Archive for the ‘On Love’ Category

Warning: This piece is entertaining, educational and inspiring. Allegedly. Read on at your own risk.

Alrighty folks. It has been a year since I relocated from Australia to Vietnam. Obviously, a lot of shit has happened and I won’t be able to cover them all. So I am only going to address a couple of things that took place in the past 12 months of my life.

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The State Parliament of Victoria does have a pretty nice front view.

First on the chopping block must be why I didn’t stay longer in Melbourne.

Let me just go ahead and clarify that when I left at the end of August 2016, I was in full confidence that I’d be back in February 2017. I’d submitted or planned to submit more than one scholarship applications (admissions were guaranteed considering my scores and the courses I applied to). I only needed one application to be successful. The odds seemed good enough.

So I left without arranging a graduation ceremony. Partly because I never liked those, partly because I believed it wouldn’t be my last stint at tertiary education. I stayed until the second last day of my visa, to take care of my businesses and make sure everything was in proper order. There were still people who needed my help, until the last minute. On a cold night, after some frantic last-minute packing (hey we’re all guilty, don’t pretend otherwise), I scuttered off with a couple of close friends to the airport, waved them goodbye and flew home.

At first, life was quite nice. Got to eat some nice (and more importantly, free) food. I was pretty burnt out already, so some months with my literal fam would do me good. And they did.

Then came November. That god-awful November.

All three scholarship applications I submitted were rejected, one shortly after the other.

Imagine you come into a restaurant and order steak. After waiting for 10 minutes, the waiter tells you that the restaurant has run out of steaks and asks if you could have pasta instead. Begrudgingly, you agree. Then another 15 minutes goes by and the same waiter comes again. Sorry we are out of pasta also, will you have a salad? Almost pulling your hairs out, you consent. And then 5 minutes later, the restaurant manager comes out from behind the counter and asks you to leave, because “Sorry, but seems like there is no place for you here anymore.”

That’s what it felt like at the time.

The nightmare of 2013 was coming back in full force. But by now, I was much more hardened in dealing with unexpected outcomes. To be honest, I was more surprised than disappointed. I thought the portfolio I built up made me a strong enough applicant. I spent a couple of days to absorb the fact that I wouldn’t make it back to Australia, not at least anytime soon.

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Not seeing this familiar sight anytime soon.

Once reality had set in, I set out (heheheh!) to consider my next move. That didn’t take very long because let’s face it, my options were limited.

So, the working world.

The prospects of a job didn’t look too good. When I started my Bachelor’s degree, finding employment was not really a top priority. To me, university was more about the intellectual pursuits (yeah I was young and foolish enough to believe that). So I delved into obscure and unemployable areas, like political philosophy, politics and philosophy (they are different, I swear!).

Now, Marx’s historical materialism or Hobbes’ theory of state or even knowledge of how Augustus maintained his reign wasn’t of much help in seeking a job. Nevertheless, I persisted. Polished up the CV, sent out a couple of job apps, reaching out to potential hirers. You know, usual things a fresh graduate might do to get a job.

A few offers came along the way, much to my surprise because frankly, I wasn’t in full force in my job hunting. Among them, one was particularly interesting. So I took the job in the non-profit sector and moved to Hanoi (side note: I had never been to Hanoi before).

The first day in the capital was fun. I remember going to the nearby supermarket to buy settling-in stuff. It was only until I stood in a tea aisle that I fully comprehended the profound implications of the choice I made.

I was alone.

I. WAS. ALONE.

Which means I now had something I have always craved (along with wine and gelato).

Freedom.

I had freedom. I was free.

The realisation was both exciting and terrifying.

Since I have (almost) perfect control of my life, I have nobody else to praise for my success. The flip side is, in failing, I have nobody but myself to blame.

(Side note: I summarised my experience living in Hanoi here. While you’re on Quora, sign up and follow me too.)

I have always prided myself on being a voracious reader and one thing I gathered through reading from various wonderful people is that all successful folks are excellent at discipline. They are in control of themselves and consequently of their own destiny. I wanted that. So I set out to learn some good ol’ discipline but boy was it tough. Living alone means only having only myself as both enforcer and motivator. Change must come from within.

What I have been trying to do is establish a routine, one that suits me and I will follow consistently. I understand no matter how trivial, habits can make or break me. I have made some headway with the morning part, being able to wake up early (on most days!) and work on myself. Because another thing I have come to understand is it is the hours outside of the regular job that will determine what I can become. I know I can be so much more, but it will only happen if I put in the work consistently. A war is not won overnight, but battle by battle. A marathon is run inch by inch.

I have also learned to be ruthless with myself in the process. If something does not make me a better person, I refuse to do it. If somebody takes up too much of my time in a non-meaningful way, I cut them off. Yes, I probably have pissed off quite a few people (including myself) but hey, it’s my life and I’ve only got one of those. So go figure. Of course, I don’t mean flipping people off, but you can actually turn down invitations politely and in advance. And you don’t have to explain yourself to other people. Nah, life is too short for that.

People ask how I have been. The truth is, I have been uncomfortable, and I mean that in a good way. How I see it is, comfort breeds content, content breeds complacency and complacency is among the greatest downfalls of man, for it hinders progress. It is discontent that fuels passion. I try to put myself in unfamiliar situations, ones that demand decisiveness and resourcefulness. “Throwing myself in at the deep end” would be the appropriate expression. The more terrifying it looks, the deeper I delve.

I realise my approach will probably catch some flak. “But you don’t sound happy!” “How can you be happy if you are not content?”

You know what I say? To hell with happiness, to hell with it.

If I wanted to be happy, I would have stayed in Saigon, got a comfortable job, pat myself on the back and be content for the next 40 years. That was and is totally within my ability, I don’t doubt it. But no, I chose discomfort. Because I understood that it is only in discomfort that I can grow.

Let me take a moment and file a disclaimer to say that this is my approach to my life. I recognise that it does not suit everyone and I am certainly not recommending it for every person that reads this. This way of life is regularly mundane, often tiring and sometimes brutal. It will always be another climb. Another mountain. Another conquest. Comfort is momentary while discontent is permanent.

Word.

But again, discontent is what drives passion. And passion is what drives a person forward. Like a candle in the night.

I recently came across a question that read “What is your magnum opus?” 

I posted a piece of writing I wrote a long time ago, thinking that in terms of literary quality, it makes me proud the most. But now I understand that my life’s masterpiece must be myself. I am my greatest work. am my longest project. I will keep pushing my limits.

Oh, in case you didn’t know, let me just take this paragraph (and the next couple ones) to explain my job. I am currently working for an NGO called Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, whose focus is children in crisis. We serve street kids, kids at risk of being trafficked for labour or sex, and victims of human trafficking. (If you are thinking about donating to an NGO, please please please consider us. We do great work!) I work in the Communications and Fundraising Team, handling grants and reports. Basically, I write reports to foundations and organisations that give us money, and write grant applications to seek new funding. I collect data from staff who run the activities, compile them and put together nicely-written, nicely-formatted reports and proposal.

As you can tell, a lot of writing is involved. Alas, writing is not the difficult part. Collating different types of information is. I often joke that I am a beggar for info, but there is a degree of truth in that. Much of my time is spent hassling other folks for that piece of data I reallyyyy need to produce a good report. A story, a detail, a number. By now, I’d like to think they have grown familiar with my hassling and some, even fond of it (well a man can hope!).

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Sometimes I get out into the field too. Then I curse the sun and quickly get back inside.

If you are wondering then yes, I am liking this job. I do what I like. I do what I am good at. It is legal, it helps other people and most importantly, it pays. Both in money and in other things. Honestly, I’d be hard pressed to find a more suitable position elsewhere. So yeah, I am satisfied with my current work. Of course, there are professional challenges (hey, it’s my first job after uni in a sector I’ve no prior experience with), but I genuinely enjoy these challenges. I still remember finding out my grant was approved for the first time. It felt surreal, for I couldn’t really believe that I have done it. I wrote the application within a week, after three weeks at my new job. I really was fortunate enough to have support from others, so they have my gratitude. The grant wasn’t even that big monetarily but to me, it was, because it tells me that I am doing it right. That I am on the right track. That I am becoming the best version of myself. Besides, first blood always tastes better.

I read somewhere on Quora that your goal in life should be something you can’t be born with. So money, fame, happiness are out. Yes, even happiness, because many of us were born happy. Instead, our objective should be something that takes effort, time, and sweat. Preferably a lot of those. This way, we are poised to achieve eudaimonia, which is the ancient Greek term for “a fulfilled life”. Byproducts such as happiness, money or fame will show up along the way, but they themselves can’t be the end goal.

Life is so short, shouldn’t we try to do something remarkable? – Me

Now that I have mentioned it, let’s stop at Quora for a moment. The site is definitely one of last year’s highlights. I had joined sometime before but it wasn’t until late 2016 that I actively participated in writing answers. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop indeed. I have learned so much, the most notable probably being becoming more emotionally mature. Reading answers from various writers who are considered knowledgeable on the subject has been enlightening. I have come to understand that in romance (and in life too), nobody owes me their time, attention or affection. Everything is voluntary, not obligatory. In other words, I ain’t owed shit. I also learned that it takes more than just attraction for two people to start a relationship together. Compatibility is what matters, and the term covers so many aspects, including but definitely not limited to mutual romantic interest.

This philosophy on romance has freed up a lot of my mind and time. And saved me a lot of headaches as well. Still on the quest of finding a quite secure and emotionally mature person with whom I enjoy spending a considerable amount of time hanging out though. I am truly not sure if I’ll be dating in the short future, but still, excited to see where this goes. Low expectations but high standards, I guess.

Also, massive shout-out to mature folks who handle uncomfortable situations with grace and empathy. You guys are cool, I want you to know that.

For this next year, I shall keep on working on myself. Probably try to lose some weight because I want to enjoy nice food for as long as I can. Probably travel a bit too, as I haven’t done much of that. Probably start building a personal brand, because I think I am an awesome person and more people should get to know me. It is going to be another year of pain and success, and I pray that I find the strength to thrive in it.

Well, it was hard to pack the last 365 days into over 2000 words, but hey, I tried. Told you it would be entertaining, educational and inspiring. Allegedly. Please don’t sue me.

This last year has been painful and thus enriching. And it is just the beginning.

I shall stop here. See you in probably the next couple of months. Gotta write something worth reading or do something worth writing. Yes, I stole that adage from Benjamin Franklin. Sue me.

Ciao ciao.

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Marvel at my brilliance. Or the sun’s. Either is fine by me, really.

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This post originated from a question on Quora: How can someone forget their first love and move on in life? As I was writing up the answer, I thought it’d be better if I made it a standalone post of my own. 

first loves

We were young. We fucked up.

That’s essentially my answer nowadays when enquired about what happened with my very first love.

You know, the thing that’s believed to mystically stay with us forever?

Well, I happen to believe in the myth. At least to a large extent.

The reasons vary, but I believe most can be traced back to two factors: the devouring intensity and the brief lifespan of it.

First love is an extraordinary sort of fever that consumes us. And we offer ourselves willingly.

Bar a number of people, most of us had/are having/will have our first love at a young age, often during our adolescence. The time when our hormones were raging and we just stepped out of childhood was probably the (relatively) worst time to fall in love.

We weren’t emotionally mature. Hell, we weren’t even physically mature to undertake such a monumental endeavour like love.

But love happened to us all the same. And at that tender age, everything around us was amplified through a gigantic magnifying glass.

The first person who stole our heart is no exception.

A brief “Good morning” text lifts our mood the entire day.

A slight touch of the hand put our heart on fire.

Even being in the same space with them without talking to each other can be exquisitely suffocating.

I know because I have been there.

Pure passion and no restraint, we romanticise love to the point of absurdity. But it was exactly that absurdity that bound us and made our heart scream with excitement.

Take a look at John Clare’s poem “First Love”

I ne’er was struck before that hour
   With love so sudden and so sweet,
Her face it bloomed like a sweet flower
   And stole my heart away complete.
My face turned pale as deadly pale,
   My legs refused to walk away,
And when she looked, what could I ail?
   My life and all seemed turned to clay.
And then my blood rushed to my face
   And took my eyesight quite away,
The trees and bushes round the place
   Seemed midnight at noonday.
I could not see a single thing,
   Words from my eyes did start—
They spoke as chords do from the string,
   And blood burnt round my heart.
Are flowers the winter’s choice?
   Is love’s bed always snow?
She seemed to hear my silent voice,
   Not love’s appeals to know.
I never saw so sweet a face
   As that I stood before.
My heart has left its dwelling-place
   And can return no more.

The infatuation was palpable.

We do crazy shit for our first love.

I did crazy shit for my first love.

Like waking up at 6AM, travelling to the airport and waiting for close to 2 hours just to be the first person to greet her. And yes, I made an improvised Hello sign with her name on it too, bonus points for dramatic flair.

On another occasion, I made a mixtape for her from scratched. The whole shebang. I put together a list of songs. I designed the CD and the cover. I found a place to burn the CD and put everything together. Contacted someone to have it delivered to her too.

I was barely eighteen at the time.

Ah, the lengths we go to for love.

Rapper 50 Cent says in one of his songs: “I love you like a fat kid love cake.”

Have you ever seen a fat kid who loves cake?

It’s the kind of unequivocal, unrelenting and unquenchable sensation that best describes how it feels like to love for the first time.

(For the record, I am fat. And I love cake. Cake ftw!)

It was the immaturity, the audacity, the recklessness that keeps us going. We happily hold the torchlight that always burns bright as day, even if sometimes it scalds our hand a little bit. The emotional intensity can be intoxicating and addictive, considering this is the first time we’ve come to know it.

We are carefree with our first love. The whole world just doesn’t matter. Nothing else but the person matters. It is this time that I believe one can be truly drunken with love. Our peripheral vision gets narrowed down into the size of a body frame. At the first kiss, we feel like we are going to explode. Again, pure passion and no restraint. First love is a special thing, and there is no denying it.

The second reason why first love stays with us for so long is its early demise.

To this date, I have rarely seen a first love result in a happy ending. Most of those didn’t even transition into a long-term relationship. At the risk of over-generalising, I’d go so far and say first loves are ephemeral and it often takes an incredible amount of effort AND luck to make them not so. Note: I am not condemning all first loves to certain, inescapable doom. I am just saying that the probability of high school sweethearts living happily ever after is strikingly low. And no, I have little empirical data to back that up. All I have is this quote:

Did I think he was “the one”? I’ll never know. At sixteen, everyone is “the one.” – K. A. Tucker

The problem lies with amplification. When things are good, they are heavenly good. When things are bad, they are, well, pretty fucking bad.

At the beginning, we are with each other and only with each other, there was no worldly needs involved. However, when the young love is put through the trials of life, things get rocky very quickly.

We are often too dazzled by the light that we forget it is blinding us.

A silly mistake can turn into an ugly fight.

A small obstacle can be seen as insurmountable.

A seemingly trivial matter can swiftly put an end to things.

As I have written, first-time lovers often lack the emotional capacity to handle challenges with maturity. I should stress that the death of first love is often due to neither party’s fault. We just suppose that everything is going to be perfect forever because we have found our perfect soul mate. So when an imperfection turns up (often out of the blue), we have no clue how to deal with it, and how to deal with it together. We mess up.

I partly agree with Benjamin Disraeli’s claim, that “the magic of first love is our ignorance that it can ever end.” Except I’d swap magic for tragedy. That’s more accurate. The dream never seems to end, until one day it does. Because the foundation upon which it was built was not quite than concrete and sustaining. As we mature and experience hardship, first love seems too perfect, too good, too unrealistic. We get the feeling that it is perhaps near inevitable that our first love had come to an end. We realise that it didn’t work out because much of it was due to our own fabrication.

This may sound oddly out of place, but I found this quote from the TV series Westworld to be extremely appropriate to describe the situation:

These violent delights have violent ends.

And to think it originally refers to Romeo and Juliet, it makes even more sense.

But it is precisely because of the way first love often ends that it stays with every moment of our waking life. We forged a close bond, experienced many unforgettable memories, and fell apart. Now we look back, with fondness and nostalgia, to when we were innocent once, when the whole world didn’t matter, when we felt invincible with the other person by our side. And it is impossible to ever love like that again. The only thing we can do is live on.

That’s what happens with your first love. It carves a hole in the muscle and fiber, so that you have no choice but to wear it like a birthmark.
—Rebecca Tsaros Dickson

The first flame always burns the brightest. Even if it is short-lived. Especially if it is short-lived.

Which brings me back to where I began.

We were young. We fucked up.

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That’s probably the end. I’ve gotta get back to prepping for work. That report ain’t gonna write itself.

Ciao.

On what I want

Posted: May 23, 2015 in On Love
Tags: , , ,

I should have been clearer. This is about what I want from dating and a romantic relationship in general. Well it’s just me and my humble opinion, and there are of course a zillion ways to date, so feel free to disagree. I don’t care anyhow.

I want to date the old-fashioned way. Dressing comfortably, having dinner at a restaurant (it doesn’t have to be fancy, but definitely clean and cozy), walking in the park afterwards. When we stand on your front porch, I might even kiss you softly on your cheek (with your permission of course). This is strange but I enjoy the unfolding romance of courtship, I really do. It has a certain thrill and excitement that is rarely found elsewhere. It warms your heart, slowly but steadily. And the fire that takes time to burn is never easily extinguished. At least that’s how I perceive dating. “Hang out” or “go out” don’t really cut it. Like, “let’s hang out tomorrow.” Nah. “Would you like to have dinner with me tomorrow night?” sounds 10000000x times better. “Would you like to go to the movies and have dinner afterwards?” Who on earth goes to the movies on their first few dates? Take her to somewhere nice and quiet so you guys can talk and get to know each other more. It indicates that you are taking this seriously and are not looking to fool around. And a true lady will appreciate that. The chase is, and should be, enjoyable for both parties. Again, this is just my perception on courting. I may be wrong (although I rarely am). If you don’t agree, it’s not an issue, read the previous sentence again. 

I want a person around whom I am most comfortable. Normally, as social beings, we have to observe social conventions, strictly or otherwise. You can do this but you can’t do that, etc etc. Most of the times one has to maintain socially acceptable behaviour. But that can be exhausting. Because I am definitely not the person the world perceives me to be and I am projecting the image that I am projecting only because society demands me to. So I want to be with someone that doesn’t force or pressure me to wear masks. Take small talk for example. I hate it, with all my guts. It seems like whenever there are two or more persons in a room, they have to talk to each other, because society says so (like wtf right?). And I am wholeheartedly against that notion. I want to be with someone who is comfortable not talking, who enjoys and appreciates silence. In a world that has become increasingly noisy, quietness is priceless. Being a person who does not feel a natural inclination to be vocal, I am most contented when I am listening. Yeah, so I want to be with a person who is fine with who I truly am. It’s a cliche but it’s true as fuck. Mark my words. 

I want someone that I can share my fears with. Not dreams or ambitions, mind you. Fears. They are the ultimate shareable thing. Because you just don’t share your fucking fears with strangers, whom I am sure you have no problem talking about your dreams with. You fear that your fears will somehow be used against you (fearception!). Talking about what frightens you, that’s a very very hard thing to do. Many of us even can’t even talk about them with a normal friend, or a therapist. But I want to be with someone in whom I can confide my worse fears. It can be something really trivial and seemingly insignificant, but that person will understand and appreciate me telling them. Of course the danger of being honest is always there. Like somebody says, it’s like handing the other person a dagger with the faith that they won’t stab you in the heart, multiple times. Yet I believe there is a person out there (hopefully, I can’t be 100% certain) who will make me feel that it is safe to be honest. Together, we will freely and openly share our fears and confront them, also together. If you have found such a person, try not to let them go, they are very very hard to come by. Relationship is built on trust, trust on communication, communication (to a very large extent) on fear. 

You can feel compelled to remark that sex has not appeared on this list. Well it’s time for some epiphany. We all want sex. It’s hard-wired into our DNA. It is one of the primitive urges we are born with.If somebody tells you they want to be with you but they don’t want to make love to you, they are fucking lying (pun certainly intended). But it’s normal to want sex. I’d even go so far to suggest that it is great in cementing the relationship. In other words, intercourse is something completely natural. If I am truly into someone, I would like to get closer to them, emotionally as well as physically. No need to make a big deal out of it. 

So yeah, I guess I should end things here, it’s getting pretty long and boring. In short, I can say I am fairly old-fashioned and idealistic when it come to forging a long-lasting and meaningful relationship. My ideals are not exactly popular, I realise, but well, I don’t need to find many, I just need to find the one. And if you can’t fathom the idea of just having a dinner and some nice time chatting, I don’t really think we’re meant for each other anyways. If there is one word that succintly captures the other 1000 I have written here, that word would be intimacy. That’s what I am looking for. 

Anddddddddd that’s it folks! Ciao ciao! 

I’m not old-fashioned when it comes to dating, but there’s something nice about a guy pulling out a girl’s chair and opening the door for her, even if it’s just in the beginning. – Lauren Conrad

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On The One

Posted: November 6, 2014 in On Love
Tags: , ,

I believe that most of us are, to a certain degree, familiar with the concept of “The One.” Basically, it’s the person whom we feel an irresistible attraction about the first time we set eyes on them, the person we knew from the very first moment that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives with, the person that God has created to walk the Earth with us. “The One” is, in other words, our fated love. 

I believe that “The One” doesn’t exist. That there is no such thing as destiny. There is no such thing as feeling that we can no longer live without a certain somebody since the second the eyes meet. “Falling in love is easy, that’s why it’s called ‘falling.'” That can’t be more true. You can’t help but feel romantically attracted to someone the first time you see them. That’s perfectly natural and that’s okay, because that magical magnetic force that pulls you toward him/her regardless of your own will isn’t under your control. You can’t help but feel attracted, initially. But after the heat has died down, you have to be rational. Don’t mistake love for infatuation. Because love has to endure. You have to work for it. Actually scratch that. You have to suffer for it. “Love at first sight” is a cute phrase, but it’s also a wrong phrase. For what was perceived as love would most likely be pure attraction. A moment of intense passion, an instance of fascination. Who you might call “The One” may later very well turn out to be “That One.” Because you have not come to the stage of love, but merely crush. And believe me, it’s a long long way.  Before, you didn’t have a choice being attracted to someone, but now, you do have a choice to love someone. That’s a huge huge difference. Falling in love requires no effort, you just fall. But staying in love, that’s the fucking challenge. Because love is rational, and the notion of “The One” suggests anything but rationality. 

“They were born for each other.” Nope, most probably they weren’t. To suggest such thing that two people were fated to be together is absurd. It is through the process of enduring that they were shaped (by themselves) for each other. That I believe in quite firmly. We constantly modify ourselves to suit the one we love. If he doesn’t like spicy food, she won’t always nag him to eat at her favourite Thai restaurant (she will occasionally, but he will agree to go, and that just furthers my point). If she wants them to watch The Notebook together, he will at least try to understand the reason why and will at least sit with her through it without pouting. If both want to spend their lives with each other, they agree to put away their bachelorhood, get married and start a new chapter. That’s how it works, at least in my opinion. All these things won’t happen unless you get to know him/her more closely, meaning not on the first day that you talked. Interest has to be sustained. Of course, some people really can picture themselves with another person in the future of 20, 30 years, but I doubt that the basis of their vision is not sound. Because how can you know a person well enough to want to spend decades with them just after the first date? No, there’s got to be a second one, a third one, an n-th one before you come to that decision. You will even have to fight, a lot. Because, again, you have to endure for love. Without endurance, love is merely short-lived passion. In layman’s term, a fire won’t be a fire if it lasts just for minutes. Only when it has burnt to the last branch and given out enough heat to warm you, that you can call it a fire. Without a shitload of commitment and sacrifice, love is just vacillating passion.

So yes, excuse me if I think that all “From the moment our eyes met, I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life holding her hand” is just bullshit. Neo is, after all, a fiction.

“Then you will realize that real love isn’t just a euphoric, spontaneous feeling–it’s a deliberate choice–a plan to love each other for better and worse, for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health. Of course, you don’t choose who you’re attracted to, but you definitely choose who you fall in love with and (more importantly) who you stay in love with.”

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