CNY Reunion in Phuket – Hangover & Burnt

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Since young, it has been our family’s tradition to spend the eve and the first few days of Chinese New Year outside Singapore. Back then, we had all our annual reunions in Muar, a small Malaysian town just south of Malacca. Since the passing our granny in June 2012, we stopped traveling back to Muar. We continue to have our annual reunion at many different locations outside Singapore.

CNY Reunions
(See: Sentosa 2013, Desaru 2014, Kukup 2015, Bintan 2016, Batam 2017, Batam 2018)

Last year was exceptional. Despite having it planned out months before CNY, we didn’t have any overseas reunion in 2018 due to many unforeseeable reasons. My dad was recovering from his eye operation and the Cheng family couldn’t join us because they were hosting relatives from the United States. In the end, I had the smallest and quietest CNY reunion in a big pool villa in Batam with my mum, wife, and kid.

 

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This year was exceptional too, for the first time ever, all the families flew to meet in Phuket. We parked ourselves at the most happening street in Phuket, in the heart of Patong Beach City, right beside the popular chaotic Bangla Street where it took us only a 3-min walk to the beach. With hundreds of shops, restaurants, massage parlors, and bars around us, it was certainly a big contrast from our usual CNY destinations (private family villa or quiet resort). The streets and beach were so congested with tourists from all around the world. This is our most crowded and noisest CNY reunion destination ever!

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Phuket was the perfect CNY holiday destination for everyone. The older folks indulged themselves at the nearby massage parlors/shopping mall while the sporty brothers showed off their abs at the indoor wake park/pool bar.

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Felicia, Elkan and I preferred the tranquility of Phuket’s more pristine attractions. We left buzzing Patong and traveled 4 hours to a group of islands northwest in the Andaman Sea.

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Similan Islands are well known for its clear water, fine sand and ocean life. Unfortunately, for a Singaporean, the name “Similan” (meaning “nine” in Jawi) bears the exact pronunciation as another common Hokkien expression “what-the-f**k”. I couldn’t resist myself from laughing every time the tour guide mentioned the name. This was apparent when the tour guide announced loudly in his voice when our speedboat anchored at the island “Hello, everyone, welcome to Similan! Enjoy yourself!”

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Similan Islands are indeed worth the visit. At first glance, its clear turquoise water and soft white sand are comparable to the Maldives. However, the state of tranquility vanished as hordes of tourists arrived onto its shore. We were lucky to be one of the earliest visitors of the day. By noon, the entire island was occupied by thousands of people.

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The sea life beneath was in very bad shape. Most corals have died out. It wasn’t as colorful, diverse and lively as the Maldives. Today, out of the 11 islands at Similan, only 3 are opened for the public. Many islands are closed off for turtle hatching protection program and reef conservation efforts.

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On the eve of Chinese New Year, Felicia, Elkan and I traveled eastward towards the Straits of Malacca to visit another popular, iconic tourist destination – Phang Nga Bay. We went island-hopping from the colossal Khao Phing Kan (aka James Bond Island) to enigmatic Koh Hong. 

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There, we hopped onto a kayak and explored many beautiful sea caves where we spotted a “heart-shaped skylight” above the center of an inner cave lagoon, outlined naturally by the canopy of the forest. There wasn’t any fixed exploration route at Koh Hong, our kayak rower was extremely nice to us and brought us to many limestone islets where we saw many stunning limestone rock formations up close. We ended our day touring the floating fishing village of Koh Panyee.

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While we were exploring the sea caves at Phang Nga Bay, the rest of the families were exploring a different world at the Upside Down House. It was hilarious to see my old folks doing the impossible poses.

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Later in the evening, we rejoined the rest of the families at Patong where we had a super sumptuous CNY Reunion Dinner at a “Pig-themed Restaurant”. And yes, pork ribs were the restaurant’s signature dish! Because we were in Thailand, this was our first CNY reunion dinner without any “lo hei” ritual. Thanks to Chester’s generous treat, we had so much food leftover!

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We spent our last hours in Phuket back in the hotel room, drinking and playing cards with the old folks. I couldn’t drink as much as before. Sigh, it must be a sign of old age.

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The next day, all of us flew out of Phuket. Strange but it is true, we were on 4 different flights (3 separate flights to Singapore and me alone back to Hong Kong). The families continued to celebrate their CNY gatherings back in Singapore, yes, with more festive dining, drinking, and playing cards.

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Me? That marks the end of my 7-week holiday travel. Now, back to my little nest and spending the second day of CNY with my Indian brother. Enjoying the peace in the city while preparing for my next trip. What a great year ahead!

Merry Time

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There is always something special about the Christmas season. Maybe it is at the end of the year when most are winding down and looking forward to another refreshing new year. Or it could be the cooler weather that brings out the best mood in people. Look around you, people, in general, are happier and smiling more during this time of the year. I see lesser hate news on social media, my news feed is flooded with endless photos of happy reunions. For those with friends and loved ones around you, this is indeed a blissful time to chill out and enjoy the joyous moment with those who matter most. Nevertheless, this can be an extremely sad and lonely season for those who are away from their families and friends. Hang on there, there is always something bright and positive to look forward to.

I never like to count down to any occasion cos’ it feels like the final moment of an awesome party.  On the contrary, I enjoy the moments leading up to the final countdown. If you have been to any firework countdown celebration, you know what I mean. Everyone is so hyped and excited right before the strike of midnight. Once the countdown and fireworks are over, the atmosphere becomes really awkward. It feels like someone has just broken the “happy spell”. Instantly, the people who were celebrating wildly minutes ago turned Cinderallas. Suddenly, everyone is heading home.

What I do love most is the festive gatherings! Mine was the healthy family version, no hard liquor, and other unhealthy activities. Like the year before, we had an hour of pretty intense violent indoor games (with guns, arrows, and bows), followed by a 3-hour long outdoor BBQ dinner at Taipo.

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The BBQ venue is big! It is unlike any other venue I have been. There are different formats of space where you can BBQ – standard tables, on platforms and even inside private huts. There is even a giant air castle slide for the kids. We made a mistake by parking ourselves right beside a big playing field. There were a lot of kids playing soccer by the edge of our platform. I wasn’t too comfortable having these amateur kids around me. A few times, the ball came flying into our space. I even yelled at a kid to buzz him away. Dear Joe, where is your Christmas spirit, Harshad asked.

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Thanks to 2 youthful friends – chatty Christy and crazy Fiona – they definitely lighten the atmosphere and made us feel younger with their youthful childlike not-so-old company and personalities.  Christy was so hyper that day. She was there for 2 things – fun and photography. I have never seen any girl so engrossed in selfies and bananas. Now, I understand the pain of “Instagram Boyfriend”.

Being a nice senior, I decided to end our little gathering before 930pm so it gives these youngsters enough time to head home, get dressed for their ultimate Christmas Countdown! Me? I slept soundly at 11pm leaving my poor son counting down to Christmas Day all alone by himself. My son was planning to open all his gifts at midnight but he was so nice to wait for us the next day.  Elkan also made us a very “green” Christmas Tree out of paper shopping bags and personalized greeting cards using old magazines this year! As usual, I got him a new gadget, this Christmas, a mini retro arcade machine.

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Merry Christmas to all! Can’t wait for my next festive reunion trip in Taiwan next week with my Taiwanese friends! Perhaps I shall make another exception and experience the firework countdown at 101. And here is another ZEPETO moment of us (while the fab lasts). See if you can recognize the fancy people here.
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A Special Gift for a Special Friend

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For years, this great friend of ours has been faithfully sending us all her handmade gifts. And every of her gift was personalized to the most incredible level of craftsmanship. She spoils us with so much love that we look forward to every Christmas and birthday. There is always something unique, surprising and special. We love her so much but we have never given her anything handmade by us.

We chanced upon a Christmas stall by Starology (click to see her facebook) while shopping at PMQ last weekend. We instantly fell in love with Starology’s multi-dimensional light boxes. Just when we wanted to buy one of the “Galaxy Boxes” for our dear friend, Felicia said we could actually DIY the lightbox on the spot. At first, I was worried about the complexity of making one but the teacher convinced us that it was easy to make. So, Tracy and Elkan sat down to learn how to make the gifts.

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Assembling the parts required precision and good craftsmanship. The teacher (and our very own Master of Craft-cum-wife, Felicia) guided them along. It was a fun exercise and it took them slightly longer to complete the gifts. What a sense of satisfaction!

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Just hope our mysterious dear friend likes this little gift. May your dreams and love be as sparkling & lasting as the stars in the box. (Disclaimer: LED “Stars” last over 15,000 hours. Powerbank not included).

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For those who have no idea what to give to your special one, head down to Starology or FLorat (click the link) to make your own. (It takes less than 2 hours.) A handmade gift is more meaningful and special than those you buy in the store.

Didi said the darndest and funniest thing!

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Like all the trips before this. It was impromptu, unplanned and last minute. It all started during a family reunion dinner in Singapore when Didi spoke to me about his passion for programming. Somehow that dialogue continued after I left for Hong Kong. After a few exchanges of messages with my sister (and with the blessing of my tech partner in Ho Chi Minh), the entire family (including my parents) flew to Ho Chi Minh!

Thanks to Didi, a small chat triggered an overseas family trip. For a long time (except for CNY), we haven’t been traveling as a complete group. The last time when all of us had a holiday like this was back in 2008 when my sister family and parents visited me in Hong Kong. Wow, that was 10 years ago!

As it was such a last-minute trip, tickets were extraordinarily expensive. To avoid paying a ridiculous extra HKD2500/pax for the tickets, it was more worthwhile for us (from Hong Kong) to fly in 48 hours before the arrival of my sister family and my parents. We had 2 extra days and saved over HKD4,000!

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This is our 2nd family trip to Saigon this year. We were here with my mother and aunties in June. Felicia and I spent our first day in Ho Chi Minh City fully in the hotel working. We were trying to clear some work before the arrival of the others. We had booked a big service apartment right above the most popular city mall, Takashimaya in District One. Food and shopping was just a stone’s throw away. We hardly left the hotel at all!

On the 3rd day, I went to pick up my sister family and parents at the airport. This is Jovel’s family first trip to Vietnam and they experienced several unpleasant events at the immigration. As expected, Vietnam’s stuffy hot weather and the congested messy traffic didn’t give them a good impression. It was a good thing we stayed at the Sedona Suite at Saigon Center. It provided good comfort for them to slowly get used to the city’s harmonious rhythm. There is an unwritten logic within this chaos. It takes one sometimes to feel it.

Right after we checked in the folks at the service apartment, my partner sent 2 cars to pick up the children and adults to the tech lab. For the next 3 days, we are going to park our children there to pick up some basic coding fundamentals. Hopefully, through their limited time at the lab, they learn something useful.

It started well with the robots. My partner taught the kids how to program simple body movements and dance moves. In less than 1 hour, the kids mastered the logic and got bored. Before I knew it, they were throwing balls in the meeting room. My poor tech partner didn’t know what to do with them. And that was just the first day.

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While the kids were at the lab, the adults explored the city. I brought my sister, my brother-in-law, and dad to the usual “must-visit-touristy” sites. Their favorite place – local SUPERMARKET! At VivoCity, my dad bought a carton of local beers! Yes, one big carton of 24 cans beer! When I questioned the feasibility of bringing so many cans of beer back to Singapore, my sister exclaimed: “We plan to finish all of these here! Come drink with us brother!” With that, that terminated all my excuses to sneak out at night. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop me from bringing them (both adults and kids) to the notorious sleazy Little Tokyo. Nope, the men didn’t get any chance to experience “special massage” but we had the best Japanese ramen there. Even Didi verified that.

It was our session at Little Tokyo when Didi said the darndest and funniest stuff. When my brother-in-law and I were walking in the alley, a couple of beautiful skimpy-dressed massage girls approached us. Didi (who is 10 years old) became very protective and tried to shield us from the girls.


Puzzled by his act, I asked Didi “why you did that?”
He replied, “Because my dad is taken, I cannot allow any woman to touch him if not, I will push the girls away”. I then asked him what if these girls approach his grandfather (my 70-year-old dad), he instantly said: “Okay, no problem!” I asked why the double-standard, he explained “Old people must enjoy themselves before they…….” and he gave me a finger gesture that depicts “death”.

We laughed at his reply. And then, I asked “what about grandmother (my 70-year-old mum)? If a group of young handsome men approached her, is that okay?. Instantly he gave me a comical puzzled expression. That was as good as shouting “stupidly impossible” to my face.

“No lah, why would handsome young men want old auntie?” and that was Didi’s most direct nonchalant reply. Including my mum, all of us burst into waves of laughter! Too bad my sister wasn’t there to witness her very talented boy!

Vietnam has a strange charm over her visitors. In less than 48 hours, both adults and kids forgot about the chaotic traffic and indulged themselves in shopping. Staying in the heart of the city, we were just 5-minute walk to any major shopping markets (Saigon Square and Ben Thanh Day/Night Markets) and local coffee shops. On their last day, I booked them a half-day trip to Cu Chi Tunnel. I don’t think the adults enjoyed the tour as much as I did. My dad has a phobia of dark tunnels as he has a fear for worms and snakes. And Mum cannot walk too much due to her weak kneecaps.

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It was also a good time for me to return to Vietnam. Besides work and attending a few meetings with my partners, I got to replenish my favorite ceramic mugs. I just broke one a couple of days before the trip.  (I love those handmade ceramic mugs made by Amai Saigon. Feels very organic and uneven, earthly but polished. Check it out here.)

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My family reunion in Vietnam ended so fast. It was a very rewarding trip with friends (Kelvin) and family. I got to work (with Tai and Tu) and meet new clients while traveling with my family. This trip, I got to spend more quality time with my brother-in-law (James) and Didi. Indeed, we had such a great time together!

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Sorry, it took a little longer to finish this blog and vlog. The entire blog and vlog were shot using Huawei Mate20pro phone (NOTE: this is not a paid blog for Huawei). I think I made a mistake by not selecting 4K in the setting. Some of the videos were quite blurred and bad. Most of the photos are acceptable. Guess convenience does come with a price. Overall, the phone replaces all my heavy gears. I must say it is quite good for a casual vlog. Enjoy!

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Reunion with the in-laws

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Exactly a month ago, Mum-in-law returned with her 2 lovely sisters, Auntie Nyong, Auntie “Cookie” Fong and cousin Carrine! All 4 of them have visited us separately in the past. Auntie Fong and Carrine were here in 2010 while Auntie Nyong and mum-in-law last visited in 2009. It was memorable as she arrived on the same day as Typhoon 8. That was in August 2009! Also that year, she celebrated her 60th birthday in Hong Kong with us.

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Unfortunately, due to failing memory, Felicia and I couldn’t recall many details about their last visits. Auntie Fong and Carrine were excitedly reciting what they did during their last Hong Kong trip. Half the time, Felicia and I listened in disbelief. Thankfully, I kept a blog (my most reliable memory vault) and after a few simple searches, I managed to refresh my memory with the help of the old photos and posts.

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Out of the short “4-day shopcation”, we spent 3 days shopping in Shenzhen. The ladies shopped tirelessly from dawn to dusk. Like my mum and Auntie Amy, they came fully-equipped. Every morning, they left the hotel with an empty suitcase and returned with hoards of bargained treasures. Most of the time, Elkan and I took refuge inside our hotel room, making appearance strategically during meal times.

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Age caught up with the old folks. They weren’t as energetic as before. They took more short breaks between their shopping sprees. On their last day in Hong Kong, I took them to shop at Sai Kung Weekend Flea Markets by the Pier. There, we took a 45-min boat ride out and visited a small UNESCO Geopark island, Sharp Island. We didn’t have time to attempt the 2-hour hike across the island as the ladies were flying back in the evening. It was more of a touch-&-go short tour.

Great to have you ladies here. Please do not wait for another 9 years to visit us again!

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Seasons of Joyful Reunions

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As one age, time flies faster.
And we find ourselves keep saying this “Wow, another year has passed”. Yes, we are winding down to another unusual and dramatic year when World War III erupted quietly (trade & cyberspace), Neymar’s superb acting at the World Cup should have won him several awards at the Golden Globe, Singapore’s very very old nemesis returned with his former nemesis, cash notes fell from the sky in Hong Kong, bitcoin crashed, 50% of Avengers vapourised and a horde of infamous people mysteriously disappeared and reappeared in the land of the dragon. So just before we say “another year has passed”, I say, this isn’t just “another year”. In fact, it has been quite a strange year not just for the Crazy Rich Asians but also for the bromance between Rocket Boy and Dotard too. 

Finally, this crazy year is winding down. November and December are my favorite months of the year. There is always something lovely in the air and the cooling weather brings out the best in people. Streets are decorated with colorful Christmas lightings and every dimension filled with delightful jingles. I see more smiles and happy photos on social media. It is no doubt the Season of Love and the Season of Joyful Reunions. 

I had many wonderful reunions with my family and friends over the past 6 weeks. I was in Singapore early November to pay an overdue respect to my late beloved cousin Yei who passed away in Tokyo suddenly late September. There wasn’t any sadness or tears, just our joyful, deepest last respect to Yei who loved and enjoyed life to the fullest. And we were all so happy to see Qian again after almost a decade. 

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It was a very tight hectic 4-day work/personal trip (with Harshad and CP) to Singapore. I managed to meet up with all my old friends and relatives. Thanks to my childhood buddy, Joakim who spent a lot of time and effort to help organize a primary school reunion dinner. There were friends (Weifen, Shanbin, Huili) whom I haven’t met in person for over a decade! Just for all these friends, I have decided to re-activate my old Whatsapp account. (Yes, you heard it, I am finally back into Whatsapp after banning it for more than 7 years!). 

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I will never leave Singapore without meeting my closest Wahbiang Clan friends and dearest family. It was at the family dining dinner (Confession: I arrived at the family dinner tipsy after 1.5 hours of aggressive drinks with some “I-cannot-reveal” friends) when sister and I made the most incredible decision! Thanks to the young talented Didi, my sister and I decided a last-minute family trip to Ho Chi Minh in December!

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Sigh… I put on another 3kg when I was in Singapore. Thanks for spoiling me with so much local high-carbs delicacies, liquors, and the very very sinful durians! I should have done up this blog a long time ago but I wasn’t in the right mood. Perhaps I was just plain lazy or busily (putting on more weight) indulging in the sinful yummy durians. The truth is I have been procrastinating on my personal stuff. It is time to put the priorities back on track. These (family, friends and loved ones) matter more than anything else. 

Enjoy the magic of the Season while it lasts before we start the new year with another list of “self-justified-&-feel-good” resolutions/goals/targets/ambitions that occupy our lives with meaningless missions. Not forgetting a new dramatic crazy year when 50% of Avengers will be miraculously revived, more disappearance of infamous characters and the return of the White Walkers. Sadly, we won’t get to see Neymar at the Oscars in 2019.

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(Thanks Kalinda for another beautiful handmade Christmas gift!)

The Last Entry

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Ever since I have embarked my hectic start-up adventure, I have very little time for blogging and vlogging. Looking at the declining number of postings for the past 2 years, my blog has been quiet for a while. Haha, I am still well alive and kicking. It is just that I have little time (and too lazy) to sort out the weekly photos and videos. (Again, never a good excuse not to record all those beautiful and precious moments.)

This morning, I was couch/bed-surfing when I bumped into Jeanette Aw’s latest post on Instagram. It was an awakening reminder that dragged me out of the bed to relook at the important people and things that I may have forgotten or neglected.

 

Based on many true stories, Jeanette Aw’s 25-minute short film, The Last Entry narrates the relationship between a loving mother who was suffering from Alzheimer and her doting daughter, and the bonds that will not break under the most trying of conditions. Simple and beautiful with little dialogues between the mother and daughter, The Last Entry is a very meaningful and touching short film. And it is very real.

This story unlocked something very deep inside my heart – my relationship with my late Ah Mah who lost her remembrance of those around her during her final days. It was 1999, I left Perth for a 2-month holiday. Before I left, Ah Mah chatted with me and asked me to come back soon. When I returned 2 months later, she has completely forgotten me.

Despite suffering from dementia (and forgotten everyone), my granny kept reciting a small trace of memory of her young adulthood days on Kinmen Island where she and grandfather dug clams by the beach house. I did not know why she only remembered this particular memory and not the rest. Was it love or was it her happiest moment that etched so deeply that can’t be erased?

Losing Ah Mah plays out a very important chapter of my life and it taught me to place family above all. Nothing else matters. That’s why I have been spending all my time and money to bring families and friends together. And that’s the reason why I started blogging in the first place – to record every precious and important moment. There will be times in life when we may get distracted and lost in our pursuit of monetary goals, statuses or love. This blog is my memory vault, an important anchor that prevents me from drifting too far away from those that matters to me. And I should start filling it with more colorful and personal stories before I forgotten all.

Cherish those who love you. Life is short, don’t wait. 珍惜眼前人。

Thanks Jeanette for producing and directing this beautiful film. A good timely reminder. Go watch and support this wonderful film here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2WwjhDie0w

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