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Annyeonghi Gyeseyo, Busan!

Another 91 days has reached its conclusion and, as always, we’re shocked by how fast the time has flown by. Busan was an exciting, fascinating, foreign home to us, and though we’re excited to get back to the states and visit family before starting on our next adventure, we find ourselves sad to say goodbye.

Good-Bye-Busan

Usually, by the end of three months in a new city, we feel as though we truly understand what makes it tick. Maybe we’re not experts, but just by spending so much time around the people, their food, history, music and nightlife, we have a good idea of what it’s about. That sense of familiarity, though, is not so strong after three months in Busan. I have a feeling we could spend three years here, and still not fully “get” the culture.

And that’s despite the fact that there are a lot of things about life in Korea that we’re instantly comfortable with. Baseball. Gadgets. Fast food. Pop music. Hiking and beaches (the things for which Busan is particularly well-known) require no special introduction. But as familiar as some things are, we’re never able to ignore how different the culture truly is. Like: we’d be at a baseball game but, instead of hot dogs, the family in front of us is munching silk worm larvae.

And strangely, Busan will endure in our memories as the place where we were treated the least like tourists. I don’t mean that we blend in at all — certainly not. But there’s a prominent population of foreigners who live here: English teachers, who number in the hundreds. And there’s no tourism to speak of. So when you see a white guy walking down the street, you can be 98% certain that he’s a local. Almost daily, someone would ask me which school I taught in. As soon as we arrived, we belonged to this “community”, even though we had absolutely nothing to do with it.

So, there’s a weird dynamic here. We’re visitors, but treated as locals. We’re familiar with some aspects of the culture, but mystified by others. We’re welcomed as guests by the community at large, but could we ever really be fully accepted into Korean society? Doubtful.

On the whole, we’re ready to get moving. We’ve had some unforgettable experiences in Busan, and made some wonderful friends. And we’ve fallen in love with the food! Bibimbap, kimchi, galbi, patbingsu, 물밀면. Yum. Oh, and that last food-item? We’re not just showing off there. It’s pronounced “Mulmilmyeon”, which is so ridiculous that it’s easier for us to recognize its characters and point, than dare pronounce it. Turns out that written Hangul isn’t all that hard to master, and we’ve had a lot of fun familiarizing ourselves with the language.

Somehow, I doubt my skills in Hangul are going to help much in our new temporary home: Idaho, in the great American West. It’s a state twice the size of South Korea, with 30 times fewer people. Nature, parks, rivers, cowboys, Indians and wide open spaces await us… it’s going to be a radically different experience to living in an Asian metropolis like Busan. If you’d like to follow us on this new adventure, make sure to keep your eye on our Twitter and Facebook accounts, or subscribe to our RSS Feed.

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July 30, 2012 at 10:33 pm Comments (13)

Busan’s Diamond Bridge

Everything You Need To Know About Night Photography

The Gwangan Bridge opened in 2003, connecting the neighborhoods of Haeundae and Suyeong, and instantly became one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks. Also referred to as the Diamond Bridge, it’s a beautiful structure, especially after dusk when brought to life by colorful lights.

Gwangan-Bridge

After a night on the town, it’s something of a tradition of ours to grab an ice cream and sit on Gwangalli Beach, to look at Korea’s second-longest suspension bridge. Sounds kind of lame, bridge-watching, but somehow it never gets old. The lights of the bridge change color and reflect beautifully in the water. When the night is pleasantly cool and you’ve just put another busy day behind you, there’s no better way to wind down.

Apart from the beach, the best spot to appreciate the bridge is from the astronomical observatory on Geumnyeonsan Mountain. A cheap taxi ride from the Geumnyeonsan Metro station will take you there, and the views from the observatory over Gwangalli Beach and Suyeong are unparalleled. It’s also a good area for hiking during the day.

I suspect that, years from now, when I think back on our time in Busan, the Diamond Bridge will be the first image that pops into my mind.

Location of the Mt. Geumnyeonsan Observatory
-Hotels With Great Views in Busan

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July 27, 2012 at 6:56 am Comments (5)

Seokbulsa Temple

Books About Buddhism In Korea

We’ve heard people claim that Seokbulsa is not just the best Buddhist temple in Busan, but the most lovely in all South Korea. Although we’re in no position to judge, Jürgen and I are in agreement that Seokbulsa is the most amazing temple we’ve seen during our three months here.

Seokbulsa-Temple

Found high up Mt. Geumjeongsan, Seokbulsa (석불사) is difficult to reach, but well worth the effort. We began our journey by returning to the cable car we’d ridden during our first ascent up the mountain, on one of our very first excursions in Busan. Back then, we had been visiting the Geumjeongsanseong Fortress, but this time we headed off in the opposite direction. An easy, downhill path led us through South Gate Village (남문 마을) and then followed a stream for a couple kilometers. It was a beautiful walk through the woods, fairly crowded with other hikers.

Eventually, the path ended at a T, and we immediately knew that we’d have to take a right to reach the temple. No, we’re not master navigators, nor did we have a map — there just happened to be a gray-clothed Buddhist monk sitting on a stone, up towards the right, bald head buried deep in a book. When you’re searching for a temple, a monk in the woods is a good sign you’re on the right track.

Monk-Friend-Friends

The final twenty minutes of our journey was steeply uphill, and very difficult. But the sight that awaited us made up for the sweat. Seokbulsa is a small temple lodged unforgettably into the side of a mountain. There are a number of buildings and cave altars to explore and, probably because of how hard it is to reach, not many other people around to detract from the experience. In fact, we were completely alone during our visit.

The altar buildings are impressive, and from the courtyard you have a superb view over Busan, but the highlights of Seokbulsa are the massive, 30-foot Buddhist figures carved out of the mountain rock. I don’t know who any of them were, Bodhisattvas of some sort, but my ignorance didn’t make them any less incredible. Past the figures, you can visit a small altar and squeeze through a narrow opening in the rocks to another cave where candles have been set.

Our trip to Seokbulsa was the only time we’ve experienced that sense of adventure that went hand-in-hand with exploring the ancient Buddhist temples of Sri Lanka. Not only is the temple itself worth the effort of hunting down, but the beautiful hike and entertaining cable car ride combine to make this one of the most rewarding excursions in Busan.

Location on our Busan Map
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Summer Hike in Korea
Playing Tennis in Korea
Hiking in Busan
Korean Waterfall
Natural-AC-Korea
Buddhist-Rock-Busan
Busan Forrest
Meditation-Busan
Temple Cave Korea
Buddhist Tower
Busan Bell
Temple With a View
Mountain Temple Busan
Nature-Green-Plant-Roof
Monk Friend Friends
Little Buddha Shell
Mass Buddhism
Buddhist-Dust
Monster Busan
Buddism-Multi-Head
Buddhism Wall Art
Buddhist-Reflection
Travel Korea
Prayer Cave

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July 26, 2012 at 12:59 am Comments (7)

The Brilliance of the Yogi-Yo Button

Call Korea For Free / Cheap!

Of all the technological marvels we’ve seen in ultra-modern South Korea, only one has completely wedged its way into our hearts: the Yogi-Yo button. Found on tables in many of Busan’s restaurants, it is utter, blissful genius. Press it, and your waiter appears like magic. Leave it unpressed, and you’re left alone.

Yogi-Yo-Button

There are plenty of advancements in Korea which the USA could sorely use. Bullet trains. Affordable, first-class health care. Efficient public transportation. A low crime rate. These are all important, to be sure, but if I could bring just one thing with me back home, it would be the Yogi-Yo button. My lord, do we need this.

“Yogi-Yo” approximately means “Hey, over here”! It’s what you would shout in a Korean restaurant to get your waiter’s attention. But with the Yogi-Yo button, you don’t even have to shout. If you want another bottle of soju, you don’t wait patiently for your server to come by. You just press this magical button and she’ll come running.

Our first few times eating out, we were too shy to actually use the Yogi-Yo button. It felt too pushy, and I’ve been conditioned by my American upbringing to treat waiters with meek politeness, rather than as the servants they are (heh, that little quip ought to win me some spite!) But now, in our third month in Korea, we press the Yogi-Yo button without hesitation. Sometimes, I’ll gobble up all the kimchi, not because I’m extra-hungry, but because I want to hit the button again and watch the waitress come scurrying.

Yes, the Yogi-Yo button must enter the American dining scene as soon as possible. And while we’re at it, we should also import Korea’s tipping policy. That is: no tips ever, not even pocket change. America’s waiters have gotten a little too entitled in the past decade. 20% now standard?! Yeah, I don’t think so. “Yogi-Yo, buddy. Get me another beer and, no, I’m not going to pay you extra for doing it”. That’s the way it should be.


All joking aside… after over ten years living outside the US, I find our tipping culture to be horrifying. Twenty percent is absolutely ridiculous, and found nowhere else in the world. It’s out of all proportion — the staff is simply performing the service they’re being paid to perform. Customers should expect to receive good service regardless of the “tip”. Am I right? And sure, waiters earn a pittance, depending on tips for their real wage — but how is that my fault? Restaurants ought to pay their employees correctly. After so much time living in other countries, the idea of paying somebody extra just because they carried food to my table seems completely insane.

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July 22, 2012 at 5:51 am Comments (9)

Learning How to Make Makgeolli

Order Makgeolli Here

Along with soju, makgeolli (막걸리) is one of the most popular beverages in Busan. The milky-white drink is made of rice and wheat, and only slightly more alcoholic than beer. We visited a factory in the mountain village of Geumseong-dong to learn first-hand how it’s made.

Nuruk

It was still monsoon season, and we had to battle through torrential rains to find the makgeolli hall. Once safely inside, we were put right to work. The guy in charge of the experience didn’t speak much English, but was fluent in slave-driving, and you don’t need to converse with your slaves. Within the first minute of our arrival, he sat me down in front of a big bowl of wheat, poured a little water onto it, and motioned that I should get to kneading.

So while Jürgen walked around taking pictures, I kneaded. Ten minutes later, my hands and forearms were burning, but the wheat was still not to Master’s liking. With a frown on his face and a shake of his head, he bade me continue for another five minutes. Next, I was taught how to form the wheat into heart-sized balls and pressed them into discs. These wheat cakes would now have to dry for fifteen days.

Master had an already-dried cake ready to go, and led me to a giant pestle where he put an oar-sized mortar into my hands. I spent the next few minutes crushing the wheat into a fine powder, which we then mixed with steamed rice. Now, I packed this mixture into plastic bottles, filled each with tap water and finished them with a heaping dollop of honey. And that was it. The concoction would ferment for four days, and the result (after straining) would be makgeolli.

DIY-Nuruk

We were allowed to bring both the cakes and bottles home with us. He drove us back into town, where we saw the hall in which the larger wheat cakes were drying, and the clay jars of makgeolli fermenting. The shed was surprisingly rustic, considering that this is a modern industry — Geumseong-dong’s makgeolli is widely drunk throughout Busan.

Back home, we stored our makgeolli jars in the cupboard without a lid on, as per Master’s final instructions. It had begun fermenting immediately, and we watched with delight as the bubbles rose up out of the water, already busy at work producing alcohol. On Day Two, though, it was less delightful. Our apartment stunk like cheesy socks, and the mixture had attracted a host of fruit flies. After discovering a baby cockroach floating in one of the jars, we flushed the whole mess down the toilet.

Anyway, bottles of makgeolli only cost 81¢ in the supermarket, so we don’t exactly need to make it ourselves. The experience of doing so, though, was a blast. If you’d like to learn how to make makgeolli yourself, visit this website or schedule an appointment by calling 010-6532-6682. If you call, it might help if you speak Korean or have a Korean-speaker do it for you. The experience costs ₩10,000 ($9) per person.

Approx. location on our Busan Map

Nuruk-Recipe
Making-Nuruk
Fresh-Nuruk
Fermented-Nuruk
Nuruk-Korea
Fermented-Korean-Nuruk-Make
Makgeolli-Recipe
DIY-Makgeolli
Korean Honey
Makgeolli-Fermenting

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July 22, 2012 at 1:41 am Comment (1)

The Busan Museum

Korean History Books

Opened in 1978 at the western end of the U.N. Park in Daeyeon, the Busan Museum takes visitors on a journey through the history of the city and its region, from paleolithic times to the modern day. We visited recently and found it to be the perfect rainy-day activity.

Face-Shell-Korea-Busan

Busan Museum is quite large, well-organized and, like most museums in the city, completely free. Busan as a city has a relatively recent story; up until the late 19th century, it was a mere fishing village, nowhere near as important as nearby Gyeongju or Daegu. Not until 1876, when its port was opened to international trade, did Busan become a city of any importance.

But that doesn’t mean that its history isn’t interesting. Starting in the late Paleolithic period, with the first documented appearance of humanity around the mouth of the Nakdong, visitors are slowly brought to the modern age. There are two floors of fascinating exhibits which have excellent English translations and shed a light on life in the various phases of Korean history.

Byeonhan-Skull-Crushing

Our favorite section detailed the period of the Three Kingdoms (around 57 AD – 668), when the various tribes of the peninsula were organizing themselves for the first time. One exhibit showed how the people of that day used primitive body-modification techniques to give themselves flat foreheads or pointy feet. On the second floor of the museum, there’s a room dedicated entirely to the relationship of the Japanese to Busan, which is more even-handed (and therefore, more interesting) than the “Japan=Villain” equations of the Modern History Museum.

How much enjoyment you get out of this museum is entirely a function of your interest in history. Nicely presented, informative and with plenty of information in English, we thought it was well done.

Location on our Busan Map
Busan Museum – Website
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Busan-Museum
Busan-Museum-Statue-Park
Exhibition-Busan
Things-Do-Rainy-Day-Busan
Old Korean Stamps
Korean Books
Korean Box
Korean-Iron-Armor
Dragon Bell Korea
Byeonhan-Teeth-Pulling
First Plastic Surgery in Korea
Huff Puff Dragon
Horse Show Korea
Making-Pajeon-in-Korea
Drinking Soju in Korea
Korean Mail man
Harevest Festival Korea
Korean Dude
Old Busan Fortress Painting
Tilted Nose Korean Mask
Old Road Trip Korea
Melting-Iron-Busan
Old War Poster Busan
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July 19, 2012 at 10:01 am Comments (2)

The Eulsukdo Island Bird Sanctuary

Bird Watching Gear

With a prime location where the Nakdong River empties into the East Sea, the small, sandy island of Eulsukdo has long been a paradise for migratory birds. However, our trip there couldn’t have been more poorly timed, since the birds only visit in the fall and spring. But we’ll be gone by August, and didn’t want to pass up a visit to this interesting bit of nature.

Korea-is-Beautiful

Upon arriving at the island, we toured a couple of sparkling new ecology centers. The first was dedicated to the Nakdong, the longest river in South Korea, with exhibits that underline its importance. The second center was focused on the Eulsukdo Sanctuary. Spanning two floors, with an observatory on top, this was an exhaustive collection of the various birds and animals which can be found here. Decently cool, but there were a ton of schoolkids there, and the place was sweltering hot, so our visit was very short.

Once outside, we discovered with some disappointment that most of the sanctuary was off-limits — the paths were nearly all closed for renovation, and much of the park is permanently inaccessible to tourists. It’s understandable; Eulsukdo Island has been heavily affected by human tampering. Fifty years ago, this was Asia’s most active location for migratory birds, but only a small number still visit today. Although the island is now protected, construction and land reclamation projects in the latter half of 20th century did irreversible damage to the ecosystem.

So, we walked up and down the one path we were permitted on, saw a couple swans and a crane, and called it a day. Eulsukdo is quite beautiful, but probably only worth visiting in the fall or spring, when the number of visiting birds increases dramatically.

Location on our Busan Map
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River Monument Korea
Confucius
Bird-Statue-Korea
Stupid Bird Lamp
Water Supply Busan
High Tech Busan
Korean Paper Boat
Busan-Bird-Sanctuary
Korean Kids
The-Eulsukdo-Island-Bird-Sanctuary
Korean-Boy-With-Locks
Diving Goose
Korean Birds
Korean-Batcher
Birdy Egg
Modern Art Korae
Mother Nature Busan
Castle in the Sky
Bizarre-Photography-Korea
Nature Walk Korea
Nature Bridge
The-Eulsukdo-Island
Bird Watching in Korea
Dirty Water Korea
Oh Crab
Old Goose
Korean Stork

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July 6, 2012 at 9:32 am Comment (1)

The Busan Cinema Center

Free Movie Recommendations

The $150 million dollar Busan Cinema Center is an architectural oddity which opened to the public during the Busan Film Festival in October, 2011. Its cantilever roof is the world’s largest and seems to break the laws of gravity. And at night, it lights up in spectacular color, adding a splash of beauty to Busan’s most modern neighborhood.

Steel Busan

We walked over to the Cinema Center directly after having my protective post-LASIK contact lenses removed at the Sojunghan Nun Ophthalmology Clinic. It had been just 24 hours since my surgery and, with the lenses freshly off, I was really seeing with my new eyes for the very first time. We couldn’t have picked a more impressive visual smorgasbord than the amazing Cinema Center.

The building seems to make no sense, with a curving roof supported only at one end by an inverted cone structure, which acts as the main entrance and houses a cafe. Underneath the massive roof, there’s a screen and open air seating for 4000 people, and spread across its three buildings (the Cine Mountain, BIFF Hill and Double Cone) are three further screens, lecture halls, restaurants and a performance art theater.

The complex most fully lives up to its potential during the Busan Film Festival, but there are daily screenings of classics and current hits during the rest of the year — although the website to check showtimes is Korean-only, there are American films shown often, almost always subtitled. But even if you’re not up for a movie, it’s worth taking a nighttime stroll by the Cinema Center to check out the amazing LED display on the bottom of its 60×160 square meter roof.

Location on our Busan Map
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Busan World Record Roof
Outdoor-Cinema-Busan
Take a Seat
Modern-Architecture-Busan
Pattern Busan
Optical-Illusion-Busan
Huge Roof Busan
Biff-Festival-Piff
Busan-South-Korea
Glass And Steel
Architecture-Blog
Aireal-Show-Korea
Journey-To-The-Future
Short-Cut-Building
Illusion-busan
Busan-Architecture
BIFF At Night
Korean Cookbooks
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July 6, 2012 at 5:02 am Comments (0)

Adventures in Korean Health Care: Mike’s Story

Travel Health Insurance

The lids of my right eye had been forcefully pulled apart by a circular metal device. While a voice near my ear whispered “relax, relax”, a microkeratome blade made its incision. I was able to see everything that was happening (“just relax”), and watched as a flap of my eye skin was peeled back like the filmy skin of a hard-boiled egg. Everything went completely out-of-focus. And then the lazers started. Relax, you say? Sure!

Lasik-Surgery-Busan

I’ve had terrible vision since I can remember. Glasses, contacts, waking up every morning blind… severe myopia has played a major role in my life and always been a part of who I am. When I first heard of LASIK technology, probably twenty years ago, it sounded like a dream from some futuristic fantasy world, too good to be true. “But one day”, I thought. “I am totally doing that.”

The day finally arrived. Bolstered by Jürgen’s entirely positive experience at the Good-Gang-An Hospital, I decided to get my eyes zapped. South Korea is a country with supremely advanced medical techonology, and the procedure is far cheaper than it would be back home. Plus, it was my 35th birthday — a better present than perfect sight could hardly be possible.

We chose the Sojunghan Nun Ophthalmology Clinic, largely because of their advertisement in Busan Haps, the city’s English-speaking magazine. After my initial visit, any concerns I’d been harboring had vanished. This was a super-modern, obviously affluent clinic with a ton of equipment and a large staff of friendly people. My eyes were measured, and the doctor explained the Wavefront-guided LASIK technique which would be used. “Keep your contacts out, and come back in a week”.

Eye Test

A week later, I was back. They gave me another round of tests, then sat me down in a cozy massage chair so that I might relax before the surgery. When it was time, three nurses came to fetch me, leading me through an air shower into the operation room where the doctor was waiting. I laid down on the bed and, ten minutes later, it was done. Besides the mental anguish of watching my eye skin be peeled back, there was no pain.

The doctor asked if I could see him, and I almost let out a sob of joy upon answering “Yes”. It was hazy, but I could see things far away, sharply. After another rest in the massage chair, this time with tea and cake, the clinic provided a private driver to take me home. The next morning, I returned to have the protective contact lenses removed, and confirmed that my new vision was 20/20. The doctor said it would probably improve even more over the next couple weeks.

The incredible service, cutting-edge technology and perfectly executed procedure cost a grand total of ₩1,300,000 ($1170) for both eyes. About a fourth of the price I’d have paid in the states. The cost also includes all of my follow-up visits.

To say we’re head over heels with Korean healthcare is a huge understatement. Even more than the price, it’s the service and the attention to comfort that astound us. In hospitals in the US, Germany and Spain, we’re accustomed to being treated like nuisances, sometimes with an attitude that approaches contempt. None of that in South Korea; it’s as though they recognize how important comfort and ease of mind is to the recovery process. And that’s something we completely appreciate.

Link: Sojunghan Nun Ophthalmology Clinic | Location
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Schwind-Amaris-750-S-Lasik
No More Glasses
Air Shower
Eye Laser Operation
Lasik-Surgery
Right-After-Lasik-Surgery
Advertisement-Lasik-Surgery

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July 5, 2012 at 8:46 am Comments (9)

Busan’s Trick Eye Museum

Books On Optical Illusion

The only thing which Koreans love more than taking pictures is having their picture taken. So I shouldn’t have been surprised to find in Busan an entire museum dedicated to the art of posing for funny photos. But still… I was surprised. The Trick Eye Museum, underneath the Heosimcheong Spa, is one of the most bizarre places we’ve been in a long time.

Trapped By Snake

If you don’t like having your picture taken, stay far away from the Trick Eye Museum, which is also not recommended for anyone who’s overly serious, or those who have any semblance of pride. Basically, if you’re not willing to act like an idiot in front of the camera, you won’t have any fun here. But everyone else, and especially kids, should prepare for a good time.

The entire point of this “museum” is to provide setups for funny pictures. An upside-down room makes it look like you’re standing on the ceiling. Stand in front of Mona Lisa with a paintbrush. Lay down on the floor and hang on for dear life to the painting of a cliff. Peer into a gentleman’s briefs. Wrap yourself in the coils of a serpent. Crawl into bed with a surprisingly buxom Mike. Will the hilarity ever stop?! No, it won’t… it goes on and on, for room after room after room. This place is huge and if you haven’t had your fill of funny-posing pictures by the end of it, then you, my friend, have some issues.

Juergen and I visited right after a three-hour session in the Heosimcheong Spa, and were loosened up enough to throw ourselves into the picture-taking with abandon. After all, we’d just spent hours prancing around naked in front of other men, so screwing up our faces for a silly photo wasn’t exactly a tall order. Please enjoy our photos … if you can stomach the sad spectacle of two grown men acting without dignity.

Location on our Busan Map
-Hotels in Busan

Strone Like Hercules
Korean Cliff Hanger
Naked and Stinky
Roman King
Eating Human Flesh
Best Friends
Blown Wind
Bubble Boy
Fun in Busan
FUUU Korean Drivers
Grabbing TITS
Hello Friends
Horny for Beer
Korean Circus Clown
Mike to the Rescue
Naked in Busan FKK
Sneak Peak
Perverted Photographer
Piss on Me
Yoga in Busan
Angry Bird

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June 28, 2012 at 8:46 am Comments (36)

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