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Sunday, May 22, 2011

WOULD ANYONE MAKE A MOVIE OF YOUR LIFE?

"The movie will begin in five moments," the mindless voice announced. All those unseated will await the next show. We filed slowly, languidly into the hall. The auditorium was vast and silent. As we seated and were darkened, the voice continued, "The program for this evening is not new. You've seen this entertainment through and through. You've seen your birth, your life and death. You might recall all the rest. Did you have a good world when you died? Enough to base a movie on?" - http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/The_Doors_(film) For me, this quote has always bugged me. I'm not really thinking that it would be a very consistent movie. The part when I was in the army, young yet jaded then cut do twenty some years later and then I'm old fat and jaded. Hopefully, I'm back on track with a long ass part that is "And he did stuff". I did like the RPG's a lot and the people I met but those are already on podcast!



ROMANIAN LANGUAGE

Vagon means 'track'. useful to know if you're trying to find out what track you should be leaving on.



AND NOW BACK TO THE NARRATIVE

So, I had made my way back to Sighisoara and had two children beggars harrassing me. They were being over the top persistent. I was out of sorts from travel, lack of sleep and feeling pretty nasty and I forgot one of Logan's rules: "People may be talking in a different language but they are listening in English. Even those who have claimed and demonstrated a complete lack of understanding English may actually understand it. Take nothing for granted." So, I got frustrated and snapped "Fuck off" at the kids. Naturally, this was immediately understood. Worse yet, they started apologizing profusely for bothering me. Plus, the big brothers and family of these (presumably gypsy) kids could have been very close by. So, now I am feeling guilty, the idiot and a bit concerned. But wait, it gets worse. Possibly looking to see if I was dumb enough to give him a chance to see how fast on his feet he was with my stuff, one of the kids follows me into the store. And then he began translating to help me out. Wow, am I an asshole. So, now we go to my two rules on beggars. Rule one, they are probably faking it. Rule two, even if they are not faking poverty, you should not give them money because there is an excellent chance it will go one of three different places - booze, drugs or the boss of the beggars. Did you know beggars have a boss? I do. They are forced to give him kickbacks. So, give them food. They will be able to use it immediately. If they don't take it, see rule one. I'm not suggesting you give them your half finished ice cream cone but I am suggesting that if you buy them some bread or whatever, it will actually get eaten as opposed to shot up. Rule three - if accosted by beggars, talk in a totally made up language and keep moving fast. You should be moving fast or they will begin explaining via sign language. But if you're moving fast, it just confuses them and they look for someone else to rob. So, I buy the kids a big chunk of salami and tell them to go home. As I walk away I am thinking "They may not have one...Ass..." Rule four, avoid beggars when possible - you will feel like a dick no matter what happens.

So, i'm stuck at the train station for another two to three hour lay over.

Which gets another hour delay. The train is delayed due to unknown reasons. Unknown reasons always win.

But at least I'm back on the move again. Thus far, I've had two good experience and one lets call it 'neutral' experience. If I just wanted a place to crash, it would have probably been fine but it's not what I'm after.

In Sighisoara, I've seen more Americans than anywhere else in Romania. That is four all at once. I discovered later that "Dracula was born here" is the draw for Sighisoara. Weird.

So I met up with two American students, Hobie and Anna. Hobie lives in London studying politics; he's traveled quite a bit. Anna is studying to be a lawyer. Sadly, she left her passport in her backpack and it disappeared. She said that she's traveled a lot and that never happened before. I see that as the 'law of averages' catching up to her. They've done some interesting travel in Romania and were even ballsy enough to rent a car here. This is way too dangerous for Logan. Hobie and Anna seemed like nice folks, I hope their passport issue gets resolved without too much hassle.

After Hobie and Anna took off on a train, I sat around watching a literally filthy gypsy lady with three little kids. She's teaching her children how to go through the trash, beg from people, smoke and so on. It's rather sad. She was giving her eleven year old daughter cigarettes.

The countryside of Romania has a lot of 'quaint' (per Terry Pratchett) buildings connected by bumpy train rails and washboard roads. The landscape itself varies between hills, plains, fields and deciduous forests. It looks pretty nice. The cities are fairly flash but outside of the cities, horse and animal power is still used - which means (to me) life is hard.



TERRY PRATCHETT QUOTE

"Picturesque meant - he decided after careful observation of the scenerey that inspired Twoflower to use the word - that the landscape was horribly precipitous. Quaint, when used to describe the occasional village through which they passed, meant fever-ridden and tumbledown. Twoflower was a tourist, the first ever seen on the discworld. Tourist, Rincewind had decided, mean 'idiot'."



ON THE TRAIN

I found that some Hungarians living in Romania can't speak any Romanian, just as many oh lets call the 'ethnic minorities' (like many Mexicans I've met, for example) don't bother to learn English. I see it with the same "WTF" as I did in America. My German is pretty bad but when I found that I'd be there for two years I made an effort to learn it. If I was permanently living there, I'd sure as hell have learned it. It would probably still be a bit rough, but I'd make the effort. In talking to a couple of Romanian engineering students (Razvan and Dauria) I learned that many Hungarians can indeed actually speak Romanian but choose not to as some sort of 'autonomy' thing. Because they didn't want to offend other people in the car who didn't speak English, they didn't want to go into details (like proper nouns). It's an odd situation from my point of view.

I've also noticed that the Hungarian students became a lot more reserved and quiet around the Romanians.

According to Razvan who was sitting near the door and could smell it, our train conductor was drunk. [Note, from my other train rides this doesn't seem to be a real unique situation.]

Since Razvan and Dauria had very good English abilities I was asking the what they liked best about Romania. Razvan said the extremely varied terrain. You have literally everything here. Dauria said the 'Transfagarasan'. It looks like a pretty wild drive for a guy and a high performance sports car. Unfortunately, I'm thinking that you're going to be not just trying to stay on the road but dodge all of the other drivers, possibly a horse cart, livestock and so on. They did mention that global warming seemed to be messing with Romania's climate in a very direct way.

Dealing with Romania and the EU, they only have one year to get their house in order. Razvan and Dauria didn't think it was going to happen as they have to change both the educational system as well as the countries finances. If Romania doesn't get it done on time, they have to start a new five year clock. After the three Hungarian high school aged girls in the car got hustled off by the conductor for buying tickets that were 40 KM or so short of their destination (were they trying to save some money on tickets) and presumably tossed off the train (not while moving as far as I know...) we had a new cabin mate. This guy is a Wing Chun Kung Fu practitioner whose boss works with Steven Seagal. Apparently, when Nicolae Ceaușescu was in power, he was friends with the Chinese and martial arts came to Romania. Of the communist years, he assured us, the 1970's were the best. Toward the end of communism they had food rationing.

Abortions were also forbidden under communism - more workers. I am trying to think of another organization that forbids abortions and wants a lot of people. Hummm.

So, I was on a train headed to Suceacva and have no clue of where any hostels are and no way to look it up on line. If I press on to Chisinau (Moldova) I know they have some but I think the notes of them are in the notebook I mailed to Jana. That she still hasn't gotten yet. Shit.

Razvan and Dauria seemed interesting. Razvan contacted me via Facebook so I might hear from him again! Good times.



SUCEACVA, ROMANIA

Apparently, five hundred years ago, some monks made some cool paintings. Not a lot has apparently happened since. I wasn't really interested in going to see Christian paintings so I went instead during my five hour layover to find - the internet.

After trudging up a hill (Logan hates hills and...um...so does God?) I found a place advertising itself as a two star hotel. It turned out that I could get my computer plugged into their hardline internet for 10 ROM. Haggling time! I got that down to 5 ROM and then down to 4.55 ROM when it came time to pay as that was all I had in small bills.

I had pretty much as long as I wanted to look up things but after doing the research (called 'where are the hostels') I found I was too out of it due to sleep deprivation to put much on the blog.

My plan is to get to Moldova, rest up and meet up with the couch surfing lady who is willing to meet me in Transnistria. I'm planning on going to take a look at the place and stay with her for a couple nights. If I'm not comfortable with it, I'll head on to Odessa, Ukraine.

There is a girl who worked at the tourist information train counter booth whose English is a bit better than my Arabic. Translation, pretty bad. The fact she is at the 'tourist information' place tells me the monk paintings may not have a lot of draw or they'd want to get someone in there who speaks the 'international language' better than shitty. Anyway, she gave me some notes on a train that she believes will take me to Moldova. [Apparently, in addition to not being able to speak English, she also didn't know how to get to places as the information she gave me was wrong, misleading and would have gotten her fired at any decent company. She is just all kinds of 'fail' at her job when it came to dealing with a foreign tourist wanting to go to somewhere that wasn't a major Romanian city.] To top that, for mysterious reasons, she can't actually sell me a train ticket for this train - I have to buy it from the conductor. I wasn't very comfortable with this and was (sadly) proven right later. I was especially not comfortable with this when switching countries. Later when I tried to poke around and see if it could be verified, I got the same exact lady only more frustrated.

So, for some reason, I got the idea in my sleep deprived brain to go find a bank. I wanted to get some emergency currency ready in case my bank decided to have a little sex with my ass unexpectedly again. I figure Euros seem more accepted (and more stable these days) than the dollar these days so I'd like to have some for emergencies. So I see a guy at a currency exchange and he tells me where a bank is. I've got two different ways there he says - I can either walk about one kilometer each way or merely take the bus four stops and I'm there.

I stupidly decide the bus is the less painful option.

I really am wrong quite often.

So I head out there.

I made so many errors that day that it shocked even me. Here is the quick list:

1. Banks are closed on Saturday afternoons.
2. I could have bought Euros at the currency exchange.
3. I was in the land of really amazingly cheap taxis.

For my sins, I spent 6 ROM (three bus tickets; for long journeys the lady on the bus may demand another ticket be bought just because). It was a two hour hot sardine can.

Here is how buses work in Romania! First off, if you are thinking about using them, don't. Get a taxi. Don't be a tool and think you're going to save a couple dollars. Just get the cab. Seriously. If I'd been more awake I would have remembered Sam's fine example and just gotten a cab. But I can still hear you saying "No, I'm a masochist and want to ride the bus, how do you do it?" Well, you sick twisted fuck, here is how you do it. If you are at where the bus actually starts, you just get on. The lady won't ask for money till the bus actually sets off. The bus won't actually set off until the bus driver feels he has enough passengers. Once it sets off, she'll be by to collect 2 ROM from you. Note, the combination ticket checker and ticket seller - from what I've been told - is always female, just as the bus driver is always male. I have no idea why. A female bus driver can drive with the same sort of suicidal recklessness that I've seen the male drivers have - why shouldn't they drive? If there are schedules, they are well hidden from the prying eyes of tourists and foreigners.

So, I made it back to the train station. I looked at it as I'd just killed a couple of hours and nearly myself. I understand the people that go to saunas less now. I guess it's the same crowd that buys a 'stairmaster' instead of just living on the sixth floor of a building with no elevator.

My clothing is starting to get a bit more loose. I'm not sure if it's wearing out or if it is me getting slightly smaller. I don't feel much smaller so I suspect the clothing. I think if you want weight loss tips, talk to Julie J. She has posted her massive success on Facebook and I give her props. For me, my fat ass is just trying to climatize to Europe.

I'm starting to look rough enough that even the beggars are leaving me alone. Cops, however, are starting to give me that sidelong look. I'm guessing what is saving me is that I'm at the train station. Their reasoning could be 'soon, he will be out of our jurisdiction and no longer our problem'.

I'm starting to think about my next destinations and starting to wonder if I might need something more exotic. Africa sounds lovely aside from disease. Oddly enough, the disease I'm talking about isn't AIDS - I'm not really worried about getting that for some reason (could be my huge gut but lets let that pass) but I am concerned about Malaria. Malaria not only sucks ass but it can kill you Once you have it, you always have it - like Herpes.

India should be just as exotic and hopefully less on the disease angle. And good food I like me some Indian food. Note for Indian people I know - now is the time to start contacting people to get tentative 'sure the fat weird American can come stay with us'. I will eventually start plotting a route through there based on the invites I get. If you think I should see something (or want to get my take on it) get someone in that place willing to host me.

I'm still thinking I'll go through Turkey to Georgia but after Georgia perhaps India. Not sure on that. Getting there will be interesting but we'll see. I'll worry about that later.

Have you ever noticed that religions which have fallen out of fashion are now called 'superstition' while ones being practiced by at least a small group of dedicated madmen (or 'madpersons') are referred to as 'religion'? For example, if some pre-year zero guy stacked stones in front of a site they deemed to be 'holy', a book on it would read along the lines of 'the people of clan Cave Bear, being very superstitious, would always stack stones here.'

On a completely unrelated topic, the people of Suceava are very religious. Any time they pass by a church they make the sign of the cross three times. Combining the first and second thoughts, I'm guessing they are glad that Christ didn't get stoned to death or they'd risk knocking themselves out just wandering around this church infested town.

On top of it all, my train turned out to be forty minutes late.

It adds to the 'adventure' of it all. I've got to say that whenever I switch countries, I get a lot to write about. Travel itself is painful. You always end up feeling like you're going through the ringer, sleep deprived and stinky by the time you actually arrive at your destination.

I just noticed that in my notes I have written that I can go by bus to Chisinau for 50 ROM as opposed to the 84 ROM I have written down. Only a couple problems here. I don't know where the bus station is and I don't have the time to go look for it before the train arrives. Also, I'm not sure of the bus schedule. For some reason, whenever I search for the info Diana looked for, rather than the helpful, useful stuff she got, I get weird forum discussions in which they trade broken links on the Lonely Planet forums. Either way, I'm out of this country today one way or the other. I'm not overly stressed about the extra $12 or whatever but i must admit I'm curious about how long the trip will take. Sometimes, as Diana showed me, a bus is literally four times shorter in trip duration.

Well, another hour of trip delay got tacked onto my sitting on my ass at the train station. I went to the train they had said would carry me out of this train themed Purgatory. The conductor only spoke Moldovan and Russian. He told me that the train was actually bound for...Russia. Since I'm not a Russian sleeper agent, I don't think that would be a good idea to go there. The conductor summoned others and a pow wow got under way. There were about six train conductors in that group including my personal angel, a nice lady who spoke limited English. By limited, I mean really limited. But you have to take luck where you can find it. All of the conductors seemed to agree that the lady from the ticket window was full of shit. [Translation for non-native English speakers - the term 'full of shit' means 'you don't know what you are talking about'.] Had I gotten on the train bound to Russia, it would have been...interesting. For Americans trying to get into Russia, it is a complicated and expensive process involving invitations and visas. I have neither. It's especially expensive given the brief period of time you can remain there. I doubtless would have been spending many exciting hours in a holding cell entertaining my captors denying plans to assassinate their Prime Minister.

After a loud and long debate, the conference of conductors came up with a solution. I needed to go to somewhere named "Iasi". It is pronounced 'Yoshi' to add to the fun. Nobody could make it clear to me which country this was in but the word 'Ukraine' did come up several times. I couldn't tell if it was relevant. They then escorted (frogmarched) me to the ticket lady and made her sell me a ticket (14 ROM) to Iasi. She stubbornly had not been studying any English since I'd last seen her but the conductors spoke loudly and made big arm gesture at her until she sold me the ticket - possibly just to make them go away. In as much as I have little idea what anyone is saying, Ive been assured that I can get to Moldova from there.

The conductors happily trundled off, secure in the knowledge they had won against the ticket lady.

I then decided to go interview the cab drivers. They were happy to get out of their cabs, unlock the trunks and repeat the word 'hotel' at me in hopes it would induce me into their cab. I instead, loudly used my 'find out who really speaks English' skill. "What color is the sky?" I demanded of several cab drivers. The seven I talked to were absolutely clueless as to this nasty riddle and stood perplexed, halfheartedly repeating their mantra of 'hotel'. I decided to lower the bar dramatically and went and asked them all 'bus station'? This drew blank looks and a couple of mumbled 'hotel' responses. Apparently, whatever monk doodles centuries gone by exist here are not enough to draw the hordes of tourists that would cause learning of the 'international language' to become economically viable. So, I pointed into the distance and screamed the world 'church!'. While they were all busy crossing themselves the mandatory three times to keep God from being pissed, I escaped back into the train station.

I sure hope Isari is nice.

So now, I look and feel like a warmed over, sweaty death with a bad attitude. Even the police have gone, possibly to get reinforcements. More likely to cornhole a prisoner. If I can find one cheap place to stay in Iasi, I might even hole up (not cornhole up) for a couple of days if the town looks at all intrigueing.

I've always considered it the height of bad taste to ask the border guard 'what country is this?' I think it may make them a bit suspicious as well.

Maybe I can find some internet while I'm there. I don't have time to hike back to the place I had bargained them down at because the train to the mystery destination will come soon. I do know that if I get to this mystery country and they're using the Cyrillic alphabet, it will make me cry.

While I was on the way to Iasi, I met a nice lady named Alina.
She speaks excellent English so I got to ask her some questions on different topics. I HAVE PARAPHRASED ALL OF HER ANSWERS

On the European Union: "People think that when Romania joins the EU this will cause their standard of living to be where Germany's is. But this won't happen.

What's the best thing about Romania? "In the countryside, you get to see life one hundred years ago. There are a of of nice places in Romania but Romanians don't know how to take advantage of them to make them a nice place for tourists to visit."

What's the biggest challenge Romania faces? "Mentality. They're not hoping for any change in the future. They are complacent. They want to see change - but with others making it rather than themselves. People complain but do nothing. It's mostly the older people who are thinking like this. It's hard to change the mentality of people as the same thought process keeps getting passed on from generation to generation."

Where do the women go to the bathroom on these trains? "They don't."

What are you'r thoughts on 'the gypsy problem? "The problem is that if someone says 'gypsies' they just mean Romanians. It's stereotyping."

She also told me that a lot of people work for 6-8 ROM an hour doing things like handing out free samples. A lot of people work for 8-12 hours a day for 500 ROM ($178) per month. To support yourself, 400 ROM for rent and 350 ROM for various bills including cable and internet. Hence if you're making 1000 ROM per month, you're able to stay afloat though you aren't building up any savings. This is for city people - to people in the country, that amount of money would be quite a bit. She said there wasn't really a 'middle class' in Romania.

I felt very lucky to have bumped into a clever and nice lady who has interesting opinions on things.

Also, she told me that Iasi was in Romania - she seemed amazed I had no idea where I was going...

NEXT BLOG - ARRIVAL IN IASI!



PRICES

Sighisoara to Suceava (with a stop over in Brasov) 73 ROM second class, 111 ROM first class.

Car rental - 30-40 EURO/day - no idea if insurance comes with that.

Gas - 5 ROM/liter hence about $7 per gallon. And you think you've got reason to whine and jack those taxi rates up!

Cafeteria where they charge you by the weight of the food - 6 RON for another shitty, luke warm meal.

Lukewarm cappuccino at the train station, 2 ROM.



GEORGIA

The country, not the state. I've heard from other travelers that Georgians really like Americans. I have no clue why.



TRAVELER'S TIPS

Keep your passport in a place that it is a real (not literal) pain in the ass to get to. You'll hold onto it longer.

In carrying toilet paper, if you have access, Eastern European toilet paper has no inner roll - it's just rolled toilet paper 'all the way down'. This might be handy for your 'emergency ration' of toilet paper.

Carry a lot of small bills for paying for stuff - especially if you haggle. There is nothing that will make you look like more of a dick than getting some guy to drop his price by half then paying with a large bill and demanding change.

If you are at a train station, you have two possible scenarios. You ca hand out some smokes to shameless smoke beggars or risk the wrath of your fellow passengers. Carry extra smokes! I suppose one nice trick would be to carry some crappy quality smokes to hand out. I don't suggest the small explosive charge in them however. Also, all of the people who have bummed them from me have been better dressed than I. I figure it is part of my 'foreigner's tax' as I've never seen them try to bum them from any of the locals.



AMERICAN CUSTOMS

In case I didn't mention these before in my big American customs posts I made earlier here and here.

Tailgating parties.

Large drinks with meals as opposed to Europeans which drink (to put it into a universal standard) say a bit over half a can of coke with their meal and that's it.

Tipping huge amounts. Most of the countries I've been in the waiters make considerably less (in base salary) than the waiters in America considering costs vs income. [In other words if you make $1000 and your costs are $500 then you are making more than the guy who is making 2000 money and spending 1200.] Yet, I've heard people on Facebook saying things like "If you can't afford to tip 20% don't go out." In many other countries you either don't tip, round up to the next small amount of money on the bill or tip a max of 10%. I've always felt personally that if someone is required to live just on tips and is not happy with the amount of tips they are getting, rather than bitch to others, find a better job. But that's just my opinion.



MOLDOVA MIXERS

Right- so I'm in the Republic of Moldova, trying to make a white Russian and the shit I bought that looked like milk wasn't. It was overly processed to 'make it good for children'. It tastes like shit so I'm thinking the parents have issues they are working out with their kids via torture.



PHILOSOPHY

When researching travel from your home, it's quite antiseptic. It looks straight forward. This is a lie. It is sitting around in your own stink and everyone else's and riding on amazingly bumpy roads and train tracks. I wouldn't give it up. It is the price of meeting interesting, wonderful people, experiencing new cultures, tasting new foods, seeing stuff that most of my friends won't and endless amounts of bitching.

"Security and adventure are opposites." - Logan said that shit! YEAH BABY, YEAH.

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PICTURES

{{2011}} London, GB | Rail N Sail | Amsterdam, Netherlands | Prague, Czech Republic | Budapest, Hungary | Sarajevo, Bosnia | Romania | Chisinau, Moldova | Ukraine: Odessa - Sevastopol | Crossed Black Sea by ship | Georgia: Batumi - Tbilisi - Telavi - Sighnaghi - Chabukiani | Turkey: Kars - Lost City of Ani - Goreme - Istanbul | Jordan: Amman - Wadi Rum | Israel | Egypt: Neweiba - Luxor - Karnak - Cairo | Thailand: Bangkok - Pattaya - Chaing Mai - Chaing Rei | Laos: Luang Prabang - Pakse | Cambodia: Phnom Penh | Vietnam: Vung Tau - Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City

{{2012}} Cambodia: Kampot - Sihanoukville - Siem Reap - Angkor Wat | Thailand: Bangkok | India: Rishikesh - Ajmer - Pushkar - Bundi - Udaipur - Jodhpur - Jasalmer - Bikaner - Jaipur - Agra - Varanasi | Nepal: Kathmandu - Chitwan - Pokhara - Bhaktapur - (Rafting) - Dharan | India: Darjeeling - Calcutta Panaji | Thailand: Bangkok - again - Krabi Town | Malaysia, Malaka | Indonesia: Dumas - Bukittinggi - Kuta - Ubud - 'Full Throttle' - Gili Islands - Senggigi | Cambodia: Siem Reap | Thailand: Trat | Turkey: Istanbul | Georgia: Tbilisi

{{2013}} Latvia: Riga | Germany: Berlin | Spain: Malaga - Grenada | Morocco: Marrakech - Essauira - Casablanca - Chefchawen - Fes | Germany: Frankfurt | Logan's Home Invasion USA: Virginia - Michigan - Indiana - Illinois - Illinois - Colorado | Guatemala: Antigua - San Pedro | Honduras: Copan Ruinas - Utila | Nicaragua: Granada | Colombia: Cartagena | Ecuador: Otavalo - Quito - Banos - Samari (a spa outside of Banos) - Puyo - Mera

{{2014}} Peru: Lima - Nasca - Cusco | Dominican Republic | Ukraine: Odessa | Bulgaria: Varna - Plovdiv | Macedonia: Skopje - Bitola - Ohrid - Struga | Albania: Berat - Sarande | Greece: Athens | Italy: Naples - Pompeii - Salerno | Tunisia: Hammamet 1

{{2015}} Hammamet 2 | South Africa: Johnnesburg | Thailand: Hua Hin - Hat Yai | Malaysia: Georgetown | Thailand: Krabi Town | Indonesia:
Sabang Island | Bulgaria: Plovdiv | Romania: Ploiesti - Targu Mures | Poland: Warsaw | Czech Republic: Prague | Germany: Munich | Netherlands: Groningen | England: Slough | Thailand: Ayutthaya - Khon Kaen - Vang Vieng | Cambodia: Siem Reap

{{2016}} Thailand: Kanchanaburi - Chumphon | Malaysia: Ipoh - Kuala Lumpur - Kuching - Miri | Ukraine: Kiev | Romania: Targu Mures - Barsov | Morocco: Tetouan

{{2017}} Portugal: Faro | USA: Virginia - Michigan - Illinois - Colorado | England: Slough - Lancaster | Thailand: Bangkok | Cambodia: Siem Reap |

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