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Squared Sevens Blogging Corp.
Monday, 22 January 2007
You Can Call It MEP
Here's a little project that I put together in my free time. I call it the Monthly Eigo (Enlgish) Post, or MEP for short, and it's a newsletter I will try to put out every month or so for the students. If I can get them reading English and maybe learning something about American culture, then great. If some of the English seems a little strange to you, please remember the target audience is Japanese middle schoolers with only a few years of study. It isn't anything complicated, but still took the better part of a school today to put together, finding good images, getting everything just right. Now that I've got the format roughly settled on it should be easier to put out an issue. By the way, since I wrote "Monthly" in the title, I'm gonna have to try hard to crank out something interesting every 30 days. If all else fails, I'll just change the name to "Mike's Eigo Post". It's still MEP, you know. Well, here's hoping that A. I can keep it up and B. enough people take the time to read it.

You can d/l the word file of it from here (sorry, you may need to cut and paste):

http://angelfire.com/nc/frodaddy/mepost1.doc

In other news, one of my fellow teachers was flipping out today in the staff room. Turns out there is a picture of him from his middle school days in one of the textbooks. OK, maybe not that big of a deal but it was worth it just to see his reaction. And admit it, if you saw your picture in some school textbook, you'd probably act a little crazy too.

Also, somebody returned from Korea with some chocolates for everyone. But these weren't just any ol' plain chocolates, no. They were spicy, as in with hot peppers mixed in the chocolate. Oh course, he neglected to tell everyone this when handing them out. Fun! Also, an Australian student whose mother is from Ono left to go back to Oz today, he was on his summer vacation there and came to Japan to visit relatives and check out the school. He had to go back to make it to a rowing camp at his school. Oh, those crazy Australians. His older brother is still here through the rest of the week though. Finally, the kids in two of my class periods today were real snots, hyperactive, wouldn't shut up. The third class though, everyone was practically falling asleep. Great. Just another day on the job.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 9:32 AM EST
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Saturday, 20 January 2007
Bucks for Becks
I should be using this space to talk about how great the signing of David Beckham by the LA Galaxy is for American soccer, how it will boost the sport's popularity and visibility in the USA to previously unseen levels. But I can't. All I can say is, it's a really smart business move for Beckham. Perhaps to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars and a future career after soccer.

Really, it's not difficult to see. Just as he is getting benched at Real Madrid and kicked off the English national team, he'll come over to the US and reap a whole new fortune of endorsement cash. He'll be the undisputed star of the entire league instead of languishing on the sidelines, overshadowed by the world's best in La Liga. The contract he signed gives him special cuts of endorsements and jersey sales, just the kind of things you would expect to see flying off the shelves once the public starts seeing his face on ESPN everyday.

Additionally, he'll be in LA, and he can play up his showbiz contacts for himself and his singer wife as much as he wants. Expect to see a thespian Beckham in the upcoming years, beyond your general 30 second TV spots. So never mind some high-minded goal of spreading soccer to America. This is a business deal first and foremost.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 4:37 AM EST
Updated: Saturday, 20 January 2007 4:40 AM EST
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Saturday, 13 January 2007
Some Random Stuff
We got new computers at one of my schools. It's nice because rarely does someone want to give you a free computer. It's even rarer when you don't want a free computer someone is trying to give you. Basically, the school district wants us to stop using our private computers at school and switch over to the ones they provide. Problem is, they're a pain. Installation is fun when there is no where to put the computers in cramped teacher's rooms. Of course, you can't download or install anything, net usage is limited, etc. Not to mention that I hate using Japanese-style keyboards (too much stuff gets moved around, the space bars are teeny tiny, to name two reasons), and as of now you can see the other school's data and files on the network. So much for privacy. I'm sure we will all get adjusted to it at some point, but it seems like a massive waste to me now.

My old stomping grounds of Machida wasin the news recently, and I can't say that it was for something good. The decapitated head of a murder victim was found in a park there. Well, don't worry, the actual crime was comitted in the filth and pestilence of... a swank Shibuya housing development, but the perp needed somewhere to stash the evidence, and Machida is only a quick train ride away from the city center. You know what to do: click the link for details.

http://www.japantoday.com/jp/news/395694/all

Well, here's where it gets fun. The only direct line from Shinjuku to Machida is the Odakyu line, which I used to ride all the time. And I don't know exactly, but I have a very strong suspicion of where she would have dumped the "evidence"... a park about 10mins. walk from the station where I've been to many times. Of course, when I mentioned this to my co-workers, they all pointed out how I'd been to Machida recently, about the same time, like you know, I had done it. Got to love those guys.

In other news, I picked a terrible year to go to Japan, because the NFL playoffs are absolutely stacked this year. Look at the matchups... New England vs. San Diego (Belichick vs. Marty, formerly dominant team vs. new kids on the block, River's first playoff start, LT, Will Marty Blow it), Indy vs. Baltimore (offense and speed vs. defense and power), Philly vs. New Orleans (can the Saints win for the city, Superdome will be rockin'). The only potential stinker is Chicago vs. Seattle (will Rex get benched for Griese, everyone expecting Chicago to blow up but they probably won't) Still, that's a great lineup of games. No, I don't have any picks though. Still haven't watched a game this season, you know.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 10:20 AM EST
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Tuesday, 9 January 2007
Dateline Tokyo, Part Deux
January 1st:

As you can guess, I didn't do much this day. Mostly sleeping. But my man Shingo was feeling better, so we met up in Yokohama. Most everything was closed, so we mostly checked out the local game arcades. Also we went to Chinatown and had the most ridiculously spicy food, it was crazy. I couldn't get my nose to stop running, but that's part of the fun, right?

January 2nd:

This was one of the days I had all to myself, so I had a lot planned. One thing I had to get out of the way was going to Hama Rikyu Gardens- I was really disappointed that it was closed before. So I went, and there was a special demonstatration some falconers. Well, the birds didn't always want to cooperate, but there were some interesting parts in there, like when I bird swooped in from a local skyscraper (I'm serious) to grab some prey. As for the park, it is an interesting Japanese-style place right in the middle of the city. Unfortantely, it was cloudy that day, but what can you do. Then I went to Ueno, where it was insanely crowded. I grabbed some McDonald's to eat in the park, where I was chatted up by a local homeless (I assume) with some pretty good english skills. Only in Japan I guess. My plan was to go to a Dali exhibit there, but the line was just insane so I checked out some other places instead. Then I went to Akihabara, the famous electronics district, where I spent just about every yen remaining on some retro games- Saturn, Famicom, even some Game Boy Advance stuff. After that I was pretty tired so went back.

Janunary 3rd:

I met Akane and another Charlotte friend, Ayumi, to go to yet a shrine for Hatsumode, which is the special first visit of the New Year where you can get your fortune for the upcoming year, pray, get good luck charms, etc. Then McDonalds (again, but it was close), and we walked around Nagatacho, which is kind of the nerve center of the Japanese Government- the Diet Building, PM's residence (lots of security there), etc. Next to Omotesando, where all the insanely expensive stores are, to walk around and people watch. We stopped at a restaurant for some coffee, then everyone went home while I walked up the road a bit to check out Harajuku.

January 4th:

My last whole day in Tokyo. I went to Asukasa to check out Sensoji, yet another big temple in Tokyo where New Year's activities were underway. I grabbed a quick chicken steak from a foodstall and took some pictures. Next to Kappabashi-dori, which is your one-stop shopping place if you own a restaraunt- plates, signs, giant knives, plastic display food, it's all there. Many of the places were still closed for New Year's however. Then I went to Ryogoku, where the big Sumo tournaments are held, and went to Edo Tokyo Museum, which shows the history of Tokyo inside of this absolutely crazy building. I ran out of time there, so I will have to check it out again some other time. Finally, I had one last thing to do. In Roppongi Hills Toho Cinema, they hda Japan's only English-subtitled showing of Clint Eastwood's latest, "Letters from Iwo Jima". For the privelige of watching a movie on some of Tokyo's most chic real estate, I forked over 1800 yen (around $16.50). However, the movie was outstanding and it was worth every penny.

After the end of the movie, time to get back to the hotel and pack all my crap up for the following morning. I met Shingo at Kawasaki and we went to Haneda airport, said our goodbyes. When I got on the plane, I promptly fell asleep. I guess it was that kind of trip. Lots of walking, not lots of sleep.

At the time it didn't seem like I was doing much, and I was wondering if I was getting my money's worth so to speak out of the trip. But while typing this, it sure seems like I did a crap load of stuff while I was there. Going to Zojoji (temple) for New Year's was a particularly cool experience. Some of the museums I went to were kind of a waste though (no names here). On the whole I had plenty of fun times though; there is always something interesting going on in Tokyo. I sure spent enough money on travel and shopping though. Gonna have to save that yen from here on out.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 9:01 AM EST
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Monday, 8 January 2007
Dateline Tokyo
Well, my winter break is slowly coming to an end here. It's been an interesting one. First, the Fujimura's invited me over for another reat dinner on Christmas Eve, which was great. Then on Christmas, I got up and opened my gift package- Pop Tarts, 24 Season 1 and 2 DVDs, oh my! But the main event was to come later on- Squid Fishing! One of the teachers at Ono JHS is a real fishing nut, so he took all of the 1st year teachers out fishing. We went to Hoto-jima, a tiny island off the coast ony accessible by ferry. We set up a tent, cooked Nabe stew for lunch, dinner, and breakfast, and of course tried to catch a lot of fish. Unfortunately, no squid were nabbed, but I did manage to catch a few, and one teacher got a swordfish which was donated to some locals. It wasn't too cold, which was my real fear, but it did rain from about 2AM on, which wasn't so nice.

A couple of days of work, and then on to Tokyo for vacation. This was kind of a spur of the moment thing, I hadn't really planned ahead that much. but there is always something interesting to do there and it sure beat freezing alone in my apartment in the boondocks. The only downside is that it was really expensive, but hey, that's Tokyo for you. Here's what happened day-by-day:

Thursday 28th:

Wake up early and drive to the airport. Lucky me, it's a good hour and a half drive to the airport, on some toll roads too. On top of that it was windy, really blowing around my tiny Mitsubishi Minicar. The flight arrives without any problems, but when I take the train, there is a pain-in-the-ass transfer, and I wander around Kawasaki for a good half hour looking for my hotel. Finally arrive and there's still time left in the day, so I head to Shibuya to check out an MC Escher exhibition. You probably know him from all the crazy tesselations and impossible landscapes that he drew. Very interesting stuff, although I thought the artistry on some of his more straightforward woodcuts was the most impressive. Then, shopping at some of Shibuya's book and record stores.

Friday 29th:

I went to meet Shingo at Higashi Kanagawa station, but accidentally got there an hour early, so I went to Sakuragicho to take some pictures Landmark Tower and surroundings. Then to Machida with Shingo, where we met Yugo and had some great donburi. After that we just wandered around Machida for a bit, going to the batting cages, getting some refreshments at Hub, good times. Then, Fuchinobe were we went to Karaoke USA and rocked out for a couple of hours.

Saturday 30th:

Next I had a nice day with Akane, who was studying abroad at UNCC during my senior year. She's really great and it was nice to see her again. Anyways, we went to a nice place in Ginza for a lunch buffet, and then I wanted to go see Hama Rikyu Imperial Garden, but it was closed off for the holidays! Oh no. But that's ok, because we were right next to the great island of Odaiba, where we went to Decks and Aqua City and had a really great view of Rainbow Bridge (we could even see Mt. Fuji as well during the day).

Sunday 31st:

This is the big day, New Year's Eve, it's gonna be great- and my friend Shingo gets a cold. Too much karaoke I think. So, time to scrap the New Year's plans and find something new. So I wandered around Kawasaki, and went to Kawasaki Daishi, which is a very cool temple complex. I went back to the hotel for a little bit, and still without plans, made my way out for the evening. In a stroke of luck, I got on the train and kind of followed where everyone else was going, and ended up at another temple, Zojoji, for the New Year's countdown. What made this temple very cool was that it had a great view of a lit-up Tokyo Tower right behind it. Quite an interesting visual, and of course you had all of your standard food stalls and ceremonies to go along with it. After getting some close-up pictures of Tokyo Tower I headed back to the hotel around 2 or so.

TO BE CONTINUED>>>

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 9:44 AM EST
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Friday, 22 December 2006
The Shortest Day of the Year
Today, we had another one of our crazy sports events. It was a 10k run, and up some killer hills, too. Somehow, I got suckered into participating. Now, I can play sports, sure, whatever. But I'm not exactly so great when it comes to running long distances- I just normally crap out after about a mile or two. By the way, did I mention the huge hills we had to climb as well? Somebody with a lot of hate in their heart must have designed that course. Man, that was a long run. I'm really going to be feeling it tomorrow. My time came in a 1'19"38... that's really slow, something like 12 or 13 minute miles, pretty embarrasing. I probably shouldn't even be putting this on the internet. By the way, the fastest student, Kazu, ran it in 43 minutes... that's just sick.

Note: I wore one of those Under Armor stretchy-type shirts today, and a lot of the kids seemed to get a kick out of that. So, if you want to pick up some street cred with Japanese middle schoolers, by all means have a closet full of Under Armor.

Today was the last day of school for this semester, and honestly I'm looking forward to the vacation. I was just getting worn down recently, always tired, never getting enough sleep, in a negative frame of mind, probably having a little cold or something like that too. So some time off will help. The fact that the days are super-short this time of year probably doesn't help much either. I'm convinced that not getting enough sun everyday puts me in a down mood, maybe more than most.

Now all this is funny, because compared to the work load I had at Clarks last year (especially around Christmas), this job isn't bad at all. In fact, if 2005 Mike could meet 2006 Mike, I'd probably kick my own ass just for complaining like this. I guess the big difference is that I was living in relative luxury back in the States, and my arrangments in Japan leave plenty to be desired. Again though, I can't complain too much on that front either. This is what I wanted, and I knew what I was getting into the entire way. So at a certain point you just have to live with it. At least from here on every day will be getting longer than the one before.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 7:54 AM EST
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Sunday, 17 December 2006
Baseball News plus Exciting Bonus Material!
The Red Sox recently signed Japanese baseball star Daisuke Matsuzaka to a multi-year, mega-dollars contract. Add to that the "posting" fee sent as compensation to his former Japanese club, and they have spent over $100 million dollars to bring in a player who has never thrown a pitch in the major leagues.

Seems like a lot, right? Well, one thing people need to consider is the Japanese market. Matsuzaka's contract press conference was shown live on 4 of my 5 TV channels this morning. Even before he signed, sports shows over here were already highlighting his future matchups against Hideki Matsui (Yankees) and Ichiro (Mariners). So the market for the Sox TV rights and merchandise just expanded by about 120 million people thanks to one player. Not too bad. You see the Yankees logo on all types of merchandise here thanks to Matsui, and now you'll start seeing a whole lot more Red Sox jerseys and ballcaps as well. Everyone is so concerned over whether or not Matsuzaka will become a good player that they have forgotten the potential Japanese business aspect of the deal.

You may recall how I mentioned that I met a reporter from The Guardian during my time in China. Here is his article he was on his way research at the time, concerning an endangered dolphin species in the Yangtze River. Basically, it doesn't look good.

Link to Guardian Article on Chinese Dolphins

I've also seen this story on CNN.com and Yahoo! News. They both said the dolphin is essentially extinct. That's too bad.


Finally, Donald Rumsfeld officially left his post as Defense Secretary, and I can't say that it is soon enough. But do you expect him to go away crying about it? No, how about having a huge ceremony to crow about your "accomplishments". Read this article and ask yourself, "What kind of parallel universe do these guys live in?" It's certainly not this one. Unfortuntely, their decisions will affect all of us.

Rumsfeld gets big Pentagon Sendoff

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 8:12 AM EST
Updated: Sunday, 17 December 2006 8:15 AM EST
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Thursday, 7 December 2006
This and that
I haven't been feeling well for the past couple of days, with a runny nose, stuffy head, fatigue, etc., and I bottomed out yesterday after second period. I kept nodding off in the staff room and I must have not looked well, because the other teachers convinced me to go see the school nurse. So the nurse at Chitose, Miyo-sensei, is really nice, and she gave me some medicine and warm kabosu (lime) drinks. After that, I slept very, very soundly in a warm bed for over two hours. Guess I needed it. I've been feeling better since then, but not all the way back. I can do things like breathe through my nose now, so that is an improvement. The fact that today is cold and rainy probably isnt helping much though.

Chrismas is coming up soon, and this year I decided to send a package of stuff back to North Carolina and Ohio for everyone to enjoy. I decided to put a lot of "fun" items in there, nothing serious, but it if gives everyone a laugh/chuckle then I suppose mission accomplished. Of course, Japan is very far from the East Coast of the US, and time is running out, so it cost the same amount to money to mail it as the contents themselves. Good times at the Japanese post office. "Um, don't you have something a little bit cheaper?" Good Japanese practice. As long as it arrives on time and in one piece, right?

Of course, I have my own Christmas list as well... the big items are all DVDs, seeing as how they are either really expensive or not released here. Of course, there are plenty of edible items on there, got to have that comfort food. This weekend, there is a little Christmas event done by some JETs at an orpahanage in Oita city... songs, games, gifts, etc. Should be good times. I don't actually have any plans for Christmas day yet, so I will have to figure something out.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 9:59 AM EST
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Thursday, 30 November 2006
NOTE TO SELF: PAY INTERNET BILL
Ok, so I haven't written for a while. My internet company shut off my internet, it happens. Somehow, I didn't pay my internet bill, so I was "off the grid" for a little bit. Sorry if you were waiting for China pictures, I promise if I ever go to China again while on the JET program I will certainly remember to pay my internet bill when I get back ASAP. Ok. Now that is out of the way, on to the pictures. For now, I'm just posting them to my photo page at photo.xanga.com/delafro and I'll work on them more as time allows. So go ahead and check them out and let me know what you think.

As for around here, it is certainly getting colder. That definitely matters in a place like Japan where the houses are made from little more than plywood, old newsprint, and stale chewing gum. What I'm trying to say is, the temperature outside is more or less the same as the temperature inside. It's cold, and your feet and hands suffer the most. This year, I decided to take action. I set up my kotatsu (a heated table thing), bought plenty of thick wool socks, those little hand warmer packets, got out the electric blanket, many many layers of clothes, will shower before bed, etc. So hopefully I will be able to cope with it better now than in the past. Because knowing is half the battle.

Also, both of my schools had their culture festivals recently. Essentially, it's a way to put on plays, sing, have little charity events, make displays showing off school activities, and so forth. The community can get involved in the school, and the kids have projects they can work on outside of the normal academic routine. One school even had a great lunch cooked up for everyone as well. One thing I was surprised of was the seriousness of the play topics. They covered: AIDS, school bullying, treatment of Okinawans by Japanese troops in WWII, and discrimination of people with Hansen's disease (leprosy). Not exactly lighthearted stuff. But there were important lessons to be learned from the plays, so I guess that was the point.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 9:09 AM EST
Updated: Thursday, 30 November 2006 9:14 AM EST
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Sunday, 12 November 2006
China Recap Part 2!
Next morning, back to the airport again, and we can kiss the choking pollution of xian city goodbye. We fly into Beijing to meet Mishiro's cousin, and... we can't find her! Nowhere to be seen. We try our IC cards at the phone, no good, have to by new ones, try to figure out what area codes to use, etc. Finally we call her, turns out her husband Brad was there to pick us up instead. So we find him and he takes us to their house, which is in a remarkably nice part of town. Brad was actually a really cool guy. He works in Beijing for a major news company so that lead to a lot of interesting conversation.

So, they've got two kids who are really lucky. They grew up speaking both English and Japanese, and have picked up some Chinese by growing up in Beijing. They've got friends from all over the world at their international school. So again, pretty lucky to be exposed to all that culture at a young age. They probably don't realize how fortunate they are though.

Back to the trip. We all hopping into the car and went to a great lunch restaurant that was popular with the international crowd. Then, we planned to drive to Tiannamen Square, but it was actually blocked off for an African presidential motorcade. So we hop on the subway instead. Turns out a lot of area was sealed off for the big China/Africa summit. So we couldn't see as much as we would have liked. Still, Tiannamen Square (it's really big), Tiannamen (big portrait of Chairman Mao), and a little bit of the "Forbidden City" (big, classic architecture). It's all a fairly impressive sight, and of course packed with tourists. Then, we found a shopping street and looked around, didnt buy too much though.

After that everyone was pretty spent, so we went back to the house. I don't remember how exactly, but we ended up getting pizza- real Italian-style pizza!- for dinner. I had been wanting that for awhile so I was pretty happy. We also had some of the shochu and kabosu we had brought with us from Oita, so that was nice as well.

The next day, our big goal was the Great Wall. We decided to go to the Great Wall at Mutenyu. It had plenty of great views and wasn't as swamped with tourists as the other sights. Plus it had a tobaggan ride you can ride on the way down (not part of the original wall of course; extra fee, of course). Normally it should only take about an hour by car from Beijing, but thanks to many poorly-signposted traffic roundabouts, we got pretty good and lost. So, taking one wrong turn at a traffic circle, that cost us probably about an hour. Great. Anyways, we finally got it figured out.

After buying our ticket, we had a good long walk up the mountain to get to the hill proper. Some good exercise. Then, we made it. Well the wall is pretty much as you'd imagine it to be- long, winding, an impressive sight. Definitely lived up to the expectations. It's very steep at times too, again, another good workout. I should mention it was extremely windy that day- that made it quite cold, but also blew out all of the pollution so we got a good view. We found a place out of the wind and sat down for lunch. Maybe the coolest picnic I've ever had. Then, we took the tobaggan ride back down- you just ride this sled down a long chute with plenty of twists and turns. It was pretty fun. Then we headed back. Everyone was pretty tired.

But we had one thing still left to do. We called up a driver and headed into town for Peking Duck. I should mention how cheap food was there. The two of us had a famous gourmet meal in downtown Beijing with beer for less than 50 bucks. Great. Anyways, we went to a recommended restaurant and it didn't disappoint. The duck was great, and the skin was really the best part- crispy and delicious. The problem was they served it to us last, so we were almost completely full already by the time it arrived. A real challenge to get it down, but I had to do it. It might have been my only chance to eat that so I had to finish.

We woke up early the next day to get to the airport. We rode with a journalist for the Guardian (British news paper). That was cool. But then at the airport, again, it wasn't cool. We actually couldn't find the check-in counter, and then I got a nosebleed! Great. It's not done yet. We get into our gate, and there are no shops! I'm not sure why, but I hate that airport now. Mishiro-sensei was freaking out because he didn't get enough souveniers to give away in Japan, and if you're Japanese, you have to bring back souveniers. Failure is not an option. Yeah, turns out it wouldn't be a direct flight to Fukuoka either- we'd have to stop at Qing Tao and switch planes. The fun never ends. But at Qing Tao, Mishiro gets his omiyage, we get on the final flight, and all is well. Except I got searched and patted down at Fukuoka customs, but hey, that's part of being a foreigner in Japan right. I did get to use the Japanese/Foreign Residents immigration line though, so I felt special (and it was only a fraction of the size of the regular foreigner line too).

Mishiro drove back this time, and he was on a tear. I think he must have been trying to set some time trial records on those mountain roads. Anyway, its not done yet. He insisted on going into school, on our day off, after a long ass trip, to hand out the souveniers. I wasn't happy, but what can you do in that situation. Man, that took forever, but finally everybody went home, and I had to get ready for school the next day! Great.

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Posted by nc/frodaddy at 7:50 AM EST
Updated: Sunday, 12 November 2006 7:58 AM EST
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