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Posts from the ‘Chinese New Year 2012’ Category

Finally New Years

A good friend of mine ” Sameer ”  recently commented that this series of post on the Chinese New Year seems to be never ending. I figure some explanation may be in order. It seems that way because unlike in the west the Chinese New Year is a full 15 day long event. I will try and explain a bit of what I have learned here in what will be my last post on this subject for 2012.

In the Chinese tradition each new year is associated with an animal form which coincides with the months of the year and repeats on a 12 year cycle. This year the 1st day of New Years is on Jan 23, and is considered the 4,709th Chinese year. For those paying attention thats a reallllllly loooooooong time  : ) 2012 is a dragon year and more specifically a Black Dragon or Water Dragon. The Dragon is a very powerful spirit to the Chinese and thus this year has a lot of power associated with it, we will see a huge increase in births due to parents wishing to have a lucky child.

Most people know a little bit about the Chinese Zodiac which among other things relates a persons birthdate with one of the 12 animal forms. The Animal form imparts certain personality traits much like in the Western Zodiac. There are even more variations whereas a person like myself might be born in the year of the dog but depending on when and how the actual birth took place I could be a metal, fire, water Dog etc…

I am told to know where you fit on the scale takes a person who specializes in interpreting such things, so I am happy just to know my sign.

Below is a graphic I made showing the different signs and some information, obviously I am no expert so if there are mistakes please forgive…

Zodiac Animals

The Chinese are still following the Lunar calendar  which is one of the ancient ways that all people observed time until the invention of the Modern Gregorian calendar in 1582. Its interesting to note that the Gregorian calendar only differs from the much older Solar Year by 26 seconds. Below is a beautiful picture of a solar calendar I found online. I have no idea how you would read it but it is interesting nonetheless…

Lunar

In Taiwan like on the mainland at this time people are very conscious of the spirits of the ancestors and of specific places. Businesses and communities will erect small alters to make offerings to these entities. This is in addition to the frantic activity at the many temples found everywhere. This is a small offering I saw last year in the lobby of the hotel I was staying at, I am certain if I was to return there now  I would find it again. I believe it is to thank the spirits of the building and or the land the building sits on and to ask for continued blessings into the coming year.

I have seen this type of thing before in Native American ceremony back in the states. I would guess the similarity is due to the extreme age of this culture which would also relate to the ancient traditions.

Offerings

Firecrackers are an integral component of the festivities both to celebrate the new year and to scare away bad sprits. The original ones were made from sections of Bamboo. These Chinese crackers are strung in long lines by the hundreds and can make a deafening roar when ignited. .

The Chinese invented gun powder long before their western cousins but unlike popular belief they did use it as a weapon very early on to propel fire arrows. It was also used in primitive hand grenades, poisonous gas shells and other assorted nastiness. Some say even the first artillery cannons were built by the Song Dynasty almost 2oo years before the Europeans.

This is very interesting when you reflect that the Europeans were able to easily subdue China in spite of this seemingly huge head start. I think this was due to China’s isolation and the fact that they were relatively unchallenged at home for very long periods. Compare that to Europe’s  history of almost constant warfare and it makes sense that the Chinese didn’t stand a chance.

Some typical decorations are like giant fire crackers and usually are hung in pairs at the doorway.

Fire Crackers

Chinese Lanterns are also have a big part to play and the final day of the Lunar New Year is actualy known as the Lantern Festival. In Taiwan there is a beautiful ceremony where flying lanterns are released to carry the prayers of the people up to Heaven. I have yet to see it but plan to next year.

Lanterns

We actually included this concept as part of a show design for China Mobile  by BRC Imagination Arts during the Shanghai 2010 Expo. I didn’t realize until the next year that what I illustrated does not even happen in Mainland China, but only in Taiwan.

oops…

Lanterns

Another Iconic scene is that of the Dragon or Lion dance. The drums and the dancing Dragons serve to expel evil spirits. This is a dragon dance we saw at Taipei 101 last year.

Dragon Dance

As everywhere in Asia huge crowds are a common thing but at New Year this is compounded to a great degree.

Big Crowds

More decorations, The color red is predominant as it is considered good luck and like the fire crackers it strikes fear into the evil spirits. On new years many people will also dress wearing red for this reason.

Market Stall

This is the  ” God ” of wealth or Zhao Gongming next to some paraphernalia from Taiwan’s recent presidential election. The Blue party won, which I am told is a good thing… Taiwan has 2 main political parties the Blue and the Green. The Blue party is that of Chiang Kai-shek and would most likely be considered as Conservative. The Green party is the minority party and considers itself to be the ” Local Taiwanese ”  thus seeing the Blue party as having invaded from China.

There is some truth to this in that Taiwan ROC was founded by the remnants of the legitimate Government of China in Exile after the Communist revolution. I will write some on the history of Taiwan in other post as it is a fascinating story…

Money God

Ah the Red Envelopes.

It is traditional at New Years for gifts of money to be given inside these red envelopes. Usually the envelopes will be given from elder to junior but also from children to parents. Its a bit confusing so I leave this part up to Fanny…

Red Envelopes

Envelopes for sale. I know the envelopes almost always contain money and usually in even denominations .The Japanese have a similar tradition called otoshidama but the envelopes are white.

Many Envelopes

There are specific foods that should be eaten at the New Years Dinner. I wont try and say what all they are as I do not really know, but I do know that you should eat what is offered as it is all part of the tradition.

One example would be a whole fish which represents plenty or an abundance of food in the coming year another would be the dumpling whose shape represents the ancient Chinese money.

Gold Money

Below is a lunchtime meal prepared in the home. We have  Fanny’s mother’s famous beef noodle, Tea eggs, various vegetables and a type of Kim Chi. My picture here does not do it justice as it was extremely good!

Like Mom used to make

On the day before New Year people will clean the entire house and leave the doors and windows open to allow free travel of the spirits. This also represents cleaning out the old year. On the New Years day all brooms and dustpans are  put away so the new luck cannot be swept away.

On the night of the New Year it is traditional for the entire family to gather and share a meal either at home or in our case out at a local restaurant. The reservations must be made well in advance as more and more people are going out this route. The meal consist of many dishes which everyone shares while talking and drinking around a large round table. During the meal it is customary to offer individual toast to all the adults present, usually starting with the eldest.

In the case of Fanny’s family this meal is paid for by the parents while on later days they are treated by their children. It is also customary for the older children to give envelopes to their parents to thank them for all they did for them in the past. 

While at dinner Jason, Fanny’s eldest brother’s car was run into by one of the many scooter drivers who obviously didn’t want to stick around and explain his actions. Typically the police do not even ticket people right now as it would be a bad start to the year.

Car Crash

After dinner we head back to the parents home to visit and and wait for the midnight fireworks. Gambling at Majhong

will be involved of course as well as a lot of very strange ( to me ) television specials for new years.  The family did play a funny gambling game which one bets on the outcome of dice throws called Yabao, the game is simple but extremely fun as the whole group is involved.

Below ” is not ” an example of the fireworks we saw, next year I want to go out and see the huge display at Taipei 101.

Fireworks

Before midnight the ” kids ” go out in the rain to set off the fireworks. I am not sure but I believe technically they are banned in Taipei but…

Almost Time

Here is a lil video of our amazing fireworks display. I cut off the part at the end where it falls out of the tree onto someones bicycle but you get the idea : )

In conclusion Chinese New Year is a lot of fun and I have enjoyed sharing it with Fanny and her family. It can seem pretty confusing to the western mind and I know that I have only scratched the surface. It should be noted that the traditions vary from family to family and country to country as CNY is celebrated all over the world. There is also much complexity added due to the mingling of Buddhist and Taoist religious practices. From what I gather it seems like many of the people do not even know what the traditions mean or even where they come from anymore, I guess this is what happens when your culture is literally thousands of years old.

Good Luck

New Years Eve

The last few days I have been doing some work for clients in Los Angeles so this is first day out for me in a bit. I love that I can work anywhere I am now… The only real issue is the time difference but as I am still a night owl its manageable.

Illustration done for Robert Montlabano I just found out that we will be doing some more work so the efforts were worth it…

Illustration

As I was up late ( meaning all night ) we are heading out a bit later then usual, Fanny’s dad is going with us to have some brunch after which he will be going to meet friends and play Mah jhong. I spy these exercise machines in the park on our way  maybe later we can try and see what they do…

Exercise Equipment at the park

The street is busy with folks doing last minute errands. I have noticed the closer we get to New Years the more aggressive the driving gets. I suppose this is no different then back home around Christmas and still nowhere near as crazy as the mainland.

Neighborhood Walk

We are going to grab some food at Sun Burger, a shop that has recently opened. According to Fanny’s dad it is run by two college students and is doing quite well as they work hard and the food is good. I am told that the job market in Taiwan is really bad at the moment and because of this quite a few people are starting little side businesses. Fanny and I have discussed the possibility of combining a coffee shop with my art studio in the future, could be fun…

Brunch Time

I get a concerned look from the owner / operator but I am sure its more curiosity then anything else. The mask is either to keep himself from getting sick or from spreading germs and is a very common sight in Asia.

Not Sure

Fanny’s dad is quite a character and I am really enjoying getting to know him better. His english is good and we have been having interesting conversations.  For many years Fanny’s parents did not approve of our relationship. I am happy that we have moved past this and I can get to know them. Part of what makes Taiwan a great place is this traditional life outlook but it can be a bit difficult as an outsider.

The food is quite good and a great deal all three meals come in at around 8 US dollars, including drinks. This  would be a bit more then on the mainland but the quality of food is well worth it.

General Lin

Our bellies full we head out for our  appointment at the hospital to take the MRI, along the way my eyes are caught by some colorful flowers for sale.

Flowers for sale

The neighborhood traditional market is really interesting, these stalls sell all manor of things mostly food and clothing very fresh and still cheap by US standards. On our last trip here we went shopping with Fanny’s mom who seems to know every person here and is a great haggler, getting what she wants for the right price a skill I have never picked up.

Traditional Market

I wonder how many scooters there are in Taiwan, at times it seems like there may be more of them then people but I know that cant be true. The scooters are literally everywhere except the highways where they are banned.

Scooters

A short bus trip has us back at Veterans General Hospital and the arrow points the way. This is the second time I will have an MRI done here in Taiwan, the first before my Arthroscopic knee surgery last year and now to find out why I am still having issues. I don’t know what to expect from this but I am hopeful we can at least get a clearer idea of what is wrong and how to deal with it.

Walk This Way

Obviously I did not take this picture as I am only wearing a hospital gown for the procedure but after searching online this picture is very close to the unit they used. I  believe it is a newer model then the one I saw last year and probably no more then a few years old. The procedure is strange but not uncomfortable. You must lie down on the table and in my case the  legs will be immobilized and inserted into the opening there. The whole thing takes around 30 minutes and consist of a number of scans which the machine makes in waves. I get a pair of foam earplugs like you would use for working with a pneumatic tool. The sound is still quite loud so I can imagine if you had to be inside one of these it would not be fun at all.

General Electric

Now I can say a bit about the cost. I have to pay for the MRI scan and the doctors consultation which will happen next week after the New Years festivities. All together I will have a full MRI scan, digital copies of the scan to take home and the doctors analysis, for all this I paid right at NT$10,000 or around $350 US dollars. To put this in perspective before I left the states I had 2 Xryas made, a 5 min talk with a doc who told me I had swelling and a tech who extracted  fluid from my knee for around $ 700.

Here I will have seen the doctor 3 separate times and have physical records of what he finds for less cost then the 5 min visit to the guy in the states. If I was a citizen of Taiwan I would not even have paid that much. I find it amazing that people in the US cannot see the benefit of Universal Coverage…

Now its time to meet up with Michelle, Fanny’s classmate from University. She is here for New Years from her home in Singapore. I will be hanging out with the girls while they catch up inside the local starbucks. You have to love Dragon man here, I assume he is a paid performer but you never know.

Dragon Man

Picture Time

While the girls talk I get a chance to play with my new iPad I still don’t have my Wacom stylus but I have borrowed a good one to use till then. I am using an app called Inspire Pro here which has some pretty nice painterly effects for its brushes. The iPad of course does not have touch sensitivity but even without that I am thinking some good art can be achieved. This is just an abstraction but I had fun painting it the only issue would be the limited size and what looks to be a real color management issue. On the iPad this piece was in shades of blue but when I exported it I get this purple oh well its a process… If I am not mistaken this program allows you to recreate your work on a desktop machine at a higher resolution which will be nice. I will post more on the iPad later.

Inspire Doodle

4 Hours and much coffee later, its time to head home for dinner with the family, I am looking forward to it as I now know that Fanny’s mom is an amazing cook.

Nighttime Taipei

I keep thinking I should get some of these for my studio at home don’t think they will fit in my suitcase though…

Lanterns

On the way back I spy this lil guy on the door to an office building. Is it just me or does it look like the dragon is wearing eyeglasses? Tomorrow night is the New Year which will be spent with family sharing food, drink, fireworks and of course Mah Jhong.

Door Dragon

Taipei day 1

After a good sleep at Fanny’s dad’s place we are up and about relatively early. Fanny’s parents live in a very desirable area of Taipei the area was originally reserved for military families but has sense then been opened to regular folks.Since there is a new metro station being built very nearby I assume this old neighborhood will be changing soon. Fanny’s dad was a pilot and retired from the  Taiwan airforce at the rank of full General I assume that is why they own here. I am impressed at the small differences between here and Shenzhen chief among them would have to be the use of good insulation, the house is nicely warm in spite of the chill weather. In Shenzhen when we left it was actually colder inside the apartment then on the street.

The building style here is similar to the mainland but the quality control makes all the difference. From the outside the buildings show their age but inside things are good. These buildings will soon be taken down to make way for the new style mega complexes ( developers are already pushing ) but for now its still the old way, I am hopeful that Taipei will retain some of its original charm after the inevitable growth…

The Neighborhood

Fanny tells me this used to be a restaurant but now it is an auto shop specializing in European cars.

Sleepy Dog

Something really cool about Taipei is the convenience, on our walk to the bus stop we can pick up breakfast, grab a coffee and do a little banking. We got what I call a chinese burrito and a rice meat  roll thing called ” Fan-Tuan ” for around 2 bucks Yum… A note for Americans I found out at the bank that our travelers checks are not very welcome here. You need to make sure they are from American Express or no one will cash them. Not shocking when you reflect on what the US banks have been pulling but a sad reflection on our current situation…

Quick Breakfast

This same shop may be operated by a different family for the night time crowd. Taiwan is a great place for food, the taste is a bit lighter then in Shenzhen but I think this has to do with the better ingredients quality. In China they over spice the food to cover any shall we say ” Issues ” that being said I also enjoy the food in Shenzhen just need to be a bit careful.

Making Breakfast

Local flower shop

Flowers

Just 2 blocks from the family home we find a major street, the buses load in the center of the street, this is also where the MRT will be going in underground when its finished. I think when we move here I can see having a scooter or maybe even a motorcycle but with all the public transport I see no reason for a car.

Catch The Bus

Something I have never seen in China, a cop actually doing police work, I imagine she is parked illegally. The police also ride scooters here if your wondering.

Ticket Time

Unlike Fannys Hula Hoops this girl has  a similar style to the ones we have seen in China, I believe its more of a workout thing as the hoop is weighted.

Hooper

On the main street of Taipei, ” Zhong-Xiao East Road “, this is a great area to walk around and people watch, very fashionable and such. Supposedly the real estate prices here have become incredibly high, a bit like Manhattan or Tokyo. 1 million NT for a ” PING ” or around 30,000 US dollars for 35 square feet.

main Drag

This is Fanny’s mom’s hairdresser of 20 plus years. Everybody gets done up special for the New Year.

Styling Time

Oh Boy…

In Good Hands

Thats a good look.

Zombie B

Heh Heh Heh

Scary Me

Flapper style cuts are cool… Why is it that all girls want short hair and boys like it long?

Flapper Time

Louise Brooks  silent film star and the original Flapper

Louise Brooks

Freshly styled we get back on the bus for a trip across town to see if we can make an appointment to see a knee specialist as mine is still bothering me. I am hoping that since this time I have Fanny with me we can get a better understanding of just what is wrong with it.

My beautiful girl sporting her new do

Taiwan is full of temples, you find them everywhere side of the roads, in the markets and neighborhoods. They are really ornate and seem to be in much better repair then their counterpoints on the mainland. I still don’t have a strong understanding of what the significance is, there are Buddhist and Taoist with a whole lot of overlap going on. I suppose this makes sense considering just how old  Taiwan and China’s cultural history really is.

Bus Ride 1

I have seen a number of these, I think they are power transformer boxes, painted with flowers and trees.

Bus Ride 2

Another temple, you routinely see people walk by and bow to whatever ( Gods ) are in there. I have also noticed a good deal of Christian symbology here on this trip, I suppose its inevitable but I hope the people don’t lose sight of their origins.

Bus Ride 3

Taipei Veterans General Hospital is one of the best facilities in Taiwan. Until very recently they had mandatory military service. Because of this veterans here receive real benefits, not surprising if you consider Taiwan’s history and proximity to communist China.

Taipei Veterans Hospital

As I am a foreigner and have never been here before  the first step will be to make an appointment to see the doctor on a walk in basis. After this is accomplished we head across to the cafeteria for some lunch.

Glass Dome

Inside we find a huge cafeteria with many stalls much like the food courts under malls. The place is clean and the food smells good hard to believe we are in a hospital. We get a full meal soup noodles and dumplings etc. you cant see it here but across from us the man is enjoying some kind of sizzling fajita thing. Both our meals cost us around $8 US and are quite good just can’t beat Taiwan for food.

Cafeteria Food

After lunch we go back to wait for our time to see the doctor. He does surgery in the morning and sees patients in the after noon. To the left you can see the office rooms where doctors treat the patients, as this a public hospital there are many people but our wait is only about half an hour. It is possible because they gave us  special treatment as a foreigner.

Take A Number

The doctor is quite nice and spends a good 20 min examining my leg before sending us down to have series of X rays made. This is also a teaching hospital so there are two intern doctors and a few nurses in attendance. He speaks excellent english as he spent time working in hospitals in the states where he went to school. Good news so far is according to him my knee structure is good we just need to find out whats causing the swelling. Not sure what a magnetom is but I liked the sign. I have 3 scans made of my knees and head back up to see what he thinks.

Magnetom

From the X rays the Doctor can see the scaring on my bones but wants an MRI scan done to be sure of whats going on in there. He tells me that I either have injury induced arthritis , a torn meniscus or floating debris any of which can cause the swelling and discomfort I have been experiencing. The appointment for MRI will be in a few days so for now we are done here I am given a prescription for an anti inflammatory med and we head on out. Our total time is under 3 hours including our lunch and the bill comes to a whopping $50 Us dollars for 3 X-rays, doctor consultation and a week’s medication, not bad for no insurance and no appointment.

We take the free shuttle back to the MRT station for a quick subway ride back to downtown. The MRT in Taiwan is very good and using it one can get just about anywhere in the city. The cost is quite reasonable as well, to use it you purchase a debit card type thing the ” Easy Card ” which can be used for any of the public transport and can be recharged at almost any convenience store.

Easy Card

The MRT trains make travel in Taipei very easy, it does get crowded at times but unless you must go outside the city or need to carry a lot of gear a car is just a hinderance here.

Trains Coming

Its been a nice productive day and we now its time to meet up with the family for dinner. The shop here on the right is selling various Chinese New Years paraphernalia.

The next few days will be spent visiting with friends and family, eating good food and generally relaxing… Its good to be back in Taiwan. 🙂

Heading Home

Late Night Flight

This year for Chinese New Year we will be in Taipei Taiwan. This is my second New Year in Taiwan and I am looking forward to it as I enjoy Taipei greatly and it will be a nice break from Shenzhen. We are going a bit early in order to give us time to take care of some things we need to do. Every year around this time travel in China becomes very congested as just about everyone is traveling home, I have seen it claimed that this is the single largest human migration in the world. To avoid complications, instead of flying straight from Shenzhen we have booked flights out of Hong Kong, the price is literally half that of a flight from the mainland 3400 RMB or around $525 US for both of us. Our flight leaves at 10:30 pm so we need to get to the border early in case of the almost certain delays. We will leave from Shenzhen bay to avoid having to carry our bags through customs especially important as I have packed my Cintiq in order to work while we are there.

. Taking the higher priced shuttle van is a must right now but in truth for Westerners its still quite a bargain our tickets cost us 150 RMB apiece or approximately $25 US well worth it for the convenience.

Waiting For the Van

Our wait is a bit longer then usual due to congestion at the border but we eventually are loaded in and on our way to Hong Kong. Unfortunately due to the strange relationship between mainland China and Hong Kong just getting in the vehicle has little to do with how quickly you get anywhere. After loading, the driver takes everyone’s passports and cues us into the line to clear China border security. The majority of vehicles in line are other ” Limo ” service vans usually late model Toyota mini vans with dual licenses plates, Full size Busses and the occasional wealthy Hong Kong resident. Everyone has to cue and go through the security checkpoints on both sides; mainland China and then about 50 meters after that , Hong Kong. The border agents take their jobs seriously so its advisable to give yourself a wide margin on time. A note for Westerners if your passport photo doesn’t look exactly like you anymore expect to be questioned on it.

Shenzhen Bay

This time through we spend a full hour getting past the mainland Chinese only to wait another half hour for Hong Kong its quite possible we will miss our flight as we still have a good half hour to 45 min drive to the airport. Fanny and I discuss this in English which of course our driver being from Hong Kong understands. Spending any amount of time in China tends to instill in people the need to be a bit manipulative at times and this time its paying off as our driver is making good time.

Moving At Last"

Our driver did really well and although time is tight we will not miss our flight. The airport is actually not too bad but then again it is 9:30 at night. After checking in we grab a coffee and await our plane in a terminal I have not seen before. Hong Kong’s airport is really quite amazing and someday I hope to have the chance to spend some free time here just looking…

HK Terminal

Our Flight leaves at 10:30 which means we will be getting in around midnight in Taipei. Strangely enough the flight is only about half full, this is probably due to the time and the fact that we are traveling a full 4 days ahead of the business men who work in Shenzhen but live in Taiwan. As you can see from the little flight map display Taiwan is actually quite close to the mainland something which makes their independence from China a loaded subject. The presidential elections are to be held very soon and the biggest challenge to the current leader of Taiwan is a female candidate who seems to want to take a much more hard line position with China, not sure if thats a good idea at the moment…

Flight Path

While in flight I read an interesting article about the lantern festivals that take place in Taiwan for New Years, I really want to see this sometime. This whole thing is really fascinating to me on a cultural level. I have never seen so many people fully commit to an event. The entire country and in fact most of Asia puts itself on hold for almost a full month. This is really amazing considering the current state of economics around the world. I have noticed closed shops in Lian Tang for the last week at least and at the same time you see long lines of people waiting to buy tickets home.  In 2008 the number of travelers during the season exceeded China’s population at 2 billion I assume this means there will be even more now. The fact that so many people in China are now living and working far from their family homes makes for some serious congestion.

After arriving safely in Taiwan we make our way to the shuttle bus area which has recently been redesigned. One of the nice features of Taiwan is an abundance of cheap and convenient transport options. We will be traveling to Taipei on a shuttle service run by the airport and I assume subsidized by the government. The service is quite nice and at 150 NT or $5 US  just you cant beat it.

New Development

The waiting area is relatively empty due to the time. Its right at midnight but the busses are still running. These girls are enjoying a quick game of something while they wait.

Playing Cards

I really enjoyed the design in here, the low ceilings and stone columns make me think of a Stanley Kubrick film

Ticket Counter

A view from outside shows more of this design sense. Taipei’s airport is currently undergoing a great deal of new construction should be interesting to see it when completed.

Patient B waiting

I really am happy to have my panasonic camera back in action the digital zoom works well especially considering the low lighting…

Closeup B

The buses are quite good, comfortable and spacious this one doesn’t show it but many of them are lit up like mobile christmas trees with neon and led lights. I am not sure why this is but it makes for cool visuals and its something I am getting accustomed to the longer I stay in Asia.

Not Our Ride

We have to wait for awhile longer as this will be the last bus tonight and will be full of passengers and airport employees. The man standing in the aisle here is one of the employees off from his shift and seemed quite friendly and talkative. This is another thing I really appreciate about Taiwan, the people here are very polite and approachable in sharp contrast to the mainland Chinese.

The trip to Taipei will take almost an hour which makes this comfortable bus very welcome to the weary traveler.

Nice Bus

These are some pics I took from the bus, I love Taipei at night there is something magical about it, a perfect place for me as I tend to be a night owl anyway…

Golden Lights

Numbers

Night Street

Tomorrow we must get up early as there are many things we want to accomplish while here and with New Year fast approaching we will not have any time to waste.

 

 

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