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    [post_date] => 2014-12-06 15:33:52
    [post_date_gmt] => 2014-12-06 22:33:52
    [post_content] => Two days ago, I was walking along the streets of Yangon and talking to my instructor, Mark.

"It could've been anywhere I think. No matter where I would've gone, I think I would've still changed in the same way, right?"

But Mark made me think again.

What if I'd gone to India? To China? To the Himalayas?

I wouldn't have met my first homestay sister, Tin Za Pyo, and cried as we said goodbye.

I wouldn't have climbed to the top of Mt. Popa and worn my rain jacket to protect myself from all the fog and crazy mist.

I wouldn't have gone swimming by a waterfall with a bunch of university students from Mandalay.

I wouldn't have played Jenga with that Chinese tourist while in the loft of a Bangkok hostel.

I wouldn't have released a lantern on the night of the full moon on the Thai border with a group of students comprised mostly of Myanmar refugees.

I wouldn't have meditated for hours and hours in the Wat Tam Wua with a monk who likely to emphasize that there would be "No BBQ."

I wouldn't have interviewed betel nut chewers on the streets of Yangon.

I wouldn't have trudged through knee-deep water in my longyi by the Sule Pagoda on a rainy afternoon.

I wouldn't have trekked to Sin Leh and ended up dancing in circles on the top of a mountain.

I wouldn't have watched the sun set on Inle Lake and the Shan hills with my travel family swimming around me.

I wouldn't have spent two weeks sleeping under a mosquito net at Phaung Daw Oo Monastic School in Mandalay.

I wouldn't have spent a December night on the beach around a bonfire looking up at the stars at Setse.

I wouldn't have returned to the old Sunflower Inn on our last few days of program and spent my last evening with the group on top of the Shwedagon Pagoda.

No, I wouldn't have done any of those things. And without having done any of those things, I wouldn't have changed into who I am now, today.

It had to be Myanmar.

 
    [post_title] => It Had to be Myanmar
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Southeast Asia

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It Had to be Myanmar

Elana Burack,Southeast Asia

Description

Two days ago, I was walking along the streets of Yangon and talking to my instructor, Mark. “It could’ve been anywhere I think. No matter where I would’ve gone, I think I would’ve still changed in the same way, right?” But Mark made me think again. What if I’d gone to India? To China? To […]

Posted On

12/6/14

Author

Elana Burack

Category

Southeast Asia

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    [post_date] => 2014-12-06 15:32:59
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    [post_content] => "There is wisdom in turning as often as possible from the familiar to the unfamiliar; it keeps the mind nimble; it kills prejudice, and it fosters humor." Romantic poets inaugurated an era of travel because they were the great apostles of open eyes. Buddhist monks are often vagabonds, in part because they believe in wakefulness. And if travel is like love, it is, in the end, mostly because it's a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.”
– Pico Iyer, Why We Travel

We closed the semester a top one of the tallest buildings in downtown Yangon, Sule pagoda to the south and Shwedagon pagoda peeking over the horizon to the north. With the help of three security guards, our enthusiastic co-conspirators, we filled the space with candles, laid out mats and create a central fire around which to share final laughs, memories and words of gratitude and admiration for one another – a private gathering under the stars in the middle of Myanmar’s urban jungle.

This beautiful ceremony was the prefect ending to an incredible three months.
It has been an epic journey and it is difficult for us all to believe that it has come to a close.

To help prepare for their return the group has spent the last week reflecting on their experiences in Myanmar and Thailand and thinking about how to share and integrate their learning back home. During our second to last day in country we sent our students, armed with their journals, out into the city on their own to sit one last time in Myanmar tea shop, sip a final la-pe-yeh and reflect on several questions.

What have I learned about my own country and culture while overseas?

How will I live differently now having spent these three months in Myanmar/Thailand?

How will I continue to be a leader and a learner back home?

Students came back with different perspectives and insights including a new understanding of the phrase gap year. What missing link or break does the gap in ‘gap year’ refer to? Why do we think about this time in our lives as a time that is separate from everything else? We are now, in this moment, deciding how we want to live our lives and who we want to be in this world. This time is deeply connected to both our past and our present. It is something that should be set to one side as a stand-alone memory or something crazy I did after high school. In the words of one student ‘this experience is eternal,’ it never really ends.

Friends and family, as you prepare to welcome your loved one home, remember that the person returning is not the same person that left you three months ago. These past three months have been hugely transformative for us all. Students are going to need some time to readjust to the pace of life back home; to familiar but unfamiliar foods and clothing, to the over stimulation that comes with easy access to mobile phones and Internet, to the lack or rice and sweet milk tea. They may find it hard to connect to routines they used to relish in and they may want to constantly talk about Myanmar/Thailand and their experiences. Be patient, ask questions and most of all be proud of everything you loved one has achieved. We most definitely are.

With metta,
Ei Shwe Sin, Kara, Ko Kyaw & Mark
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Southeast Asia

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For Family and Friends

I-Team,Southeast Asia

Description

“There is wisdom in turning as often as possible from the familiar to the unfamiliar; it keeps the mind nimble; it kills prejudice, and it fosters humor.” Romantic poets inaugurated an era of travel because they were the great apostles of open eyes. Buddhist monks are often vagabonds, in part because they believe in wakefulness. […]

Posted On

12/6/14

Author

I-Team

Category

Southeast Asia

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    [post_date] => 2014-12-05 10:45:03
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    [post_content] => Dear Family and Friends,

Bellies full and heads and hearts full of memories your loved ones (our loved ones) are on a plane headed for home. It's been an amazing journey. Thank you for all of your support and keep posted for our final transference yaks!

With gratitude,

Mark, Ei Shwe Sin, Ko Kyaw, Kara

 
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Southeast Asia

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Ta Ta Gwah!

I-team,Southeast Asia

Description

Dear Family and Friends, Bellies full and heads and hearts full of memories your loved ones (our loved ones) are on a plane headed for home. It’s been an amazing journey. Thank you for all of your support and keep posted for our final transference yaks! With gratitude, Mark, Ei Shwe Sin, Ko Kyaw, Kara […]

Posted On

12/5/14

Author

I-team

Category

Southeast Asia

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    [post_date] => 2014-12-05 09:23:22
    [post_date_gmt] => 2014-12-05 16:23:22
    [post_content] => My head is spinning, my senses are all being used at the same time in different directions.

I am no longer resting. I am no longer waiting.

Waiting for what?  What were you waiting for before?

I don't really know...

And guess what, I am finally okay with not knowing the answer.

Maybe I'll figure it out tomorrow, maybe I'll never know, the more important thing is that I'm here. And when I think back to 3 months before I was not really there. I was not really present. I was not fully in the moment, passionate about what I was doing.

I wasn't happy.

And now I am.  I am because I'm just living. And that's how I'm going to live differently. My life is no longer a checklist. It is no longer levels of a video game that I must pass. There are no steps. There is no final buzzer. There is no longer fear that if I don't do something that my peers are doing I will be behind or out of the loop. I no longer feel the need to constantly look back and question my choices.

Coming to this conclusion that there are no steps that I have to take, I no longer see myself on a gap year, and I don't identify with phrase anymore. Because simply the word gap implies a hole or a break from something. Yet I feel nothing missing, I feel no disconnect from my life. Am I not still alive, living my life? Who's to say that my path is or anyone's path is college/other formal education straight after high school? Why is traveling always labeled as a gap or holiday and not something eternal? Now the phrase "gap year" sounds to me like  a trip that you took to get away, get lost, get found but don't kept going, don't kept getting lost and found. I have never felt more alive in my life than during these past 3 months. I don't need a connector piece for this experience to the rest of my life. I don't need to label it, file it and only pull it out occasionally for the memories.  This is my life, this is my path. I am embracing the movement, I am embracing the being.

 

As you can see there are questions in this piece and I realize that, some are rhetorical and some I don't know the answers for. Often the Instructors mention that the point is to come out with more questions, not more answers, and that's how I feel. Thank you Dragons for everything that you do. Thank you.

 

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Southeast Asia

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I’m Not on a Gap Year

Jessica ,Southeast Asia

Description

My head is spinning, my senses are all being used at the same time in different directions. I am no longer resting. I am no longer waiting. Waiting for what?  What were you waiting for before? I don’t really know… And guess what, I am finally okay with not knowing the answer. Maybe I’ll figure […]

Posted On

12/5/14

Author

Jessica

Category

Southeast Asia

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    [post_date] => 2014-12-04 11:30:20
    [post_date_gmt] => 2014-12-04 18:30:20
    [post_content] => Myanmar, from my experience these past three months, is an incredibly internalized society and culture. And I don't mean that in a negative way, as if the people I have met here are close-minded or anything. I mean that in the most positive kind of way, where the country and its citizens look for their own happiness in Myanmar's massive transition.

I think of my homestay in Atar Village, for example. The whole family was up by 5:30 every morning to do laundry, tend to the cows, cook breakfast (twice - one for the family, one for me when I would get up an hour later), and get ready for school. The point was not to hop in an SUV to order a Starbucks before getting dropped off at a suburban high school - rather, the point is basic needs. How will I be fed? How will my cow be ready to plow the fields? Is my child ready to learn as much as she can?

And that's not to say that the American suburban way of life is necessarily wrong, or should be judged. Instead, I now question the reason behind that Starbucks order. Do I actually like the coffee, and see my drink as having a positive impact on the rest of my morning? Or am I just doing it because that's what you do before school in Sudbury, Massachusetts?

What I began to learn at Colorado College, and what I have continued to learn while I have been in Myanmar, is to really consider the intention behind my actions. Am I doing this for myself, to serve a purpose that I believe will be beneficial? This is what I see as lacking, or as a challenge, in my own culture back in the States - the ability to remain insular for the sake of contributing positively to my own development. And that personal growth or happiness will then radiate outwards, affecting others in a non-selfish way.

Even our group's work on Independent Study Projects demonstrated the benefits of this "insular to external" way of thinking. Everyone's areas of study were radically different - the Myanmar education system, chewing Betel and its impact, Myanmar traditional dance, cooking... And, despite the stark differences in all of our projects, we were all able to find countless individuals or organizations who could help us with our research.

Because Myanmar has been absent from the international sphere for so long, and because of the government's inability (and, frankly, its disinterest) in responding to its citizens' needs, the people have had to turn to themselves and to each other to ask: "What is the problem? What are our resources and our skills? How can we use those skills to solve this problem?" Thus, a diverse and dynamic community-based thought process was born and maintained. Because these communities were insular, they asked about genuine needs and developed genuine solutions. Not because other countries, or even other Myanmar communities, were watching, but because progress was actually needed.

This insular way of thinking is not necessarily absent from American culture, either. But I have been thinking about the development and maintenance of NGOs, for example - do they exist to continue to serve community needs, or are their actions and goals simply dictated by external expectations?

I have begun to ask these questions of myself as well, and of my personal culture. Am I doing what I am doing to serve my own needs and my own happiness? Or am I simply doing what is expected of me? And the answer, or really the reminder, lies in a piece that a friend posted while I was in Myanmar. And her message is surprisingly universal:

"It's awe that honors the destruction, and it's awe that leads us to breathe life into the new iteration. That journey is not accomplished by will or imposition of a plan. Others may indeed lose patience long before our own soul is done with the work of holding space for what is being healed. But no matter how alien and unfamiliar the new shape of beloved landscape may feel, it's our true presence - paying attention and being attentive - at the altar of that process that illuminates the beauty beyond the broken surface. And only then do we realize that what we call 'home' proves ultimately to be whatever calls us home into this moment, here and now."

    [post_title] => On My Own Culture
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Southeast Asia

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On My Own Culture

Phoebe Gallo,Southeast Asia

Description

Myanmar, from my experience these past three months, is an incredibly internalized society and culture. And I don’t mean that in a negative way, as if the people I have met here are close-minded or anything. I mean that in the most positive kind of way, where the country and its citizens look for their […]

Posted On

12/4/14

Author

Phoebe Gallo

Category

Southeast Asia

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    [post_date] => 2014-12-04 11:26:55
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    [post_content] => Three months ago I stepped out of the Sunflower Inn onto the hot bustling streets of Yangon in the midst of our group with the instructors up ahead. I remember feeling overwhelmed by the new smells, the longyis and thanakha everywhere I looked, and the streets full of cars zooming along oblivious of people in the road. I remember thinking I would not know how to handle walking right outside of the guesthouse on my own. 

Since that first day in Myanmar I've constantly been exposed to new sights and experiences. While many of these things have been a part of my daily life for a while now, they still always take me aback. I feel like I'm perpetually in a state of awe and wonder at what's going on around me. Many of the cultural pieces have become habit, such as handing things in the proper way and always sitting with your feet tucked away. However, at the same time, I'm also always pushed out of my comfort zone by acting in all new situations. Through this I've been able to discover new parts of myself and develop new skills.

The first thing I've learned is to just put myself out there and interact with strangers, even if both of you don't quite understand each other. People in Myanmar are so curious, patient, and kind in trying to communicate with you. They flash a smile and I immediately feel confident in trying to strike up a conversation with them. It never matters that I may look silly trying to express myself in this new language. I put myself out there by using what language I know, enthusiastic gestures, and humor.

Building on this, another significant skill I've strengthened is my independence. From the beginning, this program has been something I've done on my own (of course with the friendship and support of the entire group and I-team). I've had so many great interactions in homestays, at Phaung Daw Oo, and on the streets that have taught me a lot. I've learned to love and embrace this independence.

The last big skill I've uncovered in myself the most recently is my leadership. I think I was able to strengthen my ability to be a leader as a result of all the other skills I've cultivated along the way. For our expedition I took a huge part in planning it while in Mandalay and throughout expedition itself. Then I was a co-leader with Elana during expedition. I'd made it a goal of mine to make my voice heard during expedition and I feel really proud now being on the other side of it of how I stepped up and took on this new role.

To use and continue to work on all these skills at home I'm going to be more confident in my independence. I feel empowered to do almost anything or travel anywhere on my own. I want to try to bring a taste of the Myanmar friendliness and openness home through my interactions with people. I also want to remind myself to be present in my surroundings. I of course also want to continue to grow as a leader. I'm going to strive for a sense of adventure that continues to intrigue me and push me and well as make the conscious effort to put myself out there as a leader.

This morning I walked out of the Sunflower Inn onto the same street as that first morning. The difference this time though was that all was armed with for guidance was the name "Botataung Pagoda" written on a piece of paper. I didn't feel overwhelmed but instead I felt peaceful to be going out on my own. I hopped in a cab across the busy street and headed off to the pagoda. I felt completely at ease with my Myanmar language. As I sat at a teashop alone on the edge of the river I got to simply be in the space and adsorb all the movement and life that was going on around me.

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Southeast Asia

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What Myanmar Has Taught Me

Olivia Henderson,Southeast Asia

Description

Three months ago I stepped out of the Sunflower Inn onto the hot bustling streets of Yangon in the midst of our group with the instructors up ahead. I remember feeling overwhelmed by the new smells, the longyis and thanakha everywhere I looked, and the streets full of cars zooming along oblivious of people in […]

Posted On

12/4/14

Author

Olivia Henderson

Category

Southeast Asia

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    [post_date] => 2014-12-01 16:49:17
    [post_date_gmt] => 2014-12-01 23:49:17
    [post_content] => Dear Southeast Asia semester families,

It is hard to believe that 3 months have passed since embarking on this incredible adventure in Myanmar and Thailand! It won’t be long and students will be boarding their plane back home. Below is a reminder of the return group flight information for eagerly awaiting families:

Returning Flight:
December 6th, 2014
Dragonair #251
Depart: Yangon (RGN) 1:10am
Arrive: Hong Kong (HKG) 5:35am

December 6th, 2014
Cathay Pacific #898
Depart: Hong Kong (HKG) 10:05am
Arrive: Los Angeles (LAX) 6:40am

If you have any questions or concerns about the return – and you’re calling outside of our normal office hours – please leave a message at 800-982-9203 x 130.  Should you need to reach our staff during students’ return travel days (outside of normal office hours), please call our Admin cell phone for assistance: 303-921-6078.

Many thanks,

Dragons Administration

 
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Southeast Asia

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Return Group Flight Reminder

Dragons Administration,Southeast Asia

Description

Dear Southeast Asia semester families, It is hard to believe that 3 months have passed since embarking on this incredible adventure in Myanmar and Thailand! It won’t be long and students will be boarding their plane back home. Below is a reminder of the return group flight information for eagerly awaiting families: Returning Flight: December […]

Posted On

12/1/14

Author

Dragons Administration

Category

Southeast Asia

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    [post_date] => 2014-11-30 10:06:58
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    [post_content] => Hello parents and friends:

Here is a short and sweet update about what we will be doing for Expedition. There are some small details like morning meetings and check in about the schedule that I won't talk about, but don't worry they are being done.  We are leaving Mandalay and Phaung Daw Oo  which is a bittersweet so long and heading on a night bus.

Friday 11/28

We arrive in Hpa'an and stay at Royal Lake Guesthouse and walk to a local school. Here at the school we are going to be doing a culture exchange and just interacting with the kids there. We will be discussing silly and serious questions then playing games and going to dinner.

Saturday 11/29

Today is cave day and I'll be doing a lesson in a cave with Danny. He will have a letter burning ceremony and I'll have a lesson about the 5 elements related to Taoism. Then we will head off for lunch and a swimming hole. After that some transference activities will be done and then dinner.

Sunday 11/30

Today the main event is walking to a coffeehouse to hear Will present his ISP project on education. Then we will get on bikes and ride around beautiful Hpa'an and do some transference stuff after a group lunch.

Monday 12/1

Today is travel day to Mawlamyine in the morning on a scenic boat ride like the ones we took while in Inle Lake. The rest of the day will be a free day for people to go off on their own and explore. Then we will all meet back for a family dinner 

Tuesday 12/2

Today is a very special person's birthday, Mark! In the morning we might be meeting with one of Kara's contacts (he is very busy) and talk about Buddhism and Current events in Myanmar. Then we are headed off to Bilu Kyun Island, where we will do some more transference and exploration. Then we will head back to shore on the boats and celebrate our wonderful instructor with a special dinner.

Wednesday 12/3

Train Day!! Everyone is really looking forward to hopping aboard the train. The ride to Yangon is beautiful and it will be nice to try out a different mode of transportation. We will be on the train from the early morning to the late night. Tons of time to do.....more transference and have some much need journal and silly time with the crew.

Then from there will be in Yangon til the departure in the early hours of December 6th. This schedule has been revised and shortened due to some illness in our group but we are still looking forward to everything and are trying to soak up everything while going slow. We go slow in order to go fast.

That is it, I have to go climb Yankin Hill now with the rest of the group and I can't wait to hear Olivia's gratitude lesson on the top.

 

Have a beautiful day!

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Southeast Asia

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Group Yak X-Phase Schedule

Jess Yetman,Southeast Asia

Description

Hello parents and friends: Here is a short and sweet update about what we will be doing for Expedition. There are some small details like morning meetings and check in about the schedule that I won’t talk about, but don’t worry they are being done.  We are leaving Mandalay and Phaung Daw Oo which is […]

Posted On

11/30/14

Author

Jess Yetman

Category

Southeast Asia

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    [post_title] => The Myanmar Smile
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The Myanmar Smile

Danny Wood,Picture of the Week, Southeast Asia

Description

Posted On

11/30/14

Author

Danny Wood

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    [post_date] => 2014-11-25 14:46:15
    [post_date_gmt] => 2014-11-25 21:46:15
    [post_content] => Gathered around a long wooden table under the both the heat and the stars, our table was crowded with food: potato curry, eggplant curry, fish fillets, corn off the cob, lentil soup, chicken breasts, and of course, rice for everyone. We licked our lips and loosened our longyis because this was our $8/person Thanksgiving dinner. 

The whole day had been spent planning where we would eat, asking and arranging to have a turkey (wishful thinking), and picking out gifts for our "Secret Turkeys" (think Secret Santa). It felt somewhat bittersweet to be celebrating such a family-centric holiday away from our homes for the first time, but most of us were excited for our special evening out for Thanksgiving...until we realized that it wasn't actually Thanksgiving.

"Wait. Thanksgiving is the 27?"

"And today is the 20th."

"So it's not actually Thanksgiving?"

"No, it's next week!"

And that's pretty much how the conversation went. About midday, we discovered that our dates and holidays had gotten a bit scrambled and that we were having our Thanksgiving a week early.

To me, this confusion seems to speak to our disconnect from America and our whole-hearted leap into Myanmar culture. It has been easy to get lost in the rhythm of life here--the full moon festival when we send lanterns into the sky, the end of the Buddhist lent when we sang and danced in circles, the constant parades of crowded trucks erupting with clapping and music to collect donations--these are our holidays now. 

Though Thanksgiving was not entirely forgotten, we've learned to mold our own traditions to see how they can fit Myanmar rather than thinking about how Myanmar can be molded to fit our traditions. Last week, we bought traditional jasmine to lace our hair. We wore our best longyis to dinner. And we feasted on Myanmar curries with the always-available tamin (rice). It was truly a Myanmar-style non-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving, and I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

Looking back now, I think we got the date just right.

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Southeast Asia

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A Non-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving

Elana Burack,Southeast Asia

Description

Gathered around a long wooden table under the both the heat and the stars, our table was crowded with food: potato curry, eggplant curry, fish fillets, corn off the cob, lentil soup, chicken breasts, and of course, rice for everyone. We licked our lips and loosened our longyis because this was our $8/person Thanksgiving dinner. […]

Posted On

11/25/14

Author

Elana Burack

Category

Southeast Asia

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