half-philosophical, journal

i like to make myself small, because my biggest insecurities are the things i can’t change.

islands make me hopelessly sluggish. maybe it’s the periodic come-and-go of the waters, shops that close simultaneously at 5pm, or just a general bout of lethargy floating in the air – as long as it guarantees me seven hours of sleep everyday, i’m not complaining much.

but since coming to teshima, i’ve realized something critical about working in tourism: you’re constantly sleepy, but also a little bugged all the time, especially during peak season. standing in the heat for hours, cleaning lavatories / mopping floors twice a day, barring kids from crawling under rope barriers while dealing with half-intoxicated adults – daily – takes another level of fortitude. which doesn’t mix well on an island, where the only source of night entertainment is drinking wine and playing smash bros at the local hostel bar (this is why people in general party on beaches, not work on them.)

naturally, everyone ends up too preoccupied for workplace drama. instead, they subconsciously seek release through complaining about tourists, lamenting over their lack of manners and sharing top-annoying-moments of the day. as an innocent newbie to the service industry, i was shocked. surely these sensible people weren’t expecting every guest to pay for their expensive-ass admission, buy their expensive-ass merch, and remain perfect angels all along? for an area once rocked by an industrial waste scandal and massive depopulation, so many were quick to forget the magnitude tourism has had on the island’s restoration. the way they spoke of customers felt unnecessarily deprecating at times, a toxic stress-pride culture i just couldn’t agree with.

what troubled me most wasn’t the staff’s incivility, but the demographics they were often specifically directed at: chinese tourists. it only took a week to notice the air of deprecation towards them. during morning meetings, the staff would report incidents from the previous day so to take precautions in the future. someone’d report some bungling incident, and the manager would ask, “were they japanese or foreigners?”

“foreigners…chinese, i think.” upon hearing this, everyone would start nodding and ahh-ing as if, all of a sudden, everything made sense.

in these moments, the first emotion i find isn’t anger. if anything, i sometimes wonder if i should be angrier than i am (tbh, the job itself was tiresome enough without hitting the ceiling over every hiccup.) instead, i fall silent, tempted to agree but put on the defensive in the same breath. born and raised in japan, i’m no stranger to the media’s perpetuation of chinese tourist stereotypes: rude and obnoxious, often unhygienic, traveling in herds while taking selfies in front of everything and anything. it’s despicable how isolated cases of poor tourist behavior are blown up, encouraging prejudice against an entire race of people. at the same time, i’ve also met many sadly embodying these very views, and have admittedly felt ashamed to be associated with them. such experiences ought to help nurture an objective view, when instead they’ve embedded within me an unshakable cognitive dissonance, since impeding the usual audacity with which i raise my voice against prejudice. i always end up running away from controversy, not despite understanding both sides of the argument, but because of it.

the fact that my coworkers (who are relatively well-educated, if that makes any difference) would vent so candidly in front of me, a foreigner with a stereotypically chinese surname, also gave me a glimpse into my social conformity. reinforced by a fluent tongue, the similarities between the tourists and i could’ve well been reduced to physiological features – or even less. i can’t count the number of times my chinese relatives have commented on how japanese i look / act, pushing me more towards the confusing land of in-betweens. yet, even without being a visible minority in either country, even without being the direct receiving end of racial slurs, the possibility of being poked at keeps me anxious. my background may just be an object of curiosity to others, but that doesn’t save me from feeling personally attacked over every background question. i want to stop padding self-introductions with ‘but’s and ‘technically’s, desperately trying to prove i fit in. i want to do away with a deep flaw, one that haunts me and worries me almost every day: judgment. one of the biggest reasons i hesitate to embrace my cultural roots is because of the stigma surrounding chinese people – the exact attitudes i’ve indirectly experienced here on teshima. at the bottom of it all, i fear of switching from spectator to victim.

to feel lost in the ocean but constantly adrift; occupying both of each and none of either – it’s a widely shared narrative in our globalized contemporary. but when you’re caught between two communities, one widely loved (even fetishized, but that discussion deserves a post of its own) and the other overly ostracized, finding a sense of security in your identity becomes nearly impossible. deep down, i know that i’ll never be satisfied by how others perceive me. maybe it’s time to stop being emotionally invested in unshakable reputations, straighten up, and confront the world on my own terms−even if it means staying in the grey.

– a dissociated lucy


photo: thomas beaujoin

 

 

 

 

 

 

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in retrospect, journal

t’was the night before college decisions

with the last of my college decisions quickly approaching, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the disillusion that the past eighteen years of my life has built up to the next few hours. for years, i had no idea what path i wanted in life and, in all my naiveness, still grasped onto the faint thread of hope that it would somehow end up being the right one. of course, there was always a je-ne-sais-quoi appeal to the road less taken, and even in my most prolonged moments of self-doubt, the prospect of breaking new ground made the uphill battle seem worthwhile.

but was it really worth it? while brushing interpersonal skills and messaging strangers on facebook (in a totally non-creepy way, ofc), i’d neglected some of the most important relationships in my life, taking them for granted. while meticulously planning for the all-too-important future, my life became less and less dimensional until it folded neatly into a 64-page schedule book – downsides i’m readily aware of, but unwilling to admit. after all, i’ve worked way too hard only to feel even more anxious, alienated, and insecure…right?

the morning of february 19, i somehow received my first acceptance. i remember rolling over like a banana slug to the sound of the toaster going off, yanking the charger cord off my phone and scrolling through my gmail app until the sudden “i am delighted to inform you” bomb landed. unexpected as it was, there was no screaming, no sobbing, maybe some yelling to call over my parents – but that was it. the next few days were a whirlwind of firm handshakes with every teacher i’d ever made eye-contact with, watching my parents restrain themselves from telling the entire family tree, and then inevitably skyping said relatives after three hours. i was happy because everybody else was.

once the initial exhilaration had passed, i began noticing the void where a college acceptance had warranted to fill. on my computer was a ticket to a great school, more than i’d realistically hoped for and certainly ideal in my family’s eyes, but my heart had unconsciously rolled over to anticipating the next best thing. thinking back, it wasn’t humility that’d maintained my surface deadness. it was my penchant for apathy, to deem joy as a byproduct of complacency, that had backfired.  yes – i had the emotional range of a teaspoon.

for our generation, feelings like these are commonplace. nowadays, commitment seems like a double-edged sword. we dissattach ourselves from the present and minimize the risk of being hurt, only to find bleached emotions when we’re most desperate for them. even in an age of the rampant tortured-artist aesthetic, with the word ‘anxiety’ paraded on pastel-colored shirts and sylvia plath poetry set to blackbear music, we non-empaths are far from displaying our vulnerabilities. by tuning the norm to emptiness, we exclude ourselves from the taxing process of emoting.  perhaps, we embrace cookie-cutter feelings because we are scared of our own.

one month after that likely letter, i was rejected from mit. the unsurprising news hit me like a jagged stone nevertheless, but refusing to open the letter for almost the entire day had blunted its edges. with a 16-hour hiatus for emotional preparation, i’d been drained of disappointment by the time my gut-feeling had reified.

i slept. for a long time. then, i woke up, looked at the mirror and prided myself on not having puffy eyes. the day drifted by without paying much attention to my surroundings, as i filled my time with pointless conversations and episodes of “girls”. after dinner, my mom handed me her ipad open on a typical chicken-soup-for-the-soul article about failure, and asked me to read it out loud. i got to the fourth line, recited something i now have no recollection of, and burst out crying.

in hindsight, my tears weren’t for any specific school – not mit, not anywhere. i cried because i was finally allowing myself grief, and it felt cathartic. i cried because i could, and all of my hiccups and wrinkled tissues celebrated that. i was heartbroken, yes, but because i had tried – foolishly, unabashedly, utmostly. most of all, i was thankful that this long and toiling process, however flawed as it may be, could unravel so many threads from an eighteen-year-old.

the past almost-two decades have not only built up to the next few hours, but the days, weeks, and years beyond that. they’ve brought me to the realization that the interest rate on happiness is too low to save up, but also that it’s okay to be empathetic to ourselves. kiss or cry, it won’t be the two-page application outlining oh-so-impressive prestigious achievements that i’ll carry forth from tomorrow, or the promise of clout in an impressive degree, but the knowledge that i had kept my mind/heart open and allowed myself to be seen – by parents, teachers, essay-editors, and total strangers across the sea – and that, in and of itself, is self-confidence if i ever knew it.

so good-night, everyone – i can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings us. ❤
– a very teaspoon-partial lucy

 

 

 

 

 

 

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creative, poetry, Uncategorized

to drown with you

creature of water

at four, i rebuked
three-fourths of myself
wailed salt onto fresh unto cheek
like an unrested babe;
a cannoli on frostbitten steps
unlike her mother, mine laughed
and clenched me into the
water

kicking into twigs and arrows
flinted to scour my naked body
this is the obituary of dinosaurs
of tides devouring open mouths
we are amphibians
and we remember this pain

when it thrashed my hair
shriveled my fingertips
shrieked into the shower curtains
time to spit volcanoes and rise,
whispered, i am made of fire
lit where rivers turn to streams
watched steam scar the ceiling
tried to carry a diving bell −

at eight, i surrendered to density
sought the dynamics of afloat
(i am a creek, i am alive.)
nosediving into muteness, blinking embers
lungs spread to leak empty
simulating what it feels to di-
gasp (i am oceanborne, i am alive, so alive.)
tube-baby in a desalinated home
i searched, how long does it take to explode?

then
the explosives arrived
buzzing

one, two –
shouted, it’s coming anytime now, evacuate to higher grounds
three, four –
shouted, leave me, you are young, your life is worth much more
five, six –
shouted, take nothing and run, i love you, creature of water
seven, eight –

loss tucked neatly into ten meters
corporeal gasps drawn in wisps
and a thousand erased by sea salt
plunging amidst screams, blinking darkness

i saw my mother’s arms
clenching me out of the
water

at twelve, i swallowed ancient waters in gulps
denominator of firsts, in-betweens, and ends.


 

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creative

[starry night, close me by]

a story about finding a path home through the stars, and falling for the frosty sky.

*xiao-nu-er = daughter
ma-ma = mother


look up, she says. see? 

one by one, they disentangle themselves from the night: disorderly rows of glimmering commas that scoop up mischievous channels stray far from home, back into the arms of an ancient sea spilling through the air. five turn into fourteen, fourteen into thirty,  no, fifty-seven, a tentative eighty. the two voices resolve on an uncountable infinity.

primeval tales were once told there, the older voice hums. great tales, of angels and dragons, audacious bears and naive doves, a boisterous hunter that dared vex the grounds. 

there is no lush meadow to sink into and no sandhills for fashioning into pillows, so the taller shadow elevates the other in a backward piggyback. just like that, the universe unfolds. resting her ebony hair between her mother’s shoulder blades, xiao nu-er genuinely sees, for the the first time, silver trails that settle over the trees and rooftops and telephone poles, assembling and reassembling, until the whirling sky in her mind is indiscernible from the real one.

tell me more, ma-ma. about the doves and hunters.

a melancholic inhale, as if the entire world was breathing in the last of spring.

i wish i could, nu-er. the apologetic voice crackles of honey. but i don’t know these tales, either. 

there is no yellow kingdom tonight, no princess chang-e and her steadfast rabbit. the only luminescence is a streetlamp, and it is nearly old enough to evaporate in wisps of flame. one particular constellation, shaped like an ‘e’ or possibly an arrow, flickers into view with unprecedented luminosity. inside the little girl’s chest pulses something bigger. she can hear it acutely; an  unadulterated ache to know, to pluck pearls from the heavens. to bridge the stars into her own riveting mysteries.

these stories, they’re from the west, aren’t they?

west, west, west. it doesn’t quite dissipate like the rest. a long silence shapes ‘yes’ out of the night breeze, the weightless vapor reverberating in four ears that would someday become three. ma-ma‘s spine curves a little more: the weight of a pristine hot air balloon yearning for flight still latching on, curious, but not quite ready to let go.


they do not first meet under a splatter of opalescent stars; rather, the fateful encounter takes place in a vacant classroom, the room they both rushed to in a surge of last-minute determination to make the 8am applied physics 216 class. the building is wrong altogether. it takes a pregnant three hundred seconds of heaving panting and surging confusion until this realization strikes. the two take this as an ominous sign, opts for some decent coffee instead.

what’s unexpected is how quickly the basic introductions blink by. artlessly delving into each other, the two embark on a treasure hunt for trivia through atolls and archipelagos that, admittedly, serves more as an excuse for unceasing conversation. they discuss spring weather and music, pick at the new grading system, debate whether the indie low-budged flick or blockbuster-of-the-year deserves an oscar. sometimes, her clumsy lips would inadvertently conjure some controversial statement, hanging between them like coffee steam – but the quietness that followed was neither superficial nor abrasive; it was simply there until it wasn’t, as if his patience had absorbed the candidness and carved each stroke of her rueful expression onto his brain instead. his tolerance for her was bewildering, cryptic, even. she had never met someone who could listen so intently, whose words were almost physical, like she could actually feel the weight of each word irrevocably washing over her. cups of americanos – one with extra cream, the other without – go cold.

have you ever been in the air? their previous conversation has just died down when he abruptly asks, as if the words slipped from the back of his throat. like an debilitating seagull, his facade is ocean-hazed, dipping one talon in nostalgia for a brief moment.

one flight, she avoids elaborating from where. but i dislike heights.

it may be her imagination, but she notes the slackening in his jaw, an olive shadow grazing his features. the old-fashioned brass bell by the window clangs as the door swings open, heralded by a gush of quicksilver wind, and half a dozen glance up before promptly returning to small talk.

why? 

she chews her bottom lip. because i know, that nothing up there will ever be within reach. foreign lands. the thought pendulates inside her head, rattles the crates of her skull.

or maybe, he begins. you’re afraid you could be so attached to the sky, that the ground seems too inferior to return too, his gaze is fixated on the vortex forming in his mug. a knowingly sad smile haunts the corner of his lips.

oh, i don’t know about that. heaven might not have coffee. 

or chocolate.

or wifi.

or extra guac.

or new episodes of riverdale.

that, he laughs contagiously, a set of subtle dimples manifesting, and her smile stretches just a little further up her cheeks.

in the buzz of the cafe, their knees touch under the table. she has never opened up so to a complete stranger, never felt so unabashed in sharing her past, her insecurities in identity. appreciation fills her like much-needed oxygen when he doesn’t bat an eyelid at her complexion, her hair, her slurringeverysyllableofhernametogether in the inexplainable shame only few understand.  i don’t come from around here, i’m not one of you — she almost strikes up the courage to tell him at one point, but nothing seems to bear weight this time. he himself seems afar from the others. he whom, an hour ago, was an entire stranger, offers to show her around town in a heartbeat, promises to chauffeur her to wherever she wants to go.

is there a planetarium around here? she suggests. something about him rekindles the dauntless little girl that once was. the choice comes naturally, as if a firefly once simmering below the water, finally set free.

but unexpectedly, he casts his gaze down to the tiled flooring. a different kind of quietude threatens to creeps up on them, and she rushes to hinder it — not before his amber hair flops across his forehead and there is grinning in his voice, his eyes, sweeping all the warmth in the room.

the best in the state, just for you. 

it is the first time in a while, that she has wanted to see the stars with someone so badly.

in his car (a honda accord, the latest model – or at least, when I bought it, he sheepishly laughs at the futility of his attempt to boast while nonchalantly leaning against the trunk to cover three large dents), at the entrance of the planetarium (he double checks just in case, are you sure we don’t have to pay, thank you so much), inside what she thinks may be the largest dome ever (they tiptoe in – the show has already started) – she recognizes a like-minded soul, beneath a hundred mismatched preferences, beyond birth, background, blood. trapped in the shell of a proud man, not yet grown out to fill his confinement. still longing, to feel the spring rain trickle past her ears, fresh coldness lick the tip of his nose. they are not so different. her mouth doesn’t feels parched searching for the right words to say, not with him – every syntax fits in place, puzzle pieces she never knew she had.

so she knows she cannot lie – not when his russet pupils dilate so in the onset of languid darkness, as if he is refocusing on another veil of reality and it engulfing them whole; not when the ceiling blooms into an continuum of ember-speckled spacetime and she hears a sharp breath drawn beside her; not when their fingertips meet just in the middle – when she thinks he is beautiful.

and as they gazed up at the stretched sky, she could hear her heartbeat thump, thump, thud – fall for him, like all the shooting stars above.


they never found the need to exchange numbers. it was as if he had came in with the spring rain once and for all, buoyant as the blooms deepening in color on visceral ships of white and rainbow. there had been an unquestionable spark between them from the very beginning, burning friction and connection that made little sense but was too captivating to look past. their exchanging conversations soon blossomed into whispers, suggestions, promises – all under the eclipse of diffuse sunlight.

she learned to know him over time like the back of her hand, tracing every dip and curve of his collarbones; then down his spine, to the oddly positioned freckles on the right stretch of his back. these dots urge a distant memory in her, an assembly of stitches that would refuse to interconnect. a nagging reminder of the seams that would someday come apart.

she does not notice the empty patch of ebony up north. years later, she would discover him by the windowsill, mutely staring into the starry stratosphere while crisp winter air floods the room, and realize there are enigmas about this man she could never unravel.


the frost-laced grass crunches beneath her boots as she strays from the gravel, meandering around gravestones and memorials lined up in uneven mazes for child-play. it’s close to eleven and the night its approaching its darkest, but various lamps illuminate the trails, some flickering their last embers as moths dance around like sycamore seeds. peeking out from over the brow of a slight hill, she could make out the naked branches of an elm tree, stretching up to the stars like pleading arms, and she swallows down the knot of emotion in her throat.

the night is so silent that she can almost hear the abandoned leaves whisper on snow-burdened branches, the steady streams of blood rustling through her inner ears. it doesn’t take long before she reaches the corner of the graveyard, where the majority of graves are centuries old. all the flowers that blanketed the soil beneath her feet has wilted away, or been consumed by decades of january frost. an oak tree stands, solemnly guarding the mortality beneath its roots. she isn’t sure if the winter is especially long this year, if it is for her sake. a harsh gush of wind messily sweeps a few strands of silver hair behind her earlobe. just where your nimble fingers once were. her frayed skin cannot help but tingle, in the faint hopes of encountering an old friend.

shivering as the cold air now harass her exposed ears, she turns to a headstone far newer than its neighbors. but you are an ancient entity. one arm is stretched out to trace her trembling finger across the epitaph as tears roll down her cheeks, too many to count. an uncountable infinity. i remember.

“come back,” she says in the darkness, the silent tree her only companion. “everyone misses you so much. the kids, the grandkids. the little ones still don’t understand why grandpy’s gone. me neither. i never could understand you enough, could i?”

she manages a brave laugh in between sniffles.

“the family is doing fine, though. um…i went to the coffee shop we first went to the other day, do you remember? and it was being torn down. i think the city’s buying that area to build a new library,” she babbles absentmindedly. “little andromeda’s started school just last fall, her first report card was overflowing with a’s. i told her, she must have inherited her grandpy’s intellects.”

in the corner of her eye, a comet cascades from behind the clouds.

“she desperately wanted to show you, and i told her i’d pass the message.” she pauses. “so here i am.”

she twists the stem of the evening primrose in her hand; a whisper of the first kiss of spring she still waits for, even after all these years.

“reason insists me into believing you were a phantom, or some fruit of my insecurity. but you were more real than any dream ever was,” she says in a broken voice, like a radio beyond repair. “no one listens anymore, not in the way you did. they try to help, the kids, but i’m still so, so lost.”

pulling a handkerchief from her waist pocket, she hastily dabs her moon-eyes and crouches to drop the primrose on the ground. as the delicate petals touch dirt, a golden hue of moonbeam seems to cast upon them, her and the flower and the listening grave.

“i’m too selfish. i shouldn’t be missing you this way. not when every corner of the winter sky needs you.” she murmurs. an owl hoots, disrupting silence for the duration of a single heartbeat. “but i don’t think I’ve got long, you know. i’m tired all the time. my legs don’t work like they used to. i can’t even write those torrid poems you used to laugh at. not when all of them are about you.”

i just want to see you again, she is about to say, before the sky nudges her to look up. it is as spectacular as ever to the naked eye, an accumulation of childhood dreams and wishes from when she was still ma-ma’s xiao-nu-er, every hue of the spectrum warbling from light years away into a masterpiece – but her eyes always finds him first, the most radiant of all universes.

“you made the sky my home, Perseus,” she says. “save me the spot next to yours.”


and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

-e.e.cummings


this short story was inspired by an encounter one night with a sky similar to the one described in part one, and some personal insecurities as a child, not quite assuaged even now.

thank you for finishing reading, and do tell me what you think – i live in a mostly non-english environment with no source of feedback, so comments honestly make my day, no matter what kind. of course, feel free to be as sweet or harsh as you can be, as long as there are hints of constructivism 🙂

– a devious lucy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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poetry

i closed my eyes and saw you in ochre

whenever i asked, art gave. eleven years ago, i bought my first box of crayolas for $2.99 at walmart, clutched it to my thumping chest like a newborn pony. i knew it would take me places. the color “flesh” catches my eye, a raw pink sunburned to a crisp still lighter than mine, but it looked wrong smeared on my mulans, so i let lilac legs and cyan cheeks haunt an entire sketchbook. color was a choice back then. fauvism for 7-year olds, if you will.

youth would prove a callous tutor, untied and tied my facts into tangles, facts woven in and out, in and around. my skies gave up, pink-green-yellow melting into monotone blue. but whenever i remembered to ask, art gave, like an old friend, when no law of thermodynamics could deconstruct, how it felt when you are filled to the brim with hot air balloons and choking on the emptiness. through metaphor art gave me dimension,  did not wait, for me to, explain, for some sort of elucidation, extrapolation, an eloquent explanation that would effortlessly enunciate my extraterrestrial imagination, no, it did not, wait, for assertions that would roll off my tongue but not from my chest, heartless apologies for the fallacy of my abstract intention. it did not, wait, or need, but just was.

it would take six more orbits around the sun till i hear this selflessness pop, and realize that i was not color-blind all along, but walked with open arms, a hopeful receptacle of emotions from every corner of the sky.


green line – henri matisse

– a languid lucy

 


 

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poetry

just because you’ve got the emotional range of a teaspoon –

– doesn’t mean we all have.
( i love hermione granger to pieces unironically, you guys.)


linger

the frame didn’t creak that day and i’ve always wondered why.
why, the weight of you didn’t latch onto my body, like a salty sea touching sand for the first time; brief flurries of foam tip-toeing back and forth with shy affection, and then suddenly, all at once. my eyelashes refused to flutter, felt glued to the triangle of exposed skin below my brows as i searched for a rush of exhilaration – bewildered, confused. it seemed, that there would never be enough oxygen. i let you inhale from my lungs, and anticipated another way out. glabellas contoured in hues of neon orange, last breath static in the air, the realization roared in my ears that, maybe, you were not the lucidity i’d once dreamed of.


hopelessly awake

there are things that i wonder about at night. like how moonlight navigates through the diffused ebony overhead, if they liked the hospitality of my room, if they needed guidance sometimes. i wonder if they’d spill on your shoulders and seep into every crevice, cascade down every plateau, painting and tracing places my fingers will probably never be. i wonder if you’d mind that absence. i wonder if you like me, if you ever will. i wonder – when you tell me about her, the golden one, the one that doesn’t write poems at two in the morning – if regret blighted you like an indelible stain. i wonder if i was ever a permanent disruption. if i was merely a traffic diversion, an optional verse, Barnes and Nobles at the airport before you’d fly back home. the saddest cadence in this tragedy is that, ironically, you’d never even wondered.


ritual

light the candles that smell of fresh linen, cheap cologne and smoke, and meditate on the thought of me.
of us, sultry in a dimmed ballroom, moist temperature rising from our hesitant shoulders and condensing in our palms. we were a heterogeneous duo, both made of cautious sunshine and eager billboards that advertised self-assurance for sale, trading pearls for wrapping-paper friendships instead. though, no matter how hard we tried, two pairs of bitten nails just couldn’t pry tape off, so i brought you the new scissors we’d never used and choked myself on wrinkled ribbon. a first rebellion. no one at hallmark remembered if the ribbon came in red.


The Lovers (1982) – René Magritte

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