A Travellerspoint blog

November 2009

George goes to Canada

Team Rymans goes to Cambodia

sunny 30 °C
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Before I move on to telling you about our trip to Siem Reap, I wanted to include a few links to someone else’s blog: the McNouyes. Odd name, odd thing for me to do, you may be thinking, so here’s an explanation. I’ve already briefly described another Canadian family we met on the island of Koh Lanta – Audrey and Dave, and their kids Taro and Kiyoshi, from Edmonton. We went on hanging out with them long after I wrote that early description, and in the end we left Koh Lanta together and spent several days in Railay as well before we had to part ways. I was lazy about maintaining this blog while in Koh Lanta, but Audrey and Dave (whose “family” name is, like ours, a hybrid of their two individual surnames) were more prolific, and they’ve posted descriptions and photos of our time together that you might find interesting.

Not only are Audrey and Dave also Canadian, also using a hybrid surname, and also travelling with their two kids for six months, but they also have a blog right here on Travellerspoint.com. Turns out we had lots of other things in common as well, and after many fun happy hours and dinners together on Koh Lanta, we started trying to recruit them to move to Ottawa (a remote but still possible possibility, as Audrey has family in the area). We were a little hard on Dave in that regard (all of his roots are in Edmonton), but hey, hope springs eternal. Here are the relevant blog links:


And here’s a group shot – Mark and Ciaran are missing because they were still in the water snorkelling (and Mark took the picture):


Well, moving along....When it was time to leave Koh Lanta and Railay, we briefly considered flying back to Bangkok (to continue on to Cambodia), but in the end we were just too cheap, and despite the kids we went the old-fashioned backpacker route – by overnight bus, a 14-hour journey not counting the longtail boat from Railay to the mainland, the wait at the pier for a smaller bus to take us to the Krabi bus depot, or the half-hour trip from the pier to the depot. I was waiting for disaster to strike—either in the form of a midnight bus crash or a vomiting child—but actually the ride was completely uneventful and both kids slept for most of it (unlike me). We were dropped off on a familiar corner near Khao San Road at 6 a.m. the next morning, and stumbled out bleary-eyed to find a guesthouse that would be open for breakfast. A sign advertising whole wheat toast and cappuccinos drew our attention and we sat right down, bags and all. Never have I been so happy to encounter real coffee – standard fare on the islands seems to be Nescafe served with Coffeemate, a toxic and nearly undrinkable mixture.

We had two full days in Bangkok to tie up any loose ends before leaving the country, so we got straight to work, burning CDs, shopping for books, looking into transportation to Cambodia and so on. One of our key missions was to drop into the General Post Office to see if the kids had mail. Happily, they did – four postcards for Ciaran and one letter for Chloe – and were just thrilled to sit down and read handwritten messages from their Ottawa friends. (Thanks!!)

The other reason for visiting the GPO was to unload George, Ciaran’s beloved coconut. We had persuaded Ciaran that he stood a better chance of hanging onto George for the long run if we sent him home in a box than if we tried to smuggle him across several borders past quarantine checks for plant and animal products. He had regretfully consented, so George went into a box along with souvenirs, books and other random objects that we didn’t want to carry anymore, and off it all went by sea mail to Canada. So yes, we did actually mail a large, heavy, brown (George is slowly turning to wood) coconut to Canada. I guess stranger things have been done.

But enough about George finally, and on to Cambodia: we arrived safely and without much mishap yesterday around sundown after a nine-hour trip from Bangkok that involved the usual dazzling array of transport modes: first a taxi to Bangkok’s Mo Chit bus station, then a five-hour local bus to the Thai border town, Aranyaprathet, then a tuk-tuk to the Rongklua border market, where we were greeted by a posse of men with badges and clipboards posing as immigration officials. They handed us reasonable photocopies of the authentic Cambodian arrival and departure cards, and tried to insist that we should fill them out and return them along with payment for our Cambodian visas. They would then go and arrange the visas for us.

This particular land border crossing is notorious for scams and trickery, so instead we loaded up our backpacks, waved them away and started off on foot in the direction of the border. We pleasantly told them we would come back if we saw the need (as expected, we got a fairly grumpy response, but not much more hassling). We had arranged transportation from the Cambodian side all the way to our guesthouse here in Siem Reap, but first we would have to get to that side without attracting any more touts or “helpers.” In fact, our guesthouse had sent us a two-page set of instructions for crossing the border, which I may very well paste at the end of this entry just for any of you who are interested – it was quite an eye-opener on what goes on in and near this no man’s land. The town on the Cambodian side, Poipet, is described in our guidebook as the armpit of Cambodia, and is essentially a scruffy casino town full of unsavoury characters.

After we’d been stamped out of Thailand, we looked for the Cambodia Visa Services Application building, where our guesthouse’s representative, Sambath, was supposed to meet us. And miraculously, there he was, looking for us, and he helped ensure that the Cambodian immigration officials didn’t rip us off on the price of the visas (also standard at this crossing). After that, off to passport control. All told, the border crossing took about 90 minutes. At the end of it, Sambath ushered us onto a government shuttle bus that would take us from the border to a Poipet taxi stand. From there, it was a smooth two-hour drive down the newly paved road to Siem Reap. (The old dirt road from Poipet to Siem Reap was legendary among travellers, and I can’t tell you how many stories I had read about it before we took this trip – reportedly, it used to take a good 4-5 hours, and much longer in the wet season, hard going much of the way. When we decided to cross this border by land, we didn’t know that the road had been paved, so we felt very lucky indeed that it had.)

So here we are, ready to take on Angkor. We’re all set up with three-day passes, a tuk-tuk driver and a guide, and managed to take in the sunset from Angkor Wat this evening while we were buying the passes. We’ll be in Siem Reap at least another four nights and are not sure yet where we’re off to next.

For those who are interested, here are the instructions we received from our Siem Reap guesthouse on crossing the border.

1.) After exiting Thai immigration, head over to the Cambodia Visa
Services Building - even if you have visas already or you don't need
visas (Singapore, Malaysia, Phils, Laos) you MUST go to this location,
it's the first building on the right after crossing the foot bridge
into Cambodia. Somewhere around the Visa application window will be a
sign with your name(s) on it.

2.) If you need to obtain a visa here, we are connected with the folks
inside and you will not be hassled to pay excessive fees above the $20
US the visas cost, however our customers are sometimes asked to pay a
100 baht tip, particularly during low season when tourists are few and
money is scarce. Ultimately it's up to you whether you pay this or
not, but the small tip (it's all of $3 US) does make friends and
influence uncles and will make life easier for the next customer who
comes along. We wish it weren't so, but that's the reality. (Effective
October 2009 - they have begun construction of a new Visa Services
Building and it is possible that upon your arrival you will not see a
Visa Services Building or even a temporary excuse for one, but rather
a pile of rubble. If this is the case, please look for our contact on
the opposite side of the road)

3.) The person you want to meet there is named Sambath (pronounced
Sombot) and he'll take care of everything - visa apps, immigration
forms, etc. He is not the actual driver but rather is our Poipet
contact who handles our arrangements. His English is quite good. The
need for a middle man will make better sense when you see the border.
He will escort you all the way to the taxi stand and see you on your

4.) The fee for the car is $45 US and will be charged to your guesthouse bill.

5.) If by any chance someone should approach you before the Visa
Services Building, most likely in Rongklua Market or even the bus or
train station(!), and has your names on either a piece of paper, their
hand, or just happens to know your name, whatever, ignore them - do
not acknowledge them in anyway! No one except Sambath is authorized by
us to approach you anywhere and he is only to meet you at the Cambodia
Visa Services Building. Anyone who approaches you at any other
location whether they claim to be Sambath or not, they are not our
contact. We have had some problems with touts and other unauthorized
individuals who see the sign at the Cambodia Visa Services Building
and then walk into Thailand to try to intercept our customers for any
of a couple of reasons - redirect you to another taxi or bus at an
excessive amount of money, rip you off on a visa, or simply "help" you
and then demand a tip later. Often they will misrepresent themselves
and tell you they are Sambath. There is not much we can do about this
except warn you as they will probably approach you on Thai soil, not
Cambodia. So if you are met by anyone who deviates from the above
information, meeting you in advance of the Visa Services building,
asking you to pay for the car up front, asking for more than $45,
asking for 1000 baht or more for the visa, etc than this person is not
our contact even if they claim they are Sambath. Remove yourself from
this person and call us immediately.

6.) If for any reason you don't see Sambath inform one of the visa
helpers (but not anyone who followed you) that you are the name on the
sign and/or call us at the number below.

7.) The guesthouse phone number is 063-965-107 or from Thailand +855-63-965-107.

8.) If you'd like to bring extra riders to reduce the cost please be
advised that we have a special arrangement with the local taxi
association (they have a monopoly on all transport from Poipet) that
allows us to transport only our passengers for which we are provided a
reduced rate (normal taxi fee is $50-60). Unless we are informed prior
to your arrival at the Cambodia Visa Services Building of additional
passengers including their names and nationalities, the taxi
association may charge extra passengers a commission in the
neighborhood of $10 US per person.

9.) It is more than likely that the tuk-tuk that transports you from
the bus or train station to the border will take a detour to the
“Cambodian Consulate” where you will be given all sorts of lies as to
why this is where you must get your visa and at their ridiculously
inflated price. Needless to say, it’s all a scam and not only do you
not need to get your visa here, you are under no obligation to show
your passport to anyone or even discuss whether or not you already
have or need to get a visa.

Posted by The Rymans 03:58 Archived in Cambodia Tagged family_travel Comments (6)

Goodbye to southern Thailand

A few photos of the several weeks we spent in Koh Lanta and Railay

overcast 32 °C
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Well, after nearly three weeks in one place, we finally managed to haul our lazy selves over to a different piece of paradise: Railay, famous for its emerald waters and limestone cliffs, perfect for climbing and kayaking. This will be our last stop in Thailand. Before we find ourselves madly scrambling to keep up with this blog in Cambodia, I thought I should at least post some photos of these last few weeks in Koh Lanta and Railay. This entry will be short on words and long on images! I’ll let the captions speak for themselves.

Chloe looks after Kiyoshi during our four-island snorkelling trip near Koh Lanta

Ciaran’s new coconut friend, George

As you can see, he’s very attached to George

Summer Lanta House, our home on Koh Lanta for more than two weeks

Khlong Dao Beach on Koh Lanta – the one Summer Lanta House faces

The Emerald Cave – we swam underneath a cave for 80 metres to reach this spectacular lagoon

Sunset drinks on the beach

Ciaran learns to rock climb in Railay


....And so does Chloe

Here is Ciaran, feeling victorious after his final climb (to heights that terrified his parents) with his climbing instructor, Ram

More news from Cambodia!

Posted by The Rymans 00:35 Archived in Thailand Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

Mid-Trip Check-Up

A little bit of rambling on how Team Rymans is handling the big adventure

semi-overcast 35 °C
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As we approach the midpoint of the trip, I thought it would be interesting to check in with the Ryman crew and find out what, if anything, they miss about home. The point of the exercise was not to show a shocking lack of appreciation for the spectacular place we’re in or the trip we’re on, but rather to make sure the kids do understand some of the big differences between Asia and Canada, and between the realities of life on the road and life at home. Essentially, it was an exercise in gratitude and perspective.

For those who are wondering, I will preface the following lists by saying that actually, the kids have stunned us with their infinite adaptability and flexibility. They virtually never complain about missing anybody or anything. They can find something to love about even the most hideous of hotel rooms. They can find something to order on the sketchiest of menus. They can see the funny side of any near or complete disaster. They can sleep in the strangest, noisiest, most disruptive of environments. Of course, they can also fight over the silliest of things and be incredibly resistant to the school work we sometimes impose on them, but overall I would say we’ve been amazed and dazzled (and relieved) by how well they’re coping with this trip.

Nonetheless, it turns out there are some things they miss.

Chloe: Skating, ringette and her soccer team; the library; real school; tap water you can brush your teeth with; Kettleman’s bagels; grandparents; and home-made crispy macaroni and cheese.

Ciaran: Friends and hockey; Blockbuster, Georgie’s Pizza, Colonnade Pizza and the Barley Mow; grandparents; sleepovers; Lego; and having a real teacher.

Mark, always a minimalist, had a short list: Teachers, friends, salads and cheese, pretty much in that order.

And as for me? It would probably be unoriginal if I said teachers, since everyone else has mentioned that one already—but I really am so grateful that when we return to Ottawa, other people will be assigned the job of continuing my kids’ education, because I never want it to be my sole responsibility again. Aside from that, I mainly miss good coffee (and having it as early as I want it, rather than having to wait an hour or more until a restaurant opens or the whole family gets dressed); a newspaper on my doorstep; running; dinner parties and nights out at Quinn’s; and a decent computer with a fast Internet connection that I don’t have to share.

Maybe this blog makes it seem as though computer and internet access are a breeze, but actually this laptop has been a giant pain in the butt since the moment we left home, and there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t suppress an urge to take a mallet to the thing and leave it in smithereens on the beach.

We’re off to Railay tomorrow for four days. The plan is to head from there to Bangkok via a 12-hour overnight bus, and then off to Cambodia via the land border at Aranya Prathet and Poipet. There are rumours about Thailand closing that border due to a political dispute with Cambodia, so we’ll be keeping an eye out for news.

Posted by The Rymans 23:29 Archived in Thailand Tagged family_travel Comments (3)

We're still here...

More than two weeks and counting here in Koh Lanta, but we'll soon be off

semi-overcast 35 °C
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It’s hard to believe so much time has elapsed since I last wrote anything about our trip. Mainly this is because after three months of nearly constant travel through five countries (if you count Singapore), we stumbled upon a place that had everything we wanted—so we settled in, and have been taking it easy. The days lately have been less about adventure and culture and more about swimming, reading and large Singha beers.

The place is Koh Lanta, an island in southern Thailand not too far from Krabi. I’ve described it in a previous entry, so I won’t ramble on too much about it except to say that before we got here, we had been starting to think it might be time to look around for place to call home for two weeks or so, with the idea of possibly renting a villa or finding some similar longer-term set-up. Our ideal place would be somewhere quiet enough for the kids to run around safely and maybe even wander off on their own to buy a fruit shake or ice cream cone. It would be somewhere they could play soccer and go swimming, yet not too far removed from a town where we could change money and buy any supplies we needed. Somewhere we were likely to meet other kids. A place with enough room for everyone to sleep comfortably, store all their stuff and do a little school work from time to time.

We had just hit upon this settling-in idea when we stumbled upon Summer Lanta House here on Khlong Dao beach. The room is 1200 baht (about $40) including breakfast, and there’s a refrigerator, air conditioning, and ample storage in the room along with one double and one twin bed (the kids are taking turns sleeping on a blow-up air mattress of the sort you would normally float around a pool on). There’s a deck out front that overlooks a pool, and the long, long beach runs right along the front of the hotel. We’ve been catching up on postcards, photos, reading and schoolwork, and the lazy days swim by (excuse the pun) in a bit of a blur.

We haven’t lost all track of time, however; although we usually don’t know what day of the week it is, we do still know how to read a calendar, and the calendar is telling us we have about one more week of lounging here before we need to get ourselves back to Bangkok and off to Cambodia. So yesterday we finally got off our butts and booked ourselves onto a full-day four-island snorkelling tour, and this morning we arranged for ferry tickets to Railay, another island nearby. We’ll stay in Railay four days, and then it’ll be time to say goodbye to island life.

Before I give myself too much credit for booking ourselves onto that four-island tour, I should introduce Dave, Audrey, Taro and Kiyoshi, another Canadian family we’ve been spending lots of time with here at Summer Lanta House. It was actually Audrey who did all the legwork involved in choosing the island tour and sealed the deal later that morning at a travel agency in Sala Dan, the nearby town. Like us, Dave and Audrey are on a six-month trip with two kids, and like us they began in Bali in September and eventually made their way over to Thailand. After Christmas, while we hit India, they’ll be in Central and South America. They’ve turned out to be hugely compatible happy-hour and dinner company for us, and the kids get along fabulously also. Ciaran plays very well with their four-year-old, Taro, while Chloe has taken a shine to their two-year-old, Kiyoshi, and loves carrying him around in his backpack down the beach.

Dave introduced Chloe to the art of poi. Because it's hard to describe without a photo, I'll be lazy and borrow a description from Wikipedia: Poi is a performance art employing a ball or balls suspended from a length of flexible material held in the hand and swung in circular patterns. Poi originates from the traditional performing arts of the Māori people of New Zealand, and has since developed many forms enjoyed worldwide as a hobby, exercise, or performance art alongside juggling and other forms of object manipulation. You can see a photo here (not of Chloe): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poi_(performance_art).

Anyway, after Chloe had spent a couple of days putting many miles on Dave’s pair, we went into the town, Sala Dan, and bought her a set of her own. Mr. Noi, the manager of a nearby restaurant called Picasso’s, has taken a liking to Chloe, and keeps encouraging her to drop by during the afternoons for lessons. His beach restaurant organizes shows on intermittent nights, often involving performers who do routines with fire pois. Chloe has been begging for several days now for permission to graduate to real fire. Mr. Noi took it upon himself yesterday to tell her that within three days, she might be ready to poi (can that be a verb??) with real fire (flaming pois!), and that he would like to put her in one of his shows. He said to me, as an afterthought, “She’s 12, right?” (Umm, no, nine actually…possibly a bit young to be literally playing with fire. We haven’t said yes or no outright yet. We’ll see how things develop—and we may be off to Railay before Chloe is truly fire-worthy.)

Another fabulous feature of the beach we’re on now is its suitability for running. It’s long and flat, and it was crying out for me to run on it the moment I set eyes on it. Sadly for me, I didn’t expect to do any running at all in Asia, so I have no running shoes or appropriate clothes. But I’m not letting that stop me. Every second morning, I go out looking ridiculous in my red-and-peach Keen sandals with the white ankle socks we got for free when we bowled in Vientiane (the socks save the bottoms of my feet from getting scrubbed too much by the sand). I wear a pair of board shorts that are nearly knee-length and not great for running in. These I pair with a purple sports bra that I hope looks either like a bikini top or a running top. I remind myself that I can’t possibly be the strangest sight on the beach as long as the 60-year-old woman who runs in a tight black string bikini is still out—and lucky me, usually she is. I seem to run into her nearly every time. Mark and I run on alternate mornings. I’m making the most of it, since while I’m prepared to look silly here, I’m certainly not going running in India—so this is probably the most exercise I’m going to get until the trip is over.

Ciaran has also become attached to something he discovered here on Koh Lanta: an old coconut. It’s a whole coconut, brown with age, that had fallen from a tree. Ciaran picked him up and used him to go beach bowling for a while, then brought him home. As the days went by, he developed an unusual attachment to this coconut, which had to be carried along when we changed hotels two weeks ago. Eventually, Ciaran drew a face on the coconut and named it George. It has sprouted a green stalk on one end, which Ciaran thinks of as George’s ear. Ciaran has taken to sleeping with George, and won’t go to bed without him. It is a bit of a strange attachment and I wonder what will happen when we have to leave George behind. He’s a little heavy and unwieldy to be packed.

It is hard to believe we’re still sitting here at the same resort we were in when Charlotte (Mark’s mom) left, since that seems so long ago now. Before I wrap this up, I wanted to include a list the kids came up with the morning she boarded a minibus bound for the Krabi airport. After we’d tucked her (and all her baggage) into the bus and waved goodbye, Ciaran was looking a bit dejected. We asked if this was because he missed Grandma, and he said it was. So we decided it would be fun to come up with a blog entry about the 10 things we appreciated and will miss about Grandma. Here it is:

1. Grandma
2. Shopping without men (Chloe added that one)
3. Enjoying those cocktails on the beach (not that it happened all that often, but it was fun when it did)
4. Four weeks of better hotels
5. Massages and pedicures
6. Playing cards in restaurants
7. French lessons from a native speaker
8. All those books she lugged here all the way from Canada
9. Having a fun, different roommate
10. Her sense of adventure (“I go with the flow!”)

Posted by The Rymans 23:28 Archived in Thailand Tagged family_travel Comments (3)

Right at home on Koh Lanta

sunny 33 °C
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I can see that the Laos updates got a little bit out of control, length-wise anyway, so I will try to be a bit more brief this time.

I last wrote about our stay in Vang Vieng, Laos. We wrapped up our tour of Laos in Vientiane, a three-hour bus ride from Vang Vieng. Vientiane might have impressed us had we seen it first, but it was something of a disappointment after Luang Prabang. We made the most of the fresh baguettes, French pastries, good coffee and red wine, but otherwise struggled to understand the appeal. Vientiane seemed somewhat indefinable, not quite a city but more than a town, quaint enough in its architecture and French heritage yet suffering from the same depressing traffic and air pollution problems as most Asian cities. There were no doubt some interesting temples worth visiting, but we were feeling “all templed out,” so to speak, and couldn’t muster the interest (to say nothing of the kids and their level of interest). We had planned ahead of time to pay a few dollars to use the pool at a more expensive hotel, but when we dropped by to case it out a day ahead of time, we were greeted by something more closely resembling a swamp – green, murky and foul. Moving along, we dropped by another posh place to try our luck and found a beautiful pool that we could use if we were willing to part with $50 for the experience. (We weren’t.)

Abandoning the swimming plan, we decided on something a little out of the ordinary: bowling. Yes, we actually stumbled upon bowling lanes as we were strolling around the city, and further investigation revealed that the place was open, empty except for one rowdy group of Lao teenagers, and could lend us shoes and sell us socks. The catch was that it was 10-pin bowling with those giant balls, which the kids found a bit difficult to manage at first. As they lurched towards the starting line with three fingers embedded in the massive ball, I could hear the twinkle-toes sound effects from The Flintstones playing in my head, and kept picturing Fred Flintstone’s cartoon toes dancing down the lane. It was a strange but entertaining experience all round, and kept us busy for the better part of an hour.

Later that same afternoon we decided there was no point sticking around Vientiane for an additional day, as originally planned, so we cancelled our third night at the Vayakorn Guesthouse in favour of heading across the Thai border a day early. We had been staying right next to a branch of Monument Books, so the last order of business in Vientiane was to buy Chloe and Ciaran each a few new French books (none to be found here in Thailand), then sell the stack they’d finished at a second-hand bookshop. With that accomplished, we packed up and left.

Getting back across the border to Thailand was a breeze compared to entering Laos. We grabbed a tuk-tuk to the immigration post at the Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge, completed the necessary paperwork, hopped on a shuttle across the bridge, got stamped back into Thailand on the other side, and hired another tuk-tuk to our guesthouse, Mut Mee, in Nong Khai, a friendly, laid-back border town.

It happened to be Halloween that day, and as luck would have it, the Western owner of the guesthouse, Julian, has two sons (with his Thai wife) who looked to be about 12 and 14 years old. They were spending the afternoon cutting Halloween decorations out of orange and black poster board for a party the guesthouse would be hosting that night out on a floating bar nearby (Nong Khai is right next to the Mekong River). The kids spent hours making decorations, then turned to creating their costumes. Chloe decided to go as a vampire, wearing several of Charlotte’s black items and creating long, pointy black fingernails for herself out of black poster board. Ciaran was a bat, with two huge wings fashioned out of massive banana leaves that we tied to his back and arms. The party started too late for Ciaran to make it, but Chloe and I headed down to the floating bar around 9 p.m. to see what was going on. It was decidedly not for children – she was the only one there under the age of 18 until Julian’s kids showed up a bit later – but she had a blast anyway, chatting up the bartender and snacking on a bowl of gummy worms.

We spent two days in Nong Khai before flying south to Thailand’s northern Andaman coast, landing in Krabi. The next day we were on a ferry to the island of Koh Lanta, where we’re now staying in a bungalow on Khlong Dao Beach (known as Long Beach because it’s two kilometres long). So far nothing terribly eventful has happened, but that’s just fine for now. The beach is beautiful, the people are friendly and the bungalow is both perfect and reasonably priced: $40 for a large, air-conditioned room with a big fridge, hot shower, plenty of storage for everyone’s stuff and a verandah overlooking the pool—breakfast included. On a trip to the nearest town today, we stocked up on beer, yogourt, Pringles and Oreos to keep the food costs reasonable. We’re contemplating staying right where we are for a couple of weeks.

Posted by The Rymans 07:48 Archived in Thailand Tagged family_travel Comments (3)

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