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Filipino Torture

Adventures in the Land of Videoke Addicts

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Maybe it is because I was out of the States for most of the decade...or maybe it's because I have some minimum musical standards, but I have never had the same appreciation of cheesy 80's music that everyone else seems to have. That being said, during college and since, I have learned to tolerate and maybe even enjoy some 80's songs (when I am drunk enough). But after only 2 weeks in the Philippines, however, I am sad to announce that the 'Era of Dan's Tolerance of 80's music' may have come to an end.

I'm not sure what it is, but Filipinos have an intense fascination with Videoke. As far as I can tell it is simply a mix of karaoke and random videos of girls or towns in Europe. And in the Philippines, it is EVERYWHERE and they seem to have a preference for campy 80's ballads. It's on the buses, in restaurants, in random shacks by the side of the road, even in gas stations. And it is LOUD. I have even taken to carrying earplugs in my pocket because it can be so painful at times. But to the Filipinos it is serious business and you have a considerable reputation in town based on your skills. What makes it most unbelievable though...they are usually SOBER when they are singing...oiy.

Just the other day we jumped on a ferry to head to another island and everyone rushed on board to get the best seats for the...you guessed it...on board videoke. We had a nice little booth in the next section and as we settled in for the 5 hour boat ride the first guy grabbed the microphone and started singing. It was so loud and terrible that I had to put my earplugs in while Jen suffered through the whole journey, with the videoke stars never taking a break. At one point, someone starting singing Queen's 'We Are the Champions' and if I hadn't have know the music for the song, I would have sworn that it wasn't in English. The guy was SO bad that even the Filipinos around me were cracking up, even though they usually take it so seriously. But this went on for the entire ferry trip and even when the ferry was docked and people were getting off, there were still the hardcore few that were still at it. Amazing...

All I know is that this is one cultural idiosyncrasy that I will never understand or appreciate. In general, I try to do my best to appreciate the cultures of the countries I visit, but you have to draw the line somewhere...I draw my line at videoke. Thats all I gotta say about that.

Posted by dgarbely 09.02.2009 20:32 Archived in Philippines Tagged educational Comments (0)

Batu Caves

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

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One of the more interesting sites that we visited while in Kuala Lumpur was the Hindu shrine of Batu Caves. This temple has a series of smaller shrines that are built inside a giant cave. While it is definitely set up as a tourist attraction, with all of the hawkers and beggars that you would expect, it is one of the most important Hindu pilgrimage sites outside of India and attracts over 1.5 million pilgrims a year!

The entrance of the site is guarded by a 140 ft golden statue of Murugan and a whole bunch of monkeys. The monkeys are relatively tame and really just sit around and wait for tourists to give them something to eat (or drink).

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To get into the caves, we had to climb up 272 steps to the main entrance. The cave itself was quite impressive and roomy. There we several holes near the top that let down beams of light that really gave the whole place a ethereal feel.

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All of the individual shrines were scattered in different nooks of the cave. In typical Hindu style they were all brightly colored and had intricate carvings, sometimes directly into the stone face.

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It was definitely a cool site and I can only imagine what it is like during the Thaipusam festival when all the pilgrims come to worship.

Posted by dgarbely 03.02.2009 20:10 Archived in Malaysia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Christmas in Malaysia

Lazy days in Executive Style

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Since we didn't have to meet Jen's Dad until after Christmas, we decided to spend about a week hanging out over Christmas in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
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With our numerous HiltonHonors points and our Diamond VIP status, we were able to score a phatty room on the executive floor of the KL Hilton. It was a beautiful room, with a great view of the city, a huge bathtub for Jen, a 42" flatscreen tv, and one of the most comfortable beds I have ever slept in. But the best part about it all was that we got free breakfast AND free drinks and snacks in the executive lounge everyday. So while we had planned to spend a good portion of our time in KL exploring the city, we actually spent most of it sucking down free booze and lazing around our room.
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Jen particularly enjoyed the free wine, often taking a glass back down to the room for her bath.
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When we did get out of the room, however, we were able to take in some of the tourist sites around KL and had a grand old time. The Petronas Towers, now the 2nd tallest building in the world (but tallest twin towers), were pretty impressive for a couple of geeky engineers.
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We also went up the KL Tower which had panoramic views of the entire city as well as some wacky tourist exhibits encircling the bottom. The most surreal of which was the "Winter Park", which was essentially a whole bunch of plastic polar bears and penguins surrounded by fake cotton snow and Christmas decorations. We took an obligatory picture just to document the absurdity of it all.
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I'm a little embarrassed to say, however, that we spent a good portion of our time 'exploring the city' inside the numerous malls. Partially because they were air conditioned, partially because that is where a lot of the restaurants are (see the previous entry), but mostly to be blown away by the sheer unabashed commercialism. I've never been in a mall with so many designer stores, nor one that sells $150,000 watches, nor one that has a BENTLEY dealership inside the mall. Ridiculous. Someone must be making a ton of money in Malaysia....

All in all, we had a great time in KL and it was the right balance of relaxation, luxury, and exploration to get us primed for our travels ahead.
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Posted by dgarbely 03.02.2009 19:12 Archived in Malaysia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Rain Nudle House

My First Food Blog

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Even prior to leaving Sri Lanka, we were excited to go to Kuala Lumpur for the food. When we were supposed to be writing final reports for our project, Jen and I would send links of Malaysian food blogs back and forth, and we had 20 different restaurants that we “just had to try”!. These foodie blogs had a ton of pictures and in depth descriptions of flavors and textures that we could almost eat the food off of the computer screen. Here are a couple of our favorites as an appetizer:

A Whiff of Lemongrass
Kampung Boy City Gal

In honor of these Malaysian foodies, I’m going to write my first food entry of this blog.

Rain Nudle House

Pavilion KL – Food Court
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Located in the massive food court of the Pavilion mall, the sleek modern décor and downtempo music at Rain Nudle House allows you to escape the overwhelming commercialism of the mall, and enjoy all the incredible flavors of Thai cooking. Slipping into the comfortable, white leather wrapped booth, I was impressed by the variety of ways that the repetition of vertical lines had been used to symbolize the rain. There was a wall of raindrop Perrier bottles, a cascade of bamboo stalks dividing the lounge and restaurant, and the requisite picture of the Thai King.

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While the décor was strikingly modern, the food was traditional Thai…exactly what we had been looking for after a year of rice and curry. We ordered some of our classic favorites and couldn’t have been happier when the waitress brought out the steaming pot of Tom Yam Kung. The hot pot was literally overflowing with jumbo river prawns, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, mushrooms, lemongrass, chilies, and all manner of other goodies. The flavor was just as moving with the perfect blend of sour and spiciness.

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Next they brought out the Mango Salad with Deep Fried Catfish. The Mango Salad was a mix of shredded green mango, shallots, carrots, and chili peppers, sprinkled with peanuts and topped with a lime and fishsauce dressing. The flavors and texture worked well together, but I would have actually liked the dressing to be a little spicier. The Deep Fried Catfish was not what we were expecting at all. We had assumed that the salad would have small pieces of catfish mixed into the salad, but instead it was served on the side and resembled more of a crispy cracker than anything else. It was relatively flavorless, but it had a nice crunch and actually worked well if you scooped a little salad on it and used it as a chip.

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As a main course we had Pad Kha Prao, Chili Chicken with Basil leaves and white jasmine rice. This is one of my favorite Thai dishes and a lot of Thai restaurants screw it up in the US by overloading it with onions or other fillers. Thankfully, the chef at Rain Nudle House did not disappoint, delivering us a dish with a sweet sauce, tender chicken, lots of spicy chilies, and a healthly amount of Thai basil. It was incredible, and between us we wiped the plate perfectly clean.

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Even though we were both stuffed after all of this food, no Thai meal is truly complete without some fresh Mango and Sticky Rice. We shared a small portion this delectable dessert and came away completely satisfied. We'd recommend RainNudleHouse to anyone.

Posted by dgarbely 17.01.2009 23:08 Archived in Malaysia Tagged food Comments (0)

The Adventure Begins...

Singapore

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The traveling part of our adventure has begun in earnest! We flew out of Colombo at 1:40am on Friday and arrived in Singapore at 8am, without a whole lot of sleep on the plane. After clearing customs we started the day with a refreshing breakfast at Burger King, before heading off to an appointment with some people at the CH office in Singapore. We met some great folks and talked about future job opportunities, but by about 2pm we were both fading fast, so we headed to our executive floor room (I love being a Hilton Diamond VIP) and passed out for a couple hours. We got up just in time to get our free drinks and snacks in the executive lounge before heading back to bed.

Our first "real" day of vacation was pretty much perfect. We slept in, ate a great breakfast, and just wandered around Singapore for the day. The highlight was a visit to the Chinese Gardens. They had some beautifully manicured gardens, an incredible bonzai house, and some really cool historical statues. Best of all, it was a very cool day and we basically had the park to ourselves. Very mellow and relaxing...exactly what we needed after the chaos of closing out our project in Sri Lanka.

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After the gardens, we headed back to Orchard Road which is the ultimate shopping street. Mall after mall, shop after shop. Jen had her first real experience of culture shock. After being in Sri Lanka, where shopping can be a challenge at best, it was a little overwhelming to walk into a huge mall that was more extravagant than anything we have in Portland. Definitely took a little bit of an adjustment. What threw me, though, was how Christmasy everything is. For a country with not a whole lot of Christians they have sure embraced Christmas wholeheartedly. Or at least the consumerism aspects of it. Nevertheless, they did a great job with lights and decorations in the streets. This picture doesn't do it justice, but it was pretty incredible, even for a grinch like me.

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We decided to have a late lunch/early dinner at a Chinese restaurant in the mall and were amazed at how good the food was for a mall. We had garlic fried prawns, chicken in a sweet and spicy sauce, and some really good dry sauted string beans. It was a little more expensive than we had expected, but was worth every penny..or so we thought. We had budgeted to spend $50/day and had thus far been able to see Singapore on a shoestring (thanks to our free stay at the hilton), but after paying for the lunch tab we realized that we were fifty cents short for our subway ride to the airport the next day. So we wandered around for another hour, eyes to the ground, trying to find spare change on the street. Unfortunately, Singapore is so damn clean that we were only able to find another 5 cents, so Jen had to sweet talk the front desk in the Hilton to change one dollar so we could make it to the airport. I guess learning to live on a budget is just part of the adventure.
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We're off to Malaysia now for another week long stay in the Hilton Malaysia...

Posted by dgarbely 20.12.2008 19:52 Archived in Singapore Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

My First Birdie

An event for a cold one...

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Since we were staying at a Country Club, we had to get a around of golf in. Saturday we relaxed, slept in, setup our tee time for 8:30 on Sunday morning with hour long massages after golfing (yeah it sucks to be us). We checked out this great view of the golf course and the houses on the hillside.

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This golf course has a few rules.

1) Everyone has to have their own caddy, even if you rent the only golf cart in the club.
2) Need at least one ball chaser per two golfers.
3) You have to wear a collared shirt, which means I can't play golf in my tank top.

I am sure there are other rules but these were the ones that effected our group. The golf crew was Larry, Ceni, Dan and I, each with a caddy and two ball chasers, which meant that we had ten people in one 'foursome'. I was a little nervous to play golf with all these people watching, but after a couple of holes I realized that I had no reason to lift my head since I had six people watching where my ball went. After a while, I really got used to the whole concept.

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The golf course was a little dry, but that was expected since the course had not had rain for four months. It was sunny and warm, but since Kandy is higher in elevation it was actually a welcome change from Arugam Bay.

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We ran out of water about the eighth hole and even though we found a vendor to buy water and soft drinks, Dan wanted beer to "lubricate his swing". Larry and Dan took off with the golf cart to raid the stock of beers in the ice chest. They only brought back four beers, then realized that one each was not enough and didn't want to share with Ceni and I. Plan B was to call our Wonder Driver Razak to load the ice chest in the back of the car and follow us from hole to hole. We had barely enough cold beers for the last nine holes.

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Dan's golf game improved after a couple of beers. Razak kept the cold beers flowing and then became the official photographer for our team.

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My caddy and I bonded after a couple of holes and I started to hit really well. Actually, I think I played the best 18 holes of golf in my life. Grandpa and Dad you would be proud - I got my first birdie which included a twenty plus foot putt.

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Posted by JenGarbely 02.10.2008 22:27 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged events Comments (1)

Elephant Parade

Perahera

Since our last vacation was in April, Dan and I were overdue for a break from Arugam Bay. After a five hour car ride to Kandy where I managed to only to puke once, we made it to the mountain city of Kandy about 5pm. Ceni and I had decided to stay at the famous Victoria Country Club, which is about 30 minutes outside of Kandy. The room was fabulous with a walk in shower that had a view of the stars and a balcony that overlooked the golf course. Dan and I were starving due to not having lunch so we went to the club house for much anticipated hamburgers and cold Lion beers.

The main reason that we went to Kandy, was to witness the annual Perahera festival. Kandy Perahera is a procession that honors the sacred tooth enshrined in the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. This event occurs every August for ten days depending on the moon cycle in Kandy. Larry and Ceni had made reservations for the four of us on Friday August 15th at the Queens Hotel. The tickets were $40 and we were informed they are worth every penny. We were suppose to be in our seats by 7:30 pm, but we were late. Traffic was bad, we left a little late, and the check point took their time (and seem to enjoy) frisking Ceni and I head to toe. Talk about invading your personal space, I was shocked they didn't have us strip for them. Jeez. We scored second row seats from the street, but they packed us in like sardines. We, literally could not move and I barely had enough space between chair in front of me...so you can imagine what Dan knees were feeling. Larry was under the impression we would be able to order beers for this event, so I didn't bother to bring a water bottle. After sitting down I asked the guy where do we order the beers, he freaked out a little. "Madam this is a religious event we do not serve alcohol or drinks." Oh right...what was I thinking this is a Buddhist event, damn a cold beer would be nice while sitting here in this cramped chair on a really warm evening. Someone could make some serious cash selling at least cold water and snacks. Maybe I should have taken a religion class in college to remind myself not all events involve the right to drink cold beer. So we sat there waiting for the parade, I mean procession, to start and playing with the night time settings on our cameras.

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The show finally started at about 8:30 pm.

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These guys with long whips started the parade off. People throw them coins and only these guys received coins. They sure could crack the whip! You could even see a spark and it was very loud.

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This guy was rolling on the ground while fire was attached to a string that was some how attached to his head and spinning it in circles around his body. You would think if you were rolling on the ground that one would wear black or dark colors, so the dirt does not show and easier to clean. Oh yes the religion thing again, I bet only allowed to wear white. Go the power of Bleach!

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Lots of talented fire dancers making their way down the street, dancing and showing off their skills.

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Then there was firer dancers on stilts! Cool beans man.....

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Next the flag men came marching down the street.

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The drummers were next, but you could hear them coming from a kilometer away.

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The costumes on the elephants were amazing. Very detailed, colorful, some had lights and pretty much head to toe covered. I wonder how long it takes to dress an elephant?

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The Kandy Dancers were fun to watch with bright and very detailed costumes as well. The fun part of this celebration was the wide range of people that participated. There was very little ones that could barely walk to the wise older men that most likely have been part of this event for years.

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Boys with swords marched by.

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Many different shapes and sizes of horns were played.

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Some elephants had a rider and some didn't, but they all had a Mahout (elephant handler) walking along side of them. One elephant totally took a dump in front of us and a Kandy Dancer almost stepped in it.

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Pretty brass flags with different symbols on each. There was many different types of flags throughout the event, but not sure what they all mean.

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More drummers come down the street.

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More dancers.

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Not one elephant, but three at one time. Really at this point I was thinking 'thank goodness', because we were told there would be over forty elephants tonight in the procession.

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Yes those are indeed hooks in that guys back, I could not stop staring at them, but at the same time I so wanted to close my eyes.

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More pretty elephants walking by. There was one elephant that I felt truly bad for as it limped by. Otherwise most of the elephants looked like they were enjoying the music and a few were actually dancing.

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This guy looked important so we took his picture.

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The strongest smell that comes to mind from the event is kerosene. The fire torches were the only light for the parade (except for the elephants!) but also kept us hot and embers were constantly flying into our laps.

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Many talents for this event.

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The Grand Elephant! This is the largest elephant from India that is caring the Sacred Tooth Relic. The old one died a few years back, but they stuffed him and can be viewed at the museum by the temple of the Tooth Relic. One would think after the grand event the parade would be over, but no way we had to sit through yet another hour. The event didn't finish until after 11 pm and 60 plus elephants. The last hour would have been easier to handle with a "cold one."

Here is a video, I hope you enjoy.

Posted by JenGarbely 29.09.2008 01:39 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged events Comments (1)

Who's got balls?

My first hair cut overseas...

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After being in Sri Lanka for six months, my hair was in desperate need of a trim job. It was always in tangles and I had a ton of split ends. Our bathing water is also a bit on the salty side (go figure living on the beach) which doesn't help the situation at all. And to make matters worse, Pottuvil and Arugam Bay don't have what I would call a suitable hair salon.

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This is a picture of the local barber shop, which you only see men in. I figured either women cut their own hair or don't bother, which would explain the very long hair they all seem to have. I didn't grow large enough balls to get my hair cut in Pottuvil, but I did manage to on my next trip to Colombo.

I went with Dan to a "His and Hers" salon. Dan has been to this salon a couple of times and comes home looking good in his new doo. I know it is a little different with women, but I really wanted my hair cut so I had to suck it up. It took me five minutes to find the hers salon, which is tiny compared to the his salon. You would think this would be the first warning sign. In what salon is the men's larger than the woman's?

It took another five minutes to discuss prices and what I wanted. There was some confusion if the shampooing and hair drying after cutting was included in the price. This might be considered the second warning...should I really get my hair cut by this person who I can barely communicate with? Screw it...I wanted my hair cut, so I just closed my eyes and hoped for the best.

My favorite part of having my hair cut is actually the washing. There is something about another person washing your hair and massaging your head that is so relaxing. The washing stationed looked normal but I didn't really fit in the chair. There was no leg rest so I had to hold up half of my body weight. Then the water was freezing cold. I was so very glad when the washing was done, but the shampoo did smell lovely.

We discussed how much I wanted trimmed off and my layers redone. Then I realized the only pair of scissors sitting in front of me had orange handles and looked like paper scissors (warning number three?) I was near complete panic mode until I took a deep breathe and said to myself "hair grows back". Thankfully, she soon brought out her little cart of goods and thankfully, another pair of scissors. I think she cut every hair on my head, meaning she was very thorough. You would think this was a good thing, however it was taking forever and since there was no AC in the salon... I was accumulating major boob sweat.

Finally she begins drying my hair, which escalates the heat issue by ten. I swear I almost passed out in the salon. The hair dryer smelled bad, probably burning my hair along with my scalp. I couldn't take it any more and screamed "stop your burning me." She backed off and felt bad, but finished her job. I paid the girl 700 rupees, about $7, and walked out the door to fresh air. I have never been so thankful to leave a hair salon.

Overall my hair cut was cute and there are no visible signs of permanent hair damage from being burnt. It might, however, take another six months before I try getting my hair cut again overseas.

Dan, meanwhile, walked out of his salon with a sharp haircut, a straight razor shave, a beard trim, and a head massage for about $9. He couldn't have been happier, since there is very little he loves more than a good bargain. He says that he still misses his salon back home for the free beer and the hot stylists, but I know that he is going to bitch about paying $50 again as soon as he gets back.

Posted by JenGarbely 05.09.2008 21:27 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged events Comments (0)

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