Archive for March 2011

ICLP電子報第44-45期:國家橄欖球聯盟*的集體談判/NFL Collective Bargaining; 在日本過春假/Spring Break in Japan

March 30, 2011

臺大國際華語研習所 電子報 第44期 ~ 44th ICLP Bulletin

國家橄欖球聯盟*的集體談判

English Translation: NFL Collective Bargaining

臺大國際華語研習所 電子報 第45期 ~ 45th ICLP Bulletin

在日本過春假 (includes pictures of my spring break!)

English Translation: Spring Break in Japan
Before I came to ICLP, I taught English for two years in Tensui-machi, a rural town in Kumamoto, Japan. Because it was such a great experience, I was very sorry to leave everyone, so I promised to come back to visit. Fortunately, ICLP’s spring break overlapped with Japan’s elementary school graduation day, so it was great timing for my visit. Little did I know there would be a massive earthquake in Japan on March 11. Because Kumamoto is in the center of Kyushu, Japan’s western island, my old town wasn’t affected, but many people, especially my grandmother, were afraid that if I visited I would get radiation poisoning. That risk aside, I still had to go, because telling small children “I’m not coming to visit you because the place you live is too dangerous” would have been even worse. All I could do was take my planned flight on March 20.

Kyushu hasn’t suffered any visible harm, but there has been plenty of invisible damage. For example, although the Kyushu Shinkansen Train just opened on March 12, there have been very few passengers up until now because of the earthquake, which is making JR rail executives very anxious. The common people are worried that the government is not being truthful with them about the nuclear accident in Fukushima and that the Bank of Japan’s emergency quantitative easing is creating long-term risk for the national treasury. Some residents of eastern Japan have fled the confusion there and returned to their childhood homes in Kyushu. Every event, be it an elementary school graduation or an adult English conversation salon, begins with everyone bowing their heads in prayer for the victims. Many people expressed thanks to me for the Taiwanese people’s generous donations to disaster relief efforts.

But when we Tensui people reunited, our worries disappeared. I’ll never forget the obvious looks of surprise and then happiness on my students’ faces when I saw them again. I spent at least 3 hours at 4 elementary schools and one junior high and visited many people. My mouth never stopped moving: I was always talking or eating. Seeing my students’ growth and encouraging my former coworkers reminded me of the joy of teaching. My friends first updated me on their lives and those of our mutual friends, then asked me questions like whether Chinese is more difficult than Japanese, what exactly the Republic of China and the International Chinese Language Program are, why I lost weight despite Chinese food being oilier than Japanese cuisine, and when I’m going to decide my future job and wife.

I showed everyone a Taiwanese newspaper, which they thought was really colorful: some third grade boys took special interest in the entertainment section, and I realized too late that this was because there were pictures of half-naked women inside. Embarrassed, I grabbed the paper and tried to keep it away from them, but they chased after me, saying, “Please please let me see it again!” which tired me out.

I didn’t totally leave the Taiwanese cultural zone that week. Some of my friends were born in Taiwan during the Japanese colonial period. Others have gone there to travel, and they remembered that you can buy anything at the night market, that the Palace Museum has every possible kind of antique, that traffic is frightening, that they went home happy, and so on, and they also recognize celebrities like “Little Fatty” (Lin Yu Chun). Before the Xinhai Revolution [1911], Sun Yat Sen came to Kumamoto, including Tensui, so good friends of mine who are mikan orange farmers have some calligraphy written by the Father of the Country. I saw my foreigner friends, a couple of whom speak Chinese: when they caught me unconsciously saying things in Mandarin like hao, hao and yinwei, they burst out laughing.

The week passed in a flash. I did indeed return to Taipei last Sunday rather than staying in town and usurping my replacement. Because the trip made me so happy, helped my Japanese tremendously, and encouraged my friends and students, I’ll definitely go to my Japanese hometown again next year.

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I Went Home Again

March 28, 2011

Eight months ago, I left Japan. I had a wonderful two years there, and we were all sad to say goodbye, but I felt like I’d already done everything I could there. Everyone made me promise to come back, though, and last week, I did. My plane slammed through clouds of nuclear radiation and crash-landed in an apocalyptic urban landscape; I emerged in a protective suit and ferried across 25-foot waves and – actually, besides minor gasoline rationing, everything in western Japan was the same as always on a physical level at least. It even looked nicer because the trans-Kyushu bullet train line just happened to open the day after the earthquake, but sadly, that disaster made everyone cancel their travel plans, so the new Tamana Station felt like a haunted house when I arrived: there were no sounds except piped-in birdsong and the recording announcing the next departure and arrival. People were also anxious about the stability of the Treasury, which has been bicycle-pumping money into the market. We said silent prayers for the victims of the disasters at every event I attended.

I did worry about everything else related to the trip before leaving. Would my students be so much bigger that I’d feel like they’d left me behind? Would I be able to see everyone in this workaholic society despite not planning everything in advance? Was my Japanese (or my psyche) up for thirteen hours of talking per day? Could I avoid car accidents, calling students the wrong names, and getting poked in the butt by small children?

I had nothing to worry about. My successor, Joe Fowler, hosted me in the third room all week; my friend Valerie lent me her second cellular phone; my old host family lent me their big ol’ company van, and everyone gave me some of their time. I did say hao instead of hai! the whole week, and I suffered the dreaded kancho, but every day in my old home was so relaxing that by the end I couldn’t remember what I was taking a vacation from. It was one of the fastest weeks of my life. I only spent a few hours in front of the computer. Only today did I open my gmailbox and collapse under a load of birthday notes.

My jaw is tired because all I did was talk and eat. One friend said, “Yoshiko heard from her mother that you’d forgotten Japanese, but you’re speaking just fine…what happened?” I replied, “Well, she saw me on Tuesday, and today is Saturday.” Everyone said, “You lost weight! [This is the “you got a haircut!” of Japanese small talk.] The food there is so oily, though! How is this possible?” I replied, “No home invitations and no enkais (work parties).”

Speaking of which, that was elementary school graduation day. Since all the ceremonies were at the same time, I could only attend one (and it was emotional), but I spent a half-day at all 5 of my schools (including the junior high) over the course of three days. I didn’t tire of the shock and then joy on kids’ faces when I materialized before them. Everyone was so welcoming. Does absence make the heart grow fonder? I’m lucky enough to say we were just as fond of each other at the time. Some classes had really grown up. One class made me lovely impromptu thank-you cards with photos and hand-drawn pictures that I’ve showed to my friends here. A five-year old made a tricolor threaded bracelet. Not that it was as triumphant a return as Julius Caesar’s to Rome: I walked into one second-grade class not realizing my fly was unzipped. And some of the junior high kids were more cheeky and sarcastic than friendly, but that comes with their age group.

My best conversation pieces were Taiwanese and PRC newspapers I picked up in the airport on the way. Japanese can half-read them because all the countries use Chinese characters, but Japanese have simplified the them a little and the PRC a lot, so there are clear differences. It was nice to not have to start out by explaining where Taiwan was and how it’s not the same as Thailand.

Plus Taiwanese papers are way more colorful than Japanese ones…and in more ways than one: when the third graders found color pictures of an actor and actress in bed together on one page, they MARKED OUT, and I had to crunch the whole thing up and stuff it in my pocket, then hold my pocket shut because so many boys were prying for another glimpse of that holy grail.

It was good to see my fellow Tamana ALTs before most of them change jobs themselves this July and to meet the new guys I’d only encountered on Facebook. They said it felt like I’d never left. What we had at the time was good, and our values haven’t changed. I spent my birthday dinner at a J-diner called Joyfull with 20 of my junior high school grads; it was gratifying that so many showed up on 24 hours’ notice. One of my 16-year olds invited me to swim with him, exercise I really needed, then encouraged me and taught me technique between the lane lines. I wouldn’t say I was loyal or supportive at that age, but some kids just “get it,” and I don’t hesitate to call them friends rather than students.

Many of my friends are teachers, some much older than I am, and this trip reminded me what a wonderful calling it is to help people grow up. If you don’t have a dream of your own, you can do worse than becoming a teacher and helping other people find theirs. One of the best parts of my job is that I spent time in about 50 different homeroom classes. It was much more revealing than theoretical textbooks, and I wish Japanese trainees had the same opportunity themselves. I even got to teach my colleagues some things on this run.

The good things about Tensui and Tamana were as good as ever. Not that I want to usurp Joe; he’s doing very well and is getting as much out of the job as I did. In the words of the Japanese, he doesn’t have my “tension” (a la jumping around and singing and saying HELLO in a BIG VOICE) but he is 落ち着いている or “natural and relaxed.” I think I spent the right amount of time in the job and on this trip. After catching up on how everyone was doing (and even updating people on later days with gossip I’d heard on previous days: it’s like Rural News Feed) and then discussing languages, education, the earthquake, and Taiwan, it was just about time for me to get up and go to the next home. I didn’t feel like the time between now and last July had slipped away from me; I’ve done almost everything I could with it.

I’ll definitely come back to Kumamoto. Besides bringing my Japanese back to life, and it’s such a beautiful language that even repetitive sentences like airline flight safety features are interesting because of how they’re said, this trip sparked my emotional engine. I was back to spending time with kids and the elderly [the ladies at the church made 20 different dishes for our Tuesday reunion lunch, by the way…I have over a hundred pictures of food alone]. I was back home and back to speaking with people I already knew rather than introducing myself again. I’m laughing loudly again and even speaking Chinese a little more naturally.

But from the moment I post this I’ll be back to making my Chinese better rather than just dropping a few phrases to widespread applause and back to living this life rather than explaining what it’s like. I’d love to end this with a philosophical flourish, but my time’s up.

News From Tuesday Made Irrelevant Friday: A Famous Hotel in Sendai Which Once Hosted the Emperor Suddenly Closes

March 20, 2011

Man-made disasters take years. Natural disasters take hours. All this, which I translated a couple days ago, and the tsunami likely destroyed the building anyway.

I’m spending the week visiting my old friends and students in western Japan. I’m not sure what kind of writing schedule I’ll have there.

A Famous Hotel in Sendai Which Once Hosted the Emperor Suddenly Closes
Yomiuri Shimbun: 天皇陛下もご宿泊…仙台の名門ホテル突然閉館へ
Staff Report, March 8, 2011

Sendai Plaza Hotel President Aogi
Hotel President Aogi announces the closing of the hotel at a press conference.

Sendai Plaza Hotel
123-year old Hotel Sendai Plaza will close on the 25th. (Sendai City, Aoba-ku, Motomachi)

One of Sendai’s core hotels, Hotel Sendai Plaza in Aoba-ku, Motomachi, announced on the 7th that it will close its doors on the 25th.

The official explanation is that trouble with the landlord has left the hotel without operating capital, but the changing face of the hotel business in Sendai is in the background. Since the 123 year-old inn has about 400 standing reservations, the announcement that it will close just half a month from now makes for a most unusual curtain fall.

At the press conference, Company President Masatoshi Aogi (64) said that the entire staff of about 200, which includes part time workers, will be laid off. There are about 400 reservations for the reception hall, some made as much as two years in advance. He has been explaining circumstances to customers, but those who have already send invitation cards are reportedly enraged.

President Aogi said that in March 2007, the hotel sold its land and building to the insurance giant Tokyo Marine Holdings, Inc.’s Special Purpose Company (SPC) and signed a rental agreement. The hotel and Tokyo Marine Holdings had agreed to replace the aged building, but after suffering from the financial crisis, Tokyo Marine Holdings scrapped the plan in November 2008. Since the hotel had already closed its reception hall and other facilities in preparation for the rebuilding, it lost 240 million yen in potential revenue on the year.

After that, the hotel stopped paying its rent on account of these losses, but the SPC resisted attempts to terminate the contract. At the beginning of this month, the SPC froze the hotel’s bank account, forcing it out of business.

In recent years, the replacement of old hotels with new ones has accelerated in Sendai. In the five years since 2004, the number of hotels in the city has risen 17% to 89. In 2010, the foreign franchise Westin Hotels opened an affiliate in the city, and the rush of new entries is advancing. Two years ago, the increase in supply drove the long-established Sendai Excel Hotel Tokyu out of business. The Plaza has been in the red since 2009. Its annual revenue had fallen from a peak of 3.3 billion yen in 1993 to just 1.5 billion yen last year.

President Aogi said, “I sincerely apologize to our customers. The contract we signed with Tokyo Marine Holdings was a failure.” Tokyo Marine Holdings said it has not yet decided what to do with the land and building.

The Sendai Plaza Hotel opened in 1888 (Meiji 21) as the Michi-no-oku Hotel. The Imperial Family and many other great names have stayed there. There are 16 stories, two basement levels, and 177 rooms. The reception hall can hold 2000 people.

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NE Japan Earthquake Day 8: Support for Changing Nuclear Energy Policy Grows Within the Two Major Political Parties

March 18, 2011

NE Japan Earthquake Day 8: Support for Changing Nuclear Energy Policy Grows Within the Two Major Political Parties
Yomiuri Shimbun: 原子力政策の見直し論、民主・自民両党で強まる

In response to the Tokyo Power Fukushima I Reactor Accident, support is building in the Liberal Democratic Party and Democratic Party of Japan for revision of the country’s nuclear energy policy.

Unease about nuclear power is rising among the populace, but reliably replacing it would be a headache of its own.

DPJ Party President Tanigaki said at a press conference on the 17th that “it’s becoming difficult to promote nuclear energy. We need to quickly understand what happened in the accident and come up with a fresh response to it.” At a press conference on the 18th, Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano said, “this isn’t the time to advance a definitive policy, but [Mr. Tanigaki’s] announcement was extremely appropriate.”

The Fukushima accident has had a big influence on areas of the country which depend on nuclear energy. In Shizuoka, the Chubu Electric Power Company is facing increased resistance to its plans to utilize the mixed oxide Uran Plutonium in the Hamaoka Nuclear Reactor in Omaezaki City. The DPJ said, “at a time when we are worried about controlling the leaking of radiation, it’s difficult to say we should advance nuclear energy.”

The Democratic Party of Japan’s 2003 manifest labeled nuclear power “a transitional energy solution” and called for its replacement with solar and wind energy. But after further discussion, the party decided sources like solar power were not enough to meet energy demands, and the 2009 manifest instead called for “a firm grasp of the use of nuclear energy.”

In June 2010, the Kan Government’s “New Growth Strategy” called exporting nuclear energy a “national strategic project” and advanced negotiations with foreign countries. In October, Vietnam announced it would accept an order. The Vietnamese government has announced it will not change its policy in response to the Fukushima disaster, and Japan is still in negotiations with Turkey. The government is stressing that “the new model plants are much safer than the Fukushima reactors.”

Yet the accident inside a country with such a stellar reputation has strengthened opposition to nuclear energy, and there is also the possibility of an about-face in Japan.

There has not been a unified response from the Liberal Democratic Party to Mr. Tanigaki’s jab at nuclear power; Government Oversight Committee Chair Ishibashigeru said, “first, we need to cool the reactors and get a handle on the radiation leak, and then we can discuss the energy policy.” The New Komeito Party [an LDP ally] said, “We have not heard of an about-face from the LDP.”

NE Japan Earthquake Day 7: System Crashes Render Mizuho Bank ATMs Out of Order Three Consecutive Days; Miyagi to Discuss Temporarily Moving Refugees Out of the Prefecture

March 17, 2011

System Crashes Put Mizuho Bank ATMs Out of Commission Three Consecutive Days
Yomiuri Shimbun: みずほ銀行ATMが停止、再びシステム障害

At a press conference on the 17th, Mizuho Bank President Satoru Nishibori apologized on behalf of the company for system crashes that have put its automatic teller machines out of commission three consecutive days, saying, “We apologize. We should be holding firm in the midst of this national crisis, but instead we have failed.”

A dramatic rush of withdrawal orders in the days since the earthquake has overwhelmed the system’s processing capacity. The company is aiming to use the three-day weekend to perfectly restore its network.

ATMs which had come online this afternoon crashed again at 5:40 PM, and it’s possible that teller window and machine transfers will not be available on the 18th.

The “Concentrated Registry Exchange” system which handles spot monetary transfers has been processing more data than it was designed for. This traffic jam of data disrupted some window transfers on the 15th, and on the 16th ATMs temporarily shut down. ATMs also broke down across the country on the morning of the 17th.

It’s possible that in order to put 440,000 disrupted transfers worth 5.7 billion yen first in line, some staff will be pulled from teller windows.

The company says it is “investigating” the overload at the heart the problem. Some are saying this is the reason certain donations to earthquake relief funds haven’t gone through.

If the giant bank with 25 million accounts doesn’t quickly restore its system, the struggling Japanese economy will suffer another blow. Meiji University Professor Yoshiharu Oritani, an expert on the financial system, says that “if accounts cannot be settled, the bank will lose trust, which could set off a chain reaction of instability in the long term.”

Miyagi to Discuss Temporarily Moving Refugees Out of the Prefecture
Yomiuri Shimbun: 宮城県、被災者の県外一時移住を検討へ

On the 17th, Miyagi began discussing temporarily moving earthquake refugees outside the prefecture.

The prefecture does not have the means to provide emergency housing for all its victims, but a “Greater Kansai Alliance” of Kyoto, Osaka, and five surrounding prefectures in Western Japan has requested to shelter victims inside their public housing, and an option Miyagi has now put on the table.

2000 public homes in Osaka, 600 in Hyogo [which includes Kobe], 200 in Kyoto, and 120 in Wakayama were among the shelters offered by the Greater Kansai Alliance on the 16th. Hyogo can also hold 1500 people inside nursing homes.

At a meeting at the disaster response headquarters today, Miyagi Governor Yoshihiro Murai said that “we cannot hold all the refugees in our housing here, so we must consider moving them farther away.” The prefecture has asked the Tokyo Prefab Construction Association to build 10,000 prefab homes inside the prefecture, and it is discussing borrowing private apartments and hotels, but because it will take months for the prefab homes to be completed, the prefecture is struggling to house its 220,000+ refugees.

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NE Japan Earthquake Day 6: A Message from the Emperor

March 16, 2011

This is the text of the video message about the earthquake that the Emperor released on the 16th. I’ve heard that only the Emperor can use certain vocabulary, but besides its elegance, this message wasn’t lexically unusual. Perhaps that’s because it was spoken word – a video recording – or perhaps times have changed. Regardless, I was moved by his compassion.

A Message from the Emperor About the Great Eastern Earthquake
Yomiuri Shimbun: 天皇陛下、東日本巨大地震でメッセージ

I feel great pain for the misery caused by the recent earthquake off the northeastern shore, which at Magnitude 9.0 was of a scale we’d never seen before. The death toll from the quake and tsunami climbs every day, and we don’t yet know how exactly many were sacrificed. I continually pray to hear news that even one more person is safe and sound. I am also very worried about the unresolved problems at the nuclear power plants, and I hope that the efforts of those involved will prevent that situation from becoming even worse.

Now as ever, relief efforts are pulling the country back to its feet, but in the midst of this bitter cold, many people do not have enough food, water, or fuel, and they are in grave conditions. Because of the alert and exhaustive efforts of many, some victims’ circumstances have changed for the better, and I hope against hope that our people’s recovery will continue. I am deeply moved by the valor of those who have pushed themselves to survive day after excruciating day.

I offer my deep thanks to national and local organizations, including the military, police, fire department, and coast guard, to those who have come from abroad to assist with aid efforts, and to members of emergency rescue teams for laboring day and night despite the danger of aftershocks.

Leaders of every nation have contacted me to offer their best wishes and to tell me the thoughts of all their citizens are with us. I pass these words along to the victims.

Many news stories from abroad have noted that in the midst of this tragedy, Japanese people are not descending into chaos but instead are responding in an orderly manner. From the bottom of my heart, I urge our people to continue to lift each other up, to show kindness to each other, and to ride out this unhappy time together.

I believe that we will all have to give a little more of ourselves to the victims in the difficult days ahead. I ask these victims to hold out hope, to take care of their health, and to preserve the will to live tomorrow and in the days to come. I implore our people to come together as one, to keep their hearts close to the afflicted areas, and to continue watching over the victims on the long road to recovery.

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NE Japan Earthquake Day 5: Workers Race in the Dark to Stabilize Nuclear Reactors Amidst Fears of Explosions and Aftershocks; Governor of Tokyo Apologizes for Calling Disaster “Divine Punishment”; Stock Market Plummets 10.55%

March 15, 2011

Emergency Teams Work Desperately in the Dark Reactors Amidst Fears of Explosions and Aftershocks
Yomiuri Shimbun: 被曝の恐怖、余震…真っ暗な建屋で決死の作業

The Fukushima I Nuclear Reactor Complex, where radioactive material continues to be released.

While contending with the fear of radiation poisoning, the power plant staff desperately continues its work. On the morning of the 15th, there was a large explosion at Reactor No. 2. Tokyo Power and the companies assisting it had 800 people there pumping water at the time, but after the explosion, only the “necessary minimum” of 50 people stayed, and the other 750 left the site. In order to evade further explosions, work must be interrupted when radiation gets too high. On the morning of the 15th, radiation in the vicinity of Reactor No. 3 was measured at 400 millimeters Sievert, and shift lengths were limited to 15 minutes. The power outage caused by the tsunami continues. Because light cannot be struck, staff are working inside the reactor in the dark, and efficiency levels are not high. Aftershocks continue, and tsunami warnings force the staff to cut off their work. The 400mSv reading came from a handheld radiation surveillance device a worker was carrying.

On the afternoon of the 12th, there was a verbal warning to release high pressure steam inside the storage container of No. 1. This averted a fissure, the worst possible result. The man who made the warning was bathed in 100mSv radiation, and after feeling nausea, he was taken to a hospital.

This work, by nature, carries the risk of exposure to radiation. For this reason, a veteran who was familiar with the plans for No. 1 was in charge of the operation. Though he was wearing a full body suit and mask made of special Tyvek material, and he made an early warning call, for just over ten minutes he was exposed to as much radiation as a normal person could comfortably handle in a year, about 100 times the rays that naturally occur in the environment.

The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency says there are about 70 Tokyo Power employees at work pumping water into the reactor. They rotate between manning the emergency control room and working in the field.

The measuring instruments in the central control room were also taken out of commission by the original disaster. Because control cannot be assumed from a remote location, some of the cooling work must be done by hand and voice. Because Fukushima I is an old reactor which has operated 40 years, transportation lanes are narrow, which also trips up the work.

As water is pumped in, pressure inside the container also rises, increasing the danger of a collapse, so gas must sometimes be released from the inside. Since the gas includes radioactive material, releases must be as restrained as possible. Tokyo Power’s supervisor said “we’re doing our utmost to preserve a balance” and sighed.

Tokyo Governor Ishihara Apologizes for “Wounding the Families of Victims Deeply” by Calling Disaster “Divine Punishment
Yomiuri Shimbun: 石原知事、天罰発言撤回・謝罪「深く傷つけた」

Tokyo Governor Shintarō Ishihara apologized on the 15th to “victims of this disaster and citizens of this city and the entire country” for calling the Great Eastern Earthquake “divine punishment” and retracted his statements.

In his opening statement at a press conference about the earthquake response, he said, “I feel great remorse for my thoughtlessness toward the victims…I retract my statements and apologize profusely…I promise to renew my efforts as Governor to do everything possible for the victims of this disaster.”

On the 14th, when the press asked how Mr. Ishihara viewed Japanese citizens’ response to the earthquake, he said, “It is necessary for us to use this opportunity to cleanse ourselves of egoism…This is definitely divine punishment.”

According to the governor’s office, these words sparked a rush of messages and phone calls offering opinions and protests.

Nikkei Stocks Fall Across the Board, Scraping Below ¥8500 at One Point
Yomiuri Shimbun: 日経平均全面安、一時8500円割り込む

The Japanese stock market crumpled on the 15th under the crushing blows of the earthquake and Fukushima reactor accidents as anxiety about the future of the economy spiked drastically.

The Nikkei (which lists 225 stocks) closed at ¥8605.15, a whole ¥1015.34 lower than the day before. These depths are equal to those reached during the Lehman Shock in October 2008. The 10.55% fall was the third largest in history.

From the rush of sellers at the opening bell, the market ceaselessly declined, hitting ¥1392.86 below the previous day’s close at one point. The trading volume of 5.77 billion shares was the highest ever recorded in the First Section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

The market also reflects worries about the effects of rolling blackouts on business operations. Many believe that, in the words of one major brokerage, “the downward correction will continue for the time being.”

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