Wandering Bolivia. Rurrenabaque


Back in La Paz overnight for an early morning flight to Rurrenabaque. Into the Bolivian Amazon.

El Alto airport is the highest airport in the world.

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It has a micro climate of its own and prone to fog. So I waited and waited for my flight to Rurre. At least I was not vomiting from altitude sickness. I was more worried about missing my boat ride into the jungle. I had booked a two-day-three-night stay with Madidi Travels in their Serere Reserve. It being Bolivia officialdom no one wanted to give me an exact time of departure. Until we were suddenly called to board.

Then it was to a muddy, humid village that could have been along the Konkan coast in Maharasthra. Except that it was the Beni river and the women did not wear sarees/salwars.

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The lovely people at Madidi had kept my ride waiting. Just for me. Solo. A very Indian looking female came up to greet me. She asked me where I was from.

‘New Zealand’.

She said ‘I’m from New Zealand too’.

We both looked at each other thinking exactly the same thing. “But you look Indian to me”

‘What’s your name’? I asked.

‘Nalini. What’s yours’?

‘Sapna’.

We both started laughing. She moved to New Zealand from the U.K. when she was a child. I gave her a Whittaker’s L&P. She was there when I returned from the reserve. She spoke fluent Espanol, was backpacking her way across Sud America researching ecological movements, environment, economics. She was a UNESCO global youth leader. She told me it was rare to see an Indian doctor backpacking anywhere. But I am also a writer and filmmaker, a creative. How else would one travel if not intrepid?

It was a two hour trip down the Beni river. Along the shores were clear signs of extreme poverty, environmental degradation a.k.a ‘development’, and just the sad plight of where the Amazon is heading.

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I could not be snap happy on this leg. There was no electricity except at the casa grande and that was used only for daily crucial requirements. The camera is such a first world luxury. Anyway there I was on a boat with two strange men and food and water supplies for the crew in the jungle. Then a thirty minute walk into the jungle with more strange men who also carried my backpack. Not for a moment did I feel fear. I would never have done this in India. I have in the past wandered through the streets of Gangtok and hiked alone in West Sikkim but that was then. It is hard now to walk the streets of my own city Mumbai without uncouth young men staring at your breasts.

That evening our guide took us across the lake rowing his little boat. I am unable to encapsulate the diversity of the Amazon. From pink fluorescent dragonflies to noisy red bottom monkey and every bird in between. Tarantulas, beautiful and very dangerous snakes, life saving flora that the local indigenous peoples have used for centuries, knowledge about the land and connections with nature, our wairua, our whenua, our breath. Living. Life itself. Words fail me. It is incumbent upon us all to treasure, to be care-takers.

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Later, after dinner, we went back to the lake. It was pitch black, the moon danced with the clouds, softly silhouetting the trees, silver rays teasing the water as it rippled under the oars. The milky way glittered like the star party it was. We were looking for caiman. We were not allowed to talk. It was magnificent. Then we saw them. Baby caiman with glittering orange eyes.

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The mother is around, the guide said. For a moment I thought I was going to die in this lake. I imagined Mother Caiman jumping out at me from under the boat, the orange gaze of anger and death. I shivered. It was clammy. The mosquitoes were a more imminent danger. When in the Amazon, not only be fully clad but spray insect repellent on the clothes as well. Their probosces penetrate thick fabric. Next morning young Zara (Indian-Pakistani-Australian living in London) informed us about the cockroaches running riot on her bed. Now if you have lived in India you know to tuck your mosquito net right under the mattress before dusk. Prevents larger pests from encroaching as well.

But it does not stop the monkeys from jumping on the roof first thing in the morning. I was in a cage and they were making fun of me 🙂

I had interesting conversations with Rosa Maria Ruz, eco-warrior, conservationist, kaitiaki who turned the barren Serere into a lush jungle. She talked about how Evo Morales is not really doing anything for the indigenous peoples. China is allowed to plunder even while he takes aims at Western capitalists.

There are special places in this universe and while all places I travel are special, this one, the Bolivian Amazon, Madidi Travels, Serere Reserve was like going into the womb. (I know, Africa awaits.)

How can the world order be re-established to bring back the balance?

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Brave New World of Yoga


Source: Brave New World of Yoga

Here is an inspiring post from a yogi. I often laugh off skinny white women in their Lululemon Athletica and spray tanned skin talking about ‘yoga’ because I believe that the truth cannot be appropriated, that for every such instant-nirvana seeker there are yogis who, with their truth, will carry on and that stream is ever flowing. (I don’t mean the angry Baba Ramdev types who propagate Hindu extremism through their teachings, that is equally corrupt.)

Maybe I should defend yoga more often when the next skinny white woman rubs it into my face?

Be The Change


Recently I had a bit of a harangue on a closed forum on Facebook about facing racist attitudes everyday, all the time and how identifying someone with their religion or ethnicity as a lead in to a story reduces the person to a singular thing. Yet. I know, as any other diasporic non-white ethnic, that stereotypes can be positive too. It is how we negotiate that within ourselves and project it to the rest of the world that matters. I have pointed out many times how government created agencies that work to supposedly perpetuate and empower ethnic communities only maintain the hierarchy via food, dance, exotica, otherness and getting white people to tell us what we are. Or do research that does not mean anything to us. One moment Asians are well perceived by mainstream and the next moment not. This ‘they-love-Asians’ report and this ‘they-actually-know-very-little-about-Asians’ very clearly show what a waste time the Diwali and Lantern Festivals have been. But this is not another rant about Asia:NZ Foundation. 😉 Done plenty of those here, here and here. On the other hand I keep looking for whether and how this daily negotiation is expressed to the world. That fine balance between being a tax paying model minority and cheap labourers who are bad drivers. How the world perceives the Asian diaspora is up to us, how we project ourselves. The answer is within the community. So when a group of young professionals like Future Dragonz decide to have an event  it is, like, hallelujah.

 

 

Young Chinese professionals, on the face of it, would be the classic model minority stereotype. Highly qualified lawyers, accountants, engineers, doctors, entrepreneurs…I know ‘coz I’ve hung out with them, I was at the launch in 2010.   Then why would they bother to challenge that? It is good to be a highly qualified professional. Because it does not mean the stereotype of the bad driver will go away! Because it does not mean jobs will be be easy to find! Because it does not mean the artists and the creatives will be recognised! 

This particular event was inspired by a discussion at the Museum Of Chinese in America The Yin And Yang Of Contemporary Asian American Culture. While this discussion was on a larger scale because America is larger than New Zealand, the topic has global resonance. I don’t really want to go on and on about it.

Contemporary diasporic existence, whether they are fourth-fifth generation Asian or recently migrated in global, transnational times, is different from those gold miners, rail gang, fruit shop, potato farmer images that the Western world still harbours. Or even the pictures from the native country. Diasporic lives encompass multiple identities that move and switch easily from one to another, being Asian, being Kiwi and all in between. We can play on being the other and yet not. Very easy to do so but we also need to and should have critical discourse that we drive. That is the only way because we know that we are the change! It is of interest to me, never mind I am Indian. One of my identities is a global, transnational, diasporic citizen.

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Mindy Kaling isn’t Responsible for Being Your Diversity Councillor

This discussion does not apply if you have not seen The Mindy Project. The discomfort that I felt therein but convinced myself that at least it is helmed by Mindy Kaling, smart as woman.

The same sort of discussion one can have about the character of Rajesh Kuthrapalli in The Big Bang Theory. Does it make me uncomfortable that his Indianness can be the butt of jokes or that every character is given equal treatment in that sense. So if Sheldon’s social inadequacies are the source of much amusement, why not Raj’s inability to pick up women?

I know that it is a hard balancing act. Getting gigs to write, to produce, commercial considerations and being a person of colour who has fought and fought to even to be there. Diversity? Representation? Or keeping the job and getting more?

When I produced for Radio New Zealand I had to be very mindful of not making all my work about ‘ethnics’ but all New Zealanders. That I am Indian and speak in a strange Indo-Kiwi-down-with-the-bros accent was enough ‘representation’. That I could do mainstream stories without anyone questioning their legitimacy AND could then go on to tell a story about Muslim women, which no one dare question. I was lucky.

But when it came to producing an independent gig it had to be about Asians. I mean, I could not do the blokey New Zealand humour and get funding could I? The trick then was to bring a huge dose of irreverence. (Hail Jon Stewart!) The Asian Radio Show was on air from 2008-2012. I was lucky.

So I feel for Mindy yet I know what the ladies are talking about in this post from Neelika Jayawardane. The thing for Mindy Lahiri now is to have a East Asian nerdy boyfriend and for him to dump her because she is too frivolous. Yeah even if she and Danny have kissed as we knew they would from the first episode.

Dreams Don’t Have Labels Of Caste And Religion – Nagraj Manjule reminsces about his life and ‘Fandry’


The resurgence of Marathi cinema makes me immensely proud in a way that I cannot explain. I am the last person in the world, I would like to think, who believes in ideas such as patriotism and nationalism thus by default, parochialism. Growing up in Girgaum, Bombay, watching Marathi theatre ranging from sangeet natak (musicals) to Vijay Tendulkar‘s masterpieces, old arthouse cinema (Jabbar Patel in particular) as well as the madness of Dada Kondke, knowing inherently that a Maharashtrian audience receives and consumes visual performing arts in a different way, I could not understand why it was limited in its outreach. Or why it faded away.

Now I do and so I feel happy to see the renaissance. From the inane commercial to global cinema it is an amazing spectrum. Then we have artists like Nagraj Manjule whose life experience will always make for brilliant storytelling. I watched this trailer of Fandry and wanted to see the film, I wanted to cry, to feel angry, frustrated, come out of the theatre pumped up to change the world. This film will never release in New Zealand but I imagine myself doing all the above anyway. Nagraj has nothing new to say yet it needs to be told over and over to sensitize us. So thank you Nagraj. Here is to more path breaking stories via Marathi cinema.

F.i.g.h.t C.l.u.b

Since the time we saw Nagraj Manjule’s debut feature ‘Fandry’, we have been shouting out from rooftop that it’s a terrific debut and a must watch. Click here to read our recco post. This week, Fandry is releasing outside Maharashtra, and with English subtites.

The show details – Date: February 28 to March 6

Delhi NCR
PVR MGF Mall 9:10 PM
DT Cinemas Vasant Kunj: 3: 30 PM

Indore
PVR Indore 5:00 PM

After the film’s release and the acclaim it got all over, Nagraj wrote a piece for Maharashtra Times. Much thanks to @GoanSufi who came up with the idea to translate it in English for wider reach, took the permission, and did it for us. Do watch the film if you haven’t seen it yet. And then read it.

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Remembering   Fandry

Now that Fandry has released, I’m reminiscing about all those incidents that are linked with it. These…

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On The Intentional Circus Of The Mistress.


I tried not to say anything about the Bevan Chuang circus for a long time. People have affairs, even politicians and wannabes; affairs are made public and opponents make political gain, or not. Life goes on.

But not when the wannabe is Bevan Chuang. Every time she has opened her mouth after she first revealed all on Whale Oil, she has dumped a load of excreta on the public. First it was pictures without makeup, looking sad, saying things to Lincoln Tan, appealing to his lazy journalism (more on that later), then this interview for Metro, being the Asian princess-concubine, another interview for Radio Live declaring her intentions to save us ethnics from our political apathy. I ignored it all. Why give more publicity when middle aged white men (and a Singaporean) are working for the cause?

The final straw on my ‘apathetic ethnic back’ was Bevan’s intention to re-apply for Auckland Council’s ethnic advisory panel. I am Asian, a woman and very engaged with democracy and politics. Do I need a Bevan Chuang to represent me? Even though I do not live in Auckland any more, the idea of her being on the panel and using it to get on a national platform, with drooling white men pandering, desiring, their pants about to burst yet they dare not, is repulsive.

There is nothing wrong in being ambitious, there is nothing wrong in being sexual but when that becomes the only tool for social/political climbing, making claims to represent ethnic communities, then it is time to say enough.

Did she do anything for the ethnic communities while she was on the panel? Nothing. I challenge Camille Nakhid and Bevan herself to show concrete proof of the work she did. Apart from posting on Facebook, tweeting, sending out group emails, helping organise a few events and floating around flirtatiously there is zilch to show. I once questioned Bevan for attending a conference organised by Hindu fundamentalists and she had no clue what that was. How can anyone claiming to represent migrants show such ignorance? Would one not do due diligence about the event, who these people are, what the community is up to etc? How is she going to lobby for the ethnic communities on a local level and what is she going to say? L’affaire Brown might have proved her political naivety and lack of nous to the mainstream but us ethnics have known that for a long time. We just don’t say it. Only Renee Liang wrote about the story but she extrapolated it to an imagined experience rather than discuss ethnic representation which was/is the main issue. If Bevan was not on the ethnic advisory board and still had this affair, no one would care.

Auckland Council has called for applications from potential panellists. These panels have a two-point vague agenda about advising the council. Applicants need to have governance experience but is there a constitution for these panels? An outline? What happens if the council has to get rid of a panellist? What if someone passes or has to leave? Is there a strategy for such exits and reappointments? Will the minutes of these meetings be published for the communities to know what their representative panel is up to? It is time to make the process transparent. Let us know who applied, put up their resumes online, who is on the selection panel, and how the panellists fulfil the selection criteria. Surely that is an appropriate demand from an ignorant ethnic? And it will cost less than $250,000 ja?

Bevan would fail the criteria. Broad perspective, critical and strategic thinking, judgement, politics… Yet, she wants to apply. She is scared Len will reject her but she not scared of what the ethnic communities think of her ability to represent! It is not just the conservative elements that question this.

Lazy journalist that Lincoln Tan is, his ‘news’ article in the Herald subtly pushes Bevan to the public and has Camille Nakhid endorsing her. Did he ask the other panellists what they think? Asoka Basnayake was their media spokesperson, did he get a statement from her? When did he last do a balanced piece, especially related to Bevan? From the story about the dragon baby to trying to generate sympathy for a makeup less Bevan, this is a mutually useful relationship that does disservice to the ethnic communities. Not that the ethnics trust him you know, with so many stories bordering on sensationalism and always quoting either Paul Spoonley or Bevan Chuang. (Go do a general analysis of his work.)

It is time for the ethnic communities to speak up. It is time for the Chinese community to say whether they really want Bevan representing them (because who else can she purport to represent?). There are other young, worthy Chinese Aucklanders who will actually do the job and do it very well.

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Yoga? Heavyset and Black Women Need Not Apply

Yoga and the Western world. Yoga in the Western world. Yoga for the Western world. Yoga comes from the Western world. Know what I mean? These last two weeks there are has been an online storm about yoga and appropriation, especially by skinny white women. This post ‘It Happened To Me’ brings to the fore how removed yoga is from its Indian roots except for the use of Sanskrit words and concepts of mindfulness that suit the ideas of existence within these parameters only. Attend a yoga session with someone who cannot pronounce the Sanskrit words, who talks of being in the moment and does it all slowly and deliberately, and then you will know. It cracked me up. I really don’t need white people telling me about my culture and practices the same way I don’t need bearded patriarchal self-styled gurus turning yoga into a mystical art. To me, yoga is about self awareness and practicing it as a way of life. But when someone from a privileged existence turns it into a race issue and body issue, and hence political, that becomes a matter for discourse.

Neelika Jayawardane analyses it well in her post linked at the top of the page.

Now for an academic analysis.

Foucault and social media: life in a virtual panopticon


The Kardashians are an example of living in the Panopitcon. Years ago, when I did my Reality TV paper as part of my Masters in film, tv and media studies, it was the beginning of reality tv. Ozzy and Sharon living their life on the MTV cameras. Now we all regulate our behaviour under the virtual gaze of known and unknown spectators. Even as I write this I regulate my words if not my thoughts. For posterity, cached in the virtual world, to be dug up by an internet anthropologist. This analysis is of course of the Western world by the Western world. When I browse through online posts and expressions of my fellow Indians it makes me want to dissect the behaviours of a people that only until a few years ago lived in a Luddite desert and have been suddenly thrown into a connected world without any priming whatsoever. I am a digital migrant but, may I say of myself, a very well integrated one. And it was through following a path of self awareness and regulation because I know the Panopticon exists. There are many Indians who wouldn’t have a clue hence a study of life online in a post globalised, free market, mofussil and metropolis India would be a fascinating read.

Philosophy for change

This is the first instalment in a three-part series.

Part 2. I tweet, therefore I become
Part 3. The call of the crowd

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You start the day bleary-eyed and anxious. You stayed up late last night working on a post for your blog, gathering facts and memes from about the web and weaving them into an incisive whole. Has it produced a spike in the stats? You sign in on your iPhone as you brew the coffee. But it’s too early to slip into the professional headspace – you decide that you don’t want to know. Someone has messaged you on Facebook, so you check that instead. Japanese manga mashup! Killer breaks off the cost of Lombok. Lady Gaga is a man and we have photoshopped evidence to prove it! A friend will appreciate that one, so you share it with her directly. Perhaps not something that you’d want…

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The Other Wellington Report.


In response to The Wellington Report by The Dominion Post. Because the voice of the ‘other’ is missing so how can it be a balanced report? See for yourself. All Pakeha faces and voices. No tangata whenua (Maori), no Pacific, no Chinese/Indian/Middle Eastern/other ethnic migrants or refugees. Not even international students. When Wellington and the surrounding region has three universities whose business is dependent on all those foreigners paying high fees.

So what does one make of this exclusion? That The Dom Post is racist? Or that the editor has no imagination?

Now I can be labelled Just Another F$%^%ng Auckland, JAFA come lately on the hills of this little capital. Fair enough. I lived in Auckland for eleven years so I am attached to that place but I am also a wanderer. Life brought me to Wellington and ten years from now I might be Berlin or Hong Kong, my favourite cities. I cannot predict. The only thing I’ve learnt is that wherever I live I must take ownership of that place, to immerse myself in it, to participate, to give rather than take. So I am.

The Dummy’s analysis of The (One-Sided/Racist/Unimaginative) Wellington Report.

The no-brainers:

  • That Wellington airport needs a longer runway to bring in international flights
  • That the region needs to be unified to make better economic sense
  • That we need to be attractive to businesses and the creative sector.

(Note: Pakeha businesses from the Western world and creatives only from Hollywood or from Asia too? Guess who has the money? ;-))

  • That Wellington and region should not be dependent only on government.
  • That we need better infrastructure in terms of motorways and digital connectivity.
  • That all the above will attract jobs to the city and rejuvenate it.
  • The above will also attract tourists and make it the coolest little capital again.

D-uh. A Somali from Newtown could’ve told you that (but the editor didn’t think of asking perhaps).

Waste of space 1:

  • Jo Coughlan talks about her daughter not finding a seat in any restaurant on the Queen’s Birthday holiday. That is how buzzing Wellington is.

Question: Did the daughter just go to Courtenay Place/Cuba Mall (because that is her idea of Wellington)? If there were more restaurants in buzzing suburbs then she might have found a seat? And she did not think of going to Jackson St, Petone? Too downmarket and working class? Oh but that is not Wellington. My bad.

One more question: Why does Kelburn, the centre of Victoria University, not have more student based commerce such as cheap eating places, bubble tea and karaoke bars?

The  Top Cuisine Food Bar in Marsden Village, Karori, makes a mean black bean chicken. Why does he not open a yum cha place, I asked him. Too dead he says. Maybe instead of always having to go into town to eat at a restaurant, people could detour to a suburb if they had a choice? East Asian students from Kelburn could pop over too?

Waste of space 2:

In her column about Wellington, Rosemary McLeod spoke only about botoxed Auckland women and the ugly houses on Paritai Drive.

D-U-D-E, even Aucklanders don’t care about botoxed women and the houses on Paritai Drive. There is so much else going on.

Big, big chip on the shoulder and existing in a really, really small world. She does eh?

Besides, comparing Oriental Bay with ‘any Auckland beach’ is an even bigger waste of precious space. It is like arguing with geography. Each place has its own charm.

Conclusion: Some Wellingtonians need to get a life and many have a fixation with Auckland. All the other important types The Dom Post featured are afraid of the coloured people coming in their precious city even though they know that the empire is gone.

‘Other’ ideas:

A city is made up of people; is because of the people. If a large part of the local population is excluded from any discourse about its identity and future, then how would people have a sense of belonging? How will they contribute, why should they contribute? Wellingtonians, as constructed by The Dom Post, are rich, white, hip, caffeine consuming politicians, creatives or businesspeople who live in their own little world; whose concept of existence comes from the West. As if detached from global realities and from the local requirements of the hoi polloi. They only talk to themselves about themselves.

New Zealand as a whole needs migrants and skilled labour. Wellington does too if dependence on government employment has to be minimised. With this new population will come commerce, diversity, new ideas and a new buzz because this new population will not be from England. Those days are gone and the days when migrant labour was imported, only to set them up in ghettos before Dawn Raids.  This new population will be global, of those travelling where there is work; of transnational people who might choose to stay if they like the life, if they have the diversity and variety. That is the discourse to be had. But if The Dom Post does not see this new citizen of the city, only whiteness, then those in there are merely meditating on their umbilicals. In a fear-of-change fashion.

Wellington is sister city to Beijing. Not a single word about how that relationship can be enhanced. (Gawd, more Asians! What does one talk about to these Orientals? Not cricket eh old chap?)

If we were sister city to L.A. might the report be orgasmic about it then?

Wellington can learn a lot from my two favourite cities-Berlin and Hong Kong. One with a small land mass and fear of damage from cyclones and tornadoes. Yet HK is defiantly democratic with the speediest internest in the world, a strong economy, big film industry and vibrant expatriate community that only adds to the madness and buzz. It is also a tourist destination. A walk through Kowloon at any time will prove that. Berlin, flat and wide, with a history of devastation through war and political division yet rebuilt again and again. Bergmanstrasse, Kreuzberg, Freidrichshain…how many buzzing suburbs, a strong heritage and culture, amazing architecture, migrants ranging from North Africa to Turkey, Vietnam and Korea that add to the vibe. Plus lots of introspection about Germany’s history.

Why? Because both cities welcome people from all over the world.

Wellington does not have to look at Auckland but at the people who live here, the coloured other, the tangata whenua. They are not going to go away by ignoring them as The Racist Wellington Report does. Because they are the people of this city, the present and the future. They will stand up and be visible. One day. Soon. That is The Other Wellington Report.

White Women in the Indian Imagination: Alexandra Delaney


An interesting post. Many things the writer says are true including the Indian male gaze but she completely bypasses that such behaviour is more than a local cultural, social or religious product, that globalisation and the free market have actually underscored even more, the idea of Indianness and ‘the other’; that the notion of feminism is deeply entrenched in the Indian imagination, male or female, as a white, Western concept of disregard, disrespect and disruption (because the original movement never considered non-Western, coloured women and their environments, still does not). The sustained portrayal of Caucasian women as loose and easy is a result of all the above, unfortunately.
….maybe this calls for a post of my own because it is beyond the simplistic discourse that Ms Delaney presents. It is a brave post anyway.

KAFILA - 10 years of a common journey

This is a guest post by ALEXANDRA DELANEY: 

“Yeah, Indian guys think white girls are easy”, a British-born Indian remarked nonchalantly to me this week. Normally I’d be shocked by such gross racial stereotyping (of Indians) but in this case I’m inclined to agree. Not because Caucasian women by their very skin colour or cultural preferences are any more promiscuous than their South Asian sisters, but because of their sustained portrayal as loose and morally deficient. The image of the sexually liberated and ‘easy’ white woman runs deep in the Indian imagination, a perception which is drip-fed by the country’s all-pervading mainstream media.

The brutal rape and murder of an Indian student in New Delhi last December followed by numerous sexual attacks on foreign women has sparked international outrage. This year alone, a Chinese woman was date-raped in New Delhi, a Korean woman was raped after being drugged in Bhopal…

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