Posted by: jmarleneh | December 9, 2008

Фестиваль иностранных студентов

This weekend  ДВГУ hosted an international student festival. It was hosted by our university ДВГУ (Дальневосточный государственный университет or the Far Eastern National  University).

There is only one other international student festival like ours in Russia and many important people arrived to watch. It was even televised all across Russia. We didn’t have class yesterday (Monday) to give the teachers/students a rest from all their hard work as the festival was on Sunday and Saturday.  On Monday Meddy and I went to the Chinese Consulate to pick up our visas. I hope to go to China with Ayumi, Meddy and others this Thursday! We’ll see!

Here are some links and pictures about the international student fair:

“V Фестиваль иностранных студентов вузов Дальнего Востока”

During the festival Rebecca, Kristi and I (affectionately known as the “Americans” at the Russian school) played “Guess what Boris Sereivich is thinking right now.” I loved the suspense of knowing he could turn his head 30 degrees at any time and catch us watching him intently. Yes, I confess we were getting bored.  This was only because the festival was several hours long and we were eager to see our school and our friends perform.  I don’t want to suggest that the festival was boring altogether but the first part was especially hard to understand.   Each school’s students performed a skit introducing their university. And during the 16 or so songs performed eventually all the Chinese pop songs started to sound alike. There were a couple of performances not from our school that were very interesting and even beautiful! Did I mention we needed a distraction from our own hunger (we left earlier that morning without breakfast promised there would be a buffet that didn’t open for several more hours of course). So these are the reasons why we resorted to playing this game briefly. The best part of the game: Shortly after we started watching him he checked his watch. 🙂 Perhaps he was thinking something similar . . . when is lunch?

 I’d like to take this time to attempt to explain why so many studetns have a fascination with Boris Sergeivich.  I don’t think it would be unfair to say he’s one of the student’s favorite teachers here and not just mine!  I have him for Russian conversation.   I remember thinking early on he must really like his job. I like his genuine interest when he asks questions and obvious delight from teaching us. One day Gee Hyung shared some statistics about people’s satisfaction from their jobs in Russia. Teachers had some of the lowest job satisfaction. This prompted a discussion about why. Boris Sereivich explained that the pay isn’t that good and that it’s important that teachers enjoy what they do. He explained why he thought his job wasn’t boring and how he is always learning new things. We’ve even briefly heard about some of his travels before to different universities in Korea and Japan. If teachers don’t enjoy their job then it’s not for them! How wise he is! I think I’d like to do something similar to him.   I think I like the idea of teaching in an international school and working with foreigners.

On one occassion we asked about his family. He told us about his parrot. I still fondly remember him telling me “If my parrot can speak Russian! So can you!” 😉 Early on I hated Russian Conversation because it was so hard for me to say anything. It’s still hard for me. But my attitude has changed ” Я могу говорить по-русски!” I think this has been my biggest obstacle.  Thank you Boris Sergeivich!

Posted by: jmarleneh | December 4, 2008

Что Россия вез Чиновиков?

Flight Update: New Departure Date January 10th!

I finally got a hold of Korean Air to change the departure date of my flight. It was a lot easier than I thought and didn’t even cost anything! I still have to call Alaska Airlines to cancel a domestic flight from Seattle to Portland and this is a lot more complicated somehow. But I still need to speak with the dorm director about staying the dorm longer since the Model UN conference ends January 1st I am not sure what I’ll do in Russia for the next 9 days?! But Jan. 9th is the closest open flight after the 1st!

Note: I don’t know why I can’t take off the bold setting for the text below.

Today in Conversation class we roled played as Чиновики or bureaucrats. When it was my turn to be the university administrator/consulate official I was abrupt, unhelpful and even joked about answering a phone call as I was asked a question. Boris Sergeivich laughed at this and told us some stories of his own experience with salespeople. It was altogether a really funny class because we’ve all had our own experiences like his own and customer service is a lot different in Korea, Japan and the U.S! He told us to expect to hear “Приходите завтра!” when we want to speak with someone important in an office who is too busy today. He told us of the saleslady who couldn’t help him because her nails were drying. Or that it’s not too unusal to have to wait for someone to finish a phone call with a friend or family member before helping you.  I remember the busdriver having a heated conversation with someone (his wife, perhaps?) while driving the bus in the crazy traffic here! I wanted to hold my breath but I already I could hardly breathe with the exhaust in the bus. Although I must add that I’ve come across many helpful people that stand out as exceptions. But for every helpful person you come across here there are many like the ones I impersonated today. Detached, disinterested, annoyed.

***I remember how upset I was about this when I first arrived. From what I’ve heard from my friend Anna about her St. Petersburg experience I think students here get a lot more exposure to what it’s really like to be enrolled in a Russian university- a lot of nonsensical bureaucratic hoops to jump through. There’s less pampering for us! And as annoying, exhausting and scary it can be. In retrospect it’s given me a lot to laugh about and learn patience from. I remember one day I was really distressed to learn I needed to return to a building somewhere for something (I’d like to say I just forgot this detail but it’s also possible i never really understood what it was for- something under the heading “registration”). I was visibly upset and in an attempt to explain why I sighed “I just wanted to be done” I really thought I had jumped through all the hoops. “This is Russia. It’s never done!” Marina replied. Somehow I found this comforting. My XYZ papers were overdue. If I didn’t turn them XYZ would happen and I could be deported. The building I need to find doesn’t seem to exist . . . this is all normal here! My Aids certificate had the wrong passport number on it. I returned less than a week before my visa expired after the renewal was rejected because of this. Some people at the HIV Clinic saw the mistake and scurried around for about 30 minutes before giving it back to me with some scratch marks and someone’s signature. I returned this form and recieved my new visa a couple days after the old one expired. I hid in the building during these days fearing each knock on the door may be deportation officers making sweeps throught the dorms.

When Kristi, another American student here arrived she was especially annoyed with the administration here and their “nonsensical” expectations and demands. But I think part of her misery (and my own) came from expecting it to be like in the U.S.  Efficiency has many different meanings in Russian. The association I think of with this word doesn’t always translate into the same situations. I remember Tatiana Osipovich’s advice on studying in Russia “lower your expectations”- meaning things will go wrong. Expect this and you can enjoy more of it! I still fondly think this is some of the most helpful advice I’ve recieved! Of course, my Aids Certificate would somehow have the wrong passport number on it! Of course, I couldn’t find Siber Bank for nearly a week! Of course it was late! Marina, who works in the adminstration office also taught me the word “Очивидно!” for whenever I learned about something new I had to for that office! “Of course- Очивидно, I still need to XYZ!”

I arrived like Kristi, expecting more help/”efficiency” from the administration. During my first visit to the administration office I was told I needed to get an HIV test at a clinic on the other side of the city and pay some registration fees at a bank and another university building across the city. Finding buildings in Vladivostok makes no sense. Streets magically become other streets without any warning! The building by the kiosk we frequently buy bread at is an excellent example. The building has two street names on it. I could stand in front of the sign and be on two different streets. Asking people where things are isn’t always helpful either because who can keep track of the address? I was amazed to hear  how many times street names were changed in Vladivostok. How peculiar that we expect street names to reflect so much about a city! I imagine (perhaps incorrectly) this led to a lot of quarrels about what the street names should be and to compromise they decided to keep them all! Three names for one street?!? Why not?!?! It’s just to sound nice anyways! No one seemd to think of addresses as helping other people figure out where places are located.

I was so elated to finally find Siber Bank only to discover that the particular branch I found couldn’t help me. Why can the bank have one location to offer all of their services?!?! The lady working there saw how lost I was and left the building with me to point down the street. I walked on that road until I discovered another branch, which of course still wasn’t the particular one I needed. Some days later (I forget how many exactly) I realized the SiberBank branch I wanted was just a little further down the street after turning the corner. How impossible it was to find!

Don’t get me started on “waiting” in line at the bank! I had assumed Russians from their experience would know how to wait in lines but apparently not. It’s complete chaos. People are sprawled all over the room. Some in chairs. Others leaning against walls or eachother. Near the small window where teh teller works people huddle together. I initially thought the two people standing close by the window must be together. But the lady next in line, practically leaning over the shoulder of the lady being helped was just “waiting” in line! I was amazed at this. Am I really expected to violate other people’s bubble in order to assert my presence in line!?!? As you can imagine I was terrible at this. How can “no one” know whose last or first!? They ask “кто последныи?” “who’s last?” over and over again. I wonder if not having a line formed allows them to imagine they really are farther ahead. I wonder if the babushka who cut me didn’t stop this other gentleman from doing the same I might have waited there till closing because everyone would just cut me. Perhaps this was especially bad because I was so a clueless foreigner.

Anyways, I have a lot beaucratic work ahead of me as I try to secure a place to live for the remainder of my stay! I also have to work on some documents for the Russian Far Eastern Model United Nations Conference I volunteered to participate in! It starts Dec 26th-January 1st! I am very excited about this conference! The working language of the conference will be English but during the social events I can use Russian!  I have so much work ahead of me! I apologize for not writing more as I should! Hopefully after this Sunday I should be able to write more about my time here guilt-free having dealt with all these errands/homework assignments!

Posted by: jmarleneh | November 18, 2008

Staying Longer?

So right now I am trying to see if I can stay just a little bit longer . . . I want to participate in the Russian  Far East Model United Nations conference being held here from Dec 26th-January 1st. But I still need to figure out logistics of changed tickets/lodging/etc! I also have a lot of homework to complete between now and this Thursday/early next week for the conference. So we’ll see what happens!  Eek. How I wish I brought my laptop?!?! Why didn’t I?!?  Grrrrrrr . . .

Posted by: jmarleneh | November 13, 2008

Not enough time

I can’t believe it’s already mid-November!

4 months really isn’t long enough.  There’s so much I will miss here!  How much better a year here would be!   Rebecca and I met Evan’s former roommate Kota here. He will return to Japan by the end of this November and speaks Russian very well! How much better my Russian would be after a year! I stongly recommend students try to study longer than a semester. Maybe during the summer and a fall semester at least?!?

Yesterday we had our first test in Russian Grammar covering 10 chapters in our textbook! 10 chapters! To be fair, our professor told us we didn’t have to study everything from these chapters but her tips on what to study weren’t comprehensive and to be candid I didn’t do very well. 😦 I wish we were tested on smaller increments in the book. I understand most of my mistakes though and I think I will feel more confident about our next test.

On a completely unrelated note . . .

More than one acquaintance, once comfortable enough with me, has asked me about my “sun tan.” No, I am not a really tanned Whi-I mean “Caucasian American.”  In the winter I do not “return” back to a pearly white tone. I really stay this way all year around. And yes, my parents are also Americans from the U.S. “But do you get darker during the summer?” I was asked. I laughed. The answer is that I do of course, although I am still not quite sure if we understood eachother. I am often entertained by what “ethnicity” people think I am in the U.S.  I am from Portland, Oregon- mentioned in the book Stuff White People Like for having the largest proportion of White people for a city its size! Still I miss seeing different faces on the streets.

Vladivostok’s history can’t be studied with out noting all the role foreigners played. One of the main streets in the city was even once named after Americans!

People really like to ask me about my nationality. “I am American” I’ve told them. “Yes, but what nationality?” I puzzle so many people. When I can I like to show a picture of my parents together. Eyebrows raise.  A picture says what words can’t (especially with my Russian!).

Posted by: jmarleneh | November 7, 2008

The Whole World Rejoices

Hannah, I was thinking of the election I just was too nervous to write about it. This awkward short post is for you.

Last night on the Russian news we saw clips of people in Kenya rejoicing over Obama’s win. It really seems as if the whole rejoices! Russians have also been following our election. It is really important for them (and much of the world). In one of the city’s magazines Afisha it follows Obama’s campaign trail with a timeline and the prediction that he would win! Russians like Obama. And so does most of the world (at least right now/over McCain). How interesting to hear about the election here in Russia. I am elated that Obama won. I truly hope that U.S. can take on a different role in international relations.

I met my friend Artish in the internet cafe while I was looking up news about Obama’s win. I shared my excitement with him. “He’s really the first Black president?” he commented- more to himself than to me. I tried to explain how things were very different not too long ago. He pulled up a chair and we read some news together. My favorite article I read was about how the rest of the world reacted to electing Obama.

“Maybe one day Russia will have an Asian president” he added. Maybe . . .

Posted by: jmarleneh | November 4, 2008


Halloween seems to only be a theme that clubs have decided to use to attract more people. Halloween was also the international student fair here at the Russian School (just for foriegners!). Our school is composed of students mostly from Korea, China, and Japan. One of my favorite parts was watching the Korean girls dance. Especially since three of them are in my class! Later that night they came over to our room to “trick or treat.” Artish came to visit us on Halloween as did Kate, a girl we met from the international fair who is enamored with American culture and wanted to share some of her English/American movies with us. I was excited to meet her because she was so excited to meet us. But I confess I am a little disappointed to ask her about Russian film/music and hear her say that she’s just not that interested. 😦 American culture is overrated!  The 7 of us chatted for a while. I confess a lot of English is used between those of us who know English so having our Korean friends over (Ewn Yong, Ewn Kyong, and Gee Hong?- Korean names are the HARDEST names ever) was especially fun because it forced us to use more Russian since they understand much English! We talked about American culture and shared what American cartoon/TV shows were popular in Korea and Russia. We even turned on the TV in our dorm room to the Korean channel and guessed what was going on. It was really amusing to find out what some of the commericials were actually for.  After our Korean friends left the four of us watched two episodes of Scrubs in Russian. It was a lovely Halloween.  😉

Posted by: jmarleneh | October 24, 2008

Do you hear that? Sounds like “Пятницу”!?

My grammar class meets for an hour and half four times a week but sometimes it feels much longer. Today I was especially irritated because I had gotten so much of the homework wrong. I tried to keep my dread to myself but I couldn’t help sighing after every answer’s explanation and I cringed when it was my turn to share what I did wrong. I understand better now of course (I hope!) but why must I get it so wrong the first time?!! Anyways with 15 or so mintues to go we started to hear the sound of an accordion and singing. Another group practicing for the international fair next week! I confess I’ve been really jealous seeing my Korean friends practice with their elegant costumes and dance routines. And what will the 4 Americans present? Good question! We couldn’t come up with anything. We had a meeting. It was awkward. “Do you any of you dance?” No. “Sing?” No. They finally told us we can give a short presentation about the city we’re from. Where was I going with this . . . oh, yes, we heard the accordion playing. And I listened enviously except suddenly I realized they were singing Russian songs- will the teachers participate like they did in the tug-o-war tournament?

 Finally class ended and we discovered the noise was from a group of Russian performers who were preparing for a concert about to start. They wore traditional costumes and played traditional instruments. I took lots of pics but the light was bad. My favorite part was when they invited students to join in the dance. I got invited to dance in front of everyone. They put a crown on my head. The older gentleman gave me a bow and qued me to follow his lead. I awkwardly bowed too but not too awkwardly since I was delighted by how ridiculously fun this all was that I didn’t have much time to think too much about what I was doing and whether it was really bad or not.  It was a lot of fun to pretend I knew what I was doing. One must just “go with the flow” with these things because it just makes them more enjoyable.  I really enjoying dancing when I am not suppose to know what’s going on. Later they invited everyone to dance in a circle and play some games similar to “duck duck goose” (except better, of course!). It was really fun to not just watch but participate.

Later I dropped by the American Councils office here in Vladivostok. They have an English library and I started reading Brothers Karamazov in a cafe today. I am so elated! I really regretted not buying a copy before leaving and here it is- IN ENGLISH! That’s so rare to find here!  American Councils advises Russian students about studying abroad in highschool or applying to American universities. Lewis & Clark should have more students from Russia studying there! The organization keeps some English fiction for their returnees to borrow (but it’s also open to students like me!). Rebecca bumped into some consulate workers (and the ambassador?!?- I still don’t know I have to ask) and I noticed them on the street and we chatted together with them briefly!

Altogether (or at least since I began this post) it was a lovely day . . .

A student in one of the English conversation classes I help lead cried in class the other day. It surprised me and made me laugh harder. The class was trying to explain a political joke to me that I still don’t understand. I think they found how I tried to reinterpret what they said even more amusing than the original joke. I was so delighted to see Russians laughing. Perhaps, it was technically at me. But I like to think it was more at how much meaning gets lost when you try to directly translate word by word. This day in particular we were learning that the actual words weren’t as important as understanding the cultural context. We were having another “lost in translation” moment. But instead of the awkward fidgeting, whispering and sighing I sometimes hear everyone was laughing. Irina, who is usually so quiet laughed so hard she cried. And I still don’t understand the joke. Yuliya gave me some homework so I could understand by next class. We’ll see if that could help.

This class in particular had been full of laughs. Earlier Yuliya had tried to translate a Russian probverb that doesn’t seem to have an English equivalent- or at least certainly not the way she tried to explain it! Sergei liked the word “Bungalow” and kept repeating it over and over again. “Do you want to live in a Bungalow?” (The conversation topic was suppose to be: where people live). I also had to explain what the verb “to share” meant and how to use it to everyone’s amusement. “A husband and wife can share a car. It isn’t just his. They both own it and use it. They share the car.” Evgeni cracked a wide grin from the back of the class. “Eh, common use . . . Communism” he added before chuckling. “Yes, we understand” By now the whole class had started laughing. The class had already taught me a lot about what it meant to live under communism and now I– the young American- was trying to teach them the concept. I love how amusing this class in particular has been! Much is lost even in this attempt to retell it! In Russia especially words fail me- and not just because my dictionary doesn’t have them or I can’t prounounce them- context is everything. I invite all who read to join me here and share a good laugh.

Perhaps I should explain (in case you didn’t already know) that Rebecca and I have been given the opportunity to help out at a private English school that teaches students and adults. We were so elated when we were asked if we’d be interested in helping!

I owe a great deal of my excitement here to this. Living in the dorm on a floor with other foriegners (and in a room with another American) makes me wish I could immerse myself more in Russian culture. Although living in the dorm, especially in such a nice room as ours, has its own advantages I’ve often longed to spend more time with Russians! So I am really grateful for the interaction with other Russians this teaching opportunity has given us. I learn so much about Russian culture and how Russians think from the classes I help lead. We have even become friends with some of our students and meet them outside of class.

This is how we met our friend Elena who has invited us over to her house to meet her friends and family. Elena teaches English to elemetnary age children and also has some older pupils. She’s invited us over to her house again this weekend to meet some of her pupils and get them more excited about studying English. We have visited her church more than once and have just hung out with her and some of her friends. The city is small so I’ve seen some of Elena’s friends down at teh center and it’s such a great feeling to see someone you know and have an excuse to smile and talk to them (yes, in Russian)! Most of her friends speak little to no English. Last time we were invited to a birthday party of one her friends and one of the guys we met told us that we were the first Americans he had ever met! He was so excited! (We had some delicious Russian food and sang songs and even danced a little!). We speak a combination of English and Russian around her outside of class- trying to get by on our Russian to practice but also helping Elena practice her English! Her friends tend to speak little English so it’s really helpful hanging out with him and practising our Russian. I am especially excited to meet some of her younger pupils this Sunday! I love the enthusiasm, curiousity and shameless inhibition of younger children- their sincerity and enthrallment with life can be so refreshing!

On Mondays and Tuesdays Rebecca and I take a 45 minute bus ride to the school and help lead some English conversation classes. On Monday we always teach one together and two seperately! I like leading the conversation class by myself better- I am less nervous and self-concious somehow adn my pupils in the next class are also older and seem more comfortable asking me questions. I am the youngest one there! I still remember their reaction: “Only 20! And leading their conversation class?!” They had thought I was a graduate school student studying to become a teacher- I wish! They couldn’t think I was already an experienced teacher because I often need help from the students to explain things more clearly. I tend to explain things in a very convoluted way. Ask anyone who has watched me try to explain something simple! But I am learning that experience and attitude are what can make good teachers! The school gives us worksheets to go through but in the class I described above we only got through 2 excercises they had too many questions about where and how Americans actually live. I love how comfortable this class has grown with me! We’re free to ask questions that make us sound ridiculous! And I love that we can laugh freely at ourselves and others in a friendly way.  I really enjoy teaching English to foriegners, I’ve been delighted by how amusing the adults are to teach! I hope to find a similar opportunity to volunteer back in Portland. I just had to write a lot about this because I am sure it will become one of my fondest memories here.

Posted by: jmarleneh | October 22, 2008

Sweet Peanutbuttery Nostalgia

Last night after helping out at the English school Rebecca and I recieved an unexpected surprise. Our friend Artesh knocked on the door with a small bag in his hand. Artesh studies foreign languages (English and Japanese) and History at the university here and has become a good friend of ours. We help him with his English homework occasionally and practice conversation and he has been really helpful to us as well.  He is from the small republic of Tuva in Central Asia, although it’s technically a part of Russia and Russian is taught in schools.  I really enjoy hearing his perspective on politics in Russia and in Tuva.

He asked if we have milk, sugar and tea and explained that he brought us some special Tuvan food that he doesn’t even have a Russian translation for! I assumed it was a special type of tea and started washing all the dirty dishes he needed. We had just started to eat our dinner. Feeling somewhat awkward I asked him if he had already eaten. He replied that he hadn’t yet but wasn’t hungry so “don’t worry.” That’s when I remembered that the Saturday before we had splurged on a small overpriced jar of German peanut butter. A couple days before that I had bought jelly too! It was his FIRST time trying peanut butter and Rebecca suggested we take a picture of him and his first peanut butter and jelly sandwhich (he also tried peanut butter and honey since Rebecca insisted it was even better).

I was too excited to see him try the sandwhich to make myself one. I think we were a lot more excited than him (we even tried teaching him the song). There’s just so much nostalgia with PB&J! We tried to explain it to him. He told us he had heard about it from movies and now he was finally trying it (it’s been really hilarious to hear perspectives of Americans from our movies, music and videogames- I am no longer surprised that many Russians here only know bad words from our movies, music and yes, videogames like Grand Theft Auto). Russians are suppose to have something like this but he tried to explain it’s different. We told him of course that he didn’t have to like it. Many foriegners don’t like peanut butter! He just had to try it! He said he did and I am inclined to believe him.

Afterwards he shared his “exotic” dish with us. It can be transliterated as “Ching-gye Tah-rah.”  He wrote the word down for me and the letters looked similar to Russian.  He has told us his language is similar to Turkish. It looks so interesting! I wish I could type what he wrote down! The porridge he made reminded me of Malt-o-Meal except of course better (I am not even trying to be polite-I actually liked it). He explained that this was his favorite food growing up.  Before he left he  gave us a some extra to make later since he had recieved so much. It sits on our counter now. Perhaps I will have some more after this post . . .

Posted by: jmarleneh | October 17, 2008

Random Post

Sorry for not posting in a while. Internet can be unreliable and somehow my last post disappeared- much like e-mails that no one ever seemed to get! Why is Russian Internet so strange?!?

Where to begin? I don’t even want to limit this post to a particular topic because too much has happened since I last posted. To begin let me confess that the impossible has happened. I have fallen in love. There’s no other way to describe it.  Владивосток is such a beautiful city! I can enjoy the sunset over the ocean from campus with just a couple steps from the dorm (I envy those in our building who can enjoy it from their window). It takes my breath away!  

Although much in this city literally takes make breath away- particularly the pollution. If I can walk I prefer it over the buses because sometimes (especially when they’re really busy and crowded) I feel like I am suffocating on the exhaust and cigarette smoke. I remember once I was seriously contemplating just getting off the bus and walking the rest of way home (No worries, I knew where I was and it wasn’t that far). As beautiful as the city is the air isn’t too clean. I am reminded that I need to take my daily asthma medication here. I am glad I brought some Advair, which I very rarely used in the states.

In class we learned the most beautiful times of the year here are in August/September- just like in Portland! Much reminds me of Portland. I love the feeling of being on the edge of this enormous country. Of course, it feels much more profound here (Russia makes everything profound!) since Siberia seperates us and Moscow/St. Petersburg. This region is young without “much history” somewhat like the Northwest.  They call autumn here  “Золотой Осень” because all the leaves turn yellow, orange and red and I just can’t begin to describe how beautiful it all is with the sunlight beaming through the shimmering leaves. Autumn is officially my favorite season. And I’ve decided it is most beautiful here (at least compared to all the other “exotic” places I’ve been . . . ).

I tried cooking last night and got carried away chopping so I made way too much food but one sympathetic bystander actually offered to help (you can strain the pot with the lid and not just a spoon?!? Who woulda thought?). His name is Peter and being fluent in Russian he studies at the regular college and offered to help me with my Russian. He was very excited to meet an American (as most students are here) but I hope that he can teach me something I may need to learn even more than the Russian Genitive Plural- survival cooking skills. I building up the confidence to ask some of the acquaintances I’ve made in the hall to teach me. I watch them in amazement. I want to cook like them (or closer than I can now!). We’ll see.

I am really bad at this blog posting business- what to write about! Post your questions and I try writing answers to them! Love to you all!

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