Katherine Devine was an on-site intern with ATMA SEVA from August 2012 – 2013. Below are photos from her year in Northern Thailand!
Photography by: Katherine Devine
Katherine Devine was an on-site intern with ATMA SEVA from August 2012 – 2013. Below are photos from her year in Northern Thailand!
Photography by: Katherine Devine
Prior to wrapping up my on-site internship in Wiang Haeng, I had the opportunity to take a short day trip with a fellow teacher and some students from grade M. 4 (the equivalent of 10th grade in the United States) to the neighboring province of Fang. It was an interesting time to travel as the rainy season was in full swing, threatening to keep us confined to the indoors. We left early in the morning and, due to my tendency to get very car sick, I spent a great deal of the three hour drive in a Dramamine-induced sleep. But as I began to fight off the drowsiness I realized that the rain had stopped and the landscape had transformed into a vibrant sea of green. While the rainy season can be draining, with its lack of sunlight and grey skies, it also creates some spectacular sights. As soon as the rain stops, the fresh planted rice turns technicolor green, the sky a radiant blue, and the mountains in the distance covered with a misty haze. As the views unfolded in front of me, I quickly reached for my camera and tried to capture the beauty of northern Thailand with its expansive rice fields and surrounding mountains.
Our first stop was Wat Thaton, a large temple filled with Buddha relics from around the world. The novices and I enjoyed exploring the hundreds of statues and the variety of designs – some were very modern looking, while others were very old and traditional. Afterwards, we walked up the naga-style ramp to the top level of the temple where we paid respect to an ancient, and very well respected, Buddha relic. The views from the top of the hill were amazing as we looked over the town of Thaton and neighboring hill tribe villages and the Maekok River. By this time, the sky had fully transformed from grey to brilliant blue and the air felt crisp and fresh.From there we headed to the Fang hot springs where we marveled at the park’s geysers and beautifully maintained park. The park had ancient trees with raised, knotted roots that added to the mysterious beauty of the park.
I think the students enjoyed the trip as much as I did – it was great to get a change of scenery and explore different landscapes. I had no idea Fang district had so many outdoor activities to explore. I hope to return in the near future to explore the area further and all it has to offer!
20 June 2012
Today, we woke up at the farm around 9 in the morning. Dtee had already left to go to work in the fields. Heading out in the light rain, we rushed back to the village because we were slightly late for our talk with the kids. We reached the village and freshened up quickly and went to the school. The kids were in their classrooms. When the students leave the classroom, they chant “thank you teacher” in English. We went to the room and the kids come in one by one. While I start looking up some more pictures on my iPad to show the kids, Moi brings me a cup of coffee, showing that she also has opened up to me (she was one of the shyest ones).
We start off the discussion with a funeral presentation from the kids. The two explain the process once someone in the village passes away. It was interesting to note that funerals here were not a one day thing. There were many ceremonies, and the burden was not just on the family, but everyone in the community participated. It was a rule that within three weeks (approximately) a family who has lost someone will not be left by themselves lonely for a single day. When it was my turn, I presented briefly on Hindu funerals as I didn’t know too much about either American or Indian funerals.
After our funerals presentation, we started talking about relationships (boyfriend/girlfriend). Both the guys and girls were shy and laughing throughout the discussion. When my turn came, even I was a bit uncomfortable because everyone was giggling. It was a fun topic though, and it was one of the most interesting things that we talked about with the kids.
We then went to Nid’s uncle’s house to hear a few more presentations, with the principal also joining us. I noticed that everyone presented something except one. Upon questioning him, we found out that he came from a different village (Karen); a village that was converted to Christianity and had lost its culture with time. It was kind of disappointing to see such an ancient and rich culture destroyed by another to get some followers.
After all the presentations, we said goodbye as this was our last day of discussions. We took a few pictures with all the kids. We exchanged Facebooks and emails IDs. It was so cool to think that I could keep in contact with kids so far off from my home. We then met up with the principal again and took some pictures with him. He gave me a guestbook to write in and I wrote a note of thanks to the people and the kids.
Upon arriving home, we got ready to learn how to work with bamboo, with Nid teaching us. I made a lot of mini baskets, but I got her dad to make most of the harder parts. It was nice of him to teach and help us. When Nong Beau came home for the first time she asked me for help with her alphabet. We practiced together, and I was amazed at how well she knew it! I was also glad that she had finally opened up to me!
When Moi came home, I asked her whether she wanted to go play volleyball. We went and some of her friend’s came with. It started to rain, and we played for a long time in the rain. It was a ton of fun! After her friends leave, Moi and I played badminton with Nong Sai (one of the children of our house) watching.
Tired from playing for such a long time, Moi and I headed home. When we got to the house, the family surprised me with a traditional Lawa costume. I tried it on (with Dtee’s help), and we took pictures with Nid’s family as this was the last opportunity we could. I was taken aback by the kindness of the family throughout my stay with them.
Once we were done with dinner, Dtee decided to take David and me out eel hunting because this was something typical that farmers do that I hadn’t seen. We went to some nearby farms to do so. We looked hard for some eels but we couldn’t find any. At one point, my flashlight ran out of batteries, which was the scariest experience being on thin steppes in the pitch dark. Ultimately, we couldn’t find any because apparently they hide when it is raining. Coming home, I was exhausted from the day’s events so I just fell asleep after getting killed in some arm wrestling matches by Dtee.
21 June 2012
Today, we had to get up early in the morning because it was the day we had to go back to Chiang Mai. Everyone was already up waiting for David and me. Moi and Nong Sai said bye because they had to go to school early today. Nong Sai gifted me with a Lawa bag. I was surprised because my communication with her was minimal, so it was really nice of her! I decided that next time I come to the village, I will get her something. After they left, everyone started giving me gifts; I was very appreciative of their kindness! I got a ton of Lawa bags. Pee bit even gave me several handmade hair-clips for my sister. After receiving such hospitality, I did not feel like leaving the village at all.
After saying bye and promising to come back soon, I set out with a truckload of people (me, David, Dtee, Nid’s dad, two of Nid’s uncles, oo, some other Thai girls, and of course Nid) and things to drop off at the village. This time along the bumpy road, we only had to get out of the truck once. Along the way, I started talking to some of the Thai girls on the truck. I learned a lot about them. They were all Catholic, and they told me about the many churches that we saw on the way. I also told them a bit about my own religion because they seemed very interested in that there were many other religions practiced in the US other than Catholicism. During our conversation, it started raining very heavily, making our ride so much more enjoyable!
We reached Mae Sariang and Dtee dropped the girls and our suitcases off at the bus station. Then, we went to go get a Thai massage and said bye to Nid’s dad. It was kind of sad saying bye because it had been such a good time with him. I got ready for the massage by putting on some massage clothes. It was an interesting experience. It was extremely painful (my left calf hurt for days) but it did have a refreshing and healing feeling to it. After our massage was over, Dtee came to pick David and me up while Nid finished her massage. He dropped us all at Leelawadee restaurant, and we said bye to him as well. This was also sad because we had spent so much fun time with him!
At the restaurant, I got some noodles (I was pretty tired from the trip there). After lunch, we left for the bus station. We got into the van after packing everything. I went into the window seat and enjoyed the long ride back and also slept for a while. Upon reaching the city, we took a taxi to the hotel where I would be staying (Rainforest Boutique). David dropped me to the room and left for his own home. I took a hot shower. For the first time ever, I started appreciating ‘luxuries’ like hot showers after the freezing cold bucket showers in the village.
Natch then came to pick me up, and we went on his bike to the shopping mall to fix a camera. We had dinner at Pizza Hut (we chose this because it had been awhile since I had had something not Thai!). We talked about my experience at the village and continued our previous conversation about how people can be truly happy even if they are poor. After, we left the mall and drove around the city. I saw a really cool temple on the way made of wood and gold. We also a ton of bars and even more lady-boys than I could imagine. After a quick drive around the city, Natch dropped me off at the hotel. I soon after fell asleep.
22 July 2012
Today, I started my discussions with Burmese refugees from Shan State at the Best Friend’s Library NGO. (Find them on Facebook) Before we started our discussions, I was given a briefing about the political situation in Burma at present because, to be honest, I didn’t know much about the military dictatorship there. I was shown pictures and books, and David and I talked a bit with Garrett, the director of the organization. This day was ice breakers and introductions, as all the first days had been. It was a bit intimidating this time because they were all older than I, mostly in their twenties. They were also pretty independent and much more mature than the others had been.
After our late discussion, we headed out back to the hotel and got ready for dinner. We decided to go to Khun Churn restaurant, a vegetarian Thai restaurant that my dad had really enjoyed when he was here. The food was alright and the ambience was really awesome!
After our dinner, we decided to go to the Night Safari that night. There, I got to hold and feed a baby white tiger! It was actually pretty scary because, even as a baby, this guy was strong and aggressive! Before the actual safari, we got to see an awesome show with lights, dancing, and waterworks! On the safari itself, we saw other bigger tigers and many other animals on our safari. We even got to feed some of them such as giraffes and monkeys.
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written by: Raghav Agarwal
17 July 2012
Today, I started the day by waking up relatively early at around seven. So far, I had been avoiding the extremely cold bucket showers, but I decided that today I needed to get refreshed again. After my shower, David, Nid, and I ate breakfast. We ate eggs and bread, both of which, and especially the latter, are not eaten in the village, and we had bought at the market in the city. Even though I had been enjoying the homemade meals, it was nice to have some familiar food.
After breakfast, we went back to the school for our daily discussion. This was a fun day as we discussed perceptions of both places and compared them. It was interesting also comparing their perception of me and the monk’s perception. Today, we had to cut our discussions a bit short because we had to take a long trek.
After a quick break at the house, we set out for a long trek to a Karen village even deeper in the mountains to meet people there and learn about their culture. Accompanying me were David, Nid, four younger kids, and even two dogs! We got our walking sticks and raincoats and set out. It was a beautiful hike, out in the greenery of the mountains with steep agriculture at random places. Winding roads even held some wildlife, especially the blome which was a type of leach that kept sticking to us.
We trekked for two hours, after which it started raining heavily, and we were forced to stop. In a little while Dtee came to pick us up on his motorbike. He took me up to an overlook and called people from the other village to pick up the rest of the crew. This was my first one on one with Dtee. I realized that even though we couldn’t talk because of the language barrier he was a really cool and caring guy.
Eventually, the rest of the people came; after some pictures, we headed over to the village.
We arrived at the host’s home. We first started talking about sports, Muay Thai was a big deal in Thailand. It was on TV (I was very surprised that there was reception in such a remote area of the world!). We also started learning about the culture and history of the village. The most interesting thing that I learned was that a few decades ago, some Christians had come and converted most of the village. We paid a visit to the school and church that they had built when they had arrived. It was interesting to note that the church that they had built was magnificent for such a remote place, but the school was very run down.
Upon seeing the school, we all head over to visit the eldest people in the village, who were the only indigenous (religion) family left. The couple that we met were in their late nineties. This was one of the most special experiences of the entire trip because they both performed an indigenous, ceremonial blessing for me. I felt extremely privileged to be the recipient of such a special and old practice. After the ceremony, it was an indication of respect for everyone to drink some home-made rice whiskey (very bitter).
We then said bye to the elders there and started heading off home. Before leaving, we saw the places where the villagers make things like rice whiskey and prepare grain in order to be self-sufficient. After this, we decided to head home because it was getting late and it was almost dark. The same people who drove us offered to take us back even though they would have to drive the narrow, winding path in the dark. It was very nice of them! As soon as I got home, I laid down and went to sleep, reflecting on the interesting day I had had.
18 July 2012
Today, after a good nights rest, I woke up early. We all had a nice breakfast that consisted mostly of egg dishes that Pee bit, Dtee’s wife, had cooked (she suspected we liked eggs a lot because of the previous day). We talked about the previous day and shared some thoughts before heading out for the next discussion with the kids.
We began the discussion with general questions from the previous days. There weren’t too many questions except some inquiries about my family and school. They thought it was really cool that I drove myself to school and that it was so far away from my house. After this, we started playing our team building exercise. We had to draw certain things that David would describe to us and the team with the best drawing would win. Our team lost by a little bit. During this activity, I noticed that the kids were a lot more open and talkative than they had been a couple of days before. I felt really connected to them as we tried winning the game.
After this game, we headed to Kom Jon’s sister’s house because two girls were giving us a presentation on food and traditional Lawa costumes. These presentations were really impressive, especially taken that they were doing it in front of some almost complete strangers. During this presentation, I saw the girls looking at the guys and giggling with each other. Thinking about this, I realized that human behavior is universal. Everywhere that I have seen, young adolescents act like this. Human behavior is truly something that breaks the barriers between different types of people. When the presentation was over, some of the kids invited us to come play sports with them.
After a quick snack made by Nid, David, Nid, and I went to the school to play. In the beginning, the girls were having their volleyball practice so I just played badminton with Nid on the side. I also shot around some hoops with Nam (Kamon’s son) and other boys. The girls were really good at volleyball, especially Moi (Nid’s niece and Anchille’s sister). Moi let me practice with them; initially, I was terrible and my arms hurt like crazy. I got used to it eventually and, when we started playing some games, my team dominated the other team. We played late into the evening even during heavy rain. It was exhilarating.
Eventually, some of the girls had to go home, so we went back home too. I talked to Dtee’s little kids for a bit (Beau and Nye) and taught them my name (because it is kind of hard to pronounce I guess). Even they were opening up to me and feeling less shy around me. I taught them how to clap and pound, and they loved that! We then ate dinner and played some games on the iPad before falling asleep.
19 June 2012
Today’s day started off with another discussion with the kids (the principal of the school also joined us). Today, we had a comparison day. We analyzed our perceptions of each other’s culture and discussed why we thought that way. The main topics that we looked at were government, people, culture food, and sports. One thing I noted, that others had also pointed out, is that the kids were fascinated with America but also disgruntled with Americans at their superior attitudes towards them.
After some group discussions, we headed over to an elder’s house for another presentation. Today, the presentations were Lawa weddings and funerals. It was interesting that the importance of these two events in human society is universal. After the kids presented, I showed them and the elders some pictures of American and India funerals and weddings, and described them with as much detail as I knew. The kids were very interested in my short presentation and many of them took rapid notes. It was cool that most of the group said that they would want an Indian wedding because of the grandiosity while a few of the boys said they would want an American wedding because of the smaller cost.When we finished our discussions for the day, we headed home to get some lunch. Pee bit made us a delicious egg and vegetable meal.
We then headed off to Dtee’s farm. Fortunately, his farm was not too far and it only took us a 25 minute walk. When we arrived, we walked around and explored as much as we could. The land was very extensive and some parts were surprisingly well-developed! We picked up some walking sticks to help us walk through all the plants and wildlife (the farm was situated in a small jungle/woods). As usual, we caught a few blome trying to get us, but none of them got too far. After spending the entire afternoon, we also decided to spend a night at the farm. We would be staying at a two-story wood structure, built for overnight stays at the farm. Dtee got us some tents and supplies that we need. It also started to rain heavily, but we were lucky that we were covered; also, the views of the rainfall were amazing!
After setting everything up, we started preparing for dinner. Dtee showed us some eels that he had gone out and hunted (they live in the over-flooded farms in the steppes). Being a vegetarian, I decided not to try them. David, however was open to trying them and even helped prepare the eels. Nid meanwhile prepared other dishes for all of us to share. After dinner, Nid went to sleep and David, Dtee, and I talked long into the night. We learned that Dtee had a desire to learn English just like the Lawa children. Even though he had not been taught much, he still knew the alphabet pretty well and even the numbers. We taught him some basic phrases such as how to introduce oneself. We also talked about how Dtee was engaging in green farming without the use of pesticide and harmful chemical and how it was important to teach the newer generation this. We talked like this until we had to go to sleep just because we had to get up a little earlier in the morning to walk back to the village.
written by: Raghav Agarwal
14 June 2012
Today, I had to get up a little earlier than usual because it was the day to leave for the village. My dad and I went to get breakfast at the buffet and were joined shortly by Natch who came to pick me up for the bus station. Before we finished, we were also joined by Ji who was going to take my dad on his tour alone today. We all decided to head out to the bus station.
David and Nid showed up shortly after we did. We all took some group pictures as this was the last time I would be seeing my dad until I returned home to the US. After saying goodbye, we got in the van. The vans in Thailand were very interesting. They were very comfortable-looking with an air conditioner and everything. However, there was limited leg space! You got used to it quickly; it was just funny to see it at first. Looking through the window, we could see beautiful views of the green mountains we were going up to. After about four hours of short naps and awesome views, we arrived at a small town called Mae Sariang. Here, the van dropped us off, and Nid’s brother Dtee picked us up. To me, he looked exactly like a male version of Nid. David told me that he was a very solid guy and he was a tough guy (he looked skinny but he was hiding some major muscle!). We did some shopping in Mae Sariang at the market and 7 11 for bread, candy, and many many vegetables because there would be no shops or markets up in the village.
We then went to Nid’s sister’s house to pick up Nid’s dad who was staying with her and would be coming back with us to the village. We got into the pickup truck with a lot of stuff in the car. It was a tight fit!
Along the way, Nid’s dad wanted to pick up some chickens for some ritual and food. They literally went to this place to buy them and just stuffed the chickens into these baskets he had made. While we were watching this, a very friendly shopkeeper on the other side of the road greeted us. He invited us over and fed us some Thai fruits and got us some water. He was very kind and talked to us nicely. We took a picture with him, and we headed on to the village.
Driving along the way up on the mountains, we had some interesting experiences. There was so much rain that we had to stop the truck at a rest stop. We waited there for awhile till the rain subsided a bit, having some drinks and playing with the local dog. Dtee also bought us a sling-shot and David and I had fun shooting it around! Then, we headed out to the winding road to the village. The rain had ruined the dirt roads so badly that we often had to get out of the truck in order for Dtee to maneuver around.
We finally arrived after a few hours, and I got to meet the rest of Nid’s family including her mother and sister in law and some of her nephews and nieces. David and I watched the family make a Thai dinner, different from what we had in the city. It looked different because the flavoring and spices they used were indigenous to the area. During our dinner, one of the teachers, Kamon, came and visited us. We discussed general things such as introductions, family, schooling, and other things. After Kamon left, I was shown the room I would be sharing with David. It was a very basic room with sheets on the floor and no fan or AC. Fortunately, there were no bugs. It felt different and surprisingly good to be living so simply. I also got an introduction to the bathroom that was a hole in the ground in the downstairs, which made me kind of nervous, but it was a good challenge. After this quick introduction, I fell asleep on my bed early because I was so tired from the journey!
15 June 2012
Today was the first full day I got to spend in the village. I woke up really late because I was so exhausted by the previous day, so by this time everyone had gone to the farm. I started my day with my first bucket shower. Pouring myself with ice-cold water for a shower was frightening. Although it was an awesome experience, it really was cold. In fact, my hair even began steaming from the temperature difference between the water in my hair and the air around!
After getting ready and having some breakfast, we all headed to the school where we would be having our daily discussions with the kids. This time, we played a game with candy. The number of candies a student took was the number of questions he or she would have to answer. As an icebreaker, we had fun questions for each other such as what superpower would you like to have. I got to learn the kid’s names (although I cannot claim to have remembered them perfectly) and about their families. Most of their families were farmers and most of the children went to help out at their respective farms after school and during school breaks.
With our daily discussion complete, we all had lunch and then set out to explore the village. David, Nid, and I met with some of the village elders who often joined us later on our discussions with the kids at school. These elders were the ones who were the most knowledgeable about the culture, and we asked them many questions. One of the most interesting concepts we learned about was the belief of spirits. Through these discussions, we learned that there existed a blend of animism and Buddhism here. After our discussion, we decided to go visit Kamon’s farm.
We began our twenty-five minute trek to the farm. Along the way, I learned that Kamon was one of the people, along with Nid’s brother Dtee, who were advocating green farming and the reduction of pesticides, something that was also being taught to the young students. We reached Kamon’s farm and saw a beautiful display of steppe agriculture. We explored a little around and had my first “blome” (a small leach that would stick to us). In addition, we saw Kamon working on the farm with his machines. Unfortunately, we had to cut it a bit short because it started raining extremely heavily, and we still had to walk a ways back to the village.
Walking through the cool and heavy rain, we arrived back at the village ready for dinner. David and I offered to help with the dinner preparations. Nid challenged us to make fire from two pieces of wood. No matter how much we tried, we could not get it! Eventually, Nid’s dad just helped us out with it. After dinner, I immediately fell asleep.
16 July 2012
Today, we spent most of the day trekking and witnessing really unique things at the farm. After a long, long hike up in to the mountains we came to the farm that we were supposed to be at. Here, we witnessed a ceremony to wish for good luck and a good harvest for the upcoming rice planting. The ceremony entailed the sacrifice of two chickens and one pig. I could not help but feel sorry for these animals as their emotions were brought to their face (the pig started crying of desperation to escape). After the sacrifice, the blood was wiped and a ceremonial plate was carried around. The animal’s meat was then eaten for lunch. Despite my rudimentary understanding of the ceremony, it was a complex process.
The rest of the day, we spent exploring the farm. I went down to the river that ran through the village and farms that provided a major water source. In addition, I helped plant some new rice seeds into the flooded soil in the steppe agriculture. This was a really messy and fun process. We enjoyed the company and learned more about their farming techniques from the other farmers there.
Later on, we headed back to the village as it was going to be a very long way back. Kamon invited us to his house to have a drink and converse. We stayed at his house for an hour and then we stopped at another house to see Kom Jon’s (one of the monks at Doi Saket) sister’s new born baby. After this visit, I quickly fell asleep.
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written by: Raghav Agarwal
Summer has passed half way and these past 2 weeks, I’ve taken some time to visit my family back in Vietnam. Last week as I accompanied two friends – Tony and his sister Lily – back to Pa Pae village, it felt like coming back to my hometown. People recognized and smiled at me. And I became the host for my friends, taking them around, showing them places and introducing them to others.
The children that I met and the time I spent with them was definitely what I’ve missed the most. A group of fourth-grade students welcomed me back with words like “Teacher, we’ve missed you” or “Teacher, do you bring us gifts from you country?” During weekends they would knock on the door and drag my lazy bump out so that we could begin our adventure around the village. It is incredible to see how eager these children are. All of them are sweet, nice and do have very polite, respectful attitude which provides a comfortable environment for teaching and living.
I remember at first, the idea of watching little children worried me a little bit, just because I’ve had very minimal experience taking care of kids. The children would start fighting, and playing in class, over and over again. Yet, as time went on, they noticed that there was a much older person in the room, a person that could guide them and help them. Some kids began to calm down and pay more attention to what I said. Some even tried to make conversation with me. As they began to look for me more often, I decided to instigate some activities that the kids and I could participate in together. Over the weekends, we ventured out onto the temple or playground and talked in mixed language – Thai, English and hand gestures. The boys are more shy standing next to me or making conversation than the girls. But they do have their own way of expressing their eagerness, by climbing up the trees and picking down the fruits for everyone to share.
With their tremendous help and presence this time, we took our friends to all the popular spots and shot some good footage for a marketing video for Atma Seva. The weather has gotten even cooler and rice fields have all grown to full extent in beautiful green color. We were back in time for another festival – the Buddhist Lent Day or “Khao Phansa Day”, which could be translated as “the entering of the rainy season”. It marks the beginning of three lunar months when monks are required to remain in one particular place or temple. This tradition originates from old times when Buddha stayed in temples during the rainy season to avoid killing insects or harming the growing seeds. It is a period for study, meditation and teaching of new monks. The monks are allowed to go out during the day but they must sleep in the same temple every night during these three months.
Upon preparation for this day, the kids helped teachers decorate a large yellow candle with flowers on a big bamboo draft, which would later be presented to the monks. This candle is big enough to last for 3 months! Around 8:30 in the morning, everyone gathered in the schoolyard for the flag ceremony. Instead of traditional Lawa costumes, kids showed up all in white shirts for this special Friday. Everyone made small donations in an envelope and put it next to the candle. They then proceeded to stand in lines, following the teachers and older kids who carried the candle and we all marched up to the temple. Here we sat in the big bright hall, listening to the monks’ teachings and paid our respects with kowtow gestures. Although I didn’t understand any words, seeing others’ faces made it clear how important this event was for them. They all wish for a prosperous rainy season so they could have enough rice and food for another year.
As the ceremony came to an end, we also said goodbye to Tony and Lily. They have finished their short but fully exciting trip and hopefully through the images they brought back to share with others, we could look forward to having more and more people knowing about Pa Pae and coming to help while experiencing the warmth and beauty of this mountain village.
Trang Nguyen, on-site intern
Check out the latest video about our unique Lawa Village program! This video was shot and produced by our talented on-site intern Antoine Gratian. All details about this program can be found here.
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