I Know a Guy

Will you find a nice, Indian husband so you can stay in India? I’m pretty sure I get asked about marriage about every other day, whether by friends or by my colleagues at work. Everyone has a friend, brother, cousin, someone to match me up with. In India, you get married – it’s just what you do. Since I speak about marriage so much below and give my opinions, I figure it is only fair to tell you where I stand. Personally, I have no plans of marriage and it doesn’t really interest me, but I could be persuaded if it is important to the other person. I guess you could say I’m indifferent. I should also mention that while I am not alone in my stance, I am definitely in the minority in the US – though it is becoming more acceptable.

**Disclaimer: These are simply my opinions and what I’ve observed from my friends – feel free to respond if you have a different perspective! Also, I am primarily speaking about the marriage of a man and a woman here because India has such a long way to go for LGBTQ rights that I would need an entire article devoted to just that community**

Indians are definitely not indifferent to marriage. The general rule of thumb is that once you hit 27, you either should be married or have something in the works. This means that at my advanced age of 29, I’m starting to push my luck and possibly won’t be suitable for marriage if I don’t hurry up. *insert dramatic music here* There are a few ways to accomplish finding a mate by the proper age.

  1. Love marriage – it is what we Westerners think of as marriage – you meet someone and fall in love.
  2. You pick someone you can live with – within your pool of acquaintances, you look for someone who may make a good mate. Or, as my roommate has done, you go online to a marriage website (imagine OK Cupid for marriage)
  3. Your parents pick someone – if you haven’t yet fallen in love and don’t know anyone who meets your criteria, the next step is to go to your parents. They will ask around and/or place an ad in the paper to search for a suitable mate.

General characteristics which are taken into consideration are: color (how dark or light your skin is), education, good job, language (not only must they be able to communicate with you fluently, but they must also be able to speak with your parents/family), caste, and finally they must be the same religion as you.

After you have someone in mind, then the parents meet and discuss the marriage. They must agree that it is suitable to both families (no one is embarrassing to the other). If the parents decide it is a suitable arrangement, and you are from method 1 or 2 (you know each other) then you start plans for the big day. If you don’t yet know the person, you meet for coffee or dinner somewhere to talk. Parents may or may not join. If you both agree it is a suitable match, then you’ll marry. It’s a pretty quick decision.

For me, this was very hard to wrap my head around for a number of reasons. First, I hate asking for permission. I prefer to do what I want, when I want and then apologize later if necessary. Second, there is no way I would ever dream of asking for parental approval – my life, my decision. Third, marrying someone you have met once or twice (not because you love them, but because you should) sounds terrifying to me. Finally, in my mind, marriage is something you do because you want to. You think your life is better together than apart. Your end game is happiness, and marriage is a step to get you there.

In India, the end game seems to be different. Instead of happiness, the end game is more about becoming a ‘good person’ according to society by meeting a certain set of criteria. I realize this is a pretty oversimplified statement, so again, feel free to share your opinion and tell me if I’m wrong. To an outsider, it seems that love is less important – what matters more is getting married to someone your family can be proud of.

I was talking with some girlfriends this past week who are 27 and have just asked their parents to take out an ad to help them find husbands. These are girls whom I consider to be fairly progressive – they live on their own in a city away from their families, they eat meat, they occasionally drink, they went to college and they have good jobs. One of them (though she won’t admit it) is in love with a Christian boy, but since she is Hindu they could never marry. I am friends with both her and the boy, and the first thing I thought of was how accepting they both are of this – it is just ingrained in them. The guy is less religious and would marry her if she and her family approved, but they do not. In the US, there would be jealousy, unrequited love, and the general sense of tension. If it were me personally, I would be upset. Here, no. She has asked her parents take out ads, he peruses marriage websites and sometimes even meets girls – though no keepers yet.  To them, this is fine.

On one hand, I really respect a culture so steeped in tradition. I try and think of how I would react in these different scenarios and how hard it would be for me. Maybe I’d just pick up and move away – so actually my life as an Indian wouldn’t be that different my life as an American! 🙂 I joke. It’s admirable to believe in something so passionately that you’ll achieve it no matter the cost. On the other hand, the Westerner in me feels a little sad – to me, it seems like many (not all) are going through the motions of life doing what they are supposed to do instead of what they love. But, who am I to judge if they’re happy? It is their decision, their life. I’m sure (actually I know) my decision to move to a foreign country by myself as a single woman is looked upon with pity by many locals. But, I couldn’t be happier. To each their own.

A Weekend in Wayanad

This past weekend I had some vacation days for Dasara, so I went with my friend Vidhya to her family’s home in Wayanad – a town in the state of Kerala. Wayanad is not far over the Karnataka border, about 6-7 hours by bus southwest of Bangalore.

I traveled on Friday and arrived in the early evening. I was greeted by many members of her extended family who had all gathered to see the foreigner in their small town. Wayanad is a fairly rural area in the hills of Kerala. It is completely green – everywhere you look you are surrounded by fields of rice, ginger, tumeric, black pepper, bananas, papayas, and so many other crops. Most of all, there is tea. Tea bushes require a very specific, moist climate to grow and Wayanad is the perfect home filled with hills and mist. Especially in the morning you see women walking along the road with big sacks of freshly plucked tea leaves on their backs, and many more in the fields yet to come down. It is a pretty cool sight.

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On Saturday, we went on a hike with some of her friends to a nearby peak and then visited a waterfall as well – they were absolutely beautiful. Pictures below. Mostly, though, we spent time at her home chatting with her family, drinking coffee on the veranda and eating lots and lots of food. Her mom is one of those moms who wants you to eat. A lot. I quickly learned that saying thank you after being served food to indicate that was enough did not translate into her language of Malayalam – instead it meant keep going! Once I fixed my mistake and said mahdi (enough, no more), she would be quick to scold me in Malayalam, which I did not understand, but it always resulted in everyone else laughing and me getting more food on my plate. But, it was delicious, so I always obliged 🙂

I don’t think I have ever been met with such hospitality. At one point, after eating more rice and curry than I thought I could ever do, Vidhya’s brother-in-law said Don’t think all of your travels in India will be like this. Our family is the most hospitable and we have the best cooks. If you want better, you’ll have to leave India. And I’m pretty sure he is right, though I’m not sure it could be found out of India, either (except in Muncy, of course). Kerala food uses a lot of coconut (which I love) and has a different variety of spices, or maybe its just that the spices are freshly plucked from the ground so they taste better. They also have many plantain dishes which aren’t found in other parts of the country – again, huge fan. Vidhya’s mother and sister cooked some awesome meals, but on Sunday afternoon they prepared an extra-grand feast for a cousin’s birthday. I’m not exactly sure what we ate, but it involved ghee rice, a special mutton curry and coconut mint chutney all served on banana leaves. It was easily the best meal I’ve had since arriving in India, no competition.

Her family also gave me a traditional Kerala sari – my first sari! I need to take it to a tailor – a sari consists of a top which looks like a belly shirt and another piece of 3 meter-long fabric wrapped and draped in a particular manner. Typically the fabric to sew the top is included in the sari, and you take it to a tailor to sew a custom-fit top. I can’t wait to get mine sewn! I couldn’t believe how sweet their gesture was, and I am so lucky to have met such wonderful people here in India.

We have already started planning adventures for our next trip, and I am trying to figure out what gifts to bring. I cannot wait! Check out some of my favorite pics from the weekend below.

Vidhya and her cousins. They were so excited to take a selfie with the American 🙂

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Vidhya’s parents and her niece seeing us off at the bus station in Wayanad

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Cutting the birthday cake

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Check out the storage going on in this guy’s cheeks – watermelon for days!

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Checking out the view from the top of Chembra Peak

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Heart-shaped lake on the climb up.

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The girls – photography by Arun

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On top of the world!

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That view though…

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Soochipara Falls – the place to be on a long, holiday weekend. The water was actually pretty warm!

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All swimming is done fully clothed. No bathing suits here.

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Ahh…Chennigede

In India, I’ve had to adapt and make a conscientious effort to go with the flow – which I think is pretty standard when adjusting to a foreign culture. As a side note, even in America I need make  a conscientious effort at times…my ISTJ personality has inhibited this skill once or twice. 🙂 Here, I wear leggings under all of my skirts, I try to be less direct and I’ve accepted that indecisiveness has to be tolerated, though it drives me a little nuts. Don’t get me started on operating in Indian time – aka everything starts at least an hour later than expected. The latest challenge for me (other than the timing) has been lunch time. In my office, everyone eats together and everyone shares their food, so you end up with a mini buffet. I love food, and I LOVE Indian food, so on one hand I make out quite well. I don’t really know yet how to cook with all of the Indian ingredients and spices, so I get to eat food prepared by others who do, which is pretty great. On the other hand, it means I have lots of critics for my food that I’ve prepared.

I cook pretty simple things and try to eat healthy. When I lived in Kenya, I had no fridge and I lived on my own. This meant I had to eat whatever I cooked or throw it out. Cooking food with a lot of ingredients meant a lot of volume, so I began cooking very simply. Having to prepare each meal individually every single time you wanted to eat was definitely a challenge for me. Also, my stove also only had one burner, so it was twice as much time to cook two dishes as it was to cook one. This meant that if I was hungry for carrots, I would have carrots for lunch. That’s it. Or if I wanted lentils, then I would eat lentils. Not as a side dish, but as a meal. There is also something about seeing so much poverty where people look forward to plain rice and beans that made it hard to prepare more “typical” meals for myself. It seemed so extravagant. Even back in the US, though I had a fridge and used more ingredients, I still cooked simpler meals. Here, though I also have a fridge, it is the same. I am perfectly happy to have a banana for breakfast and a bowl of lentils for lunch – but that is very, very strange to everyone else. Where’s the rice? You haven’t fried them? Just lentils?? So when Tupperware containers of food are passed around to all, my lentils boiled with a little garlic and salt are ‘odd’ and my roasted cauliflower has ‘a different taste.’ I am actually a pretty good cook and I really enjoy food, but I’m not really bothered enough to put in the effort for just myself.

So finally, I decided to set the record straight. I bought coconut milk, a bunch of veggies, and googled spices to make a coconut curry. I even made rice. As soon as I got to the lunch table and opened my containers, people started saying “Rice? Who made you rice? You know how to make rice? Where did you buy that? You’ve made curry?” I passed around my curry bowl and people sniffed it and cautiously tried a taste. “Ahh, chennigede,” someone said and everyone else agreed with a hint of surprise in their voices. Chennigede. This means it’s good or it’s nice or tasty. Success! I now mix up my odd, foreign meals with something that is a more acceptable meal to everyone else at least one or two days a week – they like when I make their food. Fitting myself into the structure and the social norms of different cultures is always one of the most challenging aspects for me, but once I figure it out, it’s pretty great.

Mysore Adventure

Last week marked the beginning of a 10 day Hindu festival in India called Dasara (or Navaratri, depending on where you live). There are a few different stories about how the festival came to be, but mostly it signifies the triumph of good over evil. I’m into that! The biggest celebrations happen in a city called Mysore, which is about 3-4 hours west of Bangalore.

I hadn’t yet been to Mysore, so I decided that Sunday would be a good day to make the trip and I convinced my roommate and some friends to come along. We planned to go by bus, but my roommate immediately said he would find us a car. Seemed good to me. (Note: This was a mistake. Lesson learned.) We set off around 8:30 – a little later than anticipated…but it was India time. After stopping to fill up the petrol, it seemed that the petrol tank was leaking…a lot. We pulled over and the guys who were driving went off in search of a mechanic. While they searched, we ate breakfast, and were quickly told that there wasn’t actually a leak. The man at the petrol pump had just overfilled the tank. So off we went. I thought a car would be faster than a bus, but nothing moves fast in India. We stopped for someone to talk on the phone (because obviously he couldn’t sit in the passenger seat and talk at the same time) then someone wanted to stop at a temple, then someone wanted a snack, then a drink, then they thought the car needed to cool down and take a break (ummm…). It was 11:30 and we were barely half way.

Trying to remember that we were operating on India time, I chatted with my friends, enjoyed the scenery and drank my coconut full of coconut water. After a few more stops, we were finally about 20km away from Mysore when the driver slowed down and the car started to make slight jerking motions. The driver insisted it was probably fine. Then the car died, because obviously it wasn’t fine. The driver and his friend went off once again in search of a mechanic, and my friends and I decided we should hop on one of the many buses passing by in the hopes we would actually get to Mysore. Thirty minutes later around 2:30, we were dropped off right in front of the Mysore Palace. Parts of the palace date back to the 14th century and it was home to many rulers, including Tipu Sultan. The palace is also the focal point of festivities for Dasara.

The palace is gorgeous and the architecture is amazing. You technically aren’t allowed to take pictures inside…but I managed to sneak a few. If the guards see you, they blow their whistle as loud as they can and come rushing over to make you delete them. The palace was quite crowded, and the guards were actually pretty comical. After the Gaudi house in Barcelona, the inside of the Mysore Palace might be my favorite architecture. Below are some of the photos I managed to get.

This is a large hall on the ground floor used for making speeches and presentations. Notice the intricate hand-carved columns.

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This is one of my top five favorite photos I’ve ever taken. I just love it. This is a courtyard in the center of the palace.

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We walked around, took some pictures, checked out the elephants getting ready for the parade that night, then we headed off to grab some food and meet back up with our drivers -it was already time to begin the journey back. The driver and his friend, however, said they were now tired of driving, wanted to go visit some waterfalls about an hour away and stay in Mysore for the night. So, they dropped us off at the bus station and back we went. Lesson learned – stick with the bus. No more friend of a friend drivers for me. Overall it was a success – it was adventure and the palace was beautiful. I guess I just need to go back to Mysore. And I am working on adjusting to Indian time…Sunday was one more test to get me there.

Here’s the trip in photos:

Enjoying some coconut water from a coconut – this is a popular roadside snack here called tender coconut

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Entrance to the palace grounds

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The architecture is gorgeous

 

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Pretty flowers
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Temple inside the palace grounds

 

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Bustling courtyard

 

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This palace has bling

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I love the flags – they say Happy Dasara in Kannada

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The tents and chairs in the background are being set up for the nightly Dasara performances

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So pretty

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This is the area from where kings would address the public – they would stand in the pulpit on the second floor. Now it is used for performances. The writing on the ground says susvagatha (welcome)
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This elephant is getting a bath in preparation for the procession that night

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Taking a post-bath drink! Notice his tusks have been removed to protect him from poachers.

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The Day I Accidentally Ran in a Marathon

Some friends and I were planning to take a day trip to Mysore on Sunday and someone knew someone with a car. This driver came over to our house at 5:30 in the morning because he decided he wanted to beat the traffic. We had agreed on 7:30, so obviously we were still asleep and not ready. Luckily I managed to stay in bed and got my roommate to chase the crazy driver away until a reasonable hour. I couldn’t fall back asleep, however, so after laying in bed for an hour I decided I would take a quick run – I still had half an hour to spare before needing to get ready.

I started running my typical route to the main road, but when I got to the junction it seemed the road was blocked. When I snuck between the cars to see what was going on, there were lots and lots of runners! Sweet! I thought, no traffic!! I looked around, no one was paying attention or trying to stop me, so I joined in. People were running both directions, but there weren’t many running in the same direction as me. I realized later, that this is because I hopped in with the top 10 runners. At the next junction, people were clapping and cheering and taking my picture. I played along laughing and pumping my fists in the air. I passed a sign that said 26 km in bold letters. Woah I thought, this a marathon! I turned around and ran back down the hill, passing people along the way. Of course I was running faster – I had gone about 5km and they were around 30 (A full marathon is about 42km). I felt a little bad for stealing their thunder, but it was fun to pass everyone!

The crowds which had cheered for me 30 minutes earlier gave me funny looks when I ran past them a second time and then hopped off of the course. Oh well. It was nice to not worry about traffic! So though I did not run a marathon…I can say I ran in a marathon! It’s always an adventure around here.

Not Quite…

Anyone who’s ever traveled to a country where English is not the first language has surely seen some translations which didn’t quite convey what the writer intended. India is no exception. Below are some of the best ones I’ve seen so far.

Nope. Not what they meant.

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This restaurant probably didn’t intend to be named after a contraceptive…

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They do have more than ice cream, as in other desserts – but no special ingredients added. Just normal desserts.

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Ok, no double meaning here, but this one is great! I wonder what they serve…

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Again, no double meaning, but pretty hilarious. As with the last one, I guess at least there’s no question as to what type of establishment this is. All buffet, all the time.

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Happy Belated Birthday, Gandhi!

Last Friday, (October 2nd) was a holiday in India called Gandhi Jayanti in celebration of Gandhi’s birthday. This year he would have turned 146. It is recognized around the globe as the International Day of Peace by the UN.

Gandhi Jayanti is a bank holiday in Bangalore, so I used my day off to explore some of the many temples which are scattered throughout the city. I searched online, found a top ten list and discovered most were located within a few kilometers of each other, so I packed my water bottle and set off on foot in search of beautiful architecture. Temples come in all shapes and sizes, but most are small, with one to two rooms for prayer around an idol of one of the deities. They are typically decorated with ornate, brightly painted carvings and statues on the roof.

I also learned that temples are closed on holidays. Oops…good to know. I still got to see the outsides, though! The only temple which was open was the Bull Temple, which was the last stop on my list. I would also wager to say it was the best.

I learned afterwards that it is bad luck to take pictures of the deities…but I didn’t know any better at the time, and there were many other people taking pictures. My rule is that if locals are doing it, it must be okay. Now I know. I guess they’ve resigned to the fact that tourists will be tourists. Here is my forbidden photo: IMG_2050

Upon entering the temple, a man rings a bell and put a red mark on my forehead. The bull idol, called Nandi Bull, is in the center of a small room. Nandi Bull is over 12 feet tall and takes up much of the space – there is a small path all the way around the idol and some small idols on a shelf in the wall for prayers.

Legend says that the Bull Temple was built to appease a bull that used to destroy all of the peanut crops in the area. After the temple was built, it is said that the bull stopped ruining the farms. To celebrate, the local farmers organized a Peanut Fair near the temple, which still happens today. Many people visit either to pray or as tourists every day; it is one of the most visited temples in Bangalore.

Here are some of my favorite pictures of other temples around the city

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Beautifully painted and hand-made decorations along the top are customary

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Small prayer station across the street in honor of my favorite elephant god – Ganesha.

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This hand-carved door is amazing

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Some of the statues on top of the Bull Temple

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Skyline in the distance

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This is one of the brightest-painted temples I have seen

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Prayer station with flower offerings near the Bull Temple

Use Your Hands!

Remember when you were little and your parents told you not to eat with your fingers? I’ve heard it as a child, and I’ve heard my friends tell their children as an adult. It’s rude. It’s gross. It’s bad manners. Maybe in the West…but not here! Unless you’re going to a fancy restaurant, you will not be given silverware. India is one of several places around the world where food is typically eaten sans cutlery – it is also the norm in many parts of Africa and the Middle East.

Eating with your hands is the traditional way to enjoy a meal. Eating is said to be a sensory experience. By eating with your hands, you are able to evoke passion and emotion. Ancient civilizations believed that one’s fingers represented the five elements.

  • Thumb – Space
  • Pointer – Air
  • Middle – Fire
  • Ring – Water
  • Pinkie – Earth

By eating with your fingers, you stimulate these elements and engage your stomach – the nerve endings in your fingertips stimulate digestion. Feeling your food tells your stomach that you’re ready to eat. This ancient method is gaining momentum in some trendy New York and Los Angeles restaurants and is dubbed hand-to-mouth eating.

The practice (read: art) of eating with your hands isn’t quite as easy as it looks. It required some practice to not look like the 2-year-old learning to eat at the dinner table. Most meals consist of a bread or a rice and a sauce, curry, or vegetable. The trick is to use your thumb. Use a small piece of the bread to scoop up some sauce, or mix some of the rice and sauce together, pick up using all five fingers, and propel it into your mouth with the thumb. Et voila! Just don’t put your fingers in your mouth.

There are some rules to properly eat with your hands, and what is culturally appropriate differs according to the region of India. But generally:

  • Only use 1 hand – the right hand. Sorry, lefties. This is a rule from ages ago that has stuck around. Hundreds of years ago, when there were lower standards for sanitation, each hand had a specific use. You wipe with the left, eat with the right. It is very rude to eat with your left hand (or shake hands, accept gifts, the list goes on).
  • Wash before and wash after – many restaurants will provide washing stations
  • No napkin – it is just not used during the meal, and it is quite improper to lick your fingers as well.
  • Lower your head, don’t raise your plate – if that saucy lump of rice is slipping, lower your head to meet your hand, don’t pick up your plate.
  • Use serving spoons – you eat with your fingers, but you serve with a spoon. Don’t use your fingers to serve yourself a second helping.

Though it is looked upon as unhygenic, that doesn’t seem to be the case here. I actually quite like it. It’s kind of fun – though it took me a little while to do it in public. Now that I have improved my skills to meet the low bar of adequate, I no longer carry an emergency spoon in my purse. Next time you make rice, try eating it with your fingers and see how it goes. You might like it!

This is some masala dosa which is a South Indian staple. It’s a good beginner’s finger food. It is like a savory, stuffed pancake with dipping sauces and served on a banana leaf. No silverware needed here!

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