to be reminded
when I fail to love my body for all that it is.
it's their hide-out, their shelter
when faced with the monster in me they've created.

but you're a feminist, they say,
as if I should encompass a perfection,
ideals not my own created by them.
it's their comeback, their insult
when faced with a me that deviates from their collective we.

so I'm a feminist, I say,
as though that one word alone
can embody the person I've become.
it's my safety net, my comfort zone
when slapped with the bullshit they throw in my face.

A Neighbourly Day in the Neighbourhood

carrie
Today was a very pleasant Sunday. It was hot. It was sunny. And it was very neighbourly. I woke up shortly after 10 o'clock this morning (also pleasant), only to receive a text from my landlord, Mantis, telling me he would be putting the screen in my front window today. I was very excited about this due to the fact that I've been freezing with the air conditioning on, and much prefer fresh outside air anyway.

After having a nice slow morning, I noticed that Mantis was already outside busily working away on the yard, so I headed to a nearby coffee shop to pick up a couple of coffees and a freshly baked, deliciouly lemon-y pastry for us to share. When I arrived back at my place, I headed to our backyard and second-guessed my coffee break idea. My poor landlord was dripping in sweat under the hot sun, and I felt kind of silly offering him the steaming hot coffee in my hand. But he seemed pretty happy as the two of us sipped our coffees and chatted in the shade for a good 15 minutes.

While we were out back, our next door neighbour (who I had exchanged pleasantaries with earlier that morning... how 1950s and adult of me!) came out into her backyard with a really pretty shirt in her hands (see picture below). She asked me if I thought it would fit. A little unsure of why she was asking, I responded hesitantly: "Uh, I think so..." I said. "Well, then take it," she said. "It just doesn't suit me." Shocked and delighted, I thanked her profusely and ended up the pleasantly surprised owner of a new top.
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I spent the rest of the afternoon doing errands and writing. When I headed out to get some groceries, Mantis was in the front yard talking to our new next door neighbour (on the other side). He introduced us, we shook hands, and I went on my merry way. New neighbour and family have totally renovated the place next door, and it's supposed to be quite the transformation! Mantis and I may even get invited to the housewarming - woo hoo!

A little later, while I was writing at the nearby Second Cup, three different friendly (table) neighbours sparked up three different conversations with me. Sunny days must definitely bring out the social in strangers!

By the time evening came, I was on to laundry. While I was waiting for my loads to finish, I sat outside chatting with Mantis again -- this time, he was sipping on the maple syrup whiskey I had brought back with me from Quebec. (Quebec post soon to come.) As we sat there on the front stoop, our next door neighbours (lady from earlier + husband + dog) stopped by on their way out for a walk. And then Mantis and I talked a bit more before I headed inside to fix some dinner.

What a neighbourly day!

it's easy if you try

carrie
Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people / Living life in peace


My part time job as a Language Examiner in Toronto is really cool for several reasons:

(1) It pay really well. I go in for no more than 4 hours every couple of Saturdays, and I make an average of $150 an afternoon.

(2) I don't have to wake up early (it starts at 1:00 PM) and it's extremely flexible (I get to decide if and when I go).

(3) It's the most amazing opportunity to open your mind to new opinions and ideas and dislodge a few stubborn stereotypes.

Every time I go, I am amazed at the individuals that I meet from all over the world. Not because they are particularly amazing, but because they are, in fact, individuals. They are regular people with their own thoughts and opinions; opinions which have been developed partly by the societies in which they were raised, but which were also baked up from such ingredients as personal likes and dislikes, education, and even some innate qualities unlikely to change over time.

So yes, I often head home pretty much wowed by the people I've had the privilege of examining that day.

Take two Saturdays ago. Out of my eleven examinees that day, eight of them were young adult males from Saudi Arabia. Let me prelude this by saying that (a) I am tolerant of all nations, and (b) I do not treat people from one part of the world any differently than I might another.

But that doesn't mean I don't head into a speaking exam with a few preconceived notions of the person I am about to talk to. For example, the knowledge that women don't share the same rights as men in Saudi Arabia (ie: they cannot drive; they must cover their bodies from head to toe), may have led me to ponder over whether there would be a power struggle during our one-on-one "interviews," a situation during which a female would be taking on the role of authority. Based on my own set of stereotypes, I couldn't help but wonder who and what I would be confronted with.

Well, out of those eight Saudi males, I did not meet one personality that wasn't distinct in some way. Among them, I met a romantic; I met wise and well-spoken man; I met a spoiled teen; I met a shy and soft-spoken man; and I met a loud-voiced, arrogant man. These men were all so very different. They all expressed differing views and demonstrated unique identities. Even though I'm a language examiner, I left that day feeling a little blown-away by the informal education I had just received.

This past Saturday, the majority of my students were from China. If you know anything about Japan's relationship with other Asian countries, you have to admit that Japan is a country that many other Asian countries love to hate. However, I was once again shocked out of a stereotype when 3 of my Chinese examinees told me that they would love to learn Japanese because they thought Japan was such a cool and interesting country. One guy even said he wanted to eventually emigrate there. Yet another stereotype blown out the window.

It's not that I wasn't aware of the fact that countries actually produce individuals. I'm very aware of it; and I'll be the first to play devil's advocate if someone makes unfair assumptions about a culture based on long-ingrained stereotypes. However, the notion that these ideas are ingrained in all of us by our parents, by our news, by the people we choose to spend time, even by our education systems -- these are very powerful and persuasive forces that even sink through the thick skin of the most open-minded of people.

That's why I love this job. It's opening my eyes wider than I thought possible. I'm getting to meet and speak with real people from Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, Vietnam, Japan, Korea, and many other countries around the world. The only qualm I have is that my side of the 15-minute dialogue is entirely scripted. I can't have a true discussion with these interesting individuals; I get to hear their opinions, but I can't divulge my own. And yes, I only get to talk to each of them for 15 minutes. It's such a tease! But, it's still a wonderful opportunity. If only everyone in the world had the chance to engage in these types of dialogues. I think these types of talks would be a peaceful way to bring an end to unfair stereotypes, racism, and maybe even war. Idealistic? Perhaps. But it would definitely be a start...

The definition of Unique

carrie
According to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary (pub. 2004)
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unique adjective 1 of which there is only one; unequalled; having no like, equal, or parallel 2 disputed unusual, remarkable (the most unique person I ever met)

Although my dad would happily dispute Definition #2, I -- as a younger and more modern lover of words and language -- am aware that language evolves and changes over time. I will leave it up to you to decide which definition is being used for the following examples of uniqueness.

I have some unique homes in and around my neighbourhood. I've posted the Top 4 Unique Home & Lawns for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!

1. My Big Fat Greek Neighbourhood.
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(Jenny spotted this one first.)

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2. Elephant in the 'hood.
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3. Out of this 'hood.
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4. Asiahood
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Which one do you think is most unique? Or is only one of them unique? Bonus Question: Do the two preceding questions have the same meaning?

Welcome to My Work 'Hood

carrie
Meet Liberty Village, the strange yet lovely little area where I work. Let's go on a tour of the part of Toronto that Jenny pegged as "not having a Toronto feel" due to the fact that there are "zero homeless people to be seen." Originally, I thought Liberty Village felt a little surreal because it seems to be a favourite filming spot for television and film companies alike, but ... I think Jenny has a point. There's something really odd about walking down a Toronto street, which is very clean (minus the horse poo -- left behind by horses of policemen), busy and bustling with thirty-somethings during the day, completely dead at night, and virtually lacking in people without homes (unless you count all of the actors trying to make temporary homes out of their trailers).

Anyway, time for the tour!

When you first leave my building, and look right, what do you see but a gorgeous view of some very old buildings and our city's icon, the CN Tower.
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Head right, and you will soon see the office favourite, The Roastery (a cafe-slash-diner), on your right.
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(Yes, it's got attitude.)

Walk a little further, and look back. You'll see The Roastery from another angle. And some more old buildings hiding behind it.
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Walk another block, and you'll come to the Liberty Village Market & Cafe, another cafe-slash-diner for the overflowing lunch crowd.
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Cross the street and look down the street, past the cafe. Just beyond where your eyes can see is Lakeshore, ie: the shores of Lake Ontario.
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There's my bus stop! :)
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The view from my bus stop:
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(Some might recognize that bar from a scene in the second season of Being Erica.)

The other view from my bus stop:
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(This complex is home to a delicious noodle restaurant, my acupuncture clinic, and an "arcade" with the most delicious cupcake shop in the whole wide world.)

There's the noodle shop! And the CN Tower! Again.
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Here's my acupuncture clinic!
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(And the place where we lucky Teach Away gals got a massage -- a Christmas present from our sweet bosses.)

Here's the Japanese-style arcade!
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And here's the yummiest cupcake shop in the whole wide world!
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A short history lesson on Liberty Village: The reason why it's filled with buidings that are hundreds of years old is because these now open-concept office buildings were once factories. This probably explains why there's an old and train track running down the centre of the arcade.
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As you come out the other end of the arcade, you're finally met with something that reminds you of "real life" outside of Liberty Village... a Metro supermarket!
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(Sorry, couldn't help it.) Yet another shot of the CN Tower.
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And here's the Brazen Head, an overpriced bar that the co-workers and I like to frequent on occasional Fridays for an after-work beer.
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Tadaima! I'm home!
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I hope you enjoyed the tour of my work 'hood.

SATC goes to Abu Dhabi! ... and so can YOU!

carrie
Foreword: When my Dad sent me this article about SATC 2 and where Carrie and crew will be travelling in the upcoming film, a light bulb went off in my head and I just had to write the following article. I was happy that my bosses and colleagues loved the idea and we are now trying to post this anywhere and everywhere. I wonder if it would be worth sending to local newspapers...? Or maybe our Canadian "Samantha" would give us an interview on what it was like filming in the UAE...? Ha ha. A girl can dream...

SATC goes to Abu Dhabi! ... and so can YOU!

Female Kindergarten teachers, you may not think that you have much in common with the sexy SATC cast, but you might be surprised to learn that now you do!

Here’s your chance to live in the shoes of Carrie Bradshaw and classy company! Are you a female kindergarten teacher who just happens to be eagerly anticipating the upcoming Sex and the City movie? What if we told you that you had a chance to teach where Carrie and friends will be spending some glamorous girl time in the upcoming sequel?

Teach Away is currently looking to place 600 female Kindergarten teachers in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, so now is your chance to apply for a lucrative position in the cosmopolitan city of Abu Dhabi! Nature-lovers might prefer a placement in Al Ain, known as the “Garden City,” famous for its natural oasis, mountains and greenery; while those who prefer homier feel may enjoy a placement in the growing city of Madinet Zayed.

Sure, you may not find Cosmopolitans being served as frequently as seen in North America’s favourite show, but you can still wear your favourite pair of heels and strut your stuff down deserts of gold in Abu Dhabi. (Well, you wouldn’t really be strutting around the desert in heels, but you could sport a pair of skis or a snowboard and do some ultra cool sand skiing!) Cosmo-lovers, take note: You will need to purchase a liquor license to consume alcohol in the UAE. And fashionistas be aware: Your usual ensemble may need some slight alterations out of respect for the cultural norms of your surrounding community. Western women may find enjoyment in redefining their style while living in Abu Dhabi.

At the workplace and within the classroom, female teachers are expected to wear non-revealing clothing. Shirt sleeves, for example, should cover your arms down to your wrists. Ankle-length skirts are a popular choice, although loose slacks are also permissible – as long as your legs are covered! Reinvent your look with cool, loose fabrics made for the UAE’s hot and humid weather. And once outside, for the most part, dress how you like – always keeping in mind local norms and cultural expectations. Beach lovers are free to bring along their favourite bikinis (for the beach only, of course!) and can boast a gorgeous tan 365 days a year!

The UAE is a progressive Muslim country where women enjoy an equal status to men. Women’s enrolment in educational institutes is high and they also enjoy leadership positions within the work place. Expect to feel safe and secure in the UAE, but it is always sensible to take precautions similar to those you would take back home.

Teach Away’s next round of interviews will be held mid May, just about the same time that we fashion junkies and Cosmo lovers will be lining up at theatres to see our favourite foursome heading to Abu Dhabi for the vacation of a lifetime. Follow in the footsteps of Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda and apply for a teaching position in Abu Dhabi today!


Chicken and Egg

carrie
I don't know which song came first, but I love 'em both!

I also don't know if I love these songs so much because I went to New York and fell madly in love with the city, or if I'm reminded of my love of New York because I simply love these songs.

It's the chicken and egg dilemma. Times two.





Can't wait for the concert tomorrow night.

Weekend in Asia

carrie
It might be hard to believe that I spent my weekend in Asia -- perhaps even harder to swallow would be the fact that I visited three countries, not just one. And without the ridiculously long flight and overpriced tickets!

Friday, I started things off in Korea. My friend Chris and I met up for a yummy deal and some tasty food at the often-frequented "Owl" Restaurant (so-called because the unreadable yellow sign has a picture of an owl on it). Seeing that it was Korea, we ordered one of the amazing deals: $20 gets you 5 bottles of beer (or 1 bottle of soju) and a nice-sized meal of choice to share (not to mention the unlimited dishes of free appetizers that come whether you want them to or not). Photobucket

Chris and I splurged and ordered a couple of other dishes to go along with our already abundant feast. By the end of the evening, our table was full of half-emptied plates and our stomachs were even fuller. Yep, that's Korea for ya.

The next morning, I woke up in mainland China. My landlord, of Chinese heritage, was surprised a couple of weeks back when I mentioned I had never eaten dim sum, or Chinese brunch. He decided then and there that he would introduce me to this lovely Chinese tradition. So, I woke up "early" on my Saturday morning, and headed to China Town with Mantis. The weather was gorgeous and I found myself overdressed in my Canadian winter garb. Once at the restaurant (Pink Pearl?), I was delighted to take part in the dim sum experience. Never impressed by the bastardized versions of Chinese food, I wasn't sure I'd be a fan. But thanks to Mantis, I got to experience the real thing and have changed my long-standing opinion. It was so much fun to watch the waitresses make the rounds with their carts of foods, calling out food names in their mother tongue. Even though we were seated in an "elegant" restaurant, the experience was more comparable to an outdoor market, where talkative vendors try to sell you their goods. The limitless options were alien to me, so I let Mantis do all the ordering. Similar to Korean and Japanese, the food came on small dishes so our tables were close to overflowing by the end of the meal.

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My one and only order: Photobucket (Lychee. The egg cups in the background were sweet and deeeelicous!)

Mantis taught me a few things while we enjoyed our late brunch together, two of the most important being:
(1) Dim sum, traditionally a family affair, means "touch the heart."
(2) If a white girl orders this, Photobucket your waitress will do a double take. Can you guess what 'this' is?

Here's another hint:
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If you said chicken feet, you were right!

Mantis was amazed that I'm of the 'try anything once' variety of white folk. But perhaps even more shocking to him was the fact that I actually enjoyed this Chinese delicacy. Mmm.... chicken feet. (For those of you who haven't tried it, the texture would fall in the middle of soft chicken bone and pork fat. It's soft, easy to chew, and quite yummy. You put a "toe" in your mouth, suck off the soft meat, and then spit the bone out. Great for a first date! Ha ha.)

After breakfast, we took advantage of the sunny day and did some touristy stuff around China Town. I bought four pairs of slippers ($1.99 each), a coconut bun ($0.54), and then we headed over to Japan where, due to a much less affordable environment, we chose to simply window shop. Photobucket

Now in Japan, I went home to relax for a bit, and then headed out to spend the evening surrounded by one of my favourite drinks: Sake. Photobucket

I had signed up to volunteer at the Japan Foundation, where they were hosting a lecture by a famous sake-maker. The volunteers had a variety of jobs to make sure the evening went smoothly, the best job being manning the sake sampling booths at the end of the night. I was lucky to be placed at the booth serving the "highest quality sake in Japan." Not only did I get to learn that the Kyoto-born Tamanohikari sake goes for $50 per (small) bottle, I got to sample it for free! We also got to try other sakes, including a sweet amber-coloured sake served over vanilla ice cream. We were also lucky to join guest lecturer, Tokyo photographer, and owners of Ozawa Canada (the Canadian-based sake distribution company) in the boardroom for some very rare, very delicious, very expensive sake as a 'thank you' at the end of the night. The lecturer explained that this sake was so special that you couldn't just buy it at a regular store. It had travelled with her from its birth place in Japan to our bellies in the boardroom that evening. It was a truly amazing experience to be a part of such an elite group of people and drink some of the world's finest sake.

I left the Japan Foundation feeling giddy (a combination of sake consumption and excitement), so I wasn't ready to call it a night just yet. I called my J-friend Hiroki and suggested karaoke. He was at his place with a group of J-friends celebrating a birthday, so he invited me over. I happily complied and had a great time practicing my Japanese with him and his friends. Just before 2:00 AM, a few of us decided it was high time for karaoke, so we walked to nearby Korea Town and sang until the bar closed at 4:00 AM. I hadn't spent an evening listening to J-songs at karaoke for months and months and months. It was such a relief being surrounded by a group of people who just get what karaoke is all about. With no pretenses and no worrying about if this is the "cool thing to do," we enjoyed the evening in its purest of form. We sang, we danced, we laughed. We had fun.

And then I found myself back in Canada as I headed home in the chilly night air.

What a weekend. :)

Black-and-BlueBerry

carrie
I miss Japanese cell phones - the selection, the quality, and the hitch-free service. Living in Japan, perks such as built-in, high-quality cameras, emailing phone to phone (instead of texting), and the freedom to check messages and receive calls (pun intended) became my norm.

Back in Canada, I had to adjust to ugly phones that came in a "wide" variety of black, grey, red, and black again. I had to come to terms with the fact that, if I wanted a good camera and email capability, I would have to purchase (a) a hard-on-the-eyes clunky Blackberry, or (b) an i-phone for quadruple the money my brother had just spent on one of (more than likely) better quality in Japan.

I had almost given up on the idea of finding a cute cell phone with all the capabilities I was looking for when I stumbled upon the BlackBerry Pearl. It was a flip phone. It was sleek. And it was pink. It was love at first sight.

So I bought my very first Canadian cell phone (with personality) on the eve of 2009. I got it for free by signing three years of my soul--I mean life--away to Rogers. (It was that or pay hundreds of dollars I didn't have, as an unemployed student.)

I was very, very happy with my phone for the first 11 months of my contract. But then, suddenly, as though the phone knew its warranty was up in less than a month, it started acting funny. Not 'ha ha funny', but 'tear your hair out with frustration funny.' And the timing couldn't have been worse. During my week-long business trip to New York, my beloved phone began betraying me during the worst moments possible. It would freeze or turn off ten times a day (if not more) -- an interruption that forced me to take the battery out, put it back in again, and wait for the phone to reboot. (Unlike Japanese cell phones, this process can take an excruciating five minutes, as opposed to five seconds.) This would often happen in the company of the Hong Kong Education Bureau. It was embarrassing and unprofessional.

When I got back to Toronto, things only got worse. My phone started cheating on me. It would call people (namely, my boss) at odd hours of the day and night. Humiliated, I deleted his name from my contact list. My phone moved on to calling my cousin long distance, and charging me for it.

It would also suddenly go dead mid call, mid email, and mid night -- leaving me alarm-less, on one particular occasion, and forcing me to wake up late on a work day.

I spent over an hour on the phone with Rogers, almost nightly, for a two-week period in December. I got three refurbished replacement phones, all of which continued to cause me problems. In January, I had finally had enough. I asked one of the inept Rogers representatives to put me on the phone with a manager. I wanted to get out of my three-year contract, minus the very large fee. The manager empathized with me, and offered me a "new and better" BlackBerry phone. The catch? It wasn't pink and it was ugly. I would also have to re-contract for another three-year period. At this point, I was desperate. So I agreed.

My new phone is far from a BlackBeauty, but so far it's doing its job. It's a much better phone with a much better camera with, as of today, a much better skin. If it weren't for DecalGirl's "Pink Tranquility" skin, I don't know if I could have gotten through three enforced years of lugging around this phone.

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