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    [post_content] => As I slow down for self-reflection, time continues to race in front my eyes.  I finally found the time to write down this story from last week's visit to Xiahe (sorry for the delay Mom/Dad).

A small group of us decided to wake up at 5 one morning to walk the Kora at the infamous Labrang Monastery.  Walking down the usually chaotic streets, with incessant honking and swerving cars, I was calmed by the silence of the dimly lit road.  The majority of the Thanka studios and convenience stores were closed and the bustling hostels were still asleep.  As the sun peaked over the stark mountainous region enclosing the city, we entered the gates of the monastery, where the day came alive.

Men and women of all ages were in a full swing of spiritual liveliness.  Hesitantly, we joined the lines of Buddhists in their daily routine.  With water bottles bouncing on my backpack I felt strangely foreign.  The more prayer wheels that we spun, the more that I felt like I was only getting in the way.  Old women with canes hobbled past me, seemingly annoyed at my presence.  I took this as unwelcoming and took their rude gestures as insulting.  I grew increasingly guilty and uncomfortable.  Rather than following tradition for prayer and meditation, I focused solely on the timing of which I push each peg of the giant prayer wheels as they swung around so as not to get my hands caught in their aggressive torque.

Finishing a few rows of wheels, I was dizzy and remembered the Cliff Bar I had packed but hadn't yet eaten.  Out of reach and with little time to stop, this American snack tempted me more and more as my stomach grumbled.  As we approached a dark room with one large prayer wheel spinning from those walking in circles around it, I was intimidated by the crowded space and the lack of room for me to jump in.  People began to pile up behind me and the squeaking of the wooden wheels were haunting like impatient horns in a traffic jam.  I cautiously stepped into the rotation like jumping into a rushing watermill.  Right when I thought I would drown in the pack of devout Buddhists, one man stepped out and slowed with his hand out to let me in.  Feeling undeservingly welcome, I began to refocus on the routines of those in front of me.  Stepped into the fresh air outside of the room, the seemingly never-ending prayer wheels were no longer daunting.

Although it occurred to me that I had little knowledge of what the scriptures read that are believed to be released into the world as I spun the prayer wheels, I found a natural flow on the hour-long path.  I began to realize increasing numbers of people passing each other, not out of impatience, but in order to stick to some sort of spiritual rhythm.  I became an observer of their ritualistic habits and how I may be impacting their concentration.  Attempting to be less of an interruption, I was humbled by their bowing of their heads on the cold stone walls and hushed prayers.  As I finished and stepped back onto the now busy streets, I respected the aged men and women who continued on for more rounds, in awe of their devotion each early morning.

We are now leaving Xining and moving on to our home stays with nomadic herding families!
    [post_title] => Traffic at the Prayer Wheel
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SUMMER: China: Search for Meaning

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Traffic at the Prayer Wheel

Ingrid Backe,SUMMER: China: Search for Meaning

Description

As I slow down for self-reflection, time continues to race in front my eyes.  I finally found the time to write down this story from last week’s visit to Xiahe (sorry for the delay Mom/Dad). A small group of us decided to wake up at 5 one morning to walk the Kora at the infamous […]

Posted On

07/13/16

Author

Ingrid Backe

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    [post_content] => Wow. Two weeks in.

Where do I even begin?

How can I possibly put a list of words together to summarize where I've been?

The world around me moves so fast

Goes by so quick

Please, make it last

 

Flashback

My nails dig into my skin

Gripping my bag full of medicine

Isn't a sick kid thinking she can travel around China equivalent to some sort of sin?

I say impossible.

I doubt my decision.

But they say nothing's impossible

And I'm already in.

 

Flashback

What will they think of me?

Who are these people? Where are we going?

Is it really meant to be?

Fear and doubt have taken over

Confidence gives me the cold shoulder

And it seems strange to remember now

But I wanted nothing more than to go back to Boulder.

 

Flashback

I realize there's no going back

In the middle of a 15 hour long flight I have a panic attack

I've never done something like this before

I think of the skills I lack

Fear is my new best friend

...Will I even make it back?

 

 

Flash forward

My emotions tailspin

As I finally lay my eyes on the world outside of the plane that I was in

Suddenly everything is different

Every single thing I see

I can't wait to learn more about this beautiful place

7000 miles across the sea

 

Flash forward

I'm with some of my new friends

As I sit with them I see my spirit never had a reason to bend

I'm at the top of a hill that was difficult for me to climb

But the view is the most beautiful of all

And it is proven to me that the grass is always greener on the other side

 

Flash forward

I look at a grin upon the chin of a women with dark skin

Kind eyes shining brightly as I attempt some Mandarin

Her laughter fills the air as she corrects my tongue

Despite getting it wrong, alas

I simply do not care

 

Flash forward

I am so happy, so grateful

So bewildered to be here

Everything is so different

Everything is so... Weird

 

We drink boiling water and go to the bathroom in holes

We observe the varied customs and fashion

My friends and I play assassin while...

Learning about the goddess of compassion?

 

Now at this point you may be asking,

"Is this girl rhyming just to rhyme?"

At this point the answer is yes

But this is not true for the whole time

 

Life is about balance.

Flash forwards and flashbacks.

How will you experience the forwards if you're always looking back?

 

Life is a symphony, a rhyme

It is always right on time

And even if you can't hear the music

Everything will always align.

 

Jump in.

 

You just have to jump in.

No matter how many doubts or fears you have

It's always worth it

It really is.

 

I will never be fully rid of my weaknesses

But this trip has revealed my thick skin

And despite my doubts and fears, I'm here

Not sitting at home, thinking of what might have been.

 

The search for meaning has revealed my light within.
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SUMMER: China: Search for Meaning

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Two Weeks in a Flash

Nicolette Gordillo-LaRiviere,SUMMER: China: Search for Meaning

Description

Wow. Two weeks in. Where do I even begin? How can I possibly put a list of words together to summarize where I’ve been? The world around me moves so fast Goes by so quick Please, make it last   Flashback My nails dig into my skin Gripping my bag full of medicine Isn’t a […]

Posted On

07/12/16

Author

Nicolette Gordillo-LaRiviere

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    [post_content] => On our second full day in China, the group was given a three hour peroid for writing, relaxing, and reflection. I walked around the Pu Zhao Si monastery, until I found a shady spot to sit down and work on our assignments. I took some deep breaths and smiled, awestruck that I finally made it to China. I took off my shoes, and took in the incredible scene in front of me. An abundance of trees surrounded the wooden platform on which I sat, overlooking a stone square surrounded by temples. I observed monks and nuns walking through the square, barely noticing I was there.
Unfortunately, as I sat in this peaceful and utterly blissful state, a frustrating situation arose; a large group of loud Chinese tourists walking towards my spot. Strings of questions immediately began to flood my mind. What is the purpose of them being here? Are the tourists really here just to take photos? Are their actions truly fulfilling their search for purpose?
Despite my negative attitude toward the tourists, I still attempted to practice the few words of Chinese I knew. When each tourist passed, I gave them a hearty "Nihao!"; I tried my best to answer their questions, and thanked them each time they told me I was "piao liang." When the tourists spoke to me, I could see their eyes shine with the same brightness mine had when I had initially found the quiet spot.
I was oddly happy and entertained to be around people who blindly valued and appreciated me, yet at the same time my sudden realization that the tourists were more impressed by seeing a white face than the beautiful monastery saddened me.
After many people had passed me, a young looking Han Chinese woman approached me; she introduced herself in English as Yan.
After chatting for a few minutes in English, she asked me to join the tour group. I initially said no, because I did not believe she actually wanted to spend time with me; I thought she was just being polite. Eventually, Yan practically started packing my bag, and begged me to join them. After a brief hesitation, I decided I could not resist joining the tour, and walked arm and arm to a meditation platform. When I reached the spot that the tour group had stopped at, I was greeted with smiling faces and a chorus of flashing cameras.
Yan wanted to help me understand the class by explaining each movement, correcting my posture, and telling me when to breath. At first glance this might seem like any other mindfulness class with a more experienced friend, however, it was far from anything that I perceive as normal and noticed the oddities of the class immediately. The instructor began to discuss shrinking your ego and the group seemed to nod In some sort of agreement.
Just as Yan began translating the teaching she paused to compliment my eyes, the group photographer asked me to remain in a Tai Chi pose to take my picture, and I lost my balance because the woman next to me hit me with her selfie stick. Despite all the distractions, Yan repeatedly told me how happy she was to be with me, glad I was visiting the place she calls home, and seemed fulfilled helping me with the class.
The photographers continued to take pictures of the group meditating, friend constantly used selfie sticks to take photos, and the group seemed to mask their insecurities by following each pose with laughter.
Eventually, after an hour of selfies I became so utterly confused by the situation I decided to say goodbye to Yan. We exchanged endless hugs, wrote poems for each other, and thanked one another for being at the class together. It truly felt like I was saying goodbye to an old friend.
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Selfies and Meditation

Sarah Levin,SUMMER: China: Search for Meaning

Description

On our second full day in China, the group was given a three hour peroid for writing, relaxing, and reflection. I walked around the Pu Zhao Si monastery, until I found a shady spot to sit down and work on our assignments. I took some deep breaths and smiled, awestruck that I finally made it […]

Posted On

07/10/16

Author

Sarah Levin

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    [post_date] => 2016-07-09 00:00:34
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    [post_content] => Oh boy, time to do some catching up...
Since our last update from Max, we moved on from Lángmùsì (郎木寺) to Xiàhé (夏河), and this morning we moved on from Xiàhé to Xīníng (西宁).
Located in the Gānsù (甘肃省) province, the monastic town of Xiàhé is famous for the Labrang Monastery, one of the six major Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in China. The population of the town is (roughly) 50% Tibetan, 40% Han, and 10% Hui, all of which are separated into different quarters in the town. We spent three nights there, using our days to explore the monastery, the different areas of town, and the surrounding areas. Some people (not me) even got up as early as 4:30-5:00am to circle the "kora"; a 3km path of prayer wheels circling the monastery. One round of the kora took our students roughly one hour. One student even committed to doing three rounds each time...* In addition to our Mandarin language lessons, we have also begun our Tibetan language lessons, as we have been and will continue to be in areas highly populated by Tibetans, as well as beginning to prepare for our upcoming home stays with our Tibetan families. For our last full day in town, we had a student leadership day in which WE planned out the activities for the day instead of the instructors. We decided to take taxis down some weird, long, bumpy back roads to explore two smaller nearby monasteries, and ended by relaxing and playing games high up on a grassy hill, sun shining down on us in the middle of nowhere. And, bonus activity, as a result of that lying around in the sun, some students got to have the experience of Kawsar smearing yak yoghurt on their sunburns.
Now, after a four hour bus ride, we are at our next location in the Qīnghǎi (青海省) province city of Xīníng. We are all very excited to be staying here for four whole nights, as it is a wonderful and fascinating city; additionally, we are also excited about it because this is the longest we will be staying in one location so far. Tomorrow we have a full day ahead of us, with plans including hearing lectures from local students, Tibetan doctors, and... karaoke?

Our internet here is stable, so I will make sure to do another group update again before we leave, and try to encourage others to post while we are here as well!

晚安 (good night) for me and 早上好 (good morning) to most of you!

*Shoutout to Max
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SUMMER: China: Search for Meaning

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Houston, We Have WiFi

Nicolette Gordillo-LaRiviere,SUMMER: China: Search for Meaning

Description

Oh boy, time to do some catching up… Since our last update from Max, we moved on from Lángmùsì (郎木寺) to Xiàhé (夏河), and this morning we moved on from Xiàhé to Xīníng (西宁). Located in the Gānsù (甘肃省) province, the monastic town of Xiàhé is famous for the Labrang Monastery, one of the six […]

Posted On

07/9/16

Author

Nicolette Gordillo-LaRiviere

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    [post_date] => 2016-07-05 18:37:23
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    [post_content] => 

Demo! ༼བདེ་མོ༽ (Tibetan) 你好 !(Chinese)  السلام عليكم (Arabic) Hello! (you know that one!) I am writing from our hotel in Lamusi, an ethnic Tibetan town that straddles both sides of the Gansu-Sichuan province border.  Here, speakers of these languages converge to form a multicultural town. Langmusi has seen vast changes since recent and fast-paced economic developments, especially after the reopenening of the area in the last five years.  Due to swaths of tourists frequenting the area, the livelihoods, cultural identities, and traditional practices of the local people have been transformed.

We have been experiencing Chinese tourism and the effects of its expansion firsthand here.  I want to talk about our experience last night, in which many of us, myself included, originally shared a mindset which perhaps many tourists also hold, but after conversation with other group members, instructors, and locals, came to see local culture in a new light.

This experience centered on “sky burials.”  A “sky burial” is when the body of a Tibetan who has passed away is separate into numerous parts and fed to birds at a local holy site, where sky burials have happened for centuries.  Many Chinese tourists visit these burials, viewing them as a tourist attraction; an exotic tradition of a less “advanced” people.  I, too (as bizarre as it may sound), wanted to see one of these burials.  Something about it seemed so exotic and fascinating to me, too.  Something was so alluring about watching indigenous Tibetans in native dress carry their now gone relative to a mountain top and chant ancient Tibetan prayers.  Many others wanted to go, too.  However, as we boarded the bus to Langmusi, Sarah L. brought to my attention the possibility that attending this burial was disrespectful.  However, I was so enchanted with the idea that I tried to forget what she said.  In retrospect, though, I think I knew all along that attending this funeral was a breach in ethics.  What if my grandmother died and a tour group showed up at her funeral to gawk at my Jewish traditions?  Why is death here so much more exotic?  After all, the lifecycle is identical for every human being.  I suppressed these questions until that night, when I went to ask our hotel front desk whether or not there would be a sky burial to watch the next day.  The lady behind to desk, and a local man sitting across from her, were both Tibetan.  As I began to speak with them, I decided that I could not ignore the issues I had contemplated earlier any more.  So, I asked the woman behind the desk if she thought it was impolite to attend.  At first she did not say she thought it was, but after I repeated the question a few times, she said, “maybe, a little.”  After thinking more about this, the feeling that I was about to do something very wrong  grew in me.  I started to lean towards maybe not going.  Then I became more confident in my conviction.  Then I felt that if I went I would be simply disgusted with myself.  How could I be just another tourist gawking at these peoples’ way of life; their ancient traditions?   How could I be so conceited?  How could I take advantage of a people so reliant on tourism that they must be silent  instead of protecting their way of life?  How could I almost— with self-reflection and an earnest intention to learn— come so close to mimicking the many Chinese tour groups I’ve also witnessed, as they noisily laugh and intrusively photograph these events day after day…

What must one do in order to avoid becoming another agent of destruction in an economic enterprise that inevitably diminishes local identity and impacts traditions?  And yet, I’m sure the tourists that visit these burials are not ill-intentioned.  And what about the economic income?  Who are the people actually benefitting from the tickets that now mark the entrances to these events?

Like the domestic tourists and government officials, I am left to think about what else I do while traveling that perhaps has no bad intention but may still have a negative impact.  For example, by asking to take pictures with women in traditional garb, am I complimenting them?  Reducing them to their appearance?  “Othering” them?  An end conclusion of this long-winded post is actually that I must keep asking these questions.  This experience of drastically changing my opinions has made me feel an even stronger moral responsibility to the people and places we encounter.  If you have made it this far, thank you for spending the time to read this. I hope that the next time you travel, you, too, will think critically about how to best treat the people and cultures you encounter, and challenge others around you to do so, too!

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The Spectacle of Sky Burials

Max,SUMMER: China: Search for Meaning

Description

Demo! ༼བདེ་མོ༽ (Tibetan) 你好 !(Chinese)  السلام عليكم (Arabic) Hello! (you know that one!) I am writing from our hotel in Lamusi, an ethnic Tibetan town that straddles both sides of the Gansu-Sichuan province border.  Here, speakers of these languages converge to form a multicultural town. Langmusi has seen vast changes since recent and fast-paced economic […]

Posted On

07/5/16

Author

Max

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    [post_date] => 2016-07-05 11:17:24
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    [post_content] => These pictures were taken when we were in Songpan, on the 3rd of July. Songpan is a very ancient town where numerous wars have taken place throughout history. The city wall in the picture is said to have at least 1400 years of history and we can still feel the "winds and rains" (trials and hardships) and transformations it has witnessed through time. Tibet, Hui, Han and Qiang people all live here together in a mutually respectful and friendly way. Mosques and Buddhist temples were build side by side. This place is a wonderful example of a historically diverse community. Everyone is so friendly, and our students even got to talk to some local Tibetan women and they really enjoyed the conversation. More soon!

-Kawsar and the Instructor Team

IMG_6517
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Kawsar Muhtar,SUMMER: China: Search for Meaning

Description

These pictures were taken when we were in Songpan, on the 3rd of July. Songpan is a very ancient town where numerous wars have taken place throughout history. The city wall in the picture is said to have at least 1400 years of history and we can still feel the “winds and rains” (trials and […]

Posted On

07/5/16

Author

Kawsar Muhtar

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    [post_date] => 2016-07-04 13:55:24
    [post_date_gmt] => 2016-07-04 19:55:24
    [post_content] => Depending on your time zone, the crew and I are currently riding a bus from 成都(Chengdu) to 松潘 (Songpan) on Day 5(?).  We are halfway through the 6 hour bus ride and are looking forward to some cooler weather and experiencing another amazing location.  Looking out the windows, we are surrounded by mountains and 岷江 (Minjiang River).

Yesterday we trekked by foot, bus, and subway on our way to Chengdu, realizing the importance of packing light and the usefulness of each buckle on our bags.  We were able to explore the city, learn the many ways of travel, and practice Chinese as we loaded up on Pocky and other exotic snacks.  Last night the group indulged in a steamy hot pot experience.  四川 (Sichuan) is famous for its intense mouth numbing spicy hot pots, which everyone tried (while a few brave souls pounded down the fiery meat,fish, and veggies the entire night) *shoutout to Kyle and Phuong* luckily there was plenty of milk present, and everyone is feeling healthy and well rested after our stay in a youth hostel in Chengdu.

That's all for now! Happy 4th to everyone at home if we don't have access to wifi before then✌🏼🇨🇳

Intended date of post: July 3rd
    [post_title] => I Know Why They Call it Hot Pot...
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I Know Why They Call it Hot Pot…

Ingrid Backe,SUMMER: China: Search for Meaning

Description

Depending on your time zone, the crew and I are currently riding a bus from 成都(Chengdu) to 松潘 (Songpan) on Day 5(?).  We are halfway through the 6 hour bus ride and are looking forward to some cooler weather and experiencing another amazing location.  Looking out the windows, we are surrounded by mountains and 岷江 […]

Posted On

07/4/16

Author

Ingrid Backe

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    [post_date] => 2016-07-04 13:51:26
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    [post_content] => Greetings from somewhere outside of Chengdu!
We are currently finishing up our stay at our first location, the Puzhao Nunnery Temple. After our two peaceful days of orientation, we will be departing from here after lunch and heading into the city to eat hot pot.
While here, we have been recovering from our initial travels and getting to know each other, as well as adjusting to our new environment. The meals so far have consisted of rice and assorted vegetables, which we have all been enjoying, however using chopsticks and having to drink boiling water only is something everyone is still getting used to. Oh, and the toilets. We're getting used to those too. The scenery here is absolutely incredible, which we have been taking advantage of during morning Chinese lessons, as well as during our afternoon walks/activities/free time. Our beginning Mandarin speakers have been using their new skills to start small conversations with locals, while our advanced speakers have been participating in in-depth conversations with the people they meet.
We are all a bit sad to be leaving such a beautiful and welcoming sanctuary, however we are all ecstatic to be moving on to a new a place and the next part of our journey!
(P.S. Happy Birthday Dad, Love Tara)

Intended date of post: Saturday, July 2nd
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Straight Outta Chengdu

Nicolette Gordillo-LaRiviere,SUMMER: China: Search for Meaning

Description

Greetings from somewhere outside of Chengdu! We are currently finishing up our stay at our first location, the Puzhao Nunnery Temple. After our two peaceful days of orientation, we will be departing from here after lunch and heading into the city to eat hot pot. While here, we have been recovering from our initial travels […]

Posted On

07/4/16

Author

Nicolette Gordillo-LaRiviere

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    [post_date] => 2016-06-30 00:57:26
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    [post_content] => Students have arrived in Chengdu and are all doing well!  We are headed to Puzhao Si,  a nunnery on the mountainside a bit outside the city, for our orientation.  Look for more posts in the coming days as we get settled in and begin to try new things and explore our new surroundings together!
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Arrived in Chengdu!

Jody Segar,SUMMER: China: Search for Meaning

Description

Students have arrived in Chengdu and are all doing well!  We are headed to Puzhao Si,  a nunnery on the mountainside a bit outside the city, for our orientation.  Look for more posts in the coming days as we get settled in and begin to try new things and explore our new surroundings together!

Posted On

06/30/16

Author

Jody Segar

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    [post_date] => 2016-06-29 19:05:51
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    [post_content] => Hello Family & Friends - The group has landed safely in Hong Kong and is now awaiting their onward flight to Chengdu.

Wishing them a good final stretch of flying....some vocabulary for any language enthusiasts back home....

Bon Voyage!

一路顺风 (Chinese)

འགྲུལ་བཞུད་བདེ་བར་ཤོག (Tibetan)

ساياھەتىڭىز كۆڭۈللۈك بولسۇن (Uyghur)
    [post_title] => Landed in Hong Kong and Waiting for the Next Leg
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SUMMER: China: Search for Meaning

View post

Landed in Hong Kong and Waiting for the Next Leg

Jody Segar,SUMMER: China: Search for Meaning

Description

Hello Family & Friends – The group has landed safely in Hong Kong and is now awaiting their onward flight to Chengdu. Wishing them a good final stretch of flying….some vocabulary for any language enthusiasts back home…. Bon Voyage! 一路顺风 (Chinese) འགྲུལ་བཞུད་བདེ་བར་ཤོག (Tibetan) ساياھەتىڭىز كۆڭۈللۈك بولسۇن (Uyghur)

Posted On

06/29/16

Author

Jody Segar

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